Courtesy & Copyright Prabuddha Bharata
Swami Amaranandaji Maharaj is the spiritual minister of Centre Vedantique, Geneva, Switzerland. He was invited to deliver an address at the Third Parliament of Religions, held at Cape Town, South Africa, on 2 December 1999. His theme was, ‘Relevance of Vedanta and Hinduism in Modern Days.’
Hinduism has been called a republic of creeds. The unity in our diversity is beautifully expressed in a few lines of a hymn, which resounds in many Siva temples at the beginning of the week:
The Vedic path, the path of Samkhya and Patanjala Yoga, the doctrines of the Pasu-patas and Vaisnavas-for each one of them there is a scripture. People estimate: This is good, that is benefic. 'D‘e to the variance of their temperaments, people follow straight or meandering courses. Like the sea in Which diverse streams lose their identity, You, O God, are the destination of mankind.
Hinduism is the greatest glory of India’s culture. Poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote about India’s culture:
It is your sky, which became first aglow with spiritual light;
It is your forest retreats where the first Sama music was heard;
In your forest dwellings were first elaborated
the branches of knowledge and the precepts of Dharma;
It is there again that so much poetry and legends were composed.
O, my Motherland, you have captivated the whole world.
The term ‘Hindu’ is the disfiguration of the word ‘Sindhu’ the great river of the Indo-Aryan territory (this river-Indus-is still called Sindhu in Indian languages). ‘Hindu’has been in the Indian vocabulary since about 1200 years. We shall, however, use the term ‘Hinduism’ to denote our religion of even earlier epochs. The closest Sanskrit word for ‘religion’ in the distant past was dharma. Dharma was the prescribed, correct mode for individual and social life. It was perhaps when important movements with little allegiance to the Vedas came into being in India that the adherents to the Vedic path began using the qualification sanatana (eternal) for dharma. The amorphous nature of the early dharma dissipated gradually with the classification and transmission of the Vedic literature and the composition of lawgivers (contrary to popular belief, the original Manu Smrti-the most important source of Hindu law-is of a great antiquity).
As a culture evolves with religion as its pivot, there is diversity and the inevitable dissension and confusion. The vitality of this ramified structure depends upon a successful synthesis from time to time. Fortunately, this happened to Hinduism. The first attempt was in the domain of Vedic literature through the composition of the Brahma Sutras, and the second one included the whole Sanatana which could produce even in the 20th century Dharma through the Bhagavadgita. In Buddha’s time there were more than 60 sects in India. When Sankara appeared, the Sanatana Dharma contained six different schools of philosophy and many sects in the peripheral region. Outside the pale of this Dharma, there were 18 branches of Buddhism, among which four groups were important combatants in the domain of philosophical debate. Besides them, the Jainas and the Carvaka-Lokayatas were religious groups, which also counted.
Since the 13th century, when Buddhism collapsed in India due to the proximate cause of Muslim hostility, and when Jainism also became a shrunken entity in the India religious landscape, it has been Vedanta coupled with the discipline part of Patanjala Yoga (as opposed to its dualistic vision part) that has been prevailing. The Tantras whose origin was in the Vedic times but whose noticeable evolution was 1000 years old by the 13th century, developed first as a helix with turns opposite to those of Vedanta; but ultimately, the Tantras became a subsidiary ally of Vedanta, with the same goal achieved through other means. The Saiva philosophies, the Bhakti margas (the path of devotion) and the paths derived from the mutation of the Buddhistic yanas gradually became colored by jnana (knowledge) and bhakti (devotion), ie, both the strands of Vedanta. So Hinduism today is that religion of which the different aspects are held together by the overarching Vedanta. Or, to put it otherwise, the Hindu cults and their associated creeds are, in a way, Vedanta put in different bottles.
