Prophetic religions believe that there is a special God who has a special people, and who is known only through their special intermediary.
Continued from Part 2
Ethical Codes- The Kingdom of God Within and Sermon on the Mount
A theology has often its own ethics. The biblical ethics is covenantal and enshrined in the Ten Commandments spoken by Yahweh. Christian scholars tell us that the Ten Commandments imitates ancient international treaties formalizing the relationship of a suzerain and a vassal. The foremost stipulation is the requirement of loyalty to the covenant lord and negatively the proscription of all alien alliances.
Jesus’s moral teaching was towards an ‘end of the world’ scenario expected soon. These eschatological interim ethics or emergency rules of conduct were till the Kingdom of Heaven came. ‘Kingdom of God within’ in the Bible has put many readers, particularly Hindu ones, to wrongly believe that the Bible teaches a spirituality of the Upanishads and the phrase means the ever-present reality of God within the heart.
First, the very word ‘within’ is a mistranslation of the Greek word ‘entos’, which means ‘among’ or ‘in the midst’ as the new Bibles tell. Second, this interpretation does not agree with the larger biblical spirituality and tradition. The phrase originated with the late-Jewish expectation of the future in which it denoted the decisive intervention of God, ardently expected by Israel, to restore His people’s fortunes and liberate them.
Sermon on the Mount found in the New Testament has caused much misunderstanding by according it an importance it never had. The Sermon contains lofty ethical teaching but it is not organic to the Bible as it is out of tune with much of its other moral teachings in the New Testament. For example, the Sermon asks us “not to judge, so that we be not judged”. But Jesus is calling whole groups of people “serpents and broods of vipers”, and wondering how they would “escape being sentenced to hell”. Some scholars believe that the Sermon derives as an interpolation from some non-biblical contemporary sources such as Egyptian Gnosticism, the Proverbs, and the Talmud.
It appears certain that the ethics of the Sermon belongs to a different spiritual tradition and it is out of place in a prophetic work like the New Testament which is about good news and the arrival of the Saviour. They were not even particularly conscious of the Sermon till recently. Now that they have found that it has an appeal for certain types, they have accepted it at least as a good device for getting a hearing in certain circles. A Catholic Catechism, an important teaching manual used widely for imparting knowledge of the Catholic faith has seventy-five pages on the Ten Commandments but only three lines on the Sermon.
For common Christians, the Bible itself has come into its own recently. For long it was a closed book for them. Later, with even non-Latin vernacular translations, for long, there was a ban for women, labourers, and other common-folk to read the Bible.
Islamic ethics derives from its prophet, his revelations, and his doings, and he intended no heavy moral burdens on the believers. There is no room for a bad conscience, no need for rationalizing, and for elaborate casuistry- developments characteristic of Christianity. Islam’s ethics fully accommodates a believer’s mundane interests owing no moral obligation towards disbelieving neighbours. Islam has another advantage over Christianity. There is little hiatus between its theology, ethics, and law. In Christianity they mix up due to non-Judaic influences.
Prophetic and Yogic Spiritualities Contrasted- The Hindu Reversal of Gaze
Jews have not claimed a world mission and, except rarely, their faith has been only for themselves and for those who cared to join them. Bernard Lewis tells us of a Talmudic dictum that the righteous of all faiths have their place in paradise. However, both Christianity and Islam claim to be the sole custodian of God’s final revelation do not admit salvation outside its own creed.
Hinduism approaches the problem by first understanding a human being in the form of five sheaths and then a Consciousness immanent and transcendent to the sheaths. In prophetic scriptures, the concern is more about what is God and who is the true one? Generally, My God was the true one and those of the neighbours, false.
Hinduism did raise questions about God but not as a vengeful or jealous entity. One single Reality manifested as different gods. The gods, manifestations of One Single Reality, were friends, mothers, fathers, consorts, sons, and daughters. The concept of One true ‘God’ and the many false ‘gods’ characteristic of Christianity or Islam does not even make sense in the Hindu traditions. The latter has One Thousand Names (sahasranama) of Vishnu, Siva, Sri Lakshmi, Lalita aimed at a deeper spirituality. Atma-jnana (of the Self) and Deva-jnana (of the God) go together. There is nothing like this in prophetic religions. Christianity lacks ‘Names of God’ altogether. Islam through Sufism has a tradition of ‘Ninety-nine Names of Allah’, but fails to articulate Names relating to higher states of samadhi and prajna.
