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Hinduism: A Religion or Dharma

When the question of “who is a Hindu?” is discussed today, we get a multitude of confused and contradictory answers from both laypersons and from Hindu leaders. That we have such a difficult time understanding the answer to even so fundamental a question as “who is a Hindu?” is a starkly sad indicator of the lack of folk wisdom today.

Some of the common answers generally given to this simple question include: Anyone born in India is automatically a Hindu (the ethnicity fallacy), if your parents are Hindu, then you are Hindu (the  clan and ancestry argument), if you are born into a certain caste, then you are Hindu (the genetic-inheritance model), if you believe in reincarnation, then you are Hindu (forgetting that many non-Hindu religions share at least some of the beliefs of Hinduism), if you practice any religion originating from India, then you are a Hindu (the national origin fallacy).

The two primary factors that distinguish the individual uniqueness of the great world religious traditions are:-

  1. a) the scriptural authority upon which the tradition is based, and,
  2. b) the fundamental religious tenet(s) that it espouses.

If we ask the question, “who is a Jew?’’ – for example, the answer is: someone who accepts the Torah as their scriptural guide and believes in the monotheistic concept of God espoused in these scriptures. “Who is a Christian?”  the answer could be: a person who accepts the Gospels as his  scriptural guide and believes that Jesus is the incarnate God who died for their sins. “Who is a Muslim?” – someone who accepts the Qur’an as   his scriptural guide, and believes that there is no God but Allah, and that Mohammed is his prophet.

But can we really define Hinduism by using the parameters as mentioned above?

Shri Aurobindo in ‘India’s Rebirth’ writes;

“Hinduism … gave itself no name, because it set itself no sectarian limits; it claimed no universal adhesion, asserted no sole infallible dogma, set up no single narrow path or gate of salvation; it was less a creed or cult than a continuously enlarging tradition of the God ward endeavor of the human spirit. An immense many-sided and many staged provision for a spiritual self-building and self-finding, it had some right to speak of itself by the only name it knew, the eternal religion, Santana Dharma…”

Mahatma Gandhi talked many times in direct terms about why he is proud to be a Hindu. He explained his concept of Hinduism or ‘Sanatana Dharma’ – he wrote in an article on Hinduism that;

“I had practiced Hinduism from early childhood. Later on, I had come in contact with Christians, Muslims and others, and after making a fair study of other religions, had stuck to Hinduism. I am as firm in my faith today as in my early childhood. I believe God would make me an instrument of saving the religion that I love, cherish and practice. In any case, one has to have constant practice and acquaintance with the fundamentals of religion before being qualified for becoming God’s instrument. I do not need to live amidst Hindus to know the Hindu mind when every fiber of my being is Hindu. My Hinduism must be a very poor thing if it cannot flourish under influences of the most adverse. My Hinduism is not sectarian. My Hinduism demands no pacts. I am proud to belong to that Hinduism which is all inclusive”.

Hinduism is not an exclusive religion. It is not a missionary religion in the ordinary sense of the term. It has no doubt absorbed many tribes in its fold, but this absorption has been an evolutionary, imperceptible character. Hinduism tells everyone to worship God according to his own faith or dharma and so it lives at peace with all religions.

Generally, we believe that the words Religion and “Dharma” are synonymous and interchangeable. Religion literally means that which leads one to God. “Dharma” is derived from the root Sanskrit word “dhri” which means “to hold together”. It has a wider meaning than the word “religion” which mostly denotes the Semitic religions, each one with a fixed formula of one God- One avatar- one book and a fixed creed. There is no equivalent word for Dharma either in English or in any other language. In this sense, Hinduism is not a religion; it’s a “Dharma”. Those who profess the Hindu Dharma and seek to follow it, are guided by spiritual, social and moral rules, actions, knowledge and duties which are responsible for holding the human race together. At the individual or the communal levels it is what is given  in the above quote from Sri Aurobindo’s writings, that is,    “…  a continuously enlarging tradition of the God-ward endeavor of the human spirit”, a journey of consciousness, a progression of the divine manifestation in oneself, an achieved sense of evolution within.

