The Reawakening of Dharmic and Native Traditions
There are two major groups of religions in the world today. First are the conversion-based religions of Christianity and Islam. Each holds that it is the only true faith for humanity and solely represents God’s plan and God’s will. Both reflect an exclusivist ethos of One God, a single holy book, a final prophet or single savior, an historical revelation, salvation from sin, and heaven or hell as the ultimate resting-place for the soul. Christianity and Islam became the dominant religions of the Western world over the centuries through a long process of struggle and warfare, as they displaced, often cruelly, all other religions that came in their path. Both conversion-based religions are based on an older Jewish monotheistic tradition that was critical of the diverse Pagan cults around it. They turned this rejection, which for the Jews was meant to preserve their own culture, into an article of faith and a need to eradicate all other beliefs.
The second major group of world religions are the dharmic or meditation traditions of India - Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism - of which Hinduism is the oldest and largest. Chinese Taoism and Japanese Shinto have an affinity with these and can easily be placed among them. Dharmic traditions reflect a spiritual ethos of natural law (dharma), karma and rebirth, yogic practices, and a pursuit of direct experience of truth and self-realization through meditation. They became the dominant religions of the Eastern world, not through any process of intimidation, but by growing up organically with the cultures of these lands. Dharmic traditions define the Divine more as an impersonal and timeless consciousness than the personal Creator of Biblical traditions. They are tolerant and pluralistic and can accept other spiritual paths as valid and have no need to displace them.
In addition there are various indigenous traditions and native creeds like those of the pre-Christian Europeans, the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, and the many Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander and African groups. These appear more like the dharmic traditions of the East than the conversion-based religions of the West, which disdainfully call them pagans, heathens, kafirs or barbarians - the same terms that they use to characterize dharmic approaches. Like dharmic traditions these native ways have an experiential spirituality, ritual worship, use of images, multiplistic ideas of divinity, connection to the Earth and nature, and the recognition of a Great Spirit, though perhaps not as clearly defined as in dharmic paths.
As the world has now moved out of colonial domination by monotheistic creeds, a new respect for Eastern dharmic traditions is arising everywhere. The impersonal consciousness of Indic traditions has much more in common with the universe as perceived by modern science than does the jealous God of the Bible and the Koran. Karma and rebirth make more sense to people than do heaven and hell for explaining the fruit of our actions. Yoga and meditation done on a personal level have become more meaningful spiritual activities than attending churches or getting involved in missionary efforts. Overall, a new era is dawning in which organized religion and institutionalized belief - the characteristics of conversion-based creeds - is being set aside in favor of diverse spiritual and cultural approaches that characterize the paths of dharma.
As part of this process, a new awakening is happening in native traditions from a Celtic revival in Europe to a resurgence in the native religions of Africa. Even Anglo-Americans are looking to the Native American religion and its sweat lodges and vision quests - which their forefathers denigrated as the base superstitions of the Red Man - for a connection to life and nature that Christianity has failed to bring them. Many people see the need for religion to be connected to the land, to a people and to a culture, that is not a mere belief but a way of life, emphasizing spiritual practice. Slowly but inevitably, Eastern dharmic traditions and native traditions are finding a common cause and creating a new alliance to this end.
At the same time, there is an awakening among non-Western peoples to their oppression not only by colonial armies but also by the missionary cults that blessed their aggression. They are now recognizing how their own more spiritual native traditions were denigrated and destroyed by less tolerant beliefs employing violence and deception to further their conversion aims. Conversion-based creeds are being revealed as unethical and inhumane, dividing up humanity into the believers and the non-believers and allowing the believers to oppress the non-believers with a vengeance justified from on high. The righteous zeal of the missionaries is being unveiled as a form of bigotry and prejudice, not a means of salvation.
This awakening has led to some apologies by Christians for their excesses, particularly for their history of racism and enslavement of the Blacks. However, so far it has not led to any Christian rejection of its exclusive claim to salvation or an honoring of such native religions as the Black Africans as valid in their own right.
