Sword of Kali
By Chittaranjan Naik
In December 2004, there appeared in some eGroups an article titled ‘Does Hinduism Teach That All Religions Are The Same? A Philosophical Critique of Radical Universalism’. Subsequently, the article also appeared in some print journals including this website. The author of the article, Dr. Frank Gaetano Morales, is ostensibly regarded as one of America’s leading authorities on Hindu philosophy and religion. In his article, Dr. Morales launches a scathing attack on the conception that all religions are the same, a message that Hinduism has been proclaiming to the world for the last 150 years, and claims that this idea – which he calls Radical Universalism – is not only alien to classical Hinduism but is also the primary factor that is responsible for the debilitating weakness that we now see amongst the followers of Hindu religion. According to Dr. Morales the idea that all religions are the same is an import into Hinduism from foreign sources and it has weakened the fibre of the religion to such an extent that it now stands in danger of losing its vital élan and inner propelling force.
The following words taken from the paper of Dr. Morales is representative of what he has to say on the matter:
When the Critique of Radical Universalism was first posted into various discussion forums, the author had expressed the hope that it would become the definitive statement on the issue. A visit to Dr. Morales’ website at www.dharmacentral.com/universalism.htm informs us that this historic critique has created an enormous impact on Hindu intellectuals and leaders globally and that it is now causing a thorough reassessment of the idea of Radical Universalism. I am of the view that a reassessment of the idea, if it is to be done, should be undertaken only after the arguments furnished by Dr. Morales in support of his thesis have been critically examined, especially as it seeks to dethrone from Hinduism a universalism that has so far been the rubric of its message to humanity. It is in order to provide just such a critical examination that this response is undertaken.
There is of course much in Dr. Morales’ paper that finds an immediate resonance in my heart, especially when he writes words such as these:
It is sadly true that the contemporary Hindu is alienated from his roots and is largely oblivious to the great philosophical doctrines and tenets of his religion. He has allowed himself, by his own neglect, to be severed from the living waters of the greatest truth ever bequeathed to humankind. This neglect has robbed him of his self-worth as a Hindu and has reduced him to a state of servility whereby when he speaks about his religion he must do so by seeking support from outside rather from the bounteous inner springs of his own inheritance. But, the cause of this chronic malady is not Radical Universalism as Dr. Morales claims; it is rather the Hindu’s abandonment of his moral duty, a neglect that has sapped his vitality to the extent that he is today reduced to the state of being an abject apologist.
There is certainly a crisis
facing the Hindu today. While the efforts of Dr. Morales to combat the
apathy of the modern Hindu is commendable, and while his message that we
must return to the purer form of Sanatana Dharma is well-founded, it
seems to me that in his overzealous attempt to cleanse Hinduism of the
perceived evil of Radical Universalism he is in danger of overstepping
the mark and denying to Hinduism its great universal vision and
overarching syncretism in which it subsumes the diversities of the
various religions of the world.
Radical Universalism and Hindu Universalism
What exactly is meant by the term ‘Radical Universalism’? If by Radical Universalism is meant that all religions are the same in the sense that all religions are identical in terms of their attributes, doctrines and practices, then clearly there is no such thing as Radical Universalism in Hinduism, not even in neo-Hinduism. No Hindu, including a neo-Hindu, unless he or she be an imbecile, actually means that Hinduism is the same as Christianity or that he or she is impervious to the perceived differences between these two religions such as the difference between the rituals of a Christian going to Church and of the Hindu going to a temple, or the Christian that believes the world to have been created ex-nihilo and the Vedantist that believes the world to be an illusion. That Dr. Morales is using the term Radical Universalism in the sense of denying all those differences that are seen to exist between religions is evident from the following statements of his:
Dr. Morales seems to believe that the statement ‘all religions are the same’ is identical to the statement ‘all religions are exactly the same’. But Hinduism does not say that all religions are exactly the same. Hinduism says that all religions speak of the same Reality though they may call this Reality by different names or conceive of It differently. Again, Hinduism does not say that all paths take you to the same ultimate goal. Hinduism says that the paths of all religions lead to the same goal even if they should not succeed in taking you right up to the summit.
There is in reality no such thing as Radical Universalism. The idea that ‘all religions are exactly the same’ is devoid of meaning like the sentence ‘he is the son of a barren woman’ because the multiplicity of religions indicated by the sentential-subject ‘all religions’ is negated by the predicate ‘are exactly the same’ to present a mere word-combination devoid of meaning. Dr. Morales violates the subject-predicate structure of language by interpreting the sentence ‘all religions are the same’ to mean that all religions are exactly the same. When it is said that ‘all religions are the same’, the predicative part of the sentence ‘are the same’ does not predicate identity as Dr. Morales thinks, but predicates a sameness that lies within the diversities of attributes found in the various religions. We shall show what this sameness is in the next section.
We shall henceforth use the term ‘Hindu Universalism’ to refer to the true universalism that exists in Hinduism as distinguished from Radical Universalism, or the absurd idea that all religions are exactly the same. Dr. Morales conflates the two and presents them as if they constitute one single idea. It is this conflation that has derailed the entire Critique of Radical Universalism and reduced it to the level of mere sophistry instead of being worthy of the title of Philosophical Critique that it bears. By treating the genuine universalism that exists in Hinduism as well as the misbegotten idea that all religions are exactly the same as one amorphous idea under the common banner of Radical Universalism, Dr. Morales denies not merely the idea that all religions are exactly the same, but also the veneer of sublime universalism that runs through the texture of Hinduism.
While it is true that there is in neo-Hinduism a distressing trend to reduce the great universal ideas of Hinduism into naïve, and often, inane platitudes, we must at the same time guard ourselves from overly reacting to it and discarding the sublime with the profane. If Dr. Morales had merely denied that traditional Hinduism subscribed to the idea that all religions are exactly the same, we would have had no cause to write this reply, but since he also attempts, on account of his indiscriminations, to dispossess Hinduism of some of its central tenets, and to go so far as to belittle great Hindu saints like Sri Ramakrishna, we shall be obliged to set our labours to correct the serious distortions caused by his paper. We shall do this by first exposing the fallacies in Dr. Morales’ reasoning, and then by showing that the origins of Hindu Universalism are found within its own scriptural revelations. Since Dr. Morales does not distinguish between Radical Universalism and Hindu Universalism, we shall be constrained to treat the arguments proffered by him against Radical Universalism as arguments aimed against Hindu Universalism and demonstrate that these arguments are fallacious. Furthermore, we shall show that Universalism is not the cause of the chronic malady that plagues Hinduism today, and that the true cause of the disease is the Hindu’s abrogation of the moral code that he or she is to live by.
On the Sameness and the Distinctiveness of Religions
Since the core issue at hand relates to the sameness and difference of religions, it becomes necessary for us to examine the thesis put forth by Dr. Morales in the light of the fundamental principles of logic (nyaya) by which things may be said to be same and different. The basic fallacy in the argument put forth by Dr. Morales is rooted in the premise that if two things, A and B, are the same then they are identical to each other as represented by the relation A = B. This kind of logic, which is called pure logic, abstracts the signs A and B from the natures of the things that they are applied to. In pure logic, the signs A and B are called variables and, in practice, they are applied to various objects of the world without consideration of the type of objects they are brought to bear upon. The fundamental problem with this method is that, in actuality, the signs A and B, and the relationships that prevail between them, are never independent of the natures of objects in the world, because the natures of the relationships that abide between objects are given in the very natures of objects themselves. Modern logic does not recognize that the word ‘logic’ comes from the Greek word ‘logos’ which means ‘word’, and that it is the intrinsic relationships between word-objects that must determine the operations of logic. When we apply modern logic to mathematics, the logical rules apply accurately because they are made to work within the limited framework of mathematics wherein the objects in question are confined to mathematical objects – or numbers - but when the variables are not numbers they must necessarily be applied in manners that are commensurate with the objects that they seek to bring into relation. Though analytical philosophy (or modern symbolic logic) attempted to do this, it fell short of its professed aim because it was derailed by the sense-reference theory (due to Frege) that created a spurious schism between mind and matter. For a purer and more pristine form of logic, we would need to go to the ancient science of logic as given in the organon of Vedic metaphysics and epistemology.
According to the Vedas, this world is nama-rupa, or name and form. Name is pada or word. Form is artha or object. Therefore nama-rupa, the nature of the world, is pada-artha, or word-objects. The study of padartha is nyaya shastra or logic. Nyaya is one of the subsidiary accessories with which one is to approach the study of the Vedas. Therefore Nyaya is called an upanga or subsidiary arm of the Vedas; the Vedic religion is a rational religion. Unlike modern logic, Nyaya does not admit of something called pure logic that may be abstracted from the things to which they are applied. All rules of logic are inherently united with the objects to which they apply because the rules of logic are the structural schemata of the objects themselves*. In other words, logic is the relational structure of the world. And because the world is nama-rupa or word-object, grammar, the relational structure of words or language, is mirrored in metaphysics, the relational structure of the world. There is thus no difference between the structural schema of the world and the structural schema of language because they are not two disparate things, but two aspects of one structure that are mirrored in each other. (Wittgenstein seems to have had a glimpse of this truth). Relationships such as sameness and distinctiveness must be applied in accordance with the rules of nyaya shastra, especially when the subject matter happens to be religion and metaphysics. This we shall now proceed to do.
As we have pointed out already, Dr. Morales starts with a wrong premise by assuming that the sense of same as attributed to things denies the difference that persists between them. Differences in attributes do not necessarily make the things that have those attributes different. An apple is the same as another apple in respect of being an apple despite the fact that one may be large and the other small, one red and the other a shade of green, or the one sweet and the other tasteless. Now there are many senses in which sameness is asserted of things and it behoves us to discern in what sense sameness is indicated of them amidst the varieties and differences that are naturally perceived of them in the world. The sentence ‘He is that same Devadatta’ asserts the sameness of the person Devadatta as subsuming the differences seen at different times and different places of the same person. When one goes back to a river that one had visited the previous day and says that ‘it is the same river’, one is asserting the sameness of the river notwithstanding that Heraclites thought you couldn’t step into the same river twice. Obviously Heraclites was using the term ‘same’ in a metaphorical sense to convey that the waters of the river are forever in a state of flux and that there is nothing of the river’s constituent that remains the same when you step into it again. But it is nevertheless the same river despite every single constituent having changed because otherwise Heraclites would scarce have been able to recognize any river at all. The sameness of a thing is not given to it by its diverse attributes, but by its universal. The river Ganga remains the same river Ganga because of the Ganganess that is persistent in the ever-changing flux of rushing waters that we see before us. An existing thing may remain same with itself, and yet it may be different to our perception at different places and at different times in accordance with the attributes that it manifests in differing loci of space and time. Again a thing may be different from another and yet the two may be the same in respect of their essential natures. What is it that is different in same things and same in different things? An examination regarding the sameness and difference of things must be done in the light of the natures of samanya and vishesha (universal and particular) and dravya and guna (substance and attribute). Otherwise one is prone to fall into all sorts of confusions.
Sameness is given by samanya, or universal. The fundamental and inviolable truth of a thing is that it is same with itself. This is its samanya (universal). A red thing is red not because of some other thing, but because of its redness. A thing is as it is by virtue of its own nature. Whenever there is a red thing in this world, it is the same redness by virtue of which it is red and because of which we are able to say that it is of the same color. For if the color red in one thing were to be different than the red color in another thing, the two things would not be of the same color, as the color of one being different than the color of the other there would be a difference of color perceived, and by difference sameness cannot arise. Neither can be it said, as contemporary philosophers are wont to say, that the red color in the two things are numerically different, because the difference seen pertains to the duality that is seen and not to the color that is perceived to be the same amidst the duality. Thus when sameness is seen of an attribute in two different things, it is not due to any other reason than that the samanya of the attribute is seen in both.
