“You, you may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man”
What is humanity? It is this brotherhood of man! A touch of the hands, a unison of the souls, a moment of giving and even, a moment of taking.
The word humanity is drawn from the Latin word ‘humanitas’ which means ‘human nature’ or ‘kindness’. It signified both ‘collective mankind’ and ‘being humane’. The word religion is used interchangeably with ‘faith’ or ‘belief system’ but strangely, there is no consensus across scholars or religious practitioners on what actually constitutes ‘religion’.
“The greatness of humanity is not in being human, but in being humane.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
The practice of religion can be subject to an individual’s interpretation but when it comes to humanity, the whole world gathers as one to raise a hand and say, “Yes, this is the right thing to do.” And if someone displays inhuman behaviour, everyone WILL stand up and condemn the act.
“Religion was created to help humanity find the right direction but misinterpretation by humankind is distorting that very goal. So, humanity itself should become the new religion,” said Lalitha Malla.
There is only 1 manifestation of humanity but around 4,200 religions are known to exist in the world. India, the land of spirituality and philosophy, is considered the birthplace of 4 major religions and home to at least 9 recognized religions.
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “God has no religion.”
Philanthropy or Materialism – Which Takes The Cake?
The media has been lately abuzz with the stories of 2 unimaginably rich women in the world – striking in their similarities and their differences. One pledged to give away half of her $37 billion fortune to charity and the other splurged a mind-boggling £16 million at an upmarket store on chocolates, jewelry and in the toys section. Did religion drive them to do what they did or is it their inner self which prompted them to choose two different paths – one embraced humanity and the other surrendered to toxic materialism!
“To devote your life to the good of all and to the happiness of all is religion. Whatever you do for your own sake is not religion.”
― Swami Vivekananda
What does religion teach? And do different religions teach different things? The fundamental concepts are almost the same – to be kind, to be generous, to look beyond oneself. If there is one common thread across all religions, it is “Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself.”
Swami Vivekananda asked, “Are you unselfish? That is the question. If you are, you will be perfect without reading a single religious book, without going to a single church or temple.”
Does it really matter whether we have given away half our money or all our money or none of our money to others? Does just material support signify humanity?
Isn’t it right to say that someone who gives their time, their energy, their guidance, their love to others in need are equally displaying humanity?
Beyond The Obvious
Many eons ago, on ‘Friendship Day’, my friends and I went to a “School for the Visually Impaired” in Hyderabad. We were carrying chocolates, Braille books and white canes as gifts. We waited patiently for several hours as the children had gone to a “Home for the Aged”. The children sang songs, danced and had a good time while there. When they came back, seeing their joyous faces, we were totally spellbound. We had chipped in our money to buy things which the children needed while they in turn, similarly pooled their resources and were able to entertain the elderly.
Who displayed more humanity? Can we choose one over the other? Not an easy task, as each tried to reach out to those in greater need and stretched beyond their own limitations. And does religion have anything to do with either of the acts?
To quote MacKenzie Bezos, “There are lots of resources each of us can pull from our safes to share with others — time, attention, knowledge, patience, creativity, talent, effort, humor, compassion.”
One’s religious beliefs is one’s own. It is a ritual that is performed in privacy and not something that needs to be flaunted whereas humanity is kindness that starts from the home and spans to the outside world.
Dasari Vijayalakshmi said, “Different religions are like different trees. The shadows they cast are the shadows of humanity. People need to thrive in their religion while remaining humane.”
Igniting the Spark of Humanity
“Educationists should build the capacities of the spirit of inquiry, creativity, entrepreneurial and moral leadership among students and become their role model.”
― Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
The term theism derives from the Greek theos or theoi meaning ‘God’. Many theists believe that God (and thereby, religion) gives a purpose and value to life. Atheists believe that there is no God or deity. An agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in God or deity or religious practices. Each of them seems to be independent of the other’s beliefs. However, the one connecting thread that transcends all the individual beliefs is ‘humanism’.
Several degree course aspirants in West Bengal started questioning the need to declare their religious identity at the time of admission to colleges. Students were filling ‘non-believer’ in the ‘religion’ option. In a historic move recently, at least 50 colleges in West Bengal, chose to add ‘humanity’, ‘agnostic’, ‘secular’ and ‘non-religious’ options to the existing list of religions in the online undergraduate admission forms for students who wished to keep their religious beliefs private.
Bethune College, Scottish Church College, Maulana Azad College, Rammohan College, Bangabasi Morning, Maharaja Srischandra College, Midnapore College, etc. were some of the colleges across the state which took the lead and blazed a new trail. However, several degree aspirants as well as academicians rooted for adopting “humanism” over “humanity”.
Humanism versus Humanity
As defined by Philosophy Terms, “Humanism is a belief in the value, freedom, and independence of human beings. For a humanist, all human beings are born with moral value and have a responsibility to help one another live better lives. Humanism emphasizes reason and science over scriptures and tradition, and believes that human beings are flawed but capable of improvement.”
“In ‘religious humanism’, the idea is basically that God exists, but he wants us to act like humanists — to search for truth on our own, to exercise free will and to strive to make the world a better place.” What this essentially means is that both religion and humanity can co-exist without a conflict in ideologies.
In today’s world, the interpretation of religion has multiple dimensions even at an individual level. And religion is just one facet of a human being – it is not the complete identity of a person. Humanity encompasses a much larger canvas than religion in an individual’s life. From a state of religion to a state of humanity – it is not a mere replacing of nomenclature. It is a matter of resetting an entire mindset.
“For great men, religion is a way of making friends; small people make religion a fighting tool.”
― Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (September 26,1820-July 29,1891), a humanist pundit from West Bengal, is a fine example of someone who epitomized humanity and worked endlessly to provide education to all men and women without the basis of caste, gender, and religion. He spent most of his salary to meet the expenses of poor and needy students. To quote him, “Peace, satisfaction and charity give humanity.”
An inspiring example is of MacKenzie Bezos who said, “We each come by the gifts we have to offer by an infinite series of influences and lucky breaks we can never fully understand. In addition to whatever assets life has nurtured in me, I have a disproportionate amount of money to share,” she wrote in a letter. “My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful. It will take time and effort and care. But I won’t wait. And I will keep at it until the safe is empty.” India has its own such motivating stories.
What can address this dichotomy better than the words of John Lennon in his “Imagine” lyrics,
“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace.“
Humanity is the best religion for mankind! Like so many other movements, the ‘spark of humanity’ that took root in West Bengal needs to ignite and permeate through the length and breadth of our country, bringing in a refreshing whiff of religious tolerance, compassion and love of mankind.
“A diligent citizen, nature enthusiast, occasional blogger, avid reader, sporadic photographer and social commentator; Kolla Krishna Madhavi likes to express her personal views with a dash of mirchi ka tadka. With 20+ years of corporate WEX, including the more recent stints at IIIT-H and Google, Madhavi has opted to ‘right till-fume’. She can be reached on [email protected] and followed @mirchikatadka.””