Dharmic traditions are also beginning to speak out against the ongoing missionary aggression against them, though missionary beliefs have done little to respond to their legitimate questions. Hindus are beginning to face their history in which their temples were destroyed, their libraries burned and their priests killed by Islamic votaries of the One God. They are uncovering the bloody history of the Portuguese Inquisition in India that employed torture to bring Christianity to the Hindus. They are recognizing the intolerance behind the continuing need of Christians and Muslims to convert them. Hindus and Buddhists are uniting and trying to create a common front against the missionary efforts that continue blindly today.
The Importance of Hindu Dharma
Hinduism remains the largest of these dharmic and native religions and the most representative of pluralistic and non-conversion-based beliefs. Therefore, a study of it is essential for understanding the spiritual urges of humanity, for discovering the religion of the future as well as the past as the hold of monotheism over the minds of people gradually fades.
Hinduism has given rise to profound philosophies like Vedanta that project a Supreme Self (Atman) and Absolute (Brahman) of Being-Consciousness-Bliss (Sacchidananda) behind the magical universe in which we live. It has spiritual and meditational practices like the many types of yoga (jñana, bhakti, karma and raja), which show systematically how to develop a higher consciousness from a non-dogmatic approach.
Yoga and Vedanta are now popular and respected all over the world. Many Hindu gurus travel the globe and have disciples in all countries. Books and classes on Yoga and meditation from an Eastern perspective are available everywhere. Sanskrit terms like guru, mantra and shakti have entered into common parlance even in the Western media. Yet there is still much confusion about what Hinduism really is. People approach Hinduism more through a particular guru or sect and often fail to recognize, much less understand the greater tradition behind it.
Hinduism views religion as a way of Self-realization and God-realization. It sees religion as a science or way of knowledge, vidya, to discover eternal truth. It can accept modern science into its worldview that has always acknowledged the value of such disciplines as mathematics, astronomy and medicine for understanding the external world. Hinduism does not have the religion/science dichotomy such as characterizes Biblical beliefs. It is a tradition of knowledge, not faith that helps us uncover the truth of ourselves and of the unbounded universe in which we live, which are both pervaded by a common spirit.
Hinduism is also a culture that contains art, music, dance and literature. It sees the universe as a manifestation of Divine bliss/love energy (ananda) and creation as a play of rasas or moods of Divine delight. It does not separate art and imagery from the spiritual life, as Biblical traditions tend to so violently to do. Though Hinduism has a clear set of social principles as revealed in its many Dharma-Shastras it treats these only as general guidelines to be adjusted on an individual basis and attuned to the needs of every age. It is not tied to any system of religious law, like the Sharia of Islam, and can easily adapt itself to different social orders and the demands of new ways of living.
Hinduism has perhaps the largest and most ancient literature of all religions with its many Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Tantras and Yoga Shastras. Its literature defies any stereotype and has an encyclopedic view of culture and the universe that is detailed and inclusive of all nature and of the occult worlds as well. Yet most of this literature is unstudied and misunderstood, particularly in academic institutions of the West which, dominated by an outer looking intellect, have failed to really come face to face with the enlightened mind of the East.
Hinduism is like life. Hinduism is the very religion of life and accepts all life into itself. It works through the spirit of life, not through some sterile, artificial or purist creed. Hinduism is a religion of nature and the Earth, finding holy places in every mountain, stream, valley or shore. Its roots are organic. It arises out of the soul and out of the land, like other Pagan and native traditions. It is universal but encourages local variations, being able to embrace native cultures and customs without denigrating or subverting them.
Hinduism is not a proselytizing cult. It sees no need for all people to have the same religious label any more than it regards it necessary for all people to eat the same food or wear the same clothes. For it religion is an internal practice of self-development, not an external battle to conquer the world. It holds that the world and all creatures are inherently saved or one with God. All that is necessary is to dispel the ignorance that prevents us from seeing this inherent divinity and leading a truly divine life.