When we speak of sameness with regard to attributes, we do so in respect of the attributes that are same in different things, but when we speak of the sameness of existing things, we do so not with regard to the sameness of their attributes but with regard to the sameness of the things in which various attributes inhere. The first is the sameness of attribute in different substantial things and the second is the sameness of the substantial thing amidst the varieties of attributes in the instantiations of the substantial thing. While there is not much confusion regarding the sameness and difference of attributes, there is considerable scope for misapprehension with regard to the sameness and difference of substantive things because of the multitude of attributes that inheres in them. It is necessary therefore that the nature of substance and attribute be made more lucid.
We do not see merely attributes in the world, but see attributes as inhering in unities of existence. The unitary existence of the various attributes of a thing is substance (dravya). Attributes describe the way an existing thing (substance) is. Attributes have no existence except in the substance that they predicate, for substance is their existence. There is no existential difference between an attribute and the substance that it inheres in, and therefore there are no two different existentials in a substantial thing. As a result, no binding relation can be posited between substance and attributes. (The view that I am presenting here is strictly not that of Nyaya darshana, but that of Vedanta). Substance, in its capacity as substance, cannot be perceived in itself because what is perceived of it is its attribute. Yet in each perception, the existence, or isness, of the attribute perceived is substance, for the essence of substance is existence.
What we see as an existing thing is substance in which diverse attributes inhere. In other words, a substance comprises innumerable attributes in a single unitary existence. Now, a thing (substance) does not derive its identity from the individual attributes that describe it, nor by the combination of these attributes, but by the samanya that identifies it. That is, an apple does not derive its identity of being an apple by the redness, or the roundness, or the sweet taste, that describes it, nor by a combination of these attributes, but by the samanya that identifies it, namely appleness. It is in the essence of the samanya, appleness, to comprise the manifold of attributes that describe an apple as a unitary thing. Therefore, when we speak of substantial things, the samanya of the thing comprises a multitude of attributes within it without detriment to its unity, i.e., the one apple is both red and round without detriment to the unity of the apple.
Now therefore, the sameness of two substantial things is given by the samanya that identifies them both as being same. Since the samanya of a substantial thing is the unity that comprises the manifold attributes of the thing, two substantial things may be the same essentially even though the attributes in the manifold of each may be different. That is, two apples would be essentially the same (as apples) even though one may have the attribute of being large and the other small, one red and the other a shade of green, or the one sweet and the other tasteless, because the samanya, appleness, that identifies them both as apples informs of their essential sameness.
It is also necessary for us to here consider the natures of samanya and vishesha so that we may not be confounded by the differences of particulars that arise from the sameness of samanya. Now Samanya is never manifest by itself as samanya. It is brought forth to cognition as a particularised instance of its manifestation. The manifestation of universal (samanya) is therefore always a particular (vishesha). A particular is never existentially separate from the samanya. If it were separate, it would be separated from the existence of its sameness, which is absurd. Therefore, a particular is not different from the samanya of which it is a particular. Thus there arises the hierarchy of genera and species as particulars of the universal and from which they are never different. All flowers are flowers due to the flowerness in them, and even though a rose and a lotus are different from each other as particular kinds of flowers, they are both not different from being the flower that they both are.
(It is necessary at this stage to introduce a word of caution for the modern reader. In speaking about padarthas such as substances and attributes, and universals and particulars, we find that we are quite unaccustomed to grasp these things lucidly. There are no answers to these questions in contemporary science and philosophy because contemporary science and philosophy looks for substance in the world when substance cannot be found by looking for it in the world. Substance is the bare isness of things, and it is already grasped in the perception of each thing in the originary moment of its cognition. It is likewise with samanya or universals. A universal is not grasped by thought laboring to grasp it. Thinking particularizes the thing thought about, and a particularized thing is a particular, not a universal. The natures of substances and universals are grasped by the stillness of apperception in the act of perception. That stillness is the disassociation of the witness from the things it witnesses. Nyaya is a cleansing of the intellect so that it may sink back into its source, the Heart, from which it sees the Truth. In the philosophy of Nyaya this is called nihsreyasa).
Now, two things may be said to be the same in respect of their attributes when there is in them a sameness of the attribute even though the things themselves may be essentially different i.e., an apple and a table may be same in respect of their redness even though the things themselves are different (as apple and table). Clearly this is not the sense in which Hinduism says that all religions are the same. There are indeed attributive differences between various religions, and Hinduism does not negate these differences.
When two things are said to be the same essentially (in substance), then it is the sameness of essence that is asserted even though there may be differences in the attributes that inhere in them i.e., two tables are the same essentially even though one may be red and the other white. It is in this sense that Hinduism says that all religions are the same. Now religion, being an existing thing, comprises in it various attributes. Hindu religion is the same as Christian religion in respect of being religion, but is different from it in respect of the attributes that abide in it as distinct from the attributes that abide in Christianity. Hinduism and Christianity are the visheshas (particulars) of the samanya (universal) called religion and they possess the distinctive characteristics of their respective kinds. As religions they are the same because the essence of them both, as religions, is the same. Suffice it to say that when all religions are said to be the same, they are thus said not on account of the attributive differences that distinguish them one from another, but due to that which is same in all of them. This sameness is the essence of religion that abides in them all. What this essence of religion is, we shall now see.
Religion is different from the sciences in one fundamental respect: it places the origin of the world in a Living Principle. In Hindu terms, the origin of the world is the Great Being that is conscious and intelligent (chaitanya) as distinguished from Nature that is unconscious and inert (jada). The origin, sustenance and dissolution of the universe, has its ground in the Great Being that is called Brahman by the Vedas. Now religions may differ in the way they name or describe this Living Principle, or in the relations they posit as abiding between the Living Principle and nature (the world), but they do not differ in the one respect whereby all of them identify the ultimate causes of things to be a Living Principle in contrast to the sciences that look for ultimate causes in the natures of physical things. It is this that is same in all religions. And it is in the way that this Living Principle is revealed in Hinduism that gives to it its overarching universal vision.
Now it may rightly be asked of us why we should have gone to this extent to explicate the nature of sameness and difference when we had already shown that there is no Hindu, whether classical or neo, that actually abides by the notion of Radical Universalism if Radical Universalism means an effacement of the differences perceived between religions. The answer to this question is as follows: Dr. Morales places the idea that all religions are the same as standing in opposition to, and being mutually exclusive from, the idea that each religion is a distinct religion with its own doctrines, world-view, etc. By creating this artificial opposition, and by not distinguishing the nature of difference that may be manifestly present in things that are essentially of the same nature, he proceeds, by means of fallacious reasoning, to deny the validity of not only Radical Universalism, which is not present in Hinduism, but also Hindu Universalism, which is certainly present in Hinduism. Indeed, he goes so far as to say that the ultimate goal of each religion is a separate mountain that is completely different from, as well as isolated from, the mountains of other religions, an idea that is not only foreign to Hindus but is also one that does violence to the expansive heart of a true Hindu. We shall demonstrate in this paper, in further support to the arguments furnished above, that Hinduism does include within it an overarching universalism that sees all religions as speaking of the same Reality, and that the differences in their conceptions pertain only to different aspects of the same Being.
It is clear from the foregoing deliberations on sameness and difference that the underlying sameness of religions does not in any way undermine the distinctive features of each religion. Neither would Hinduism lose its distinctive character as a great religion by virtue of seeing this underlying sameness in all religions.
The Disbanding of Logical Fallacies
Dr. Morales presents his
case with such persuasive force and rhetoric that it is easy to overlook
the many fallacies that lie hidden between the lines of his arguments.
Unless one is alert to the sophisms therein that rise like canards to
lead one astray, one is likely to fall into an abyss of confusion. The
fallacies in the critique, of which there are many, arise both due to
the failure to distinguish between the sameness and the difference of
things as well as due to elementary derailments in logic. We shall show
in this section that the key arguments presented by Dr. Morales against
Radical Universalism reduce to fallacies when applied against Hindu
The entire argument is premised on the assumption that the sameness of religions implies a lack of difference between them. But as we have seen, this premise is wrong. Even if we should consider that Hinduism would become superior to other religions by virtue of its vision that all religions are essentially the same, then such superiority would become a distinctive mark of Hinduism that is in no way detrimental to the underlying sameness of religions. It becomes a distinctive mark of Hinduism, in contrast to the distinctive marks of other religions, and as each of them is a vishesha-religion, the distinctive marks that inhere in any one of them do not negate the essential sameness that underlies all of them. Therefore, there is no danger here of a circular logic arising to negate the universal vision that is a characteristic feature of Hinduism.
It needs to be clarified here that a true Hindu, if he is truly imbibed of the universal vision of his religion, would never consider himself superior to members of other religions, but would rather embrace them in the expansiveness of love. Superiority is parasitic upon the notion of the other and otherness arises due to the loss of love. True religion is the opening of the heart, and what is opened is the expansive and all-inclusive door of love.
The Different Mountains
The logic employed by Dr.
Morales is fallacious because it shifts the question in focus, which is universalism
in Hinduism, to something else, namely, what other religions
believe to be their goals. The question here is not of what other
religions believe to be their goals, but of what Hinduism sees the goals
of various religions to be, because what gives to Hinduism its
universalism is to be decided by the intrinsic vision of Hinduism and
not by the opinions of others. Dr. Morales is chasing shadows.
There are three kinds of fallacies in the Contradictions Argument. The first is the fallacy of taking, as the ground of the argument, an example that is inapplicable to the case. To say that there exists a round square or a married bachelor is nothing but delusion. One might as well claim to have seen the son of a barren woman. Each phrase here – a round square, a married bachelor – is a unitary phrase and each must therefore have a unitary meaning, which in the examples cited it clearly fails to have. Therefore, these phrases are devoid of meaning. The locus of the qualification ‘round’ is ‘square’, and the locus of the qualification ‘married’ is ‘bachelor’. Each qualification is contradictory to the locus in which it is predicated and therefore it cannot abide in it. But when the loci are different, such as two tables, then these contrary qualities may abide in them without detriment to the essential sameness of the loci, as when we say ‘a square table’ and ‘a round table’. Square is contrary to round, but it is not unreasonable for these two contrary attributes to be found in two things of the same essential nature, for example, in two tables. Now therefore, two religions being two different loci, it is not illogical for contrary attributes to inhere in them despite their essential sameness as religions. The example of a round square or a married bachelor on which Dr. Morales bases his argument is inapplicable to the proposition to be proved.