According to Swami Sivananda;

“Hinduism allows absolute freedom to the rational mind of man. It never demands any undue restraint upon the freedom of human reason, the freedom of thought, feeling and will of man. Hinduism is freedom, allowing the widest margin of freedom in matters of faith and worship. It allows absolute freedom of human reason and heart with regard to such questions as to the nature of God, soul, form of worship, creation, and the goal of life. It does not force anybody to accept particular dogmas or forms of worship. It allows everybody to reflect, investigate, enquire and cogitate”.

Hence all manner of religious faiths, various forms of worship or spiritual practices, diverse rituals and customs have found their place, side by side, within the Great Tradition of Hinduism, and are acculturated and developed in harmony with one another. Hinduism, unlike other religions, does not dogmatically assert that the final emancipation or liberation is possible only through its means and not through any other. It is only a means to an end, and all means that ultimately lead to the final goal are approved of. Hinduism is not bound up with a creed or a book, a prophet or a founder, but it believes in persistent search for truth on the basis of a continuously renewed experience. Hinduism is human thought about God in continuous evolution.

Hinduism is not a religion, but a commonwealth of religions. It is more a way of life than a form of thought…The theist and the atheist, the skeptic and the agnostic may all be Hindus if they accept the Hindu system of culture and life. Hinduism insists not on religious conformity but on a spiritual and ethical outlook of life…Hinduism is not a sect but a fellowship of all who accept the law of right and earnestly seek for the truth.

Religion may be the constitutional necessity of mankind, but Dharma is that which ultimately leads man to his real nature and the Supreme Goal. Believe in your Dharma, believe in truth… be a Hindu before being a follower of any religion. And you will not need religion ultimately, at that stage when you or I have realized our inner self, as the Gita says:

सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य मामेकं शरणं व्रज ।
अहं त्वा सर्वपापेभ्यो मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुचः ॥

Abandoning all duties, come to Me alone for shelter. Be not grieved for I shall release thee from all evils. (Translation by Dr. Radhakrishnana, Bhagavad Gita Shloka 66 of Chapter 18)

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On the eve of Vikram Nav Varsh Samvant 2072. (March 20, 2014)

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Posted by on March 20, 2015 in Speeches and talks

 

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Time to rediscover Gandhi and to redefine Non-Violence.

My dear friends,

I am thankful to the members of Gandhi Peace Mission 2015 for inviting me to attend the inaugural session of International Peace Summit at Beliaghata, Kolkata, a place which symbolizes inter-community harmony and coherence.

International Peace Summit 2015

To stand and speak in this historical Gandhi Bhawan, where Gandhiji lived during his visits to Kolkata and where he fasted for 25 days from August 13, 1947 during the partition riots, means a lot for me. Thank you once again.

Hope you will agree with me that whenever we talk about Gandhiji, we project non-violence as a weapon against violence. But we forget that if non-violence is a weapon, then it shall not be with individuals, not with common men. Weapons are the tools of violence, all decent men detest them. As a weapon shall be with the government, with the law enforcing agencies only; this is exactly what happened – for us it has become the task of the government, of the law enforcing agencies to ensure non- violence, peace, equality and brotherhood in the society without the contribution of the society at all.