Hinduism has endured throughout the centuries, as other countries, cultures and religions have come and gone. It has withstood the onslaughts of Islam, Christianity and Communism, which other great countries of Asia fell to. It has preserved many of the oldest and highest spiritual urges of humanity. It invents itself anew in every generation, looking to modern teachers and gurus over old books and set rules.
Distortions of Hinduism
Unfortunately, Hinduism is without doubt the most denigrated and misunderstood of the major world religions, if it is recognized as a world religion at all. It is common to look down on Hinduism as primitive and those who call themselves Hindus as backward or obsolete. Instead of looking at Hinduism in terms of its profound philosophies and deep mysticism, it is associated with idolatry, caste and various social evils, as if there were nothing more to it.
Those used to more monotone religions claim that Hinduism with its organic pluralism is not a religion at all, but only a group of cults or sects with little in common. Such people are so jaded by the monotheistic code they cannot appreciate the broader and deeper spiritual urges that are as varied as the types of creatures on this planet. Many of them complain about the primitive idol worship in Hindu religion.
After all, Hindu gods like Hanuman and Ganesha have animal faces and forms. Such people are offended to see an animal face on God, though they eat animals, and their God with his wrath often has traits that would be regarded as tyrannical or egoistic in a person.
Others complain that Hinduism, particularly Vedanta, with its concept of the Absolute and liberation from the cycle of rebirth lacks compassion and a sense of caring for the world. They compare this with the compassion of the monotheistic concept that wants to save everyone and is concerned about the poor and the sick (though conversion-based religions have commonly destroyed peoples and cultures, and only offer help where there is a chance of conversion). That seeing the Self in all beings and all beings in Self, which is the Vedantic vision, is the very essence of Divine love and compassion escapes them.
This denigration has occurred largely because Hinduism has borne the brunt of missionary propaganda, perhaps unparalleled by any religion in the world. After all, Hinduism is a religion that includes an extensive set of images or idol worship, such as the Biblical prophets, the Christian fathers and the Muslim prophets criticized not only as unholy, but often as positively evil. Everything associated with Paganism in the Biblical mind has a clear manifestation in Hinduism with its many gods and goddesses, its gurus and godmen, its understanding of the occult and its practice of yoga.
Hinduism represents the survival of the very type of traditions that the conversion-based religions have tried so hard and so long to stamp out. While the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Pagan Arabs have all long fallen to the missionary assault, Hinduism has survived remarkably the onslaughts of both missionary religions for a period of over a thousand years! And to their dismay in the modern world, Hindu teachings are spreading again and getting revitalized.
Hinduism has also been under siege by Marxist thinkers, who have been strong in India for some decades, because it represents a spiritual tradition that obstructs their road to power and challenges their materialistic worldview. The other dharmic traditions of Asia have been under the same type of attack. Buddhism in China was marginalized by the Communists that have also nearly succeeded in destroying Tibetan Buddhism in its own homeland. While Indian Marxists have not wielded such power, they have worked hard to harm Hinduism through their influence in the media and academic realms in India, which has been significant.
Indian Marxists have even formed a common front with the missionaries to eliminate Hinduism, their common enemy. Now that Marxism is dying in the world, Indian Marxists are becoming more strident, trying to hold on to their last bastions of power in the intellectual realm, which only makes their anti-Hindu propaganda more shrill and more irrational.
While dharmic traditions are gaining respect in the West, the assault on them by conversion-based creeds is increasing in Asia. Christian missionaries, for example, are very active in Mongolia, where the Tibetan religion has one of its last strongholds. Islamic fundamentalism, fueled by petrodollars, continues its assaults, particularly in India where they can use the Islamic minority as a means of expanding their influence, building mosques and encouraging separatism.
Christian missionary groups, leaning on the great wealth of the West, have targeted India and China for conversion with massive millennial evangelization plans using the weapons of the modern media. They have made headway in smaller Asian countries like South Korea, which has been largely Christianized, and hope to do the same in larger Asian countries.