Most people within Hinduism, or without, find it difficult to define Hinduism globally. The ramification of these religions, in the course of at least six millennia, is bewildering. To some so-called progressive elements within its fold, and to many more outside, it is Brahmanism, unrelated to the duties and problems of modern times, and lacking in vision about the future. To some others, however, it is a storehouse of high spirituality which could produce even in the 20th century such spiritual celebrities as Mahatma Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, Anandamayi Ma and Sant Randas-who were all alive when the Second World War ended.
A Critical Evaluation
Let us first discuss briefly those aspects of Hinduism which are widely perceived to be its weak points: (a) casteism, (b) polytheism / idolatry, (c) excessive other-worldliness, (d) tying up with one homeland, and (e) absence of creedal clarity.
1. Casteism: Let us quote from the article of a scholarly Brahmin, named T.R. Venkatarama Shastri (the article is entitled ‘The Smrtis: Their Outlook and Ideals’):
The caste system, which so largely dominates the regulations of the Smrtis as to marriage and inheritance and also in the sphere of criminal law and social usage’s, is connected with external life and social organization. It does not affect the growth of the inner spirit of man in any sphere. If the exact texts of the Vedic lore are denied to the sudra, nothing of substance has been denied to him. His growth in every department in unimpeded. The Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavadgita and all other valuable books conceived, as man made are open to study for all. Even the unchanted Vedas, verbally the same, may be listened to and understood by the uninitiated classes. The Vedas is denied, but not its meaning. As the saying goes: Sasvaro vedah asvaro vedarthah, the Veda chanted is Veda, and the Veda without chant is the meaning of the Veda. The Puranas and the Itihasas are not without stories of the non-Aryans being referred to and approached for a solution of problems relating to a conflict of dharma ……. In the purely spiritual sides of life, for example, among the bhakti dominated communities, the spiritual equality of all the devotees, irrespective of caste, was recognized.
Among the spiritual masters venerated by the Hindus, Namdev was a tailor, Sadna a butcher, Kabir a weaver, Ravidas a cobbler, Sena a barber, Nabha a pariah, and Dadu a cotton-ginning Muslim. Swami Adbhutananda, a disciple of Sri ramakrishna, was an illiterate domestic servant in his pre-mo-nastic days.
Yet the caste system, in its crystallized form, became the symbol of privileges and oppression. Hence, in the 11th century Ramanuja violated caste rules; in the 12th century Basava, the founder of the Lingayata movement, rose against it. In the Following centuries, Ramananda, Caitanya and many others were taking steps not conforming to the caste custom. Two centuries ago Rammohan Roy in Bengal became vocal against it. Actually, each day the citadel of caste hierarchy is being undermined in modern India.
The orthodox among the Hindus may still try to uphold the caste system mentioned in Rig Veda and Bhagavadgita. The Gita says: guna-karma-vibhagasah, ie the system of caste classification has been made according to the propensity of guna (the three gunas-sattva,rajas and tamas-generate in us the propensity of equilibrium, excitation and inertia, respectively) and according to the aptitude for a profession. Well, the propensity of guna is an attribute of the individual. The hereditary profession was the correct method in olden days, but when education has been democratized, when the printing press is 500 years old, when information technology is sweeping over the world, the hereditary profession as a norm cannot and should not exist. Swami Vivekananda addressed himself to the upper caste with the following message: ‘Get blasted, disappear! Let the new India emerge.’
The poet Atulprasad Sen continued:
There is only one nation, which is divided into a hundred parts,
On the plea of variances in caste and lineage;
O Hindus, you will perish unless you give it up.
The national government of India is well aware of the problem and has taken many steps to remove the visible signs of a long drawn oppression. But one should take caution that the lower castes do not try to perpetuate their vested interest by trying to remain in the bracket’ scheduled’ indefinitely, and that they do not take to the violent method or employ counter-repression tactics against the upper castes. South Africa’s reconciliation should be an example before us.