The second fallacy arises due to the same error that Dr. Morales is prey to in the Different Mountains argument – the failure to look at the question of Hindu Universalism through the eyes of Hinduism. In order to see how Hinduism reconciles the seeming disparities between religions, it is necessary to look for it within the doctrines of Hinduism itself. According to Vedanta, the operative domain of logical rules is the field of logos (names and forms), whereas the Absolute is beyond the realm of names and forms. Hinduism sees that there is a mystical core in all religions that cannot be subjected to the rules of logic operating in the realm of logos. Contradictions pertain to names and forms, but the Reality of every religion is the Ground and Origin of names and forms. In Hinduism, the Absolute is beyond the pairs of opposites; it is the underlying Substratum from which the pairs of opposites arise and in which they dissolve. If there are contrary features in the philosophical contents of various religions as they conceive Reality, Hinduism sees them as the manifest forms of the same Transcendental Absolute, and the manifest forms of the Absolute are many and include within them the opposites. Hindu Universalism says that there is an essential sameness in all religions, not that there are no contrary features in them. Contrary things may be said of the same God, for example, God may be said to be both a great terror and also the all-merciful and compassionate One. Let us specifically take an example from Dr. Morales’ paper to see where he is going wrong:
According to Vedanta, the Absolute is not governed by either/or propositions. The Absolute is not an entity that can be encapsulated in propositions because It is the Ground of propositions. The source of Dr. Morales’ error may be seen in his assertion that “the Absolute either has meaningful existence or it does not exist” because the Absolute in Vedanta is not a thing that may be said to have existence. It is Itself the Existence of all things. And when a thing is predicated to be existent in this world, the Existence of the thing is none other than the Absolute Itself. The Absolute is Sat-Chit-Ananda, and is the existence of both the square and the circle because it is the Sat that is in them. But the expression ‘square circle’ does not fall within the realm of Existence because it is a meaningless term and there is no thing such as a square circle for existence to be either predicated or denied to it. When Dr. Morales says that “the Absolute either has meaningful existence or it does not exist” he does not realize that the term ‘meaningful existence’ does not apply to the Absolute but to the meanings that lie in the Absolute because meanings are the forms that exist eternally in the Absolute. According to Vedanta, words are eternal and are eternally connected to their objects (meanings). Therefore, meanings are nothing but the eternal logos in the Absolute that is made manifest as the world. All propositions, including either/or propositions, are meaning-sentences and are hence contained within the realm of meanings (or logos) and do not reach the Absolute which is the Ground of words. Dr. Morales commits a category error in saying that the Absolute is either this or that. Now, the Absolute is also the Personal God because it is the Existence of the Persona in the manifestation of the Personal God. The Absolute is not merely an anthropomorphic God but also the morphologies of all forms of life including fishes and tortoises and lions. God manifested not only as Rama and Krishna and Jesus, but also as matsya (fish) and kurma (tortoise) and narasimha (man-lion). And lastly, the non-dual Absolute does not negate the plurality of this world because the Absolute of the Vedas is That by Knowing which all this is known, and all this cannot be known by knowing the One if all this is somehow not retained in the Vedic epiphany of the One. The paradox dissolves in the non-duality of Advaita through the vision of the unspeakable Oneness of the world with Brahman. In non-dual Kashmir Shaivism, the embracing of the paradox is known as sattarka. Dr. Morales commits a category error and thereby becomes susceptible to the fallacy of subjecting the Absolute, which is beyond logos, to the logical rules that are applicable only to the categories of logos.
The third fallacy in the Contradictions Argument arises due to a lack of perspicuity regarding the meanings of difference and contradiction. A difference is not necessarily a contradiction; only those differences that are opposed to each other are contradictory. Dr. Morales sees contradictions when there are merely differences and not contradictions. The differences in the analyses of various religions regarding the human existential dilemma are not contradictory to one another, but are merely the differences in the assignations of causes to the human predicament. Every religion speaks about human existence as a degenerate state of an original Elysian state, or as a fall, or descent, from a Radiant Home. The causes assigned to this degeneration by different religions may be different, but Hinduism sees these causes as various stages in the manifestation of causality as it irrupts into the corporeality of this world. For example, Ayurveda finds the causes of diseases in the imbalance of the three doshas. Yoga goes deeper still and finds them in the obstructions of the flow of prana. Mimamsa goes deeper still and finds them in the workings of past karma. These causes are not contradictory to one another, but one is the manifest symptom of another deeper cause. Hinduism does not negate the original sin (or the fall) as being contradictory to avidya, but sees it as a symptom of primordial avidya. Again, there are differences and not contradictions between the means prescribed by different religions for attaining freedom, because all these prescriptive differences remain grounded in the principle of sacrifice which in the theistic religions take the form of surrendering to God.
It is somewhat astonishing to see that Dr. Morales should be bringing up the Contradictions Argument considering that he finds an underlying unity in the diverse sects and schools of Hinduism. It is quite evident to anyone that surveys the staggering variety and diversity of Hindu religion that Hinduism is itself rife with innumerable differences. If Dr. Morales’ argument were to be valid, then there would no such thing left as Hinduism, given that its sects and schools have so many contrary claims regarding not only the nature of Reality but also regarding the means to the highest good. One school of Hinduism speaks of Nirguna Brahman, another of Gunapoorna Brahman, another of Shiva, another of Shakti, another of Vishnu, and another of Kali; the list is almost endless. One speaks of the dissolution of self in Brahman, another of attaining Vaikunta, another of attaining Goloka, another of Apavarga. Some speak of jnyana as the path, some of bhakti as the path, some of nihsreyasa as the path, and some even of transgression as the path. It is indeed amusing to see that Dr. Morales finds an underlying unity in these schools, amidst all the lush differences that exist between them as it were, by seeing their common adherence to the Vedas. If Dr. Morales can find the unity of Hindu schools amidst such fecund variety as this, we are surprised that he is unwilling to see the underlying unity in the various religions of the world.
The Hermeneutics Argument
In the above analysis, Dr. Morales has merely shown that if there are Hindus that take this Rg Veda sentence as an epistemological or a soteriological statement, then such Hindus are mistaken. He has certainly not demonstrated that the Rg Veda statement fails to apply to the Reality spoken of in other religions. In order to show that the proposition ‘universalism never existed in Hinduism’ is true, it would be necessary to demonstrate that traditional Hinduism never considered the Reality spoken of by other religions as being the One Reality that it speaks about. Now, a Hindu that considers Reality to be unitive would scarce believe that there are different realities or different mountains. Therefore, the only options that remain are: (1) he believes that the reality spoken of by other religions are the same Reality as the Vedic Brahman, or (2) he believes that the reality spoken of by other religions are vacuous concepts. Now the first option would result in universalism. Therefore, in order to prove that universalism never existed in Hinduism, it would be necessary to show that Hinduism considers the reality spoken about by other religions as vacuous concepts. But Dr. Morales does not even attempt to formulate, let alone verify, such a proposition. Therefore, his blithe conclusion that Universalism never existed in Hinduism is based on insufficient logical grounds.
The Etiquette Argument
Dr. Morales is trying to decide the question of Hindu Universalism by taking an opinion poll from members of various religions. He also seems to be concerned that Hindu Universalism may result in Hindus becoming disrespectful to members of these religions. But the truth of the matter is not decided by a democratic vote or by the proprieties of etiquette; it is decided by the fact of the matter, which is, whether Universalism exists in Hinduism.
It is ironic that Dr. Morales should bring up the Etiquette Argument here considering that the alternative option for a Hindu would be to look upon the Gods of the other religions as so many vacuous concepts (since it is impossible for him, with his conviction of a unitive Reality, to believe that there are different mountains). Surely, a Hindu would be more lacking in respect if he were to call the Gods of the other religions vacuous concepts than to say that he sees these Gods as aspects of the same God he prays to!
The Imposition Argument
In speaking about the rights of other religions, Dr. Morales would have us believe that Hindus have some kind of sovereignty over all the world’s religions and are in a position to force their views on them. Apart from posing to us a fiction as an argument, I would think also that Dr. Morales has misunderstood Hinduism. A Hindu does not impose his views on members of other religions – he says rather that a Christian would move towards God by being a good Christian and a Muslim would move towards God by being a good Muslim. We would need to dive deeper into the nature of Hindu ethics to appreciate this point.
The Scriptural Basis of Hindu Universalism
Hinduism derives its universal vision of from its own scriptures. Universalism is not an aberration of Hindu tradition as Dr. Morales claims, but is the blossoming of its great heart. In order to show that it is thus, we shall begin our exposition by first taking up the same Rg Veda verse that Dr. Morales had analyzed in his paper and demonstrate that it contains within it the idea of a grand universalism. The verse is:
In order to understand the full import of this verse, it is necessary to understand the profound Hindu doctrine regarding the relationship between Brahman and names. In the Chandogya Upanishad of the Sama Veda, we come across the following narration that invokes this relationship:
Then follows the instruction regarding Brahman, the significance of the entire instruction being that this universe of diverse names and forms is not different from Brahman, and that the seeming difference it has from the Great Being is ‘vacarambhanam’, having its origin in speech only. The seeming separation is ‘vikarah’, transformation, that is ‘namadheyam’, given to it by name only. The Brahadaranyaka Upanishad says:
According to Advaita Vedanta, the effect is pre-existent in the cause, and all names and forms abide eternally in Brahman. There is in reality no creation because that which is already pre-existent cannot be born again. It is the magic of words that plays upon the screen of non-duality and holds us enrapt to the siren songs of plurality. In purely logical terms, the world is aja, unborn, and the doctrine of non-creation is called ajatavada. But there is in Reality a mystical nature through which the unborn unfolds, and this mystery is evocated beautifully in the Advaita doctrine of vivartavada. According to the Grammarians, vivarta is the unfolding of Vak (speech) through four stages of evolution. These stages are called para, pashyanti, madhyama and vaikhari.** The mystery of vivarta is that, in each of these different stages, the word and the object denoted by the word remains the same and the difference brought about by vivarta is the mystery of its own difference, as it were, and the world springs into being in the womb of this great mystery. A word is essentially one with Brahman as para vak. It springs from its heart into the formless embryo – the pashyanti – which is the causal seed that is ready to sprout into manifest form. In its middling state - madhyama – it presents the forms in ideality before it springs into the luxuriance of the created world as vaikhari. A form is not a non-form because it is unmanifest, for in that unmanifest state it is the very same form that becomes manifest. In all stages of speech, creation remains always non-different from Brahman. Therefore, every name ultimately points to Brahman, and in the ultimate vision of the Hindu, even the clod of earth and the expanse of the sky is Brahman; how then can a Hindu say that the Reality of other religions is not Brahman? This then is the import of the Rg Veda verse ‘ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti’, that Reality is One though sages and different religions may call It by various names. The difference is merely the difference of names.
The insight of every religion is an epiphany. An epiphany is not a mere perception, but is the penetration of vision to the Numinous Ground that underlies the corporeality of the world. The Numinous Ground of every religion is a Living Principle. According to Vedanta, the essence of the Living is chaitanya, and chaitanya is undivided (akhanda) and immutable (akshara). How is it possible for a Hindu to say that the Living God of other religions is another mountain when the essence of the Living is Undivided Consciousness? For him the Reality that sages and different religions call by different names is the One Undivided Reality that he calls Brahman. This is the grand Universalism that we find in Hinduism and it finds one of its most beautiful expressions in the Svetasvatara Upanishad of the Krishna Yajur Veda:
These Vedic verses are sufficient to show that there flows a great stream of universalism in Hinduism. Brahman is the Godhead in all manifestations of God. There is no question here of the Reality of other religions being different mountains. The question is only regarding the manner of conception of the One Living Reality. And though various religions may conceive Reality differently, Hinduism sees that all these conceptions are of the same Reality, the differences between them being merely due to the differentiating power of names. When Brahman, the Godhead in all manifestations of Gods, is beyond the pairs of opposites, it would be juvenile to bring up specious arguments purporting to show that there are contradictions between the Reality of various religious. In one of the most sublime dialogues of the Upanishads, Yajnavalkya answers Gargi when she questions him on the nature of Brahman:
Brahman is untouched by the pairs of opposites and yet It is the substratum of the entire universe. Brahman is the material cause of the universe, and therefore all this is Brahman alone. From the Aitareya Upanishad of the Rg Veda we have the following words:
Dr. Morales makes a case that the great Hindu Acharyas never subscribed to the idea of universalism. As proof of this proposition, he points to the intense polemics that these Acharyas engaged in. Dr. Morales does not seem to realize that what is at stake in vada, or Hindu polemics, is Vedartha, the ultimate Truth of the Vedas, and not the negation of other conceptions of Reality as being different mountains. Shankaracharya, arguably the greatest and most uncompromising of the Acharyas, mentions that the other aspects of Brahman are also visions of Reality even though they constitute the Lower (apara) Nature of Brahman and fall short of the ultimate Truth of Vedanta. The same Shankaracharya who demolished in debate every other school of Hinduism prevalent during his time was also the Dharma Rakshaka that was responsible for re-establishing the worship of Vaidika Gods after the decline of Buddhism in India. Contradictions certainly exist between various conceptions of Reality, but the vision that goes beyond conceptions to the Ground of conceptions sees all these conceptions as attempts to grasp the same Ground that is the One Reality. In Vedic culture, polemics is not opposed to Universalism but is the way to the ultimate vision that subsumes all the diverse conceptions of Reality in it. According to Suresvaracharya, the disciple of Shankaracharya, the various doctrines about Reality exist eternally in the Nature of God:
Universalism is ubiquitous in the pages of Hinduism. While its roots lie in the Vedas, it gushes out into the lives of millions of Hindus through the subsidiary scriptures of Hinduism known as Smrtis. If we have to look for universalism in Hinduism, we would have to also bring in these subsidiary scriptures, which we shall now do.