The Catholic Church has spread its tentacles into India, hoping like what it did to ancient Greece to subvert the profound philosophies of the region into tools of the Christian faith, reformulating the Hindu Upanishads like the Aristotelian philosophy of the Greeks into a form of Christian theology. Its priests are dressing up like swamis, its rituals and symbols are getting Hinduized, not out of respect for Hindu traditions, but to aid in conversion in the post-colonial world by convincing Hindus that Christianity is not really an alien or foreign cult.
Evangelical Christians in America like the Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant sect in America, are targeting India with their, cruder but more forceful and vitalistic creed, preaching of hell, fire, damnation and the impending end of the world. Part of this is a counterattack against the influence of Hinduism in America, which Christian fundamentalists see behind the New Age movement that so disturbs them. The New Age movement, combining alternative medicine, eastern spirituality and new life-styles, has now become a major cultural force, influencing a significant percentage of the American population and challenging the intolerant Christian mind in its own backyard. One Christian fundamentalist in America noted that there are only two religions in the world, Christianity which excludes everything and Hinduism which includes everything. Clearly they see Hinduism as the perennial Pagan enemy of the children of God.
In America, Evangelical Christians like to bring Hindu women who have converted to Christianity onto their programs to denigrate firsthand the “terrible” religion that they came from. Such groups have gone so far as to publicly describe Hinduism as a religion of the Devil, Satan, darkness, superstition and evil. They associate all of India’s social problems with its polytheistic religion of idolatry that is an affront to God and Jesus. While one may ridicule these groups - which even in America are perceived as backward - one should not underestimate their resolve in achieving their aim, whatever disruption it requires. It is amazing that such groups still think of themselves as enlightened and don’t see how much out of touch they really are with the modern world and any global perspective. Unfortunately, though a minority in America, they can still marshal extensive resources for their overseas missionary activity, through the great wealth of America today that they hold part of.
Such conversion efforts are bound to fail in the long run but they can do much damage along the way. Asia is still recovering from Marxism and colonialism, which makes the poor and uneducated, who are basically looking for social upliftment, vulnerable to missionary work which promises that as a by-product of conversion. Asians tend to uncritically embrace the West for its economic and technical advancement, and think that Western religions, which are really fossils from the Middle Ages, are necessary parts of modernization. They don’t realize that Evangelical Christianity with its rejection of the theory of evolution, which they want removed from the schools, represents one of the most regressive trends in American culture and is largely a religion of the farm belt ridiculed in the universities.
Even Catholicism has become primarily a religion of backward countries of South and Central America and is only nominally followed in North America and Europe. The most devout Catholics in the world are the poor and uneducated Catholics of the Third World, not the scientific or intellectual elite of the West that is largely agnostic. Christianity is not a politically or educationally advanced religion of the modern West but the shadow of the very forces that have for centuries resisted modernization. Asian countries that accept Catholicism are more likely to end up poor like the Philippines, the main Catholic country in Asia, not developed like Japan which did not accept Christianity as a part of modernization but relied on its own warrior spirit instead.
Unfortunately, many of the Western followers and well-wishers to dharmic traditions do not understand the degree and danger of this new missionary assault in Asia and are doing little to deal with it. This is because Christianity has become so marginalized in the West that they don’t see its danger elsewhere in the world. Their interest in dharmic traditions is more personal and often lacks any sense of social responsibility. People in post-independence India are also failing to notice the missionary threat because its effort is aimed mainly at poor and rural Hindus that they really don’t want to take care of anyway. It is this scenario that makes the work of Ram Swarup so important. He, perhaps most poignantly and directly of modern thinkers, has understood the current world situation, the dangers to Hinduism, the value of Hinduism for the future of humanity, and a practical way to both overcome the dangers an d promote the opportunities for the good of all.
Many people today think that Hinduism is not an intellectual religion and does not have, in spite of its many great spiritual philosophies, any real modern intelligentsia to represent it. They look on Hinduism as a religion of an uncritical, if not naive faith in various gods and gurus. Or if Hinduism has an intellectual side they see it only as a transcendent Vedanta that offers no real critique of other religions, no plan for society, and does not make itself relevant to current problems or pressing human needs.
