Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: Religious Freedom

Conflict of religions: The Hindu attitude

I had uploaded this outstanding lecture by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan on the internet a few years ago (Word version) to emphasise that tolerance is embedded deep within Hinduism, something that is not always obvious from the writings of at least a few well-known Hindu leaders. I believe, though, that this lecture provides genuine insights into India's fundamental character – of tolerance.

Thus, for instance, I may not be a Hindu today but one of the key reasons I became a "natural" liberal is because of this fundamental Indian character which does not elevate any religion beyond one's personal quest for the truth which is seen to be a lifelong endeavour for each one to pursue at his own pace.

Right from childhood, though my perspectives wavered between belief, atheism and agnosticism – I was never forced into any direction by anyone. This total freedom of thought is absolutely crucial. India will live so long as this TOTAL freedom of religious exploration remains alive. It will die when that freedom is lost.

Let me add that Radhakrishnan's interpretation of Hinduism is entirely consistent with classical liberalism. And so I sometimes wonder how the idea of Vedic socialism has come about. How did Marxist ideas enter the Indian scene? Why does the Indian mind offer religious freedom but (allegedly) refuse to offer economic freedom? Clearly there is something fishy going on.

I'm more inclined to believe that Hinduism is quintessentially compatible with capitalism and that socialism was a Western world-view imposed on India through Nehru – and that socialism is sure to be rejected when Indians ask why a people free to practice their religious beliefs should not be free to practice their vocation, or why a government should become a businessman and operate public sector undertakings.



