By Shree Vinekar
This article was inspired by the dialogue between two great minds of the 20th century. Albert Einstein approached Sigmund Freud to provide a psychoanalytic model for understanding the dynamics of war and peace. These deep thinkers struggled to find solutions to man’s preoccupation with wars and man’s engagement in repeated wars throughout the history of mankind. Today we can certainly say that the technology of war fuels the economy and is supported by billions of dollars. In contrast, the technology of peace is in its primitive state. The principles to be recognized as essential for attaining and maintaining world peace are yet to be discovered by the global thinkers, political scientists, economists, and sociologists of the modern world. The actual technology of peace is yet to be conceptualized. It is the thesis of this article that some of the same principles Einstein and Freud came upon as possibly providing the solutions for this problem of War and Peace are to be found in the Ancient Indian Concepts. These concepts include “Dharmasahishnuta” and “Sanskritization.” The article begins with the basic concepts illustrated by the Vedantic Mahavakyas and builds the thesis that these concepts are generic and globally acceptable as well as applicable. The major religions of today, except perhaps Buddhism, do not seem to be equipped to face the challenge for attaining world peace except to convert the entire global population to espouse their own faith. The practice of aggressive proselytization of some major religions present a potential threat to world peace. This article was presented at the interfaith conference convened by the Baha’i group on the Oklahoma State University campus. An attempt is made to identify some common principles that would lead to a confluence of Baha’i and Ancient Hindu schools of thought.
Brothers and Sisters:
Namaste: It means, “I bow to you.” This gesture means “you and I are very much alike and can be ‘one.’ We can find unity and accord.” “Essentially the divine in you and me are alike.” Thank you for inviting me to attend this meeting as a representative of Hinduism. Pardon me, at the very outset, for clarifying to you that Hinduism is not a “religion,” and also, for refraining as much as possible from using the term “Hinduism” in my brief presentation. Instead, the terms “Dharma,” “Vedanta Philosophy,” or “Sanatana Dharma,”“Perennial Philosophy” (as termed by Aldous Huxley), will be used which I will define shortly for you. The essence of all of these may be conceptualized as “Hinduness.” You will soon understand fully the implication of this position. This position is in true and complete accord with your chosen theme of the day and the noble ideal set before you by Abdu’l-Baha; to quote him, “men should live in Unity, concord, and agreement, and should love one another.”
Vedanta Philosophy, from which all so called “Hindu” schools of thought and religious practices originate, dates back to approximately 8000 BC. The Rishis or Seers who developed this philosophy lived 10 thousand years ago. Some scholars believe that these insights were passed on in an oral fashion to them for 25 to 50 thousand years. This philosophy is the contemplative search of the “truths” undertaken by the sages, seers, or “Rishis,” as they were called. These seers of the ancient time lived on the banks of the river Saraswati. This region is described by historians as the cradle of civilization.
Although there is archeological and geological evidence for its existence, this river no longer exists. We may leave aside any references to the scholarly, linguistic, archeological and astronomical research leading to these inferences or incredible sounding claims regarding the chronology. Suffice it to say, however, that these researchers’ findings do have some merit and need serious attention of other scholars. There is no doubt, that there is a consensus about the antiquity of this philosophy, (dating approximately 3000 B.C.) and therefore, this philosophy can be described in common man’s language as the “Mother of All Religions.” This famous adjective phrase was used by Swami Vivekananda, the young Monk representing this philosophy at the World Congress of Religions held in Chicago in 1893.
This philosophy only announces the revealed “truths” and does not propound to preach “shoulds” and “should-nots.” There are no doctrines and dogmas. Therefore, this revered literature can be hardly viewed as a “religion.” The etymology of the word “religion” has its root meaning attached to a classical word referring to “binding” or “ligare” or “laws.” There is no one prophet and no one founder of this Vedantic philosophy. As this philosophy only gives guidelines and does not prescribe rules of conduct to which it attempts to bind anyone, it cannot be viewed as a “religion” in the strictest sense of the word.
