Semitic Religions and Yogic Spirituality
Semitic Religions and Yogic Spirituality
What forcibly strikes a discriminating student of the Bible is that its god lacks interiority. Though the Bible exhorts its followers to love their god with all their heart, yet throughout its long career there is nothing to show that it knows of a “god or gods in the heart”; it shares this lack of interiority with the Quran too, its successor. Both however speak of a “god in heaven,” showing that he enjoys an elevated status among his followers.
This god also lacks universality which suffered further contraction in connotation and denotation with the passage of time. Though initially the Jews and their neighbours had their own gods, but in many ways they were interchangeable and they could stand for each other. But with time, the biblical god became more and more particularistic. He became a special god of a chosen people. “I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God,” he said to the Jews and struck a special covenant with them. By the time Christianity and Islam appeared on the scene, this god had lost his interchangeability with other gods and his capacity to represent them and be represented by them. He was a god of a particular people and worked for and operated through them alone.
One can easily trace this development through the Bible. Abraham, belonging to the early biblical period, is a man of deep faith. He believes in his god implicitly and has even some sort of a covenant with him, but he knows that others too have their gods and he does not quarrel with this fact, and it does not occur to him to deny them. There is nothing wrong if a devotee exalts his god and if he feels he has a special relationship with him — all this happens often enough and is part of normal spirituality. But the trouble starts when it becomes the basis of a hate-campaign against the gods of one’s neighbours. According to Hindu view, it comes from a tamasika-rajasika faith.
According to certain traditions, Abraham revolted against the image worship of his forefathers, but there is nothing to show that it turned him into a regular iconoclast. It seems that he did not yet believe that the best way of showing his faith in his god was by breaking the images of the gods of his neighbours— that tradition was to begin later with Moses and other prophets. Nor does it seem that he eschewed every physical representation or token of divinity. For when he struck a covenant with his god, the latter told him to get all his male descendents circumcised to “show there is a covenant between you and me” (Gen. 17.12) — rather an unhappy representation and a grotesque way of memorializing a heavenly act.
Ruth, a lovable early character in the Bible, also illustrates this point. She was a Moabite young lady married to a young Jew whose family had settled in her homeland during years of famine in their own land. The young man died leaving her a widow. Her mother-in-law, a kindly lady, decided to go back to her own land. Ruth wanted to accompany her but she advised the young lady to stay back with her own “people and gods.” But Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; where you go I will go...Your people shall be my people, and your god will be my god; and where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried.” Ruth belonged to a biblical period when “your gods” were recognized as valid gods, when gods were yet made for men and not men for gods, when loyalty to a god did not involve repudiation of loyalty and fellow-feelings in normal human relations, and when other people and other gods could be adopted.1
There are many instances in the Old Testament to show that the ordinary Jewish people were not as exclusive as their prophets. They interacted with their neighbours, even borrowed and lent their gods and their rites and usages like other people; but their prophets laboured hard to keep them apart, and remain, as they said, a holy people. The cult of a god who stands in isolation and denied other gods began seriously enough with Moses. Foreign gods became “abominations or detestations” (Heb. sheqets). The subsequent prophetic tradition in the Bible continued it. Many prophets came and kept warning their followers against going astray, against going “a whoring after other Gods”. But the common Jews were intractable and kept relapsing into wrongful ways of worship so much so that the Almighty was often led to declare: “How long will this people provoke me?” But eventually the prophets were successful and the Jews believed that they were a special people of a special god.`
By the time Jesus came the cult of a one god and a special people was well established. But he faced the problem of a plurality of Messiahs. During many centuries of foreign domination, the Jews had learnt to expect a Messiah, a religious-politi- cal personage, who was also to be their king and deliverer from the foreign bondage. His coming was to be preceded by many signs. Many claimed to be Messiahs from time to time but failed to clinch their claim. In fact, there was no way to decide and there was much uncertainty around. Even those like John the Baptist who proclaimed the coming Messiah were not sure. We are told that John after he had watched Jesus’s appearance for considerable time began to doubt whether Jesus was the coming one whom he had announced. He sent word by his disciples from his prison to Jesus: ” Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Mt.11.3). Later on, there was much controversy between the followers of John the Baptist and Jesus.
Though dogged by doubt, the hope for national independence however worked as a goad and the Jewish people were ready to try anyone who made the claim. But as the question had political implications it was neither safe for the claimants nor for the nation. The course brought them into collision with the Imperial authorities and invited oppression. Flavius Josephus (b. AD 37 or 38), the great Jewish historian, mentions several such Messiahs including Theudas who claimed ability to divide the Jordan river to allow his followers to pass dry-footed. But he was massacred by the Roman rulers along with his followers before he could prove his claim.
Just like many others when Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, he got an eager audience, particularly with his healing and miracles, all signs of a Messiah. But this very fact made the Jewish chiefs who were afraid of the Romans even more cautious. They met together and said: “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy our holy place and our nation... it is expedient...that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish” (Jn. 11.47 ff).
And thus a good and innocent man died. But even this did not avert the tragedy for long, though the future events proved that the Jews had a point in attempting caution against their hotheads. Not long after Jesus, in AD 70, the Temple was burnt and the city of Jerusalem was levelled to the ground by Titus, the Roman general, for attempted rebellion.2 A greater calamity was to befall during the next century. One Bar-Kochkba claimed to be the Messiah-king of the Jews; he collected half a million fighting men, seized Jerusalem and held it for three years. But at the end, he was defeated. The Jews were turned out from the ruined city and forbidden to enter it on pain of death except on the ninth of Ab, the traditional anniversary of the destruction of the Temple when they could pay a tax and come to weep on the site of the old sanctuary. Ever since they have lived in dispersion in regions near or far away.
The city saw many conquerors before it finally passed into the hands first of Christians and then of Muslims and became their pilgrim centre. It is only now after a lapse of nineteen centuries, that the Jewish people are again able to reconstruct a national home for themselves in Palestine against great odds.3
3. From a Messiah to a Saviour
Jesus began as a Messiah of his people, or at least this is what he was taken for by them initially. He also tried to fit the role. He said that he had come not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them (Mt. 5.17,18), and that he was sent to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt. 15.24). He charged his preachers to “go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans” (Mt. 10.5,6); he preached that “salvation is from the Jews” (Jn. 4.22); he said that his teaching was for the Jews, that they “be first fed,” and that it was “not right to take the children’s (Jews’) bread and throw it to the dogs” (non-Jews) (Mk.7.27).
But when this role failed, Jesus presented himself in another garb. When Jews rejected him, he rejected the Jews. He told them that they had the Devil for their father (Jn. 8.44). He told them that as they were repudiating him, God, his Father, was repudiating them. He told them the parable of the householder who planted a vineyard: how when the tenants disobeyed and rebelled against the master’s servants and even his son, they were turned out and the vineyard was let out to others (Mt. 21.33-41). He declared that God was terminating his old covenant with the Jews, and entering into a new one with those who believed in His Son. He asked his disciples to “let the children come”, his name for the Gentiles. Christians replaced Jews as God’s chosen people; the latter were now redundant in God’s scheme but they were to be tolerated by the Church until all mankind had been converted to Christianity and the Jewish testimony was no longer needed. Jesus himself was converted from a Messiah into a Saviour, into God’s First Begotten Son, the Intermediary between God and man. This indeed was a great leap and a great promotion from the humble figure of a Jewish Messiah.
But this transformation did not happen in a day; it took quite some time and at the back of it lay several centuries of borrowings from non-Judaic sources. When Christianity began to break away from its old moorings and sought a new audience, it found itself faced with several competitors with whom it lustily engaged in a game of one-upmanship. It went on a spree of unacknowledged borrowing and stealing. There were too many Saviours around. They were often bom on a particular day, lived under similar circumstances, and they invariably rose after dying. Jesus’s title and life as a Saviour followed the current fashion. For example, Mithra, the founder of Mithraism, a creed which had gone to the Roman world from Persia and was already well-known when Christianity appeared on the scene, was bom on or very near the 25th of December, of a Virgin Mother and in a cave; after he was buried he rose from the tomb; he had twelve disciples and the members of his order were admitted with the ceremony of baptism; he was also called a Saviour. Jesus’s life was made to follow the pattern and reproduce the circumstances in which other Saviours lived, died and rose.
Indeed, the Dying God and his Resurrection were popular themes in many ancient legends of the region. Archaeology has discovered old tablets which show a passion play of Baal, Babylon’s Sun-God, which probably Jews had often seen during the days of their captivity. It provided the pattern for the lives of many gods and saviours including Jesus. His life as given in the Gospels is so true to the current pattern that many scholars wonder whether it is a biography at all. The current Jewish history mentions no Jesus. The Talmud mentions one Jeschu ben Pandira who was crucified but that had happened a hundred years before the Christian era.
Because of these facts, many scholars regard Jesus’s life closer to legend than to history, and whether there was any historical Jesus at all is a much-discussed question in the scholarly world. But the question is losing its old importance and many Christian theologians have now begun to talk of a Jesus of faith rather than of history. Perhaps, they have come to realize in the heart of their hearts that insistence on a historical Christ is a form of idolatry. However, changing the format does not change the nature of the question and does not take it out from the purview of rationality. The question still remains whether a gratuitous faith based on the figure of a saviour imagined or historical (Soul cares for a psychic reality, not a historical presence— Gita 2.16) is rationally or spiritually tenable. A little reflection will show that it offends man’s rational as well as his spiritual sensibility.
Christianity borrowed not only the figure of a Saviour but also most of its central rites from the creeds and mystery cults current at the time in Egypt, Syria, and the Mediterranean world. Almost all its important rites are embarrassingly similar to theirs’, though early Christian fathers had no difficulty in accounting for this similarity. Justin Martyr said that the Devil had anticipated and introduced into the religion of Mithra usages similar to those of Christians. Later on, Tertullian came out with the same kind of explanation in connection with the Lord’s Supper and said that the pagan “devils whose business is to prevent the truth, mimic the exact circumstances of the divine sacraments in the mysteries of the idols.”
Thus Christianity borrowed from two sources: Judaic and non-Judaic. It borrowed from Judaism its scripture, its prophets, its belief in a special people and a special covenant, and above all its jealous God, its hatred for ‘other’ Gods, and consequently its proverbial hatred of mankind—misotheosy is the parent of misanthropy. It also borrowed the idea of Atonement through a blood sacrifice from the same source. These ideas were core ideas and had a great influence in shaping its subsequent ethos. But it has also some non-Judaic sources for some of its other equally important ideas like the Saviour, the Virgin Birth, Resurrection, the Lord’s Supper.4 Its own contribution was that the God of its special covenant began to claim universal sovereignty, its saviour began to claim to save all, and it itself claimed a world mission. Its other contributions were the Cross, the Hell, the Devil, possession and exorcism.5 They were by no means unimportant; in fact, Christianity’s history cannot be understood without them, but we shall not discuss them here.
Judaism taught remission of sin by sacrifice, preferably of one’s first-born; but it added that God in his mercy accepted a substitute. Christianity raised the idea of sin, a blood sacrifice and the vicarious atonement to new heights and built an elaborate theology round it. It believed that “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9.22); but it added that Jesus, not only the first-born but the only begotten son of God, made this sacrifice for all mankind once for all by shedding his blood. The cross is central to Christianity. All before leads up to it and all after looks back to it. After making sin into a formidable dogma, its remission is made simple enough—just baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Sin is no more a problem for the followers of Jesus. It has already been atoned for by him.6 As an Anglican Hymn (633) puts it:
There is a fountain filled with Blood Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, And sinners plunged beneath that flood Lose all their guilty stains.
A Messiah was a phenomenon of late Judaism. In fact, the word occurs only two times in the Old Testament, and it had a secular rather than a religious connotation. The central idea in the biblical Judaism was a prophet who warned, predicted and proclaimed. Though Moses was a prophet par excellence, there was nothing exclusive about him. Anybody who had the reputation of being moved by the “spirit of the Lord” was called a prophet, and therefore we have many prophets in the Old Testament; in fact, at this time, the prophetic skill was often cultivated in certain schools. Nor was a prophet unique to the Jews. Their neighbours had their own prophets who were even consulted by Jewish princes.
But with time, the idea of prophet took a new turn. It was not enough that God talked to you; the equally important thing was that he did not talk to anyone else. Christianity’s propagation of ‘the only Saviour’ created a demand and a market for the idea of ‘the only Prophet’ as well. To be a prophet, one among many, was no longer much of a feather in one’s cap. One had to be a special prophet, a prophet with a difference in order to count; he had also to have a world mission.
Thus Muhammad came at a time when it was not enough to be a prophet; he had to be the prophet. He was surrounded by Jews and Christians who already had their Prophets and Saviours and displayed them proudly. Muhammad began boldly but cautiously. He first said that the same God talked to him who talked to Abraham, Moses and Jesus, and that he came with the same message with which they did. But when he found that Christians and Jews did not take him seriously, he increased his claim. He declared that he was the most authentic spokesman of God up to his time and also for all time to come as well, that he was the seal of prophecy, that through him religion was now finally made perfect, and that any old revelation was now redundant and a new one presumptuous.