Students of mysticism are impressed by the universality of the mystic experience, though the differences in the formulations of it are by no means unimportant.The mystics of the world, whether Hindu, Christian or Muslim, belong to the same brotherhood and have striking family likeness.Evelyn Underhill writes: “Though mystical theologies of the East and the West differ widely — though the ideal of life which they hold out to the soul differ too — yet in the experience of the saint this conflict is seen to be transcended.When the love of God is reached, divergencies become impossible, for the soul has passed beyond the sphere of the manifold and is immersed in the one Reality. ”[1] Judged by the characteristic religious experience, St.John and St: Paul have not any material advantage over Plotinus and Samkara.“One cannot honestly say,” observes Miss Underhill, “that there is any wide difference between the Brahmin, the Sufi or the Christian mystics at their best.”[2] A hostile critic of mysticism, Hermann, the German theologian, endorses this view from his own standpoint.Regarding Christian mystics he remarks, “Whenever the religious feeling in them soars to its highest flights, then they are torn loose from Christ, and float away in precisely the same realm with then non-Christian mystics of all ages. ”[3] Again, “Augustine wrote a work of fifteen books on the Trinity, yet when he stood with his mother at the window of the house at Ostia and sought to express the profound sense he felt of being in the grasp of God, he spoke not of the Trinity, but of the one God in whose presence the soul is lifted above itself and above all words and signs.”[4]
It matters not whether the seer who has the insight has dreamed his way to they truth in the shadow of the temple or the tabernacle, the church or the mosque.Those who have see the radiant vision of the Divine protest against the exaggerated importance attached to outward forms.They speak a language which unites all worshippers as surely as the dogmas of the doctors divide.The true seer is gifted with a universality of outlook, and a certain sensitiveness to the impulses and emotions which dominate the rich and varied humans nature He whose consciousness is anchored in God cannot deny any expression of life as utterly erroneous.He is convinced of the inexhaustibility of the nature of God and the infinite number of its possible manifestations.
The intellectual representations of the religious mystery are relative and symbolic.As Plato would say, our accounts of God are likely stories but all the same legendary.Not one of them is full and final.We are like little children on the seashore trying to fill our shells with water from the sea.While we cannot exhaust the waters of the deep by means of our shells, every drop that we attempt to gather into our tiny shells is a part of the authentic waters.Our intellectual representations differ simply because they bring out different facets of the one central reality.From the Rsis of the Upanisads down to Tagore and Gandhi, the Hindu has acknowledged that, truth wears vestures of many colours and speaks in strange tongues.The mystics of other denominations have also testified to this.Boehme says: “Consider the birds in our forests, they praise God each in his own way, in diverse tones and fashions.Think you God is vexed by this diversity and desires to silence discordant voices? All the forms of being are dear to the infinite Being Himself. ” Look at this Sufi utterance in the translation of Professor Browne of Cambridge:
Beaker or flagon, or bowl or jar,
Clumsy or slender, coarse or fine;
However the potter may make or mar,
All were made to contain the wine:
Should we this one seek or that one shun
When the wine which gives them their worth is one?
Bearing in mind this great truth, Hinduism developed an attitude of comprehensive charity instead of a fanatic faith in an inflexible creed. It accepted the multiplicity of aboriginal gods and others which originated, most of them outside the Aryan tradition, and justified them all. It brought together into one whole all believers in God. Many sects professing many different beliefs live within the Hindu fold. Heresy-hunting, the favourite game of many religions, is singularly absent from Hinduism.
Hinduism is wholly free from the strange obsession of the Semitic faiths that the acceptance of a particular religious metaphysic is necessary for salvation, and non-acceptance thereof is a heinous sin meriting eternal punishment in hell. Here and there outbursts of sectarian fanaticism are found recorded in the literature of the Hindus, which indicate the first effects of the conflicts of the different groups brought together into the one fold; but the main note of Hinduism is one of respect and good will for other creeds.When a worshipper of Visnu had a feeling in his heart against a worshipper of Siva and he bowed before the image of Visnu, the face of the image divided itself in half and Siva appeared on one side and Vinu on the other, and the two smiling as one face on the bigoted worshipper told dim that Visnu and Siva were one.The story is significant.
In a sense, Hinduism may be regarded as the first example in the world of a missionary religion.Only its missionary spirit is different from that associated with the proselytising creeds.It did not regard it as its mission to convert humanity to any one opinion. For what counts is conduct and not belief.Worshippers of different gods and followers of different rites were taken into the Hindu fold.Krsna, according to the Bhagavadgita, accepts as his own, not only the oppressed classes, women and Sudras, but even those of unclean descent (papayonayah), like the Kiratas and the Hunas.[5] The ancient practice of Vratyastoma, described fully in the Tandya Brahmana, shows that not only individuals but whole tribes were absorbed into Hinduism.[6]
When in the hour of their triumph the Aryans made up with their dangerous though vanquished rivals, they did not sneer at their relatively crude cults.The native inhabitants of North India clothed the naked forces of nature with the gorgeous drapery of a mythic fancy, and fashioned a train of gods and goddesses, of spirits and elves out of the shifting panorama of nature, and the Vedic Aryans accepted them all and set them side by side with the heavenly host to which they themselves looked with awe and admiration.It was enough for them that those crude objects were regarded by their adherents as sources of the supreme blessings of life and centres of power which can be drawn upon.The gods of the Rg Veda and the ghosts of the Atharva Veda melted and coalesced under the powerful solvent of philosophy into the one supreme reality which, according to the qualities, with which our imagination invests it, goes by this name or that.
