Many concepts about individuals, societies, religion, nation, social justice, rights, freedom, perception of good and evil, politics, ideologies, science, nature and the world can be traced back to Indian and Western roots. They are build upon these respective thought system to an extent they represent a totally opposed paradigm of viewing the world and the issues surrounding it.
The West sets forth its values (meaning its political and economic system) as universal and then tries to police them throughout the world, rewarding countries that emulate the West and punishing those who go their own way. It tries to control any debate on cultural ethics or right and wrong in the world under slogans of democracy and human rights. Yet, revealing the commercial nature of western civilization, this assertion of human rights is mainly used to intimidate weak nations.
Western human rights groups highlight social inequalities in non-western countries like India, while ignoring the colonial history of both genocide and cultural destruction. The same charges of cultural backwardness were used throughout the colonial era to undermine the native traditions of Africa, Asia and America, and justify religious conversion and political domination, which is probably their real aim.
Western religious groups similarly use the cover of human rights to promote missionary activities and conversion efforts. They like to appear to be promoting western secular, social and political values, uplifting the undeveloped world, while actually continuing the religious exclusivism, aggression and intolerance of the colonial era.
On the other hand, the ‘secular missionaries’ promote the new religion of western secular humanism, which like older exclusivist ideologies of Christianity or communism is similarly used to destroy other religious and cultural systems. Their judgment of others as not being ‘politically correct’ is as damning and judgmental as the Christian charge of heresy or paganism. Secular missionaries go into traditional cultures with an almost fanatical zeal to reform them as colonial missionaries, blind to the values of traditional customs and condescending in their attitudes. They disrupt traditional family systems, local economies and connections to the natural environment.
Absence of Dharma from the Consciousness
A significant share of the blame falls upon mainstream Christian doctrine. The church’s erasure of the principle of karma reduces our feeling of direct responsibility for our life, our circumstances and our personal spirituality. It actually encourages immediate gratification and sensationalism. Canceling the principle of reincarnation in preference for a single-life doctrine also encourages irresponsible action since we can supposedly atone for any bad actions by last minute conversion. Worse, it blinds us to the idea of spiritual evolution through many lives through observance of Dharma.
Paul (fundamentally the catalyst for Christian doctrinal evolution) was neither a saint nor an apostle; in fact many of the Gnostic accounts describe him as an enemy of Christ’s true teachings. His ideas of ‘blind faith’ and ‘conversion’ in order to enter heaven after death negate the possibility of a sustained experience of heaven while in the physical body. The cancellation of mysticism is furthered by the doctrine of ‘original sin’ in which human beings are said to be fundamentally flawed and therefore unable to perfect themselves let alone be worthy of the divine and its experience.
The Christian West is comprised mainly of individuals with little real sense of connection to the cosmic order and so their mundane religion today has little bearing on spirituality. Nor does spirituality and its experience depend on their behavior. Rather than living according to Dharma that pervades their life people are mentally enslaved to Church Doctrine and its empty promise of salvation. Whether or not we are Christians, the churches unauthorized cancellation of these principles has separated the Western awareness from its spiritual roots. Hence the poverty of Dharma in the West today rests considerably upon the shoulders of the Protestant and Catholic churches who have propagated their subtly Adharmic doctrines for over 1000 years.
The modern Churches of today continue that tradition by paying token respect to Christ while passively encouraging the culture of materialism, dogmatic dependence and superficiality.
‘True spirituality can enlighten science so that it serves rather than enslaves’
Institutionalized religions and their inherently flawed theologies are not the only culprits. While the Vatican and others like it may have cut the living heart out of religious experience, they still pay lip service to the memory of morality.
Modern society has a new religion that has supplanted irrational faith. It continues to undermine Dharma with its narrow but self-glorifying creed of ‘rationalism’. This new faith is ‘science’.
When Newton ‘explained’ that the universe was little more than a giant piece of clockwork and when Descartes ‘proved’ that the human being was simply a complex machine devoid of divine inspiration, the age of rationality began.
The irrational ideas of spiritual experience (which so far can’t be measured) and Divine Will (which is beyond intellect) were discarded in favor of reason and logic. The industrial revolution taught man that his science and technology could dominate Nature, whose laws, until then, he honored and respected.
