Thursday, August 18, 2005

Basis of Hindu Universalism

I have seen a lot of ppl confusing the Hindu idea of universalism as a sort of justification for each and everything: from the selfishness of a person to the dogmatism of some other religious person. This is a dangerous attitude, and clarity is required over what exactly the Vedic seers mean by “ekam sat, viprah bahudha vadanti” (truth is one, sages call it by different names). I will give two examples to drive this point:

Incident of Sri Ramakrishna and a sceptic:

Sri Ramakrishna was one day taunted by a sceptic that the Kali he worshipped at Dakshineshwar was only a slab of black stone carved into a bizarre female figure and decked with glittering trinkets. The saint was taken aback. So far he had not cared to see the sacred icon in its supreme spiritual splendour. He had been content to witness the Divine Mother in all Her majesty in the cave of his heart whenever he was in a state of samãdhi. Now he had been challenged to find out if what he worshipped was a figment of his fevered imagination.

He entered the sanctum sanctorum and stood before the sacred icon. He fixed his gaze on the holy figure, and prayed with all his concentrated psychic power: Mã ! dyãkhã dê (Mother ! Reveal Thyself). And lo and behold! The Divine Mother dazzled his physical eyes with the same indescribable infinities as he had witnessed with his inner eye while meditating on Her form. He looked back at the sceptic who had accompanied him, and smiled with compassion. The sceptic had seen nothing which he had not seen before. To his physical eyes, the Goddess was still a slab of black stone. And it had not been given to him to train the inner eye.

The point which was made that day at Dakshineshwar was that to the physical consciousness(of the sceptic in this case) a slab of stone in any shape or form will always remain a slab of stone, while to another consciousness which has awakened to some sublime dimension the same slab will reveal its innermost mysteries. To a consciousness such as that of Sri Ramakrishna who had already scaled the highest spiritual heights, the slab of stone became an incarnation of Sat (Truth), Cit (Consciousness), and Ãnanda (Bliss). It was not the icon which was inert and inconscient; it was the witness within the sceptic which had not yet awakened to its own spiritual power. It is not the Gods who are unwilling to reveal themselves; it is the worship which has not yet known how to woo them. (incident pasted from here ) So, what matters is not what a Hindu understands from Bible or Quran, but what a Christian or Muslim understands them as.

Similarity of Practices :

Let us look at an anecdote: A man is drowning in a river, and desperately throwing his hands for help. Now another person who sits on the bank, instead of saving the person, says: “Yes, even in swimming we move our hands, so he is just swimming, and not drowning, and will essentially reach the bank”. In our case, this misguided person on the bank is the ‘secularist Hindu’. Even though at a glance there may be some similarities between the two, they need not give the same result.

So, we have to remember that similarity does not mean equality, and even small differences may matter a lot

The One God

It may be the result of constant propaganda by Christian scholars depicting polytheism as primitive, many Hindus now a days jump up to prove to the Semitic religions that they too are monotheistic. If the Hindu really believes in one God, it’s a different story; otherwise this eagerness to prove to others that we are not polytheistic and worship only one God is in no way justifiable. What is wrong even if some one believes in many gods? Why should he feel shy about it?

Worst still is equating the concept of Advaitic Oneness with the One god concept of Semitic creeds, and trying to present a similar monotheistic model of Hinduism. There is a world of difference between the two. While one does not include any other form or History (by History I mean...God creating Adam then eve; this is part of the God’s History) of God, the other does not exclude anything, even including the man, living, non-living beings everything under its concept of God. While the former ‘One’ is like fixing only one way of writing a word; the latter is to tell that what ever language you write that word, it meaning is one and the same.

Faith matters?

The Bhakti literature is full of episodes where a saint will not care anything abt logic or reason or any books or scholarship; but will have a simple and total faith in a god of his liking. Compared to them, we are little babies in religion, and so do not dare question their experiences.

But this is in turn compared with the blind faith a Christian may have to his bible, and said that he too may improve spiritually if he has total faith abt one form of God.

Firstly we do not have any concept of faith in one god. What we have is faith in one Istha. Istha does not mean one and true god, but means my favourite form. This one simple difference, yet significant guards the Hindu sadhaka from becoming a fundamentalist in the name of his favourite god.

Another difference is that the Bhakti literature makes it clear that real Bhakti is that in which you do not expect anything back, and love just for the sake of love. Pure love, like a mother loves her child, so a sadhaka loves his Istha, without any want for result. Neither does he care for the pleasure of heaven nor the condemning of hell. All that matters to him is whether his Istha is near him or not. If he is near, it becomes heaven for him, and if he is not there, it becomes hell for him.

It will be a big mistake on our part if we do not understand these subtleties and to say that a person worshipping God with pure love, and one worshipping a god with selfish motives will reach the same goal.


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