The claim was initially not entertained even by the Arabs; but, in the end, Muhammad was able to get it established through the display of superior force. Now, among the Muslims, it is a part of their creed and even to question it is a crime. The shariat prescribes death penalty for denying Muhammad’s Prophethood or ‘defiling’ his name in any way. One could even defile his name indirectly by giving up Islam or by claiming some sort of prophethood for oneself. This invites death both by the jury as well as the mob and the assassins’ hands.7
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1905), the founder of the Qadiani or Ahmadiya sect, though otherwise quite a fanatic Muslim, however claimed to be a mujaddid, a Renewer of Islam. This brought his sect in unanticipated conflict with orthodox Muslim opinion. Recently one Muhammad Sharif Ahmad Amini, a spokesman of this sect, said that during the last few years in Pakistan four Ahmadiyas were sentenced to death, four to life imprisonment, and forty-eight including a woman were killed. They are not allowed to call themselves Muslims, give “azan”, or say “satam 'alaikum" (The Statesman, 26th October, 1987). Reports have also come from such unlikely places as Canada where Ahmadiyas have been assassinated by secret Muslim bands out to enforce Muhammad’s claim as the “seal of prophets” (khatimu’n-Nablyin).
More Saviours and Prophets
But in spite of inhibitive and repressive circumstances in which would-be saviours and prophets often work, they have not ceased to exist. The phenomenon is not something which happened only in old days or during the medieval times; claims continued to be made even in more recent times and, what is more important, they were also believed. True, they were not successful stories like those of Moses or Jesus or Muhammad, but they were not without their audience. One prominent case was that of Richard Brothers (1757-1824), a half-pay officer of the British Navy, who claimed to be a divinely appointed prophet. He described himself as a “nephew of the Almighty,” and claimed his descent from David. Though he was confined as a lunatic, but he could count many distinguished people amongst his followers.
We may also mention two similar movements in the USA: Southcottians and the Mormons. The leader of the first was a lady, Joanna Southcott (1750-1814). She claimed to be the woman chosen by God to appear at the end of ages. As man’s Fall came through woman, his salvation was also to come through her. She claimed she was “pregnant with Shiloh”, probably some expected Messiah, but unfortunately she died before she could deliver. One of her disciples, George Turner, prophesied that the Lord would come in 1817 and rule the world; he even named the Lord’s cabinet and their salaries in advance. He said that the Lord would “increase a hundred-fold the power of men and women to enjoy each other,” anticipating India’s Rajaneesh by over a hundred and fifty years.
The leader of the second movement was Joseph Smith (1805-1844), founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saints, commonly called Mormons. He claimed that he was ordained to Aaronic priesthood by John the Baptist, to Melchizedek priesthood by Peter, James and John, receiving Holy Apostleship and the keys of the Kingdom with power to seal on earth so that it might be sealed in heaven. All these claims did not tax the credulity of his followers and the Mormons are now a flourishing community in the USA.
We have a similar case in Mirza Ali Muhammad, the founder of Babism. He first claimed to be the “Manifestation” or Bab (the Gate) between the Hidden Imam and his followers. But later on, he found this title too humble and while bestowing it on one of his disciples, he himself assumed the title of Nuqta, “the Point”. Later came his more famous disciple now known to the world under the adopted name of Bahaullah (Splendour of God). He claimed to be the true Manifestation, while his teacher, Ali Muhammad, was only a harbinger of his advent, a kind of John the Baptist, and “in the blaze of the light of the New Day, the candle lit by Mirza Ali Muhammad ceased to merit attention, and, indeed, became invisible.” His followers, the Bahais, are now doing well, particularly in America and even more so in India. In all these cases the lives of the founders of these sects were hardly edifying, but this did not come in the way of their finding a considerable audience.
Not long ago, one Hung Hsu-chuan, a Chinese convert to Christianity, a leader of the Taiping Rebellion, claimed to be the second son of Mary. He said that “the Father and the Elder Brother (Jesus) have descended upon earth and have taken me and the junior Lord (his own son) to regulate the affairs pertaining to the world. Father, Son and Grandson are together Lord of the New Heaven.”8 He established a new celestial dynasty and a new Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Grandson. One can only speculate what would have happened had Jesus married. Probably the Grandson would have replaced the Holy Ghost in the Trinitarian theology.
These latter-day prophets we have cited here sound laughable, yet they are not very different in principle from the preceding ones except that they did not succeed to the same extent. In fact, it is success which has made the difference between the two. Success is a great argument; it makes feasible what is otherwise ludicrous. Yet they both represent the same principle; they both represent prophetic spirituality; they both claim to be sole mouthpiece of God or his apostle or both. They can hardly claim any special moral or spiritual merit for the role they claim.
5. Exclusive Revelation
Why were they in particular chosen for certain roles? Why were certain things revealed to them which were kept hidden from others before? Had they some special moral or spiritual qualities to qualify for these roles?
Most prophets have made their claims without trying to justify them. They must have found them so self-evident. Islam has not even raised the question; and it is certain it would not like a discussion of such questions at all. In a way, it has done us good and spared us from much sophistry. Christian theology, which is more trained in this line, has given us an answer. From their answer, we find that they understand the word Revelation in a special sense.
In its ordinary dictionary sense, the word Revelation means “unveiling something hidden,” it means both the making known of something secret, and also truths thus made known. In this sense, the word has meanings of wide application. Things unknown to us are being revealed to us by others, and even we are discovering new things every time. We experience new things we had not known before, or we become conscious of things of which we have been hitherto unconscious. We also apply the word to things known to one part of the mind but now made known to another part. The word will also apply to things known to a deeper layer of mind, or to the secret knowledge of the soul of which we become aware through certain spiritual disciplines. Here it means that ‘unmanifest’ things become manifest. It is in this sense that the word is largely used in Hinduism, but other meanings are also legitimate and conform to our experience everywhere.
In prophetic religions, however, the word does not apply to anything so permissive and diffused; there it has a semi-technical meaning. According to the understanding of Christian theologians, the word means that activity of God by which “He took Noah, Abraham, and Moses, into his confidence, telling them what He had planned and what their part in His plan was to be” (J.I. Packer in The New Bible Dictionary)-, it culminated in the Revelation to Jesus who told us “all things that I heard of my father” (Jn.15.15). According to the Dictionary, this was “God’s crowning and final revelation.”
One may object that it all sounds arbitrary. But we are told, piously enough, by "H.L. Goudge that “it belongs to God to reveal Himself when and how He will. If He reveals Himself to one nation more fully than to another, that belongs to God’s “management of His household” (Eph.1.10). It was not for the lack of trying that other nations “knew not God” (1 Cor. 1.21), nor was it for any special virtue that the Jews were chosen as God’s special people and God’s purpose kept hidden from others was revealed to them. It was as he willed. God’s “mystery which was kept secret for long ages” was now being “disclosed” for the first and the last time “according to the command of the eternal God” (Rom. 16.25 ff). Revelation begun with biblical prophets “culminates in Christ and the Spirit-bearing Church” as H.L. Goudge puts it.
As usual, Christian theology has used pious language to reach an arrogant conclusion. “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them into babes” (Mt. 11.25f), says the Bible with apparent piety but with great satisfaction. The claim is at heart boastful but, looked at from another angle, it has a certain kind of truth of its own. Christianity has only cared for a God known by babes and sinners; it has hardly an idea of a God revealed to wisdom, understanding and purity. In the Gnostic writings, buddhi or wisdom is not a dirty word as it is in Semitic scriptures. In the Upanishads, God is buddhi-grahyam, that is he is revealed to purified buddhi', he is known by the pure, the wise, the understanding. God may belong to sinners as well, but he is known, so far as that is possible, only by those who have left sinning, the apahatapapman. In the Upanishadic tradition, God’s best introduction is not that he is ‘the God of sinners’, but that he is a destroyer of evil and sin; one of his most celebrated names is papanasana, or aghna. Similarly, in the Indian tradition, he is more celebrated as a protector of the good (paritranaya sadhunam) than as a friend of ‘publicans and sinners’. God is merciful to all, but certainly he is not a guardian of criminals of a nation enjoying extra-territorial treaty rights as they did during the last centuries when Europe and the Missionaries ruled the roost.
Christians are very snobbish about being sinners as commu- nists have been about being proletarian. To be sinful has become a cult with them. To call a Christian sinful is complimentary to him. He resents being told otherwise. Paul was the “foremost of sinners,” and he “received mercy for this reason” (lTim.l.l5f). The Christian heaven has more joy over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Lk.15.7). In fact, Christianity has more interest, almost a morbid interest as we shall see, in repentance than in righteousness.
Every religion has its own forms and modes of worship, both public and private, informed by its dominant ideas of God and man. Prophetic religions take great pride in “one” God, but it seems they have not found it always easy to handle him. In Christianity, he frankly became triune at a very early stage. Theoretically the three members were equal and in some way one but in practice they became separate and Jesus became more equal than the other two. In a later development, the Son replaced the Father, and in due course, the Son himself was replaced by the Mother, Mary, who was not even a member of the Trinity. There was yet another shift; saints and martyrs replaced them all. Their shrines and graves became paramount objects of worship. The Ecclesiastical Cyclopaedia gives us some illustrative, interesting statistics. It tells us that at Canterbury, the devotion towards St. Thomas Beckett (where his bones were translated to a new chapel in the Cathedral of Canterbury) quite effaced the adoration of the Deity. “At God’s altar, for instance, there were offered in one year 3 pounds 2s. 6d.; at the Virgin Mary’s, 63 pounds, 5s. 6d.; at St. Thomas’s, 832 pounds 12s. 3d. But the next year the disproportion was still greater. There was not a penny offered at God’s altar; the Virgin’s gained only pound 4, 1s. 8d.; but St. Thomas had got for his share 954 pounds 6s. 3d.”
The dead saints were far more useful than living ones, and their corpses even more so. Aldous Huxley tells us that during the middle ages, persons dying in the odor of sanctity ran the risk, when their bodies lay in state, of being stripped naked, or even dismembered by the faithful. Clothing would be cut to ribbons, ears cropped, hair pulled out, toes and fingers amputated, nipples snipped off and carried home as amulets. St. Romuald of Ravenna, visiting France, heard that the people proposed to kill him to have the members of his body as relics. When Saint Thomas Aquinas fell ill and died in the monastery of Fossanuova, where he had stopped while on a journey, the monks decapitated him and boiled his body to make sure of keeping his bones. There were open thefts, piracy and even wars between towns for the possession of dead bodies of saints, real or imagined. Relics were also faked. In all this there was hardly any God-worship. It was all worship of relics and graves. Relics were sought as amulets, as charms, as objects of worship. The churches abounded in them. One church in Rome displayed the following: Three pieces of the cross by which Jesus was hung in a case of gold. One of the holy nails with which Jesus was crucified. Two thorns from the crown of Jesus. One of the coins supposed to have been given for betrayal of Jesus. The cord by which Jesus was bound to the cross. A phial full of the blood of Jesus. A phial full of milk from the breast of Virgin Mary. Far away in Glasgow, a church possessed the mouth of St. Ninian in a golden casket; part of the zone of the blessed virgin; a small phial containing a portion of her milk. In France, Voltaire counted six foreskins of Jesus to which barren women made pilgrimage. The relics made for fertile trade and their supply never failed to keep pace with their demand. We learn from Calvin that there was so much wood in the relics of the Cross that not even three hundred men could carry them. Similarly, the Virgin’s milk was aplenty. San Bernardino of Siena tells us that: “All the buffalo cows of Lombardy would not have as much milk as is shown about the world.” R.W. Southern, author of Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages, says that if we were able to draw up statistics of imports into England during this period, relics would certaily come high on the list.
Now all this has been regularized and systematized by the Catholic Church. The relics are certified by the Church authorities. A reliquary and a certificate of authentication are always entombed in the mensa of the altar of any new church or cathedral.
In Islam too, we find a lot of ‘grave worship’. The Black Stone at Ka’ba is an object of worship. Umar thought that it was no more than a piece of stone but since the Prophet had worshipped it he also did the same. Every Muslim pilgrim runs between Safa and Marwa, “among Allah’s waymarks,” as the Quran calls them. In some places, the prophet’s hair (hazrat bat) is an object of great veneration.
One may not prefer this form of worship and adoration, yet is it more superstitious than the other kind of liturgy which takes the form of a theological formula and declares that a particular God alone is true and that some one is his begotten Son or Last Prophet? The latter may conform to a dogma or to sunna, but does it conform to the truth of the Spirit? Protestantism and Wahabism are as soulless as the practices they pretend to ‘reform’. One is tamasika and the other is rajasika worship but both lack elements of a sattvika worship.
Vincet Smith finds that the “veneration of relics seems to be practically unknown to Brahmanical Hindus,” but he finds nothing creditable in it, certainly no higher conception of worship. As he says it is simply due to the fact that “their ill-defined religion has no recognized founder like Jesus Christ, Buddha or Muhammad.”