Ram Swarup shows that this is not at all true. He reveals the Hindu mind in action as a creative and spiritual force to change both the individual and the society for both the inner and the outer good. He outlines a Hindu approach to the problems of the world that offers deep and lasting solutions that go beyond the limitations of Western religions or Western science, following the development of consciousness as the real thrust in civilization.
One of the problems with Hindu thinkers is that they seldom express themselves well in an English idiom, which has now become the global language of communication. However insightful their ideas their impact, therefore, becomes limited in the global forum. Ram Swarup is a thinker who can use the English language with forcefulness, wit, logic and irony that can serve as a powerful conduit for Hindu ideas into the collective psyche and reach the English-trained audience all over the world. He can communicate ideas in English that have traditionally required the precision of Sanskrit to get across.
The global Hindu magazine Hinduism Today has described Ram Swarup as “perhaps Hinduism’s most cogent analyst.” The Prime Minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee, spoke of him as “a representative of India’s rishi tradition in the modern age.” Ram Swarup had a unique ability to go to the essence of a problem and, with profound simplicity, form a clear understanding of it and practical line of response to correct it. He was a Hindu thinker of the first order, comparable to the many great Hindu thinkers of previous centuries. He-approaches all issues not from a merely intellectual or academic side, but from a deeper spiritual and yogic vision that characterizes the Hindu mind. He sees Hinduism as a living tradition and is in contact with its most vital currents, not only in the outer world but also and more importantly in the cosmic mind.
Ram Swarup has thoroughly and critically studied the religions of the world, and Marxism, the secular or materialistic religion, as well. He can speak of these systems with an in-depth knowledge and ability to quote and mirror what they really think, which even their dedicated followers seldom possess. He was perhaps India’s foremost critic of Marxism and exposed its danger to the country decades ago when it was fashionable for every intellectual and every journalist to uncritically follow it. He preserved Hindu intellectualism during its Marxist Dark Age and has initiated its revival in the post-Marxist era.
I was fortunate enough to contact Ram Swarup personally and known him over the last ten years. He was a helpful guide and provided a steady inspiration to my own work relative to India, Hinduism, and the Vedas. Ram Swarup was a notably cheerful and loving person, with a great respect for each individual. He was considerate and soft spoken and a good listener. He never tried to aggrandize himself, build a following around him, gain donations or create institutions. He seemed unaware of material needs and compulsions. Though not officially a sadhu he lived like one. There was nothing extreme, abrasive or fanatical about his life or his expression. Though he was aware of critical global problems he also realized the transience of all human affairs. Though he spoke eloquently he realized that the real truth is beyond words. Though he made sure to take a stand on important issues, he also realized that whatever he did was small in the greater scheme of things and just a vehicle for the workings of a higher power. He did not make too much of himself for all that he knew.
The Present Book
Ram Swarup has left an important legacy of many works on a broad range of topics including religion and philosophy, yoga, mysticism and social issues. His Hindu View of Christianity and Islam is a classic in the field of comparative religion, for the first time perhaps introducing a yogic view of altered states of consciousness to understand the powerful and sometimes dangerous workings of religious experience. The present volume consists of various essays on Hinduism, including several important essays never published before. It covers a wide spectrum of ideas. The overall theme is Hinduism and its articulation in the present world context. It begins with a new model of Hinduism, discusses how and why Hindus view themselves in a distorted light, and then focuses on the relationship between Hindu and Western thought.
Hinduism has many teachings on dharma that explain right living on all levels, personally and collectively, socially and spiritually. It has different darSanas or philosophies that allow us to understand ourselves and the universe at the deepest level of the mind. It has many manuals of sadhana or spiritual practice that deal with all religious practices from prayer and ritual, to sophisticated meditation techniques. But it lacks a systematic and overall presentation of its essence to the modern mind. We might say that approaching Hinduism is a question of missing the forest because of the trees. Ram Swarup, probably better than any other modern thinker, puts Hinduism into its proper perspective so that we can understand its foundation and its motivation.
