Co-existing in a world of religious and cultural diversity, there’s more reason to accept each other’s differences and live together in harmony.
Reinforcing the principle of unity in diversity, a symbolic but meaningful event unfolded in the heart of London recently.
Amidst the noise and bustle of Oxford Street, a group of religious leaders and representatives of various faiths gathered at London Fo Guang Shan Temple to spread the message of peace and harmony.
There was no fierce rhetoric or elaborate ceremonies, just a compassionate plea for acceptance, equality and respect.
Cheek by jowl, yet a world apart; the soothing chants and harmonious messages from Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh leaders rose above the cacophony around shoppers jostling for space in the tourist district.
Aptly called the “Hearts in Harmony – Civic Service and Citizen Awards”, the function was organised by temple head Ven Chueh Yann Shih, a Malaysian nun from Muar, Johor.
Coming from a multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural society, she understands only too well the importance of people living in harmony with one another.
And in a city like London, where some of the world’s greatest civilisations lived and worked together, there’s never a more urgent need to appreciate each other’s faith.
Humble and soft-spoken, Ven Chueh comes across as a down-to-earth nun for her innovative approach towards serving the community.
Certainly not one who confines herself within the temple, she is actively involved in education, cultural and charitable work apart from her religious duties.
For a start, the temple is the first of the Taiwan-based monastery’s over 200 branches worldwide to hold an inter-faith function and present awards to outstanding citizens.
The centre’s members and volunteers had also dug deep into Britain’s ancient woodlands to plant 1,500 trees at Theydon Bois, Essex, in east London, to create a greener earth.
They hope to plant another 3,500 saplings within two years to bring the people, particularly children, closer to nature.
As Ven Chueh put it candidly: “We do not only aim at the supramundane, but also have a concern for society.”
A strong advocate of peaceful co-existence, she believes that diversity is a source of strength, vitality and prosperity among people of different faiths and cultures.
“We would like to bring cultural harmony and strengthen the bonds of friendship among the various communities across the country,” she said.
There’s no doubt the event was a demonstration of the people’s common aspirations and beliefs for a better understanding of each other’s religions.
It is through inter-faith dialogues that people can be drawn together in peace to share their similarities and appreciate their differences.
The challenges of inter-religious engagements, however, are fraught with many pitfalls, as rightly pointed out by Alfred Agius of Westminster Cathedral.
“The greatest resistance comes not from people who have given up religion, but those who regard themselves as ‘religious,’ devoutly practising whatever faith,” he noted.
The deteriorating situation in world events makes inter-faith dialogues more pressing, not just on theological grounds but on the need to live together as human beings as well, he added.
Also sharing their views on harmonious living were Ven Nepal Sumana (Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre), Ramesh Pattni (Hindu Forum of Britain), Sepideh Dundon and Niyaz Sharifi (School of Islamic Sufism) and Kewal Singh Chana (Ramgarhia Sikh Gurdwara).
Lord Mayor of Westminster Carolyn Keen commended Ven Chueh for her efforts in helping to promote greater understanding among people of different faiths.
“As Malaysia has a diverse community with many faiths living side by side, that’s a classic example of how one has to be tolerant, understanding and accepting,” she said.
Beyond that, the mayor’s speech did carry one simple if implicit message – despite our diverse origins, it’s possible for our hearts to be in harmony.
For peaceful co-existence and acceptance of each other’s religions can help defuse violence in society and make the world a better and safer place.