7. Spiritual Praxis
Apart from formal temple worship, aesthetic or grotesque, simple or complicated, most religions also prescribe certain spiritual practices to help their followers to realize the truths they preach. The praxis or what Hindus call sadharia is shaped by the way a religion intuits God, man and nature. Religions like Hinduism and Buddhism prescribe a regimen of discipline known as fila, samadhi, and prajna, to open up higher consciousness. They believe that even with all the guidance and help, each individual has to rediscover the spiritual truths for himself, that unless they are so done they can be of no use for him. One cannot eat or clothe by proxy; how can one live spiri- tual truths by proxy?
But as prophetic religions believe that God has already chosen them for no rhyme or reason and already revealed to them truths hidden from others, so what do they want any sadhana for? They already know the truth and they have nothing for themselves to learn. Prophetic religions prescribe only certain beliefs and the religious duty to convert others to those beliefs through preaching and holy wars.
“Speaking with tongues”
It is therefore not strange that we find very little by way of sadhana in the New Testament. One of these rare spiritual practices was known as “speaking with tongues.” According to this practice, the believers gathered together in their churches, and waited on the Holy Ghost to descend upon them and speak through them (1 Cor. Chapter 14). As was to be expected, it led to a pandemonium. People under the influence of the so-called Holy Ghost talked unintelligibly and all at the same time. Even Paul who prescribed this method for his followers had to chide them. He asked them to speak in a language others understood and one at a time. He of course forbade women from speaking at all, for “did they think that the word originated with them, or they were the only ones it has reached?” He further added that it was “shameful for a woman to speak in a church,” and that if there was anything they desired to know, “let them ask their husbands at home.” And he ended by saying that if others thought they were true prophets, they should know that what he was saying was “a command of God,” and that he who did not recognize this, “he himself is not recognized” (I Cor. 14.34 ff). Most of the time, these phenomena arise from self-suggestion and make-believe. But in more extreme cases, they border on abnormality. Cases of interior audition and automatic speech crop up from time to time. Modem Psychology tells us of cases of 'multiple personalities' where one 'personality' takes over, acts and speaks, without the other usual, normal personality knowing about it.
The New Testament’s other important teaching is to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4.17; 3.2). This teaching is repeated several times and may be called the cornerstone of the biblical teaching. The teaching about repentance has to be taken in conjunction with the Bible’s other teachings about sin, its remission by sacrifice, and its once-for-all atonement by the blood of Jesus.
We know what havoc their combination wrought throughout the career of Christianity. The cults of sin and repentance reinforced each other. They led to their other sister-cults: the threat of Hell-fire, Purgatory, Indulgences. All this could not be healthy either for the mind or the soul and all was God-eclipsing. It veritably created a religion of what has been appropriately termed “spiritual terrorism.”
It led to many negative features and gave rise to much neurotic, masochistic-sadistic behaviour. Atonement of sin by self-flagellation became widely common from the 11th century onward. Discipline of the scourge was in great repute. Clergy, laity, peasants and princes, men and women vied with each other in their devotion to the expiating lash, rod, thong, whip and chain-scourge. Princes got themselves flogged by their father confessors; in monasteries, they lashed themselves and lashed each other. Anything but amendment of life. Three thousand strokes and the chanting of thirty psalms expiated the sins of a year; thirty thousand strokes atoned for the offense of ten years, and so on in proportion. Wisdom, enlightenment, opening up of higher consciousness were altogether unknown to this species of spirituality.
Whole multitudes of men and women occasionally came out in the street, walked in procession, sometimes in thousands, moving from village to village, whipping themselves and indulging in what they called the “baptism of blood.” They became a public nuisance and sometimes they were burnt to death by authorities, no fewer than ninety-one of them on one occasion in 1414 at Sangerhausen, for example. These throngs of men moved from place to place scourging themselves, celebrat- ing and imitating the suffering of Christ, not forgetting to give a call for the killing of Jews as a task most meritorious and most pleasing to God. In all this there was a lot of Christian-style piety and devotion, but very little spirituality.
While discussing spiritual praxis of prophetic religions, we cannot leave out their iconoclasm, the most prominent sadhana they have preached and practised. They have believed that demolishing the images on an altar, particularly in the temples of their neighbours, is the best way of worshipping their God and it is the service most acceptable to him. The impeccable hostility towards ‘other’ Gods is the most important part of their sadhana.
There have been many religious cultures which did not build imposing shrines and made much use of images as the word is ordinarily understood in their system of worship. But they were by no means ‘image-breakers’. Vedic Hindus had no temples though they had rich religious symbology. But this did not make them iconoclasts, nor it made them deny ‘other’ Gods. On the other hand, they admitted many Names and many approaches and Concluded that it is the “same Reality which the wise call by many names,” that he is Aryama, he is Rudra, he is the Great God, he is Agni, he is Surya, he is the great Yama.” Image-breaking is a contribution of prophetic religions.
Idols were used in most religiously rich countries. They were used by Egyptians, Chaldeans, Greeks, Hindus, Buddhists, by Mexican and Peruvians, the most developed cultures in the Americas; on the other hand, they were conspicuous by their absence among most primitive tribes. Bushmen, Eskimos, Hottentots, primitive societies of America had no use for them. G. d’Alviella writing on the subject quotes the authority of an early writer Lafitan who says: “We may say in general that the majority of savage people have no idols.” A good deal of religious reflection must take place before images are used in worship. In India, the outer images were most often contributed by men who practised most advanced internal disciplines. These were ‘icons’, internal realities expressed in outer forms so far as that is possible.
Christians have idols in thousands in their churches as in St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London; they are representational and there is not even an attempt to give them an iconic form. As a result, while in a Hindu temple matter has been etherealized, in churches it is even more solidified. If you visit them, you are filled with the materiality of it all.
Why are prophetic religions so hostile to images? Is it because they have such a lofty idea of their god that they detest all his representations? It does not seem so. For they detest representations of even his creatures. They say that idols are powerless, dumb, deaf, blind. They are called ‘futile’, ‘nothing’, ‘dung-pellets’ (gillulim). Then why are they so afraid of them? The idols seem to have more attraction for and more power over iconoclasts than over the worshippers. What else will account for iconoclasts’ obsessive hatred of them? What imaginary goblin or spectre could excite such unreasonable dread and opposition? The fact is that in their heart they regard the idols real and so powerful that even their god is set at nought by them. They are so powerful that they have kept Semitic prophets on their toes and busy demolishing them—some kind of idolatry or fetish worship in reverse.
Denying an image or symbol on the altar for the reason that it is not god is not even bright. For it does not take much perspicacity to see that the two are different. Nobody confuses the picture of a friend with the friend himself. Nor does anyone think, unless he is neurotic, that he enhances the reality of his friend or his own friendship in any way by destroying his picture.
The fact is the prophetic religions have not reflected deeply on the difference between form and the formless, between what is material and what is spiritual. The material view has so much occupied their mind that they are incapable of going beyond and see the incorporeal behind the corporeal. Their view of their god himself is external, so how can they be expected to have a more internal view of his image? Through spiritual awakening some have turned idols into Gods; others of unawakened soul have turned Gods into idols.
No great harm is done if we give our gods human eyes and ears and hands, but it is sheer disaster to give them human passions, human hatreds and preferences. Anthropomorphic gods are no problem; the fearful things are anthropopathic gods. Prophetic religions have given their God all human weakness and passions; on the other hand, Hinduism has thought of man with all divine virtues. The former have deified God, the latter have deified man.
Hinduism has reflected a lot on the problem. The Upanishads have their own iconoclasm, but that is of a spiritual nature. They say, Not this, Not this, even to most subtle forms. They also however affirm progressively deeper and more luminous forms, and say, This also is That, This also is That. Their God is the very form of truth, tapas and knowledge; He is satya-svarupa, tapa-svarupa, vijnana-svarupa.
Semitic style of iconoclasm is a child of crass materialism; it comes from incapacity to see that the physical is also the standing ground of the metaphysical; it comes from one's inability to see life, consciousness and divinity in things. Spiritual realities cannot be seen without inner, spiritual development. The capacity to see the incorporeal in the corporeal and the stable in the unstable (a-sariram sarireshu and an-avastheshu- avasthitam—Kathopnishad) does not belong to all. Some people don’t have the Gods within and are not ready yet, but they complain against the images outside. They don’t see the idols within them but they quarrel with the idols on the altar. According to the Yogas, it is the spiritual mind that sees spiritual realities; it sees them in and beyond the visible material forms. The Upanishads speak of “the golden Person seen within the sun” (antar aditye hiranmayah purushah);9 they speak of “Him who dwells in the sun, yet is other than the sun, whom the sun does not know, whose body the sun is.”10 The Atharvaveda speaks of the sun “which all see with their eyes but not all know with their mind.”11 Plato, far away in Greece, says precisely the same thing in his Laws, that “everyone sees the body of the sun, but no one sees his soul,” though this soul is “better than the sun,” and “ought by every man to be deemed a God.” It needs a certain development in one’s own soul before he sees it around him.
Hindu spirituality teaches us that “all this is filled with God”12 (Plato says, “All things are full of Gods”); that all is astir with life, consciousness and divinity. The Upanishads see “the earth, the atmosphere, the heaven, the waters, the mountains meditating as it were.”13 After such a vision, who can approach nature without reverence? It is not only higher spirituality, it is also proper ecology.
Hindu scriptures also say that God is formless and only our knowledge of him has form. The Yogas say that the Gods become truly formless when our mind becomes formless. The problem of prophetic religions is not that their god is formless, but that he has a rigid, stiff form which cannot take on and reflect other forms.
Christianity and Islam have engaged in large-scale destruction of temples of others through centuries. Both have thought that to serve their God they have to demolish the temples of the their infidel neighbours and demolish the images of their Gods. And this is enough. They need not know the idols in their own heart.
9. The Theology of Missions and Jihad
Every religion has its own ethos. The ethos is shaped by the kind of questions raised and the answers given by the leaders of that religion. In Hinduism, the seeker raised the question: What is real? What is the highest Good? What is man? What are his roots? Is he only his body or even his mind and intellect? His body is subject to sickness, old age and death; is death his only destiny? His mind, his proud possession, is a prisoner of its passions; its knowledge is so little and so uncertain. Is there in man some other principle of greater and surer knowledge? Is there something by knowing which all this is known or at least makes sense? Hindu spirituality sought answers to these questions; it had a vision of a higher and transformed life and its ethos was shaped by that vision.
There is nothing to show that any spokesman of prophetic religions ever raised these questions. His questions were different. They were: Who is the true God? What is His will? How can it be fulfilled? We cannot explain how, but he arrived at the conclusion, often even before he raised the question, that he knew the true God, that the Gods his neighbours knew were false, that he was the mouthpiece of this true God, and that unless others believed in him and followed him, they were damned. He felt strongly that it was his duty and God-given responsibility to propagate this view about his God and about himself. Men must be told the truth about the God and his authentic spokesman and be made to embrace this truth even by force if necessary.
The dominant ethos of prophetic religions like Christianity and Islam has been shaped by this theology. Therefore the characteristic figure of these religions is a preacher, a crusader or a mujahid. He has nothing to learn; he has been sent to teach and correct and wherever possible even to punish error—most men are better at preaching than at learning. He feels lost if he does not fulfil his vocation. “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9.16), he says. He must go out and convert the world and conquer it for his God. The others are in darkness and he has to spread the light; he is the salt of the earth. If he is a Christian missionary, his aim, to put it in the language of an Anglican hymn, is:
Baptize the nations; far and nigh The triumphs of the Cross record; The Name of Jesus glorify Till every kindred call him Lord.
This song has to go round the earth. It has to go to the east where “China’s millions join the strains” and “waft them on to India’s plains”; it has to go where “Islam’s sway darkly broods o’er home and hearth”; it has to go to the Jews, “the long- astray,” and in their “soul-blindness far-away,” who were once God’s own elect, but who later fell from his favour but not from his election.
As a Missionary is not taught to reflect but to act, he does not doubt that he knows the truth or whether his truths are worth knowing, or if what he knows are truths at all. He will not fail to teach, and a convert will not fail to leam, the Holy Ghost is ready at hand in both cases.
