Thought on religion

Are all religions equal. Answer to that question is a very resounding NO. Are all people equal ? By default yes. Every individual has equal and basic rights but how we deal with him/her will depend on his/her behavior.

That is where the problem lies. Religion has behavioral consequences on it’s followers. Those consequences are a direct result of the basic tenets of the religion and it’s surrounding traditions. Having said that, there are always exceptions. There are people who drive nicely despite being drunk and there are some people who cant drive enough if they are not drunk, these cases fall on the either side of the bell curve but for most people there is a good correlation between alcohol in blood and inability to make good driving decisions.

Fundamentals of religion reflect in individual’s behavior by a degree of his belief. A word “fundamentalist” is often used in media without much sense but what it is supposed to mean is “someone believing in the most fundamental form of the religion”. It is perfectly fine for a person to be fundamentalist as long as he keeps it to himself. When fundamentalism is coupled of zeal to enforce it on others we call it “fanaticism”.

A fundamentalist Christian believes that abortion or even use of contraceptives like condom is blasphemous. He/she will not use it. In her noble prize acceptance speech (Mother) Teressa described contraceptives as a threat to world peace.

That is how religions impact society. More religious the society more it’s principles affect the behavior. If we look at Tibet which happens to be a Buddhist society you will notice that despite a serious oppression by Chinese the Buddhist monks have not picked up Ak-47. You dont see monks blowing up innocents in Chinese buses and markets. Instead we have seen self-immolation. That is because Buddhism is a true religion of peace. It’s teachings create a mental barrier for it’s followers to accept violence as a method of showing unhappiness. At the same time, patience happens to be another characteristic of the religion and we have seen despite all that chinese have done they have not managed to destroy the spirit of Tibetians.

There is a lot of propaganda by media that Islam is the religion of peace. But see Islamic societies are brutally violent. Ak-47 is the first weapon they seem to use. That has got nothing to do with oppression but is due to the teachings of Islam. Yes, convoluted arguments may be presented to show how the verses of Quran are to be interpreted but as one notices that is not the way the majority of the Islamic society  interprets it.

Yes, many teachings of most religions are problematic. A civilized society must seek to mitigate this problem. Thomas Jefferson showed us the way when he clearly separated religion from state and since than the American state and law has mostly stuck to it without coming in a way of personal freedom.

India is a screwed up story. Gandhi and Congress have traditionally made communities as the focal point of their policy making. Congress party has consistently showed disrespect to the individual freedom while upholding community  opinions. That has got nothing to do with socialize or compassion as they would like us to believe. In a largely retarded country like India it is much easier to influence a mob than to influence each individual.

The results are here for all of us to see. Today any mob which demonstrates its ability to inflict violence and disturb peace gets its way. They manage to stop Salman Rushdie from coming here, attack Taslima Nasreen, stop some book and stop some movie.

I have deliberately avoided passing any comment on Hinduism here. Unlike monotheist religions Hinduism does not have a fixed ideology. Hinduism is very fluid will adopt to survive the situation. A vedic traditions built around a set of philosophies evolved into a much  larger ecosystem of religions accomodative of tribal and pagan practices once the vedic people came in touch with the tribals realizing that their participation was essential for everyone’ well being. Every vedic god had animal gods as their servants in the process. A varna system was developed to accommodates all kind of people and to maintain social harmony. As the survival was assured and focus turned on consolidating power and wealth, the varna system degenerated into a caste system. The case system itself was very fluid as shown by various British census reports. However now after independence certain castes saw a benefit in staying in the same caste and hence today we have a very rigid caste system.

Hinduism is certainly not a religion of peace like Buddhism. It is a religion that is capable of violence and war. But mostly this violence comes a retaliation or as revenge.

Now a days we see Hinduism hitting back in the same Islamic fashion. People asking books to be banned, hitting some painter, beating up girls in pubs and so on. This is just a part of it’s internal evolution process. Hindus are realizing that if they need importance in matters of power, they need to demonstrate their ability to be violent. It is just that this violent phase is in it’s infancy. We had seen it’s potential during Gujarat riot and we might see even worse in future.

The solution to the problem is to first take us out from the delusion that all religions are peaceful and equal. We must build an environment where religion can be discussed in purely philosophical point of view. Let the reason win over mob rule. If some people get offended in process so bit. If the offended people take up violence the state must put them behind bars without any mercy. Hope for humanity lies in the fact that with time reason prevails in the mind of people our blind faith. If we incentivize faith then reason will never find it’s way through.

 

The Principal Upanishads

I had always heard about Vedas and Upanishads but knew very little about their contents. We read everywhere that these books are sacred to Hinduism but very less percentage of Hindus probably read any of those. At least that was my perception.

S. Radhakrishnan’s Principal Upanishads is considered as one of the best translations of chosen few Upanishads out there. I purchased my self a copy and promised myself that I will read at least half of its total 900 pages. Out of those 900 pages first 150 pages are of introduction by Radhakrishanji himself. Honestly I found those 150 pages much more useful than rest of the 750 pages.

Even though an ordinary person does not read Upanishads I am pretty sure many people are familiar with the topics discussed into them. If you know the story of Nachiketas, you probably know the theme of Kathaupanishad. If you know the story of Revaka and Janasruti you probably know a very large portion of Chandayoga Upanishad.

There is one annoying thing about the style in which the shlokas are formed, however when we consider that most of this knowledge was passed through oral (think clean guys) tradition, it becomes clear why a same pattern is again in the next shloka with little change, notice these two paras and notice the only difference. 😛

Raivaka, here are six hundred cows, a gold necklace and a chariot with mules. Now Sir, please teach me the deity whom you worship.

And in next shloka

And to him, then, the other replied, ‘Oh, necklace and carriage along with the cows be yours, O Sudra. And then again, Janasruti,  the great-grandson (of Janasruta) taking thousand cows, a gold necklace and a chariot with mules, and his daughter too went up to him.