The word “Dharma” usually is mistranslated as “religion.” It literally only means “unique holding principles” or “organizing principles.” The “Dharma” or the supreme and eternally abiding ethical and “holding principles” or “organizing principles” for individuals and the society springs from the Vedantic Philosophy. It contemplates on the harmonious and interrelated nature of the Universe. The Vedas begin with the recognition of the forces of nature and a deep respect for them. They inspire awe about the vastness of the cosmos and describe a detailed cosmology and cosmogony. The modern astrophysicists and mathematicians like Carl Sagan have drawn inspiration from the knowledge revealed in this ancient literature. That final or the ultimate “truth” revealed in this unwritten literature is the “all-pervading” “Cosmic Consciousness.” That may be synonymous with the “Supreme Being.” It is viewed as the ultimate cause of everything that is manifest. It is not a matter of belief but an experience within the potential reach of the human mind.
I will read to you some well-known “great sentences” in Sanskrit known a “Mahavakyas” or “great pronouncements” of the Vedas or Vedanta, and immediately give you their approximate English translations. We shall call these “great aphorisms.” Vedanta means the conclusions of the Vedas. If you carefully contemplate on these you will intuitively realize how close these thoughts are to the noble ideal of your Baha’i spiritual assembly that attempts to integrate all that is good in many of the contemporary religions.
Number one Mahavakya (aphorism) “Sarvam Khalu Idam Brahman,” in Sanskrit, it means, “Everything here is verily Brahman.” Shortly, I will attempt to clarify the concept of Brahman. The realization of this truth simply translated means “Everything here is One.”
This truth leads to the next “truth,” (Number two Mahavakya or aphorism) in Sanskrit, “Tat twam asi,” meaning, “You are IT,” or “IT is you.” Another version of it in Sanskrit, (Number three Mahavakya or aphorism) “So Aham,” means, “IT is I,” or, “He is I.” The Upanishads or the conclusive discourses on Vedas known as Vedanta elaborate on these principles stating the ultimate reality is nothing but consciousness or Jnana (usually mistranslated as “knowledge” for a lack of a more apt word in English).
If we want to use the word “divine” like Prophet Abdu’l-Baha does, it follows then, that at the core, the experiencers of this world, “You and I are both Divine.” This philosophy uses the word “IT” to indicate that the Supreme Being does not have a gender and therefore in human language IT assumes a neuter gender (“Tat Brahman”). (This term “IT” is also reflected in the Jewish or Hebrew tradition.) It may also be mentioned that many of the original composers of Vedic “aryas” were erudite seer women. “IT” does not have a form, shape, or any worldly qualities seen in the four dimensional nature. The “experiencer” or the “subject” in all human beings is “IT” and “IT” is divine. “IT” is all-pervasive. “IT” exists spontaneously, meaning in Sanskrit, “swayambhu,” and manifests itself as Nature.
The word for Nature in Sanskrit is “Prakriti” (Physical entities and dimensions, space, matter, time and energy), and the word for the experiencer or the subject in Sanskrit is “Purusha.”
(Often mistranslated as “Man” or “Male”) The spontaneously existing Brahman or “IT” simultaneously exists as subject and object. In other words, “IT” exists as Purusha and Prakriti. Therefore, “IT” is both Consciousness and Nature. The Nature originates from all-pervading Consciousness. This is kind of like a physicist saying that the elementary particles described in quantum physics or particle physics simultaneously manifest in wave-form as well as particular mass. These minute particles seem to emerge from nothing in the vacuum. Such contradictions are not shocking to those most educated and informed about Relativity and Astrophysics, or Quantum Physics. “IT” is capable of being inactive and active simultaneously. “IT” is constantly creating, and recreating, self-organizing, bringing order in and from chaos, and maintaining order and harmony, and dissolving the Universe, leading to its dissolution only for it to be re-organized again. “IT” with its infinite intelligence is constantly creating and recreating this universe in endless cycles of perceived linear time. Even time is relative and “IT” is beyond the dimension of time, not bound by the concept of the “past, present, and future,” and therefore “beginning-less and endless.” In short, that is Brahman.
