The subject proved much bigger than I had imagined. Or, perhaps, I was unable to explain
properly why the Hindu ethos is frequently misunderstood. I was just about able to explain
that a Hindu could not be considered a fatalist if only he understood the explanation of
his faith or the basic tenets of Hinduism.
There is perhaps a reason why Hinduism is not correctly understood;
especially by the western world. The spiritual basis of western civilisation is provided
by Judaic values. That there is an Almighty who is identifiable as an omniscent entity.
The Jews call Him Jehova, the Christians God and Muslims Allah. Karl Marx revolted and
took the line of an atheist. Hence, there is no Marxist Almighty. Nevertheless, Marx took
God's place. There were his apostles Lenin, Trotsky or Mao.
Socialism is a continuity in the Judaic chain. A common fundamental
presumption is that man came as an equal to this earth but society made men unequal. These
religions have holy books, the Torah, the Bible, the Quran, Das Kapital. Each believes in
a single life. Marxism believes that the state will wither away as soon as an idyllic
society has been established on earth. There will thereafter be bliss for all because all
human beings would be equal. They cannot be divided between those rewarded with paradise
and those committed to purgatory.
From each according to his ability, to each according to his need is
the Marxist dictum of equality before the arrival of bliss. After that, it should perhaps
be from each according to his sins, to each according his paradise! There can be no other
way to ensure equality. But the other three religions propagate the concept of Doomsday
which, in Islam, is called qayaamat, when the Almighty will sit on judgement over
the conduct of people on earth and send them to heaven or hell according to what each
The Hindu ethos has hardly anything in common with this Judaic belief.
There is no concept of the Almighty or even a remotely identifiable entity. The collective
soul of all living beings is called paramatma or the supreme soul. All the
ordinary living beings, whether human, animal, bird or reptile, have a jeevatma
or an individual soul. The endeavour of each individual should be to lead as good a life
as possible in the hope of being able to reach the paramatma and, in the process,
eventually not be reborn. That is called mukti or the Hindu view of salvation.
What is a good life is for the individual to up right and design. There
are guidelines but no definite paths are prescribed. There is no overriding Holy Book.
There is no concept of heaven. There is no doomsday or any day of judgement. Nor is there
a single life. The jeevatma continues to live until it reaches the paramatma.
Life, as we consciously experience it, is merely a continuum of incarnations with birth
alternating death as punctuations from one stage to the other. In the Judaic ethos, each
individual life is complete and ends with death. For the Hindu, a life is at best a stage
in the journey towards multi. The Buddhist calls it nirvana while the Jain
describes it as moksha.
Yet, Hinduism has been condemned as polytheistic whereas the westerner
has prided himself as a monotheist or a believer in one Almighty. In Hinduism, there is no
Almighty. How can there be either a poly or a monogod? Yes, there are avatars or
incarnations like Ram, Krishna, Buddha, Mahavir or Nanak.
What the westerner needs to appreciate is that the avatars are
supersouls or atmas who have earlier attained mukti but have come back to the
earth in order to save it from decline and to revive its quality. They can be called muktatmas.
But they are not either Almighties or Gods. In the Christian idiom, they can perhaps
be called apostles.
There are also mahatmas. Gandhiji is considered one such great
soul, rather like a saint in Christianity. So then all, whether jeevatma, mahatma,
muktatma or parmatma, are ultimately one total soul. To that extent, all
living beings are extensions of divinity. This then is the Hindu explanation.So very
different from the Judaic belief.
As it happens, over the last few centuries, western civilisation has
flourished and more or less dominated the world. Inevitably there has been a tendency to
measure the whole world and all civilisations with the Judaic yardstick. Anything
different tends to be dismissed as inferior. Regrettably, there have not been many Hindu
savants who have stood up and explained to the west what is Hinduism? True, there was the
great Swami Vivekananda who had an electrifying effect on some people in the west.
Unfortunately he died young.
Then there was Sri Aurobindo who would not stir out of Pondicherry and
go out of the country to explain Hinduism. Even then many were spontaneously attracted to
him and his philosophy. There were scholars like Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan who knew and
could explain. They did but again to only a select audience. In the process, the average
westerner continued to believe in his superiority and tragically the average Indian
accepted, even if implicitly, his inferiority. When a person does not have
self-confidence, how could one expect others to have faith in his competence? That is the
A preoccupation with equality, which we have seen at the centre of the
Judaic ethos, leads to social intervention. There is life at the end of which there is an
assessment by the Almighty regarding performance in society. There is, therefore, no
concept of sanyas or renouncement in the Judaic ethos. Atonement yes, renouncement no.
Social performance needs a mechanism or a network. Call it organization. The result is
that societies of the west are organised. In sharp contrast, the Hindu society functions
on the principle of liberty, as distinct from equality. There could not be a ceiling on
the good deeds a man might do. If there is no lid on karma, or deed, there can be
no limit on bhagya or destiny.
Since there is no single life, there is no special hurry to perform
socially. In any case, several of the paths recommended for an individual to work towards
achieving mukti are unconnected with performance in society. For instance, bhakti is total
devotion. Gnanayoga or the path of self realisation as pursued by Sri Aurobindo is
bereft of social action. Social organisation on any scale is therefore not always
When an organised society believing in equality and one life came in
contact with a less organised milieu believing in liberty and continuity of birth, death
and rebirth, the former did not understand the latter and assumed that it was superior.
Moreover, it was a case of the conqueror sitting in judgement over the conquered. It all
seemed to the east as well as to the west that the Occident was superior and the orient
was inferior. Little wonder that we have been misunderstood. Itis time we pulled ourselves
together and explained ourselves to the others in their own idiom.