So the Janasruti the great grandson of Janasrut gives him a lot of wealth, but that does not do the trick. It is the daughter that does the trick. See what Raivaka says

Then lifting her face towards himself, he said, ‘He has brought these cows along, Sudra, merely by this face you would make me speak.’ These are the villages called Raivaka-parna, among the people of Mahavarsa where he lived. Then he said to him:

Gift of wealth, intelligence, knowledge of the veda, love and knowledge are the six ways to attainment of knowledge.

The last verse is quoted by Raivaka. It is a bit inconsistent, what lead Janasruti to gain confidence of Raivaka is not any of these but offering his daughter as wife. Also the sentence is like a recursive definition, to have knowledge one should already have knowledge. Oops.

Most of the Upanishads are full of such arguments and stories. It is not in my capacity to study them, I would rather rely on people like S. Radhakrishnan to explain to me what they are trying to say and his arguments resonate with me.

Upanishads belong to the sruti category of Hindu scriptures. Sruti are not written by anyone but it is a revealed knowledge or rather knowledge without end of beginning. Many of the Upanishads are like dialogs between a sage and his pupil but the knowledge itself is not under that sage’s attribution. It is believed to be independent.

For a student of history what all this would mean is that this literature is really old and held sacred and important by later authors. However one can easily relate them with the time when they were written. As Radhakrishanji points out

“Even the most inspired writers are products of their environment. They give voice to the deepest thoughts of their own epoch. A complete abandonment of the existing modes of thought is psychologically impossible. …[some text is truncated]…..When there is awakening of mind the old symbols are interpreted in a new way.”

The Vedas were first. It is believed that what we have today as Vedas took a very long time to be formed a lot of it was lost and little of it survived to reach us. Rig Veda is mostly the book of praise for gods which are mostly the powers of nature like sun and fire, Yajur Veda is mostly the book of sacrificial formulas and the sama veda is the book of melodies and the Atharva Veda is the book of magic formulas ( of course don’t expect them to work).

After vedas you have something called Brahmanas and Aranyakas. A student learns the veda. If he marries he continues with Brahmanas which are again about rituals and Aranyakas are mostly contemplative philosophies carried forward by those who do not marry. Sometimes Aranyakas are believed to be the later part of brahmanas because after a happy married life the sage would turn an Aranyamanas. Upanishads happen to be the last part of the Brahmanas.

[All this is what I learn from reading the related books. Computer programmers are not good at philosophies. So beware.]

One noticeable trend in most of the scriptures is the skepticism. Most of the arguments start with questioning which digs deep into the sages explanation and involves finding logical fallacies. In the end the sage will end the argument be threatening that the student would lose his head if he asks more questions. Nevertheless one could at least ask a few questions.

If we put upanishads in the context of their chronology they make a lot of sense. The philosophers probably understood the futility of rituals and magic formulas. Since the Vedas were considered to be absolute truth it was difficult to just dump them calling them mumbo jumbo and starting with blank slate. So the Upanishads tried to search symbolism in the rituals and then started promoting the mere symbolism instead of the ritual.

As one would see the previous example love, donation of wealth etc. was cited as the way to gain knowledge and not offering food to the Agni.

Both the Vedas and Upanishads are dry philosophies. It needs patience to read them, finding meaning in them is even more difficult and the tone of conversation simply gets on your nerves. In Brahadaranyaka a same verse is repeated around 15 times with very little change in the end part.

Some of my personal observation from reading of Brahadaranyaka upanishad was that, it speaks about creation of universe, barring a few things here and there there is a striking difference between it’s account and the book of genesis from old testament (the christian and islamic holy book). First there was nothing, then the god said let there be light and there was light says the book of genesi. In Brahadaranyaka upanishad, first there was a sound (can be of the God saying something 😛 ) and then there was a splendor which leads to the creation of world.

However the fundamental difference between Indian philosophies and monotheist books is that former are open to change and questioning and mostly opinions of the individual over a matter rather than the words of God himself to be interpreted literally. Thus the book of genesis is simply against the theory of evolution but Hinduism remains open to it.

You need not wait for Darwin, but the Subala Upanishad which is the dialog between Sage Subala and the brahma himself, comes again on the topic of creation of the universe. The creator himself than explain that there was nothing existing or everything existing, or complete darkness which then lead to creation of various subtle elements which then created earth fire etc. Th egg or life came from water. But itsel split into many things which I dont I can elaborate here.

By no means I intended to do any kind of scholarly analysis of the scriptures but there are some observations I will enumerate.

1. Most of the Upanishads show a change or evolution in the thought of their authors when placed in chronological order.

2. They also turn from boring to interesting mostly because the later Upanishads are more in the form of stories.

3. I wonder if the sages too realized this and hence the next knowledge they created was mostly in the form of interesting and long stories.

4. We are familiar with many core concepts of these scriptures through various stories we read as kids.

5. Many of the babas and gurus give Pravachans where they often quote Upanishads, I feel the babas are simply taking advantage of our ignorance and talk nonsense.

6. For scholars there is much to take from this for ordinary folks like us very little. Are their any maxims in these books that we can use to inspire ourselves or use for our own behavioral modification as we are generally preaches by religious figures ? Yes, there are a few things and most of the things are already known to us. I would recommend you watch master Yoda or watch batman and you will find many of the things out there as well. The meaning of virtuousness, importance of discipline and so on.

7. Is it an recommended reading to an ordinary individual ?  I would say reading Panchatantra and Calvin and Hobbes would be more fruitful.

8. Out of all the books that Indian culture has produced, I find Panchatantra the most valuable one. It should be made a compulsory reading in schools and not really Bhagvad gita.