On Hinduism shows how to revive and revitalize the tradition in a practical way and to present it in the modern forum with clarity, conviction and universality. It is a manual of Hindu resurgence, not simply a commentary or set of personal observations. The first chapter on “Sanatana Dharma: Anusmriti and Anudhyayana” is a masterpiece in this regard. It sets forth a new explication of Hinduism and its principles that is perhaps the best primer on the religion - concise, succinct and deep. While many great spiritual teachers have come out of India in modern times, perhaps no one has formulated the tradition in such a relevant manner.
An important issue is how different dharmic traditions should relate, given the common missionary assault upon them, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism, the two largest such traditions and the main forces of enlightenment in the world. Unfortunately, many Hindus want to turn Buddhism into another form of Hinduism without really looking into its unique tenets and practices. Ram Swarup’s study of Hinduism and Buddhism is one of the best of its kind, pointing out both the similarities and differences between these kindred paths and their need for a common agenda in the modern scene. He shows how both can be united in a common dharma, in which Buddhists can return to a broader Hindu ethos once they understand Hinduism in a more genuine way. The missionary distortions of Hinduism have even prevented other dharmic traditions from understanding it. Ram Swarup dispels these illusions in this chapter. He also helps Hindus understand how Buddhism works and how Buddhist ideas can be relevant to them.
A similar important issue is the relationship between India, the fountainhead of Asian culture, and Greece, the fountain-head of European culture. We tend to think of both types of culture as different and as constituting a dichotomy of East versus West, orient versus occident. But if we really look at ancient Greeks and Hindus we discover much in common. We find similar idealistic philosophies from Parmenides, Plato and Plotinus to the Upanishads and the Gita. We find similar elaborate mythologies with the many Greek and Hindu Gods, Goddesses and heroes. We find similar religions of temple worship, the use of rituals and images, and honoring sacred places in nature. Even the names of deities like Zeus and Dyaus are cognate. A yogic type mysticism and belief in rebirth can be found in the Greek mystery religions as well. We find a similar concern for science and mathematics and early experiments with republics in ancient India as well as in Greece. Ram Swarup draws such a connection to enable us to reintegrate these two great sources of world culture.
The dialogue between India and Europe is another vital concern. Over the last century it has been more of a non-dialogue with the West ignoring India and Indian thinkers slavishly imitating the West. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe saw either a romanticism about India that was almost naive, or a colonialism that was generally ugly. The same trends continue today in a New Age romanticism of India that is seldom deep, and a disdain for India in the intellectual establishments of the West that is at best condescending.
So far there has been little mature interaction between the thinkers of India and Europe, either intellectually or spiritually, owing to deficiencies in both camps. Ram Swarup addresses this issue with great acumen, using the work of Wilhelm Halbfass, one of the few Westerners with real insight into India, as the basis for discussion. Much of the spiritual potential of the West lies hidden in its older and ongoing connections to India. Ram Swarup opens the ground for such a mature interaction. He follows this with an important essay on Aldous Huxley, one of the few Western thinkers who had a real understanding of India and its spiritual systems. Huxley provides a good foundation to launch such an East-West dialogue that unfortunately was not followed by other Western thinkers. Ram Swarup sets this process in motion again.
Two of his essays address the issue of education. Modern India has followed a British model of education that it has modified in a Marxist direction. That such an approach would fail to awaken the country or bring about a real understanding of its older traditions is hardly surprising. He shows how the current illiteracy in India is not the product of traditional educational systems - which the British dismantled in the nineteenth century - but of the damage to that traditional system which began with them. Old India had a high rate of literacy, particularly because of its educational system, its Sanskrit and its gurukulams. Ram Swarup also shows how Hindu models of education remain relevant in the modern world, where we need to reintroduce spiritual values and models of consciousness to prevent the moral decay and decline in intelligence that we see rapidly increasing in the affluent West. America today imports a large number of its scientists from Asia, including India, because its own system of education, falling under the lassitude of a culture of self-indulgence, is failing to produce them.
