No Peace Among Nations Without Peace Among Religions

No peace among nationswithout peace among the religions.

No peace among the the religions
without dialogue between the religions.

No dialogue between the religions
without investigation of the foundation of the religions.

— Dr. Hans Kung, president of Global Ethic Foundation, and person made responsible for developing a draft of a Declaration of the Religions for a Global Ethic” by the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago.

Religion is the single largest reason for all wars. This includes low intensity proxy-wars such as the one perpetrated by Pakistan on India or the Palestine-Israeli conflict, the separatist movements around the world such as in Kashmir or Chechnya or Xinjiang, and I would even put the the Jihadi Islamic terrorism around the world in this category.

When Christians and Muslims take a stand that their respective religions are the only truth and all other religions are false, it is not something that can lead to harmony and tolerance. Yes, followers of all religions claim superiority of their religions — Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and so on.

The difficulty is when a religion starts to persecute people with opposing ideas of Truth / God. Persecution happens when they take to killing, proselytizing, or other means of force, to claim their superiority. They do this when their respective version of God (or Allah) or its messengers sanction this violence against another set of people. Political leaders or simply people with influence over masses, then follow suit.

We saw this during the crusades in 11th – 13th centuries between the Christians and Muslims.

India has seen this extensively. Nearly each invader who entered India starting in the 11th century onwards, from Afghanistan or Turkey clearly had a religious zeal to convert people to Islam (leave aside Chengiz Khan / Mongols) other than to satiate their desire for conquering more lands, specifically India — which controlled 33% – 35% of the world’s GDP until about 1000AD. They converted people by the sword most often, plundering temples, priests, spiritual and philosophical books. The world’s largest library – Nalanda – was lost to one such attack by a religious bigot. Even while being born in India, and nearly all Indian, Aurangzeb epitomized this crazy zeal of converting India into an Islamic state driven by the sanction offered to him by the Quran. Temples to this day remind us of these despicable times and rulers.

The scars of history continue to this date. Just over 66 years ago, Pakistan (including now Bangladesh) was carved out of India with the idea that “Muslims are a nation” by themselves. The Kashmir conflict continues to this day. While it is politically correct to say that Kashmir is a political conflict, but the truth also is that it is a Muslim dominated region whose separatist leaders earlier wanted to merge with Pakistan under the shared idea of Pakistan — creating a holy land for Muslims. The change of stance, of asking for an independent state is largely recent, given the terrible state of affairs in Pakistan.

These scars show up in India as riots all the time. It’s the BJP and RSS types which get brutally maligned by Congress-wallas and the secular-wallas for being communal and inciting communal tensions. But dig a little deeper and the scars show up almost everywhere including the common man (as disgust, and a little bit of hatred). Just a couple of days ago while returning from a visit to Muzaffar Nagar to help out the riot victims with blankets, i gave a lift to a police officer. I asked him about what is the resolution to this rioting and divisions. His response was candid. “Nothing can be done”, he said. On my sharing ideas of education and using films to create religious harmony, he said that if i tried to intervene “Unka deen khatre mein aa jata hai“, and “you will end up getting killed“. This perception with varying degrees of severity, in my observation, is not limited to this police officer but rather is shared by a large number of Hindus in rural and urban India.

This judgement largely does *not* hold true for the Sufis. They continue to be the mystical arm of Islam. The sufis merged, adopted yogic meditative & spiritual practices into Islam, translated the Upanishads and the Gita often using their influence of Kings such as Akbar, even aligned with and propagated one-ness of divinity adopting from the Advaita (non-dual) philosophy. Similarly, Hindus easily took to the Muslim saints in this traditional Guru-Shishya (Peer-Mureed / Master-Disciple) tradition. Sai Baba, Kabir, Baba Bulleh Shah, Nizammudin Auliya, are pristine examples of Hindus adopting Muslim saints as their own, and even usurping them in some cases — such as Shirdi Sai Baba (few muslims know that he was a muslim). I am sure the police officer i spoke to, has a small picture of Sai Baba in his home-temple. This is the Indianized version of Islam which is known to be gentler and more inclusive than its Saudi Arabian counterpart; the latter being of the Wahabi / Salafi order arguing for a hardline and puritanical version of Islam.

