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Does Hinduism Teach
That All Religions are The Same? - 2
|by Prof. Dr. Frank Gaetano Morales|
Continued from Previous Page
While there are arguably some discernable similarities between some ethical rules upheld by some of the world’s many religions, we also find that there is also a great deal of dissimilarity. When we do even the most rudimentary comparative analysis of the major world religions’ diverse ethical systems, we immediately see that there is some considerable disagreement between them on the question of what is a morally good action versus what is a morally objectionable action. In some religions, for example, it is considered immoral to drink alcohol (Islam, Hinduism, Evangelical Christianity). In other religions, by contrast, alcohol is just fine (Judaism, Catholicism). For some faiths, the killing of animals to eat meat is an ethically prohibited activity (Hinduism, Jainism, much of Buddhism). In others, killing animals is an ethically neutral activity (Islam, Christianity). In some religions it is considered morally legitimate to periodically kill members of another religion merely for being members of a different religion. Historically Judaism, Christianity and Islam have all been culpable in supporting such a view to greater or lesser degrees. For most of the other religions of our world - Hinduism included - on the other hand, to kill someone simply because they practice a different religion from one’s own would be considered demonic.
What we find when we comparatively examine the moral teachings of the world’s many religions is that, not only is there great diversity of opinion on the question of what constitutes morality, but in fact we often find ethical theories that lie in direct contradiction to each other, and are thus mutually exclusive claims. In order to further understand the problem in attempting to ignore mutually exclusive ethical claims, we will use the following scenario.
Live and Let Die
In the following scenario, we have two individual members of two distinct religious traditions. Person A belongs to a religion that 1) believes it is morally right to worship iconographic images, and 2) it is morally wrong to kill another person merely due to that person’s religious belief. Person B, on the other hand, belongs to a religion that states that 1) it is morally wrong to worship iconographic images, and 2) it is morally right to kill another person merely due to that person’s religious belief.
Person A, a Hindu priest, is sitting by the banks of the River Ganga. He is offering a puja (worship ceremony) under the warm, embracing rays of the Indian sun. Before him lays his object of adoration: an iconic murti (religious statue) of the Divine Mother. Person A is merely performing a religious duty as prescribed by his religious tradition’s beliefs and practices. As he is peacefully offering his puja, person B rides up on horseback and observes the religious actions of person A. For person B’s religion, offering worship to any form of iconic religious image is tantamount to sin; it is an abominably terrible act of immorality. Moreover, in person B’s religion, person B is morally obligated to end the life of person A for worshiping such an iconic image. Person B proceeds to lop off the head of person A with a sharp sword as person A quietly worships. Person B gets back on his horse and proceeds on his journey happily secure in the knowledge that he performed a positive religious duty in faithful accordance with his religion’s moral teachings.
In both the instances of person A and person B, each individual was merely performing his religious duties and following the moral principles specifically ordained by his respective religion. So diametrically opposed to one another were the prescriptions, goals and justifications of these two distinct, religiously inspired moral systems, however, that person A is dead, while person B feels justified before his God for having killed person A.
For someone bound by the irrational dictates of Radical Universalism, believing that the paths and moralities of all religions are equal, both actions must be seen as being equally moral.
When the assertion that “all religions are the same” is made, it is also automatically inferred that the moral systems of all religions are the same as well – even if many of the rules of these moral systems are diametrically opposed to one another. In supporting Radical Universalism, the ethically barren conclusions of Ethical Relativism are also naturally supported. The consequent results are that moral proscriptions and prescriptions that are otherwise contradictory and mutually exclusive are seen as equally valid – a position that cannot be logically asserted. To support Radical Universalism is to say that being violent and being non-violent, to be tolerant and to be intolerant, to have compassion and to have religiously inspired hate are all morally equivalent. The idea that there can be moral equivalency of diametrically opposed moral rules is not upheld by any religion on earth, Hinduism included. The following propositional analytic breakdown will better illustrate the inferential inconsistencies inherent in Radical Universalism from an ethical perspective.
Radical Universalist Fallacy II
Or, alternatively stated in syllogistic logic:
To say that “all religions are the same” is to also claim that “the moral systems of all religions are the same.” In turn, to claim that all ethical systems are correct is ultimately to negate all ethical systems altogether, which is precisely the goal of the philosophical project known as Ethical Relativism.