Metaphysics was discredited as illogical. Religion, mythology and many other aspects of the universal Dharma were explained away as ‘coping mechanisms’ designed to maintain ‘psychological homeo-stasis’ in a ‘hostile environment’.
‘Science’ and the religion of ‘rationality’ became the pre-eminent cultural shaping force. Since, the scientists said, God doesn’t exist, neither does ‘goodness’ nor ‘badness’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Moral instinct, wisdom and conscience (Dharma) were discouraged as illogical. The spiritual glue which holds a civilization on a cohesive and Dharmic path was scientifically removed and replaced with the materialistic ethos called ‘technological advancement’, ‘consumerism’ and ‘permissiveness’.
A society which could have looked to the beacon of spiritual experience and used its guiding light of Dharma to the betterment of all now scrambles blindly after the dollar in a lifestyle appropriately called the ‘rat-race’. No wonder, then, that Western culture can create a sense of disintegration in so many of us.
However to simply blame science or the religions is unrealistic, for, we feel, they actually represent forces operating within us. Science and Rationality could be symptoms of our own egos and intellects that have developed without relationship to the whole. So much so that it dominates our awareness and convinces us to forget the innate Dharma within us.
Do religious institutions represent the conditionings and fears within us or do they exist only because we want to be told what to do, what is right and wrong, true and false? Our minds scream for something comprehensible to cling to rather than embark on the painful journey of self-awareness which ends not in dogma but in ‘Gnosis’ (knowledge) that will put an end to ego and mind as we join the divine intelligence.
True spirituality can enlighten science so that it serves rather than enslaves, and it can resurrect the spirit of universal religion that exists within us all.
Many other ancient cultures prophesy the coming of an awesome being that will bless the upholders of the Cosmic Order (Dharma) and wreak vengeance on the negative forces and their sympathizers. As the world teeters on the brink of ecological and cultural collapse, it seems that the salvation of humanity, indeed the world, lies in the path of balance and awareness called Dharma. The ancient prophecies remind us of the urgency with which we must choose our final path. Our common sense, the ancient Scriptures, the prophets, the signs of Mother Earth and now the scientists themselves all promise that the path of ‘adharma’ will end in catastrophe, judgment and apocalypse.
To resurrect our civilization from this imminent course requires the awakening of the essence of Dharma within us. Our culture does not teach us divine law, let alone the means to realize it. So we must look within to our true being, the Spirit, the source of living Dharma. The Spirit is made known by the process of self-realization that occurs in the infinite space between two thoughts -i.e. meditation. By true meditation the spontaneous and innate dharma can be awakened and made manifest in each of us.
The collective salvation of our civilization requires the inner transformation of every individual from the ignorance of materialism and individualism to the Gnosis of collective spiritual awareness. The genuine Seekers of Truth will receive the spiritual awakening neither by psychedelic drugs nor by occult practices. Nor shall they have to abandon society to join some spiritual aristocracy of monks, priests or hermits. Those who seek the truth with the depth of their heart shall have it awakened in them spontaneously and silently by the strength of their pure desire. They only need to recognize that it will manifest not in thought, image or philosophy but in the silent space between two thoughts. In this space inspires the breath and will of the Divine, the fountain of Dharma.
Secularism is not a lofty ideal, like liberty or equality. It owes its birth to Christianity’s inability to maintain peace between warring Christian sects, especially as the State itself sponsored pogroms against different denominations. Wearied of prolonged intra-religious warfare, France invented secularism.
Hindu civilisation has never, even when under murderous assault, indulged in pogroms on grounds of faith. Hence, unlike Western concepts of democracy and equality, which find resonance in Indian hearts, secularism cuts no ice with the masses. India has traditionally vested spiritual authority in the guru and political power in the king, giving the latter the duty to protect Dharma.