There is a great wealth of literature in Hinduism called the Puranas. They belong to a class of scriptures known as the upangas3, or subsidiary arms of the Vedas. One finds in these scriptures a unique conception that is not found in any other religion of the world. It is the concept of avatara – the doctrine that God incarnates on this earth from time to time. I am surprised that this doctrine does not find a place of mention in Dr. Morales’ paper, for it is this conception that gives to Hinduism the universal vision in which it sees the different religions of the world as having been revealed by the same God. One finds the seeds of this idea in the Bhagavad Gita, which is regarded as one of the prasthana-traya (three-fold canons) of Hinduism:
Would Dr. Morales have us believe, in the face of this declaration by Lord Krishna Himself, that the prophets of other religions were all fakes who beckoned their followers to different, ungodly, mountains? In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says that even those who pray to lesser gods (in the taxonomy of gods) only pray to Him:
The Puranas narrate the manifestations of God both in the heavenly realm as well as the earthly realm. One of the significant things about the Puranas is that they are not mere legends bound in papyrus scrolls; they bring to life the presence of Divinity all around us by enshrining the places on this very earth where God had manifested in His Leela. The Hindus call these places tirthas. Wherever one goes in India, one finds places that have been hallowed by the presence of Divinity. The land of Bharata is blessed with thousands and thousands of such tirthas – that is why it is called the pavithra bhoomi. The Hindu does not approach these tirthas as he would approach a mere place, but he approaches them as places infused with the Divine Shakti of Godhead****. To him, in the final revelation, the clod of earth is not earth but God, and the slab of stone is not stone but God. For in the Vedantic truth they are indeed God – the earth and the slab of stone are the shimmer of Light, the dance of Effulgence in the Divine Consciousness of God. The goal of a Hindu is to cleanse his soul so that he may behold God in all things; how then can we say to him that the goals of other religions are so many different mountains? Such a thing can never be! It is what the Hindu sees that constitutes his universalism. Let us not deny to him his very heart.
To see a constricted meaning in the Rg Veda sentence by subjecting it to the likes of Exegetical Categorical Analysis is mere verbiage that has no bearing on the question of Hindu Universalism. Dr. Morales tries to make a case that since this Rg Veda verse is an ontological statement, it fails to support the soteriological claim that all paths lead to the same goal. But here we have to ask Dr. Morales: Is there soteriology that is independent of the ontological nature of Reality? The means of salvation is necessarily given in the vision of Reality that a religion subscribes to. In Advaita Vedanta, for example, release ‘obtains’ from realizing the identity of the atman with Brahman. (I enclose the word ‘obtains’ within quotes because release in Advaita is the revelation of truth as it eternally is and is not an event or result of action). This is commensurate with the ontological vision of Advaita in which Brahman is the sole Reality that admits of no difference within It. In Visistadvaita, release is obtained by the consciousness of the soul expanding by jnyana-bhakti to attain identity with the Lord in an eternal sesha-Seshi relationship. This is commensurate with the Visistadvaita vision of ontology in which the world (and the soul) is the inseparable body of Brahman. The soteriological path of each school is grounded in its own unique ontological vision of the Reality. And yet the Reality of which they all speak is One, though sages and different religions may call It by various names or conceive of It variously. The difference is ‘vacarambhanam’, having its origin in speech only.
Hinduism recognizes that all paths lead to the same goal though it does not subscribe to the view that all of them take you right up to the summit. The key element of this universal idea is not the identity of the goals, but the directedness of the paths to the goal. Now, where shall we look for the source of this Hindu universal idea? Again, I am surprised that Dr. Morales is blind to one of the central doctrinal tenets of Hinduism. It is the doctrine of transmigration of soul.
The Hindu belief that all paths lead to the same goal must be seen in the context of this Hindu doctrine. The goal of moksha is extremely difficult to attain. The Bhagavad Gita says:
The goal is not attained in a single birth. One strives for it in birth after birth. Hinduism recognizes that it would be myopic to say that one path is right for a soul and another path wrong. The horizons of our vision stretch from birth to death, and we know not whence a person has come, nor the destination to which he goes. There is a path in Hinduism for every aspirant of the truth, some that would take him from where he is situated today and lead him slowly to the next peak where he can tarry a while before he proceeds with his journey on perhaps another path that leads him higher still. One traveller may be stationed at the foot of the mountain, and another may be stationed away from the foothill and across the river. The one needs mountain shoes, and the other a raft. There is no use giving a raft to the first and shoes to the second. The path of religion is not a physical tract; it is the inner path of the soul. Can one say here where a particular soul is situated or what prescription it needs where it is now situated? How then can we say on which path a person should tread? For one that is fit to be on a path, the Supreme One decides what path he or she is to take. In the Bhagavad Gita, the paths are called Yogas, and this is what the sixth discourse says:
According to Hinduism, birth
is not an accident. One is not thrown into the world, but is stationed
here by the workings of the Great Law. The path given is what is earned.
There is here no inferior path and superior path; there is the path that
is appropriate to where one is stationed. But they all lead to the same
goal – ultimately. That is Hindu Universalism.
Brahman, as revealed by the Vedas, is not a specific conception. Brahman is the Great Saman of concepts. Brahman cannot be contained or limited by any conception whatsoever for It is the Being beyond conceptions. Yet, Brahman is that in which no concept is negated; every single thing remains in Brahman in the exactitude of its true nature, and the knowledge of Brahman is the enlargement of the aperture of our vision to the sweeping compass of Its presence that can never be grasped in its entirety. Brahman goes farther than conception can go and stretches farther still beyond the farthest horizons. The ‘neti, neti’ of the Upanishads does not subtract the world from Brahman, but weeds out the tangled knots of the mind in trying to grasp the Great Ungraspable that is at once not all this and is yet all this. Brahman is the Great Unmoved Mover; He is the Immutable that moves. He is the Spanda, the vibration that has no motion. He is Akshara and He is not other than all this that is born and passes away. Who indeed has ever known Him but Him? The Knowledge of Brahman is the purnanubhava beyond conception that includes the essence of all conceptions; Brahman is not a specific conception. Dr. Morales is confused between conception and Vedic epiphany.
Hinduism and the 72 Houris of Islam
In the Divine Comedy, that great medieval classic which has been called a metaphor of Western culture, Dante Alighieri paints a picture of Prophet Mohammed as a sower of discord and shows him suffering for his sins in the infernal regions of hell, his body mangled and split into two from chin to crotch, and his guts, heart, lung, liver and gall bladder hanging out between his legs. While the Divine Comedy is no doubt a work of considerable merit, it still cannot be absolved of stooping to the kind of religious bigotry that has often turned Western history into a horrible saga of blood. Admittedly, the flavor of Islamic religion may not be palatable to the Christian sensibility, but that is hardly a justification for the kind of violent and morbid depiction that Dante paints of Prophet Mohammed in the Divine Comedy. There are some Christians not wanting even today who believe that Islam is a fraudulent religion, and though Dr. Morales is a Hindu and not a Christian, his words carry the same kind of innuendo when he quotes the Quran to portray that the salvific state of Islam is a kind of earthly paradise in which 72 virgins lie in wait for the pious Muslim.
The first thing that strikes one on reading these words is the self-contradiction that is inherent in it:
Brahman is Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss). To be united with Brahman is to become Brahman. If a Christian, Muslim, Jain or Buddhist were to be united with Brahman, he would therefore find that he is supremely happy (Ananda). If he is upset instead, it only means that he has failed to unite with Brahman! Union with Brahman comes about only when the mind is free from the proclivities to get upset and is unperturbedly blissful. Again, if a Christian, Muslim, Jain or Buddhist were to be united with Brahman, he would find himself free from all confusion because Brahman is the All-Knowing One. If he finds himself confused instead, it only means that he has failed to unite with Brahman. Union with Brahman comes about only when all confusion is gone and the light of jnana shines in the heart. To say that a Christian, Muslim, Jain or Buddhist would get upset and confused on finding himself united with Brahman is a self-contradiction in terms. The contradiction results from equivocating on the meaning of the term ‘union with Brahman’. So much for Dr. Morales’ understanding of Vedanta! What Dr. Morales claims to be stating unequivocally turns out to be a shining example in equivocation!
The Upanishads state that Brahman presents Itself in accordance with the conception of Reality that one is fixated on. One that conceives Brahman as nothing becomes nothing (Tai.Up.VI.1). One that conceives Brahman as kevala becomes kevala. The goal of Vedanta however is to attain complete freedom from the limiting boundaries of conceptions by awakening to the Brahman that is the source, sustenance and dissolution of conceptions. Gaudapada says in his Karika on the Mandukya Upanishad that all these conceptions are of the nature of chittaspanditam, the vibration of Consciousness. Regarding the ways in which different schools conceive Reality, he says:
Dr. Morales finds it quite bewildering that there should be in Reality a salvific state in which 72 virgins are found waiting upon the soul in paradise. But a true Hindu does not find such a salvific state dissonant with his universalism. Dr. Morales seems to carry with him the influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition with its abhorrence for the erotic, an affliction that stems more from the excessive institutionalization of the religion by the Church rather than from true Christianity itself. To a Hindu, the erotic is not something alien; it is as natural to life as breathing is. Eros touches every man and woman, and that is the reason men and women gravitate towards each other, marry and procreate. The essential form of the erotic is Beauty, and its primary flavor is Sweetness. This erotic essence lies masked beneath the separation of the inner man and woman that is within us all. The union that the genders seek in their mortal bodies is the eternal unity of the masculine and the feminine that they see dimly refracted through the prism of duality. The unending lure of man for woman and of woman for man is a reflection of this underlying union of male and female in the mirror of flesh, and the blinding passions that it inflames can cause a man or woman to descend to the depths of hell, but when the same desire is sublimated into love for the Divine, it can become a path to salvation. The radiant sweetness of love that shines when there is single-minded devotion to the Lover is called madhura-bhava. It is the central theme of Rasa-leela, the play of Radha and Krishna enacted in Vrindavana with all its intense longings and passions converging to the rapturous union of Lover with Beloved. In Christianity, this theme appears in the form of Bridal Mysticism and it is articulated beautifully in the Dark Night of St. John. It is also the mystic theme of the Sufi in the blossoming of the Islamic heart.
