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  Hindus need to rediscover their values  


By: Raghbendra Jha
February 21, 2005


Of course all of us should practice religious tolerance. This is said very clearly in the Gita, where Lord Krishna advises Arjun to practice his own faith without belittling that of others. Religions tolerance is intrinsic in Sanatana Dharma and we do not need it to be imposed from outside. Our most secular and all time greatest political leader – Mahatma Gandhi – was also deeply and fundamentally religious. He was a great Hindu and often stated that going back to the teachings of Hinduism gave him the strength to solve many problems – personal, political as well as philosophical. Being tolerant of other religions does not mean that we start hating our religion and denigrating it. Doing this is exactly the colonial agenda, which so many Hindus have unconsciously adopted. The British realized that they could not conquer India without making Indians despise their culture – there are explicit statements by the colonialists to this effect. They would indeed be happy that the seeds of what the Raj had sowed have blossomed into such fertile trees now.

Sanatana Dharma is great in itself and can bring peace and fulfillment to people. But few of us have tried to understand the true essence of Sanatana Dharma – yet some of us are ever ready to take up pen to denigrate it. Sanatana Dharma has for ages taught tolerance, non-violence and the brotherhood of the human race (Vasudev Kutambakam) long before any modern wave of globalization. Many rishis have undertaken penance and tapasya just to bring true knowledge and right practice to the human race to make them realize the great possibilities and power for good that exist within humans, far beyond merely eating, sleeping and procreating. Even the greatest Greek philosopher of all had asked Alexander to bring back a yogi from India for he wanted to know how it was possible for someone to actually renounce the material world. What this yogi told Alexander people know. Neither Lord Budha nor Lord Mahavira started the belief in non-violence. This is an ancient element of Sanatana Dharma. These two great avtars did the great service of reaffirming the tenets of non-violence, long practiced in Sanatana Dharma.

Why were Hindus not able to protect themselves against foreign rule? This is a complex issue but two points can be made. First, the Sanatana Dharma does not favour an imperialistic mindset. India sent peace missionaries to Sri Lanka, China and many other countries – not armies. Second, many ancient cultures of the world have been attacked by foreign forces. But Sanatana Dharma is unique in being able to survive this onslaught. Does this not show the great strength and resilience, not to speak of the inherent greatness of Sanatana Dharma? Further, it is not true that there was no one to protect the Somanth temple from foreign attack. If one visits the temple one can see for oneself memorials to the brave soldiers who died trying to protect the temple. They were betrayed by one of their own. This, however, is a catch-22 situation. Hindus are accused of not protecting their faith but if they do they are branded communal.

What happened, however, as a result of these invasions and, even earlier, because of the rigidity and hypocrisy of some in the priestly class was that the scriptures were misinterpreted, indeed violated and sometimes rewritten. The caste system became ingrained in the vicious form in which we find it today. Ancient scriptures speak of caste in terms of occupation and inclination not birth. No caste was inherently better than the other. For instance Bhakta Prahlad says to Lord Narsimham that a chandal who has God in his heart is better than a Brahmin who knows the twelve yogas. Lord Ram eats the jhoota bair of the bhilini Sabri. Such hallowed tradition is something to be proud of, but we Hindus have lost our sense of pride.

Hinduism forbids violence in mansa, vacha, karma. So this teaches people to be gentle and tolerant. However, Hindus have forgotten an essential message of the Gita that one should not tolerate injustice because such tolerance creates more injustice in society and then society gets fragmented. Before this catastrophe happens people should learn to neither cause injustice nor tolerate it. If the Hindus had learnt this important message of the Gita India would not have been ravished by invading hordes for centuries. Unfortunately we did not do this. One of the consequences has been that our very scriptures have been distorted, indeed rewritten, by hypocritical priests interpreting religion in their own way. Some of these distortions are now, thankfully, being discovered. Hopefully, we will wake up before it is too late. We have been invaded several times because we have become too tolerant of injustice perpetuated upon us. We have to become self-respecting if we want others to respect us – otherwise we are condemned to becoming the laughing stock – and worse – of the world. Only a handful of people have been saving us during the long periods of foreign rule. Not having self-pride in our culture and our faith keeps us fragmented and vulnerable even after independence. Society becomes weak as a consequence. National and self-pride are very essential for a country to progress economically and spiritually. When self-hatred can make a person bitter and stunt their growth its consequences for a whole nation cannot but be catastrophic. Being tolerant of others does not mean that we start hating ourselves. When the world is in such a dangerous state it is crucial for India to maintain its national pride so that unscrupulous politicians at home and enemies abroad should not take advantage of our own weakness. We should be clear about how others view countries that are weak and the consequences thereof.