Radical Universalism leads, via consecutive logical sequence, directly to relativism, both ethical and philosophical. Hinduism, on the other hand, is thoroughly non-relativistic in both its ethical outlook and on the question of what constitutes reality, truth, as well as life’s meaning and goal. Classical Hindu acharyas taught that the metaphysical and ontological truths revealed by the Vedic religion (via the epistemic mechanism of shabda-pramana) are necessary truths. Their non-contingency is derived from the fact that they are eternal, trans-material, un-authored and untouched by human fallibility and deceit. Though admittedly some of the acharyas did have some differences in their interpretation of these necessary truths, the revealed truths of the Vedas were clearly recognized by all classical Hindu acharyas as non-relativistic, transcendent truths nonetheless. The divinely inspired content of the Vedic scriptures are not contingent truths, the truth-content of which might be in any way alterable by either subjective opinion or by empirically mediated disputation. If these truths were merely relative and at the mercy of mere subjective opinion, then their value as reliable philosophical and spiritual guides would be severely undermined. Consequently, the unstable, shifting sands of Relativism, in all its varied forms, has been recognized by countless generations of spiritual teachers as being a baseless and imperfect foundation upon which to base one’s search for the Absolute and Perfect (God).
Relativism has been recognized by multiple generations of philosophers, both Asian and European, as being a philosophically untenable position the logical implications of which naturally leads to its own self-determined demise. Relativism, in the most general sense of the term, makes the broad sweeping assertion that “There are no absolutes.” The difficultly in attempting to prove this indiscriminate contention is that Relativism is incapable of producing such grand axiomatic statements in such a manner that Relativism itself does not violate the logical rigors of its own statements. The moment a Relativist puts forwards the proposition that “There are no absolutes”, the Relativist has just committed the error of herself making just such an absolute statement, which is then itself negated by the proposition that “There are no absolutes”. Whether speaking in religious, philosophical, aesthetic, metaphysical or ethical terms, Relativism thus neutralizes itself by the self-negating power of its own propositional assertion. As can also be seen in the Relativist dogma of Radical Universalism, Relativism contains within its very own philosophical structure the seeds of its own concomitant refutation.
Hinduism: The Empty Mirror?
A further self-defeating aspect of Radical Universalism is that it severely negates the very need for Hinduism itself, relegating the Hindu tradition to merely being an ideological vehicle subservient to the Radical Universalist agenda, and rendering any meaningful sense of Hindu cultural and religious identity barren. If the Radical Universalists of neo-Hinduism claim that “all religions are the same”, then each and every religion is simultaneously deprived of all attributive uniqueness. They are deprived of their identity. This is manifestly true of Hinduism even more so than any other religion, since Radical Universalist neo-Hindus would be the sole representatives of Radical Universalism on the world religious stage today. If we say that the ancient teachings and profoundly unique spiritual culture of Hinduism is qualitatively no better or no worse than any other religion, then what is the need for Hinduism itself? Hinduism then becomes the blank backdrop, the empty theatrical stage, upon which all other religious ideas are given the unbridled freedom to act, entertain and perform…all at the expense of Hinduism’s freedom to assert its own identity. The self-abnegating absurdity of a “Hindu” Radical Universalism reduces Hinduism itself to a theologically empty shell, a purposeless and amorphous religious entity whose only individual contribution to the realm of religious history is to negate its own existence by upholding the teachings of every other religion on earth, while simultaneously denying its own inherent distinctiveness. Hinduism, subjugated to the Radical Universalist agenda, would find itself reduced to being merely a inert mirror, doomed to aspire to nothing more philosophically substantial than passively reflecting every other religious creed, dogma and practice in its Universalist imposed sheen. This is how the problem breaks down:
Radical Universalist Fallacy III
Radical Universalism leads to the necessary destruction of Hinduism as a comprehensible system of beliefs. Rather than relegating Hinduism to a shadowy imitation of its vibrantly true self, we must reject the enervating influence of Radical Universalism, and re-embrace the authentic teachings of our tradition. Anything less will necessarily lead to Hinduism’s inevitable demise.
