A delegation that included Hindu gurus, Buddhist monks and Shinto priests met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday on the first day of a Jerusalem conference designed to deepen Israel-Asia ties.
Swami Avdheshanand Giri from India, a guru who heads thousands of ashrams across India, said at the President’s Residence that in coming to Jerusalem he felt the good vibrations rising from “the land of opportunity and wisdom, which has given birth to great religions.”
It was important to “engage with young people who are straying away from traditional values,” Giri said.
Despite differences, “we must learn to live together to establish peace and harmony in the world.”
The conference is organized by the Foreign Ministry in an effort to intensify Israel’s conversation with East Asian countries and to extend relationships to a level beyond diplomatic and business spheres. It was arranged in partnership with the American Jewish Committee and the World Council of Religious Leaders.
That both Netanyahu and Rivlin met with the group is an indication of the importance Israel’s leadership attributes to deepening relations with East Asia.
The delegation, which includes some of the most influential leaders in the faith traditions of the East – Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Shinto, Jain and Taoist – is holding discussions with a variety of Israeli rabbis and academics.
Akiva Tor, head of the Bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions in the Foreign Ministry, introduced the group to Rivlin. He said the Eastern faith traditions, the Jewish religion, and the State of Israel have all long enjoyed a deep fascination and profound mutual curiosity about each other.
Noting the antiquity of the faiths represented, Rivlin first voiced greetings in Arabic to the Muslim communities in Israel and throughout the world who are celebrating the festival of Id al-Adha.
“Thousands of years ago, two great cultural and religious traditions were born,” he said. “One tradition began here. It gave birth to Judaism and later to Christianity and Islam, and it shapes until this day the ideas and values of a huge part of the entire world.”
Rivlin turned next to the Eastern faiths.
“The other spiritual tradition, no less deep and meaningful, began in what we call the East and the Far East,” he said. “For many years, the interaction between our traditions hardly existed, but with the exile of Jews to Babylon and the old land where Abraham was born, Jews met again with branches of the Eastern spiritual tradition.”
Moving forward in time, Rivlin said, “As the world becomes smaller, problems that were once local and limited are now everyone’s problem. Sometimes these problems have a human face.”
Referring to the previous day’s grim reminder, he said the September 11 disaster in the United States was “created directly by a distorted religious belief.”
At other times, Rivlin continued, these problems do not have faces, but are caused by humans. He cited global warming and other pressing environmental issues.
“We must face these problems together and we can face these problems together,” he said.
“Our traditions have much in common,” Rivlin said. “We all share a deep concern for human life and dignity. We all believe that this planet does not belong to us, but that we belong to it, and we must take good care of it.”
In this context Rivlin pointed to the groundbreaking environmental agreement signed between the US and China a week ago, which he characterized as “another link in this growing and important chain of cooperation.”
Rivlin asked his guests to join him in praying for a better and healthier world and for a peaceful and tolerant global society.
Xue Cheng, a Buddhist monk who is a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, expressed gratitude on behalf of all Buddhists for being able to participate in the conference.
There are five major religions in China: Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam and Confucianism, he said, “and all five emphasize peace, compassion and freedom.” In order to have a peaceful world, he said, “we must make mutual respect and understanding a goal.”
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