The Epics relate the acceptance of new tribes and their gods into the old family circle. The clash of cults and the contact of cultures do not, as a rule, result in a complete domination of the one by the other. In all true contact there is an interchange of elements, though the foreign elements are given a new significance by those who accept them. The emotional attitudes attached to the old forms are transferred to the new which is fitted into the background of the old. Many tribes and races had mystic animals, and when the tribes entered the Hindu society the animals which followed them were made vehicles and companions of gods. One of them is mounted on the peacock, another on the swan, a third is carried by the bull, and a fourth by the goat.The enlistment of Hanuman in the service of Rams signifies the meeting-point of early nature worship and later theism, The dancing of Krsna on Kaliya’s head represents the subordination, if not the displacement, of serpent worship. Rama’s breaking of the bow of Siva signifies the conflict between the Vedic ideal and the cult of Siva, who soon became the god of the south (Daksinamurti).There are other stories in the Epic literature indicating the reconciliation of the Vedic and the non-Vedic faiths.The heroised ancestors,the local saints, the planetary influences and the tribal gods were admitted into the Hindu pantheon; though they were all subordinated to the one supreme reality of which they were regarded as aspects.The polytheism was organised in a monistic way. Only it was not a rigid monotheism enjoining on its adherents the most complete intolerance for those holding a different view.
It need not be thought that the Aryan was always the superior force.There are occasions when the Aryan yielded to the non-Aryan, and rightly too.The Epics relate the manner in which the different non-Aryan gods asserted their supremacy over the Aryan ones: Krsnas struggle with Indra, the prince of the Vedic gods, is one instance.The rise of the cult of Siva is another.When Daksa, the protagonist of the sacrificial cult, conceives a violent feud against Siva, there is disaffectionin his own home, for his daughter Sati who has become the embodiment of womanly piety and devotion developed an ardent love for Siva.
The Vedic culture which resembles that of the Homeric Greeks or the Celtic Irish at the beginning of the Christian era, or that of the pre-Christian Teutons and Slavs, becomes transformed in the Epics into the Hindu culture through the influence of the Dravidians.The Aryan idea of worship during the earliest period was to call on the Father Sky or some other shining one to look from on high on the sacrificer, and receive from him the offerings of fat or flesh, cakes and drink.But soon puja or worship takes the place of homa or sacrifice.Image worship which was a striking feature of the Dravidian faith was accepted by the Aryans.The ideals of vegetarianism and non-violence (ahimsa) also developed. The Vedic tradition was dominated by the Agamik, and today Hindu culture shows the influence of the Agamas as much as that of the Vedas.The Aryan and the Dravidian do not exist side by side in Hinduism, but are worked up into a distinctive cultural pattern which is more an emergent than a resultant.The history of the Hindu religious development shows occasionally the friction between the two strains of the Vedas and the Agamas though they are sufficiently harmonised.When conceived in a large historical spirit, Hinduism becomes a slow growth across the centuries incorporating all the good and true things as well as much that is evil and erroneous, though a constant endeavour, which is not always successful, is kept up to throw out the unsatisfactory elements.Hinduism has the large comprehensive unity of a living organism with a fixed orientation.The Upanisad asks us to remember the Real who is one, who is indistinguishable through class or colour, and who by his varied forces provides as is necessary for the needs of each class and of all.
When once the cults are taken into Hinduism, alteration sets in as the result of the influence of the higher thought.The Hindu method of religious reform is essentially democratic.It allows each group to get to the truth through its own tradition by means of discipline of mind and morals. Each group has its own historic tradition, and assimilation of it is the condition of its growth of spirit. Even the savage clings to his superstitions obstinately and faithfully. For him his views are live forces, though they may seem to us no more than childish fancies.To shatter the superstitions of the savage is to destroy his morality, his social code and mental peace. Religious rites and social institutions, what ever they may be, issue out of experiences that may be hundreds of years old.As the Hindu inquirer cast his eyes over the manifold variety of the faiths which prevailed in his world, he saw that they were all conditioned by the social structure in which their followers lived.History has made them what they are, and they cannot be made different all on a sudden.Besides, God’s gracious purpose includes the whole of the human race.Every community has inalienable rights which others should respect.No type can come into existence in which God doesnot live. Robert Burnstruly says: “And yet the light that ledastray was light from heaven.” To despise other people’s gods is to despise them, for they and their gods are adapted to each other.The Hindu took up the gods of even the savage and the uncivilised and set them on equal thrones to his own.
The right way to refine the crude beliefs of any group is to alter the bias of mind.For the view of God an individual stresses depends on the kind of man he is.The temperament and the training of the individual as well as the influence of the environment determine toa large extent the character ofone’s religious opinions. Any defect in one’s nature or onesidedness in ones experience is inevitably reflected in the view the individual adopts with regard to the religious reality. One’s knowledge of God is limited byone’scapacity to understand him.The aim of the reformer, should be to cure the defect and not criticise the view. When the spiritual life is quickened the belief is altered automatically.Any change of view to be real must grow from within outwards.Opinions cannot grow unless traditions are altered. The task of the religious teacher is not so much to impose an opinion as to kindle an aspiration.If we open the eyes, the truth will be seen.The Hindu methods not force and threats, but suggestion and persuasion. Error is only a sign of immaturity.It is not a grievous sin. Given time and patience it will be shaken off.However severe Hinduism may be with the strong in spirit, it is indulgent to frailties of the weak.
The Hindu method of religious reform helps to bring about a change not in the name but in the content. While we are allowed to retain the same name, we are encouraged to deepen its significance.To take an illustration familiar to you, the Yahweh of the Pentateuch is a fearsome spirit, again and again flaming up in jealous wrath and commanding the slaughter of man, woman, child and beast, whenever his wrath is roused.The conception of the Holy One who loves mercy rather than sacrifice, who abominates burnt offerings, who reveals himself to those who yearn to know him asserts itself in the writings of Isaiah and Hosea. In the revelation of Jesus we have the conception of God as perfect love.The name “Yahweh” is the common link which connects these different developments.When a new cult is accepted by Hinduism, the name is retained though a refinement of the content is effected.To take an example from early Sanskrit literature, it is clear that Kali in her various shapes is a non-Aryan goddess.[7] But she was gradually identified with the supreme Godhead Witness the following address to Kali:
“Thou, O Goddess, O auspicious Remover of the distresses of those who tum to thee for refuge, art not to be known by speech, mind and intellect.None indeed is able to praise thee by words.