Kashmiris follow the latter under a targetted attack and influence by Pakistan. Shias are persecuted, and so are the Sufis now.

This hardline Islam draws its justification for persecution from its interpretation of God and his commandments. It is common to find a Kashmiri stating “May Allah bless & guide you“. It is as if the English language has incorporated the word Allah (and replaced God). “Khuda hafiz” which has been traditional a greeting among the Muslims has been replaced with Allah-Hafiz. Allah is not synonymous with God any more in this parlance.

It is this exclusive and exclusionist thinking which seems to be capturing the imagination Muslims in India even more. As a result he inclusivist Ganga-Jamuni Indianized version of Islam is increasingly coming under threat.

There is a great need for reform in Muslim societies through interventions such as dialogues on different interpretation of Quran through the ages, including pushing forth the inclusivist interpretations of enlightened spiritual leaders such as Maulana Waheeduddin. At the same time, what affects me most is  a) the under-current of arrogance  and b) the related and natural rejection of Hindus’ idea of God as false, that prevails in Muslims vis-a-vis Hindus in India. A true integration with the Hindu community and its belief systems about God is desperately needed.

It is from this space that i have started to write this article.

Mutual Respect; Not “Tolerance”

And i belive the answer to Hindu Fundamentalism is dialogue from within the community as well as development of “mutual respect” — as opposed to tolerance — that needs to be developed in Abrahamic religions. Here is a brilliant article on the topic: “Tolerance Isn’t Good Enough: The Need for Mutual Respect In Interfaith Relations”

Pluralism Not Secularism

<to be written>

Emptiness is the Divine

Let me share a story, which my coach at a self-help, life & living program had shared with our group. This person was a Goan Christian, married to an English woman. They had decided to get married in a South Indian temple, other than having a Christian marriage in England. At the temple, the priest after doing an Archana (a Puja to invoke blessings) of the diety, moved to an empty area with a curtain, removed the curtain and did the Archana again. My coach asked the priest why he did an Archana of the “empty space”. The priest responded, “The deity is the representation, this emptiness is the Divine“.

Let’s explore the essence of this story further.There is ONE God

Just like Muslims and Christians, the Hindus believe in One God as well. One Creator of this Universe. Hindus call this the “Bhrahman” (or Brahm; an n-stem, nominative bráhmā) in Sanskrit.

That supreme Brahman is infinite…” states the Isha Upanishad. The “Advaita” (Sanskrit: not-two) philosophy in Hinduism is about Oneness of all existence.

Creator and the Created are ONE

However, there is one essential difference between Christian & Islamic versions of the creator and that of the Hindus. To a Hindu, the Creator and the Created are one. They are *not* different. In this philosophy all that is manifest came from the unmanifest itself. The whole universe is simply an extension of the “Brahman“. .

Adi Shankara, the most popular proponent, but not the first, of Advaita philosophy, says:

In half a couplet I state, what has been stated by crores of texts;

that is Brahman alone is real, the world is mithyā (not independently existent),
and the individual self is nondifferent from Brahman.

The “Atman” — the individual Self

Brahman is the only truth, the spatio-temporal world is an illusion, and there is ultimately no difference between Brahman and Atman” ~ Adi Shankara

Brahman” in the above refers to the “Universal Spirit“, the Creator. [The term is not to be confused with “Bhramin” (a caste in the much maligned Hindu caste system).] “Atman” (Sanskrit; pronounced “Atma”) is a reference to the “individual soul” — the “being” within each living thing that we see around us. Herein lies the essence of Hindu worldview.

The “ruh” to the Muslims, and the “soul” to the Christians is the “Atman” to the Hindus.

While, i am unsure of the philosophical / spiritual importance a “soul” is to Muslims and Christians, to the Hindu the Atma is not different from the Param-Atma or the Brahman. Param Atma (परम आत्मा) refers to the Collective Consciousness, the Universal Soul. “Param” means universal, ultimate, absolute, or supreme. Atma or Atman means soul or spirit.