The Challenge of Ram Swarup’s Work
Ram Swarup’s work has already influenced a number of important groups in the world, from the Swamis of Hinduism Today to some of Pagan Europe’s most profound thinkers. His influence has reached far, not by the power of big organizations, a sophisticated media, or by any proselytizing effort but by the sheer force and inevitability of his ideas. The question is how will people respond to the challenges set forth by his present volume?
How will the missionary beliefs respond to his critique of their motivations as springing from an undeveloped spiritual consciousness? Clearly an enlightened yogi does not need to convert the world to his belief, nor will he formulate the Divine as an exclusive or jealous God with a chosen people and day of judgement. Probably such groups will ignore or condemn Ram Swarup as another unsaved and unregenerate Pagan.
How will Western intellectuals respond to an intellectually resurgent Hinduism such as Ram Swarup indicates? They may also want to ignore or belittle it, as the intellect tends to have its own arrogance and the West has tried to hold a monopoly in the global thought field for some time. But they will soon have to hear its voice and deal with its logic. They will have to accept a deeper spiritual truth beyond their personal, rationalistic or aesthetic approaches. They will have to recognize a higher state of the buddhi or intellect that reflects dharmic truth, rather than mere human theories. While many Western intellectuals are examining Buddhism in a more sensitive light, they cannot leave its sister religion of Hinduism far behind, though it has been more tainted with missionary and Marxist stereotypes so that it is harder for them to appreciate than Buddhism’s more rational and humanistic creed.
Above all, how will modern Hindus, who are often lazy thinkers and lack a global or historical perspective, respond? They passively accept Marxist, missionary or colonial denigrations of their traditions, and may be surprised with Ram Swarup’s deeper and more thorough presentation. They may feel initially disturbed to be woken up from their slumber, even though it has only given them bad dreams. But Ram Swarup’s ideas can revitalize them not in a narrow or fundamentalist way but to real creative action. His writings can serve as a lightning flash to break the veil of ignorance and show a way beyond the darkness of intellectual servitude and sloth that is perhaps even more weakening to the soul than political bondage.
The future of India hangs in the balance of the intellectual and spiritual challenge posed by Ram Swarup’s work, with important ramifications for the entire world. While most groups may not want to listen to this voice, they can no longer pretend that it does not exist.
Hindus need their own voice and their own intellectual self-determination. They should no longer accept their definition by less evolved missionary religions or by unspiritual materialistic creeds. It is time for them to question Eurocentric interpretations of their history and culture that are based on colonial prejudices or cultural arrogance. In this regard Ram Swarup is a great pioneer pointing out the way out of this wilderness.
With Ram Swarup the Hindu voice has spoken clearly to the modern world. The voice of the oldest and largest spiritual tradition of India or the world, and its ancient rishi heritage, hag sounded its clarion call to the minds and hearts of people today. It has taken the challenge of the modern and scientific age to present a truth that is global and universal. It has used reason but also brought in a higher yogic perception - a truth of consciousness and self-realization not merely material prosperity or monotheistic salvation as the ultimate goal of life.
Many Hindu modern teachers have been too accommodating in their definition of Hinduism and left it devoid of any real critical voice. They say that you can find God by following faithfully whatever religion you like -whether Hinduism, Christianity, Islam or Buddhism - as if the differences of religious doctrine and practice had no meaning at all. They give the impression that anything called a religion should be accepted and the results can only be good. They have left behind the great Hindu tradition of debate and turned the religion into a blind acceptance of all creeds, including a whitewash of their history, however bloody, and however anti-Hindu.
Part of this has been a sincere effort to be tolerant of other faiths, and we should be open to what other people say and honor different creeds. But perhaps a greater part of it has arisen from a lack of self-confidence. Those under foreign rule tend to praise or flatter their rulers out of fear. Those who have been told that their religion is that of heathens or kafirs first respond by saying that their religion is equal to any other, before taking a critical view of the religions so rudely denigrating them.