9. An evangelist once argued to me that the Hindu scriptures are full of sex stories. Upanishads, at least the ones that I have read so far do not seem to contain anything of that nature. Yes, there are a lot of references like the one I cited where the bond of marriage is used to gain advantage but I don think there is anything objectionable in it.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Hanumanji

Among all the Gods and their forms I love Hanuman the most. He seems very balanced, calm and smart. His methods are simple. Besides he is one god with real muscles.

As a kid my visualization of God was limited to the way they were portrayed on the Calendars. In most of them, faces of Ram, Sita and Laxman would be identical, only thing that would change was the color of their skin. Hanuman however would look very distinct in it.

Hanuman is the God of power, physical strength, sports, warfare. He is supposed to negate the effects of all evil like no other God.

Young girls generally visit Hanumanji’s temple to pray for a better life partner, since Hanuman is a brahmachari he must be not familiar with the plight of married men and hence must be granting their wishes. But that makes Hanuman very popular among the youth too. I am aware of many love stories that started with Hanuman as witness.

-- बुद्धिर् बलं यशो धैर्यं निर्भयत्वं अरोगत:  
अजद्यं वक्पतुत्वञ्च हनुमद स्मरणात भवेत् --
[wisdom, strength, courage, fearlessness, health, victory, oratory may come to me as I remember the Lord Hanuman.]

Today is Chaitra Pornima, one of my favorite festivals more because of the feast that is celebrated in my village keeping full moon as the witness.

Ayodhya verdict for dummies

I am very pleased with the Ayodhya verdict.

The Allahbad highcourt special bench had a dedicated website to release the verdict and unlike other government websites it dint die despite the whole load it must have faced.

Here are some salient points I drew up from the opinions of all three judges. (It is important to consider the opinions of all three of them unlike the TV channels which cited only Justice Khan’s verdict. Some have commented on the religion of judges and thats ridiculous.)

1. Who built the mosque?

Justice Khan: The mosque was built by or under the orders of Babar.

Justice Agarwal: The plaintiff have failed to prove that the mosque (building) was built by Babar or Mir Baqi. But it existed before 1766.

Justice DVS: It was built by Babar against the tenets of Islam. Thus we can not call it a mosque.

2. Whom did the land belong to when mosque was built ?

Justice Khan: Not sure whom it belonged but no evidence suggested that it belonged to Babar or whoever was carrying out his orders.

Justice Agarwal: It was worshiped by Hindus. But this does not affect anything since whoever built the mosque was the soul monarch and hence above all the laws applicable that time.

Justice DVS: Hindus worshiped the place and it was a place of pilgrimage for them since time immemorial.

3. Holy place of Hindus?

Justice Khan: Yes. The whole premises was considered holy by Hindus even before the mosque was built but not sure if any specific part was considered to be birth-place of ram.

Justice Agarwal: Yes. The place under the dome is believed to be the Janmasthaan of Lord Ram.

Justice DVS: Yes. The place is Ram Janamsthaan.

4.  Was there a temple in the place of mosque?

Justice Khan: No. No temple was demolished to build the mosque. But it was rather built over the ruins of a temple. Some material of the ruins was used to build the mosque. The ruins existed long before the mosque was built.

Justice Agarwal: Yes. The structure was built after a non-muslim building i.e. a Hindu temple was demolished.

Justice DVS: Yes. The ASC has proved that the demolished structure was a massive Hindu religious structure.

Note: Justice Khan admits that the place was important an holy for Hindus even before the mosque. He holds that there was a temple as well but he says it was in ruins. Does that mean Hindus kept their holy place in ruin? What for?

My Comments

I never thought of RJM as an issue of faith of millions etc. the way BJP and other Hindu organizations portrayed it neither a blot on secular nature of India the way congress and media portrayed it.

For me it was a people’s movement. It’s objective was not to correct historic wrongs but instead to show anger at the fact that Islamic iconoclast is not even acknowledged by our mafia historian, media and government. The issue had lost its steam immediately after the dome was demolished. People had given a way out to their anger and they had shown that even Hindus can get violent if their grievances are ignored as always.

This explains why people happily accepted the verdict today and there wasn’t any violence neither celebrations. The RSS seems to have learned it’s lessons as well as evident from Mohan Bhagwatji’s statements.

I am very happy about the point marked in red above. I feel the whole issue gathered steam only because this truth was denied by everyone. This one point kicks out any moral high-ground that secularists use to take by questioning the existence of temple in first place.

Losers

I wouldn’t count Waqf Board as losers solely because they were mere pawns in the game. As per me the real losers here as below

1. People who made comments such as “no matter who wins the nation is going to lose”, “let us build school, hospital etc. at the site”, “don’t care about the verdict but there should not be riots”, “verdict should be such that it will not cause riots”.

I can understand that no one wants riots. But, justice matters unless you are a submissive, docile moron willing to live a pointless life at the mercy of rulers and powerful. That is what some of the urban, educated and young people are in my opinion. Justice matters and courts responsibility is to deliver natural justice even if it is not popular.

The morons who are ready to give away anything by fearing riots are those who always give bone to the barking dog by encouraging the dog to bark in future. These are the people I guess vote parties like Congress in power.

2. Media Whores. The disappointment that Rajdeep, Barkha and Ghosh were showing that the verdict was a sadistic pleasure for me to watch and read. These are the people who don’t seem to know what the courts are really meant for.

I have some master pieces here.

If you have read my summary of verdict above it is clear why Mr. Diptosh from CNN-IBN thinks Mr. Khan = Reason. The real reason is Mr. Diptosh = Whitewashing History.

And exactly 4 hours before this guy made above “sweeping remarks” he found the verdict complex enough to sit and read with his lawyer friends. (It took him less than 4 hours to make above conclusion).