Missionary work is considered the most meritorious in Christianity. It was often accompanied by liberal use of force, but a good end justified it. St. Martin of Tours (b. AD 315) engaged in preaching to the pagans of rural Gaul while attacking their shrines with a pickaxe. Now 3675 churches and 425 villages are named after him in France alone. Pope Gregory III wrote in 739 to Boniface, the missionary who had added 100,000 souls to the Church with the help of Prince Charles, that in the day of Christ, he was “entitled to say in the presence of the saints: ‘Here stand I and these children the Lord has given me. I have not lost any of them whom thou hast entrusted to me.’ And again: ‘It was five talents thou gave me, see how I have made profit of five talents besides.’” And then Boniface would deservedly hear the voice of God saying: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
With this kind of understanding of man and God and its own mission, Christianity started as soon as it gathered enough strength on a long career of persecution. It persecuted pagans,14 it persecuted Jews15 from whom it was drawn, it persecuted its own heretics.16 It persecuted cultures and peoples; it persecuted different modes of worship and different views of God. We cannot discuss here the question of how it subjugated Europe17 and destroyed the temples and groves of its various people,18 how it destroyed freedom of thought, how it carried its excesses to other parts of the world, to Asia, Americas and Africa.19 We in India know something of Islam in action, but the record of Christianity has been as black and as thorough.20
The world had known persecution before, but the new one was of a different species. It was theological or ideological. W.E.H. Lecky, in his History of European Morals, points out the difference. He says that the new persecution “has been far more sustained, systematic, and unflinching. It has been directed not merely against acts of worship, but also against speculative opinions. It has been supported not merely as a right, but also as a duty. It has been advocated in a whole literature of theology, by classes that are specially devout, and by the most opposing sects…” Discussing further its theological sources, he says that its ethics was derived from writings in which religious massacres, on the whole the most ruthless and sanguinary on record, were said to have been directly enjoined by the Deity, in which the duty of suppressing idolatry by force was given a greater prominence than any article of the moral code, and in which the spirit of intolerance has found its most eloquent and most passionate expressions.”
Lecky here speaks of Christian persecution but it holds good for Islamic one too. Islam has not only been a great imperialist, but it has also been a great suppressor of thought and opinion. It simply could not allow itself to be freely investigated and discussed by its followers. No closed ideology can. It must be accepted on faith; it must severely punish ideological ‘error’, ‘deviation’ and ‘heresy’. Conformity is secured by exercising ‘holy terror’ (Communists call it ‘revolutionary terror’). Currently the press reported of one Sadek Abdel-Kerim Malallah of Saudi Arabia, who was publicly beheaded with a single stroke of the sword for slandering God, the Quran and the prophet. He was quoted as saying that the prophet was “a liar, an impostor,” and that “the religion he spread was nothing but deception” (The Times of India, September 5, 1992). Needless to say that this offers no deep analysis of Islam (let us however remember that this is how the unlucky victim is presented by the Interior Ministry, though he may have more to say on the subject). It takes more than an “impostor” to start a religion. In fact, one need not be an impostor in order to start or spread a religion of “deception” and, in point of fact, the founder is often quite sincere in the ordinary sense of the term and has no intention of deceiving anyone. But what if he is himself deceived? The Yo,;a speaks of this kind of self-deception whose source is deep in mind’s opacity and duality, in achaitanya (unconsciousness), vi- smriti (forgetfulness), aviveka (lack of discernment) and avidya (nescience). Not to deceive others is relatively easy, but to prevent self-deception is very much more difficult. The forces of avidyd are powerful; they ‘in-form’ and soon close in on even sattvika bhavas or good and higher thoughts and sentiments like sincerity, faith, piety and idealism and turn them to bad account. Otherwise why should a good thing like love of Al-Lah turn into hatred of Al-Lat and Al-‘Uzza? Why should “jealous” Gods arise at all? In Indian temples icons of gods are placed in groups on the altar as they were in Greek and other pagan temples. There was no jealousy either among the Gods or their worshippers.
There is something false about the very idea of 'founding' a religion. To say the least, it is a thoroughly materialistic idea, and it must lead to its own excesses.
The falsehood that accompanies the converting business is even worse than its intolerance. Mahatma Gandhi called proselytizing the “deadliest poison that ever sapped the foundation of truth”; and he regarded a Missionary “like any vendor of goods” though he pretends to be something else. But while a Missionary is bad enough, the convert is even worse. What Jesus said about Jewish missionaries and their converts applies to Christian missionaries and converts as well: “You traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”21 And it was from this class that the apostles first drew most of their converts.
Time has not modified Christianity’s missionary aim, but only its strategy of action. The Second Vatican General Council has reiterated its old position. In its The Decree Ad Gentes on the Church’s Missionary Activity, it says that the Church “is missionary by her very nature, since she draws her origin from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit according to the design of the Father.” It again says at another place that it “must be missionary, irrespective of what God can do and does for the salvation of those whom the Gospel does not reach.” The last is a real concession, since it yields that those outside the pale of the Church are also not altogether out of the grace of God. And yet there should be no backsliding and their evangelizing should go on till the end for their own sake. Hence 700-Plans to evangelize the world. Because of the interest of the subject, we are reproducing a Review we wrote of a book of this name in The Statesman as an Appendix 1.
10. Ethical Code
A theology has often its own ethics. The biblical ethics is covenantal and it is enshrined in the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments as they are called. In the biblical history, they were spoken by Yahweh “accompanied with thunderings and lightnings and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking,” so much so that “people were afraid and trembled.” All very impressive and dramatic, but how far they helped ethical conduct is another matter. A deepened ethics comes from a deepened view of man and not from commandments of an external agency.
We are told by Christian scholars that the Decalogue itself imitates ancient international treaties which formalized the relationship of a suzerain and a vassal. Suzerainty treaties begin with a preamble identifying the covenant lord, the speaker, and an historical prologue recounting especially the benefits previously bestowed through the favour and might of the lord. The obligations imposed on the vassal, the longest section, follow. The foremost stipulation is the requirement of loyalty to the covenant lord and negatively the proscription of all alien alliances. Another section enunciates the curses and blessings which the gods of the covenant oath would visit on the vassal in accordance with whether he transgressed or was faithful to the covenant. The biblical decalogue follows the pattern to the letter. Yahweh is the king, his chosen people his vassals who should refrain from all alien alliances.
But by the time Jesus came, the scene had changed appreciably in some ways. The ‘end of the world’ was expected at any time. This expectation lent a new urgency and added new element to the ethical code. We are told that Jesus’s moral teaching was eschatological, that he taught interim ethics, or interim- sethik, that is emergency legislation, or rules of conduct. These rules were to be followed till the Kingdom of Heaven came, which was expected any moment, or which was “at hand”, to put it in the language of the Bible. The teaching of hating one’s family (Lk.14.26) or the teaching about being eunuch (Mt. 19.10 ff) because of the imminence of the day of heaven in which there will be no marrying and giving in marriage, the teaching about having no anxiety about clothing and food (Mt. 6.25), and laying no treasures (Mt. 6.19)— they all derive from this source. The eschatological view expected the Day of Judgement soon and the speedy manifestation (Parousia) of Christ.
Kingdom of Heaven
The phrase occurs in the Bible at several places and at one place even as ‘Kingdom of God within’. It has put many readers, particularly Hindu ones, completely off the track. They like to believe that the Bible teaches a spirituality of the Upanishads and the phrase means the ever-present reality of God within the heart.22 But it is nothing of the sort. First, the very word ‘within’ is a mistranslation of the Greek word ‘entos’, which means ‘among’ or ‘in the midst’. The new Bibles including The Revised Standard Version are now giving the correct meaning.
Secondly, this interpretation does not agree with the larger biblical spirituality and tradition. In the Jewish history itself, the phrase Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven came pretty late and had quite a different meaning. To begin with, it had a relig- ious-political connotation, but by the time of Jesus it had acquired an eschatological sense, and the phrase meant ‘the end of the world’ or ‘The Day of the Lord’, which was expected any day. It becomes clear from Luke where immediately after saying “Kingdom of God is within you,” he describes how soon, swiftly and unexpectedly it was to come and take people by surprise. “On that day, let him who is on the house top... not come down…; and likewise let him who is in the field not turn back...,” he says (17.21-37).
Here we may quote with profit theologian H. Ridderbos on the subject. According to him, 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 from the power of their enemies. Later on, the national element was supplemented by the apocalyptical element. In John the Baptist’s teachings, it meant the Day of divine judgement which was at hand, when God will judge and sift, and no one could evade or escape it. He, therefore, urged people to repent and baptize to prepare for the day. But in Jesus’ teaching, the phrase meant he himself, that in him the great future became the ‘present time’. We are also told that the phrase in its future aspect meant the history of the Church, and that today the Church is the organ of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Sermon on the Mount
No discussion of Christian ethics would be complete without mentioning a discourse called the Sermon on the Mount found in the New Testament. Like the Kingdom of Heaven, the Sermon has also caused much misunderstanding though of a different nature. It arises not from a wrong translation or a wrong interpretation but by according to the Sermon an importance it never had in the Christian tradition.
The Sermon contains lofty ethical teaching but it is not organic to the Bible. It is out of tune with much of its other moral teachings in the New Testament. It also does not agree with whatever we know of the personality of Jesus. For example, the Sermon asks us “not to judge, so that we be not judged”. But Jesus is judging and condemning a good deal. He is calling whole groups of people “serpents and broods of vipers”, and wondering how they would “escape being sentenced to hell”; he calls them of “evil and adulterous generation”; he even curses a fig tree for not bearing fruit probably out of the proper season (Mt. 22.18 ff). For some such and other similar reasons, some scholars believe that the Sermon derives from some non-biblical source. Some, in fact, with great cogency have shown that every sentence in the Sermon has a parallel in some contemporary source such as Egyptian Gnosticism, the Proverbs and the Talmud. They hold that the Sermon is an interpolation belonging to the period when the Bible was being assembled and was laying hands on whatever it found striking and deep in other places.23
The question has its importance in another context though not for our purpose here. For we are not discussing whether the Sermon is original or borrowed but how important it is in the Bible. Even as an interpolation, it has been a part of the Bible long enough and it should be regarded as such by now. But how influential and important a part it has been is another question.
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. Christian scholars themselves have held that the crucial thing in the Bible is evangelium, the proclamation of the good news about the arrival of the Saviour. They were not even particularly conscious of the Sermon till recently when the Bible began to be debated and some people while rejecting the Saviour accepted the Bible’s moral teachings. Gandhi was perhaps one of the foremost of those who made Christian theologians conscious of the Sermon. 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. But as the church lectionaries, writings of the Fathers and other important religious writings show, their own chief document on morals has been the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. For example, we have before us A Catholic Catechism, an important teaching manual used widely for imparting knowledge of the Catholic faith; it has seventy-five pages on the Ten Commandments but only three tines on the Sermon. Various Christian churches and sects have not been much conscious of the Sermon; it is not organic to prophetic message and ethics.
So far as the common Christians are concerned, the Bible itself has come into its own only recently. For long it was a closed book for them. During most of the centuries people only knew the stories of the biblical prophets, the Saviour and Mary through their pictures in the churches, but not much more. Later on when the Bible began to be translated into vernacular languages, its reading was discouraged and even banned for quite some time. For example, the law in the British Isles was that “no woman (unless she be a noble or gentlewoman), no artificers, journeymen, servingmen, under the degree of yeoman... husbandmen or labourers, should read or use any part of the Bible under pain of fines and imprisonment.”
Islam is placed more happily in this regard. It has no Sermon on the Mount or anything like it to embarrass it. Its ethics derives from its prophet, his revelations and his doings, and he intended to impose no heavy moral burdens on the believers. There are no painful contrasts between a difficult moral precept and an attractive practice. Hence there is no room for a bad conscience, no need for rationalizing and for elaborate casuistry or Jesuitry, developments so characteristic of Christianity. What ought to be done is also often pleasant and profitable to do. Islam’s ethics fully accommodates a believer’s mundane interests. It owes no moral obligation towards disbelieving neighbours. It is meritorious to despoil them and enslave them and their women and children.
Islam has another advantage over Christianity. There is little hiatus between its theology, ethics and law. In Christianity they tend to get mixed up as they have been also under non-Judaic influences. But Islam is of one piece. Even its law is Mosaic, not as it came through the filter of Talmud and Mishna and thus much modified and raised up, but the Mosaic law in its relative purity.24 The following case will illustrate it. The punishment in the Old Testament for adultery is death by stoning. But by the time of Muhammad, this punishment had ceased, at least among the Jews of Medina. In a case of adultery, they had to send the two accused to Muhammad for a decision. They told their chiefs: “Go to Muhammad; if he commands you to blacken their face and award flogging them as punishment, then accept it; but if he gives verdict for stoning, then avoid it.” Muhammad spared no sentiment like ‘Let him who has not sinned throw the first stone’, but he was grieved at people trying to soften the scripture. Allah comforted him in these words: “O Messenger, the behaviour of those who vie with one another in denying the truth should not grieve you” (Quran 5.41). The Prophet ordered the two accused to be stoned to death. Abdullah, the son of Umar the future Khalifa, reports: “I was one of those who stoned them, and I saw him (the Jew) protecting her (the Jewish lady) with his body” (Sahih Muslim, 4211)
11. Prophetic and Yogic Spiritualities Contrasted
Hitherto we have been discussing Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They have their differences which in some ways are important. For example, the 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. True, they have believed that the truths of their faith are universal, but they have not claimed that these truths are exclusive to their faith. Bernard Lewis tells us of a Talmudic dictum that the righteous of all faiths have their place in paradise. It is different from Christianity and Islam where each claims to be the sole custodian of God’s final revelation to mankind and neither admits salvation outside its own creed.25
However, they have powerful similarities which make them belong to one species or family, the family of prophetic religions. They share important common traits which mark them off from yogic spiritualities like Hinduism. The two differ radically in their approach and ethos on most important questions relating to man, divinity, nature, ethics, salvation. Here we shall briefly mention a few points.