Prophetic religions believe that there is a special God who has a special people, and who is known through a special intermediary. They are all agreed on the special God, though they disagree on the special people and the special intermediary. They also believe that this God’s self-revelation is a one-time event which takes place through a chosen intermediary—a one-time man becoming an all-time man. In Hinduism, salvation is achievable by anyone across time and space through self-effort and not through the belief in a single man and his message.
Common morality asks one to be kind to fellow men to please God. But the new theological moral code talks of the vision of God if one is harsh towards the unbelievers and even kill them. The new code required to kill and rob as an act of piety.
Dharma in Hinduism
The concept is both ethical as well as metaphysical. It says that man ought to do what is right and good, but it adds that to do the right is also man’s nature, the law of his true being. We differ in our talents and in our opportunities. A soldier, a civilian, a sannyasi, a woman, and a student have their own Dharma for a harmonious blending of the individual with the whole.
The aim of Hindu teaching is therefore to help a man to grow in sattva, in his inner being, in his mind and soul, and thus have an ethical life. Ethics, instead of one monolithic code, allows plurality, different paths, different ways. Here one serves the greater good by serving according to one’s psychic and intellectual endowment, talent, capacity, opportunity, and circumstances.
In prophetic religions, there is no possibility nor probably any need for a direct contact for oneself with God. This is through someone else who contacted God long ago and the best we can do is to follow him and join his holy church or ummah- a surrogate spirituality. Yogic spirituality preaches a higher life accessible to all, an enlightenment which does not require books, scriptures, prophets, or saints. The enlightenment comes by self-effort and all the others are simply aids in the process. A belief in books or a person is not a requirement nor relevant in the process of enlightenment. Yogic spirituality of India does not call to live by another man’s truth.
Hindu spirituality is deeply introspective. It has developed a great discipline of Yoga to help in this introspection. Christianity and Islam too had borrowed certain elements but banished them or the prophetic ideologies subordinated them. Today, mystical theology in Christianity and Sufism in Islam have no independent role.
Christianity had some mystical figures like Dionysius the Areopagite (500 CE) or Eckhart of the Rhineland mystical tradition whose teachings were like Vedantic or Neoplatonic thoughts. In the latter’s approach, there was no special place for the God of monotheists (“you prattle too much about God,” Eckhart said) and the Son of Christian persuasion; therefore, the Church was severely critical of him. In its long history, Christianity had little place for the method of self-reflection in its spiritual praxis. Its hermits and more pious monks practised fasting, vigils, and extreme and sometimes even competitive self-mortification.
In Islam too, mysticism in the shape of Sufism is more of a graft than a natural flowering. Rabia who belongs to the second century of Islam really represents an old pagan-Arab tradition. Al-Hallaj and Abu Yazid Bistami who belong to the third century of the Islamic era represent mainly Hindu-Buddhist tradition. Abu Yazid’s grandfather was a Zoroastrian; his teacher was Abu Ali of Sindh. According to the Dictionary of Islam, Sufism “is but a Muslim adaptation of the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophers.”
Sufism saved Islam from its formalism and legalism with some principles of warmth and introspection. However, higher mysticism was incompatible with prophetic Islam and it disappeared soon enough. The Sufism that survived was tame and served prophetism. Some great Sufi poets like Rumi and Attar convey a wrong impression; they have been its show-pieces, not its representative figures.
Silsilas like the Naqshbandiyya, Qadiriyya, Chishtiyya, Dervish, Marabout, and Ribat has represented mainstream Sufism. They had no independent ideology of their own and they only served the spiritual-intellectual categories (manisha) of prophetic Islam; in fact, they became its most willing spokespeople. They never questioned its dogmas, not even its ideas about the kaflrs, the jihad, the zimmis, the dar al-harb. There is nothing to show that they ever spoke against Islamic wars and oppression. On the other hand, as their history shows they were part of Islamic Imperialism. In India, the Sufis have been an important limb of Islamic Imperialism and expansion. The spiritual dimension was for them only a secondary concern.
The Inward Journey
There are many routes for the internal journey in Hindu traditions which includes Bhakti (devotion to a named divinity), Karma (selfless action), Jnana (intellectual comprehension) as per individual endowments and likings. Indian sages and scriptures define many rituals, symbols, personal Gods, impersonal Brahman, mantras, japas, and so on to help this inward journey towards enlightenment or moksha, the supreme purpose of human life. All insist on the need for shedding lower life to find and unite with higher life. Yoga takes an important place in all schemes as a tool.