Revisiting the Mountain Top
I want to return briefly to the inadequately developed, yet habitually employed, metaphor that depicts the diversity of spiritual traditions as being merely different paths ascending the one great mountain of Truth. This is an image that we see repeatedly employed by apologists for Radical Universalism. As a general image of the courage, determination and inner resources necessary to ascend the path to Truth, the climbing of mountains, ladders and stairways is an image that we see employed often, and by a wide variety of religions. When this image is used by the various world religions, however, it is always with the understanding that the summit of the given mountain in question is representative of the specific idea of the Absolute that the particular religion has in mind. The mountain metaphor has never been used by any religious tradition to express the idea that the summit somehow represents a common goal for all religions, i.e., Radical Universalism. Obviously, since not every religion shares the same metaphysical, theological or ontological conception about the ultimate nature of the Absolute, not every religion is trying to climb to the top of the same theological mountain.
There are several radically distinct, and wholly irreconcilable, religiously inspired ideas about what constitutes the Absolute. Consequently, rather than attempting to artificially claim that there is only one mountain top toward which all religions aspire, it would be more truthful, and more in keeping with what the various religious traditions themselves actually say, to state that there are several different mountains – each representing a radically different idea of what is the Absolute. There is a Nirvana mountain, a Brahman mountain, an Allah mountain, a Jain mountain. Some mountains are monotheistic, some are polytheistic, henotheistic, pantheistic or panentheistic. Moreover, it is incumbent upon us all individually to choose for ourselves which of these many possibly correct Absolute-mountains we wish to scale. Only one of these mutually exclusive philosophical mountains, however, can be the correct one.
Three important factors that differentiate the nature of various religions are
Different religions are clearly aiming at different, most often mutually exclusive, soteriological and theological goals. For the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the human person is seen as a sinner who is in need of repentance, divine forgiveness and renewal. The Absolute for these allied traditions is an omnicompotent, anthropomorphically envisioned, monotheistic Godhead. For Buddhism, it is taught that the human person is unnecessarily experiencing suffering due to mistakenly perceiving herself as an enduring, self-conscious entity. Liberation, in Buddhism, begins with the realization that there is no eternal self (no soul), but only momentary states that give the illusion of a permanent person. The final extinction of the human person in the form of nirvana (literally “blowing out”) is thus the goal. The Absolute is correlated with Shunya, the void, emptiness. For Buddhism, there is no God, no soul, nor any other permanent metaphysical reality. For Hinduism, the human existential dilemma is caused by ignorance (avidya) of our true state as permanent spiritual beings (atman), and our illusion (maya) of separation from the Absolute. Liberation (moksha) is achieved by transcending this illusion, and by realizing our inherent union (yoga) with the Absolute.
Speaking in the most general of terms, the Absolute in Hinduism is termed Brahman. Brahman is an omnicompetent, non-anthropormorphic panentheistic Godhead. For Jainism, the human dilemma is caused by our mistaken notion that we are dependent, temporary beings with limited knowledge. Liberation (kevala) is achieved when we realize our true nature as independent, eternal and omniscient beings. For Jainism, there is no God, but rather independently existing liberated persons are the Absolute. As we can see with these four radically different approaches to the three fundamental issues of a) the Problem, b) the Solution, c) the Absolute, there are many conflicting and irreconcilable contradictions between them. Each of these traditions holds a very different account about what constitutes our true spiritual nature; each has its own distinctive idea of what it means to realize our true nature; and each has a uniquely divergent idea of what is the ultimate nature of the Absolute.
I have chosen these four broad religious traditions (Abrahamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain) to illustrate the point that, not only are there different religions, but there are also different categorical types of religion. There are different religious systems such that the very philosophical premises and conclusions that they each uphold are divergently dissimilar and directly contradict one another. The Abrahamic religions, consisting of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, we can term Anthropomorphic Monotheism. Buddhism we can call Non-theistic. Hinduism can be understood as Panentheistic. Jainism is Anthropotheistic.
These four categorically different types of religion are wholly irreconcilable, i.e., if the claims of one is true, then the claims of the other three are necessarily false. Religion A is a categorically different type of religion from Religion B if what must exist if Religion A’s problem, solution and Absolute are correct cannot simultaneously co-exist with what must exist if Religion B’s problem, solution and Absolute are correct, and visa versa. Given the mutually exclusive assertions that each of these four categorical types of religion uphold about a) the analysis of the human existential dilemma, b) the means to human freedom, and c) the ultimate goal to be realized, the overarching feature of all these four distinct types of religion is that, if the philosophical content of any one type is true, then the philosophical content of the other three are clearly not. It is as logically impossible to hold that these religions are all true, or even that any two of these religions are simultaneously true, as it is to say that there is such a thing as a round square, or a married bachelor. Such a nonsensically contradictory proposition can perhaps be verbally spoken, but not rationally thought.
