Hinduism is the world’s oldest living religion. It is a rich collection of hundreds of spiritual and philosophical traditions followed throughout Asia for more than 5000 years. Most traditions within Hinduism share certain distinctive, core beliefs despite the absence of an identifiable beginning in history, single founder, central religious establishment or sole authoritative scripture. Two of these core beliefs are that of tolerance and pluralism. While tolerance and pluralism are valued by many religions, these concepts are the very essence of Hinduism and are expressed through the diversity of Hindu practice and centuries of peaceful coexistence of various faiths.
By accepting the divinity in all beings, Hinduism views the universe as a family or, in Sanskrit, vasudhaiva kutumbakam. All beings, from the smallest organism to man, are considered manifestations of God. Mankind carries a special responsibility, as it is believed to be the most spiritually evolved with the capacity to not only tolerate, but honor the underlying equality and unity of all beings. The popularly recited Hindu invocation demonstrates this concern for universal kinship:
Om sarve bhavantu sukhinah. Sarve santu niraamayaah.
Sarve bhadraani pashyantu. Maa kaschid dukhbhaag bhavet.
May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy.
May all beings experience prosperity. May none in the world suffer.
The concept of pluralism within Hinduism is, in essence, tolerance taken one step further. For all members of this universal family, Hinduism promotes not only tolerance and respect for differences in belief and religion, but also acknowledgement of the existence of more than one path to relating to Truth (God). This true, unadulterated pluralism is captured in the ancient Sanskrit hymn:
Ekam sat vipraha bahudha vadanti
Truth is one, the wise call it by many names.
Thus, Hinduism asserts that it is not only harmful, but inherently flawed to insist that one’s own path towards God is the only true and meaningful path. Based on this firm pluralistic belief, Hinduism has never sanctioned proselytization. Further, over their vast history, Hindus have never invaded another land in the name of religion. It is also clear that, for centuries in Southeast Asia, it has been this Hindu brand of absolute pluralism, which has provided the ideal environment for peaceful coexistence and prosperity for at least 8 major religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism among others.
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