Barkha Raises doubts whether court should bend before the threat of violence.( in other words of course).

3. Left Liberals. The other biggest losers in the process seem to be the left liberals. These were the people who questioned the existence of temple first, when Archeological Survey of India found temple evidence they questioned ACS itself. Sophistry is their methodology.

Following people were witness in the case :

Witness No: 63 – R.S. Sharma;(b) – Witness No: 64 – Suraj Bhan;(c)Witness No: 65 – D.N. Jha;(d)Witness No: 66 – Padma Bhushan Romila Thapar ;(e)Witness No: 70 – ‘ Padma Bhushan’ Irfan Habib;(f)Witness No: 95 – K.M. Shrimali;(g)Witness No: 99 – ‘ Satish Chandra;(h)Witness No: 102- ‘Gyanendra Pandey

I refer to these people as mafia historians. These people once ruled the intellectual landscape of the country. These communist historians today find themselves isolated and discredited. After-all they were programmed for self-destruction. These people’s response to the verdict is predictable and on par with their usual line of argument.

My visit to Tirupati

Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams is a group of temples in Tirumala and Tirupati Andhra Pradesh. I got an opportunity to visit this place. One of my friend was travelling there and asked if I could accompany him. I agreed as I had nothing else to do. I never say no to a travelling opportunity.

After visiting Andhra I have visited all south Indian states except Tamil Nadu.

Lord Vishnu is believed to be the God responsible for sustainer of life. Lord Brahma is the creator and Lord Shiva is the destroyer. The dashavatarams are actually incarnations of Vishnu himself. Hence among all Hindus Lord Vishnu has a place that no other God has.

For those who claim that India was never a one country it’s the British who brought it together it is worth noting that history and worship of Lord Venkateshvara (Vishnu) at Tirupati predates even Christianity. From Kashmeer to Kanyakumari, from Assam to Gujarat, people across whole India held this place sacred in their heart and always wished to visit it at least once in their lifetime.

I don’t think it was only Tirupati that was held sacred by Indians. I think the popularity of Tirupati must be attributed to the fact that unlike rest Hindu sacred places this place was not destroyed by Islamic barbarians. It survived and prospered.

I am not very religious man and I don’t believe in the mumbo jumbo that surrounds the temple and god. Things such as the got angry with his wife and walked to this hill and so on. All the temples are on hills, not sure why people built them at inaccessible places.

Today with around 50000 – 1,00,000 devotees visiting the temple on off-peak days and around half a million people visiting on peak days, this temple is the richest religious shrine in the world as per Wikipedia. Amitabh Bacchan to Anil Ambani have donated ample wealth to the shrine. Not to mention tonnes of gold donated over a very long period spanning few 10s of centuries. No wonder lots of gold is used in building the temple itself.

Gold, wealth does not amuse me. Not certainly at the footstep of god. The idol that’s over few centuries old represents the continuity of our civilization. It represents all good things that we people lived and died for and it tales us that we have a legacy to maintain.

As a rule I never donate much to temples besides my own Kul-devata and village temples where I have right to ask where the money is really spent. I donate only Rupee 1 to temples elsewhere. Temples in AP , like Tirumala I believe are manages by government and I have absolutely no faith in the people who manage it. Hence giving them money is like letting them abuse our devotion.

Religion and ethics are generally not related, not when we indulge in ceremonial religious practices. But I feel contemplative religion is better than ceremonial in more than one ways. Out of all the donations (Rupee 1) the most satisfactory one was where I found a very young boy may be 5-10 years old selling tea. It was for Rupee 4, I gave him 10 asked him to keep the change. He refused to keep it but when I insisted he went happily.

I see several Hindus having deep faith over their Gods. But this faith is useless if it remains confined to few rituals and the wishful thinking that brings satisfaction out of those rituals. The faith must be translated into something that is good for the overall society.

Dont see any value in worshiping a god if in real life you are a corrupt individual.

Mahatma Gandhi for example invoked the same faith to move millions. I feel same faith can be manipulated for the larger good of society but for that someone as great as Gandhiji needs to be born.

Weekend Re-reading

Came across a very old interview of Dr. Koenraad Elst. A person I admire the most. His intellectual rigor is even better than my other idol Dr. Arun Shourie. The whole interview can be read here.

Q: Let’s put it this way. Going by your own thesis, why has this “Hindu civilisation” failed to produce scholars/intellectuals who respect the tradition of dialogue and accommodation? There is an impression that the RSS volunteers, the self-proclaimed “torch-bearers of this civilisation”, are mostly inward-looking and even their “baudhik pramukhs” are found wanting as far as intellectual rigour is concerned. No wonder, we fail to produce an Edward Said, a Noam Chomsky or even a Huntington!

A: The Indians need not be so modest. Allow me, as an outsider, to have a higher opinion of India’s intellectual performance. Huntington’s notion of a “Clash of Civilisations” was already used by Girilal Jain, who died the year before Huntington gained fame. Have you ever cared to read the works of the late Ram Swarup? He was soft-spoken and avoided hurtful language, yet his observations on the deeper issues underlying the communal problems in India were razor-sharp. The RSS reduces everything to the typical nationalist discourse of “the Motherland vs the anti-national forces”. But there is more to Hindu revivalism than that.

And I would trade Edward Said’s books any time for those of your own Arun Shourie. Said’s “Orientalism” wrongly dismisses criticism of Islam as a colonial ploy. In Belgium alone, there are plenty of Christian refugees from Turkey and Lebanon, and they know who chased them out. Said, however, has become the leading apologist for Islam in the West.