In the highest flight of Vedanta, the erotic is directed completely towards the inner beatitude of Self. Everything in the world is shunned in the freedom that the heart displays towards all external things. This characteristic of the sadhaka is called vairagya. In Advaita, for example, the sadhaka displays vairagya for everything here and hereafter up to and including the world of Brahma. He is like the burnt out wick of a lamp; he is nothing in his quest to attain everything. Without such supreme vairagya, one is not fit for the path of Advaita. How many sadhakas are there in this world - even amongst the yogis - that have this kind of vairagya? But Hinduism has a place for all sadhakas, even for the one that is lacking in this kind of supreme vairagya. Such a one, in whom there is still the trace of desire, has adhikara for other forms of sadhana. He is said to follow the path of the Lower Brahman. The distinction of the Higher and Lower aspects of Brahman is mentioned in the Prasna Upanishad:
The two aspects of Brahman are existentially One. The Higher is the formless aspect and the Lower is the Lord ornamented with the universe. The Higher is the goal that Advaita Vedanta seeks, but paradoxically this goal is not a goal. The moksha of Advaita is not a state to be achieved; it is the revelation of the soul’s identity with Brahman, and this revelation is not contingent on place, time, or action. It is the awakening to the Truth that always is. Therefore the path of Advaita is strictly not a path. It has been called asparsa yoga, and in the words of Gaudapada, it is as untraceable as the footprints of a bird that has flown across the sky. Advaita however admits that those who are devoted to the Lower Brahman attain to salvation in stages. Shankaracharya says that the Lower Brahman is Hiranyagarbha, the Purusha that is identified with all the beings of the world. The fourth section of the Brahma Sutras describes the path that a soul devoted to the Lower Brahman takes on its way to release (moksha). The soul is said to start along the path of flame and is then led by the deities to the worlds of the gods and finally to the world of Hiranyagarbha. The soul abides here until the dissolution of the universe whereupon it obtains final release. Commenting on the sutra, Shankara says:
In the world of Hiranyagarbha, the soul enjoys the pleasures of heaven that accrues to it from the merits it has accumulated in its journeys. The arrow of karma that has left the bow must exhaust itself before the hour of release comes. There is nothing strange if even a Hindu yogi should here find himself greeted by 72 exquisitely beautiful apsaras! Shankaracharya comments on the last sutra of the Brahma Sutra as follows:
The highest path of Advaita is for those that have the highest vairagya, but for others it is not unusual that jnana may arise even when subtle desires in the soul have not been fully eradicated. Such a soul attains the world of the Lower Brahman, and there it enjoys the fruits of its merits until the time of the dissolution of the world arrives. The Brahma Sutra says that the desires of a freed soul in Brahma-loka is fructified by its will alone without the need of any other agency, for in this realm the soul’s will is never infructuous. There is nothing incoherent if in this paradise the soul of an Islamic hero should be welcomed by 72 beautiful virgin youths. There is no reason why the elevated soul of a pious Muslim devotee should not have its share of pleasure in heaven. Hinduism may be uncompromising in its pursuit of truth, but its heart is large enough to accommodate the salvific states of other religions*****. Let us not confine Reality to the limited horizons of our myopic vision.
Ramakrishna and the Irruption of Hindu Universalism
In his attempt to negate Radical Universalism, Dr. Morales also degrades and belittles the Hindu saint, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who was perhaps the greatest living proof of Hindu Universalism.
These are careless words. Do we recognize whom we are here sitting in judgment over? Which pole of the paradox that was Sri Ramakrishna are we speaking of? Is it of the Ramakrishna that was nothing but a flute through which Reality poured forth its Divine Music? Or is it of the Living Reality that filled the mortal frame through and through till there was nothing here but the Life of the Universe pulsating in the frame?
Do we recognise that there was no Ramakrishna, the man? That there was only Sri Ramakrishna, the artless child, and Sri Ramakrishna, the Unfathomable Reality?
This is Living Waters, not the arid desert of academy! The future of Hinduism is not determined by academic papers, but by the living founts of its living saints!
Religion is not archaeology; it is Life. The saint of Dakshineswar was not just a man; he was an irruption of epiphany into the flowing waters of Hinduism!
Did someone say that Sri Ramakrishna was not familiar with the authentic teachings of the great Acharyas? The authentic Self needs no teachings! It is the Reality that is spoken of in the Vedas! Have we not heard of the doctrine of Pratyabhijna? Sri Ramakrishna recognized within his Self what others strive to learn from without!
This world has come out of the Self; where shall ye find its truth if not in the recognition of Self? The Self is all this. Saints like Ramakrishna are not influenced from outside; they recognise each thing outside as the play of Eternity inside!
The play of Eternity is Kaala, Time! She is Kali who moves it; She is Eternity moving. She it was that filled Sri Ramakrishna!
Does anyone still say that Sri Ramakrishna was unfamiliar with the authentic teachings of Hindu religion? With what authority do we impugn the very life of Hindu religion? Are we blind to the fact that this child of God, this illiterate rustic from an unknown Indian village, was a blaze of jnyana-shakti that reduced great Hindu scholars into the likes of kindergarten students? Have we not heard of his meetings with Pundit Ishwara Chandra Vidyasagar and Pundit Shashadhar? The child of Kali might have been a simple and artless person, but the discriminative Sword of Kali never failed him. From where indeed did words like these arise in Sri Ramakrishna:
Tell me, Sir, you who say that Sri Ramakrishna wasn’t familiar with the authentic teachings of Hinduism, what these authentic teachings are. Before you dare to measure the words of the saint, quote me those words of Sri Ramakrishna (giving also the sources of your information) that you find so discordant with the authentic teachings of Hinduism. We shall then see who it is that is unfamiliar with the authentic teachings of Hinduism!
Unlike the lives of ancient and medieval saints that come down to us through the mists of legendary stories, we are fortunate to have the life of Sri Ramakrishna recorded in fairly accurate detail. But it is clear that Dr. Morales has not bothered to read them before writing his paper. How else does one account for such callous words as these?
Sri Ramakrishna had his first vision of the Divine Mother when he was twenty years of age. The year was 1856. For six years following this vision he practiced intense sadhana in the tradition of bhakti and meditation, paths that are intrinsic to Hinduism. In 1861, Ramakrishna met the Bhairavi Brahmani, a Tantrik teacher who guided him in the path of this ancient esoteric Hindu tradition. It may be noted that the tradition of Tantra has had such great Hindu saints as Matsyendranatha, Gorakanatha, Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta, and in recent times, Jnanadeva. Sri Ramakrishna’s Tantrik sadhana continued for four years until, in 1865, it culminated in the highest goal that a bhakta may reach – the state of madhura bhava which is the supreme bhakti that Sri Radha had for Lord Krishna, a love supreme in which everything in the world becomes subservient to the call of Divine Love. Shortly after this, Sri Ramakrishna met Totapuri, an avadhuta who had spent 40 years of his life in the practice of Advaita sadhana. Totapuri initiated Sri Ramakrishna into the esoteric secrets of Vedanta, and within a short time Sri Ramakrishna attained the vision of the unspeakable Non-Dual Truth. Totapuri stayed at Dakshineswar for eleven months, and following his departure, Sri Ramakrishna remained for a full six months in the ineffable state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, in complete neglect of his body and physical well-being. These years mark the first phase of Sri Ramakrishna’s sadhana – from the initial vision of the Divine Mother through the various paths of bhakti and yoga to the final vision of the highest Truth of Vedanta. When we recount all these years, we see that Sri Ramakrishna spent almost ten years in intense practice that belonged to the hallowed traditions of Hinduism. If Dr. Morales feels that Ramakrishna’s ideas and practices were derived from Islam and Christianity rather than from Hinduism, we can only conclude that Dr. Morales’ fertile imagination is susceptible to strange excursions into the land of fantasy.
It was only in 1866 – with ten years of Hindu sadhana behind him - that Sri Ramakrishna met a Sufi holy man and became eager to experience for himself how the Lord blessed devotees who worshipped Him through the forms of Islam. The sadhana lasted precisely for three days. It took place in the gardens of Dakshineswar and not in a mosque. In the words of Richard Schiffman, “this was followed by absorption in Allah, the Muslim God, whose attributes, in turn, led into the formless Absolute, the Brahman. The river of Sufi devotions had merged with the Hindu stream at the end in the selfsame ocean of Spirit without either name or form.” Eight years later, in 1874, Sri Ramakrishna undertook devotion to Christ. Again the sadhana lasted only for a few days. And again, the sadhana took place in the temple premises of Dakshineswar and not in a Church. It culminated one afternoon in the vision and absorption into Christ wherein “the two supreme lovers of God embraced, and merged into each other. Ramakrishna was propelled into deep rapture, which once again opened into the consciousness of the ineffable Brahman – the true wellspring of spiritual experience known to all the great prophets of mankind, and in which they are eternally united.” Ramakrishna recognised that Islam and Christianity are forms of the same Spiritual Truth. In Kashmir Shaivism, this recognition is called Ishvara Pratyabhijna.
To say that Sri Ramakrishna resorted to worshipping in mosques and churches is to distort a few singular events of his sadhana to make them appear as if they were regular features of his life. Exaggeration is a kind of untruth. Ramakrishna experiment once with Christianity and once with Islam, and each time his sadhana lasted for a few days. The sadhana took place in the gardens of Dakshineswar and not in mosques or churches. Anybody can today read the biographies of Sri Ramakrishna to confirm that it is thus. There is not a single biography that speaks of Sri Ramakrishna as having regularly frequented mosques and churches or as having derived his ideas and practices from Islam and Christianity. One expects more veneration for truth than what Dr. Morales displays when discussing Hindu saints.
Again, Dr. Morales tries to forge a spurious nexus between Radical Universalism, Brahmo Samaj and Sri Ramakrishna:
If Dr. Morales is here trying to say that the doctrine of the Brahmos was a form of Radical Universalism, then he is obviously confused, because he contradicts this very proposition by stating that the Brahmos rejected Hindu ‘panentheism’ as well as all forms of iconic worship6. If the Brahmos were really Radical Universalists who believed that all religions are the same, or that the paths of all religions led to the same goal, they would have had no reason to reject Hindu ‘panentheism’ or iconic worship. Dr. Morales is actually disproving the hypothesis that he claims to be proving!
The Brahmos were not universalists in the true sense of the word. In founding the Brahmo Samaj, Ram Mohan Roy had wished to institute a religion based on the twin poles of Formless God and Reason. He rejected both the Advaita of Shankara (the God of the Brahmos was a Formless God that created the world ex-nihilo) as well as the idolatry of Hindu polytheism. Ram Mohan Roy defined himself correctly as a Hindu Unitarian and not as a Universalist. Dr. Morales is deluded if he thinks he is showing that Hindu Universalism came from the Brahmo Samaj or that the Brahmos influenced Sri Ramakrishna into accepting a universalism that didn’t until then existed in Hinduism. It was in fact the Brahmos that were deeply influenced in this respect by the saint; their constricted notions of God slowly dissolved before the all-encompassing Universalism of Sri Ramakrishna.
Sri Ramakrishna never met Ram Mohan Roy; Roy died four years before Sri Ramakrishna was born. Devendranath Tagore, the successor of Roy, met Sri Ramakrishna once only; a second meeting that was planned between them never took place. It was Keshab Chandra Sen among the Brahmos that shared the closest and most intimate relationship with Sri Ramakrishna. This relationship was not, as Dr. Morales claims, a working relationship. Sri Ramakrishna had no work to do. He was unable to keep his wearing cloth on his body! His work was to dissolve and let Reality work through him! But Reality had decided that Keshab too would be Its instrument, for it was through Keshab that the word of Sri Ramakrishna spread to the educated elite of India, and it was again through Keshab that Sri Ramakrishna’s universal vision of God percolated to the Brahmos. It would therefore be appropriate for us to study this remarkable chapter in Indian history.