Hinduism approaches the problem from various angles, one very important angle being man himself and his consciousness with which he is most familiar. It begins by asking the question: What is man? And it introduces us progressively to his deeper facets. It finds that man is more than what he appears to be, that his roots are deep. Taittiriya Upanishad, for example, tells us that man is made up of various sheaths, each more subtle than the preceding one. It tells us that behind his more external personality made up of the physical, psychic and mental parts, there is another, a more intimate one; it is of the form of knowledge (vijnana-maya), and it is made up of faith, the right, the true, yoga, and the vast (Sraddha, rita, satya, yoga, mahas). Behind this, in turn, stands another self called ananda-maya, which consists of delight and bliss, from which we all come and into which we all return.
Man’s normal consciousness is obscure; its knowledge is uncertain and it is hardly an instrument of truth. But as man goes deeper into himself, he meets another consciousness which is luminous, self-aware, and in touch with all. The Upanishads speak of a consciousness which is unified (ekibhuta), massed knowledge (prajnana-ghana), consisting of joy (ananda-maya) it feeds on bliss (ananda-bhuj), light re its mouth (chetomukha), and it knows all (prajna).
In prophetic scriptures, we do not find any such thing. In fact, even the word consciousness in this deeper sense is not there. Perhaps the prophetic religions were more concerned with the other question, What is God? However, there is nothing to show that they ever raised this question, though we have their answer without knowing how they arrived at it. As soon as they knew their god, they decided that he was the true one and the gods of Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites were false; that Jehovah alone was true and that Baal, Ashtofeth, Chomesh, Molech and, later on, Apollo and Jupiter were false. Similarly, they found that Al-Lah alone was true and Al-Lat, Al-‘Uzza, Al-Manat and the Gods of their neighbours were false.
Hinduism raised questions about God as it did about man, and the result was a great spiritual deepening and enrichment. Hinduism gave us Gods that were friends of men and of each other,26 it gave us Gods that were conceived as mothers, fathers, consorts, sons and daughters; it gave us Gods that were one and many, immanent as well as transcendent at the same time; it gave us Gods of various dhyanas (Buddha spoke of Gods of the first, second, third, fourth dhyanas)', it gave us Gods of sampra- jnata and asamprajndta saniadhis. It has One Thousand Names (sahasranama) of Vishnu, of Siva, of Sri LakshmT, of Gayatn, of GaneSa, of Lalita. There is nothing like it in prophetic religions. Christianity lacks ‘Names of God’ altogether — it has much christology but little worthwhile theology. Islam through Sufism (itself an import) has imbibed a tradition of ‘Ninety-nine Names of Allah’, but the tradition fails to articulate Names of deeper spirituality— here we particularly mean names relating to higher states of samadhi and prajna. We however cannot go into this question here but shall merely state that there cannot be a developed knowledge of Gods without a developed knowledge of Self. Atma-jnana and Deva-jnana go together.
Prophetic religions conceive their god differently. They all 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. According to Christianity, it took place in Jesus, and according to Islam it culminated and also ended in Muhammad.
The God of this species of spirituality also gave us a special moral code, a theological morality. The common morality says, Be kind to your fellow men to please your God. But the new moral code says that you will earn more merit in the sight of your God if you are harsh towards the unbelievers and even kill them. According to the older code people rob and kill because they are bad; in the new code, they are required to kill and rob because they are pious and good. In fact, the sinners of Christianity and Islam have often been better than their saints and pious leaders. If these so-called saints knew as much about themselves as they claim to know about their God, they should stay away from a good deal they do.
Hinduism has nothing like this code; we also find in it highest thinking on ethics. It has a concept peculiar to it—the concept of dharma. It is difficult to define or even explain it Its older Vedic name was rita. 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 very nature, the law of his true being. He is being himself by doing what is right and good.
It follows that we should be good, but to be good all of us have not to do the same thing and all cannot be good in the same way. We differ in our talents and in our opportunities. A soldier does good in a different way than a civilian. Householders and those who have the means do good by doing charitable acts, by digging wells and building hospitals and temples—activities called purta in Hindu Shastras; others by a charitable disposition. Sanyasins do good through goodwill and prayer, and by cultivating equanimity, compassion, and renunciation.
It is obvious that in this approach, dharma cannot be a fixed command. One’s dharma cannot be greater than one’s being and knowledge. A man grows in dharma as he grows in his being and knowledge. 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 a great ethical life, the life of sila, is its natural concomitant.
Ethics in this approach cannot be one monolithic code. Here it allows plurality, different paths, different ways. Here one serves the Great Good by serving according to one’s psychic and intellectual endowment, talent, capacity, opportunity, and circumstances. Indian ethic allows plurality of duties and vocations. Bhishma of the Mahabharata “salutes Him whose very Self is dharma, but whom followers of diverse paths in the pursuit of diverse ends serve in diverse ways”.27
Prophetic religions also deny any direct God-man relationship. There is no possibility nor probably any need for a direct contact for oneself with God. This was done long ago for us all by someone else, and the best we can do is to follow him and join the party inaugurated by him, his holy church or ummah. They teach a surrogate spirituality.
But a predominantly yogic spirituality rejects these premises. It preaches a higher life accessible to all, that is all who fulfil its conditions; it believes in higher celestial beings; it believes in God and Gods, and that they can be seen and experienced and one can live in fellowship with them, and it can be done by all who approach them in devotion, sincerity and truth; it believes that the unfoldment of higher life is not an arbitrary process or a chance happening but that it is a lawful process, and that all who work for it have a share in it; that in fact this life is a man’s own innermost life and truth, and that he knows Gods when he is most God-like.
It is obvious therefore that in this kind of spirituality, there can be no place for a one-man revelation. In any case, such a revelation is no good for others. A truth must become your own if it is to do good to you. One cannot live another man’s truth.
Most advanced spiritualities in the world have held this approach. Today, their most prominent living representative is Hinduism or the Sanatoria Dharma with its family of religions.
12. Mystical Tradition
These basic differences arise from the fact that Hindu spirituality is deeply introspective. It has developed a great discipline of inward looking which is called Yoga. At some stage, Christianity and Islam too had borrowed certain elements from this source but these could not fit into their system of belief. So these were soon either banished or treated peripherally. The elements that survived were subordinated to prophetic ideologies. Today, mystical theology in Christianity and Sufism in Islam have no independent role; they are mere handmaids of their hosts. The subject falls outside the scope of the discussion here, but we shall still make a brief reference.
Some mysticism was literally smuggled into Christianity near about AD 500. One Bar Sudali, a Syrian monk familiar with Vedantic thought (most Western writers like to call it neo-Pla- tonism), as it appears from his book, wrote on the subject of higher mysticism under the ghost-name of Dionysius the Areop- agite, converted to Christianity by Paul in the first century. This cover name proved useful and the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius, as Sudali came to be known to posterities, gained some acceptability and honour though not much use in certain Christian circles. His writings influenced Scotus Erigena, an Irish who taught at the court of Charles the Fat in the ninth century. Through his writings, the thought of Dionysius became known to several countries of Western Europe. In the fourteenth century, we meet Rhineland mystics powerfully influenced by this current, Eckhart being the most celebrated name among them. In their approach, there was no particular place for the God of monotheists ("you prattle too much about God," Eckhart said) and the Son of Christian persuasion; therefore these mystics were often anathematized.
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. The lives of Christian saints are full of accounts of their “temptations” (for example, St. Anthony's have become a legend), their frequent encounters with the Devil and how they worsted him. Saint Gothlac often engaged in hand-to-hand combats with demons. Saint Dunstan pulled the Devil's nose with a pair of red-hot tongs. Luther threw an ink-pot at him. St. Dominic, as he began discoursing to the sisters of a convent on the subject of the Devil, found that "the enemy of mankind -came on the scene in the shape of a sparrow." Of course, he was caught, and after plucking his feathers one by one, Dominic allowed him to go saying: "Fly now if you can, O enemy of mankind." Such were the victories scored over the enemy of God and man. In all this there was little place for contemplative methods.
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 and 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."
Prophetic Islam would have died from its own formalism and legalism, but Sufism saved it from this fate by importing into it some principle of warmth and intemality. But in this association, it itself suffered a great setback. In fact, higher mysticism was incompatible with prophetic Islam and it disappeared soon enough. The Sufism that survived and even prospered was tame and promised to subserve prophetism. Some great Sufi poets like Rumi and Attar convey a wrong impression of Islamic Sufism in general; they have been its show-pieces, not its representative figures. Mainstream Sufism has been represented by its silsilas like the Naqshbandiyya, Qadiriyya, Chishtiyya, Dervish, Marabout, Ribat, etc. 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 spokesmen. They never questioned its dogmas, not even its barbaric 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 and parcel of Islamic Imperialism, its enthusiastic sappers and miners and also its beneficiaries. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Dervish and Sufis have fought against the unbelievers in time of war. The devotees have accompanied the Shaikh or Murshid or Plr to the threatened frontiers. Thus the murabit, "one who pickets on a hostile frontier," has become the marabout or dervish of Algeria. Similarly, riba means a 'frontier fort', or a 'fortress for the defence of Islam'; ribat also came to mean a monastery and a religious- military community which performed garrison duty at the frontiers of dar al-Islam and waged holy wars against its neighbours. The al-murabitun played a great role in the Moorish annexation of Spain. 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
In the language of the Kathopanishad, most men look outward, but some seeking a higher law and life turn their gaze inward and behold the soul face to face. They become aware of a larger, secret life buried within. They realize that through earnest endeavour and devout invocation, this life can be uncovered and made dynamic and manifest in their lives.
For undertaking this inward journey, the soul has all the provisions in its possession. But different seekers are differently endowed, and each has to make the best use of his own special endowment. Hinduism in its long career has developed several methods; some emphasize the importance of devotion, some of unflinching effort, some of knowledge and discrimination. Indian sages have also chosen different symbols and aspects and Names. Some have emphasized a personal God, some the impersonal Brahma. Some have given us positive definitions while others have described negatively what they sought and saw. But though apparently different they all have a common centre; they all insist on the need for shedding lower life in order to find and unite with higher life; they all emphasize the need of Yoga, which among other things includes one-pointedness, concentrated attention, devotion, progressive purification of the inner being, and discrimination.
As a seeker advances on this path, he becomes increasingly aware of his higher nature. He finds that fearlessness, purification of the inner being, steadfastness in Yoga, self-restraint and worship, study of the Shastras, austerity and harmlessness, truthfulness, compassion for all living beings, forgiveness, fortitude, purity, absence of guile, crookedness, fickleness, envy and pride, mildness, modesty, peace, renunciation, and uncovetousness, etc., are great realities, great truths of the spirit, great divine properties (daivi sampad). Unless one is bom in and to them, there is no true spiritual birth. One should learn to cherish them and make them his own.
The seeker becomes aware of the larger God-life that surrounds him, and of his “heavenly roots” from which he derives his sustenance. He discovers that what sustains him also sustains the world, that truthfulness, loftiness, power, consecration, austerity, the knowledge of the Supreme, and worship uphold the earth28 as well. He realizes that mere hedonism and consumerism are self-defeating and cannot stand alone and survive; that even our more secular satisfactions require a life of dharma to sustain them, and that dharma itself is rooted in moksha, in dispassion, renunciation and equal-mindedness.
He becomes aware of great liberating forces, the forces of spiritual faith, effort, mindfulness, samadhi and wisdom. But he also becomes aware of forces that bind him to a lower life, the forces of desire, aversion, infatuation, ego, and nescience (raga, dvesha, abhinivesa, asmita, avidya)— or klesas as they are called — that feed his phenomenal life; he finds his eyes, his ears, his nose, in fact his whole being on fire, burning in the fire of desire, of anger, of hankering, of false ego and infatuation; he becomes aware how they fabricate a false life, and how a man moves from one birth to another caught in their web, how though the man dies physically, these forces abide in some subtle condition as pre-dispositions, as samskaras, shaping a new life for him. He realizes that the law of karma is difficult to transgress; that though a man may have celestial visions and voices, but these forces have a seed power and having remained dormant for a long time come to life again in their own time; that it needs much grace and spiritual wisdom before they are conquered.
Yoga gives not only Self-knowledge, atma-jnana, it also gives knowledge of God or Gods. The man on the inner journey not only realizes that God or Gods are within him, but he also realizes that he is within them. On this path, one meets many divine figures which are also truths of his own soul. Here, there is no God who hates ‘other’ Gods; for there are no ‘others’ here. In a yogic God there is no hatred and no otherness of certain non-yogic Gods. He is in all the Gods and all other Gods are in him; he has also no reason to detest partners, for he does not become less for having them, nor does he cease to be Himself on that account. He realizes advaita; he realizes that God alone is, which is quite a different thing from saying that there is only one God; he realizes that ‘God alone’ is not the same thing as a lone God.