It is, however, true that the RSS has failed to produce great minds. But then that may not be the job of a mass organisation. On the other hand, it is indeed a glaring failure of the RSS that it never produced a serious analysis of the very problems which led to its creation, apart from some sweeping nationalist slogans about “anti-national forces”. This has to do with a choice made by KB Hedgewar and MS Golwalkar against intellectual activity and in favour of mindless activism. But this mistaken party-line of the RSS matters less and less, because there is more and more Hindu self-organisation outside the Sangh Parivar framework. The “shakha” gatherings are becoming obsolete as a form of mobilisation. Hindu civilisation has always functioned in a decentralised manner, and now the “Hindu awakening” (announced so often at RSS forums) is taking place through informal networks, for example, the internet. The movement is reverting to decentralised forms of mobilisation, after the RSS interregnum of boy scout-type uniformity and centralism.

Congress, Communists and other media people have criticized RSS of so many things but none of them comes up with pertinent criticism as by Dr. Elst.

Also, I always get astonished to see all my favorite authors cross refer each other and sometimes use similar language. Elst had invoked Alice In Wonderland long before Shourie did in his classic piece after BJP defeat in 2010.

“The question is”, said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is”, said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master-that’s all.”

A lot of ink has flowed over the question how to define Hinduism.  There is no other religion for which the question of definition is so difficult.  A Roman Catholic could be defined as a person who is baptized by a priest ordained within an apostolic succession going back to Jesus, and who accepts the Nicean Creed and the authority of the Bishop of Rome.  A Muslim is defined by the Muslims themselves as one who has affirmed the Islamic creed: that there is no god beside Allah and that Mohammed is Allah’s prophet.  A Buddhist is one who has taken the triple refuge into the Buddha, his teachings and his community.  But there seems to be no accepted definition of a Hindu, neither one sanctioned by Hindu tradition nor one on which the scholarly community agrees.[Source: Who is a Hindu?]

Elst blew up the tantrums and stratagems of all the secularists, Islamist and communists on the Ram Mandir debate. Today it might me completely taboo to say anything in support Ram Mandir partly because the opponents are in power and some due to the weakness of it’s proponents like BJP.

In India, political incidents frequently pit Hindu nationalism, or even just plain Hinduism and plain nationalism, against so-called “secularism”. In practice, this term denotes a combine of Islamists, Hindu-born Marxists and consumericanized one-dimensionalists who share a hatred of Hindu culture and Hindu self-respect. What passes for secularism in India is often the diametrical opposite of what goes by the same name in the West. Recent events in the Ayodhya temple/mosque controversy confirm the disingenuous character of Indian secularism.

Dr. Elst compares the Hindu revivalism against the so called secularists and if you have your eyes open it is not difficult to see that he has a very strong point. But most of the people dont wish to see.

Genuine secular states have equality before the law of all citizens regardless of religion. By contrast, India has different civil codes depending on the citizen’s religion. Thus, for Christians it is very hard to get a divorce, Hindus and Muslim women can get one through judicial proceedings, and Muslim men can simply repudiate their wives. The secular alternative, a common civil code, is championed by the Hindu nationalists. It is the so-called secularists who, justifying themselves with specious sophistry, join hands with the most obscurantist religious leaders to insist on maintaining the present unequal system.

Likewise, legal inequality in matters of temple management, pilgrimage subsidies, special autonomy for states depending on their populations’ religious composition, and the right to found religious schools is defended by the so-called secularists (because it is invariably to the disadvantage of the Hindus) while the Hindu nationalists favour the secular alternative of equality regardless of religion. In India, sharia-wielding Muslim clerics whose Arab counterparts denounce secularism as the ultimate evil, call themselves secularists. Just as the word deception differs in meaning from its French counterpart déception(= disappointment), the word secularism has a sharply different meaning in Indian English as compared to metropolitan English.

He speaks about the Hindu view and Muslim view of temple in Ayodhya.

We could look at the Ayodhya affair from the Hindu angle. The contentious site is a Hindu sacred site, it is not a Muslim sacred site, so it should simply continue as a Hindu place of pilgrimage and be adorned with the appropriate architecture.

We could look at the Ayodhya affair from a Muslim angle. Of course Ayodhya is not sacred to Muslims. It would amount to blasphemy to claim any sacredness for Ayodhya: Allah is everywhere so He doesn’t need sacred sites, and to the extent that any place on earth can be called sacred, it is Mecca, not Ayodhya. Yet, Muslim warriors have performed their duty of iconoclasm, replacing an idolatrous temple with a mosque. This creates a clear new situation under Islamic law: once a mosque, always a mosque. Muslims should fight to re-conquer the site, and in case Hindus manage to rebuild their temple, a well-planned bomb attack should remedy that anomaly.

Koenraad Elst is a rare scholar who has observed the temple issue very closely without taking sides of any stakeholders. Today both Congress as well as BJP will deny that it was Rajiv Gandhi who had the most pragmatic approach towards Ram Mandir.

One such secularist, a modern man ready to deal with the matter pragmatically, was Rajiv Gandhi. He allowed the Hindus to prepare for the construction of a new temple with the ceremonial laying of a foundation stone (shilanyas) on November 9, 1989. He pressured the Chandra Shekhar government, which was dependent on Congress support, into organizing the scholars’ debate about the historical evidence, in the full knowledge that the temple party would win such a debate hands down. The thrust of his Ayodhya policy was to buy off Muslim acquiescence with some of the usual currency of the Congress culture: maybe nominating a few more Mians as ministers, banning a few Islam-unfriendly books (hence the Satanic Verses affair), raising theHajj subsidy, providing cheap loans to the Shahi Imam’s constituency, donating government land for some Islamic purpose, things like that. Meanwhile, Hindus would get their temple. Muslims would have scolded their leaders for selling out, Hindus would have lambasted theirs for cheapening a noble cause with such horse-trading, but in the end, everybody would have accepted it.

Congress and Communists have criticized Elst to be a RSS man. Elst on the contrary happens to be a strong critique of both BJP and RSS.

