MUMBAI, India – An interfaith gathering in Mumbai, India, in mid-August brought together the Dalai Lama, a Catholic Archbishop, and leaders from other Indian religions to discuss “World Peace and Harmony.”
The event was organized by Ahimsa Vishwa Bharti, an organization founded by Jain religious leader Lokesh Muni.
Jainism is an ancient Indian religion which has been influential in the country, even though there are currently only about 4.5 million adherents (by contrast, there are nearly 30 million Christians in the Hindu-majority country.)
Ahimsa is a Jain religious term meaning “non-violence,” which is one of the chief aims of both the religion and Muni’s organization.
Ahimsa Vishwa Bharti also campaigns against sex-selective abortion and environmental degradation.
“There are many people in different religions who are sick and tired of religions projected as fighting against each other,” said Archbishop Felix Anthony Machado of Vasai. “Yes, individuals push themselves to do damage to peace. Some do not seem to want peace at all. They only want to live a life doing evil.”
Machado served as the Under-Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue from 1999-2008.
He said meetings such as the one which took place in Mumbai on August 13 happen all the time, though not necessarily with such high-profile participants.
“The media does not publish all the good news. They are very selective, manipulative and distortive,” the archbishop said.
In his speech at the event, Machado said people need to have peace in their hearts if they are to seek to create peace in the world. “What is required is unity and truth.”
The Dalai Lama noted that every person on earth wants happiness and joy, but instead are faced by a multitude of problems—many of which are man-made.
“So, there’s a contradiction: No one wants problems and yet we seem to bring them on ourselves. How does this come about? As a result of our emotions, especially our destructive emotions,” the Tibetan Buddhist leader said.
“Fear creates irritation, irritation creates anger, anger creates violence,” continued the Dalai Lama.
Machado said the Church must be present at interreligious events in India, and said he was welcomed at the event in Mumbai – noting his long personal friendships with the Dalai Lama and Muni.
The archbishop said the government should take note of the mood prevailing at the conference.
Since 2014, India has been ruled by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has strong links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant Hindu nationalist organization.
Incidents of harassment have increased over the past few months, with various Christians being detained or arrested for “attempted conversion,” and places of worship being vandalized.
More recently, a spate of killings related to “cow vigilantism” have happened around the country. The slaughter of cows – which are sacred in Hinduism – is illegal in most parts of India, although beef is often eaten by some Dalits (low-caste Hindus previously called “untouchables”) and members of some religious minorities, such as Muslims and Christians.
“I am asking what could be done to help the government, which certainly wants to go its own way and they have the right to in this democratic country,” Machado said. “But some of their decisions contradict their own way.”
Speaking to Crux later in the week, Machado noted the terrorist attacks in Spain are why meetings like the one which took place in Mumbai are necessary.
“Why these attacks? The attacks are now a ‘new mode’ a new style – take a vehicle, a truck, car or a van and just crush people,” he said. “Who are these crushed? The most innocent of society. This is to terrorize people and keep peace at a distance.”
The archbishop said leaders of different religions must come together as often as they can, and not just during times of crisis.
“Build peace while times are peaceful. Do not wait for tensions and conflicts,” Machado said. “Let people see this – even if a few in number. But if not, even those few ‘who hunger for peace’ – who shall see God – will be gone.”
Still, the archbishop said people should not lose hope or courage.
“We must not stop receiving God’s peace and establishing it upon earth,” he said.