2. Polytheism / Idolatry: Philosopher S.N. Dasgupta says in his introduction to Volume I of The Cultural Heritage of India:
The Vedas reveal different strata of religious and philosophical culture. There are passages which indicate that Vedic people worshipped the nature gods in their diversity; there are also passages which show that there was a tendency to exaggerate the power and influence of one or other of the gods over others. This has been styled as henotheism by Max Muller. There is another stratum, which seems to encourage the performance of sacrifices ……. In another stratum we find the performance of sacrifice being replaced by different kinds of meditation.
There is also monotheism (ref. The last line of the ‘Nasadiya Sukta’) and even monism (ref.the ‘Purusa Sukta) in the Rg-Veda Samhita. The appearance of so-called polytheism in the Veda-based and Vedanta-dominated religion, popularly called Hinduism, is an evolution influenced by a few stimulating factors: (1) the ancient non-Aryan cult of Siva, (ii) the emerging cult of the Buddha, (iii) the cult of Krsna spreading from the nucleus of Mathura Vrindaban, and (iv) Tibetan Buddhism exerting a back pressure. A restructuring of divinities came into being. Along with the propagation of the Epics, the adoration of Rama and of Krsna came to the fore.
Each of the Hindu gods and goddesses which are in vogue now is the result of anthro- pomorphization of some divine aspect or aspect. This is done to heighten the attraction towards God. Worshipping an idol as God is idolatry, but worshipping God using the idol as a symbol is not idolatry. Hindus have produced and are still producing an astonishing galaxy of saints, capable of communing with God; and many have achieved this by beginning their inner life with puja the Hindu liturgy to honor a deity. Swami Vivekananda was the first Hindu to explain this point to a western audience through his paper on Hinduism read at Chicago. We shall quote from an article on Sri Ramakrishna, contributed to the Theistic Review Quarterly (dated October 1879) by Mr P.C. Majumdar, the representative of Brahmo Samaj in the first Parliament of Religions:
But how is it possible that he has such a fervent regard for all the Hindu deities together? What is the secret of his singular eclecticism? To him each of these deities is a force, an incarnated principle tending to reveal the supreme relation of the soul to that eternal and formless Being who is unchangeable in his blessedness and the Light of wisdom.
Take for instance Siva. The saint views and realizes Siva as the incarnation of contemplativeness and yoga. Forgetful of all worldly care and concern, merged and absorbed in samadhi, in the meditation of the ineffable perfection’s of the supreme Brahman, insensible to pain and privation, toil and loneliness, ever joyful in the blessedness of divine communion, calm, silent, serene, immovable like the Himalayas where his abode is.
3. Excessive other-worldliness: According to the Hindu Lawgiver Manu, enjoyment is a natural propensity, but reckless enjoyment brings ruin to the society and to the individual. So, worldly enjoyment must have certain rules to guide its course; these rules constitute dharma. But if one’s mind is able to turn away from enjoyment, that give a mahaphala, a tremendous result, namely, liberation from the clutches of nature. So the dharmic goal set for most human beings is to produce satiation through enjoyment, which will then generate the spiritual quest for the cultivation of what is called ‘other-worldliness’ There is no doubt that detachment is necessary for spiritual progress. Our scriptures are eloquent about this point. But there is ordinarily no short cut to the path of renunciation. This vital message of the Gita was forgotten when the Buddhists were in a spree of opening monasteries and filling each one with thousands of members. As a result, on the one hand social duties were partially neglected, and on the other hand monasteries got polluted Swami Vivekananda called this the greatest national blunder. Putting moksa as the immediate goal for the entire population is one of the reasons of social decline in India and in many Buddhist lands. The vestige of this legacy from India’s Buddhistic past is still there among the Hindus.