Keshab was a man of towering intellect and deep sensitivities, gifted at once with an intensely devotional nature and a restless mind, and altogether possessing a mysterious disposition that only Sri Ramakrishna among all his associations gauged fully. Even at an early age, Keshab had come under the spell of Christ and he professed to have experienced the special favour of John the Baptist, as well as of Jesus Christ and St. Paul. In a letter written to one of his close disciples in 1866, he said:
Keshab’s faithfulness to Christ was to remain right up to the end of his life. His abiding allegiance to Christ needs to be seen against the backdrop of the relationship he believed he had with Christ; for he believed that he was the incarnation of Judas Iscariot, the thirteenth disciple of Jesus who had betrayed the Son of God. In a sermon that was to come much later (in 1881) he was to declare:
Keshab was a giant who eclipsed the other leaders of the Samaj that had come before him. He roused immense enthusiasm during his triumphal visit to England, addressing seventy meetings of 40000 people in six months, and fascinating them with his musical speeches. He was compared to Gladstone, the great Irish parliamentarian and reformist. While Keshab enriched the doctrine of the Brahmos with the genius of his intellect, at its core it remained eclectic in character, intellectually pieced together from the best features of various religions. But despite his contributions to the Brahmo cause, the flame of Christ burned intensely in his heart. By 1866, he could no longer hide the inner propensity of his soul, and when he strove to introduce Christ to the Samaj a rupture became inevitable. In 1868 he broke with the older leader of the movement and founded the Brahmo Samaj of India, while the first Brahmo Samaj under the leadership of Devendranath Tagore came to be re-christened the Adi Samaj. In the aftermath of the schism, Keshab went through a deep moral crisis, and, in the dark years of his despair, he felt the voice of God speaking to him. Keshab emerged from the crisis stronger than before, but the restlessness in his heart had not been quelled. And then, in the year 1875, Keshab met Sri Ramakrishna. The following description of their first meeting shows the kind of relationship that sprang up between them.
Keshab was intensely moved by Sri Ramakrishna, and in course of time this attraction developed into deep reverence. He began to speak about Sri Ramakrishna in his sermons and quoted him frequently in his writings. Soon, he became the instrument through which the voice of Sri Ramakrishna reached the elite of Bengal.
Keshab’s doctrine was until now a mere intellectual synthesis; it was not the spontaneous and effortless vision of a living religion. But his association with Sri Ramakrishna broadened his vision and his eclecticism began to give way to a more truly universal conception of God. To Keshab, God had been the Father, but from Sri Ramakrishna he learnt that God is also the Mother, that Brahman and His Maya are One. From Sri Ramakrishna, he learnt that idol worship is not different than singing the glories of God’s attributes. Sri Ramakrishna opened the floodgates of Keshab’s heart, and its devotional outpouring deluged the Brahmo Samaj with a new religious fervor and took it in a new direction. Sri Ramakrishna had said to him:
Keshab introduced the singing of kirtans into the Brahmo Samaj, and from morning till night the Samaj resounded to devotional hymns sung to the accompaniment of Vaishnavite music. In 1878, in the midst of this growing fervour, there was a second split in the Brahmo Samaj. This time it was brought about by the marriage of his daughter to a wealthy man before she had attained the marriageable age approved by the Samaj. Keshab’s action came under severe criticism and he was once again thrown into a crisis. And then, out of the depths of his despair, there arose a new voice, a voice that was still a whisper, but one that was to thunder its way across the seas all the way to Europe. It was the stirrings of the New Dispensation. Mazoomdar gives us an account of its genesis*******:
The Revival was the New Dispensation. It was born out of the vision fashioned in his heart by Sri Ramakrishna. It was a vision of the Vedic God, but Keshab covered It with the name of Christ. Perhaps the New Dispensation was his atonement for his terrible betrayal of the Son of God. He announced it to his Hindu brethren in 1880 in his famous Epistle to the Indian Brethren:
In the same year, Keshab also sent out a proclamation declaring the God as Mother:
According to the New Dispensation, God, out of His boundless love for man, incarnates on earth from time to time. As sleeping Logos, Christ lives potentially in the Father’s bosom. He had lived long, long before he came into this world of ours as Christ. He came in Greece and India, Egypt and China, he came in the form of the Rg-Veda poets, he came in the form of Confucius, and he came in many countries and in many forms. Clearly, the vision was Hindu, but in Keshab’s eyes it bore the name of Christ. The New Dispensation was not merely Christ coming to India, but Christ coming to the entire world – for the New Dispensation was proclaimed as the true revelation of Christ that the West had narrowed and reified into a form of iconic worship. These words of Keshab were aimed not at the Hindus, but at the West:
He was convinced that the West had not understood Christ, and that the New Dispensation was ‘an institution of the Holy Spirit that completes the Old and New Testaments’:
The sequence of events that we have so far delineated belies the charge that Hindu Universalism was the infiltration of a Western idea into Hinduism, or ‘the Christianisation of Hindu theology’ as Dr. Morales calls it. The New Dispensation is proof that the current of history actually flowed in the reverse direction - originating in a Hindu source and moving towards the Universalisation of Christian theology in the New Dispensation.
Even when the inspirational storm of the New Dispensation was blowing in his mind, Keshab could not resist the pull of Sri Ramakrishna and the Divine Mother. He had become an ardent devotee of Mother Kali, and he would often cry at the mention of Her name. Yet the New Dispensation never stopped tugging at his heart. Sri Ramakrishna saw the inner turmoil in Keshab’s soul and treated him with extreme tenderness and consideration. Keshab became seriously ill in 1883, and soon afterwards, in January 1884, he succumbed to his illness. Sri Ramakrishna visited him a few weeks before his death and spoke to him profound words that were like a balm to the hidden wounds of the dying man; and the two devotees then talked nothing but God. It is said that Keshab spoke to the Divine Mother from his deathbed, and that in his last moments he laughed and wept in divine ecstasy.
It was not only Keshab but many of the Brahmos that came under the sway of Sri Ramakrishna’s influence. Here is an account from one of Sri Ramakrishna’s biographies:
We have in the words hereinabove briefly outlined how it was that the tide of Hindu Universalism flowed from Sri Ramakrishna to the hearts of Keshab Chandra Sen and the Brahmos. If these words still fail to convince our readers that this was the direction in which the idea of Hindu Universalism flowed, then the final verdict must lie with the words of Pratap Mazoomdar, a Brahmo himself and a disciple of Keshab Sen, who writes:
universal vision was not, as Dr. Morales claims, due to the influence of
the Brahmo Samaj or Keshab Sen. Sri Ramakrishna was influenced by only
one thing, and that one thing was God! It speaks out of the pages of his
biographies – if one cares to read them!
Swami Vivekananda and the
Will to Heroism
This is how Romain Rolland describes the man that Dr. Morales accuses of stooping to gain the approval of European masters:
When Vivekananda, the unknown Indian monk, began his speech in the Parliament of Religions, the whole assembly rose up unbidden, and they knew not why! If there is one trait of Vivekananda that comes across consistently from all his biographies, it is this: he never stooped to the opinions of anyone, be it a saint of a European master! Vivekananda walked like an unsheathed sword. He abhorred hypocrisy and never hesitated to strike down any form of sham. This trait of Vivekananda has been recorded uniformly in all his biographies, and it echoes in these words that he once spoke to his sannyasi brethren:
Dr. Morales suffers from some kind of delusion in saying that Vivekananda diluted Hinduism to cater to foreign masters! Vivekananda was a fire! A fire doesn’t bow down; it burns, it roars, it reduces everything that stands before it to ashes! To say that he wilfully watered down authentic Hindu teachings to gain the approval of European masters is not only false, but it is blatantly offensive to the Hindu who regards Vivekananda as a man in the mould of the raja-rishi, Visvamitra.
Many thousands of sages and holy men have enriched the soil of Hinduism. Not all of them were alike. Some came as saints that sang and danced from the divine ecstasy of their devotions. Some came as acharyas to expound the scriptures and establish the Vedantic path. Sri Shankaracharya, Sri Ramanujacharya and Sri Madhvacharya were in this mould. Vivekananda was not an acharya; he did not come to this world to establish any particular darshana. He had a different role to play here. He came to awaken, not to formulate Hindu doctrinal responses to modernity.
Though Vivekananda’s message was centred in Vedanta, he delivered it with a freedom of form that suited the purpose of rousing the sleeping Hindu. Had it not been for Vivekananda, the mental sloth that possessed the average Hindu at the end of the nineteenth century would probably have sunk him to the lowest level of servility. Vivekananda was the fire that burned through the sleep of the Hindus and stirred them to rise from their inertia, and this fire sometimes burned in strange ways:
A sadhaka on the path of Vedanta needs to have adhikara. This adhikara comes from his predispositions and his readiness for Grace. Vivekananda saw that the majority of the Hindus at the end of the nineteenth century were sunk in self-service and servility. Servility is another form of self-service. Vivekananda knew that it is futile to speak Vedanta to the servile. Vivekananda came not to preach Vedanta; he came to awaken the Hindu from self-service to the service of God in humanity.
Only in selfless service can vairagya take root and make one worthy to take on Vedanta, the conquest of the last barrier of the soul. These words of Vivekananda still ring in our ears today:
Vivekananda once said to Nivedita that the heart must become like a cremation ground – its pride, selfishness, desire, all burnt to ashes. In Vivekananda we see not the dissections of Hindu doctrinal tenets, but the will to heroism, and his words, his actions, and his life were the burning fire that stirred the heart of the Hindu to rise from his slumber and to take pride once again in being a Hindu. Romain Rolland describes the power of Vivekananda’s words thus:
The hero was the voice of a resurgent Hinduism. At a time when the educated Hindu had begun to be ashamed of his own religion, when the downtrodden Hindu was sunk in abject poverty and had not food enough to eat, when the voiceless Hindu watched in dismay his religion being sacked by the Indologists on one hand and the Hindu reformists on the other, Vivekananda was the hero that brought back the glory of Hindu religion, epitomizing both the pursuit of the highest Truth and the selfless service of God in humanity. It is a travesty of truth to accuse Vivekananda of diluting the teachings of Hinduism. Let him that accuses Vivekananda first bring to us genuine arguments instead of hollow superfluities! Ironically, it is Dr. Morales that is watering down the teachings of Hinduism by denying to it the great universalism that lies in its heart! As regards Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, we can hardly do better than to echo the words of Richard Schiffman:
There is one last thing that needs to be said here and it is this. Before one sits in judgment over Hindu saints, it is better to be immersed oneself in the living waters of Hinduism. Theories and papers are dry academics. Hinduism is not an institutionalized religion. It is a religion that flows out from the breath of Being; it sings in the wide open spaces, it takes root like the seed that falls on the ground, and like the seed it sprouts silently to rise up like a grand poem; it gushes out of the earth like spring waters to merge in the hearts of the Hindus just as spring waters merge into the fields where the rice and the corn grow. Hinduism has no fixed contours; it cannot be caged in a box. It is nowhere to be grasped precisely, and it is everywhere like the tune of an ineffable song. It has a deep structure, but its roots are elsewhere and it is only the branches that are seen here. Hinduism knows how to hide its secrets well - even when you announce it to the world! It remains esoteric to the closed heart, but it reveals its secrets to the simple of heart, to the pure of mind, to him that surrenders herself to the harmony of the Ubiquitous Breath. Hinduism is a religion of tears, of the finest emotion, of the greatest sacrifice, of the supreme zenith of intellect. And even of transgression. Even of the pariah and the outcaste, and the butcher and the murderer. Who shall here define Hinduism? The Vedas stands at its summit, but what about the Tantras?