The Jewish religion seems to have once used this concept of “IT” in its scriptures. Human mind has limitations in comprehending what “IT” truly is, and therefore has a tendency to use anthropomorphism for concepts like this and assign form, gender, and qualities, to this entity. “IT” cannot be comprehended fully by anyone. So the wise among the humans may have used a more comprehensible language to convey the higher truths to the common man by assigning gender and even a human relationship like “Father,” “Pita” or “Master,” “Prabhu” “Lord” to this Entity. Human being is one of “IT’s” most refined organized creations with a rich repertoire of emotions and feelings. The highest evolved emotions are those of empathy and compassion. These too are manifestations of the same Brahman which when perceived in its active (saguna) form is experienced as infinitely empathic and compassionate toward all living beings. “IT” is therefore described as the ocean of compassion, in Sanskrit, “Karunasagar.” Human beings, the children of the Brahman, if you may conceive them to be, therefore, in their design or cosmic blueprint have the potential to become aware of this indescribable compassionate nature of the Brahman, which I attempted to describe to you as “IT.” Some may call “IT” “God” and some may name “IT” “Allah.” The name for this very abstract concept to be perceived and experienced through deepest meditation, honest faith, and profound love or “agape” may vary in different languages and different cultures. Although “IT” can be given thousand different names “IT” cannot be described in words.
Human beings have the capacity to identify themselves with “IT.” In human being, which is the highest accomplishment of Nature, the Nature itself, if you may, becomes aware of itself. Human being has a potential to become conscious of its true nature, meaning the Universal Consciousness. This Universal Consciousness is the origin of everything that exists, including his/her “consciousness that maintains a continuity of experience” as the “experiencer” or “Purusha.” It is as if the drop of water sprinkled away from the wave on the ocean realizes that it is also the ocean and is made of the same substance.
The misinformed, that take this concept literally and very wrongly, equate it in concrete terms with pronouncements like, “I am Jesus” or “I am God.” They mistakenly think it is like a delusion of a Paranoid Schizophrenic or a Manic who pronounces “I am Napoleon.” This is a mischievous and obviously a laughable misrepresentation of the Vedic truth. The Vedic philosophy on the contrary recognizes the profound truth that all human beings are divine and therefore equal. All human beings are capable of becoming compassionate like the “Infinite Compassion” inherent in the Brahman. Naturally, therefore, this philosophy sees “Ahinsa” or “Non-violence” as the essential attitude for the human being to remain in harmony with the Universe. This philosophy gave to our world the greatest proponents of Ahinsa or Non-violence like Gautama the Buddha in the sixth century before Christ and many other “Teerthankaras” or the gurus of the Jains before that. In the last century, it also gave us Mahatma Gandhi, and probably by extension, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
A culture founded on this philosophy also flourished later, since 3000 BC, on the Banks of the river “Sindhu,” whom the foreign invaders of India called “Hindu” by distorting the word Sindhu. This occurred when the new invaders discovered an advanced civilization in the 16th century AD on the Indian subcontinent. In their typical “Britishism,” the British later named this culture and its belief systems “Hinduism.” In the political parlance of the last three centuries, which recognized many “isms” such as “communism,” “capitalism,” etc., could it be that it was probably a well-suited word for the British vocal apparatus? As you can easily realize by now, it is a misnomer used by the uninformed and may be quite akin to describing an American manifesting the true American national character as practicing “Yankeeism.” We are historically stuck with the terms “Hindu” and “Hinduism.” It is not unlike the Native American who is stuck with the erroneous appellation, “Indian.” Such names are unnecessarily confusing but we cannot change the imprint and the course of the history. We need to be thankful that the Native Americans’ deep faith, and love for nature were not lumped together and termed “Indianism” by the British scholars making these beliefs a newfound native “religion” of the New World.
After this brief digression into the history of how the people of India received the name “Hindu,” in the Western languages, which borrowed it from the Arabic, let me bring your attention to the handouts passed on to you by me. One of them documents the correspondence or the dialogue between two great minds of the last century, namely Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. (see the URL at the beginning of this article) The Vedic sages had not experienced World Wars but nevertheless felt a deep need for Universal Peace just like Einstein and Freud felt this need. These high-minded personalities were perhaps not unlike the ancient Indian sages. Having experienced wars and destruction in their era, they too had the same sentiments and desires for the world peace as are expressed in the writings of Abdu’l Baha. The Vedantic philosophers ended all of their contemplations with the words “Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantih” meaning “Universal Peace, Peace, Peace.” The contemplation attempted to attain peace inside and outside us.