Terms like Parameshvara, Ishvara, Bhagavan, Brahman, ParamatmaParaBrahman, Bhagwan are synonymous with Brahman.

yatah sarvani bhutani pratibhanti sthitani ca
yatrai ‘vo ‘pashamam yanti tasmai satyatmane namah

Salutations to that reality in which all the elements and all animate and inanimate beings shine as if they have an independent existence, and in which they exist for a time and into which they all merge

Here’s how you could understand the above verse. Think of a wave in the sea. Each wave emerges form the sea, and having individuated itself for a brief period of time, merges back into the sea, losing its (false) identity once again.

Everyone is a Prophet

There are no “chosen ones” in Hindu thought. Each soul (or Atma) can realise their God-hood, while being in the manifest human body. This realization of one’s true nature — of being the one and the same as the Creator — while being in the body, is called “Enlightenment” or Self-Realization. And the human beings who attain this state are called Self-Realized beings or Atma Jnani (pronounced Atma – Gyani).

I’d like to share an excerpt from the book “Road Less Travelled” by Scott M. Peck, a leading psychiatrist in the US in the ’70s, which resonates with this essential Hindu thought.

For no matter how much we like to pussyfoot around it, all of us who postulate a loving God and really think about it, come to a single terrifying ideaGod wants us to become Himself (or Herself or Itself). We are growing toward godhood. God is the goal of evolution. It is God who is the source of the evolutionary force, and God who is the destination. This is what we mean when we say that he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

To a Hindu, both Muhammad & Jesus are essentially self-realized human beings, who attained to this state through methods of meditation. A Hindu would call these methods “Yoga“. The term yoga can be derived from either of two roots, yujir yoga (to yoke) or yuj samādhau (to concentrate). To “yoke”, means to establish oneself on something. In this context, Yoga is in popular parlance refers to a state of “Union”. Union with the Divine.

Yoga, these days has come to mean Yoga Asanas. Asanas are only one part of the Yoga-system related to the physical. The physical, however, is meant to create a pleasant situation in the body, for the mind and spirit to evolve to the state of union.

What about the 33 million gods and godesses?

Elephant god, monkey god, women as godesses, and on on. There are 33 million gods and godesses in the Hindu pantheon. This is usually used by Christians and Muslims to claim their respective religions being the only true ones. Let’s understand this.

First, Hindus did not call them God. The English language did. In Sanskrit Deva (देव) is the Sanskrit word for deity, and its related feminine term is devi. In Hinduism, it can be loosely interpreted as any benevolent supernatural being.

These are not different from the Jinns of Islam or the Angels of the Bible. Just as jinns are mentioned in the Quran and other Islamic texts as inhabiting an unseen world beyond the visible universe of humans, so do Devas and Devis.

—- The rest of this article is yet to be written —

Note from the author: Writing on a subject as vast as Hindusim for a people who have misunderstood it so deeply, is not easy. Give me more time, come back and read this for updates. In the meantime, leave your comments. That would help me evolve this article further.

Non-existence of the Devil

Beyond Heaven & Hell

All rivers lead to the sea

Everyone’s invited

Hinduism is an overarching term given originally to the people on the East of the River Sindhu (Indus). It has neither a single Prophet nor any single revealed book with words or dictums from God. There is no one single Prohpet or an Avatar or a single Teacher/Guru/Master. It is not even a collection of people with any one common belief system.

It is a collection of all of those. Hinduism is a term given to people of various disparate belief systems.

“Unlike other religions in the World, the Hindu religion does not claim any one Prophet, it does not worship any one God, it does not believe in any one philosophic concept, it does not follow any one act of religious rites or performances; in fact, it does not satisfy the traditional features of a religion or creed. It is a way of life and nothing more” ~ Supreme Court of India

[The term “God” has been used rather loosely above. It probably refers to counterparts of Devi & Deva in other cultures, such as the Greek and Roman cultures. A Malaysian court recently ruled that non-muslims cannot use the term “Allah”, thus giving a sort of separation of ‘their God’ (versus other’s Gods). It is in this context the statement “…does not worship any one God” needs to be seen.]

The term “Hindu” even includes Mimamsas, who are non-believers in an existence of God. How is this then consistent with the belief in ONE-ness of all creation? <to be continued>

Understanding the term Hindu

We’ll try and understand the term “Hindu”