Universalism and Relativism
Dr. Morales presents universalism as if it is a kind of relativism that is opposed to absolute truth. The gist of the argument may be obtained from these words:
But Hinduism does not say that the moral and ethical prescriptions of different systems are the same (or equal). It says that the moral and ethical systems of different religions are each valid in so far as they are applicable to the members of the respective religion. It says that it is not right for a Hindu to follow the moral and ethical rules prescribed for a Christian just as it is not right for a Christian to follow the moral and ethical rules prescribed for a Hindu. But each is valid in its own right, as applicable within the sphere of its own manifested domain. The nature of dharma is difficult to understand and it requires an appreciation of the Eternal Dharma to comprehend the variations that are found in the moral codes of different religions. Considering that this topic would need a somewhat rigorous treatment, we shall attempt to answer the question regarding the variations of moral codes after we have treated the subject in greater detail in the next section. In this section, we shall endeavor to show that universalism is not relativism, but is indeed another aspect of absolutism.
By placing Universalism in opposition to Absolutism, Dr. Morales tries to create the impression that Universalism is a kind of Relativism. But this opposition has no basis to stand on. Universalism is based on absolutes. Since both universalism and relativism are terms that have sprung out of the Western philosophical lexicon, it would be appropriate to go to the origins of these terms as they appear in Western thought.
The term universalism comes from the word ‘universe’ which means all things regarded as a whole. Universalism is a doctrine that encompasses all things – the universe - by seeing the sameness that is in them. Now what is same in different things is the universal (samanya). For example, the universal, redness, is that which is same in all red things. Universalism is therefore rooted to the nature of universals. In Greek philosophy, a universal is an eternal unchanging Form that participates in the things of the world and gives to these things the forms that we recognize in them. This is the meaning of the term universal as it first appears in the pages of Western philosophy. It is the central theme of Plato’s philosophy, and its meaning is brought out beautifully in the dialogues of the great Athenian, Socrates. The universal is the Ideal Form by virtue of which a form of this sensible world is what it is seen to be. These words from the Phaedo evocate the meaning of the term universal:
Universals are absolutes. They are the eternal stamps of things in Reality (see Theaetetus) and to behold them is to behold eternity as it were. Universalism is the insight into the eternal and the unchanging Forms as it appears in the realm of change. It would therefore be absurd to equate universalism with relativism. Now, while the term universal has its origin in Plato, the genesis of relativism may be found in Protagoras, another Greek and a contemporary of Socrates. It was Protagoras who had said: ‘Man is the measure of all things’. In the Theaetetus, Plato deflates the arguments of Protagoras and demonstrates that the natures of things are beyond change. But the philosophy of Protagoras has reappeared today in the guise of Post-Modernism proclaiming once again that there is nothing beyond belief-systems. Whether it is Protagoras’ doctrine that man is the measure of all things or the Post-Modern belief that there is nothing beyond belief-systems, the central theme of relativism is that there is no truth, that it is man that gives to things the illusion of reality. Clearly universalism and relativism are two poles that are as apart as can be.
Universals are independent of the whims of the mind – they are the eternal stamps of truth in Reality. Socrates calls it the gift of Memory, and the mother of the Muses. He says that these universals are the impressions in the ‘wax of the soul’, and that the capacity for knowledge and error depend on the purity of the wax that is in the soul. (Theaetetus). This doctrine goes hand in hand with Plato’s doctrine of recollection, a doctrine which says that knowledge is the recollection of the truth that already lies within the soul. The language of Plato may be metaphorical, but it is nevertheless deeply resonant with the doctrine of Pratyabhijna in Kashmir Shaivism. All recognition is a reflection of sakshi-chaitanya. It is the recognition of the bimba in the pratibimba.
Universalism is based on the doctrine of Pratyabhijna. Pratyabhijna is the recognition of That which is eternally same in all things. The doctrine of Pratyabhijna has deep bonds with Plato’s doctrine of Ideal Forms from which comes the term universal that is at the root of Universalism.
Universal Dharma – The Ethical Dimension
We have shown in the previous section how universalism is opposed to relativism, but there is still one question that remains to be answered, and the question is: How is it possible for different and contradictory moral codes to be equally valid at the same time? We shall now attempt to answer this crucial question.
The problem of morality is one of the most enigmatic problems of human existence. To most of us that have been fed on modern fare, it would seem absurd that there could be different and contradictory moral codes that are valid at the same time. Modern acculturation would have us believe that moral and ethical systems must everywhere be uniform, and it is this belief that leads Dr. Morales to equate universalism with ethical relativism.
Strange as it may sound to modern ears, the validity of contrary, and sometimes even opposite, moral rules is a part of the Eternal Dharma. Moral codes are not the same for everyone. The fundamental mistake that is often made while speaking about moral codes is to consider them as being uniformly applicable to all. But the moral code for a husband is different than the moral code for a wife, and the moral code for a hangman is different than the moral code for a priest. Moral codes vary with time, place and situation though ultimately all these variations are constituted in the One Eternal Dharma. In asking about morality, we are verily knocking on the doors of the Divine Order, and we must be ready to pause and open our eyes before we profess to answer them, for the workings of dharma are not easy to comprehend.
What is the meaning of Dharma? In Hinduism, Dharma is not an order that has been proclaimed by God; it is God Himself in the Natural Order of the Universe. The word dharma translates to nature, and therefore the dharma of a thing is the very nature of a thing. It is the dharma of a rose to be a rose, and the dharma of a tree to be a tree. Likewise, it is the dharma of a husband to be a husband, and the dharma of a wife to be a wife, and the dharma of a son to be a son, and the dharma of a father to be a father. According to the Vedas, Dharma is Rtam, the meaning that is in Brahman. This world is not other than the meaning in God that has blossomed into creation through the unfolding of vivarta. God creates through the sabda (word) that is in Him, and His creation is the artha within Himself brought forth into manifest form. Rtam is therefore this world as the artha unfolded in Brahman, and Brahman remains always the sat – the truth - of all things in the world. Therefore Rtam is always seated in Satyam, and the Heart of Dharma is Truth. Rtam is the eternal nature of the Kshetra in the Kshetrajna, it is the Lower Nature that is held in the Higher. The Higher is the province of Its Governance and the Lower is the field of Its Leela, but they are never two.
Now there arises this question: If dharma is the nature of a thing, and all things in this world exist according to their own natures, then how indeed can there be adharma in this world? How is it possible that there may be something that is not in accordance with its own nature? In order to answer this question, we must recognize that adharma arises only in a conscious locus that is subject to avidya. It is only through avidya that a soul may see untruth and it is only due to the ahamkara wrought by avidya that a jiva may behold the illusion of the Self as an agent of action.
The locus of adharma is therefore the jiva that has chaitanya and will. A rose can never be anything but a rose because it has no will to be otherwise. It may appear to be other than what it is only in the vision of a jiva that is gifted with consciousness and will – and avidya. It is due to avidya that there arises the great mystery of this world - that untruth paradoxically comes to be, for it is indeed a paradox to say that there is in reality an untruth. For if it is, it is truth, and it can be untruth only by not being. In Advaita Vedanta, untruth is neither being nor non-being, but is the loss of genuineness of a thing’s being; it is adhyasa, one thing appearing as another. It is the paradoxical nature of Maya in which there is the loss of distinction between the real and unreal. The twin poles of truth and untruth arise in vyavaharika sathya, which is the Truth of Paramartha filtered through the lens of one’s avidya to present a paradoxical world whose truth can never be determined, for it is never possible to determine the true nature of something that partakes of falsity. It is therefore anirvacaniya, epistemologically indeterminable. The truth of a thing seen in samsara is not found by looking for it in the thing that is seen, but by removing one’s avidya so that its truth is seen naturally in the Light of the Sun. In Advaita Vedanta, avidya is not a thing to be removed; it is the sleep of looking at the world with unseeing eyes. Awakening is the opening of the eye – the Third Eye. In the sleep of samsara, the will wills in ways contrary to the truth. This defiant act of the will is adharma. The will cannot change the Truth, but it can present the Truth in Time as the balance of justice in the Dharma Chakra. It is the Wheel of Dharma that governs the actions of all beings and bestows upon them the results in accordance with their actions:
The field of dharma is the field of human action. Human action arises only in samsara wherein a jiva is subject to avidya. The jiva’s agency for action cannot exist in the Light of Knowledge:
Samsara is the journey of the soul in the deep sleep of avidya. It is called the anadi bija nidra, the beginning-less sleep without end. It is Maharatri, the Great Night of Darkness. Its end is not an end in time, but is the opposite of sleep which is the Awakening into the Light of Eternity. In samsara, the Bliss of Self is masked by avidya and the soul is therefore always trying to attain the inner ecstasy that it has lost, and hence arises its first purushartha, kama, the pursuit of pleasure. Kama is essentially the pursuit of the erotic, and while its most common goal is sexual pleasure, it is also the pursuit of beauty and art because the absorption attained by the soul in aesthetics is the merging of subject and object, which is the essence of the erotic. The subject is the purusha in the body and the object is prakriti, and in absorption he enjoys union with her. This is the reason why aesthetics, or gandharva shastra, is the overarching paradigm of kama shastra.*X.
Again, in samsara, the soul that is essentially one with the Infinite Brahman is ‘contracted’ into the limited self within the body, and it is always trying to make up for the loss of its innate infinitude and hence there arises the second purushartha, artha, which is the pursuit of wealth, objects, fame, etc. Avidya is beginningless – no one knows when it all began – and the unpaid debts due to other beings that it has accumulated in its journey have to be repaid and thus arises the third purushartha, the pursuit of dharma. And when the soul has tired of being tossed about in this ocean of samsara, it yearns for the freedom of eternity and the seeking that arises from this yearning is the fourth purushartha, the pursuit of moksha. Thus there arise in the field of human activity the four purusharthas – kama, artha, dharma and moksha.