4. Tying up with one homeland: There is a popular notion that Hinduism is the religion of the natives of India who have not been converted to other religions. But history proves otherwise. Many Greeks, like Heliodoros, adopted the Indians’ religious ways. Scythians, Parthians and members of the Yueh-chi tribe entered into post-Buddha India and were absorbed into the Hindu population as Sakas, Pahlavas and Kusanas. The Zoroastrians from Persia were inducted as ‘Maga Brahmanas’ Similarly, the white Huns and Abhiras coming from the west and people from Thailand coming from the east were absorbed. In the outward direction, Hindu settlers in Southeast Asia and the Indonesian archipelago once Hinduized a vast population the indigenous people in those lands. Within India, millions of Buddhists and Jains. re-entered into the faith of their Hindu ancestors in the post-Sankara centuries. Unfortunately, however, at a later period the Hindu society developed a marked attitude of exclusiveness. Swami Vivekananda used to say that when Hindus invented the word mleccha (suggestive of the inferiority of the foreigners) and stopped crossing the seas, they fell Happily, the original attitude of openness has been regaining ground in the Hindu society since mid-19th century. And in the 20th century, thousands of western people have accepted Hinduism informally or formally through the matrimonial link or through the spiritual link with a master.
5. Absence of creedal clarity: Hindu never had any supreme religious leader. They did not light the fire of inquisitions, not did they hold councils to determine the boundary between orthodox and heterodox views. On the contrary, holding a highly particular opinion concerning a religious issue was regarded as the sign of a spiritual genius. Therefore, there were mushroom growths of sects, curbed a little by the process of debate.
General de Gaulle said about France: ‘How can you have unity in a nation, which consumes more than 300 varieties of cheese? Likewise, disunity existed in Hinduism also. Then the first great synthesis came through the enunciation of the Gita’s message. And the second grand synthesis was achieved through the life and message of Sri Ramakrishna in the 19th century. Swami Vivekananda was the first Hindu to discover the common basis of the creeds of the Hindu sects. These are: (i) veneration of the Vedas, (ii) theory of reincarnation and karma, (iii) theory of the cyclic creation, sustenance and destruction of the cosmos, (iv) goal perceived as liberation from suffering and access to bliss, and (v) acceptance of diverse spiritual paths and the individual’s right to choose one or more among them.
It is the avastha-adhikara doctrine (avastha means the level of evolution and the corresponding aptitude for a spiritual discipline; adhikara means the competence of a person to take up a particularly higher course) – as illustrated through the spiritual ministration of Sri Ramakrishna – that helps the modern man to comprehend the seemingly contradictory approaches in different areas of Hinduism, or to appreciate the life of an aspirant who takes up several of such approaches.
Points of Excellence
Let us turn to those aspects where, from a historical perspective, the excellence of Hinduism should be evident: (a) acceptance of plurality of a approaches, democracy in establishing creeds, (b) balance between the two ideals-monarchal and social, (c) basic formulations espouse the scientific vision, (d) great elaboration of steps leading to inner transformation, and (e) abundance of saints suffused with spiritual force.
a. Acceptance of plurality of approaches: Even in the Vedic days there were numerous masters, and around them, disciples. This is how sampradayas ( group of thought ) came into being. In case of a debate between two sampradayas, acrimony was possible. But debates weeded out inferior or untenable doctrines and gave to all the democratic right of expressing views and persuading others to concur. In debates, however, since each side usually has a strong as well as a weak point, the long-term effect on the national psyche was the idea of the validity of each of the diverse paths.
It is because of this fact that Indians expressed their solidarity with all people persecuted on religious grounds: with Jews humiliated by Romans in Jerusalem, with Christians of the Eastern Church escaping to Malabar from the bitter factionalism in the 4th century (the hospitality and magnanimous gifts to the Church by the kings of Travancore and Malabar have no parallel in history), with Zoroastrians who fled from Iran in the early 8th century, and with Tibetan Buddhists fleeing from the Chinese cohorts in the 20th century.