Their philosophy inculcated an attitude of “Dharmasahishnuta,” a Sanskrit word meaning “respect and tolerance for other religions.” This is a very ancient, perpetually upheld, value of the Hindus. Unfortunately, it is forgotten that Christianity and Judaism came to India in the very first century AD and was tolerated by the Hindus and permitted to thrive in India for 21 centuries. In that sense, India is one of the oldest countries exposed to “original” Christianity directly delivered to India by one of Jesus Christ’s apostles, Saint Thomas. He came to the West Coast of India in 52 AD and took refuge in Madras. The Jewish people also arrived in India in the first century AD. This was many centuries before the British learned anything about Christianity from English translations of Spanish Bibles.
The English speaking British brought another term ending in “ism” to India besides Hinduism. It deluded people of the World into believing that it was a brand new concept for the Hindus who had already lived in peace with the Jains, Buddhists, Christians, Jewish, Zoroshtritians and even with Moslems for many centuries without any evidence of religion based wars. That word ending in “ism”, if you wonder what it is, is “secularism.”
Some intolerant proselytizing practitioners of religions foreign to ancient India like Islam and Christianity, (and incidentally, there were too many of them who were welcomed and tolerated in India for many, or nearly two centuries,) had their own political ambitions. They wanted separate nations with separate religious identities on the Indian subcontinent. They wanted a Moslem nation and got it, and a Christendom, a separate Christian nation, which fortunately did not materialize. Let us not delude ourselves though into believing that these ambitions are no longer strong driving forces behind proselytization.
Those who stayed behind in independent India practicing other religions besides Hinduism truly needed to understand the meaning of that word “secularism” used in the Constitution of independent Republic of India. The constitution only clearly spelled out what Hindus in India had already practiced for millennia. It was the freedom of religion, freedom of worship, and the attitude of tolerance for others’ religions encompassed in the word “Dharmasahishnuta.” The intent of the constitution was to let all religions coexist in peace and harmony with respect for one another and not to permit freedom or to license to freely and wantonly convert masses of Indians to religions other than their own. Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were both Hindus and they upheld this ancient Hindu value of “Dharmasahishnuta.”
Both of them were expressly opposed to proselytization, though they did not make an issue of this as they were preoccupied with other urgent matters. No religion, once accepted in India and though of foreign origin was considered “foreign” in India for three thousand years. That is exactly what “secularism” means in the Indian constitution and it does not have the connotation given to this word by the communists as a non-religious philosophy of the state. Secularism in India does not mean freedom to convert Indian Hindus, Buddhists, or Jains to other religions. The right to convert is not a birth-right granted to non-Hindus by the Indian constitution as is openly misconstrued by the self-serving proselytizing religions who have been rampantly converting people in India and even in China for recent centuries as if the entire population in Asia and Africa is parked there for them to convert to their faith by the design if their “God” and it is therefore their “holy” “mission.” Hindus did not object to any mature adult choosing his own path not unlike the Baha’is who consider age 18 to be an index of maturity to voluntarily adopt the Baha’i faith. The conversion or change of mind is to take place voluntarily without coercion, deceit, allurements, or trickery.
Now we have all religions represented in India including those who espouse Baha’i Faith. Historically, there were no wars, like the war between the crescent and the cross, on the Indian subcontinent. There were no large-scale wars between the Buddhists and Hindus. The Vedantic philosophy permitted each human being to find his own truth at his own pace. It recognized that the same or similar truth might be voiced by different knowledgeable sages or wise prophets in many different ways. This very idea is illustrated in another ancient Vedantic “mahavakya” or “number four aphorism” in this philosophy, in Sanskrit, “Ekam Sat Viprah Bahudha Vadanti,” literally meaning “One (spiritual) Truth the Wise express in many ways.”
