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The Nepalis are very proud of their tradition of religious tolerance. This was not always the case but has been a particular feature of Nepali culture since at least 1990. Everyone we met was keen to explain this. Yes, there have been some exceptions in its history, including recently, but overall they practice what they preach, or at least aspire to, and perhaps for all of us the struggle to achieve our aspirations is as much as we can manage sometimes. A matter of progress not perfection. Their society comprises Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jains, Christians, Kirantis, Sikh, Bahais and 'others'.
Originally Nepal was a Hindu kingdom but since May 2006 has been a secular state. Religious tolerance is enshrined in the constitution.
“No discrimination shall be made against any citizen in the application of general laws on the grounds of religion, race, sex, caste, tribe or ideology or any of them.”
But change of religion was not permitted until after 1990.
“Any person shall have the freedom to profess and practice his own religion as coming down to him from time immemorial with regard to the traditional customs, but no person shall be entitled to convert the religion of any other person.”
According to the authors of the book ‘Religions in Nepal’, (T C Majupuria and Rohit Kumar ISBN 99933-30-56-6)
If a person wanted to convert to Christianity they could cross the border into India, be baptised there, and return as a Christian. Likewise with conversion to other religions.
Since 1990 these restrictions have been lifted. “Enticement or coercion to change someone’s religion is banned.” But; “To change one’s religion at one’s own free will is now legal.”
There was a Gideon’s Bible in our hotel room in Kathmandu. Supplied by the Kathmandu branch of the Gideon organisation.
In the Hindu scripture ‘Bhagavad Gita,’ the Lord Krishna says ‘whosoever follows any faith and worships me under whatsoever denomination in whatsoever form with steadfastness, his faith shall I indeed reinforce’.
Hinduism has been described as” not a religion but a complex medley of faiths” (Slusser 1982). Majupuria and Kumar say “Some call this religion a fellowship of religions because it literally absorbs the faith of others."
Although Hinduism is perhaps the most inclusive and syncretistic of all religions non Hindus are not allowed in certain temples and areas.
During the visit to the Hindu Pashupatinath Temple our Buddhist guide talked about Hindu and Buddhist festivals and holy days of which there are a great number. It seems that both Hindus and Buddhists are happy to celebrate each other’s festivals and holidays. The book ‘Religions in Nepal’ suggest that in some areas there is in practice very little distinction between the two religions which have almost become blended.
Comments from our group were approving of this and the consensus seemed to be that it was something to emulate. I felt they would agree with Sri Ramakrishna "God can be realized through all paths. All religions are true. The important thing is to reach the roof. You can reach it by stone stairs or by wooden stairs or by bamboo steps or by a rope. You can also climb up by a bamboo pole."
The general consensus seemed to be that the provision of opportunities for celebrations, parties and holidays was the main function of religion and the more the merrier. I thought of my daughter's Indian friends at school who celebrated Christmas, although not for its religious reasons.
I also felt slightly uncomfortable because as a Christian I felt that I ought to think this was somehow wrong, that surely the Christian belief is in salvation through Christ alone. That it was somehow almost a form of betrayal to even appear to agree with the idea that all religions are equally valid. I was suprised because I have always been very interested in other religions and have found my own faith much enriched by them and by some of their scriptures.
I thought of the command of the Lord Jesus Christ that we should all be one. And how us Christians have managed not to be one.
I also remembered that Christianity itself has also been very good at blending with and absorbing other faiths as it got established. Taking over and Christianising existing sacred sites and symbols. In fact, I am sure I have read somewhere that this was a policy and process recommended by early church leaders to missionaries.
In her book ‘The Making of the Creeds’ Frances Young suggests that the emerging Christian religion was in danger of being absorbed into the religious soup of the time, especially, Gnosticism. The tremendous battles that took place determining exactly what correct Christian belief was and who could claim to be a Christian were in part the product of resistance to this process of enculturation. Also in reinforcing the monotheistic yet trinitarian beliefs distinctive to Christianity, so that it did not get absorbed into polytheism.
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My personal experience and observation is that God does not seem nearly as picky about the religious company we keep or the finer points of liturgy, doctrine and dogma and organisational strucures and authority as we are.
Recently I have been listening to testimonies by people who have or had little or no formal religious belief or theology but asked for help from a God they were not necessarily even sure they believed in, and how God responded.
I am a big fan of Rabbi Lionel Blue who wrote a book called 'My affair with Christianity' and reconciled this attraction to Christianity with his Jewish faith and identity.
The Dalai Lama takes a very flexible approach, and he sees this flexibility and openness to change and adaptation as one of the benefits of exile and key to the dissemination of Buddhist ideas in the West. In ‘A Policy of Kindness’ in a talk to Western Buddhists, he makes a distinction between cultural heritage and religion itself, between the essence of a religion and the superficial ceremonial or ritual level. Buddhism has in the past incorporated the culture of the societies, Indian and Tibetan, in which it found itself.
“From this viewpoint, the incorporation of Western culture into Buddhism may also be possible. The essence of Buddhist teachings does not change; wherever it goes it is suitable; however, the superficial aspects – certain rituals and ceremonies – are not necessarily suitable for a new environment; those things will change. How they will change in a particular place we cannot say”.
“When under new circumstances the social system and way of social thinking change, certain aspects of a culture may no longer be useful. If…there are some aspects of the old culture which are not useful in modern daily life, they should be modified, and other aspects which are still meaningful and useful should be retained. You should try to combine that culture and Buddhism.”
“As Buddhist, while we practice our own teaching, we must respect other faiths, ….We must recognise and appreciate their contribution to human society…The adopting of a right attitude toward other faiths is particularly important for new Buddhists to keep in mind.”
Meister Eckhart : Christian mystic, condemned as a heretic in his day, but remained influential, and has since enjoyed some measure of rehabilitation, although not formally recognised.
"Those who seek God through settled forms risk finding the forms and losing God".
“We find people who like the taste of God in one way and not in another, and they want to have God only in one way of contemplation, not in another.I raise no objection, but they are quite wrong.”[German sermon 13a, trans M.O’C. Walshe]
More from Sri Ramakrishna Hindu mystic, saint and philosopher:
“It is not good to feel that my religion alone is true and other religions are false. The correct attitude is this: My religion is right, but I do not know whether other religions are right or wrong, true or false. I say this because one cannot know the true nature of God unless one realises Him.”
“If there are errors in other religions, that is none of our business. God, to whom the world belongs, takes care of that.”
The Dalai Lama: “The most important thing is practice in daily life; then you can know gradually the true value of religion. Doctrine is not meant for mere knowledge but for the improvement of our minds. In order to do that it must be part of our life. If you put religious doctrine in a building and when you leave the building depart from the practices, you cannot gain its value.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ must have the last word Matthew 5
The Gospel of Matthew Chapter 5 through to 7 gives comprehensive instructions on how to live the religious life. Including:
1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
7"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'
1Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2"Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!"
3Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'5But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' 6he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
8" 'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'"
10Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. 11What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.' "
Food for thought
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