The precept of harmonizing (which is much more than acceptance) in one’s own life the apparently diverse methods of spiritual life in ancient India is found in the Gita. The 16th century saint Madhusudana was devotional to begin with, but later took up the enquiry required by a monist, and ended up with monism as the base on which devotion was placed. But the example of Sri Ramakrishna who traversed different disciplines of the devotional and the tentric paths, the paths of monism and Sufism, and contemplated on Christ, is shining solitarily in the hagiographic literature of the world.
b. Balance between the two ideals – monarchal and social: There are religions in which monasticism was either nipped in the bud or not allowed to flourish. There are others, which exaggerated the prestige of the monarchal robe and unduly enthused people to dwell in monasteries or nunneries.
The Hindu sages thought about a prescription that would do justice to the propensity for bhoga (material enjoyment) and would also help man rise spiritually. ‘Go to the forest after you are fifty’ they said. This advice, addressed to man, meant the following: Adhere to the life and to the duties of a householder till both you and your wife become old; after that begin your spiritual voyage. This ancient precept is not totally dead. The continuing custom of passing one’s old age at Varanasi through prayer and meditation is a manifestation of the precept put to practice.
A monk’s or nun’s immediate duty differs from duties of a married person living in society. But they are complementary to each other. The social man supports the monastic brother physically ( by providing food, shelter, etc ); the latter is there for consoling man in distress, for guiding him in the spiritual path, and for bringing about cohesion in a society faced with great disaster ( like pestilence, natural calamity, war, political oppression, etc ). For example, Madhusudana in the 16th century personally influenced the Mogul emperor Akbar to grant permission for taking steps to stop the persecution of Hindus in the Himalayan region.
The Gita supports the idea that monastic virtues can and should be practiced by householders aspiring toward spiritual heights. It declares that by doing one’s own duty and worshipping God through that performance, one can ultimately attain perfection. The greatest example among the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna in this respect is Nag Mahashay, who, although a householder and not a monk, attained the heights of yogic perfection. In the 20th century, a host of young men and women voluntarily put aside their prospects of marital bond to serve the cause of India’s struggle for independence, this service being elevated to worship. Quite a number of such individuals embraced the monastic life later.
c. Basic formulations espouse the scientific vision: In the recent past, during the World Philosophers’ Meet in Geneva (1998), many Indian scientists pointed out the striking resemblance between the philosophical significance of quantum physics and the Brahman of Vedanta. One scientist, Dr A. Ghosal, Professor at the Institute of Theoretical Science in Oregon, USA, has put it beautifully in his book The Self-Aware Universe, where he says :
A quantum object cannot be said to manifest in ordinary space-time reality unless we observe it as a particle. A quantum object ceases to exist here and simultaneously appears in existence over there; we cannot say it went through the intervening space. A manifestation of one quantum object, caused by our observation, simultaneously influences its correlated twin object-no matter how far apart they are. Therefore, science is pointing out that consciousness is fundamental.
The above scientific observation is in keeping with the Vedantic monism which talks about the absolute unity of the multifarious facets of our universe, i.e., matter, energy and all psychic forces. The validity of the monistic philosophy of Vedanta is thus coming to the fore. The idea mooted by William James, a man of science, in the beginning of the 20th century that religious experiences are valid in the scientific sense of the term, is gaining powerful support from quantum physics. Mind and spirit cannot be treated anymore as taboos by the people of science.
But much more basic is Vedanta’s stress on manana, cogitation before arriving at a conclusion. Questioning and verifying with a doubt, which is honest, do not constitute an ignoble affair in Vedanta. If methods of science are applied to discover the kernel of religions, much of the excrescence in religions, which religious persons cling to, will fall. But ultimately, religions will gain in this process. What will be highlighted will be man’s contact with the supra-sensorial object or phenomenon. This has been termed anubhava in Vedanta. The access to anubhava is the ambition of all Vedantists. The Gita says that a person who has got this has no need for the Vedas.