Standing here today, I wish to ponder over Gandhi ji’s role and his philosophy of non-violence in bringing peace in the riot affected Kolkata of August 1947. Once the struggle for independence was over, and the nation was preparing to celebrate its first Independence Day, instead of participating in celebrations, Gandhiji went to Kolkata on a new mission – a mission against communalism, a mission against violence, a mission against hatred. Gandhiji’s Kolkata mission and his fast was not meant to activate the government or the law-enforcing agencies, but to convey the message that non-violence, peace, harmony and brotherhood are our Dharma. As Buddha said ‘अहिंसा परमो धर्मः’, the same thing Gandhiji said again and again to all those who were killing fellow Indians in the name of Dharma itself. He knew that what no army could do, feeling of dharma could. And the miracle happened. The city of hatred became the city of joy. This miracle of Kolkata needs to be propagated, the word “non-violence” needs to be redefined from the perspective of Dharma rather than a weapon. Then only we shall be able to achieve our goal of universal peace and brotherhood.

One more thing I will like to emphasise upon from this platform; we need to understand that no growth is possible in isolation. For growth, for development different factors are required to be there. The government has to realize and understand it. The policies shall be such as will promote interdependence in society. When a seed is put in the ground, and earth and water and air are placed around it, does the seed become the earth, or the air or water? No, it becomes the plant, it develops after the law of its own growth, assimilates the air, the earth, and the water, converts them into its own life-material and grows into a plant. Similar is the case with religion. A Hindu is not to become a Muslim, or a Christen; nor a Muslim or Christen has to become a Hindu to live peacefully in today’s world. But each one must assimilate the spirit of the other and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth. Then only peace will prevail in our world.

The Kolkata period of Gandhiji was his best period as a Satyagrahi, when at 77 he without any purvagrah (prejudice) was on a mission of peace and love. I personally feel that here in Kolkata, Gandhiji was acting greater than Bhishma Pitamah of Mahabharata. Bhishma was keen to follow his dharma only, but Gandhiji was not only fulfilling his dharma by fasting, by praying but with those actions of his was morally forcing others to follow the dharma. This face of Gandhiji has been neglected by the history. May be we never wanted to tell the world that Gandhiji was not happy with the blood –soaked partition, and he refused even to participate in the ‘celebrations’. This act of courage, where insistence with love, faith and trust brought peace, needs to be shared with our children.

The time has come when we need to ensure that Gandhiji is not deified to be worshipped as a deity in an alcove but that he was always a teacher, with enormous moral compulsion, and we and our children know him as a teacher of immense persuasion. I wish to request all my friend here to take this magic of Gandhiji to schools, colleges and universities using modern technology. Having Gandhi Centers alone will not serve the purpose, we need to take Gandhiji to the masses again. I believe that this summit will ignite a new spark in the nation, especially in the young generation to understand the meaning of peace and brotherhood, and to rediscover the real Gandhi. I am thankful to Dr Sankar Sanyal and Prof Radhakrishnan and all of you for your sincere efforts that Gandhiji remains alive where it matters most—in our heart and mind, and in action of love and peace. May this mission be a success, may we shine in unity, and may we live in peace and remain in harmony with each other always!

Thank you!

(Excerpt of the Inaugural address delivered in International Peace Summit organized by Gandhi Peace Mission 2015 at historical Gandhi Bhawan at Beliaghata, Kolkata on 02 February, 2015)

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2015 in Speeches and talks

 

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An Evening with an Incurable Optimist in Communal Harmony – AU Asif

If there are a few people in this country who turn non-issues into issues and disturb the social fabric, tarnishing the image of India, there is no dearth of people who do vice versa. Kunwar Shekhar Vijendra, Pro Chancellor, Shobhit University, whom this scribe met the other day on November 26, 2009, is a man with a difference. He is not only a firm believer in India’s exemplary pluralistic thought but also tries to practice it in his usual routine life. He is, in fact, an incurable optimist in communal harmony.

He hails from Gangoh, known for exemplary communal harmony. Gangoh lies in a belt known for producing well known personalities like Hazrat Qutub Alam Gangohi, Baba Hari Das, Sulaiman Gangohi, Rasheed Ahmed Gangohi and Maulana Qasim Nanotvi. The last two are known to play a pivotal role in the foundation of Darul Uloom Deoband, an internationally renowned Islamic seminary. These personalities also remained in the forefront of the Independence struggle since 1857. To him, Gangoh is not only a qasbah but a composite culture itself. That’s why there is found here no communal feeling among the followers of different religions, and it has emerged as the best example of communal harmony and co-existence.