The anti-intellectualism of the Sangh Parivar is a sufficiently serious problem to warrant a closer discussion.  The situation on the ground is that RSS men seldom sit down to do any thinking, but are always on the move.  As a US-based Hindutva activist told me: “When I make a phone call to an RSS office-bearer in India, he will most often not be in the Delhi office, not in Nagpur or another town, but somewhere on the way.”  And the wife of a BJP stalwart told me: “Being on the way from one place to another is a status symbol among RSS men.”  With all this physical locomotion, little time and occasion is left for concentrated mental work.

The Sangh has a basic commit ment to India and to Hindu culture, but beyond that, its ideological position is hazy and undeveloped, and therefore mal leable in the hands of ideologically more articulate forces.  It has been more influenced by dominant polit ical currents and intel lectual fashions, often emanating from its declared enemies, than one would expect from an “extremist” movement.  Like in the Congress and Janata parties, quarrels within the BJP are never about ideology.  As ex-insider Balraj Madhok writes in a comment on the Gujarat quarrels: “Personal differences rather than ideolog ical factors lie at the root of the rifts within the Sangh Parivar.”

To an extent, the BJP has its lack of ideological sophis tication in common with all non-Communist parties, most of all with Congress.  A few recycled old slogans, a picture of its long-dead leaders, some material presents for the voter (ad hoc food subsidies, writing off farmers’ loans), and there you have a complete Congress election campaign.  Mutatis mutandis, the same is true for most parties.  The simple slogans on the outside are not the summary of a profound and complica ted programme too esoteric to trouble the voters with (as in the case of the Communists).  The surface is all there is to it, at least as far as ideology is concerned. [Source]

Today, Dr. Elst is not so active. He retired from his role as India watcher long back for reason not known. He also suffered from a rare heart disease which has not restricted his activity.

Dr. Elst has written many books only few of which can be found on bookshelf of any reputed bookstore. However most of his books can be found for free on http://koenraadelst.voiceofdharma.com/books

NT: Nature of Religion

I had written at length about my views on religion here.

Last few months I spent studying (superficially) Christianity. Rather than relying on the actual texts I preferred to read commentary on those texts. Based on those texts I referred to online biblical sources. From what I understood from those efforts, I realized that the way Christianity is practiced in Goa, is many times different from what is really expected out of a pious Christian. Whatever may be the reasons.

An interesting letter was published in Navhind Times, the Author was Mr. Bosco Vaz.

JESUS Christ came into this world to do away with false beliefs and paganisms. Even during the time of Moses, Jewish culture was full of paganism and hence the need for God’s Commandments. The Mapusa Church encourages pouring of oil on statues. Can someone explain this with reference to the text on the Bible? I am a Roman Catholic and so have right to know whether we are serving the true God or indulging in several gods.

Another two letters was published subsequently endorsing the view expressed by Mr. Vaz

I FULLY endorse the views expressed by Mr Bosco Vaz in his letter ‘Paganism in the Church’ (NT, April 20). Idolatry and pagan practices, such as the pouring of oil over the statue of Mother Mary have been flourishing in the Catholic Church as well as in the hundreds of Marian shrines in India and abroad.

The Church may not agree with this, but such practices do not find legitimacy in our scriptures and are also explicitly forbidden by God in the Old Testament. This is precisely why several Christian sects are convinced that Mother Mary of the Catholic Church is different from the Mary of the Bible. While there may not be truth in this, such a view assumes greater significance and credibility, particularly during the Milagres Feast celebrated in Mapusa every year, where according to popular legend, Our Lady of Miracles (Milagres Saibinn) is none other than the transformed Mirabai, one of the seven sisters worshipped by both Hindus and Catholics alike.

I was expecting that someone especially a non-Christian would get surprised as this and will reply. That was my theory and one Mrs. Angle proved it also. She wrote:

THIS is in reference to the letters written by Mr A F Nazareth and Mr Sebastian D’Souza on ‘Pagan practices in the Church’ (NT, April 21). The zatra of Goddess Lairai and the Milagres Feast of Mapusa fall on the same day–as both are supposed to be sisters.

Both communities exchange oil, flowers and other gifts on this day. What a fine example of communal harmony. In these troubled times this is something to be welcomed and celebrated. But Mr Nazareth’s letter implies that all other religions other than Christianity are pagan religions and as far as Mr D’Sousa’s letter goes, he makes us believe that his God has human like qualities like jealousy, when God is supposed to be above all this.

If one would recall the speeches given by our secular leaders they are precisely saying what this lady is trying to say. The only difference is that the leaders make it sound so obvious. The reality however is explained in the previous three letters, what Mrs. Angle is saying is her ignorance and wishful thinking. A careful thought would reveal how dangerous this ignorance can be for her and others who live in that ignorance.

I was waiting only have a final say summarizing what all 4 letters tried to show and contrast them against the reality that is often portrayed by our leaders and media. In doing so I had to be careful that Navhind Times will publish it as well.

MS Aruna Pai Angle’s views (NT, April 23) resonate with mine. All monotheist religions decry poly-atheism, paganism and animism. Since these religions (monotheist) are dogmatic rather than evolutionary, followers tread in the path laid down by its founder.In that sense a christian must give up the paganism practices if he or she wants to profess himself/herself as Christian. As Ms Angle points out; any common thread that exists due to strong traditions and influence of ancestral beliefs helps build communal harmony. However this is only a politically convenient argument, because in practice monotheist religions try their best to break this common thread.That is the command they have got from their God or Prophet and it’s their sacred duty to fulfill it. In Christian theology God has made man in his own image and hence God is indeed like a man. Also, God himself proclaims that he is a jealous God (Exodus 20:4-5).

