Maria Wirth is a German and came to India for a holiday after finishing her psychology studies at Hamburg University. She visited the Ardha Kumbha Mela in Haridwar in April 1980 where she met Sri Anandamayi Ma and Devaraha Baba, two renowned saints. With their blessing shecontinued to live in India and dived into India’s spiritual tradition, sharing her insights with German readers through articles and books. For long, she was convinced that every Indian knows and treasures his great heritage. However, when in recent years, she noticed that there seemed to be a concerted effort to prevent Indians (and the world) from knowing how valuable this ancient Indian heritage is, she started to point out the unique value of Indian tradition.
Some months ago I attended an Interfaith Dialogue in Delhi. Hindus, Muslims and Christians spoke, all were nice, smiling. But it was not a dialogue. It was a promotion for the Abrahamic religions. Christians praised Christianity, Muslims praised Islam, and Hindus praised Christianity and Islam. Why were Hindus extra careful not to step on any toes? Christians and Muslims never showed such consideration towards Hindus.
It almost looked as if Hindus still feel the need to please their former Christian or Muslim masters. Fortunately, those masters are gone. Unfortunately, they have made sure, through their education system, that many Indians don’t know anymore, what their great heritage is about and even denigrate it. Sanskrit, which is intimately linked to their tradition, too, was taken from them. Hindus were goaded to forget about the gold at home and instead buy artificial jewellery from the west. This trend is still going on especially in the English educated class.
After Independence, the terms ‘secular’ and ‘communal’ were used as sticks to beat Hindus with. However, those sticks have become brittle now. Many see through the agenda. They wonder why the religions of the invaders are favoured over their own ancient tradition.
Moreover, the term secular is badly distorted in India. ‘Secular’ means to be blind towards religion. So the self-appointed defenders of secularism are clearly not secular, because they zoom in on religion. ‘Communal’ on the other hand means caring for the interest of certain groups or communities. Political parties are by definition communal, yet the party with the broadest support base is least communal.
Why is the religious discourse in India so confused? The reason may be that Christianity and Islam on one side and Hindu Dharma on the other are on different levels. They cannot be compared on one platform. In fact, Christianity and Islam don’t have room for a discourse. Each one is adamant that it alone has the full truth and all must accept it. What is the proof? There is no proof, only the claim that the Supreme has revealed it to one particular person. Blind belief in a story around that particular person is their sole basis, whereas Hindu Dharma has solid philosophy as its basis.
Christianity and Islam stress that they are “revealed” religions, therefore no criticism can be allowed, as it is equivalent to criticising the Supreme. Several Muslim countries lobbied with the United Nations to outlaw criticism of Islam. However, there is a flaw in their argument and it is the duty of Hindus to expose it.
The flaw is that neither the revelation of Christianity, nor that of Islam can claim originality, nor do these revelations stand the test of reason.
The most ancient, original revelation regarding the ultimate, metaphysical truth, are the Vedas. The Rishis did not create the Vedas. They ‘saw’ them through the veil that hides the truth from ordinary eyes after doing tapas.
The Vedas are about the eternally valid, universal laws, about Dharma, and they are a goldmine of knowledge in all fields. This knowledge has never been proven wrong. It is thanks to the Vedas (and to the Brahmins who memorised them for future generations) that India has contributed maximum to human civilisation.
The Vedas declared the existence of one, great Brahman that is the cause for this universe ages before the Abrahamic religions were founded. Judaism took over the concept of one God, and Christianity and Islam, too, yet they modified it in an unacceptable way.
This modification needs to be discarded, because it cannot be true: Christianity and Islam portray the Supreme as a separate, superhuman entity, who insists on specific worship and blind belief in a particular book. And even worse: the Almighty, to whom we all owe our existence, will throw those of us who don’t convert to the “only true religion” (of which incidentally two exist!) after only one lifetime for all eternity into hellfire.
Anybody who is not brainwashed from childhood can see that there is something very sinister and dangerous in those impossible claims. They are the basis for divisiveness and hatred, which has caused so much bloodshed over many centuries. These claims need to be put on the table and discarded.