Sanatana Dharma is divided two-fold in accordance with the two-fold directedness of human actions, the directedness to kama, artha and dharma, comprising and the path of works, and the directedness to moksha being the path of renunciation. It is this two-fold Eternal Dharma that holds the universe in place including both the stability of the created world and the preservation of the esoteric path for the soul to fly from the shadow of the ephemeral to the Light of the Eternal. Regarding this, Sri Shankaracharya writes:
The Eternal Dharma seen through the lens of Time is the Wheel of Dharma. Under the governance of the Wheel of Dharma, the soul acquires various bodies as it journeys through time. But the various bodies that a soul acquires are eternally existent in Brahman. They exist as the artha in the Purushartha. The soul in samsara merely comes to reside in these bodies as given to it by its own past actions. The Yoga Sutra says:
When a soul casts off one body and is yet to acquire another, it retains the impressions gained from its past births. These impressions are its sukshuma sharira, the subtle body. When a person dies, the soul merely disengages itself from the gross body; its gross eyes are gone, but its sense of sight is not gone; its gross ears are gone, but its sense of hearing is not gone; its hands and legs are gone, but its sense of grasping and locomotion are not gone. These are part of its sukshuma sharira – the subtle body - with which it wanders about from birth to birth. The sukshuma sharira is the body comprised of the inner four sheaths out of the five sheaths that an embodied being in this world possesses. The five sheaths of an embodied being are the annamayakosha, the pranamayakosha, the manomayakosha, the vijnanamayakosha, and the anandamayakosha. The inner four sheaths from the anandamayakosha to the pranamayakosha remain with the soul even when the soul disengages itself from the gross body. That is why a person is said to die when prana leaves the body. Prana presents itself as breath in the gross body, but it is in actuality the life-current that animates the gross body through the manifestation of breath. Now, all of nature is composed of the three gunas – rajas, sattva and tamas. The gradation of bodies in the world depends on the admixture of the gunas that are in them. The distribution of the gunas in the sukshuma sharira – the impressions from its actions in its previous lives - determines the body that the soul is given by the Lord’s Chakra when it is reborn into this world. Lord Krishna says in the Gita:
The dharma of a soul is to follow the dharma of the body given to it by the Wheel of Justice. The dharma of a soul that is born as a man is to follow the dharma of a man, and the dharma of a soul that is born as a dog is to follow the dharma of a dog. Right and wrong actions of a soul depend on the body that it possesses at the time when it is performing those actions. That is why Shankara, the sannyasi, was not polluted by loss of celibacy even though he had sported with the queens of Amuraka when occupying the body of the king.*XI
To know what dharma is, it is necessary to know what swadharma is because it is a thing’s swadharma that is the reference against which actions are measured as right and wrong. Now, this world is name and form, and to know a thing is to know the name and the form that is true to the name. To know the true form of a thing is to know the intrinsic attributes of the thing. The intrinsic attributes of a thing – the attributes that are one with it - is its swadharma. It is the swadharma of fire to burn, and of water to flow. (Action is also an attribute of a thing, for we do not see mere action in this world, but see it as the attribute of something that is acting.) The swadharma of all things lies in the artha that is the Divine Rtam in Brahman. It is the name and the meaning – the form that is true to the name - as it exists eternally in Brahman. The body that a soul is identified with in a given birth has its own intrinsic nature – its swadharma - and it is the dharma of a jiva to act in accordance with the swadharma of the body and the station that it naturally comes to possess in the world. Men and women are not given their bodies and stations by accident. The Wheel of Dharma has given it to them due to their past-actions and the duties of the bodies and stations they now occupy are the actions required for balancing the actions of the past. By following dharma – by being true to the swadharma of the bodies and stations given to them - they would be repaying the debts accruing to them from their past actions. Thus, the injunctions of dharma regarding the duties of stations for men and women are not mere normative principles; they are the prescriptions derived from the workings of the Dharma Chakra. These duties, laid down in the Dharma Shastras, are the manners in which the debts accruing from past lives may be repaid. The actions required to repay these past debts are called nitya karma, the necessary duties of a man or woman. There is no choice but to perform them because there is no choice in the matter of repayment of debts. In performing them - by being true to the station that one is born in - one repays the debts of the past and becomes free to that extent from one’s past karma. One then lives lightly, for the flavor of a live lived according to dharma is sweet.
To follow dharma is to act in accordance with one’s swadharma. It is being true to the name one bears. In deviating from one’s swadharma, one is not true to the name that one bears. Being true to the name is to conform to Rtam, the meaning that is in Brahman. In the great Confucian Way of the Tao, this principle is called the Doctrine of Rectification of Names.*XII
Dharma is Rtam, the meaning that is in Brahman. In speaking truly about the world, it is the dharma of speaking the truth. In being true to oneself, it is the dharma of acting according to one’s swadharma. Men and women follow dharma by being true to their swadharmas, to those actions that are contained in the meanings of the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ as they exist in Brahman. These are the duties that govern the dharma of men and women in the field of His Leela. But men and women are not merely men and women, they are also many other things that men and women may be such as sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, kings and queens, priests, warriors, servants, maids, lords, ladies, physicians, nurses, drivers, prison-keepers, and many other things. They may be Hindus or Christians or Muslims or Buddhists or Zoroastrians or Pagans. It is not in the swadharma of a king to choose to be a thief or in the swadharma of a wife to choose to be a public woman. They would cease to be a king or wife in so far as they choose these occupations, and thus they would be violating their dharma. But if a king were to choose to slay the enemy in battle, he would be acting in accordance with his swadharma because it is in the nature of a king to slay his enemies in battle. He would not cease to be a king on account of slaying his enemies in battle. Likewise, if a wife were to choose to be a mother of her husband’s children, she would be acting in accordance with her swadharma because it in the nature of a wife to be a mother of her husband’s children. She would not cease to be a wife on account of being a mother of her husband’s children. Thus it is that the dharma of men and women is given by the swadharma of the bodies and stations that they possess. Now there are stations that are given to men and woman by birth, and there are stations that they come to occupy by the choices of their free will. But in using their free will, they would be following dharma only by choosing their occupations in accordance with the swadharma of the bodies and stations that they already possess by virtue of the Wheel of Dharma. Those who understand the natures of samanya and vishesha see that they would remain true to the sameness of the stations given to them by birth by choosing only those occupations and duties that are inherent in the swadharma of these stations. Their duty is to be true to the dharmic stations that the Dharma Chakra bestows them with in the taxonomy of the universe - for it is by performing the actions of the stations they naturally occupy that they would be true to what they are, and they would thereby be true to the Eternal Dharma. It does not therefore behove a man or woman to strive to be other than what his or her swadharma is because that would be a dereliction of his or her dharma. Lord Krishna sums up the gist of the Eternal Dharma in a single verse in the Gita:
This then is a brief overview of the basis of Hindu Dharma. Now, with this background, we shall attempt to provide a reply to the question: How is it that Hinduism sees the different moral codes of the different religions as being valid at the same time? I believe that the nature of Sanatana Dharma itself provides the answer to this question. Each religion is a vishesha religion (vishesha dharma) that is revealed by God to select peoples in this world in accordance with the swadharma of these people (the intrinsic natures of these specific people) and it is the dharma of each religion to follow its respective swadharma as revealed to it by God. The moral codes for different religions may be at variance with one another depending on the natures of the people to whom these religions have been revealed, but they are each the appropriate prescriptions of dharma for them considering their constitution. Just as it is the dharma of a king to slay his enemies whereas the dharma of a sannyasi does not permit him to kill even a worm, and both these are in accordance with dharma notwithstanding the contrary natures of their actions, similarly the moral codes (or governance of actions) of different religions may be different and even contrary to one another and yet they may all be in accordance with the One Eternal Dharma. This is the basis of the Hindu universal outlook regarding the validity of different moral codes that exist in different religions.
Return to Dharma-Kshetra
According to Dr. Morales, the primary cause of the acute problem that Hinduism faces today is Radical Universalism. He concludes his paper with the lure of beautiful words advising us to abandon the scourge of Radical Universalism:
We do not disagree with Dr. Morales that Hindus must go back to the profound truths of their own religion. As we had said at the beginning of this paper, we appreciate the efforts taken by Dr. Morales to combat the apathy of modern Hindus. But the solution to the problem is certainly not the abandonment of Universalism. When we consider the equivocation that Dr. Morales brings to the term Radical Universalism, abandoning it would amount to abandoning the heart of Hinduism as well as abandoning the faith we repose in great saints such as Sri Ramakrishna. The end result of such abandonment would be the rise of a new breed of Hindu youth marked with a Judeo-Christian attitude towards other religions. These neo-Hindus would look at other religions as so many different, and spurious, mountains, and this may in time cause some well-intentioned Hindu youth to set out on a mission to convert the members of other religions to the one true faith! Universalism is the gift of our dharma; let us not abandon it on such specious grounds.
What then is the problem with Hinduism today? What is it that ails the Hindu? Why has the Hindu now become a caricature of his old self? Why does the Hindu today take the lesser truths of the sciences to justify the higher truths of his religion? Why does the modern Hindu mask the great revelations of his religion under silly and infantile clichés? Why has the Hindu become a shadow of those foreigners without whose support he cannot even pronounce the truths of his own religion? And above all, why has the Hindu lost the vitality and the supreme courage with which he once laughed at the chimera of the world and even faced death as a mere bubble in the sea of life? Is this the Hindu that is descended from the race of Harishchandra and Yajnavalkya?
The answer to all these questions is rooted in one simple fact – the fact that we Hindus have forsaken our dharma. We are caught today in the gale of a storm and it tosses us about in all directions. The whirl of the storm is not outside us; it is within us, created by the vacuum that we have ourselves allowed to birth within our souls. The malady that plagues Hinduism today is not due to the conquering Moghuls that came down from the North-West, nor is it due to the colonial British that came sailing across the seas, nor is it due to the glitter and kaleidoscope of the modern West; it is due to our own debilitating weakness and inadequacy. This weakness has created such an intense vacuum within us that it pulls in all manner of alien things into our souls. We do not go out to ape the West or to fall prey to consumerism; it comes pouring into the vacuum within us because we have stripped ourselves of our wholeness and now the emptiness in us lets in whatever lies in the vicinity, be they gems or be they garbage.
One of the common remedies prescribed by Hindu intellectuals for the problem of Hindu apathy is to take the message of Vedanta to all and everyone. But they ignore the fact that Vedanta is not for everyone. And moreover everyone does not want Vedanta. Among the four human pursuits – kama, artha, dharma and moksha – the pursuit of moksha is only for a select few, for those whose hearts have been stirred by the Call of the Divine. For others, it is quite natural to follow the call of kama, artha and dharma. There is nothing wrong with the pursuit of pleasure; there is nothing wrong with the pursuit of wealth and fame. But there is something wrong with the pursuit of pleasure and wealth and fame when they are immoderate and not in accordance with the dictates of dharma. There has been in the recent past a markedly skewed propagation of the message of Hinduism which places an overriding emphasis on Vedanta to the near exclusion of the Dharma Kshetra within which Vedanta appears as its supreme revelation. We need to bring about a correction in perspective today so that all and sundry do not neglect what they believe to be mere superstitions in favor of the highest goal that they are unable to pursue and often fool themselves into believing they are pursuing. Who amongst us has that kind of vairagya that is necessary to follow the path of Vedanta? The overarching umbrella of Hinduism is Hindu Dharma and not Vedanta. Vedanta is for a select few, but Hindu Dharma is for all Hindus. Dharma is applicable even to the aspirant of moksha because dharma governs every single thing in this world without exception. It governs even the mukta; the mukta remains free because he is one with his swadharma which is to be forever free. What is required today is to return to the Dharma Kshetra – to the values and way of living that is the necessary pre-requisite for the welfare of each and everyone that is born a Hindu. The Law of Dharma is Eternity moving in Time. He who follows the path of dharma lives harmoniously in the flowing Song of Time. He is stilled in Time, as it were, and out of the stillness of Eternity his vitality and courage will once more blossom forth to give Hinduism the vigor that it is now missing.
It is time for us to stand up and speak. There is no need to be apologetic about our religion. The land of Aryavarta has been sacked by Hindus and non-Hindus alike and together we have foisted upon it a constitution that abrogates the ancient Dharma of the land. On this land of Bharata has been imposed the false ideals of equality and democracy, and the surrogate shrine of secularism. We have left the dharma revealed to us by Lord Krishna to bow our heads before the rabble and the imposter. We have sold ourselves like harlots to every master that has come to us in the guise of a reformist. We have had too many cowards and apologists amongst us. It is time to be Warriors of the Spirit. The Varnashrama of Sanatana Dharma is not something to be ashamed of. It is the Eternal Truth of Nature, the axle on which the Wheel of Dharma revolves. We are heirs to the greatest Truth on earth and to the greatest Way given to humankind. This Gift comes with a responsibility that we Hindus cannot simply shrug ourselves of.
– Chittaranjan Naik
I would like to thank Sri Sudhir Raikar for carefully reading the article and giving me his valuable comments and frank opinion, and to Sri Govindrajan for his patient hearing during the time I was writing the article. I am deeply grateful to Sri Sri Ralph Nataraj, the Mahayogi in the lineage of Tryambaka, who is a shining example of the Light leading through all paths.