In contrast to well-organised religions, native religions and belief systems which come under the broader term of Hinduism are hardly dogmatic. Traditions and beliefs in such religions are subject to evolution and change. They give full freedom to their worshipers to chose their path of worship.Vedic and Upanishadic writings indicate how thee systems evolved from rituals to symbolism and from symbolism to contemplations. Conflicts are short-lived and society adjusts itself to the changes very soon. A century back, eating meat was a blasphemy for Brahmins; today most can’t live without it. Alcohol consumption has become a norm under the pretext of social pressure.On the contrary, Islam’s stand on pork and alcohol remains the same. The Church’s stand on abortions and homosexuality is fixed.

Fault lines of communal disharmony often lie in one group’s insistence to force their wishes on others. This can be within a community itself. The Semitic religions were born from the same source but they varied very much in their core ideology and continue to fight within themselves. On the contrary a structureless religion like Hinduism continues to sustain itself despite the radically different schools of thought that continue to exist within it.

It will be very interesting to see how different religions continue to address the issues of faith over the next few decades. I feel they will undergo changes to the extent that they will not be identifiable with their current form.

The italic text is the one which was present originally in my mail but the editor probably removed it from going to print.

Readers are expected to draw their own conclusions. I will be very happy to host any discussion here, including a theological one.

Nature of religion

As far a religion is concern I proclaim myself as Hindu. But Hinduism does not uphold any single belief system, it is essentially an ecosystem of beliefs. However it would be a mistake to say that Hinduism treats all the beliefs at par. Certainly there are superior beliefs and inferiors beliefs and they keep on changing. In fact this ability to bring a change in our attitude towards our own beliefs is what I believe the core of Hinduism.

Atheist View

Human beings have 5 senses. Human beings have survived as a race and have evolved to become the most dominant living beings on Earth because of their ability to use these 5 senses to perceive the world around them to use their “intelligence” to react accordingly. This ability to make the right decision based on the perception is the main skill that has helped us to survive. Isn’t this skill be called Rational Thinking? This thinking has added more and more knowledge to the collective knowledge of humanity. And as a race we continue to base our decisions on this collective knowledge.

For example Apple falls down because of gravitation force is what our collective knowledge says. This basic knowledge has enabled us to send satellites in space. It has helped us to forecast weather in a better way. It has helped us to save lives. In a way certainly this basic piece of knowledge is one contributing factor for our survival on earth.

Hence I believe that this basic set of knowledge must be agreeable to both the atheist as well as believers. Both of them should agree that 1+1 =2 and apple falls down because of gravitational force. And we can have a set of this indisputable basic collective knowledge of civilization.

Getting the unknown in picture.

I feel that there is a vast amount of knowledge that is unknown to civilization. We can’t be sure if we actually have only 5 senses. What if there exists a 6th sense which helps us to perceive the world in a little different way? Or we can also put the philosophical questions like “what is the purpose of our existence?” in this unknown category.

How do we deal with these question and things that mystify our lives? I see that the framework that both the scientists as well as the believers use here is that of “hypothesis”. Hypothesis is defined as an explanation for a phenomenon that can not be derived from the axioms we have but does not contradict with them either.

Only difference is that the scientists remain open to make changes in their hypothesis while the religiously oriented people are closed to any changes. And that makes the MOST IMPORTANT difference.

There is nothing wrong with a particular hypothesis. People a few thousand years ago believed that rain is sent as a gift by gods in return to the rituals they perform. As time went by we discovered more rationally correct reasons for the rain. It is also clear that all the advancements we have made today in our water management is because of the rational explanation for rains and not because of the rituals. No one performs those rituals today and still we see same amount of rain.

However on the other hand we see that Yoga and Ayurveda which are based on the hypothetical beliefs of Vata-Kafa-Pitta in reality give very good results in some of the diseases. Of course, I am not saying that cancer can be cured by Ayurveda but I am referring to more elementary home remedies for cough and skin diseases.

The lessons to derive

Our decisions about our life must be based on the collective knowledge that is what we call science. For the unknown we can always have our beliefs but we must not allow those beliefs to sip into our minds that contradict with the rational thinking.

That would make half the religious literature outdated and false. Which I believe is necessary. We can not allow the “book based” religions dictate our lives on false & absurd hypothesis. We all know that a virgin can not give birth to a kid.

It is also absurd to force people into believing our own set of beliefs and it is also ridiculous to put a ban on other people’s freedom of expression purely because it offends our beliefs. Our beliefs must be open to change and evolution.

We should not fear to offend those who harbor beliefs that are absurd. Especially when the beliefs lead to terrorism, oppression of women and poverty. The best example is the fear that everyone including the United States show when it comes to criticizing Islam. Islam propositions that they are the most superior and deserve more power than what they have is the root cause of so many conflicts all over the world which needs to be shaken.

Whenever we offend those people we must remember that we are actually doing this for their own interests. Surprisingly this sort of mentality is more visible in the missionary activities. People in Goa were slaughtered because the refused to give away their customs and embrace Christianity. The missionaries who claimed to represent Jesus Christ who is a symbol of compassion for poor killed million all over the world believing that while killing these Pagans they were actually working for their interests. The phenomenon I suppose should work opposite.

Do not hate but instill new meaning

However when we assert that there can’t exist a man with 10 heads we are questioning the Ramayana. Many atheist for example the communists in India demanded a ban on telecast of Mythological serials on Doordarshan citing the same reason. Now unless a particular belief contradicts against national interest I don’t think we should be “aggressive” in condemning the scriptures themselves.

Instead we can look at them as our ancestor’s attempt to unravel the unknown and appreciate it. We can use the strong belief that the people have in them to instill a new meaning to these very old rituals. Ganesh Puja can be converted into a mass movement the way Lokmanya Tilak did or like Gandhiji we can have “cleanliness equal to godliness”.