As a seeker advances on this path, he becomes increasingly aware of his higher nature and becomes more sattvic in nature. As the Gita declares, the hallmark of a truly great person is that he or she is not afraid of the world and more importantly, the world is not in fear of him or her. Truth; compassion; self-restraint; non-covetousness; absence of anger, lust, and greed, and such are a natural outcome of a flowering of higher nature. The purpose of human life remains moksha or enlightenment and dharma is the basis of the life’s journey. Artha (money) and Kama (desires) are acceptable so long as the basis remains dharma.
At the final level, humans become one with the Self; a state of Sat-Chit-Ananda (Pure eternal existence, Pure Consciousness, and Pure Bliss). There is a harmony achieved with the entire cosmos; a state of God or Self-realization as described in the Indian scriptures and darshanas. All have a place and all are part of a cosmic holiness and goodness. This deepened vision is the bedrock of all lofty ethics and morality. This state, which is the goal of all life, is a permanent state of bliss and happiness and are not are not effusions of a temporary enthusiasm.
Non-Yogic and Yogic Samadhis
Vyasa, the great commentator of Yogadarsana, tells us that the mind has 5 habitual states or (bhumis): mudha (dull), kshipta (restless), vikshipta (scattered), ekagra (one-pointed), and niruddha (stopped). Samadhi takes place on all bhumis but adds a warning that the samadhis of the first three bhumis are non-yogic and only the samadhis of the last two bhumis are yogic. Only the yogic samadhi leads to spiritual development.
Yogic samadhi itself needs progressive purification; it has many grades and stations and each grade has its characteristic qualities. The first five dhyanas are vitarka (reflection), vichara (sustained application), priti (joy), sukha (felicity), ekagrata (one-pointedness) and smriti (mindfulness) in the ascending order of yogic subtlety. Higher Indian spirituality begins with the fourth dhyana whose characteristic is equal-mindedness. On the other hand, much of what we find in the scriptures of prophetic religions restrict to the first two or three dhyanas.
The truths of the initial dhyanas are not secure unless fortified by a higher vision. The Church lost those truths soon and they turned into their own caricatures. Almost from the beginning, the Church’s zeal turned into zealotry and became persecutory; its faith became narrow and dogmatic; its confidence arrogant and sectarian. Christianity took to an ideology of physical and outward expansion which holds good for Islam too. They both have faced the problem of an undeveloped spirituality. This has constituted danger to the rest of the humanity as well.
The non-yogic samadhis could help explain quasi-religious phenomena which, sadly, have been numerous and too important in the religious history of man. As products of a fitful mind, they could but make only a temporary impression. But as projections of a mind in some kind of samadhi, they acquire unusual intensity, a strength of conviction, and tenacity of purpose (mudhagraha) which they could not otherwise have. It may be that even the lower bhumis (or kama-bhumis) have their characteristic samadhis, trances, Revelations, their own Prophets, and their own Deities. They project ego-gods and desire-gods and give birth to hate-religions and delusive ideologies quite different from the projections of a yogic bhumi.
Gods of Non-Yogic Bhumis
The god of the yoga-bhumi is free from all limiting qualities like desire, aversion, hankering, ego and nescience; free from all actions, their consequences, present or future, active or latent. The god of the ecstasies of non-yogic bhumi or kama-bhumi however has strong likes and dislikes and has cruel preferences. He has his favourite people, churches and ummahs, and implacable enemies. He is also very egoistic and self-regarding; he can brook no other god or gods. He commands his chosen people when he brings them to the promised land and delivers its people into their hands,
“Thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them…thou shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves… For thou art a holy people unto the Lord.…” (Deut. 7.1-6.)
The Allah of the Quran exhibits about the same qualities. He is god of wrath (ghazab); on those who do not believe in him and his prophets, he wreaks a terrible punishment (azab al- azim). He is also a mighty avenger (azizu’l intiqam). He is also a god of “plenteous spoils” (maghnim kaslrat). Allah is merciful too but only to the believers.
No wonder this kind of god inspired serious doubts and questions among thinking people. Philo and Origen had to do a lot of allegorizing to make him acceptable. Some early Christian Gnostics simply rejected him. They said that he was an imperfect being presiding over an imperfect moral order, some even went further and regarded him as the principle of Evil.
Hindus generally fail to see that any agitated state of mind is not samadhi and any trance utterance or vision is not a samadhi utterance or vision. However, a few like Bankim Chandra, Swami Dayananda, Vivekananda, and Aurobindo are exceptions to the rule. This explains that the biblical God is not unique and he is not a historical oddity. He has his source in man’s psyche and he derives his validity and power from there; therefore, he comes up repeatedly in cultures widely separated.