Here one is united with all humanity and there are no infidels and heathens here. In fact, here all walls fall and the seeker feels one with all living beings, past and present and future, on this or other planes. He also feels one with elements; the sky, the sun, night and day, the four directions, the wind, the fire, the waters and the earth— all are kins and friends. All have a place and all are part of a cosmic holiness and goodness.29 Needless to say that this deepened vision also gives a lofty ethics.
Here one also becomes aware of “the Unknown God”; one realizes that ‘unknowability’ or ‘unknownness’ is God’s great attribute. Therefore, the attempt of those like Paul who pretend to declare Him30 is laughable. He is not known by those who say they know him, but he is known by those who say they know him not.
One becomes aware of the true sources of the Shastras like the Upanishads, the Gita, the Pitakas, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Their source is a deeper seeing, a deeper compassion, a deeper intuition of unity and transcendence. They come from those established in a consciousness deep like the ocean. They are not effusions of a temporary enthusiasm.31
13. Non-Yogic Samadhis
All these experiences and insights belong to the yogic development and are the fruits of yogic samadhi and yogic prajna. There is also however an opposite development and the yogic literature also hints at non-yogic samadhis.
Unfortunately, traditional commentators on the Patanjala Yogadarsana did not develop this hint and concentrated on expounding only the yogic samadhi. Visuddhi Marga, the great Buddhist treatise on Yoga, does the same. After observing that samadhi is of many kinds but discussing them all would cause distraction, it limits itself to the elucidation of the samadhi of the kusala-chitta, or purified mind.
Vyasa, the great commentator of Yogadarsana, does somewhat better. He tells us that mind has five habitual states or planes (bhumis): mudha (dull or inert), kshipta (restless, or probably it is samkshipta and means contracted), vikshipta (scattered), ekagra (one-pointed), and niruddha (stopped). He makes a further pregnant statement that samadhi is natural to mind and it can take place on all bhumis (sarvabhauma); but he 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.
This subject could be further discussed with great advantage. But the succeeding commentators neglected further elucidation. This self-limitation is good for the purpose in hand, but it has a serious disadvantage too. Considering that the two kinds of samadhis are not unoften confused with each other, it would have served the cause of clarity if both were discussed and their differences pointed out. After all, the Gita does it; in its last two chapters, it discusses various spiritual truths like austerity, faith, duty, knowledge in their triple expressions and sharply distinguishes their sattvika forms from their rajasika and tamasika imitations. The same could be said of samadhis and their pure and impure forms distinguished.
The elucidation of non-yogic samadhis or ecstasies has also its positive value and peculiar concern. It could help to explain quasi-religious phenomena which, sadly, have been only too numerous and too important in the religious history of man. Many creeds seemingly religious sail under false labels and spread confusion. As products of a fitful mind, they could but make only a temporary impression and their life could not but be brief. 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.
The message is clear. Developing Vyasa’s hint, we may say that even the lower bhumis (kama-bhumis) have their characteristic samadhis, trances or their own Revelations, their own Prophets and their own Deities. They project ego-gods and desire-gods and give birth to dvesha-dharmas and moha-dharmas, hate-religions and delusive ideologies. All these projections have qualities very different from the qualities of the projections of the yogic bhumi.
14. Gods of Non-Yogic Bhumis
For example, the god of the yoga-bhumi of Patahjala Yoga is free, actually and potentially, from all limiting qualities like desire, aversion, hankering, ego and nescience; free from all actions, their consequences, present or future, active or latent. Or in the language of Patanjala Yoga, he is untouched by klesa- karma-vipaka-asaya. But the god of the ecstasies of non-yogic bhumi or kama-bhumi is very different. He has strong likes and dislikes and has cruel preferences. He has his favourite people, churches and ummahs, and his implacable enemies. He is also very egoistic and self-regarding; he can brook no other god or gods. He insists that all gods other than himself are false and should not be worshipped. He is a “jealous god”, as he describes himself in the Bible. And he “whose name is Jealous” is also full of “fierce anger” (aph). He commands his chosen people that 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 an holy people unto the Lord.…”32 He promises to his people: “I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your ad- versarie”; and they return the sentiment: “Do I not hate them , O Lord, that hate thee? Yea, I hate them with perfect hatred.”33
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). In the same vein, he is also a mighty avenger (azizu'l intiqam). He is also a god of “plenteous spoils” (maghnim kaslrat). He tells the believers how he repulsed their opponents and caused them to inherit the land, the houses and the wealth of the disbelievers, and the land they had not trodden.34 He follows the spirit of Jehovah who promised his chosen people that he would give them “great and goodly cities they builded not, and wells which they digged not, vineyards and olive trees they planted not” (Deut. 6.10-11).
Allah is merciful too but his mercy extends to the believers only. According to a hadis, the prophet said that there “would be people among the Muslims with as heavy sins as a mountain, but Allah would forgive them and he would place in their stead the Jews and the Christians.” In fact, on “the Day of Resurrection Allah would deliver to every Muslim a Jew or a Christian and Say: That is your rescue from Hell-Fire.”35
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. Some Gnostic thinkers called him “Samael”, a blind God or the God of the blind; others called him “Ialdabaoth”, the son of Chaos.
He continues to offend the moral sense of our rational age too. Thomas Jefferson thinks that the “Bible God is a being of terrific character, cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.” Lincoln wrote a pamphlet against Christianity itself. But both being publicmen had to cover their tracks. Thomas Paine says of the Bible that “it would be more consistent that we call it the work of a demon than the word of God.”
Hindus have done a lot of thinking on the subject of ecstasy and samadhi, yet they regard it with utmost superstition. They 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. They will buy any outrage if it is sold under a religious label or in the name of a god, saints, or prophets. They have also a great weakness for what they describe as “synthesis.” In that name, they will lump together most discordant things without any sense of their propriety and congruity, intellectual or spiritual. However, a few names like Bankim Chandra, Swami Day- ananda, Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Gandhi are exceptions to the rule. Bankim finds the god of the Bible “a despot”; and he thinks that Jesus’s doctrine of “eternal punishment” in the “everlasting Fire” is “devilish.” Swami Dayananda remembers how the biblical “Lord sent a pestilence... and there fell seventy thousand men of Israel,”36 his own Chosen People, and it puts him off. He observes that even “the favours of a capricious god like him so quick in his pleasure are full of danger,” as the Jews know it only too well. The Swami further argues in his usual unsparing way that the Allah and Shaitan of the Quran, according to its own showing, are alike.
But to reject is not to explain. Why should a god have to have such qualities? And why should a being who has such qualities be called God? And why should he have so much hold? Yoga provides an answer. It says that though not a truly spiritual being, he is thrown up by a deeper source in the mind. He is some sort of a psychic formation and carries the strength and attraction of such a formation; he also derives his qualities and dynamism from the chitta-bhumi in which he originates.
This will explain 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 again and again and is found in cultures widely separated. This god has his own ancestry, his own sources from which he is fed, his own tradition and principle of continuity, self-renewal and self-validation.
Not many people know that a similar God, II Tengiri, presided also over the life of Chingiz Khan and bestowed Revelations on him. Minhajus Siraj, the mid-thirteenth century historian, tells us in his Tabqat-i-Nasiri, that “after every few days, he (Chingiz Khan) would have a fit and during his unconsciousness he would say all sorts of things... Some one would write down all he said, put (the papers) in a bag and seal them. When Chingiz recovered consciousness, everything was read out to him and he acted accordingly. Generally, in fact always., his designs were successful.”
In this, one can see unmistakable resemblance with the revelations or wahy of the prophetic tradition.
15. Intrusions and Eruptions
In actual life, one seldom meets truths of the kama-bhumi and krodha-bhumi unalloyed. Often they are mixtures and touched by intrusions from the truths of the yoga-bhumi above. This however makes them still more virulent; it puts a religious rationalization on them. It degrades the higher without uplifting the lower. The theories of jihad, crusade, conversion and da'wa become spiritual tasks, Commandments of God, religious obligations, vocations and duties of a Chosen People. “See my zeal for the Lord,” says Jehu, an army captain anointed as king at the command of Jehovah. Bound to follow His will, he called all the prophets, servants, priests and worshippers of Baal on the pretext of organizing Baal’s service and when they were gathered, his guards and captains “smote them with the edge of the sword,” and “they demolished the image of Baal, and demolished the house of Baal, and made it a draught house [latrine] unto this day” (2 Kings 10.25, 27).
Lower impulses are indeed difficult to conquer, they seem to have an autonomous life of their own. Even those who have experienced the truths of higher life are subject to their pull, and eruptions from below are common enough in their lives too. Hence the insistence of Yoga on a moral and spiritual discipline and on inner purification. In fact, the whole of Yoga could be summed up in one word: purification or chitta-prasada or chitta-Suddhi. Indeed it knows that without purification, even Yoga could be put to a negative use. In fact, it is done in “Spiritual Exercises” of the Jesuits, which has adopted the initial limbs of Yoga but which uses them not for liberation, but for the intensification of certain fond ideas and beliefs, for theological self-conditioning.
Therefore the Yoga insists that the aspirant should first be established in Sila, yama and niyama, self-restraint, harmlessness and truthfulness. Yoga cares only for such samadhi as is built on the foundation of a developed ethical life. Next it insists on the progressive purification of samadhi itself through the purification of antah-karana, manas and buddhi, of smriti and dhyana. The mind should expand by constantly dwelling on benevolence, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity (maitri, karuna, mudita, and upeksha).
16. Purification of Samadhi
As we have learnt to distinguish the yogic samadhi from the non-yogic one, we should also remember that even yogic samadhi is not something fixed and given once for all. Yogic samadhi itself needs progressive purification; it has many grades and stations and each grade has its characteristic qualities. If the mind is sufficiently purified, it automatically moves from one stage to the next and deeper one, which is different both in what it contemplates and in the qualities of that contemplation. Each stage has its characteristic quality, flavour or rasa.
The subject is big and we shall do here with the briefest reference. ViSuddhi Marga describes this movement very clearly. It divides the movement into several dhyanas and samapattis. It tells us that the first four or five (depending on one’s enumeration) dhyanas are characterized by vitarka (reflection), vichara (sustained application), priti (joy), sukha (felicity), ekagrata (one pointedness), and smriti (mindfulness) in the ascending order of yogic subtleness. In the fourth dhyana, the coarse limbs of the earlier dhyanas leave or are rather in abeyance, yielding place only to “mindfulness purified by upeksha", or equal-mindedness or samata of the Gita. This equal-mindedness opens the door to many kinds of infinities and universalities (anantyas). Beyond these infinities lies the nirodhabhumi of Patahjala Yoga or the nirvana-bhumi of the Buddhists.
For our purpose, we need not go into this larger Yoga at all. It will suffice to point out that the higher Indian spirituality begins with the fourth dhyana which is characterized by equal- mindedness. On the other hand, much of what we find in the scriptures of prophetic religions does not emanate from the yogic bhumi, but in portions which do touch this plane, the truths are restricted to the first two or three dhyanas. For example, the New Testament on several occasions and at many places emphasizes the importance of faith, piety, zest, zeal, belief, joy, prom- ise, confidence and fervour—all truths of the first dhyanas. But even in these places, we find no mention of samata, equal- mindedness, the base of further truths like universal sympathy (jiva-daya), the great law of dharma upholding all, selfemptying, nirvana or moksha, or liberation, atma-jnana, and advaita—the staples of Indian spirituality.
Though no effort is lost on the path of Yoga as the Gita teaches, there is however always a danger of relapse unless the higher vision (prajna) opens up. The Srottapanna is not the same as an anagami, a seeker must either go up or he will go down. The truths of the initial dhyanas are not secure unless they are fortified by a higher vision. But in the biblical case we are discussing, these truths had no support from a higher prajna; on the other hand, they were under the gravitational pull of a different kind of vision, the vision that derived from monolatry and prophetism. No wonder that the Church lost those truths so 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. In India’s spiritual tradition, a faulty vision (prajna-aparadha) is considered a great poisoner.
Thus in the absence of a true science of interiority, Christianity took to an ideology of physical and outward expansion It holds good for Islam too. They both have faced an inner problem — the problem of an undeveloped spirituality. This has constituted danger to the rest of the humanity as well.
Gore Vidal says that from a “barbaric Bronze Age text known as Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved — Judaism, Christianity and Islam”; he also calls them “sky-god religions.” There would have been no harm if they had a yogic sky-god, for a yogic god is in all the gods and includes all other gods—gods of the earth as well as of the heaven and beyond. Moreover, as man is kin both to the earth as well as to the sky, he has to have gods of both and also of all that is beyond. But the trouble is that the prophetic god is not a yogic god; in fact, he is hardly a spiritual being; he is a fanatic entity, an intolerant and hegemonic idea.
