In contexts characterised by conflict between different social groups, different approaches have been adopted for promoting reconciliation and for enabling social groups to live together amicably. For instance, there is a political approach, which is based on things like political negotiations and adjustments between different social groups. Then, there is an economic approach, through which differences are sought to be reduced by promoting economic development and equity between different social groups. There is a cultural approach, that seeks to foster unity among diverse groups by promoting a common culture. There is also an educational approach, that seeks to reduce the sense of difference among diverse social groups by promoting a certain form of education. And so on.
Now, there may be much merit in all of these different approaches. But that said, in themselves they may not be sufficient to engender to necessary reconciliation. Some of these approaches focus mainly on external changes—changes in the external environment—in the hope that these would produce the necessary result of fostering goodwill between people from diverse social backgrounds. But merely by changing external conditions without a corresponding of the inner state or consciousness of people is not likely to prove effective in ensuring social harmony in the long run. Its effect may be only very superficial. It may not suffice to enable people from different social backgrounds to overcome prejudices and relate to each other in a wholesome way.
This indicates the importance of the inner transformation of individuals, including in the way they understand and relate to themselves and to others, such as people from different social backgrounds.
This inner transformation or evolution of the inner consciousness of individuals is the crux of what may be called a spiritual approach to promoting oneness and harmony among people from diverse social backgrounds.
According to this approach, conflict and competition, separation and division (between individuals or between social groups or communities) can only be overcome through realisation of the oneness or spiritual unity that pervades all living beings. This oneness transcends labels and categories such as ethnicity, religion, language, nationality, geographical location, gender, economic class, language and caste, and embraces all living creatures.
Through spiritual disciplines and leading an ethical life, with God’s grace, one may realise this oneness and become stabilised in it. The process involves overcoming the demands of the false ego, which impels a person to put themselves before others. As the false ego or the lower self begins to be subdued, the sense of separation from others becomes less intense. No longer does the false ego dominate as it once might have. Gradually, one begins to move in the direction of seeing others as oneself. One sees no difference between people on any basis. No matter what religion or community other people might be associated with, one recognises them as the essentially same as oneself. The process of recognising this oneness does not stop at the level of fellow humans, though. One begins to feel a strong sense of communion with all creatures of God—animals, birds and trees included.
The more one grows in realisation of this oneness and the more one overcomes the false ego, the further one progresses spiritually. Human beings are spiritual beings, and we have been sent to Earth in order to evolve spiritually, to prepare for the stage of life that comes after we leave this earthly plane. This being the case, the more one realises oneness with the rest of God’s creation, the further ahead one moves in fulfilling the purpose of human life.
One who has realised this oneness and has become stabilised in it sees oneness pervading everywhere. They recognise that the life-force present in all living beings is from the same Source. All living beings come from the One, and all of them are, even while they are here on Earth, journeying back to the One. They are all from God and they all belong to God, and to God they will return. Informed by this consciousness, a spiritually-evolved person relates with all beings equally—irrespective of their external differences or labels, such as gender, class, ethnicity and religion, and even species. The sense of ‘otherness’ caused by external differences or identity labels disappears. Recognising one’s oneness with all beings, one relates with them just as one relates with oneself. Just as one loves oneself, one loves all—irrespective of the external labels or categories that other people might still identify with. One expresses this awareness of oneness in one’s everyday life, relating with all people, no matter what their social or religious background be, with love and compassion, doing what one can to serve them. One also serves, in whatever way one may be inspired to, other creatures of God—animals, birds, plants, and the elements of the natural environment.
It is through this inner growth or evolution of spiritual consciousness that one can realise oneness and live it out in one’s life. This process starts at the level of the individual. But it also impacts on the wider society. The inner transformation of a single individual can result in a major change in the life of vast numbers of people. A spiritually-evolved person, someone who is stabilised in oneness, may touch the hearts and minds of many people who come into contact with him. Being in his presence, learning from the wisdom he shares with them and being inspired by his example, they too might evolve spiritually. They too might recognise and realise oneness. Such people may too begin to relate with all other beings, no matter what religion or community they might identify with, through this consciousness of oneness.
This, then, is a spiritual approach to overcoming conflict, including in the name of religion and community, and promoting oneness. It is not some mysterious or esoteric doctrine, reserved only for just a handful of individuals. All human beings are spiritual beings, who have been sent to Earth to evolve spiritually. And so, the spiritual approach is equally applicable to, and relevant for, every person, without exception.
Spiritually evolved individuals, in different parts of the world, in different periods of history, born among different peoples and related with different spiritual traditions, have realised this oneness, embodied it in their own lives and conveyed its message to others. The spiritual approach to promoting oneness is as relevant today as it always was.