India has always had a strange way with her conquerors. In defeat, she beckons them in, then slowly seduces, assimilates and transforms them.
William Dalrymple (British Historian)
Imagine a world where diversity can thrive - where we all see it as a source of strength in humanity, rather than divisions. Imagine, for instance, a gathering of truth-seekers where one community chants in devotion to the Hindu avatar Krishna, another group reverently listens to Dalai Lama’s message of peace, a third prays deeply to Jesus, and a fourth is regaled with stories of Guru Nanak, the Sikh prophet.
What if these are not different communities, but the same community? Where truth-seekers have dissolved walls of dogma and judgement to attune themselves to the teachings and spirit of exalted masters, recognizing that different paths, as long as they are founded on a devoted quest for self-realization, will all lead to the same one Truth.
This is not a mythical, utopian world of faith-diversity. This is the largest congregation of humanity in the world - 40 million people. It comes together once every 12 years for observing the most sacred of the Hindu festivals, India's Kumbha Mela. I have been there twice, and I have witnessed these heartwarming sights of pure- hearted truth-seekers in India becoming instantly respectful and curious and devotional whenever a great saint, teacher or prophet shows up in their midst, from whatever part of the world.
In one of my visits to this vast sea of humanity at Kumbha Mela, I heard a microphone announcing the names of people who were lost and needed to be guided to their families. I wondered, "Why are they making these announcements? Why not simply have an electronic board with information on those who are looking for their loved ones?" And then I realized why this board won't work — because many of these people have never been taught to read. And then I thought, "And yet, here they are, providing a shining testament of inclusive faith to the world!"
Coming back to America [from India] was, for me, much more of a cultural shock than going to India. The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and their intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world. Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion.
Notice the different prophets and faiths in this banner from one group at the Mela. A mosque. Jesus. Buddha. Guru Nanak. Mahavir (a prophet of the Jain faith)
Remember, this is the most sacred of Hindu festivals and pilgrimages - like what the Hajj is to the Muslims or perhaps a visit to the Vatican would be to Catholics.
And this is the most valuable learning I have gained from India. It is, despite its complexities and contradictions, living proof that we can create a world where we foster not simply tolerance or respect for all faiths, but a deep-felt love and kinship for fellow pilgrims who are pursuing their own devoted paths to self-realization.
I love all religions. But I am in love with my own.
And that India has stayed deeply etched within my core even as I have embraced, since leaving its shores, the equally ennobling founding values of the much younger nation that adopted me at the age of twenty-one, America.
Today, on India's Independence Day, I bow to the truth-seekers of the past who have bequeathed to countless future generations this truth of inclusive faith that is enshrined in India's great scriptures, a truth that is frequently glimpsed in everyday moments with everyday people in the country, and that is today sparking inner transformation in the growing community of yoga and mindfulness practitioners across the world. A testament that when you approach humanity with a pure heart, with a desire to seek only the Truth in all things, you are automatically inclusive.
To other countries, I may go as a tourist, but to India, I come as a pilgrim.
Martin Luther King