d. Great elaboration of steps leading to inner transformation: The great elaboration of steps to be followed in different disciplines, as formulated by different sampradaya (sects) in India and enunciated in manuals of religion, is a great chance for people of different temperaments to make spiritual progress. That is why many Christians are adopting Hindu techniques in modern days as a means of effecting the inner transformation. This spiritual feast is one great particularity of Hinduism Religion ultimately is an individual affair, to be taken seriously; this is illustrated through the system of having an ista-devata, i.e. each person having the right to choose his or spiritual ideal. Hindus, who have been born in the post Ramakrishna age, or at least most of them, can resolve the dichotomy between the two ideals-the personal God and the impersonal one. This is the watershed between Abrahamic religions and eastern religions such as Theravada Buddhism, Jainism and Vedantic Monism. So, Hindus as a class are better suited than the members of other religions to have genuine sympathy for both the ideas. This is a great advantage when inter-religious dialogue is gaining momentum.
e. Abundance of saints suffused with spiritual force: The appearance of successful mystics in great number in all ages irrespective of the vicissitudes of the national life, of saints who crossed the level of ritualistic religion and communed with a supra-sensorial reality with such an intensity that their physical forms were suffused with spiritual energy, is a glorious aspect of Hinduism. Thousands of men and women within the ambit of Hinduism have attained to authenticated heights of spiritual perfection, a phenomenon that has not been observed on this scale in any other land. The galaxy of Indian saints from prehistoric times (like the composer of ‘Purusa Sukta’) to the modern age (like Anandamayee Ma) has no parallel in any other firmament. Leaving aside Sri Ramakrishna-who, as it has been rightly said, lived 5000 years of national spiritual life in the course of 50 years-which other country has produced a saint of Bhakti marga who can equal Sri Krsna Caitanya of the 16th century? Or a seer of anubhava who can match Ramana Maharshi of the 20th century, who radiated the truth of cosmic unity in mundane life after having tasted samadhi (the superconscious experience of the highest inner absorption)? They are the proofs of the highest dictums in the holy books of the Hindus. They have spiritually inspired and often transformed the lives of countless ordinary mortals-rich and poor, intellectuals and illiterates, men and women, and children too.
Position of Hindu Women
One Hindu custom, generally found in Vedic literature and developed in post-Vedic Puranic lore, is considering God as mother. Historically speaking, this had a salutary effect. India’s ancient history gives proof of the existence of women philosophers, saints, poets, artists and administrators. Saunaka in the 5th century BC mentions 27 women seers of the Rg Veda, the ancient-most literature of mankind. Sayana adds two other names. Gandhari and Vidura of the Epic days, or the historic Yasomati (mother of Emperor Harsa), were towers of strength and character, attracting the admiration of the whole society. Rulers of alien faith have looked upon the chastity of Hindu women with admiration. ( For example, the Akbar-nama and Tuzuk-I-Jahangiri-biographies of two Mogul emperors-mention the depth of love, fellowship and chastity of Hindu women.)
In the 19th century, Sri Ramakrishna had the most extensive guidance from a Hindu nun. He, on his turn, elevated Sri Sarada Devi, the wife-cum-nun, to a high pedestal unparalleled in the history of the world. The Vedic society put two alternative ideals before women-the celibate lady devoted to spiritual quest and the housewife dedicated to family welfare. The two ideals were perfectly fused in the life of Sri Sarada Devi who was the defacto head of the monastic order named after Sri Ramakrishna.
It is true that in spite of the honorable position enjoyed by women in ancient India, their social status declined in later times. A major cause of this was that several Hindu lawgivers had put the marriageable age of girls to be between eight and 12 years. The idea was that a girl should not know any man before her marriage and before her emotive mind at puberty would come into play. Evidently, in days without a printing press, and without the democratization of education, the girl’s education and mental development depended heavily on the love and goodwill of her new family after her marriage.
