There is a Buddhist story about an old man who tries to save a scorpion from drowning, only to be stung each time the scorpion is pulled out of the water. He explains to a puzzled onlooker that it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, but it is the nature of humans to save, to uphold peace. Therefore, the violence should not be reciprocated.
At the end of each prayer every day, my father would say, “Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti-Shanti”—“shanti” meaning peace, and “om” being an invocation of peace. This left a big impression on me as a child, and ever since then I have sought to see peace and non-violence become the dominant state of the world, and I am always striving for things I can do to help facilitate that. In fact, the main purpose of this project of tracing common themes across religions is to inspire more peace and respect between people from different faiths.
All faiths essentially preach about peace and non-violence. Jain monks are known to walk barefoot so that they can avoid killing the tiniest living creature. The word Islam, which means submission to God, is derived from the Arabic term for peace.
But, ironically, people across time have fought in the name of religion. Those who are violent in the name of religion are distorting particular passages in the scriptures and actually not being faithful to their faith.
A close friend and colleague of mine works to deradicalize young people being recruited by Islamic extremists. He listens to the young people and hears them quote the Qur’anic verses that on a superficial read can be interpreted to justify violence. In response, he quotes for them the passages in the Qur’an which provide more context and give a very different message—one of love and peace. The common reaction he hears is, “But we were never told about this Sura!” He has 80% success rate in deradicalizing or preventing radicalization.
When we take the time to see what the scriptures and prophets across religions actually said, the similarities become apparent—with peace and nonviolence being one of the most prevalent common themes. Violence – whether to the self, to the other, or to the planet – has no place in any religion. It is the opposite of love. And with greater peace in the world, we can accomplish so much more as a species!
“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
—The New Testament (Hebrews 12:14), Christian text
“On account of [his deed], We decreed to the Children of Israel that if anyone kills a person– unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land– it is as if he kills all mankind, while if any saves a life it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind.”
—The Qur’an (5:32), Islamic text
“Man was created alone in order to teach you that if anyone causes a single soul to perish from Israel, Scripture imputes to him the destruction of the entire world; and if anyone saves alive a single soul in Israel, Scripture imputes to him the saving alive of the entire world. Again, [man was created alone] for the sake of peace among men.”
—Sefer Ha-Aggadah, collection of Jewish writings
“So let us try, as an experiment, peace, and if the results of peace are bad, then we can choose if it would be better to go back to the old state of war! Let us in any case make the experiment. If we see that unity brings Light we shall continue it. For six thousand years we have been walking on the left-hand path; let us walk on the right-hand path now. We have passed many centuries in darkness, let us advance towards the light.”
—‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i leader
“After a study of those religions to the extent that it was possible for me, I have come to the conclusion that, if it is proper and necessary to discover an underlying unity among all religions, a master-key is needed. That master-key is that of truth and non-violence. When I unlock the chest of a religion with this master-key, I do not find it difficult to discover its likeness with other religions.”
—Gandhi, acknowledged by Indians as Father of the Nation
“Realize the truth of the scriptures; learn to be detached and to take joy in renunciation. Do not get angry or harm any living creature, but be compassionate and gentle; show good will to all.”
—The Bhagavad Gita (16:1-2), Hindu text
“If you have no wound on your hand, you can touch poison without being harmed. No harm comes to those who do no harm. If you harm a pure and innocent person, you harm yourself, as dust thrown against the wind comes back to the thrower.”
—The Dhammapada (124-25), Buddhist text
“Genuine Ahimsa, or non-violence, will only come after the inner disarmament of our mind. Lots of problems in this world are created out of ignorance and greed and it is impossible to achieve nonviolence if our minds are full of fear and hatred. We need to use our human intelligence in challenging and overcoming negative emotions with positive emotions.”
—His Holiness the Dalai Lama