The sky-godders have been great persecutors. The world has been under their attack, both physical and ideological, for a long time. India has known their attacks for a thousand years. This has inflicted on the country not only great political and economic damage, but has also put it under great psychological and ideological strain. Hindus have become apologetic about their most cherished ideas. Monolatrous ideologies have come to enjoy great prestige, the prestige that comes from having been in power for so long.
During the days of Islamic and Christian rule, Hindus tried to cope with the situation in several ways. First, they 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. This spirit infected all, even non-Hindu sects. For example, when the Parsis were told in 1860s by Martin Haug, a German scholar, that true Zoroastrianism was monotheistic and had no idol worship and no rituals, they were very much relieved. The Brahmo Samaj, the Arya Samaj, and the Akalis also claimed monotheism and iconoclasm. Some monks of the Ramakrishna Mission have also learnt to think that they do their Guru more honour by treating him as the founder of a religion like Moses, Jesus and Mohammad, than as a rishi, a confirmer and carrier of an ancient spiritual tradition. In the case of the Akalis, the new look has also become the basis of a new separatist-militant politics. In all this work of selfintrospection and self-reform, no need was felt of giving a closer look to 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.
The second way the Hindus, adopted was that of “synthesis”. The synthesizers 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. They culled passages from various scriptures to prove their point. That they found little in the Quran or the Bible37 in that line did not dampen their spirit. They secured their point by taking recourse to selective quotes, by picking on stray phrases, by giving them a meaning which they did not have. They misrepresented the spirit of different preachings by slurring over important differences and by making too much of incidental agreements. Some took to allegorizing and read deep esoteric meanings38 in passages which plainly told a different story. It is by such methods that they proved that the Bible and the Quran were no different from the Upanishads. Thus they became propagators of Christianity and Islam among their own people.
Besides the rationalists, many seekers in the West had learnt to reject Christianity as an inadequate spiritual ideology. But under the auspices of Hindu synthesizers, it began to find a new acceptance. Today some of the best propagandists of Christianity and Islam are Hindu- synthesizers.
Struggle for Cultural Freedom
The long period under the two Imperialisms, Islamic and Christian, has ended, but they have left a powerful legacy behind. India became politically free in 1947, but it is ruled by anti-Hindu Hindus. The old mental slavery continues and it has yet to win its cultural and intellectual independence.
India is entering into the second phase of its freedom struggle: the struggle for regaining its Hindu identity. The new struggle is as difficult as the old one. Hindus are disorganized, self-alienated, morally and ideologically disarmed. They lack leadership; the Hindu elites have become illiterate about their spiritual heritage and history and indifferent and even hostile towards their religion. In fact, they love every religion except their own.
Great poverty has overtaken Hindu religious institutions. Hindu temples are poor and in great neglect.39 The functionaries connected with these institutions live in abject poverty and Lhey are the poorest section in India.
The education of Hindus is not in their own hands; in fact, the teaching of Hinduism has been neglected for centuries and Hindu children grow in complete ignorance of their religion. 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 written by people under the influence of old Imperial schools. They tell you how Muslims and Christians came as liberators from the shackles of Hinduism.
Hindu society is badly divided. Once when Hinduism was strong, castes represented a natural and healthy diversity, but now in its present state of weakness these are used for its dismemberment. Old vested interests joined by new ones have come together to make use of the caste factor in a big way in order to keep Hindus down.
Hindus have been kept down too long . Everyone including the victims think that it is the natural order of things. Therefore now when the Hindu society is showing some signs of stir, there is a great consternation. Already a cry has gone out of Hindu fundamentalism, we must expect more of it in future.
These are great odds but let us not dwell on them inordinately. Let us accept them in the spirit that God has sent them and their purpose must be good. Difficulties come in order to help. India has been asleep for long, and it needed all these knocks and probably it would get more. But let us hope that the difficulties would be overcome and Hinduism will come into its own and recover its self-nature and regain its natural pride, so that it can makes its contribution.
When India rises again, many things will happen. During the long centuries of adversity Hindus of the sub-continent were under great pressure, and many of them were forced to leave their ancestral fold. But as Hinduism rises, they would like to come back home.
During its heyday, Hinduism had intimate cultural contacts with many countries of South East, Far East, Central and West Asia. But these contacts snapped during the preceding centuries when all of them came under very different pressures. A reawakened India will try to revive those contacts and re-establish old cultural links.
A reawakened India will also become aware of Africa and the Americas. During the last several centuries, she had no initiative in the matter, she knew others through Europe. But it need not be so now. She should now establish a direct contact with them and meet them on a deeper level of the spirit She should discover traditional Africa and indigenous America for herself without Westem-Christian or lately Marxist interpretation.40 No doubt, we shall find a lot in common.
During the last centuries, India had the closest relationship with Europe through England though, unfortunately, it was an unequal relationship. But some highly gifted and dedicated scholars were also at work and through their labour it was discovered that the links between the two peoples were very old indeed; that their languages derived from a common source, probably an old form of Sanskrit; that their speakers were also one people migrating from a common homeland probably in India; that they had also a common religion best represented by the Vedas, and shared common Gods close to Vedic Gods.41
The question becomes important now that many in Europe are seeking their old religious roots. Here the living Hindu tradition can help them. Opinions may differ about the true physical home of these people, but probably there might be agreement that ‘Hinduism’ or some form of Vedic religion is their ‘spiritual’ home.
The most important role that a reawakened Hinduism has to play is that of helping the world to understand its religious past. Most countries have lost their old spiritual traditions, but Hinduism still retains them and it is a repository of spiritual knowledge that humanity has lost. Through awakened Hinduism, the whole past of religious humanity speaks as it were. Through it, one could still hear many old voices now lost or silenced.42 Through it one could understand again Plato, Hermes Trismeg- istos, Apollonius, Plotinius. Through Vedanta alone Eckhart makes a deep sense, who otherwise remains incomprehensible if one depended on Christian tradition.
As we go further into humanity’s past and study its great spiritual cultures, the need for Vedanta becomes still greater. There is no other way of understanding them except through a living culture which is also as ancient as they. Take Egypt, for example. We have happily found plenty of texts bearing on its religion, but the oral traditions through which its spiritual knowledge was transmitted was lost. Therefore, bare texts do not make a meaning as literalists have found. To understand them, “it is necessary that we turn to the Vedanta... because the Upanishads provide the purest metaphysics available to us from the primordial past,” as Arthur Versluis, the author of The Egyptian Mysteries, says. He himself followed this method and he found that the study of Vedanta “in-fills” Egyptian studies. His labour resulted in an illuminating study of Egypt’s ancient religious tradition
The above discussion shows that 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.
Indeed, there is a whole section in the Old Testament which does not square with its dominant ideas. The Proverbs, to my mind the best part of the Bible, represents a non-Mosaic tradition. In its spirit, it is very different from the Pentateuch and the Prophets; its ethics is high; it represents a very different spiritual tradition, the tradition of Self-knowledge. Its teaching is mostly anonymous; it has also a woman teacher, a mother teaching ethical behaviour to her son (31), rather an exception in the Bible. It speaks of man, not of God’s special people; it does not have a prophetic theme (covenant), and it makes no specific reference to Israel’s faith; it has minimum of the biblical God in it. In it, the word “Adonai” does not occur at all; the word, “Elohim,” which occurs more thain 2200 times in the rest of the Bible occurs only four times in this part. The word “Yahweh” (Lord) occurs somewhat more frequently (87 times) but it is small compared to 6855 times in the Bible. Though this portion has influenced the Talmud and the Mishna and other Jewish religious writings, it is unfortunate that Christianity and Islam drew their inspiration not from this source but from the Pentateuch and the Prophets. ↩
Gibbon tells us how from the reign of Nero to that of Antoninus Pius, the Jewish impatience with Roman domination broke out in repeated massacres and insurrections, not only in Palestine but in all the Roman provinces where the Jewish population was significant; how these insurrections involved not only their Roman masters but also their fellow-subjects; and how when they could not take it on the Romans, they did it on their pagan neighbours. He tells us of the Jewish massacres “in the cities of Egypt, of Cyprus, and of Cyrene, where they dwelt in treacherous friendship with the unsuspecting natives.…In Cyrene they massacred 220,000 Greeks; in Cyprus 240,000; in Egypt a very great multitude. Many of these unhappy victims were sawed asunder, according to a precedent to which David had given the sanction of his example.” ↩
But though Jerusalem was lost, the hope of a Messiah remained. The one who made a considerable impact on Jewry was in the seventeenth century. Shabbathai Sebi, born in Smyrna around 1621 claimed to be the Messiah and drew wide attention throughout the Jews of the Middle East and Europe. Meanwhile, a young Polish Jewish lady also claimed that she was intended to be the wife of the Messiah. Shabbathai invited her to Cairo and married her. Then he moved to Constantinople, not without first dividing the kingdom of the earth among his chief followers. At Constantinople, he was arrested by the officers of the Sultan of Turkey. Sensing danger to his life, he converted to Islam. This pleased the Sultan very much and he appointed him as one of his doorkeepers. He lost his prestige among the Jews but not before he put their life again in jeopardy. The Jews were not lucky in their Messiahs. Jesus had already brought them under a great misfortune. They had become victims of hatred and pogroms of the very followers of one who once claimed to be their Messiah, who was to bring them liberation. History moves in strange ways. ↩
Several scholars like R. Seydel, R. Garbe, A.J. Edmunds, Van Eysinga have also spoken of Indian contribution. Many believe that Simeon (Lk. 2.23-35), Temptation, Peter’s Walking on Water, Miracles of Loaves have been taken from Buddhist sources. Probably the significant borrowings were in the field of ethics through the channel of the Essenes, but as these ethical teachings became part of a very different belief-system, they lost much of their shaping influence. ↩
The Devil is definitely a New Testament contribution. In the Old Testament the word occurs only 4 times, but in the New Testament it occurs 109 times and plays an important part. Devils were the first to recognize Jesus for what He was (Mk. 1.24; 3.11). Similarly, in the Old Testament there is hardly any reference to demon-possession, but the Gospels abound in such cases. When Jesus sent out his apostles, he “gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases” (Lk. 9.1). In fact, in the first three centuries, Christians were regarded as natural exorcists. The Church of Rome has always had an Order of exorcists. The Greek and Roman writers hardly mention evil demons but early writings of Christian Fathers and saints are full of them. Christian John Cassian of early fifth century says that “the air between heaven and earth is so crammed with Spirits... that it is fortunate for men that they are not permitted to see them.” John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, says that “giving up witchcraft is in effect giving up the Bible." In the long history of Christianity, devils and demons have played a great role. ↩
Mahatma Gandhi recalls his early contacts with Plymouth Brethren in South Africa. One of them proclaimed that “as we believe in the Atonement of Jesus, our sins do not bind us.” Gandhi says that the man was “as good as his words,” and he “committed transgressions,” but remained “undisturbed by them.” ↩
Such threats however have only inhibited but not stopped people from making similar claims though they have done it cautiously and in a guarded language. They have claimed to be walls, or imams, or qutbs (axis, or pole); like the final prophet, they have claimed to be the final (al-tamm) imams; like the prophet who claimed to be the “seal of prophecy” (khatimau'n- nabUwah), they have claimed to be the seal of sanctity (khatim al-wilayah). Some have claimed the status of a “silent” prophet (sammil), perhaps implying that Muhammad was merely a natiq, a speaking prophet. But all of them have taken care to shout louder than others their protestation of fealty to the Prophet while they made their claims. It was a wise precaution, but it did not always save them from the wrath of Muslim theologians. ↩
Hung told the visiting British Minister, Sir George Bonham, that he was the “Sovereign of the entire earth under the mandate of God.” This is the worst part of some of these Eastern converts. When they adopt Christianity, they pretend to a direct relationship with God or his Son and begin to speak of their own mandate. Keshub Chandra Sen of India did the same though in a low key and offered to lead European Christianity. Surely, this cannot be acceptable to their European mentors. ↩
(Chhand Up 1.6.6) ↩
ya aditye tishthannadityad antarah, yam adityo na veda, yasyadityah sariram (Brihad Up 3.7.9). ↩
pashyanti sarve chakshusha na sarve mansa viduh (Ath Veda 10.8.14). ↩
Isopnishad 1. ↩
dhyayativa prithivi, dhyayativantariksham, dhyayativa dyauh, dhyay- antivapoh, dhyayantiva parvatah, dhyayantiva deva-manushyah (Chhand Up 7.6.1). ↩