“O Goddess, having Brahman as thy personal form, O Mother of the universe, we repeatedly salute thee, full of compassion.
“The work of creation, maintenance and absorption is a mere wave of thy sportive pleasure.Thou art able to create the whole in a moment.Salutation to thee, O all-powerful Goddess! Although devoid of attributes and form, although standing outside of objective existence, although beyond the range of the senses, although one and whole and without a second and all-pervading, yet assuming a form possessed of attributes for the well-being of devotees, thou givest them the highest good.We salute thee, O Goddess, in whom all the three conditions of existence become manifest.”[8]
Similarly Krsna becomes the highest Godhead in the Bhagavadgita whatever his past origin may be.
When the pupil approaches his religious teacher for guidance, the teacher asks the pupil about his favourite God, istadevata, for every man has a right to choose that form of belief and worship which most appeals to him.The teacher tells the pupil that his idea is a concrete representation of what is abstract, and leads him gradually to an appreciation of the Absolute intended by it.Suppose a Christianapproaches a Hindu teacher for spiritual guidance, he would not ask his Christian pupil to discard his allegiance to Christ but would tell him that his idea of Christ was not adequate and would lead him to a knowledge of the real Christ, the incorporate Supreme.Every God accepted by Hinduism is elevated and ultimately identified with the central Reality which is one with the deeper self of man.The addition of new gods to the Hindu pantheon does not endanger it.The critic who observes that Hinduism is “magic tempered by metaphysics: or “animism transformed by philosophy” is right.There is a distinction between magic tempered by metaphysics and pure magic. Hinduism absorbs everything that enters into it, magic or animism, and raises it to a higher level.
Differences in name become immaterial for the Hindu, since every name, at its best, connotes the same metaphysical and moral perfections. The identity of content signified by the different names is conveyed to the people at large by an identification of the names.Brahma, Visnu, Siva, Krsna, Kali, Buddha and other historical names are used indiscriminately for the Absolute Reality.“May Hari, the ruler of the three worlds worshipped by the Saivites as Siva, by the Vedantins as Brahman, by the Buddhists as Buddha, by the Naiyayikas as the chief agent, by the Jainas as the liberated, by the ritualists as the principle of law, may he grant our prayers.”[9] Samkara, the great philosopher, refers to the one Reality, who, owing to the diversity of intellects (Inatibheda) is conventionally spoken of (parikalpya) in various ways as Brahma, Visnu and Mahesvara.[10]  A south Indian folksong says:
Into the bosom of the one great sea
Flaw streams that come from hills on every side,
Their names are various as their springs,
And thus in every land do men bow down
To one great God, though known by many names.[11]
The Hindu method of reform enables every group to retain its past associations and preserve its individuality and interest: For as students are proud of their colleges, so are groups of their gods.We need not move students from one college to another, but should do our best to raise the tone of each college, improve its standards and refine, its ideals, with the result that each college enables us, to attain the same goal.It is a matter of indifference what college we are in, so long as all of them are steeped in the same atmosphere and train us to reach the same ideal.Of course there will be fanatics with narrow patriotism holding up Balliol as the best or Magdalene as modern, but to the impartial spectator the different colleges do not seem to be horizontal levels one higher than the other, but only vertical pathways leading to the same summit.We can be in any college and yet be on the lowest rung of the ladder or be high up in the scale. Where we are does not depend on the college but on ourselves.There are good Christians and bad Christians even as there are good Hindus and bad Hindus.
The Hindu method of reform has been criticised both from the theoretical and the practical points of view.Professor Clement Webb writes: With its traditions of.periodically repeated incarnations of the deity in the most diverse forms, its ready acceptance of any and every local divinity or founder of a sect or ascetic devotee as a manifestation of God, its tolerance of symbols and legends of all kinds, however repulsive or obscene by the side of the most exalted flights of world-renouncing mysticism, it could perhaps more easily than any other faith develop, without loss of continuity with its past, into a universal religion which would see in every creed a form suited to some particular group or individual, of the universal aspiration after one Eternal Reality, to whose true being the infinitely various shapes in which it reveals itself to, or conceals itself from men are all alike indifferent.”[12] While this statement represents the general tendency of the Hindu faith, it is not altogether fair to it when it suggests that for Hinduism there is nothing to choose between one revelation and another.Hinduism does not mistake tolerance for indifference.It affirms that while all revelations refer to reality, they are not equally true to it.Towards the close of the last lecture I noticed this point, and it is needless to elaborate it here. Hinduism requires every man to think steadily on the life’s mystery until he reaches the highest revelation. While the lesser forms are tolerated in the interests of those who cannot suddenly transcend them, there is all through an insistence on the larger idea and the purer worship. Hinduism does not believe in forcing up the pace of development.When we give our higher experiences to those who cannot understand them we are in the position of those who can see and who impart the visual impressions to those born blind. Unless we open their spiritual eyes, they cannot see what the seers relate. So while Hinduism does not interfere with one’s natural way of thinking, which depends on his moral and intellectual gifts,education and environment, it furthers his spiritual growth by lending a sympathetic andhelping hand wherever he stands.While Hinduism hates the compulsory conscription of men into the house of truth, it insists on the development of one’s intellectual conscience and sensibility to truth.Besides error of judgment is not moral obliquity.Weakness of understanding is not depravity of heart.If a full and perfect understanding of the divine nature is necessary for salvation, how many of us can escape the jaws of hell? Saktigita says: “There is no limit, O Mother, to thy kindly grace in the case of devotees who are not able to realise thy form consisting of ideal essences, through the defects in the knowledge of principles.” We may not know God, but God certainly knows us.
