OTHERS

Prayer to the gods

In today's world, hatred and dissatisfaction are being spread in the name of religion. S. KRISHNASWAMY, interviewing a number of religious leaders, speaks on the increasing need for non-violence and universal harmony.

A GRAND-OLD man has been in penance - for God knows how long - when suddenly, in a moment of glory, enlightenment dawns on him. He realises the ultimate - communion, realising God, or whatever you wish to call it. An imp watching this is perturbed. He travels across many galaxies and arrives at the nether-world. After hoodwinking the palace guards, he manages to get to the presence of the master - the devil. He breathlessly tries to explain the dangerous consequences of what he has witnessed. The devil, however, seems unconcerned, playing a game of chess with a courtesan. Eventually, when the imp gets hysterical, the devil turns to him and lends him his ear.

The imp exclaims, "O great master! Our days are numbered, our kingdom is as good as gone. A bearded old man in a tiny planet in a distant galaxy, which they call "earth", has found the truth and has seen God! How do we face this catastrophe, my master ?"

The devil smiles at the imp and tells him to calm down. "You little fellow. You are inexperienced. We have seen the situation many times. Now that he has found God, he will set up an organisation - perhaps a religion - to propagate the truth. As usual we will infiltrate it and take control."

My documentary, "Sanskriti", starts with the above tale and I go on to explore a solution to the problem of the devil's infiltration into religion, by interviewing many religious leaders including the Dalai Lama, Sri Jayendra Saraswathi, Kanchi Acharya, Mother Teresa, Sri. Ranganathananda of Ramakrishna Mission, Cardinal Simon Pimenta, Archbishop of Mumbai, Acharya Tulsi, H.H.Dasturji, Chief Priest of the Parsis and the Chief Kazi of Tamil Nadu.

While true religious leaders propagate God's message, the fundamentalists cutting across all religious barriers, work for the kingdom of the devil. They share a common ideology of hatred, resulting in violence of body, mind and spirit. It is when the negative forces seem to be strong, that religious leaders have to function best with their abundant love encompassing the whole world and beyond, ensuring that they defeate devilish designs of dividing mankind.

Perhaps this is what Dr.Radhakrishnan meant when he wrote, half-a-century ago, "Hinduism today is good only in parts. It is at once saintly and savage, beautifully wise and dangerously silly, generous beyond measure and mean beyond all example". This is equally applicable to all major religions of the world.

In the late 19th century, Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Olcott tried to bring together the wise, the saintly and the generous of all religions, into a united front of universal brotherhood, under the Theosophical Society. Similar attempts have been made by like-minded groups such as the Brahma Kumaris. Narayana Guru personified the philosophy of equality of religious paths in the eyes of God. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa pursued and found the godhead by personally treading the paths of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, at different times, and attained a profound spiritual experience through each.

The Kanchi Acharya once described Paramahamsa Yogananda as "a bright light shining in the midst of darkness... Such a great soul comes to earth rarely, when there is a real need among men". In his teachings, Yogananda equates "Kauthastha Chaitanya" with "Christ consciousness". Talking of Sarva Dharma Maitri, Sri Ranganathananda says, "When we find a follower of another religion, let us greet him to say 'You come your way and I will come my way to meet you at the Lord's feet'. Where is the conflict ?"

Today, Sri Satya Sai Baba is another living example of the great "Inclusive" traditions of Hinduism, with followers drawn from every religion.

I am not that brand of secularist to whom attacking the Hindu faith or the Hindu custom is a matter of fashion. I am a practicing Hindu with faith in our vedic heritage, and a follower of Hindu traditions. One part of the tradition of which I am immensely proud is the fact that I love my Christian and Muslim brethren, and I respect their way of life, their religious beliefs and their paths to realise God.

I prostrate before sanyasis because I believe that they have taken the toughest path of renunciation in their pursuit of Truth. But I also belong to the Upanishadic tradition of engaging in an academic dialogue, neither accepting custom to over-rule curiosity, nor authority to over-rule analysis. However, I ask my questions and raise doubts, with reverence to our spiritual gurus. Why are some so obsessed with the practice of "conversions" by other religions? Religious belief is a part of Human Rights. I believe in the religion in which I am born, after consciously studying alternatives and finding out that I am very happy where I am. But how can one deny the privilege to someone who believes that a different religious path is more suitable?

Indeed some simple statements make profound sense and impact. His Holiness the Dalai Lama told me in an interview, "The Religions of the world are served like food in a Buffet, and there is much variety. Which cuisine each individual likes is for that person to decide. There should be really no conflict". Indeed nobody should compel others about which spiritual food they should consume. It applies equally to compulsive conversion or compulsion to retain the faith in which one is born. Marketing and advertising strategies become abhorrent when applied to religion and spirituality - whether such propaganda is for or against conversion.