Brahman: The Absolute of the Vedas
Let us look now at what Hinduism, specifically, holds to be the Absolute. The ultimate goal and Absolute of Hinduism is termed Brahman in Sanskrit. The word comes from the Sanskrit verb root brh, meaning “to grow”. Etymologically, the term means “that which grows” (brhati) and “which causes to grow” (brhmayati). Brahman, as understood by the scriptures of Hinduism, as well as by the acharyas of the Vedanta school, is a very specific conception of the Absolute. This unique conception has not been replicated by any other religion on earth, and is exclusive to Hinduism. Thus to even call this conception of Brahman “God” is, in a sense, somewhat imprecise. This is the case because Brahman does not refer to the anthropomorphic concept of God of the Abrahamic religions. When we speak of Brahman, we are referring neither to the “old man in the sky” concept, nor to the idea of the Absolute as even capable of being vengeful, fearful or engaging in choosing a favorite people from among His creatures. For that matter, Brahman is not a “He” at all, but rather transcends all empirically discernable categories, limitations and dualities.
All reality has its source in Brahman. All reality has its grounding sustenance in Brahman. It is in Brahman that all reality has its ultimate repose. Hinduism, specifically, is consciously and exclusively aiming toward this reality termed Brahman. Not all religions are aiming at the Hindu concept of Brahman as outlined above. It is crucial for us to have first comprehensively grasped the full ontological implications of the Hindu concept of Brahman in order to clearly understand the fallacious premise of Radical Universalism.
Brahman and Free Volition
The primary reason why Radical Universalists claim that “all religions are the same” is due to the pretentious assumption that the various individual Absolutes toward which each religion aims is, unbeknownst to them all, really the same conceptual goal. In other words, the members of all other religions are also really seeking Brahman…they are just not intelligent enough to know it! As every religion will vociferously affirm, however, they are not seeking Brahman. Brahman is not Allah; Allah is not Nirvana; Nirvana is not Kevala; Kevala is not polytheistic gods/goddesses; polytheistic gods/goddesses is not Yahweh; Yahweh is not the Ancestors; the Ancestors are not tree spirits, tree spirits are not Brahman. When a religious Muslim tells us that he is worshipping Allah, and not Brahman, we need to take him seriously and respect his choice. When a Buddhist tells us that they want to achieve Nirvana, and not Brahman, we need to take his claim seriously and respect his decision; and so on. To disrespectfully insist that all other religions are really just worshipping Brahman without knowing it, and to do so in the very name of respect and tolerance, is the very height of hypocrisy and intolerance. The uncomplicated fact is that, regardless of how sincerely we may wish that all religions desired the same Absolute that we Hindus wish to achieve, other religions simply do not. They, and we, are attempting to climb categorically different mountains. We need to accept and live with this concrete theological fact.
Distinguishing Salvific States
The Christian’s sole aim in salvation is to be raised physically from the dead on the eschatological day of judgment, and to find herself with Jesus in heaven, who is to be found seated at the right hand of the anthropomorphic male Father/God of the Old and New Testament. Muslims aspire toward a delightfully earthy paradise in which 72 houris, or virgin youth, will be granted to them to enjoy (Qur’an, 76:19). Jains are seeking kevala, or “aloneness”, in which they will enjoy an eternal existence of omniscience and omnipotence without the unwanted intrusion of a God, a Brahman or an Allah. Buddhists seek to have all the transitory elements that produce the illusion of a self melt away, and to have themselves in turn melt away into the nihilism of nirvana. To the Buddhist, Brahman also is an illusion. Each of these different types of religion has its own categorically unique concept of salvation and of the Absolute toward which they aspire. Each concept is irreconcilable with the others. To state the situation unequivocally, if a Christian, Muslim, Jain or Buddhist, upon achieving their distinct notion of salvation, were to find themselves instead united with Brahman, they would most likely be quite upset and confused indeed. And they would have a right to be! Conversely, the average yogi probably would be quite bewildered upon finding 72 virgins waiting for him upon achieving moksha, rather than realizing the eternal bliss of Brahman.
One person’s vision of salvation is another person’s idea of hell.