A similar God, Tengri, presided also over the life of Chingiz Khan and bestowed Revelations on him. Chingiz Khan during the post-convulsive unconsciousness state would say something which someone would dutifully record. Chingiz would act accordingly later. One can see an unmistakable resemblance with the revelations of the prophetic tradition. Partial truths however put a religious rationalization on them. It degrades the higher without uplifting the lower. The theories of jihad, crusade, and conversion become spiritual tasks of a Chosen People. Lower impulses seem to have an autonomous life of their own.
Struggle for Cultural Freedom
The long period under the two Imperialisms, Islamic and Christian, has ended, but they have left a powerful legacy behind. However, the old mental slavery continues after independence and it has yet to win its cultural and intellectual independence. India is now in a struggle for regaining its Hindu identity- perhaps more difficult today. Hindus are disorganized, self-alienated, and ideologically disarmed. Hindu elites have become indifferent about their spiritual heritage and history.
Great poverty has overtaken Hindu religious institutions. Hindu temples are poor and in great neglect. The vilification of Brahmins continues unabated. Teaching Hinduism in schools remains prohibited in the name of secularism. Hinduism is becoming a non-practising and non-practised religion. India’s higher education, its academia, and media are in the hands of a Hindu-hating elite. India’s history is under the influence of old Imperial schools who tell us how Muslims and Christians came as liberators from the shackles of Hinduism.
A profound misunderstanding of caste is a weapon to dismember Hindu society. Old vested interests joined by new ones have come together to make use of the caste factor to put the Hindus on the defensive. Any response now to correct the state of things gets a counter by shouting the two catchwords- ‘Hindu fundamentalism’ or even ‘fascism’.
The world has been under attack by Semitic religions, both physical and ideological, for a long time. India has known their attacks for a thousand years. This has inflicted on the country great political, economic, psychological, and ideological damage. Hindus have become apologetic about their most cherished ideas. Monolatrous ideologies have come to enjoy great prestige that comes from having been in power for so long.
During the days of Islamic and Christian rule, Hindus tried to ‘reform’ themselves and be like their rulers; they claimed that Hinduism had already all the ‘virtues’ of Christianity and Islam — one God, a revealed Book, and prophets. The Brahmo Samaj, the Arya Samaj, and the Akalis also claimed monotheism and iconoclasm. Some monks of the Ramakrishna Mission also fell into this trap. In this self-reform, there was no examination of the religions of the rulers as well. The ideology of an exclusive god making himself known through an exclusive person, a special apostle, and an exclusive revelation remained unquestioned.
Secondly, Hindus became fond of “synthesis” which claimed that all religions preach the same thing. They found in the Bible and the Quran all the truths of the Upanishads and vice versa by cherry-picking and false interpretations. Some took to allegorizing and reading deep esoteric meanings in passages that plainly told a different story. The Bible and the Quran became no different from the Upanishads in their understandings. Today some of the best propagandists of Christianity and Islam are these ‘Hindu- synthesizers’.
When India rises again, many things will happen. Some forced to leave their ancestral fold may want to return to its fold. A reawakened Hinduism may revive its cultural contacts with many countries of South East, Far East, Central and West Asia. India should also discover traditional Africa and indigenous America for herself without Western-Christian or lately Marxist interpretations.
Many in Europe are trying to rediscover their pagan roots which may have deep connections with the Vedic culture and Sanskrit as suggested by the Out of India migration theory. The living Hindu traditions might help these Europeans in seeking their religious and pagan roots. India might be the ‘spiritual home’. Hinduism still is a repository of spiritual knowledge that much of humanity has lost. Through awakened Hinduism, the whole past of religious humanity speaks as it were. Through it one could understand again Plato, Apollonius, and other Greek philosophers. Through Vedanta alone Eckhart makes a deep sense; otherwise, he remains incomprehensible if one depended on Christian tradition.
As we go further into humanity’s past and study its great spiritual cultures like Egypt the need for Vedanta becomes still greater. “It is necessary that we turn to the Vedanta… because the Upanishads provide the purest metaphysics available to us from the primordial past,” Arthur Versluis, the author of The Egyptian Mysteries, says. His labour resulted in an illuminating study of Egypt’s ancient religious tradition using Vedanta as a base.
Hinduism has a significant role to play in the world, but whether Indian Hindus are spiritually prepared for it is another matter. However, one thing is certain, that the rise of Hinduism will greatly help the rise of a spiritual humanity. On this note, Ram Swarup completes the extremely thought-provoking book.