Are not others converted to Hinduism from other religions? A Kerala High Court judgment clarified that anyone who declares his faith in Hinduism is a "Hindu" and thereby over-ruled objections that had been raised against a Christian singer performing at the Guruvayoor temple.

If conversions had been frozen earlier - as some activists including some revered Sanyasis demand today - we would have denied a Sister Nivedita her right to follow Swami Vivekananda, and a Mother Mira from taking the mantle of spiritual leadership from Sri Aurobindo. The Self Realisation Society founded by Sri Yogananda is currently headed by Daya Mata - originally born Christian. The ISKCON movement has a few million followers of Lord Krishna around the world - they were not born Hindus. By the Kerala High Court's definition, they are all Hindus, although no ritual proselitisation may have taken place. More so because, no compulsions were involved in these conversions.

Every religion has atleast three levels in which it functions: (a) the emotional/mental/mythological

(b) the intellectual/ philosophical/ metaphysical and (c) the spiritual/ esoteric/ mystic. There are wide differences between various religions in the emotional and philosophical levels. As we go higher to the spiritual level, you find a convergence, which is why the vedic Rishis say "Ekam Sat! Vipra Bahuda Vadanti!" (Truth is one. Wise men call it by different names.)

Religious bigots quarrel over petty mythological details. If the devil infiltrated Islam to destroy the temples of the Hindu faith a few centuries ago, his forces have descended today in the form of Hindu chauvinists to destroy mosques.

This vitiated atmosphere is used by those from across the border to create a rift between Hindus and Christians in India who have always lived in peace together. In this war of nerves, exaggerations, false accusations and motivated news-reports are the order of the day.

It has been reported time and again in recent months that motivated ISI agents are attacking Christian institutions in India and their nuns and priests. This is a mood in which every right-thinking, civilised, citizen across the religious divide, should speak as one, and stand by the mentally wounded Christians and their clergy. No true Hindu with our all-inclusive tradition can add fuel to the fire of Christian anguish in this hour of trial.

Is this the time to challenge their beliefs, and question their policies? Have we as Hindus become so shamefully insensitive to other peoples' suffering that we start anti-Christian slogans when we acknowledge that they are being attacked by subversive forces with active assistance from across the borders? Can we afford to play into the hands of these ISI-backed terrorists and contribute to religious disharmony?

Once again, I appeal to our religious leaders to spread words of love and not that of hatred. Can we not remember that at the height of the world war, Mahatma Gandhi said, "I do not want Indian freedom out of Britain's ruin."

Unfortunately, not everyone in The Church represents the supreme sacrifice and ideals of Jesus Christ. Having installed "the dollar" in the sanctum sanctorum for worship, affluent western societies have relegated their church to the backyard of irrelevant history. This has very little to do with the message of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Yes, the Church is involved in propagating the Christian faith, and in "harvesting" more humans to its faith. So what? Are we a mature religion with a few millennia of glorious tradition, so insecure today that we should protect ourselves by demanding a legal ban on conversions?

Unlike the western attitude to completely isolate "Philosophy" as an academic discipline from "Religion", the two overlap significantly, in the east, creating a merger of intuition with the pursuit of knowledge. In the discipline of metaphysics, there is a stunning similarity between the conception of reality by the Hindu seers and the modern nuclear physicists. But religion need not (and cannot) be reduced to a study of scientific data.

It is not merely unfair but demeaning on the part of religions to hit at the mythology and beliefs of the others. No religious society has a great track record of maintaining human rights and respecting the dignity of the individual over the years. Despite the profoundly humane philosophical nuances of theology, Hindu society practiced and inflicted cruelties of Sati and untouchability. Christian compassion was nowhere in the black days of witch-hunt and the persecution of the Jews. The Quran says, "If you go to a place where there is no mosque, and if there is a worshipping place of another religion there, and if you are allowed to worship there, do so." By no means is the concept of "Jehad" and the "act of destroying an infidel's temple" in consonance with this Edict of Allah.

In practice, today, as a wise man said, "There is enough religion to spread hatred. There isn't enough religion to spread love."

In Chapter 7 (Slokas 21 & 22) of the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna says: "Whatever is the form in which you worship me, I am available to you in that form, help you concentrate in the worship of that form, and answer your prayers."

My prayer to the gods is : Save this world from militant elements which try to crucify other religions in the name of compassion. Save humanity from the violent mullahs who misquote you and issue fatwas of execution at the drop of a hat, against innocent individuals and groups. Save mankind from the zealots who belittle you as the owner of one "small piece of disputed land", forgetting that you are the lord of the universe.

The author is a writer, producer and director of television serials and documentary films, media analyst and film historian. He is also former president of the Adyar Lodge of the Theosophical Society, Chennai.

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