My God is Bigger Than Your God
What is especially troubling about the sentimentally driven assertion of Radical Universalism that “all religions are the same” is the fact that, in its purported attempt to foster tolerance and the unity of all religions, Radical Universalism itself leads directly to intolerance and dogmatism. The overriding concern that any religious person must address is: If Radical Universalism is true, then who chooses which concept of the Absolute is the one toward which all religions supposedly aspire?
Let us explore now precisely how Radical Universalism leads to a situation of intolerance. We have shown that there are several, categorically distinct and mutually exclusive, concepts about what constitutes the nature of the Absolute. From the perspectives of reason, logic, theological consistency, and common sense, only one of these concepts about the Absolute can be true. This is the case because with any either/or proposition, any one claim automatically entails the negation of any other contradictory and opposing claim. Repeating this example, if x is either a square or a circle, it must be one or the other. It cannot be a round square! Similarly, the Absolute either has meaningful existence or it does not exist; the Absolute is either an anthropomorphic entity or it is not; the Absolute is either singular or else it is plural; etc., etc. For any one mutually exclusive concept of the Absolute to be true, the other mutually exclusive concepts are necessarily false. To assert otherwise is to reduce the Absolute to the level of absurdity. By definition the very term “Absolute” means the topmost, greatest and maximally superlative of all. To claim that there can be more that one “Absolute” is as nonsensical as claiming that there are more than one “best”, “greatest”, or “most important” in any given category. It is the very grammatical nature of the superlative that there can only be one x superlative. Thus, for Radical Universalism to be true, only one concept of the “Absolutes” outlined above can be upheld. To state otherwise is to claim that there are multiple Absolutes. Which in turn means that there is no one Absolute.
Having thus arbitrarily chosen one concept of the Absolute, i.e., Brahman, Radical Universalists have then made the subsequent claim that this one concept is the only concept of the Absolute that all religions are aiming at, whether the followers of these diverse religions are themselves aware of this or not. This, in fact, is precisely the claim that neo-Hindus who support the non-Hindu idea of Radical Universalism make. For non-traditional Hindus who assert Radical Universalism, the arbitrary choice for the one Absolute that all religions must be aiming toward – whether they know and agree with this or not - is Brahman. In so doing, however, Radical Universalists are intolerantly imposing Brahman upon all other non-Hindu religions as their real goal. And they are making this involuntary imposition in the name of tolerance!
Radical Universalism: an Intolerant Tolerance
Radical Universalism, as expressed by modern, non-traditional Hindus, would seek to deny members of other religions the right to assert their own religions as unique and distinct traditions. Radical Universalism would seek to deny non-Radical Universalists the right to believe in an Absolute that is categorically not Brahman. Regardless of how radically different the goal of any other religion might be, whether that goal is Nirvana, Allah, or any other, followers of other religions are told that they are all really aiming at the decidedly Hindu goal of Brahman – whether they know this or not, and whether they want Brahman or not. By extension, in its attempt to falsely conceal the concrete fact of a plurality of religions, Radical Universalism would deny any non-Radical Universalist religion the very basis of their existence. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and members of other religions insist that they are not following the doctrines of Hinduism, that they are not worshiping the Absolute of Hinduism and that they are consequently not Hindus. By forcing them to accept Radical Universalism, they are being told that they have no choice but to adhere to the “one true faith” that Radical Universalism upholds. That one true faith is non-traditional, Radical Universalist neo-Hinduism.
To insist on the complete equality of all religions is to deny their inherent differences. To deny the inherent differences of varied religions is to deny them the freedom to have their own beliefs, rituals, goals, and ways of viewing the world. One of the most important aspects of the right to freedom of speech is the right to be able to disagree. In imposing one path, one God and one world-view on all the diverse religions of the world, Radical Universalism denies these religions, and the followers of these religions, their dignity and uniqueness. Radical Universalism ultimately denies the uniqueness of individual persons and their ability to hold divergent – and even contradictory – philosophical and theological opinions. It denies us our freedom to respectfully disagree. Fascinatingly, and sadly, in its attempt to force tolerance and equality, Radical Universalism enforces bigotry and an inferior status against any who would dare to disagree with the philosophical mountain of Radical Universalism.