Any kind of biased feeling towards one group or another is harmful for society. If despite the Supreme Court’s directive India still does not have a Uniform Civil Code for all citizens shall we call it a tribute to India’s secularism or a deliberate attempt to keep society fractured and condemned to underdevelopment?

The havoc unleashed during Muslim rule led to panic in Hindu society. Through enticement or, more usually, by wielding the sword Muslims started mass conversions of Hindus. Partly in reaction to this desperate situation Hindus started degenerate practices such as child marriage and sati. Remember the most famous incident of sati in modern times was that by Rani Padmavati. She found this necessary to maintain her honour because these invaders did not leave any beautiful girl – young or old; married, widowed, married or single. It is true that Raja Ram Mohan Roy fought against sati and it was a noble job at that crucial time. However, one should also keep in mind what Swami Vivekananda said about Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s work. The swami had said that this job should not have been done on behalf of the colonial rulers but because there was enough ammunition within Hindu thinking to outlaw and heap scorn upon the practices of sati and other practices that denigrated women. The swami said that Roy wanted perfunctory reforms whereas he was interested in fundamental reform that would bring well-deserved and long sanctioned dignity to Indian womanhood. (Even in the Rig Veda there is a passage that exhorts widows to own property and go to court if they don’t get it easily. The Rig Veda also leaves the widow free to remarry, if she wishes.) Swami Vivekananda was very clear that first and foremost he wanted a spiritual rehabilitation of Hinduism; integrating it with Western scientific thinking was, if at all, of secondary importance to him. The British, of course, took the credit for outlawing sati as if they had got rid of an “inhuman practice” from the “evil” religion of Hinduism. At least now self-respecting Hindus should know this.

Sanatana Dharma has had a long tradition of rishis, poets and social reformers who have spread the message of love, peace and harmony for the whole world – not only for a small religious group. In modern times India has been blessed by the likes of Kabirdas, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Guru Nanak and Swami Vivekananda etc. These great people did not need any foreign belief to preach love and peace; nor did they believe in conversion either way. They deeply knew that India’s soil was (and is) fertile ground for the seeds of love and peace to grow and blossom. They taught humans that they could attain great heights of accomplishment and bring much need peace to the world if they had love and true understanding of Indian spiritual values.

We do not agree with the liberal view on this as propagated by philosophers such as Bertrand Russell. Russell did not perhaps understand the difference between having faith and being a fanatic. Fanaticism is based on ignorance, and has little regard for the morality of its actions. It also has a huge arrogance in the inherent superiority of the beliefs of its own sect. But a person with faith is different: he/she does not doubt their faith. Adiguru Shankaracharya, Kabirdas, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Guru Nanak, Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda never had any doubts about their faith. They were very clear about their faith. They believed in debate (tarka) – indeed Shankaracharya celebrated it. However, they were all deeply rooted in their faith and the finest specimens of what the human race can produce. Does that make them a fanatic in the eyes of Bertrand Russell or his modern followers? Faith gives people strength to do what is moral – dharma sangat - but have the breadth of heart to embrace all humanity. Tarka enhances knowledge but doubt takes us nowhere and condemns us to a spiritual whirlpool. In recent times Mahatma Gandhi’s personal faith in God and his resultant pursuit of truth and non-violence are not the result of doubts. Though there were many other factors that brought freedom to India surely Gandhi’ faith played a pivotal role. What would Russell say about his faith – was Gandhi a fanatic? Gandhi never condemned Hinduism – he called it the founding stone of his consciousness. If anyone wants to learn from him they should learn self-respect and his tolerance of other religions while keeping his feet firmly within the folds of Hinduism. It was his strong faith in Lord Rama – not Russellian doubt – that gave him the courage to withstand many trials and tribulations including personal tragedy, imprisonment and several other pains. If one read Gandhi’s writings one finds repeated instance of such assertions of faith.

To be truly tolerant and regenerate the energy of their great and humane civilization, Hindus need to rediscover their true values – undistorted by the actions and writings of hypocritical priests or the modern secularists. In this lies India’s true redemption as a nation and, indeed, a powerful message for peace and brotherhood for the whole world.

Alka Shekhar Jha and Raghbendra Jha


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