Diplomat and politician Syed Shahabuddin (1935-2017), previously successful in banning Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, was at the forefront of many Islamic issues like the Shah Bano case and the Babri Masjid case. He attempted to ban this book as well in 1992 on the claim that it would hurt both Muslims and Christians. Koenraad Elst, in his thoughtful essay Ban This Book, thinks that this was a ploy to enlist Christian support. Elst says that Christians were however accustomed to living with much fiercer criticism than what Ram Swarup offered in the book. He gives the examples of books like ‘Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums’, ‘Histoire du Mechant Dieu’, ‘Is Christianity True’, and ‘Jesus de Messias, Was het Christendom een Vergissing?’ (‘Jesus the Messiah, Was Christianity a Mistake?’), where the authors were scathing in their attack on Christ, the Gospels, and Christianity as an organized religion responsible for many crimes against non-believers. One may or may not agree with their theories but secularism allowed the publication of such books in a predominantly Christian world. Compared to this, Ram Swarup was far more polite in his criticism. A group of intellectuals also came out in support of Ram Swarup. They saw the attempt as a ‘direct attack on the right of Hindu society to develop an intellectual response to ideological challenges.’
Regarding religions, Koenraad Elst says, ‘it is remarkable that the Abrahamic mainstream religion, Judaism, later softened into a humane religion which practised tolerance, while its offshoots Christianity and Islam became paradigms of exclusivism and of the monotheist ambition of world-conquest’. Our 19th-century reformers like Dayananda Saraswati and Raja Ram Mohan Roy critiqued Christianity and Islam but inherently accepted what they had to say about Hinduism.
Unfortunately, there was another group of later Hindu spiritualists and secularists who fell into the trap of sentimentalism by selective readings of the Bible and the Quran. They made claims, based on superficial knowledge and mainly ignorance, that either ‘all religions are the same’ or even worse, ‘Hindus have a lot to learn from others’. This claim persists even today from half-baked intellectuals whose intentions are indeed noble. They would like to see harmony and peace but carry a profound ignorance of the nature and history of religions.
Hindus have faced physical and intellectual persecution for a thousand years. The intellectual violence against Hindus, either in India or abroad, does not show any sign of abating. In the Western world, Hinduphobia is evident in academia, the media, and missionary literature. It comes out even from the so-called secular organizations. In India too, the evangelists, missionaries, and the clergy in the mosques routinely carry out an anti-Hindu tirade. Their speeches and pamphlets even today focus on all social evils which must emanate from an impure religion of Hinduism.
At a fundamental level, there is inherently something wrong in the way we have seen ourselves and the way we see others. Despite internal intellectual debates of the highest order, for some strange reason, we never seemed to have historically engaged in reversing the gaze on alien religions. It was always a one-sided monologue on what they said about us. Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel represent the finest of Hindu intellectuals who had the strength to look at others from our point of view in a systematic manner. Their books should become compulsory reading for thinking Indians who have lost their intellectual fecundity, a characteristic of Indic traditions, under the sequential attack of Islamic imperialism, European colonialism, missionary propaganda, and a Marxist dominated academia in post-independent India. The Indian secularists heavily endowed with the ‘colonial consciousness’ of Dr SN Balagangadhara did not make things easy for Indians to come out of their shells.
The Ghent group in Belgium under Dr SN Balagangadhara precisely sharpen this important idea of looking at others from our point of view. One of the important contributions they make is to first question whether religions truly exist in India. What we have in India are a huge conglomerate of traditions that the colonials brought under an umbrella of Hinduism (and Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, and so on). Our social sciences, heavily colonized, despite all talk of post-colonialism did not relook at the narratives the colonials set for us. Their theories and conclusions regarding Indian social systems, religions, and caste remained pretty much the same. We simply continued with the colonial discourses of our country without ever needing to question whether religions really exist in India, whether there is really a ‘caste-system’, whether all the social evils had ‘religious and scriptural sanction’, and so on.
Religions come with an ideology of monotheism and exclusivity; traditions come with an idea of pluralism and an indifference to differences. This indifference is way beyond the standard tolerance and acceptance which religion can maximally achieve under the force of secularism and trying to live in a modern, rational, interconnected world. The solution to the pluralism and multi-culturalism in the world today can never come from monotheistic religions but only from a land of thriving pluralistic traditions- India. Call it Hinduism for sake of convenience. Only if religions become more of traditions that implies flexibility in interacting with others yet retaining their identity can there be true peace and harmony. If we insist on converting the mass of traditions broadly called Hinduism into a proper religion like the Abrahamic ones, we shall see more intolerance and fundamentalism. The so-called Hindutva is an outcome of such a process.