The following is the general text of Mr. Goenka's remarks at one of the panels of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January, 2000 on the subject of how the practice of a tradition can transcend dogma and cultural elements and manifest the essence of religion:
Good that we are all here today to discuss various aspects of religion. Not this religion or that religion but religion as such.
There are two significant aspects of religion, one of which is the hard core of religion; the quintessence of religion which is of utmost importance. This is to live a moral life full of love, compassion, good will, and tolerance.
Every religion essentially preaches morality. This is the greatest common denominator of all religions.
A moral life is a life where one abstains from all such actions, physical or vocal, which disturb the peace and harmony of other beings. A moral life is always free from negatives such as anger, hatred, ill will, and animosity.
A moral life the true religious life where one lives in peace and harmony within oneself and generates nothing but peace and harmony others.
A true religious life is an "art of living", a moral code of conduct, and a happy harmonious healthy and wholesome life. A true religious life is always good for oneself, good for others, and good for the entire human society.
A true religious person is a pious person, a person with moral life, a person with a well-controlled and disciplined mind. A person with a pure heart always bubbling with love and compassion. A true religious person is an invaluable jewel of the human society. Such a true religious person can be from any country, community, any color, any sex, rich or poor, educated or uneducated. Every human being is capable of becoming a true religious person.
Living a life of morality with a well controlled, disciplined mind and with a pure heart full of love and compassion is not the monopoly of any one religion. It is for all. It transcends all sectarian barriers. It is always non-sectarian. It is always universal. It is always generic.
If people practice this quintessence of religion there is no reason for any conflict or confrontation among the people of the world regardless of their religion. Everyone in the human society can enjoy real peace, real harmony and real happiness by observing this quintessence of religion.
But then there is another aspect of religion. It is the outer shell of religion. It involves rites, rituals, ceremonies, etcetera, which are likely to turn into different cults. Each has its own different mythological and philosophical beliefs, each of which are likely to turn into dogmas, blind faith and blind beliefs.
In contrast to the uniformity of the inner hard core of morality this outer hard shell exhibits great diversity. Every organized, sectarian religion has its own rites, rituals, ceremonies, cults, beliefs and dogma. The followers of each organized, sectarian religion usually develop a tremendous amount of attachment to their own rites, rituals, faith and dogma as the only means of salvation. Such misguided persons may not have even a trace of morality, a trace of love, compassion and good will towards others and yet remain under the impression that they are religious persons because they have performed such and such rite or ritual or because they have full faith in a particular belief. They are actually deluding themselves and missing the nectar of the practice of the true essence of religion.
And then there is the worst part of this outer shell.
People with strong attachment to their own faith have the firm belief that the followers of all other organized sectarian religions are non-believers and therefor will never taste salvation. They are fully convinced that to convert others to their religion is a great meritorious deed and hence they apply various coercive methods.
Such blind faith of the followers of different organized religions is likely to turn into fanatic fundamentalism leading to controversies, contradictions, violent confrontations and even wars and bloodshed resulting in a tremendous amount of misery in the society wiping away its peace and harmony. And all this is done in the name of religion. What a great misfortune for this human world.
When the outer shells of religion become so predominantly important the inner core of morality gets lost.
Sometimes people feel that there cannot be a religion without the hard outer shell, however undesirable it may be. But successful experiments were made in the past and are also being made even today where 100 percent importance is given to the inner core of morality, ignoring the outer shell as totally irrelevant. There exists a method to adopt this practice successfully called Vipassana Meditation.