Hinduism has enough faith in the power of spirit to break the bonds that fetter the growth of the soul.God, the central reality affirmed by all religions, is the continual evolver of the faithsin which men find themselves.Besides, experience proves that attempts at a very rapid progress from one set of tares to a higher one does not lead to advance but abrogation.The mills of the gods grind slowly in the making of history, and zealous reformers meet with defeat if they attempt to save the world in their own generation by forcing on it their favourite programmes.Human nature cannot be hurried. Again, Hinduism does not believe in bringing about a mechanical uniformity of belief and worship by a forcible elimination of all that is not in agreement with a particular creed.It does not believe in any statutory methods of salvation.Its scheme of salvation is not limited to those who hold a particular view of Gods nature and worship.Such an exclusive absolutism is inconsistent with an all-loving universal God. It is not fair to God or man to assume that one people are the chosen of God, their religion occupies a central place in the religious development of mankind, and that all others should borrow from them or suffer spiritual destitution.
After all, what counts is not creed but conduct.By their fruits shall ye know them and notby their beliefs. Religion is not correct belief but righteous living.[13] The truly religious never worry about other people’s beliefs. Look at the great saying of Jesus: “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold.” Jesus was born a Jew and died a Jew. He did not tell the Jewish people among whom he found himself, “It is wicked to be Jews.Become Christians.” He did his best to rid the Jewish religion of its impurities. He would have done the same with Hinduism were he born a Hindu.The true reformer purifies and enlarges the heritage of mankind and does not belittle, still less deny it:
Those who love their sects more than truth end by loving themselves more than their sects. We start by claiming that Christianity is the only true religion and then affirm that Protestantism is the only true sect of Christianity, Episcopalianism the only true Protestantism, the High Church the only true Episcopal Protestant Christian religion, and our particular standpoint the only true representation of the High Church view.
The Hindu theory that every human being, every group and every nation has an individuality worth reverence is slowly gaining ground. Such a view requires that we should allow absolute freedom to every group to cultivate what is most distinctive and characteristic of it.All peculiarity is unique and incommunicable, and it will be to disregard the nature of reality to assume that what is useful to one will be useful to everyone else to the same extent.The world is wide enough to hold men whose natures are different.
It is argued sometimes that the Hindu plan has not helped its adherents to a freer and larger life.It isdifficult to meet such an indefinite charge.Anyway, it is a matter of grave doubt whether Hinduism would have achieved a more effective regeneration if it had displaced by force the old ideas, i.e. if it had adopted the method of conversion and proselytism instead of reform resulting from gradual development. It is quite true that Hinduism did not cut away with an unsparing hand the rank tropical growth of magic and obscurantism.Its method is rather that of sapping the foundations than cutting the growths.
While in the great days of Hinduism there was a great improvement in the general religious life of the Hindus by the exercise of the two principles of respect for man and unbending devotion to truth, there has been a “failure of nerve” in the Hindu spiritin recent times.There are within Hinduism large numbers who are the victims of superstition, but even in countries where the higher civilisation is said to have displaced, the lower, the lower still persists. To meet a savage we need not go very far. A great authority in these matters, Sir James Frazer, says: “Among the ignorant and superstitious classes of modern Europe, it is very much what it was thousands of years ago in Egypt and India, and what it now is among the lowest savages surviving in the remotest corners of the world. Now and then the polite world is startled by a paragraph in a newspaper which tells how in Scotland an image has been found stuck full of pins for the purpose of killing an obnoxious laird or minister, how a woman has been slowly roasted to death as a witch in Ireland, or how a girl has been murdered and chopped up in Russia to make those candles of human tallow by whose light thieves hope to pursue their midnight trade unseen.”[14] Many Christians believe in spells and magic.Habits of human groupsare hard to eradicate in proportion to the length of time during which they have existed.Rapid changes are impossible, and even slow changes are exceedingly difficult, for religions tend strongly to revert to type.When primitive tribes whose cults provided them with feminine as well as masculine objects of devotion entered the Buddhist fold they insisted on having in addition to the masculine Buddhathe feminine Tara.When the Graeco-Romans worshipping Ashtoreth, Isis and Aphrodite entered the Christian Church, Mariolatry developed.It is relatedof an Indian Christian convert who attended the church on Sunday and the Kali temple on Friday, that when the missionary gentleman asked him whether he was not a Christian, he replied, “Yes, I am, but does it mean that I have changed my religion?” Hindu converts to other faiths frequently turn to Hindu gods in cases of trouble and sickness, presence or dread of death. Outer professions have no roots in inner life. We cannot alter suddenly our subconscious heritage at the bidding of the reformer.The old ideas cannot be rooted out unless we are educated to a higher intellectual and moral level.
The Hindu method has not been altogether a failure.There has been progress all round, though there is still room for considerable improvement.In spite of the fact that Hinduism has no common creed and its worship no fixed form, it has bound together multitudinous sects and devotions into a common scheme. In the Census Report for 1911 Mr.Burns observes: “The general results of my inquiries is that the great majority of Hindus have a firm belief in one supreme God, Bhagavan, Paramesvara,  Isvara, or Narayana.”[15] Regarding the spread of Hindu ideas and ideals, Sir Herbert Risley says: “These ideas are not the monopoly of thelearned, they are shared in great measure by the man in the street. If you tack to a fairly intelligent Hindu peasant about the Paramatma, Karma, Maya, Mukti, and so forth, you will find as soon as he has got. over his surprise at your interest in such matters that the terms are familiar to him, and that he has formed a rough working theory of their bearing of his own future.”[16] There is an inner cohesion among the Hindus from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin.
The work of assimilating the rawest recruits of the hill-tribes and other half-civilised hordes has been a slow one and by no means thorough.Among Hindus are counted many professing-crude beliefs and submerged thoughts which the civilisation has not had time to eradicate.During the last few centuries Hinduism has not been faithful to its ideals, and the task of the uplift of the uncivilised has been sadly neglected.