Radical Universalist Fallacy IV
One God/Many Names
Proponents of Radical Universalism have frequently attempted to uphold the dogma that “all religions are the same” by appealing to one of the most misunderstood mantras in the history of modern Hinduism. In the Rig Veda there is a famous verse (I.164.46) that states: ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti, “God is one, despite sages calling it by various names”. For several generations, a variety of neo-Hindu leaders and practitioners have misquoted this verse ad nauseam in an attempt to prop up the dogma of Radical Universalism with a seeming reference to the Hindu scriptures. Radical Universalists would maintain that this verse is directly pointing to the notion that the ultimate aim of all religions is one and the same, despite the fact that these different religions might call this one supreme truth by many different denominationally inspired or linguistically dictated names. “Whether you call it God, Nirvana, Allah, Brahman, Goddess, Ancestors, Spirits, Elves, Ghosts or anything else, you’re really only indicating the one supreme truth” is the commonly parroted refrain of Radical Universalists. Though on an initial glance, this verse of Vedic scripture might appear to be indicating a Radical Universalist viewpoint, when more rigorously analyzed in its proper philosophical and grammatical context, it is clearly saying something entirely different from what modern Radical Universalists contend.
Categorical Exegetical Analysis
In order to fully appreciate the proper purport of the verse ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti, we need to understand the verse in terms its own inherently derived meaning, and not merely in accordance with polemically determined speculative opinion. We can do this by explicating the verse in accordance with the verse’s precise categorical status, followed by an accurate veridical assessment of its philosophical content. In order to more precisely understand the philosophical meaning of the many verses found in the Hindu scriptures, this verse included, I have developed a methodological system of explication that I call Categorical Exegetical Analysis. This interpretive methodology enables its user to more accurately understand the precise meaning of any singular unit of philosophical text from the Hindu scriptures, units ranging from a simple declarative statement to a string of verses to an entire work, and held together by one unitive philosophical or conceptual motif.
Stated briefly, this philo-exegetical method involves three sequential steps. First, we must determine whether the verse in question is making an actual philosophical statement or some other form of statement (poetic, descriptive, historical, narrative, etc.). In the case of the verse ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti, the philosophically propositional makeup of the statement, the obviously philosophical nature of the subject (sat, “Truth/God”), and the clearly unitive conceptual pattern of the verse, undoubtedly makes this a philosophical statement. Second, we need to see what category of philosophical subject matter the statement falls under by determining the precise philosophical nature of the textual unit under analysis. Is the verse saying something about ethics, about knowledge, about liberation, or about some other aspect of philosophy?
The following are the various categories of philosophical statements that the verse under analysis could potentially fall under.
Every propositional statement containing significant philosophical content found in the scriptures of Hinduism falls within one or more of these philosophical categories. It is impossible to determine the full scope of the intent of any statement without first discerning which category a statement falls under. This is so because of the commonsensical fact that before we can determine what a verse is saying philosophically, we first need to know what aspect of philosophy the verse is addressing. Third, after completing steps one and two, a proper philosophical explication of the verse can be done.
We will now use Categorical Exegetical Analysis to examine the famous verse from the Rig Veda: ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti. An exact transliteration of the verse is:
The typical Radical Universalist attempt at interpreting this verse is to view it, incorrectly, as either an epistemological or a soteriological claim. That is, this verse is usually misinterpreted as either saying that a) God can be known in a myriad of ways (thus seeing this as an epistemological statement), or that b) there are many ways or paths of achieving God (thus misinterpreting this as a soteriological verse).
It is my contention that both interpretations are incorrect. An interpretive error is committed by Radical Universalists due to not understanding the proper categorical context, and thus the proper philosophical meaning, of the statement. The mantra ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti is neither an epistemological nor a soteriological statement; but it is rather an ontological one. It is not talking about the proper derivation of authoritative knowledge (pramana), nor about the means of attaining liberation (mokshopaya, or mokshamarga). Rather, the verse is making a clear attributive statement about the essential ontological nature of the Absolute. The ontological nature of this verse is clearly known due to the fact that sat ("Truth, reality, being, God") is the singular nominative subject, which is then qualified by the accusative ekam (“one, unity”). “God is One…”. Thus the primary clausal emphasis of this propositional verse is clearly placed upon explaining the ontological nature of sat (before consonant-initial endings, the t becomes d; thus sat becomes sad in this verse) being a metaphysically unified substance (ekam = “one”). The emphasis is not on the secondary supportive clause vipra bahudha vadanti. The point of this verse is the ontological unity and integrity of the Absolute, that God is one…despite the fact that this Absolute may have multiple names. The statement ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti is an ontological statement with God as subject, not an epistemological statement with wise-ones as subjects, or a soteriological statement with the means of liberation as the subject. Indeed, multiple paths of liberation are not even mentioned in the original Sanskrit of this verse at all, leaving even less reason for anyone to misinterpret this as a verse somehow supporting Radical Universalism from a soteriological perspective. In summation, this verse is not talking about multiple paths for achieving liberation (since it does not even mention “paths”). It is not talking about various means of knowing God. Rather, it is a straightforward ontological statement commenting upon the unitive nature of the Absolute, that God is one. Thus, “God is one, despite sages calling it by various names”.