Such profound principles make the original People of India, the Hindus, non-proselytizers by their very nature and they abhor, and will always abhor, conversions on their land. The unique virtue of this Vedantic philosophy is that it values total freedom for the human mind and human intellect. There is no concept or word like “blasphemy” in Hindu or Vedantic philosophy. One religion, regardless of what authority it relies on, presenting itself as superior to the other, or as the “only way” is, according to this philosophy, an insult to the intelligence and reasoning ability of the human beings.
No one religion has a monopoly on “God’s word.” No one religion needs to have a political empire on this earth and, in addition, no one religion may solely claim the heaven as its fully owned territory reserved only for its believers, if heaven even exists. Such “imperialistic” religious beliefs modeled after the ambitions of the builders of the Roman or Mogul empires and their practices do not belong in the 21st century global affairs and even possibly in the real estate management of the “heaven” or in the practices of the travel agents issuing travel tickets to the paradise. Such beliefs will not lead to the concord and agreement that Abdu’l Baha envisioned. The world will need to necessarily agree that proselytization is an evil practice similar to slavery, colonization, imperialism, child labor, etc., the practices of the prior centuries. The human rights movement of the 21st century will need to acknowledge that each individual has a right to his physical, mental, and spiritual privacy and his psychological space as well as the sanctity of his social relationships that is not to be violated by the proselytizing religious groups. The “business” of conversions is not entirely motivated by compassion but is self-serving and is rooted in a pathological grandiosity or narcissism of certain groups that have ulterior political motives unlike the imperialistic motives of the empire builders of the past and the practices of colonization of the past, “pre-20th” century period of the history.
The efforts at “harvesting of souls,” owning, and maintaining millions of souls in one religious fold by promising and brainwashing gullible men and women of rewards in the so called after-life spring from irrational grandiosity. These smack of vestiges of the abolished evil socio-political practices of slavery, imperialism, and colonialism. All of these are, in the end, disguised manifestations of different kinds of human greed sometimes euphemistically sugarcoated as human compassion, piety, or philanthropy. Such practices are considered “Adharma” meaning “Not Dharma” or in disharmony with the holding principle (Dharma) of the Universe.
These anachronistic ideas and undesirable practices inevitably lead also to the mutual fear of proselytizing religions and lead to their paranoia about such empire-building tendencies of each other. Such disguised paranoia could very well lead to another World War just like the paranoid grandiose racial superiority assumed by Hitler's Germany resulted in the Second World War. Interfaith conferences interested in world peace need to pronounce proselytization and conversions as undesirable evil practices in this century. This will be a noble goal similar to worldwide disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. It is not enough to apologize for the inquisitions and persecutions undertaken by the aggressive organized religions in the past. Even at present, they need to sincerely put an end to such offensive practices as well as proselytization and conversions. This is increasingly essential in the modern world to maintain harmony with the other religious groups. Nay, it is of utmost importance.
The Vedantic Philosophy is also described as “Advaita Philosophy,” meaning philosophy of “non-duality or Unity”. Whether Abdu’l-Baha used the word in that sense or not, he was in spirit very close to what the Hindus believe. “We Are all One;” in Sanskrit, “Ishavasyam idam sarvam.” “Let all attain happiness, let all attain peace, let all experience goodness, let no one suffer pain;” in Sanskrit, “Sarve sukhinah santu, sarve santu niramayah, sarve bhadrani pashyantu, na kashchit duhkham apnuyat.” “Let us live as if the entire family of earthlings is just one family;” in Sanskrit “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.”
If there were any significant unifying thoughts giving a spiritual dignity to human beings just simply as plain human beings, without insisting on imposing any religion on the human being, it was the Vedic Philosophy that gave such dignity to the humans. The Vedantic Sanskrit sentences I just read and translated may be ancient and 8000 years old but the principles, I believe, are similar to what Abdu’l Baha and the Interfaith Council and panel here would want to visualize. These thoughts provide the undercurrent of a deep understanding that would lead to world peace and harmony at least among different religious groups if not among different political and economic systems.
