Religions: There is Gentle Wisdom in them all

“Best wishes for the Season,” we easily write and read these days. So let us reflect on religare, reconnect between that out there, and that in here, in us, for globalizing truths.

A few years ago, these unpublished lines for the Season were written in the Pacific, under a cloudless sky, with waves peaking, with white froth at the top. Rapa Nui, Easter Island was on the horizon, one of these places where the creation of humans looks about as old as God himself and human beings have not yet been able to pollute (deplete, yes!) everything.  Gratitude is seeping in, attaching itself to good emotions in body, mind and spirit. Happiness is the word, some kind of release. Sukha is the word in the hindu-buddhist tradition. Further out is nirvana, the dissolution at the end of the pilgrim’s journey.

I was sitting in a little niche of happiness, PeaceBoat, a Japanese NGO endeavor to combine cruises around the world with efforts to understand the countless conflicts so as to bring in peace. In the wake of those conflicts follow violence and traumas on the body and on the mind, suffering, dukkha in the hindu-buddhist tradition.

Right now we witness one of the worst habits of humanity, revenge and retaliation, with Sep/11 2001 as retaliation for the injustice to the Arabs; and the Oct/07 2001 war in Afghanistan as retaliation for that retaliation. Coming up is, of course, the retaliation for that retaliation, with nuclear weapons under the surface, possibly on both sides. Both have Armageddon as part of their religious tradition; the Day of Judgment. Both think they have the mandate of God/Alla’h in order to exercise that judgment over others. Where is hope?

Religion can be hard, and soft and gentle, and any religion is a tissue with hard and soft strands, where the fundamentalists are playing on the hard. Religare sounds fine. But how?

Any Only One “out there” is also a carrier of the tissue woven by hard and soft strands. Good News: there are several of them. Religious texts are depositories of human release and suffering, efforts to make sense of the human condition, with many answers. I am approaching them all, and with humility. My interest for peace steers me towards the soft answers, and find soft, gentle wisdom, for the Season, all over. More precisely:

In hinduism a trinity between creation, preservation and destruction, as a will to create more of that which brings sukha in its wake, preserve that which can be proven to have sukha in it, and destroy that which has mainly dukkha in its wake.

In buddhism a strong belief in ahimsa, non-violence, as the method to obtain all of this. And a faith in engi, that everything is related, that we are in the same boat, that we share responsibility for everything that happens through what we do, and equally importantly, through what we fail to do, the acts of commission as well as the acts of omission.

In daoism the deep, dialectic insight that good and evil do not come in two clearly divided packages but that the good can contain something evil, and the evil something good.

In christianity two important sources of inspiration – the hope that there is a glitter of light out there, and the focus on personal responsibility, that what counts is you and your own decisions; do not blame others.

In islam the faith in solidarity, to submit together to the collective yearning for peace and Sura 8:61: when your adversary inclines toward peace, you shall do the same.

And from judaism I fetch the faith in dialogue, that truth is not available in a ready-made text but in the process, in the words we create together, and then together, again. And again.

All of this can flow together into a higher unity, together with soft humanism–not the hard humanism of neo-liberal capitalism or marxist, state socialism.

I can identify with all of this, and more. And feel not only happy, but also immensely rich and enriched. Poor is he who denies himself access to the wisdom of others, constrained to the meager diet of the hard variety of his own faith only.

Glory to Mother Earth. Glory to the rich, human spirit.

And glory to that little brown man in the loincloth, Gandhi, who practiced all these gems of wisdom in one miraculous life.

Why do we as humankind accept this miserable killing match between dictatorships with very hard, fundamentalist faiths and oil deep down in the guts of their soil and an oil-addicted democracy with a crumbling empire, equally fundamentalist, both invoking their gods as if they were given a divine mandate? In the name of Alla’h, in the name of God, in the name of Oil.

I do not think any creator of the world and human beings did so for us to kill each other and together kill Mother Earth. Both could have learnt a lesson from that small brown man to whom God = Love = Truth: the truth of a more modest, more just economy, more equity with respect to the environment, and the truth of non-violent struggle. Gandhi, an Indian, a hindu, a buddhist; often a better christian than many christians and better muslim than many muslims and a better jew, hindu, daoist, buddhist. Because he let himself be inspired by them all.

And became a guiding light for us all; in one person. If only his light could also shine inside us, not only for us.


[Johan Galtung (24 Oct 1930 – 17 Feb 2024), a Norwegian sociologist and a professor of peace studies, was the founder of Transcend International, Transcend Media Service and rector of  Transcend Peace University].

[Courtesy: Transcend Media Service (TMS) ]