“The Christian Emperor Theodosius ordered that a pagan shall not “venerate his lar with fire, his genius with wine, his penates with fragrant odors; he shall not bum lights to them, place incense before them, or suspend wreaths for them.” He was also not to practise divination for “it is sufficient to constitute an enormous crime that any person should wish to break down the very laws of nature, to investigate forbidden matters, to disclose hidden secrets...” Some years later, even more repressive laws came and the pagan temples were completely demolished. The Theodosian Code (Princeton) says: “We command that all their fanes, temples, and shrines, if even now any remain entire, shall be destroyed by the command of the magistrates, and shall be purified by the erection of the sign of the venerable Christian religion.” ↩
Though early Christians were mostly drawn from the Jews, but the latter began to be shunned. A law came in force which laid down that “no Jew shall receive a Christian woman in marriage, nor a Christian man contract a marriage with a Jewish woman.” Any such marriage was to be “considered as the equivalent of adultery.” Many Jewish converts to Christianity still tended to retain old Jewish usages. This was forbidden. A law provided that any such person who “has practised circumcision, or any other Jewish rite, he shall be put to an ignominious death by the zeal and co-operation of Catholics, under the most ingenious and excruciating tortures that can be inflicted" (lex Visigothorum, xii, 216 (642-52). ↩
‘Heresy hunting is as old as Christianity itself. But as Christianity became the Imperial religion, it acquired an ominous face. Bishops sought Imperial help in crushing opposite views and the help was readily granted. Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople (AD 428-431), appealed to Theodosius, the fanatic Christian Emperor, in these words: “Give, O Caesar, the earth purged of heretics, and I will give you in exchange the kingdom of heaven. Exterminate with me the heretics, and with you I shall exterminate the Persians.” Heresy was not only a sin, it was also a crime against the State. Christian Emperors made laws against it. By the time of Theodosius there were already 100 Statutes against it. He added more. We find in the Theodosian Code the following Edict: “It is our will that all the peoples who are ruled by the administration of our Clemency shall practise that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans... We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace the name of Catholic Christians. The rest, however, whom we adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas... and they shall be smitten first by the divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative...” We have merely quoted an early law which does not even remotely convey the idea of what actually happened. With time, as no pagans were left, heretics took their place and hundreds of thousands were burnt at the stake as a public celebration. ↩
Prussia and Baltic peoples were converted as late as the early thirteenth century forcibly by ‘Teutonic knights’ assisted by ‘Sword-Brethren’. After a long and bloody struggle extending over fifty years, Prussians surrendered by 1283. According to the terms of the surrender, they were “to receive baptism within a month,” and “those who declined were banished from the company of Christians, and any who relapsed were to be reduced to slavery,” says Paul Johnson in his A History of Christianity. Lithuania was baptized a century later; she was the last to fall in Europe. ↩
We have seen above how Christianity demolished pagan temples as soon as it became the State religion. It continued to do it long after. Pope Gregory the Great advised Bishop Augustine in England that “well-built” temples should not be destroyed but occupied and “transferred from the worship of idols to the service of the true God.” In Northern and Central Europe, English Boniface, the so-called apostle of Germany, moved about with his retinue under the protection of the king, destroying the pagan groves and holy trees. When he was killed by angry people, he became Church’s canonized saint. ↩
Benedictine monks who followed Columbus in America claimed that they destroyed 170,000 figures of religious significance to the natives in Haiti alone. Juan de Zumarraga, the first bishop of Mexico, claimed in 1531 that he had smashed over 500 temples and 20,000 idols. They were doing the same thing in Africa. A protestant missionary, writes that his dinner “‘was cooked with the wood of a fetish image four feet high, which was publicly hacked to pieces without a word of dissent by one of our new church members.” ↩
The record of the Portuguese who occupied some coastal parts of India shows that they had nothing to learn from their Muslim counterparts. A.K. Priolkar, in his The Goa Inquisition, provides a list of 131 villages in the three islands of Goa, Salsete and Bardez with 601 temples, all from official sources, which were destroyed by Christians. Franciscan friars who were active in Bardez “destroyed 300 Hindu temples where false Gods were worshipped,” according to a report made at that time. Jesuits were active in Salsete, and according to F. Francisco de Souza, a Jesuit historian, they destroyed at about the same time 280 temples. Dr. T.R. de Souza writes: “At least from 1540 onwards, and in the island of Goa before that year, all the Hindu idols had been annihilated...all the temples had been destroyed and their sites and building material was in most cases utilized to erect new Christian churches and chapels. Various viceregal and Church council decrees banished the Hindu priests from the Portuguese territories...Hindus were obliged to assemble periodically in Churches to listen to preaching or to the refutation of their religion” (quoted in History of Hindu-Christian Encounters, by Sita Ram Goel, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1989). ↩
Mt. 23.15 ↩
Just as they have misunderstood the phrase ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, many Hindus have also managed to misunderstand Jesus’s words ‘I and (my) Father are one’. They have built on this slender foundation a whole edifice of a biblical advaita. But for a truly Upanishadic advaita, it is not enough to say, ‘1 am one with the Father’; it includes the second and the third persons too and it must be able to say that ‘each one is one with the Father’. At the end, it must be able to say that ‘He alone is’, that “That is above, That is to the west, That is to the east, That is to the south, That is to the north; That, indeed, is this whole world.” Ahamkaradesa experience is not enough; it must become atmadesa realization (Chhand Up 7.25.1,2). ↩
For example, it is now well-known that the story of the ‘woman taken in adultery’ (Jn. 8.3-11), and the passage,” Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23.34) are interpolations. Earlier manuscripts do not mention them. ↩
There is no intention to discount the influence of Judaic law on Christianity. Sometimes this influence was carried to ludicrous limits. For example, the Mosaic law prescribes that “when an ox gores a man or woman, the ox shall be stoned.” We have many cases of court trials of ‘criminal’ animals in medieval Europe. We may cite one quoted by G.G.Coulton in his Life in the Middle Ages: A young pig on a farm mutilated a young child of its owner. After a trial the court decided: “Wherefore we make known that we, in detestation and horror of this case aforesaid, and in order to keep exemplary justice, have bidden, judged, sentenced, pronounced and appointed that the said hog, being now bound in prison under lock and key in the Abbey aforesaid, shall by the common hangman be hanged by the neck until he be dead upon a wooden gibbet...” In another case in Bale, in 1474, a cock was condemned to be burnt alive for having laid an egg, in derogation of its proper sex. ↩
Dante places even Socrates, Plato, Thales, Zeno, Seneca, Euclid, Galen and so on in the Limbo, the first circle of Hell. Why? Because though “they sinned not; and though they have merit, it suffices not: for they had not Baptism, which is the portal of the faith...and seeing they were before Christianity, they worshipped not God aright.” He even placed Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses there, but a “Mighty One, crowned with sign of victory (Jesus) came and took them away” vide 1 Peter 3 (Divine Comedy, Canto IV).
Similarly, Muhammad too had no place even for the best of non-Mus- lims in his Paradise and he sent even his parents and kindly uncle to hell. ↩
In Hindu conceptualizing, Gods are friends; one God reflects all others and all reflect the Supreme. “He is Brahml, He is Vishnu, He is Rudra, PrajSpati, Agni, Varuna, V5yu, Indra, Moon, Yama, Earth, He is All,” according to Maitri Upanishad. Similarly, the Egyptian God ‘Ra’ is identified with seventy-five other Gods in the famous “Litany of Ra”. According to Aeschylus, the Greek God Zeus is “the air, the earth, the sky. He is all things and is higher than all this.” In none of these there is a tradition of a “jealous God”. ↩
yam prithag-dharmacharnah prithag-dharma-phalaishnah
prithag-dharmaih samcharanti tasmai dharmatmane namah ↩
satyam brihad-ritam-ugram diksha tapo brahma yajnah prithivim dharayanti (Ath Veda 12.1.1). ↩
Prophetic scriptures show no particular consciousness of elements like the sky, the wind, the fire, the waters, the earth. They are no more than creatures meant for man’s use and exploitation. But the Upanishads use them for spiritual contemplation and find them great vehicles of the Spirit and see behind them divinity. In Buddhist Yoga, they are often used as karma-sthanas or kasins, objects of dhySna. Prophetic scriptures show no great consciousness of humanity or man either. They know man mostly under the figure of a heathen, an unbeliever or an infidel. ↩
Acts 17.22 ff. ↩
If you look at prophetic scriptures, you don’t find higher spiritual truths there though they may have other merits. The Bible, for example, is a contribution to literature. It is eminently readable and quotable and in spite of much ferocity and cruelty in many places, it has passages of great beauty and power. Some of the deepest emotions of the vital man— his enmities, hatreds, revenge, sorrow, defeat, piety etc.— find eloquent expressions there. Those who have this kind of book can truly claim to possess a great literature.
As regards the Quran, it is a contribution to literature neither. And though it is the effusion of one man, it is highly disjointed and becomes intelligible only with the help of commentaries.
The most objectionable thing about the two books however is not that they lack higher spirituality, but that they teach and practise theological ethics, the worst of its kind. Many peoples have practised ordinary humanist ethics without ever having heard of advaita; they have instinctively treated others as if they were themselves. Theological code taught by prophetic scriptures however overpowered humanist ethics. ↩
Deut. 7.1-6. ↩
Exod. 23.22, and Ps. 139.22,23. ↩
Quran 33.27. ↩
Sahih Muslim, 6665-6669. ↩
I Chr. 21.14
Ghana and is a spokesperson of Africa’s traditional religion, and of pan- African unity. The piece is reproduced from Hinduism Today (June, 1992). Appendix 3 is our own article, ‘Indigenous America Waiting to be Rediscovered in a Hindu Way’. It is reproduced from The Telegraph, Calcutta, dated November 29, 1991. ↩
Aldous Huxley, in his The Perennial Philosophy consisting of extensive quo'es from various religious literature (about 40 percent of the book is quotes), could not find a single quote from the Quran, nor any direct quote from the four Gospels in support of the thesis of a common mystical ground shared by all religions. ↩
Hindus are good at this game of self-deception. For example, one bright Hindu in a letter to The Times of India (June 20, 1992) wrote: “It is wrong to say that the meaning of the Quranic verse where the word ‘kill’ is used, means to kill in reality. It means killing the habit of non-believing (in God).” A Hindu esoterist and synthesizer is quite capable of saying that the massacre of the Jews at Medina at the behest of the Prophet was an allegory and that what the Prophet meant was to “kill the Jew in the heart, that is one’s own greed.” ↩
Muslims had destroyed and looted the temples. The British did not do that but they took over a good deal of the temple lands as a ‘revenue measure’; they did not use the word ‘confiscation’ and, in fact, converted some of these lands into ‘monetary remuneration’. As a result, according to the Government of India’s own comprehensive study beginning in 1962 and lasting for over ten years, the ten thousand five hundred and odd temples of Tamilnad have a total annual income of only rupees twenty- seven million, from all their moveable and immoveable properties! Over 5,000 temples have only an annual income of Rs.500/- each! There is almost no money for the pujas, and the priests also hardly get anything. The only people who get proper remunerations are the Government functionaries employed to overseer the working of the temples. The 14,000 priests in Madhya Pradesh got five naya paisa per month at the time of Independence; now they get six naya paisa according to the Madhya Pradesh Pujaris Mahasangh! ↩
In this connection, we reproduce two pieces as appendices. Appendix 2 gives the views of Nana (Queen) Boakyewa Yiadom I. She belongs to Ghana and is a spokesperson of Africa’s traditional religion, and of pan-African unity. The piece is reproduced from Hinduism Today (June, 1992). Appendix 3 is our own article, ‘Indigenous America Waiting to be Rediscovered in a Hindu Way’. It is reproduced from The Telegraph, Calcutta, dated November 29, 1991. ↩
All this was obvious enough at the time even though it was not always put forward exactly in this form and in this language. Schlegel found India “the home of universal religion, the cradle of the noblest human race.” J.C. Herder asked the question: “All the peoples of Europe, where are they from?” And he answered: “From Asia.” Schopenhauer thought that India was the “fatherland of mankind,” and he expressed the hope that European peoples “who stemmed from Asia... would re-attain the holy religions of their home.” All this however changed under a growing consciousness of Imperial power and Euro-centricity. New theories reflected new power realities and new Imperial needs. Aryan dispersion from a common centre was retained, but its direction was changed and it became the theory of the Aryan invasion of India. The theory was meant to justify and to help the British Imperialism. The theory has little intellectual respectability left, but it has not lost its political usefulness and it is quite popular with the representatives of preceding Imperialisms and their Hindu apologists.
The reader further interested in the subject may refer to our article, ‘Indo-European Encounter: An Indian Perspective’, in The Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research, Vol. VIII, No. II, January-April, 1991. ↩
Let us remember that Christianity and Islam have taught their adherents to hold their past in contempt. They have also been great destroyers of cultures and spiritual traditions, sometimes even wiping out their very memory. For example, take Armenia’s old religious literature. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Armenians had a temple literature of their own which was destroyed in the 4th and 5th centuries by Christian clergy so thoroughly that barely 20 lines of it survive [now] in the history of Moses of Khoren.” They did the same to Egypt, Syria, Europe, the two Americas, and many parts of Asia. Islam did the same wherever it held sway. It completed Christianity’s work in Egypt, Syria, Turkey; it destroyed the old cultures of Iran, Iraq and Central Asia. India managed to save itself from this fate. In the act of saving itself, it also saved many common cultural and spiritual traditions of the time. Hinduism has therefore a representative character and it holds the key to the understanding of many religious cultures of many countries. ↩