The practice of proselytization has no place in the 21st century no matter how much virtue is attached to it in any religion. Such practices are counter to the principle of deep respect for another human being and his/her reasoning ability as well as his/her religious beliefs. The bonds of unity and accord Abdu’l Baha envisages will need be based on a “supra-religion” ethic like the ancient Hindu principle of “Dharmasahishnuta,” meaning “tolerance and respect for other’s religions.” This principle if accepted could help form an organization similar to the UN for all religions to come together for the common good of humanity. The Hindus in India have provided such platform for Unity of various religio-spiritual pursuits throughout the ages. They have assimilated various synthesizing religions, for example, Sikkhism, Deen-E-Hilai, Baha’i, etc. The bonds of love between people of all religions so dear to Abdu’l Baha cannot be established by converting the entire world to one religion. Synthesizing, assimilating, and broadmindedly tolerating diversity of schools of thoughts and religions must be viewed as an effort of the mature and cultured minds. That is the virtue of “Dharmasahishnuta.” The Bahai’s and the Hindus, therefore, could lead the way in forming the “United Religio-spiritual Organization” (URO) to pave the way for World Peace and Harmony.
However, one religion that truly offers a congenial home to all religions without insisting on conversions is indeed a welcome advance over the religious cultures of previous eighteen centuries in the Middle East and Europe. These regions of the world had repeatedly suffered because of the conflicts among the various religious groups. The persecuted like Saint Thomas and the Zorashtrians had to flee to India for a safe haven in the old days. Those persecuted in Europe fled to the New World or to Utah in the last few centuries. Mankind unfortunately does not learn from the lessons of the history.
In fact, if I understand correctly, that is where the Baha’i Faith is demonstrating its great magnanimity. A magnificent Baha’i temple is built in New Delhi in India. Learning from the history, it is offering a common umbrella to all the religions of the world to unite across the national boundaries. The religions need refuse to be the “powers” as well as the tools of the “powers.” All religions must refrain from becoming enmeshed in the power-plays of nation states and refuse to be used as their tools. All religions must separate themselves from the nation-states and refrain from imperialistic ambitions.
Mahatma Gandhi demonstrated clearly that “Hinsa” or Violence could be perpetrated through physical force or the force of unjust laws affecting different jurisdictions including the international domains. As Freud said in his closing comments, it is the culture and education of the human beings that will offer, in the end, the antidote for the wars. One may prefer to view this “culture and education” which strongly upholds “Peace” “shanti” and “Ahinsa” as “Dharma.” If there is Dharma within the religions, peace will follow. If there are only “religions” without Dharma (religions following adharma), there will be chaos, disorder, and even wars.
What is “Dharma? It is not a religion but a “supra-religious” spiritual concept. That incidentally is a topic for another day. The get-together of ethical, cultured, and well-educated people in this Assembly reflects presence of Dharma, a deep sense for the supra-religious ethic, the potential for self-transcendence, in this very hall. Dharma helps one to experience a deep, empathic identification with other human beings. It teaches love (agape) and builds ties among all members of the human race. Credit goes to the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Stillwater, Oklahoma. Millions and millions of such meetings need to be held all over the world. They would ultimately lead to that missing concord and agreement among the various conflicting religious groups. Regardless of religious affiliation, it is the cultural development and evolution of the mankind and “Sanskritization” of each individual through proper sanskaras for global thinking that will counter man’s propensities for war and destruction. The word “Sanskritization” means a process of making an individual and society “civilized” or “Su-sanskrit.”
I want to thank you for allowing me to participate on this panel and allowing me to express my views. These views are based upon the Hindu “View of Life” representing the majority of Hindus and Hinduism. I appreciate the opportunity to freely express these views in the true spirit of the Constitution of the United States and its first amendment, which shows a great “Dharmasahishnuta”, freedom of thought and speech. These principles espoused by the U.S. Constitution are indeed not very much different than those manifested by the Hindus for many millennia. There could be no higher achievement for any religion than to contribute its best for achieving and maintaining world peace and harmony.
Namaste. “Om Shanti, shanti, shantih.” Meaning in English, “Universal Peace, Peace, Peace.”
Acknowledgment: The author acknowledges the kind editorial assistance provided by the Vedic scholar, Dr. Pramod Pathak, Ph.D., of Houston, Texas.
Hinduness for World Peace and Harmony, by Shree Vinekar