Let’s imagine a Sabha in ancient India, where Dattatreya, Ashtavakra, Gargi, Uddalaka, Yagnavalkya, Vaishistha and others deal with such deviations of truth:
They might first take up the claim that the Supreme Being is separate from his creation and would prove with sound arguments that it is the essence in all. And when it is the essence in all, how could it possibly condemn a big part of Itself to eternal hellfire?
Next they might demolish the wrong notion that we have only one life on which our eternal fate depends. They would explain that on this material plane we take numerous bodies, till we realise that we are not those bodies but eternally one with Brahman. This world is maya, more like virtual reality, they would say and several westerners, including Tesla founder Elon Musk would nod in agreement. However, the sages would also exhort their opponents to do sadhana, as a gross mind immersed only in sense pleasures cannot understand the subtle truth.
It is high time, that we bring back truthfulness and sincerity into the religious discourse. Satya and Dharma need to be honoured. We all know that it is wrong to kill, to deceive, etc. How do we know? Because we have a conscience which tells us what is right and what is wrong. The knowledge of dharma is inbuilt in us. And in case we are confused, like Arjuna at the start of the Kurukshetra war, we can consult the scriptures or a guru.
An ideology, however, which demands submission of one’s conscience, is highly suspect. Christianity and Islam demand exactly this. I remember learning in catechism class, that if there is a discrepancy between my conscience and the Church doctrine, I need to follow the doctrine. The Quran also exhort the believers, “Fighting has been made obligatory for you, much to your dislike…. Allah knows, and you do not.” (Quran 2.216).
The issue is serious. Islamic terrorism has its roots in the claim that Allah despises infidels. Its foot soldiers are taught that it is their duty to rid the earth of infidels to please Allah. We need to save not only the victims of terror attacks, but also the Muslim youth from such wrong notions which have been and still are the cause for so much misery. The youth are deceived that they get paradise as reward. How foolish can one be to believe that killing those whose only ‘fault’ is that they call the Supreme by another name, will fetch a reward?
Intriguingly, Muslim clergy don’t comment on Jihad. Even Zakir Naik still gets support from his community. Why? Because his preaching can be justified by Islamic scriptures. Yet, would Indian sages accept a claim as true only because it is in a holy book? Surely not. There are many ‘holy books’ and if a text is to be considered holy, it must make eminent sense.
If religion (Latin: to bind) is meant to be beneficial, it must stop binding its followers to a book, but instead to the Divine. It also cannot possibly discriminate against ‘others’ and divide humanity into believers and unbelievers, when we all come from the same source.
If an individual degrades somebody because of his religion, he gets booked under some laws. Yet Christianity and Islam are protected by law when they degrade Hindus, Buddhists and Atheists as inferior. This is unacceptable and particularly dangerous for Hindus, as they are unfairly labelled as idol-worshippers, which Abrahamic religions condemn as most despicable. The right to freedom of religion must never include the right to abuse those who worship in other ways.
When Muslim countries can petition the UN, can’t India, together with other Asian countries, highlight the divisive tenets of those religions and petition the UN for restraining them to preach that ‘others’ are less worth and will be sent to hell? This is not a religious issue. It is safeguarding one’s citizens from hate-crimes.
The dogmatic religions have financial and political power, yet their greatest vulnerability is, when people start reflecting and lose faith. Therefore they try to stifle any genuine debate on their doctrine. They don’t want people to use their intelligence when it comes to ‘religion’. Hindus in contrast are not only allowed, but are encouraged to use their God-given intelligence to its limit.
To make the whole world Christian, respectively Muslim, is for Christianity and Islam a divine duty. They say it openly. The Pope said it even on Indian soil. Therefore they want that Hindu tradition also ends up in a museum, like other ancient traditions have ended up in museums. The vibrancy, joyfulness and astounding variety of ways, with which Hindu Dharma is expressed since many thousands of years, and its profound philosophy are a strong bastion against the expansionist religions.
‘Hindu’ or ‘Indian’ are recent terms. But Hindu Dharma is Sanatan, eternal. It upholds life everywhere. It must never disappear. It needs to spread.
By Maria Wirth
This article was first published in the Independence Day Special on ‘Swaraj of Intellect & Ideas’ by Organiser.