Dharma is not religion in the sense that monotheistic creeds are. Dharma is a generic term for all native spiritual experiences and includes the specific Dharmas of specific groups (desachara, lokachara), which the king is duty-bound to uphold and protect. Since Dharma was never identified with a specific doctrine, the State was never doctrinaire. However, the State was always dharmic (non-secular, non-communal), because Dharma is all-encompassing and embraces all without discrimination. The duty of the State (king) in Hindu thought is best exemplified by the concept of rajdharma, which is a sacred duty for which the ruler can sacrifice anything. Stories of the travails of Raja Harishchandra and the sufferings of Shri Rama reflect how seriously the monarch is expected to take his responsibilities and fulfill commitments.
Dharma is thus not co-terminus with religion; the closest Indian word for religion is pantha. Secularism in India, as noted jurist Dr L.M. Singhvi insisted on when translating the modified Preamble of the Constitution into Hindi, is pantha-nirpeksha (non-discrimination towards individual faiths). So, while ‘secular’ is the opposite of ‘religion’ and ‘communal’, Dharma is neither secular in the sense of being anti-religious nor communal in the sense of favouring a particular sect.
Ideas of religion and of religious freedom
There is a cultural conflict between two very different ideas of religion and of religious freedom. For one the “right to change” is central. To the other the right to retain or continue without interference from the state or from powerful global institutions is paramount. Current rights language favors the former and insufficiently protects the latter.
Every human being has the right to be free from being subject to the preaching of exclusive religious doctrines. Every person is free to participate in and learn from none, one or more ways to happiness and fulfillment without being asked to specify a religious identity or to convert from one to another.
In the Indian context, religious freedom will mean being indifferent to another's faith. That means there is no reason to look upon another differently just because they are of another faith or an atheist. It also gives all due respect to another person's faith irrespective to whether you agree or not. The person is left free to explore his or her religious life without being challenged to change his or her religion. Such exploration need not be confined to any one religion, and may freely embrace the entire religious and philosophical heritage of humanity.
There is certainly freedom to practice or preach anything provided it does not interferes or harms another's freedom or way of life. Freedom here operates from the context that, if we aspect freedom form another we must also readily give the same freedom to another. Freedom is that which have responsibility and respectful of another's freedom.
“Change” of religion assumes exclusivity of belief
The premise of evangelical activity is the belief that theirs is the only true way and everyone else is, at best, in error if not absolutely demonic. This belief inevitably sets those who believe thus into conflict with everyone else. It is not surprising that the primary principle under attack by evangelicals is the principle of religious pluralism.
The idea of “change” of religion from article 18 universal human right again comes from a culture in which multiple religious participation does not make sense. In testimony before the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Prof. Sharma of McGill stated :
- That the concept of religious freedom articulated in article 18 presupposes a certain concept of religion itself, a concept associated with Western religion and culture;
- That a different concept of religion … leads to a different concept of religious freedom; and
- That unless human rights discourse is able to harmonize these two concepts of religious freedom … the clash of the two concepts might ultimately result in the abridgment of religious freedom in actual practice…
This explains the difference between evangelical activity and, for instance, the spread of Indian traditions. Indian traditions can best be regarded as practical learning traditions. They rarely required disavowal of existing belief or tradition. Learning traditions like the teachings of the Buddha could thus be accretive – as they were in China and Japan. To accept the message of the Buddha did not mean to consign one’s ancestors to hell or to reject existing community practices. This is quite similar to the way Indian Swamis brought the practice of Yoga to Americans in contemporary times, without any requirements of “conversion.” One could learn and do the practices of yoga asanas and meditation as a Christian, Muslim or Jew without any requirement to disavow one’s religion.
Who's Right and Who's Wrong
There is basically two different models where one determines what is right and what is wrong. Christianity and Islam has the tendency to see what is right and what is wrong from the perspective of "Good vs. Evil", this determines what is right and what is wrong in their lives.
Whereas for the Hindus or Buddhist, dharma plays an important role in determining what is right and what is wrong. Understanding this two different approaches helps one to understand the various conflicts that is occurring in this world.
Good vs. Evil is a powerful meme in the human mind, and I would wager that it is one of the primary factors in the rapid spread of Christianity in the past and Islam today. Even though this notion of "Good vs. Evil" is predominantly a theological aspect, it is indeed has influenced the Western psyche in addressing various issues. The secularization of the modern West has not eliminated this tendency. In some ways it has intensified it, because we can no longer rely on a supernatural resolution. We have to depend upon ourselves to bring about the final victory of good over evil.