In reality it meant that women typically remained more steeped in ignorance than men in most families did. It is proper that the national government in India has abolished child marriage. Hindu women today are coming up in every field of life. Their great test will be in the preservation of the chastity ideal while availing themselves of the opportunities of modern education. Swami Vivekananda, moreover, believed that it should not be men but women themselves who should determine the goals and lead the process of women’s enlightenment. It is heartening that Swami Vivekananda’s dream came to be a reality 48 years back when the first Hindu nunnery came into being within the framework of the Ramakrishna Movement. The activities of this institution include education and vocational training for women, health care, as well as spiritual ministration.
Acaryas of Hinduism
The actuality of Hinduism is the importance of the influence of acaryas, i.e. teachers of religion and morality. The word acarya is derived from a verb, which means to conduct oneself (correctly). For all problems in life, even in ancient days, there was no instant guidance to be derived from some sloka (verse) found in a holy book. The Vedas say: When you have doubt regarding an act or a profession, go to a scholar who is a yogi, who has not lost his independence by being salaried: ask him what he will do if put in a similar situation, and do as he would have done.’
Before accepting someone as the spiritual guide for the long term, Hindu should test the person thoroughly by observing and evaluating his/her conduct, i.e. simplicity of life, sublimation of sex-energy and effacement of ego, as well as optimal scholarship. Only after such an undertaking, only after the would-be teacher seems to have some justified claim regarding his / her purity and sincerity, can he/ she be accepted as your acarya, your guide. Only then the acarya becomes venerable and worthy of affection. If this principle is not followed wisely, a powerful method of inspiring masses will become corrupt. This is a danger for Hinduism and for the world today.
Application of Ancient Wisdom
What about the application of ancient wisdom-as possessed by a real acarya –to modern problems?
For example, take the burning question of ecology, which has been increasingly agonizing our minds for the last 30 years. What clue does the ancient wisdom of Vedanta offer us to solve this ? Vedanta will simply point out that man needs a change of attitude first, by shedding the belief that he a right to use or misuse nature as he chooses in the pursuit of his happiness; and that this change is best brought about by accepting the Vedantic epigram: Thou art That! Man is inseparable from nature and whatever man inflicts on nature he inflicts on himself.
Here is a quotation from the essay ‘Philosophy of the Tantras’ authored by Swami Pratyagatmananda (cf. The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol. III:
The vast sublime choir of the starry heavens above and the ‘still small voice’ of moral consciousness within, dealing in categorical imperative, are the two things that set the great philosopher Kant furiously thinking: ‘Have they or have they not a common source or origin? The mighty master voice that leads the sublime heavenly chorus and the small masterful voice that speaks through moral injunctions, the mighty master ordaining the measure of cosmic harmonies and the little master regulating the inner springs of action in us-can ‘that’ and ‘this’ be equated to each other? This raises the eternal issue-the little mystery that dwells within and rules as the hidden ‘in’ can it be assimilated to the majesty and sublimity that rules as the displayed ‘our’?
The mystics of Hinduism-whether Saiva, Sakta, Vaisnava or Vedantist-have declared that this assimilation is possible.
Each of the positive points of Hinduism is an instrument to combat the ills of the human society. When most of today'’ wars and intra-national conflicts are linked to religious differences, the world needs the application of the Hindu model, namely, an acceptance of the plurality of religious approaches. The prerequisite for this attitude is the intellectual conviction that transcendental mysticism is the goal of religion; this is the central message of Hinduism. This has been emphasized in the 19th century by Sri Ramakrishna. The great rise in the number of a-religious spiritual persons in the world today is due to the dogmas of religion. Hindu sects have also their dogmas but the dogmatism is mitigated in Hinduism due to the overarching Vedanta tradition, which puts emphasis on cogitation and inner transformation. The intra-faith tension in Hinduism has been eased out due to the recognition of the avastha-adhikara doctrine. The fact that debate and democracy were adopted in establishing creeds in India has facilitated the governing of India through democratic means during the last 50 years. Few countries in the Third World have been able to do so. The inspiration behind countless Indians fighting for political independence during fighting for political independence during a period of 45 years ending in the year1947 is derived from the precepts of the Gita and the message of Swami Vivekananda. Above all, the fundamentals of Vedanta are corroborated by modern science.