This is more true when it comes to Hindu religion which does not require any strong theological beliefs to assert its own identity. By hating and condemning Ramayana we only make the people ashamed of themselves where as a new meaning can lead to much more constructive things.

Be careful about the world scientific

Science is a framework based on some very important human faculties like logic and rational thinking. It is not about clichés. Several biblical organizations and also Organizations likes Sanatan have the word “Scientific”, “Scientific Study” etc. in their statements but their definitions of science is only about saying things such as “Looking at moon makes your mind more unstable by a factor of 0.0009%”.

We need to be careful about such false propaganda.

In the Print 2:Our Beliefs must be Open to Change

Reproducing my letter published in today’s Navhind Times:

THIS is in response to ‘Bible and Science Compatible’ (NT, November 11). The concept of ‘the book’ in monotheist religions is based on a completely unscientific premise that there exists a God, who writes books through writers referred to as prophets, messengers or messiahs. Most of the things in these books are to be accepted as true purely because of the premise that it is the Word of God. Let us say the God indeed felt the need to give a message. Consider the second commandment ‘Thou shall not erect any graven images’. Is this really the second most important thing that the God wanted future generations of human beings to believe in? Is this as good as it gets spiritually and ethically? But more than the actual content, the subscription to the idea that a particular book is not merely a piece of literature but a product of some omnipotent power is more dangerous. All the progress, scientific as well as non-scientific is a search, where one is expected to constantly challenge previously held beliefs in the light of new facts and improve the collective understanding of humanity. The idea of a sacrosanct book is a barrier to our growth. Science may not have all the answers or it may not have any answers to some of the most profound questions about life and happiness. Spirituality might be one way. But whatever way we chose needs to be open to change, improvement, reason and experimentation. It should not be based on beliefs that are to be assumed true on the merit of some book or person.
AKSHAR PRABHU DESAI, Canacona

Faith in Terror

Recent blasts in margao have spurred a discussion in society and apparently peaceful Goan society is now deliberating upon the terrorist face of religious fundamentalism. Though the reasons and culprits behind the Margao blasts are not yet known conclusively to the public, discussion such important matter never had a better time.

Society is always divided in groups why does it take something like Communism or Religious groups to indulge in violence as a mean to show their hatred? We haven’t heard yet that some anti-alcohol group planted a bomb in a pub. Mostly it’s the religious groups or some groups like Naxalites resort to violence to show their hatred towards what they call “unbelievers”.

The Motivation and The Barrier

The reason is, an ordinary Human being like me will always find it extremely difficult to reason out to myself about the moral validity of my act. Human beings always avoid activities for which they cant reason to themselves. Since I cant reason to myself that I need to explode a bomb in public I simply cant think of doing such barbaric act. And this is same for almost all human beings irrespective of their religion. A Hindu, a Muslim or a Christian human being will by nature think of this act as barbaric. The reasoning capabilities of human mind are by default a major barrier to overcome when one decides to indulge in such act. All human beings are born with this ability and hence none of us is a born terrorist, in fact all of us are born as peace lovers. This clearly indicates that statements such as “All muslims are terrorists”, “Muslims are violent by default” are nothing but illogical and invalid statements.

The difference is clearly in something that helps the individual break this natural barrier. Why we see more of Islamic terrorism is explained by the fact that Islam’s doctrine actually helps an individual to rationalize his acts of terrors. He think that it’s his virtue to explode bombs in public. It is the teaching of Islam, and a firm dogmatic beliefs in what “The Book” says helps him to commit such dastardly acts. It is the Islam that makes a Muslim more violent than anything else. And it is not only about Islam, in fact any dogmatic belief makes an Individuals rational thinking capabilities very weak.

The Secular Argument

But then listen to the arguments of the secular camp which always claims that, Islam is a religion of peace and it is the poverty, political oppression and lack of education is what makes them more prone to violence. Assuming this as true the government announces several communal schemes where banks are asked to reserve 6% loans to minorities, panels like Sachhar are set up.

But then one must ask why does the Tibetan Monks, which have been oppressed by all means, which are poor to any extent, haven’t taken up arms against China? Why don’t we see a Tibetan buddhist monk suicide bomber destroying the Chinese Embassy? Instead their leader HH Dalai Lama get peace prize for Nobel. It is because that a Buddhist will have to work very hard to reason out to himself any act of violence. They might do it when they are pushed to limits but certainly their religion certainly makes the barrier against violence much stronger as opposed to the teachings of Islam. Buddhism can be relatively termed as religion of peace not Islam.

It is also interesting to note that, not just secularist, leftist but even the right wing organizations like RSS and parties termed as “Communal” like BJP seem to reach consensus over the statement that “Islam is a religion of peace, it is only some Muslims that are violent” while the truth (though politically inconvenient) is exactly the opposite. No Muslims is different from a Hindu, it is the Islam that makes him different.

The Sanstha and The Law Enforcers

Considering a case of Margao blast where the media and government have been claiming that Sanatan Sanstha is a prime target. The claim might lack evidence, but an organization like Sanatan is more likely to indulge in such acts because of the dogmatic beliefs it has been believing and propagating. Organizations like Sanatan, have been calling their arbitrary conclusions “Scientific Spirituality”. A look at their literature will give a sufficient insight about their system of beliefs. No one can deny them a right to believe that a ghee lamp is spiritually better than oil lamp, but the logic they will use to believe it can also be a perfect foundation for the acts for which their are being suspected.

It will be naive for us to belive that the government is capable of handling such situations carefully. Because they have not really understood the problem. They say all religions are same without reading all the major teachings of those religions, they link terrorism to economic reason when it is well proven that most of the terrorists are well educated and from upper middleclass or rich families. Interested reader can refer to the latest bestseller “Superfreakonomics”. Instead the government is very likely ot suppress the matter and symptoms of the problem rather than going to the roots of it.