In the major plenary session, at the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria, titled Bridging Religious Divides, Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thami, Emir of Qatar; Mr. Klaus Schwab; The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Meir Lau; H.E. Frances Cardinal Arinze; H.E. Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia; His Grace George L. Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury and H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji (Muniji) answered questions posed by Professor Klaus Schwab, the founder and president of the World Economic Forum.

Pujya Swamiji’s question was as follows:

 “Tolerance is the fundamental virtue to overcome discrimination, hatred and violence. But we must be intolerant of the intolerable, like terrorism. How do you define the fine line between the requirements for tolerance and intolerance?”

Let me begin with a very short story. There was once an 80 year old man who went to see a great sage. The old man said to the great sage: “I am 80 years old. I don’t know how many years left I have of life. Please can you give me some piece of wisdom for how I can best live out the remaining years so that my life is fulfilled and righteous.” The sage said, “That which is harmful to you do not do it to others. That which is intolerable to you do not do it to others.”

This is the essence of life.  Listen, follow it, and implement every moment of every day. In this way your life will be in peace, not in pieces.  You will become better not bitter. Intolerance makes you bitter, not better.

So, tolerance is the crucial first step. But it is only the first step.

We must not stop there. Then comes acceptance Then liking  Then love. When you love you exude love and manifest love. Then you spread love.

In love everything is possible. In love we don’t even notice each other’s faults.

Hinduism tells us that Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam – the world is one family.

So many other religions say, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  If we simply try to tolerate each other it will not be that easy to overcome hatred and violence.

Tolerance is not the opposite of hatred. Love is the opposite of hatred.

We must appreciate each other value each other and respect each other as different colors of the rainbow of life. Each color adds something irreplaceable to the rainbow. If there is only blue it is not a rainbow. If there is only red it is not a rainbow. A rainbow can only be formed when all the colors come together in harmonious union. If tolerance is as far as we can come it is an important step for at least we won’t kill each other.  But, it is only the beginning, not the end.  We must try to truly see each other as brothers and sisters in this home of Earth.

George Eliot said, “The responsibility of tolerance lies with those who have the wider vision.” Here, today, are the leaders of the world’s religions. It is the responsibility of these leaders to lead their followers toward a greater broader vision of family.  Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” So today as we gather and pray for peace harmony and tolerance we must commit ourselves to not only praying for these goals but we must also commit ourselves to ACTING and WORKING toward these goals.

However you also asked how do we decide what to tolerate and what not to tolerate?

Things which defy the natural inviolable ethical laws such as killing of innocent people the victimization of women and children torture oppression and injustice are intolerable in any society.  These things must naturally be not only un-tolerated but they must be punished and stopped.  The fine line can be drawn at the place where that which someone is doing impinges upon anyone else’s right to life, to health or to peace.  Mahatma Gandhi said “There should be no tolerance for tyranny or domination. There should be no tolerance for suppression or destruction of truth.” If someone does something or believes something with which we don’t agree or understand but which isn’t violating anyone else then we must tolerate it.  We tolerate the action, but love the person!  But, if someone is doing something with which we don’t agree AND that action is violating the basic human rights of another then it must neither be tolerated nor allowed.  We went today to offer prayers at Ground Zero and as we stood there surveying the land which bears witness to anger hatred and intolerance it was clear these sorts of acts must not only be stopped on the surface through punishment of the criminals through increased homeland security measures etc. but rather that these acts must be stopped at the root.

Imparting tolerance and love to our children must be considered as crucial aspects of parenting as providing food and clothing.

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