Ram Swarup questions such politically comfortable statements of religious accommodation and appeasement. Hinduism is a pluralistic path that accepts One truth and many ways to it. It holds that all individuals should be free to find the truth according to their nature and temperament. However, like all things in human life religion is a varied phenomenon and contains both the good and the bad, the high and the low. That there are many paths does not mean that all paths can only be good or that all must lead to the highest goal. A religion that does not recognize liberation as the goal of life, that does not have a path to Self-realization, that has no living yoga tradition cannot take you to that Divine Self whatever you may do with it. This is not a statement of intolerance or religious bigotry but the plain and honest truth that cannot be ignored. You can’t climb a mountain by digging a hole into the ground, however well you can dig!
Hinduism is a religion with a strong sense of dharma. It cannot accept anything or everything that calls itself a religion as true. From its point of view religion should be a moksha-dharma and a yoga-pantha, a teaching that gives inner liberation and projects a path to achieve it. Its purpose is not to make one subservient to a particular God, prophet, guru, savior, holy book, church or institution but to free us from all external bondage. Religions which do this are not true moksha-dharmas or spiritual paths but just additional forms of conditioning that keep us trapped in the worldly mind and its egoistic motives.
Most people, including Hindus, have never looked into what Hinduism really is. If you ask people about Hinduism, most Westerners will have quick answers about its polytheism, idolatry or castism, but if you ask them about the Upanishads or the Gita, about Atman and Brahman, they will have little to say. Most Western textbooks define Hinduism as a conglomeration, an ethnic religion, a castist creed, or a worship of many gods. Such people need to read Ram Swarup to really know what they are dealing with in what is called Hinduism. He will not let them get away with such a sloppy and superficial approach to what is perhaps humanity’s oldest heritage of spiritual knowledge.
Hinduism, perhaps more so than any religion, has always formulated itself as a Sanatana Dharma, an eternal and universal tradition of truth and natural law. While its formulation may be imperfect and worn by time, it is hardly dead or out of date. It is like a great Banyan tree, with many roots and branches, growing into the air as well as into the earth, accommodating a great variety of creatures and reducible to no pattern or conclusion.
Out of its background in the twentieth century have come such great saints and sages as Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, and Anandamayi Ma to mention but a few. These great souls were not conscious of themselves as sectarian Hindus opposed to other religious beliefs but as part of Sanatana Dharma and its great lineages and approaches. Ram Swarup unfolds this Sanatana Dharma with both a panoramic vision and a pinpoint accuracy so that it comes alive to the reader as an internal force of consciousness and light.
For those who really want to understand the heart and soul of Hindu Dharma, the work of Ram Swarup is perhaps the best place to start. His expression is lucid, modern and concise, but firmly rooted in ancient traditions and a yogic understanding. He is aware of the many misconceptions and systematically works to remove them to arrive at the underlying truth that is helpful to all.
For those who want to understand the Hindu religion as a whole, Ram Swarup’s work is perhaps the best available guide. He is not speaking in terms of any particular guru or sampradaya but about the essence of the entire tradition, which pervades all of its multifarious manifestations. He is going back to an older, perhaps more rigorous but more honest presentation of this greater tradition which is beyond time and person, and which stands fearless in itself, not bowing down to any inferior creeds.
Let us hope that the message of Ram Swarup travels far and wide - that people take the time and care to really listen to what he is saying and contemplate it deeply. College students, particularly, need to hear his views in order to remove the confusion caused by all the misinformation about this venerable religion. Hindu teachers, who often find themselves groping for words to explain their traditions to a modern audience, should ponder over it thoroughly. Non-Hindus as well should look into these writings that explore the essence of all religion and philosophy. Though it may challenge worn patterns of thought, if not stir up deep-seated prejudices, for those who accept his message, it will ennoble their minds and hearts, and sharpen their discrimination to reach a real understanding of our true nature and purpose in life.
May the Divine Mother, whose words are the Vedas and whose global embodiment is India, again smile upon us!
April 4, 2000
(Chaitra Shukla Pratipad,
beginning of the year Vikrama or Victory)