In fact if we see deeper, most of us today are using this simplistic duality between good and evil as our way of understanding and evaluating the world.
For example, the reason why the Christian missionaries wants to convert all to Christianity is driven by the doctrine "good vs. evil". For them the non-Christians faiths are "evil" therefore by converting everyone, the "evil" faiths can be eliminated. It is for the same reason why the Muslims hoping to make this world Darul-Islam. It is a drive to eliminate the "evils".
In this way of thinking, there is no room for what is righteous and what is not righteous, what is justice and what is not justice, but simply seen in the frame of what is "good" and what is "evil". As for the Christians they feel that whatever they do and propagate is "good" and others irrespective of righteous or not is considered "evil". On the other hand the Muslims will see everything to do with Islam is "good" and anything non-Islamic is "evil". Here the sense of what is right and what is wrong arise from is what constitute "good" and "evil". So as far as they strive for the "good" against the "evil", it is considered right.
Perhaps the basic problem with this simplistic good-vs.-evil way of understanding conflict is that, since it tends to preclude further thought, it keeps us from looking deeper, from trying to discover causes. Once something has been identified as evil, there is no more need to explain it; it is time to focus on fighting against it.
The non-Abrahamic religious tradition (Hinduism, Buddhism or Taoism) shares a different perspective addressing these conflicts. For Hinduism, evil, like everything else, has no essence or substance of its own; it is a product of impermanent causes and conditions.
To understand this one have to understand dharma. Dharma means that which upholds truth, righteousness, justice and order.
Instead of looking at a conflict from the prism of "Good vs. Evil", dharma sees it from the perspective of what is dharma and what leads to adharma (absence of dharma). If there is adharma in this world, it basically means there is no dharma (truth, righteousness, justice and order).
Unlike the simplistic idea of "good" fighting against the "evil". Dharma does not mean fighting against adharma, but merely means reestablishing dharma as adharma is nothing more then the absence of dharma. That means, reestablishing truth, righteousness, justice and order.
This notion of dharma makes a Hindu to determine what is right and what is wrong based on truth, righteousness, justice and order and not based on what constitutes a Hindu and what constitute a non-Hindu. However the problem today is Hindus have been influenced by the "Good vs. Evil" doctrine due to Western dominance and are failing to see it from the prism of dharma.
Today we see Hindus bearing Western labels such as "I am secular", "I am communist", "I am democratic", "I am minority/majority", "I am humanist" etc.
What does all these categories do? A secularist will propagate that anything to do with secularism as "good" and the other is "evil". On the contrary the communist will propagate that anything to do with communism as "good" and the other is "evil". So if a communist says anything truthfully, for a secularist it is still considered "evil" and wise versa. Here what constitutes truth, righteousness, justice and order is not determinant of what is right and what is wrong, but basically what is “secular” and what is “not secular” and what is “communist” and what is “not communist”, thus via "good (us) vs. evil (other)" prism.
A similar dictum is applied in the theological view of the Islam and Christianity that divides humanity into “non-believers” and “believers”. Thus the unfinished business and need to convert the former into the later. Therefore it explains the massive and aggressive conversion, missionary, crusading, or jihadi motives and drives that define the basic characteristics of Christian and Islamic operations from their early history to the present.
The Abrahamic concept of “freedom of conversion” itself is born out of the unrighteous or intolerant notion of separating humanity into non-believers and believers. Whereas in the Eastern traditions primarily the Hindu, there are no such conceptions as the entire human race is seen as part of the same body of spiritual evolution that is moving from asat (ignorance) to sat (True-Knowledge). None is considered separate or excluded from this process.
As Arjun Bhagat in his article 'Secularism', Colonial Hegemony and Hindu 'Fanaticism' says..
"It is a skewed playing field. The winner is pre-determined."
No wonder then, what should have been a true intellectual battle of two moral - but completely incompatible - worldviews has become a rout. Leave alone those that have grown up in Abrahamic cultures, even the average open minded Indian intellectual, though having grown up in a dharmic culture, sees the battle as between the secular good versus evil Hindu fanaticism. The western-secular - and therefore dominant - worldview would have us believe that the most enlightened form of religious tolerance and freedom a society can create is one where everyone is freely available for conversion. How this conversion occurs, what methods are used (assuming it does not entail coercion; subterfuge and inducements are acceptable) or the consequences to the culture and society are all of little consequence.
