Back in 2007, I was in conducting a four-session workshop on The Heart Sutra. In the last session, one student from a western country commented on an interesting sight he has so far only witnessed in Singapore. He was very amazed at how there are numerous locations where he found a mosque, a temple and a church next to each other. This was something that he said cannot happen where he was from or perhaps in many other countries as well.
In a multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-religious society such as Singapore, religious harmony is especially important. Religious harmony is especially important and religious leaders participate actively in the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) which resolves to strengthen religious harmony through mutual tolerance, confidence, respect and understanding.
In participating in the IRO events, I’ve noticed that there are many who are geniunely trying to promote understanding between people of different faiths. This is heartening and is definitely the way forward in the increasingly globalised world. Some have also adopted a Homogeneous stance suggesting that all the religions are teaching the same truths. Same final goal, just through different roads as some would put it. This may seem viable initially, but can be hard to reconcile when one goes into the crux of various religions.
The way I see it, the different religions are like different vehicles on the highways. Each different from each other, yet common in some ways. The different vehicles are common in the sense that they are all means of transport and can take us to where we may want to go. Due to different spiritual maturity, each may adopt different vehicles and seek different destinations. Everyday when we go to work or back home, we may go by bus, taxi, car, train or a combination. While on the road, would we stop others from going to their destinations just because it is different from ours? Would we ask everyone to get on same bus or get off the same station? The world would be in chaos if people start doing that. Would we ask everyone to go to the same office with us or return home with us just because our home is warm and pleasant to us?
In a similar way, we need to recognise that religions have common grounds but also have their differences. Religions, at a base level, advocates values such as giving, harmlessness, humility, kindness, love etc while at a deeper level, we may differ in terms of our core beliefs and ways of seeing the world.
Recognising that religions bring people to their respective spiritual goals is crucial. This knowledge does not need to assume a common goal, but sees the common
function of religions, i.e. bring about spiritual maturity towards their own goals. We need to recognise that just because the goals are different does not mean that they are wrong or evil per se. To say that different goals are wrong is like saying that people going their way to their offices and homes are going the wrong way.
I say, let’s work on common values while recognising the very human need for different “happiness”. One day when we are spiritually matured enough, then perhaps we can sit down and discuss the differences without getting at each other’s throat.