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Religious pluralism is an important goal of modern societies. It embodies the principle that in a civil society, people of all faiths must be accommodated and respected and must enjoy freedom to worship and follow their chosen tradition. Though this sounds reasonable to people who have grown up and been educated in modern democratic nations, it was/is not always a universal practice. One obstacle for this has been the doctrinal conviction that one's own religious mode is the only correct one and, therefore, must be universally accepted. The notion that there is only one way of apprehending the divine arises from the belief that there is but one individual with whom God ever communicated, that there has been only one savior or one prophet in all of human history.
In this matter, the Hindu approach is very different. The notion of religious pluralism is implicit in the Hindu doctrinal framework. It is explicitly stated in the Vedas, which are the scriptural roots of the Hindu tradition. An often quoted phrase in the Rig Veda is, ekam satt vipra bahuda vadanti God (Truth) is one; the learned call it by different names.
This is an affirmation of monotheism, but with a twist. Underlying this statement is the idea that Divinity is one, but that it is perceived differently by different people. This is what religious pluralism is all about: not only to allow for different ways of describing and worshipping God, but also to recognize that human beings respond to and describe the transcendent in different ways.
In the Hindu framework, practically every individual can communicate directly with God who may be reached by following many different paths. Because of this worldview, there have been many spiritual leaders in the Hindu world, each interpreting their spiritual insights in their own particular ways and gathering around them numerous followers. As a result, there are numerous sects and subsects among Hindus. Many of which are anchored to particular historical personages, but all of them subscribe to one God who has countless manifestations. This conviction enables the practitioners to respect the views and symbols of all sects. It enables most Hindus to bow in reverence to the religious modes of every religion in the world.
During the spiritual initiation that is reserved to male members of the upper castes who are expected to be the guardians of the spiritual wisdom of the tradition, one is taught to recite the following verse:
akast paditantoyam yada gachchadi sagaram sarva deva namaskara sri kesavam pradigachchadi. As waters falling from the skies Return to the self-same sea, So homage to all the gods Return to the same Divinity.
When adopted, this guiding principle makes interreligious conflict less likely, as one of the main catalysts for interreligious conflict is the different stance religions hold on monotheism and religious pluralism. By the pluralistic view, even while retaining loyalty to one's own tradition and religion, people can still respect the religions of others.
In the complex and diverse world in which we live, where nations harbor people of various faiths, the Hindu perspective on the matter can be very helpful for interreligious harmony and doctrinal peace.