It is only when we understand that the creators, definers and propagators of the 'rabid Hindu fanatic' image worldwide - the secular intelligentsia and media - is but the other face of the same coin, will we understand the true dimension of the battle being waged.
The axis of Good vs. Evil in popular media
The influence of good (us) and evil (them) tendency is seen even in the media. Think of the plot of every James Bond film, every Star Wars film, every Indiana Jones film, etc. The bad guys are caricatures: they're ruthless, maniacal, without remorse, so they must be stopped by any means necessary. We are meant to feel that it is okay - to tell the truth, it's pleasurable - to see violence inflicted upon them. Because the villains like to hurt people, it's okay to hurt them. Because they like to kill people, it is okay to kill them. After all, they are evil and evil must be destroyed.
What is this kind of story really teaching us? That if you want to hurt someone, it is important to demonize them first: in other words, to fit them into your good-vs.-evil script. That is why the first casualty of all wars is truth: the media must "sell" this script to the people.
Western Human Rights and Dharmic Righteousness
In the Western Human Rights — at first sight, the term may sound noble in its intent, but in reality, it also falls on the same "Good vs. Evil" prism in its propagation. The Human rights dictum always falls into the notion of defending or reclaiming ones rights from the perceived evil other (which is sometimes dragged into the level of "evil"). It is not dealt with the dharmic notion that sees the entire issue from the perspective of Truth, Justice, Duty, Sacrifice and Coexistence. Western notions of individual rights have entered Indian society, initially through British law and education.
Most of the contemporary debates falls into these lines on thinking as seen from the following example:
- West vs. the World
- America vs. the West
- white vs. colored
- male vs. female
- atheist vs. agnostic
- believers vs. non-believers
- religion vs. science
- polytheism vs. monotheism
- Renaissance vs. Dark Age
- socially progressive vs. socially conservative
- economically conservative vs. economically progressive
- majority vs. minority
- classic vs. modern
- liberals vs. objectivists
The social-political or nation-state perspectives are also constructed in the same framework as in:
- Capitalist economy vs. Communist economy
- Marxism vs. Religion
- Democracy vs. Communism
- Secularism vs. Theocratic
- Religious Minority vs. Majority
- Socialist vs. Republic
- Pluralism vs. Exclusivity
- Fundamentalist vs. Liberals
These Western constructs have also inflicted into the Indian intelligentsia that is dominated by the same line of debates. Here is some example of common constructs that exists in the Indian politics:
- Secularism vs Hindutva
- Minority vs. Majority
- Secular vs. Communal
- Communist vs. Capitalist
- Secular or Communal
- Fundamentalist vs. Liberals
- Dravidian vs. Aryan
- Brahmanism vs. Non-Brahmin
It is seen that the propagator of these constructs mostly derive these constructs from the external intelligencia such as Indologist, Marxist, Christian and Muslims that derive their inspiration from Western counterparts that defines the contemporary debate. It is unfortunate that most of these debates do not follow the line of Dharma.
The Dharmic notion is based on the following perspectives:
- Uphold the idea of following one's own nature (svadharma)
- Each group respects the rights and dignity of the others.
- All humans are equal as God's creation but are not the same.
- One should follow one's own nature to realize perennial truth.
- Uphold righteousness on the basis of all human beings having the same essence.
Gandhi's emphasis on tradition and duty are clear. When asked what he thought of the proposed Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he replied:
I learnt from my illiterate but wise mother that all rights to be deserved and preserved came from duty well done. Thus, the very right to live accrues to us only when we do the duty of citizenship of the world. From this one fundamental statement, perhaps it is easy enough to define the duties of Man and of Woman and correlate every right to some corresponding duty to be first performed
If we all discharge our duties, rights will not be far to seek. If leaving duties unperformed, we run after rights, they will escape us like a will o' the wisp…. The same teaching has been embodied by Krishna in the immortal words: "Action alone is thine. Leave thou the fruit severely alone." Action is duty, fruit is the right.
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