Hinduism does not support the sophism that is often alleged that to coerce man to have the right view is as legitimate as to save one by violence from committing, suicide in a fit of delirium. The intolerance of narrow monotheism is written in letters of blood across the history of man from the time when first the tribes of Israel burst into the land of Cancaan.The worshippers of the one jealous God are egged on to aggressive wars against people of alien cults.They invoke divine sanction for the cruelties inflicted on the conquered.The spirit of old Israel is inherited by Christianity and Islam, and it is for you to say whether it would not have been better for the Western civilisation if Greece had moulded it on this question rather than Palestine.Wars of religion which are the outcome of fanaticism that prompts and justifies the extermination of aliens of different creeds were practically unknown in Hindu India.Of course, here and there there were outbursts of fanaticism, but Hinduism as a rule never encouraged persecution for unbelief.Its record has been a clean one, relatively speaking.It has been able to hold together in peace many and varied communities of men. Buddhism, which counts-among its followers nearly a fifth of the human race, has always respected other faiths and never tried to supplant them by force.One of the earliest Buddhist books relates that Buddha. condemned the tendency prevalent among the religious disputants of his day, to make a display of their own doctrines and damn those of others.[17]Buddha asks his follows to avoid all discussions which are likely to stir up discontent among the different sects.Religious toleration is the theme of one of Asoka’s rock edicts, “The King, beloved of the Gods, honours every form of religious faith, but considers no gift or honour so much as the increase of the substance of religion; whereof this is the root, to reverence one’s own faith and never to revile that of others.Whoever acts differently injures his own religion whi1e he wrongs another’s.” “The texts of all forms of religion shall be followed under my protection.[18]  The Hindu and the Buddhist rulers of India acted up to this principle with the result that the persecuted and the refugees of all great religions found shelter in India.The Jews, the Christians, the Parsees were allowed absolute freedom, to develop on their own lines. Yuan Chwang reports that at the great festival of Prayaga, King Harsa dedicated on the first day a statue to the Buddha, another to the sun, the favourite deity of his father, on the second, and to Siva on the third.The famous Kottayam plates of Sthanuravi (ninth century A. D.) and the Cochin plates of Vijayaragadeva bear eloquent testimony to the fact that the Hindu kings not only tolerated Christianity but granted special concessions to the professors of that faith.Only the other day the Hindu prince of Mysore made a gift to the re-building of the Christian church in his State.
Today the world has become a much smaller place, thanks to the adventures and miracles of science. Foreign nations have become our next-door neighbours. Mingling of populations is bringing about an interchange of thought. We are slowly realising that the world is a single co-operative group.Other religions have become forces with which we have to reckon, and we are seeking for ways and means by which we can live together in peaceand harmony. We cannot have religious unity and peace so long as we assert that we are in possession of the light and all others are groping in the darkness. That very assertion is a challenge to a fight.The political ideal of the world is not so much a single empire with a homogeneous civilisation and a single communal will, but a brotherhood of free nations differing profoundly in life and mind, habits and institutions, existing side by side in peace and order, harmony and co-operation, and each contributing to the world its own unique and specific best, which is irreducible to the terms of the others.The cosmopolitanism of the eighteenth century and the nationalism of the nineteenth are combined in our ideal of a world-commonwealth, which allows every branch of the human family to find freedom, security and self-realisation in the larger life of mankind. I see no hope for the religious future of the world, if this ideal is not extended to the religious sphere also.When two or three different systems claim that they contain the revelation of the very core and centre of truth and the acceptance of it is the exclusive pathway to heaven, conflicts are inevitable. In such conflicts one religion will not allow others to steal a march over it, and no one can gain ascendancy until the world is reduced to dust and ashes. To obliterateevery other religion than one’s own, is a sort of bolshevism in religion which we must try to prevent.We can do so only if we accept something like the Hindu solution, whichseeks the unity of religion not in a common creed but in a common quest.Let us believe in a unity of spirit and not of organisation, a unity which secures ample liberty not only for every individual but for every type of organised life which has proved itself effective.For almost all historical forms of life and thought can claim the sanction of experience and so the authority of God. The world would be a much poorer thing if one creed absorbed the rest.God wills arich harmony and not a colourless uniformity.The comprehensive and synthetic spirit of Hinduism has made it a mighty forest with a thousand waving arms each fulfilling its function and all directed by the spirit of God.Each thing in its place and all associated in the divine concert making with their various voices and even dissonances, as Heraclitus would say, the most exquisite harmony should be our ideal.
That the Hindu solution of the problem of the conflict of religions is likely to be accepted in the future seems to me to be fairly certain.The spirit of democracy with its immense faith in the freedom to choose one’s ends and direct one’s course in the effort to realise them makes for it.Nothing is good which is not self-chosen; no determination is valuable which is not self-determination.The different religions are slowly learning to hold out hands of friendship to each other in every part of the world.My presence here this evening is an indication of it.The parliaments of religions and conferences and congresses of liberal thinkers of all creeds promote mutual understanding and harmony.The study of comparative religion is developing a fairer attitude to other religions.It is impressing on us the fundamental unity of all religions by pointing out that the genius of the people, the spirit of the age and the need of the hour determine the emphasis in each religion.We are learning to think clearly about the inter-relations of religion.We tend to look upon different religions not as incompatibles but as complementaries, and so indispensable to each other for the realisation of the common end. Closer contact with other religions has dispelled the belief that only this or that religion has produced men of courage and patience, self-denying love and creative energy. Every great religion has cured its followers of the swell of passion, the thrust of desire and the blindness of temper.The crudest religion seems to have its place in the cosmic scheme, for gorgeous flowers justify the muddy roots from which they spring. Growing insistence on mysticism is tending to a subordination of dogma.[19] While intellectualism would separate the dissimilar and shut them up in different compartments, higher intuition takes account of the natural differences of things and seeks to combine them in the ample unity of the whole.The half-religious and the irreligious fight about dogmas and not the truly religious. In the biting words of Swift, “We have enough religion to hate one another but not enough to love one another.”The more religious we grow the more tolerant of diversity shall we become.

