Usually an -ism is associated with a narrow doctrine, developed by one person like Marxism, Stalinism, Maoism or has otherwise a negative image like Nazism or “Islam-ism”, which is meant to be seen as different and worse than Islam. That Juda-ism, which always was at the receiving end of Christianity and Islam, also got an –ism just would confirm that the –ism is not as ‘noble’ as the ending of the two “only true” religions.
Did the West try to obfuscate the fact that the Eastern traditions, foremost of all the Indian, had profound philosophies at their core and portray them also as ‘belief-systems’ with unverifiable dogmas at their core? For millennia these Eastern traditions have lived harmoniously together without fighting each other but rather debating each other, in stark contrast to Christianity and Islam.
One thing is clear: Christianity/ Islam on one side and India’s traditions on the other are two very different categories.
One group makes unverifiable claims about the truth, demands blind belief in those claims and threatens with dire consequences, while the other group freely enquires into the truth by inner exploration, debates, guided by the ancient texts and saints who had experienced being one with all.
For one group the goal of life is to reach heaven and avoid hell after death by religiously sticking to the doctrine which is taught. The other group sees the goal in realizing the blissful truth that we are one with all in the depth of our own being while we are alive.
One group depends on conversion and indoctrination to gain followers, while Hinduism is Sanatana (eternal) Dharma (righteous way of living).
Every Christian or Muslim had forefathers who were not Christians or Muslims. At the start, often the sword was used to convert, as the ‘truth’ of the dogmas was not self-evident and even went against common sense. Later, indoctrination of children and blasphemy laws kept the followers subdued.
The reason why conversion is necessary for the dogmatic religions is simple:
Suppose a community on some island is completely unconnected to the modern world. They will never become Christians or Muslims because they need to be told a story from the past about God sending his only son to earth 2000 years ago, or about Allah sending Mohammed as his last prophet some 1400 years ago.
Yet if these islanders deeply enquired into what is true and how to live a righteous life, they might come to similar conclusions like Sanatana Dharma, as it does not depend on some event in history. It requires deep enquiry into That what truly is eternally.
Yet let me go back to my personal discovery of a connection between science and ‘religion’.
Meanwhile, I had stopped going to mass. When I told it to my mother, her reaction was, “And what if you go to hell?” “I won’t go to hell,” I replied. If there is a God, he surely won’t be so petty-minded to insist on a specific way of worshipping him. I also had had some inkling that indeed, there may be a God. An article on modern physics had explained that all is basically one energy and the different forms in this world are not really solid or separate entities. Strangely, this made sense and I felt: If there is a God then that one energy must be him.
Yet in the 1970s, we students at Hamburg University were so ‘modern and progressive’ that we would have rather bitten our tongues than admit that we believed in God. Yet it was ok to be interested in Buddhism or Transcendental Meditation (TM) or Bhagawan Rajneesh, as Osho was called then.
I even took initiation into TM. The Beatles had paved the way. I loved those 20 minutes of meditation in the morning and evening. Yet there was a lot of negative reporting in German newspapers about TM at that time. The Church had set up commissioners for sects, and warned one can go mad by meditating. Parents were asked to keep an eye on their children so that they don’t fall prey to the brainwashing of those sects. Maybe, this negative propaganda had its influence because I stopped meditating after two years.
Even more than TM, the Hare Krishna ‘sect’ was demeaned and ridiculed by the media. Their followers were portrayed as weird, mad chaps. Hinduism already had a bad image. I had learnt in primary school that it was about a terrible caste system and untouchables. Now the media did their best to make it look even worse.
In December 1979, I planned to go to Australia with a stopover in India. This stopover became a turning point in my life. It lasted meanwhile 37 years. The reason why I stayed on in India ironically was because of the much maligned Hinduism. I realized the amazing depth and breadth of Hinduism and wondered, why it was portrayed so wrongly as a primitive, oppressive religion when it is actually the best option for mankind. The Dalai Lama said that India has great potential to help the world. He is right and the negative propaganda in the West is wrong. Hinduism is least dogmatic and closest to the truth. If it binds at all, it binds or rather unites (yog) the individual with the Divine.
Back to my stopover. I visited the southern tip of India, Kanya Kumari. A little off the coast on a huge rock, there is a memorial for Swami Vivekananda. At a bookstall there, I bought ‘Jnana Yoga’. I had not heard of Swami Vivekananda, but wanted to learn about Indian thought while in India.
Swami Vivekananda had swum to this rock to meditate in December 1892. His guru, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, had died in Calcutta six years earlier. The young man had realized that under British rule his countrymen had purposely been cut off from their culture. He wanted to wake them up, give them back their self-respect and pride in their Hindu tradition.
On this rock, he decided to participate at the World Congress of Religions in Chicago in 1893, and present Advaita Vedanta, one of the highest flowerings among the different Indian philosophical systems. Advaita Vedanta is explained in the Upanishads, the last part (=anta) of the Vedas, and postulates that essentially, everything is a Whole (a-dwaita = not two).
Swami Vivekananda became the star of the World Congress. He got a standing ovation, and was asked to give a lecture tour in the US. He was sought after by influential persons, including scientists like Tesla. But the Christians went after him. In his own words at a lecture at the Victoria Hall in Madras after coming back to India:
“There is not one black lie imaginable that the Christian missionaries did not invent against me. They blackened my character from city to city, poor and friendless though I was in a foreign country. They tried to oust me from every house and to make every man who became my friend my enemy. They tried to starve me out.”
Why did the Christians do this? Did they fear that people realize that Advaita Vedanta makes far more sense than their dogmatic belief-system?
I read ‘Jnana Yoga’, and it was fascinating. Swami Vivekananda expressed clearly what I vaguely had felt to be true. For example that all is interconnected or rather: ONE. Everything in this creation, including ourselves, is permeated by the same great intelligence, like waves are permeated by the same ocean. The waves may be convinced that they are separate from the ocean as they have a distinct form and name. But ultimately all the waves are nothing but the one great ocean and nothing is lost when their form is lost. Similarly, though we may consider our person as separate from others, in truth we are the one consciousness and nothing of substance is lost when form and name are lost.
Further, Swami Vivekananda claimed that the so- called reality is not really real. It is a sense deception, in a similar way, as at dusk a rope is mistakenly seen as a snake, even though in reality there is only a rope. Truly true, he claimed, is our inner being (Atman) that permeates everything and makes all appearances miraculously shine forth. It is infinite, eternal. It is not an object that can be seen with the eyes or thought of with the mind.
“Brahman is not what the eyes can see but That whereby the eyes can see. Brahman is not what the mind can think but That whereby the mind can think…” declares the Kena Upanishad. It is, however, possible to be Brahman. Rather, we are it already – “Ayam Atman Brahman” (the individual consciousness is one with the universal consciousness) is one of the Mahavakyas (great utterances) of Vedanta.
(To be continued)
(The writer is a German psychologist and author who writes in German and English. Her book ‘Thank you India’ has recently been published. Views expressed are personal.)
Friday, 18 January 2019 | Maria Wirth | in Devbhoomi Spiritual—