“There are as many paths to God as there are faiths.” –Swami Vivekananda
Toleration, in quite a simple sense, is the ability to tolerate. Having enough patience, accepting or approving the beliefs, thoughts and actions of others, so long as those beliefs or thoughts, or actions do not interfere with one’s own belief or thought, or action. In this state, even in the event of disagreement with them, not to deny or ban them is toleration.
Secondly, toleration is the idea of not imposing one’s own belief or idea on others, or to force others to follow one’s own practice, it does not matter how superior, high, and favourable it seems from one’s own viewpoint. Taking one’s own belief, idea or practice to be real or true compelling or forcing others to accept it is intolerance.
In addition to these two states, accepting one’s own chosen path or belief as the best and trying to consider others’ paths or beliefs as inferior to one’s own, is the manifestation of intolerance. Dogma for such a claim is clearly intolerance. Accepting the reality of the diversities that exist in the world, respecting others’ beliefs, ideas and chosen path, even in the state of differences is toleration.
It is also necessary to understand here that if someone does not interfere with one’s individual belief, thought or action, but in his presence or knowledge he witnesses someone obstructing the belief or action/actions of another fellow being or fellow beings, then tolerating action of such one cannot be within the ambit of toleration. Toleration is a great virtue dedicated to the greater human welfare. Therefore, it is not toleration to ignore or approve any such activity or action that hinders another’s belief, faith or pathway even when it does not affect one’s own way, view or action. It is because such an activity or action is, undoubtedly, an evil. Tolerating an evil is a crime against self and humanity.
In this regard, there is an all-time wish in the Mantra of the Yajurveda (19/9). According to this Mantra:
“Tejoasi Tejo Mayi Dhehi Viirya Masi Viiryam Mayi Dhehi Balamasi Balam Mayi Dehyojoasyojo Mayi Dhehi Manyurasi Manyum Mayi Dhehi Sahoasi Saho Mayi Dhehi//”
That is, “You are the embodiment of infinite energy, fill me with energy. You are the embodiment of infinite vigour, endow me with vigour. You are the embodiment of infinite strength, bestow strength upon me. You are the embodiment of infinite power, grant power unto me. You are the embodiment of infinite courage, inspire me with courage. You are the embodiment of infinite patience, fill me with patience.”
Further, considering only one belief, idea or practice as genuine is not a sign of truth. There can be many ways to reach the truth; many ideas and methods can be the basis to reach the truth.
Acceptance of this state of reality brings toleration closer to forbearance, a virtue not just confined to one’s relations with fellow beings, but is full of spirit of love and active goodwill towards living beings. Along with acknowledging others’ ideas or beliefs, or methods, it creates an atmosphere of patience and calmness towards them. Further, through continuously developing the indispensable approach of attitude-adjustment, necessary for true development in human life, it paves the way to co-ordination and harmony among fellow-beings of different faiths and ideas or methods of practices. This is the concrete way to the large-scale human welfare and a harmonious co-existence.
Expressing this very spirit of toleration, in the Mantra of the Rigveda (1:164: 46), therefore, it is declared, “Ekam Sadvipraa Bahudhaa Vadanti”, i.e., “Truth is one, but sages –wise people call it by different names.” It can also be said that although there is only one truth, there are many ways to reach it. That is, the goal of every soul is the same search for the divine, but the path or technique to reach there may be different. This Mantra calls on man to develop the spirit of attitude-adjustment inevitable for toleration and to have it as the nucleus in his behaviours and practices.
According to this proclamation of the Rigveda, the Sanatana-Hindu Dharma has an excellent idea of toleration. This idea expects a human being to behave accordingly in all spheres of life including individual and social. It calls on man to have toleration in the centre of all of his mutual dealings or practices.
Along with patience (Dhriti) toleration, as a complement to forbearance, emerges predominantly in the Valmiki Ramayana through the great persona of Shrirama. The manner in which Lord Rama’s toleration comes to the fore urging man to be tolerant in all situations is clearly a manifestation of the reality of its being a high human virtue. Toleration as a superior human quality works like a strong bridge to connect one to another; it works as a golden thread of unity among fellow beings.
The basic texts of the Sanatana Dharma, including the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Ramayana and the Shrimadbhagavadgita, call man for continuous development of toleration as a key quality and follow-up it for making life worthy and meaningful. By accepting toleration as complementary to forbearance, or taking tolerance as an epitome of forbearance, in the Thirteenth Chapter of the Shrimadbhagavadgita (a matchless Celestial Song guiding man to make life meaningful through the pathway of the Nishkamakarmayoga), it has been placed with other great human virtues like non-violence, self-restraint, sense-control and equanimity. Especially, in the verses from eight to twelve of this chapter, these human qualities have been declared (by the Lord Himself) as knowledge for the search of the Supreme Truth. The absence of toleration, non-violence, self-restraint, sense-control and equanimity, etc. from human life means ignorance:
Aachaaryopaasanam Shaucham Sthairyamaatmavinigrahah//
Indriyaartheshu Vairaagyamanahankaara Eva Cha/
Nityam Cha Samachittatvamishtaanishtopapattishu//
Mayi Chaananyayogena Bhaktiravyabhichaarinii/
Etajjnaanamiti Proktamajnaanam Yadatoanyathaa//”
That is, “Vinamrata –Humbleness (embracing toleration in a state completely free from ego), freedom from hypocrisy, Ahimsa –non-violence, Kshama –forgiveness, simplicity, service of the Guru, cleanliness of body (Inside Out) and mind, steadfastness, and self-control, dispassion toward the objects of the senses, absence of egotism, keeping in mind the evils of birth, disease, old age, and death, non-attachment, absence of clinging to spouse, children, home, etc. even-mindedness amidst desired and undesired events in life, constant and exclusive devotion toward Me (the Lord), an inclination for solitary places and an aversion for Laukik –mundane society, constancy in spiritual knowledge, and philosophical pursuit of the Parama Satya –Absolute Truth, all these I declare to be knowledge, and what is contrary to this, I (the Lord) call ignorance.”
Toleration is a high human virtue developed in man to realize the truth of the existing diversities and to accept them by the way of attitude-adjustment. It frees one from evils like ego, impatience, discrimination, and a state of isolation. In a state of co-operation and co-ordination of fellow beings and in an atmosphere surcharged with harmony, it paves the way for large-scale welfare, which essentially includes one’s own welfare. Undoubtedly, toleration becomes a concrete basis of the reality of equality among people of different faiths, beliefs, thoughts and methodologies. It has been, therefore, accepted as a great human virtue in the Sanatana-Hindu Dharma. Toleration is considered the hallmark of humanity. Without toleration no one can claim to be a true follower of the Sanatana-Hindu Dharma. In this regard, the following statement of Swami Vivekananda is quotable:
“Hindus never claim that they are the ‘chosen people’. They lay no claim to superiority over the faiths, but declare equality among all faiths. If we believe that everyone of us can realize God in our own way, then we also have to accept that our way to God cannot be the ‘only’ way or the ‘best’ way. Every individual has her or his own way to God, and that is the right way for them. Moreover, it is not right to force our beliefs on another...It is common to find various sects (of Hinduism) ...all worshipping together.”
*A Padma Shri and Sardar Patel National Awardee Indologist Dr. Ravindra Kumar is a Former Vice Chancellor of CCS University, Meerut; he is also the Editor-in-Chief of Global Peace International Journal.