[1] Introduction to the Autobiography of Devendranath Tagore, p. xl

[2]Essentials of Mysticism (1920), p. 4.

[3]The Communion of the Christian with God.

[4]Ibid., p, 29.

[5] kiratahunandhrapulindapukkasah abhirakanka yavanah khasadayah
yenye ca papa yad upasrayasrayac chudyanti tasmai prabhavisnave namah.

[6] See Pancavimsa Brahmana, xvii. 1-4; Baudhayana, xvii. 24-6; Katyayana, xxii. 4; Latyayana, viii. 6. Many modern sects, beginning with Caitanya, the Radhasvamis, the Kabirpanthis, the Sikhs, the Brahmo samajists and the Arya samajists, accept outsiders. Devala’s smrti lays down rules for the simple purification of people forcibly converted to other faiths, or of womenfolk defiled and confined for years, and even of people who, for worldly advantage, embrace other faiths.

[7] In the Mahabharata (iv, vii) we find that she delights in wine, flesh and animal sacrifices. Gaudavaho (A.D.700) refers to animal and human sacrifices offered to Kali.Ksudrakamalakara (fifteenth century A.D.), speaking of the image of Durga at Vindhyachala near Mirzapur, says that Kali is the goddess of the Kiratas and other aboriginal tribes and is worshipped by the Mlecchas, the Thugs, etc.

[8] devi prapannartihare sive tvam vanimanobuddhibhir aprameya
yato syato naiva hi kascid isah stotum svasabdair bhavatim kadacit.
brahmasvarupe jagadambike lam dayamayim tvam satatam namamah
sargasthitipratyavaharakaryam bhavadvilsasya ta rangamatram
kartum ksanenakhilamasyalam tvam namo stvataste khilasaktirupe.
tvam nirgunakaravivarjitapi bahirgatapi tvam bhavarajyacca bahirgatapi
sarvendriya gocaratam gatapi tveka hi akhanda vibhur advayapi
svabhaktakalyana vivardhanaya dhrtva svarupam sagunam hitebhyah
nihsreyasam yacchasi bhavagamya tribhavarupe bhavatim namamah

[9] yam saivah samupasate siva iti brahmeti vedantinah
bauddhah buddha ity pramanapatavah karteti naiya yikah
arhannityatha jainasasanaratah karmeti mimamsakah
soyam vai vidadhatu vanchitaphalam trailokyantho harih.

[10]Haristuti, 18

[11] Gover, The Folksongs of Southern India (1871), p.165.

[12] Needham, Science, Religion and Reality (1926), pp.334-5

[13] Cp.Spinoza: “ Religion is universal to the human race; wherever-justice and charity have the force of law and ordinance, there is God’s kingdom.”

[14]The Golden Bough, abridged edition (1922), p. 56.

[15] Part I, p. 362.

[16]The People of India (1915).

[17] Sutta Nipata 782; see also Anguttara Nikaya, iii. 57. I, where Buddha encourages gifts by Buddhists to non-Buddhists as well. He admits the right of non Buddhists to heaven. In the Majjhima Nikaya (i. p. 483) he mentions that a particular Ajivaka gained heaven by virtue of his being a believer in Karma. Buddha held in high respect the Brahmins who led the truly moral life.  

[18] The twelfth Rock Edict.

[19] Cp.Dean Inge: “The centre of gravity has shifted from authority to experience … The fundamental principles of mystical religion are now very widely accepted, and are, especially with educated people, avowedly the main ground of belief. ” The Platonic Tradition in English Religious Thought (1926), pp, 113-15.

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Ludwig von Mises on why religion and the state must not mix

It would … be a serious mistake to conclude that the sciences of human action and the policy derived from their teachings, liberalism, are antitheistic and hostile to religion.They are radically opposed to all systems of theocracy. But they are entirely neutral with regard to religious beliefs which do not pretend to interfere with the conduct of social, political, and economic affairs.

Theocracy is a social system which lays claim to a superhuman title for its legitimation. The fundamental law of a theocratic regime is an insight not open to examination by reason and to demonstration by logical methods. Its ultimate standard is intuition providing the mind with subjective certainty about things which cannot be conceived by reason and ratiocination. … What characterizes them as theocratic is their craving to organize the earthly affairs of mankind according to the contents of a complex of ideas whose validity cannot be demonstrated by reasoning. They pretend that their leaders are blessed by a knowledge inaccessible to the rest of mankind and contrary to the ideas maintained by those to whom the charisma is denied.
However, we must not confuse the two things, religion and theocracy. Religion, as James sees it, is a purely personal and individual relation between man and a holy, mysterious, and awe-inspiring divine Reality. It enjoins upon man a certain mode of individual conduct. But it does not assert anything with regard to the problems of social organization.
Liberalism puts no obstacles in the way of a man eager to adjust his personal conduct and his private affairs according to the mode in which he individually or his church or denomination interprets the teachings of the Gospels. But it is radically opposed to all endeavors to silence the rational discussion of problems of social welfare by an appeal to religious intuition and revelation.It does not enjoin divorce or the practice of birth control upon anybody. But it fights those who want to prevent other people from freely discussing the pros and cons of these matters.
Liberals welcome the support which religious teachings may give to those moral precepts of which they themselves approve, but they are opposed to all those norms which are bound to bring about social disintegration from whatever source they may stem.
It is a distortion of fact to say, as many champions of religious theocracy do, that liberalism fights religion. Where the principle of church interference with secular issues is in force, the various churches, denominations and sects are fighting one another. By separating church and state, liberalism establishes peace among the various religious factions and gives to each of them the opportunity to preach its gospel unmolested.
Liberalism is rationalistic. It has full confidence in man’s reason. It may be that this optimism is unfounded and that the liberals have erred. But then there is no hope left for mankind’s future.
[Selected sections from von Mises's Human Action]
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The United Nations: a united voice against freedom?