We should bear in mind that from the date of the demise of Emperor Harsa in the year 647 AD up to 15 August 1947 there was no Hindu governing any vast portion of India, and that for a period of 755 years Hindus were at the mercy of rules of alien faiths. (This is an incorrect statement. Some of the Hindu rulers during this period were the Rashtrakutas, Pratiharas, Palas and Vijaynagar empire).
Therefore the Hindu society today is like an unmended old boat which requires repairs. There is need of a fresh look at our marriage system, at our democracy-shy priestcraft, at our service-shy religiosity. Our women should be given proper education; and all gender-related inequalities, in social as well as religious practice, should be brought to an end. Our tribal populations should be brought into the national mainstream through the sharing of our cultural heritage.
And, there is another task-a task, which has not been attempted as yet in any religion. When, more than 1000 years ago, the Indian nation by and large accepted the division of the Vedas into the section of ritualism and the section of knowledge, a great battle was won in resolving the serious dilemma faced by people as to whether the method of sacrifice or that of meditation was the correct path; thenceforth the former was seen as the preparatory stage for elevation into the later. Today we need the scanning of the entire mass of religious compositions to arrive at a broad consensus regarding which elements in those compositions conform to what among the following: truths, usage’s of a particular period, metaphysical theories, historical facts, mythology, mythical expressions etc.
Perhaps we are taking about things much ahead of our times. Religions will take a long time, maybe another thousand years, to achieve the above goal because the religious piety (sraddha) operates generally on the plane of emotion, at the expense of the flourishing of the other faculty, viz., analysis. There are, on the other hand, small branches of different religions where the opposite phenomenon has been operative. It seems that human beings, in general, have exhibited a lack in the faculty of blending emotion and rationality so far; this blending is the task ahead.
Removing the Incomprehension
The major religions of the world fall under three categories: those arising on Indian soil, those formed by the lapping of the former Sino-Japanese ethics and art, and those issuing from the Middle East. Many westerners like Anquetil Du Perron, F. Max Muller, R.T.H. Griffiths, A.B. Keith, and in our times the Rumanian scholar Mircea Eliade, have tried to diffuse the Hindu wisdom in the West. But all of them did their job with a handicap-their inability to grasp the nuances of Sanskrit terms in particular contexts and the inevitable Judeo-Christian frame of reference staying in their minds. Hindus, specially the highly educated and in contact with the West, are therefore duty-bound to the western world and to the Occidentalized Indians to help them understand the salient features of Hinduism.
Hindus, by and large, no longer labor under the compulsion of living under persecution or subjugation due to their religion. Furthermore, the dichotomy in the religious leadership of the Hindu masses-who were greatly influenced by the saints but guided in day-to-day life by the priests-is gradually vanishing due to the diminishing prestige of Hindu priests. Hindus should make the best use of this advantageous situation by mending their society
in the light of Vedantic messages.
Today we need to follow the footsteps of Swami Vivekananda, one of whose missions was to remove the culls from the oft-projected picture of Hinduism and give an invigorating message of Vedanta to both the East and the West. When our religion is thus made comprehensible to the modern man, when the practices incompatible with Vedanta are purged, when our education is spiritualized through de-secularization, when our nation gets united by the application of Vedanta, only then will Hindus be able to impress the world outside. Only then can our acaryas deliver what is expected of them – showing how to have the correct attitude to solve modern and ultra-modern problems: pollution, population explosion, escalating terrorism, ecological imbalance, unprecedented pauperization of man, ‘genetic bomb’ etc. Only then the song of the Puranic ballad will have significance today :
The residents of the celestial sphere sing, and the theme of their song is the following: ‘Blessed are those that live in the territory of ‘Bharata.’
Let us, by our act and deed, justify our love for ‘Bharata’ which may mean rata, or addicted, to bha, or enlightenment.