“I am a Hindu by faith but I fast on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramazan every year since my childhood,” he acclaims. And, this is not limited to a token demonstration of one’s inner feeling and respect for other religions but found in his every day life and practices.

Recalls Kunwar Shekhar: “Recently there were a number of Muslim guests from Pakistan to my residence. They belonged to an elite class. The guests included a young boy and girl. Surprised over our attitude of co-existence, they asked as to does this really exist in the Indian society as a whole. Then I offered them to go to mandir, gurudwara and masjid, along with my own children and see from their own eyes the scenes of co-existence and tolerance. Astonishingly, they asked: Would they not kill us as we are Muslims? When I assured them full satisfaction, they agreed to go to the places of worship. Their astonishment vanished when after reaching mandir and gurudwara and getting introduced, the Hindu and Sikh priests welcomed and narrated them the Hindu and Sikh teachings of co-existence and harmony. Similar was the experience of my own children accompanying these guests while visiting Delhi’s historic Jama Masjid. Some responsible persons at the mosque too welcomed my Hindu children and showed the mosque with much interest. The result was that these children came back more than satisfied about the plural character of India.”

What Kunwar Shekhar says is the general feeling. The Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama said at the three-day long 18th annual conference of the Vitro-Retinal Society of India in Palampur on November 26 that the world must learn religious harmony from India.

Kunwar Shekhar was in the Soviet Union during the last days of Mikhail Gorbachev’s regime. He has so much regard for other religions that he presented her teacher of Russian language, Fatima, a Muslim lady from Daghistan, a gift of a small copy of the Holy Quran carried from his home country. He says: “Even being a staunch Communist, she accepted my offer with respect. I don’t know whether she is now alive or not.” Recalling her peculiar way of teaching, he avers: “She taught me through indications, hints and symbols without taking the help of English language.”

Kunwar Shekhar Vijendra is among a few persons who don’t live with the history, rather tries to change the course of the history. He wonders as to why today’s children find their heroes in Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aishwarya Rai and other cine stars instead of Gandhiji and other national heroes as well as religious figures.

In connection with the centennial celebration of the publication of Gandhiji’s 1909 book “Hind Swaraj”, Shobhit University in collaboration with Indian Council of Gandhian Studies, Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan and Hinsa Mukt Bharat Andolan organized on November 15, 2009 a seminar, inaugurated by its Vice Chancellor Dr Anoop Swarup and participated by Additional Solicitor General of India Bishwajit Bhattacharyya; Gandhian scholars Dev Dutt and Anil Mishra; Indian Council of Gandhian Studies Chairman Prof N Radhakrishnan; and Prof Pradeep Mathur among others. A large number of students enthusiastically participated in the programme and shared their feelings. They were overzealous to know about the writing of Gandhiji much before his coming back to India from South Africa and attaining the prefix of “Mahatma” to his name.

Says: Kunwar Shekhar: “Our national heroes have not lost charisma, rather we have lost them. Even today if we make them the topics of our discussion, there is no reason as to why our children won’t take interest in them.” It is to point out that Shobhit University announced on this occasion to introduce “Gandhian Way of Journalism” in its course of study.

It pains Kunwar Shekhar to see the decline in values, particularly moral values and discipline among the new generation. That’s why the topic of the seminar was “Education for Nation-Building and Civilizational Issues in ‘Hind Swaraj’”.

The only slogan of this man is “Each One Teach one”. One hopes that in an era of moral and value degeneration, his dream would one day take a shape and become a reality.
—A U Asif can be reached at au_asif@yahoo.co.in

http://fanawatch.com/index.php?do=news_view&id=1344

 

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