The more I read and think about the United Nations, the less impressed I am with its output. There might be a few minor achievements to its credit, but we have paid too much to get too little out of this mammoth talk-fest with its bloated bureaucracy (not to talk of questionable organs like IPCC). Another problem is that it has deviated into activities that are simply none of its business.

This one, for instance, takes the cake – steps to actively destroy freedom of expression across the world. 

In March 2009, "A United Nations forum passed a resolution condemning "defamation of religion" as a human rights violation" (source). On 23 November 2010, "The Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly yesterday voted in favor of a resolution, “Combating defamation of religions" (source).

In an article in The Age today (1 December 2010), Barney Zwartz reports that "the United Nations General Assembly this month is likely to approve a non-binding resolution against 'defamation of religion'". The resolution is sponsored by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. Apparently this conference seeks "an international blasphemy law that will make it a criminal offence to disparage Islam".

This is a highly retrogressive proposal, and one can only hope that the General Assembly will trounce this ridiculous resolution.Freedom has many enemies, and religions have rarely been its friend. Even the thought of proposing such a resolution can only come from religious fanatics who don't understand simple things like the following:

a) Humanity MUST be free to make use of its thinking capacity to analyse and question EVERYTHING. That includes questioning not merely material matters through science, but religions and even God Himself. Nothing is outside the realm of human questioning, and nothing can be kept outside its reach. We must remain free to find the truth. And if, upon careful consideration, a particular religious belief is found to be false, then humans MUST have the rights to express that opinion – including comments that DENY the scriptures totally and comprehensively. God did not give us a brain (assuming that God exists) for us to lock it and throw the key into the ocean. 

b) If God is omnipotent then let God decide whether something is blasphemous or not, and let Him take care of that on his own. It is not for us, mere mortals, to block freedom of speech of our fellow humans for the sake of protecting God! ‘For’, as Emperor Tiberius remarked, ‘if the gods think that they have just claims for grievance, they can surely take care of themselves’’.

Through such a resolution the UN is effectively demoting God and bringing him under HUMAN protection! Surely God can protect Himself from "blasphemers" like Salman Rushdie or Asia Bibi (- the poor woman, caught up in the primitive part of the world known as Pakistan) – without the UN.

Let the United Nations not make itself TOTALLY IRRELEVANT and even DESPISED by considering such matters which are none of its business. It has no business to adjudicate on matters related to religion. All it can say is that religion is a personal private business of each individual, who must also be ensured freedom of thought and expression. 

Its job is therefore purely to advance human freedom and security.

Let it stick to its knitting.

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Religion to be severed from Politics

And now for a guest post by Ujjwal Banerjee, a member of the Freedom Team of India. Ujjwal was a finalist in the 2007 ‘Lead India’ contest and works in the Akanksha Foundation. This write-up by Ujjwal was published in Towards a Great India, January 2009.

FTI has produced a policy on religious freedom, which is worth examining if you haven't seen it yet.

As usual, I invite readers of this blog to consider leading India to freedom. Join FTI.


History feeds the present and the present feeds the future. Unless we consciously try to understand the present in the light of the past and do it without any bias, we may not be able to get a true picture of where we need to correct ourselves.

Considering the fact that the country is as much familiar to riots in the name of religion as much as kids are familiar with the game of cricket, its a matter of serious thought to understand what keeps our society in a perpetual state of war within. These riots are simply external manifestations of deep rooted hatred that lurks in the minds of people. And each riot gives birth to lakhs of minds which decide to take this negative spirit ahead probably in a different context may be in a different time frame. But it surely emerges. 

Riots have happened. Media has covered them enthusiastically with exuberant histrionics and at the end of it all the guilty go scot free. Politicians continue their games. Citizens continue to live with their religious frenzy.

This entire situation throws open two important questions. One, effect of combining religion with politics and second which also is related to the first, the role played by citizens in general in perpetuating this state of affairs.

The communal division in the name of religion has always been soft soil for political groups. As much as it is easy to gain mileage out of this display of a party’s inclination towards a certain religious group, it’s a dirty game which has benefited none.  

One, it draws the attention of people away from things which actually should matter to them in terms of good governance and good services and  second, it keeps the nation divided.

The other important aspect is the role played by citizens as they use discriminatory attitudes in their interactions in the society. Some of the simple examples like hesitating to rent a space to a person from the minority community, discrimination in enrolment of students, looking at a job seeker with skepticism etc lead to a state where an individual feels victimized and to him the State appears to be conspiring to make him stay in that position of powerlessness.

This kind of attitude leads to marginalization and extreme hatred which gets manifested in different forms. At times such frustrated people might become the most eligible candidates for the extremely dangerous religious teachers or else terrorist groups which are hatching the plan of the next attack in the name of religion.

There are no easy answers to changing from this state where we are in today. 

As a society, we should be extremely cautious about the way we understand the differences of birth and how they define our attitudes towards other people. The only understanding which can really help a phenomenally segregated society such as ours is to accept religion as a means to human and societal betterment through pursuit of righteousness.

If we go by that understanding, the politicians would be compelled to explain their policies on core issues of development and we as a society would measure them on the number of children they are able to educate, the jobs they create, the number of hours of electricity they are able to provide etc. Whether they provide party tickets to yoga experts or attend Iftaar parties wearing skull caps, will not be of anyone’s concern.

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