Radical Universalism and Vedic Epistemology
For traditional Hinduism, unsubstantiated claims to truth, such as Radical Universalism, are not merely to be taken at face value. Such claims always need to be critically evaluated in order to determine the verity of such declarations. Followers of Hinduism derive their knowledge of Truth from, as well as live their lives in accordance with, the divine knowledge revealed in the form of the Veda. For knowledgeable and traditional followers of Hinduism, such concerns as personal ethical decisions, philosophical judgments and the efficacy of spiritual practices (sadhana) must be in accord with three specific epistemological criteria. These three are: 1) Shastra: The divine scriptural guidance of Hinduism (including the Vedas, Upanisads, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas, etc.); 2) Acharya: Authentic spiritual preceptors who teach the truths of Hinduism with uncompromising honesty, in accord with an authentic Vedic understanding, and who wholly personify what they teach. Such authentic spiritual preceptors in the past have included such truly great acharyas as Shankara, Ramanuja, and Madhva; 3) Viveka: One's own inherent capacity for intelligent discernment of truth versus untruth, reality versus illusion. It is only by deriving knowledge of metaphysical, religious and philosophical questions in accordance with these three epistemic mechanisms that we avoid being cheated by either our own internal tendencies toward self-delusion, or by externally sourced false dogmas. It is with unequivocal certainty that, when objectively judged by all three of these traditionally accepted validating criteria, the pronouncements of Radical Universalism cannot be upheld as either logically valid or philosophically true. Radical Universalism, then, in accordance with the above three Vedic criteria for ascertaining the validity of any truth-claim, is to be judged a false dogma.
Radical Universalism, Christian Missionaries and the RSS
Despite the utter irrationality of the Radical Universalist doctrine, and the fact that Radical Universalism is completely alien to Hindu philosophy, no other dogma has been as perniciously clinged onto in modern Hinduism. In the following section, we will examine the relationship of the important and influential Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh (RSS) movement to Radical Universalism. The RSS has been a movement dedicated to the social and cultural renewal of the national ideal of Bharata. Despite many glaring flaws in its neo-Hindu derived philosophy and program, the RSS has done much positive work to benefit India in the many decades since its founding. As a neo-Hindu inspired Indian nationalist movement, the RSS movement has had an uneasy relationship with Radical Universalism since the RSS’s very initial stages of development. On the one hand, the RSS has strived for decades, and in the face of often intense opposition, to create a greater sense of Hindu identity and pride among Indian Hindus. Yet on the other hand, most of the RSS’s top leaders throughout the 20th century, and now extending into the 21st, have been ardent supporters of the non-Hindu idea that “all religions are the same.” In numerous private discussions that I have had with many RSS leaders over the years, these leaders would often confidentially admit to me the self-defeating nature of Radical Universalism, stating that the doctrine was upheld only for strategic political reasons. The doctrine is being upheld by the RSS despite the fact that this destructive idea has done more harm to Hinduism than any other idea in the history of Hinduism. Despite their acknowledgement of Radical Universalism’s many destructive flaws, top leaders of the RSS have, remarkably, held on to this dogma with greater tenacity than most, and to the utter detriment of Hinduism’s longer-term interests.
It has always been a poignant source of despondency on the part of many traditionalist Hindus that, on the one hand, many leaders of the RSS inspired Sangh Parivar will periodically attempt to defend Radical Universalistic notions in order to opportunistically showcase the liberality and universality of Hinduism. But on the other hand, these very same leaders will simultaneously denounce Christian missionaries for converting people from one particular “True Path” (Hinduism) of Radical Universalism to another particular “True Path” (Christianity) of Radical Universalism. With these and similar attempts at reconciling two mutually opposing programs, such shortsighted neo-Hindu leaders attempt to have it both ways on the question of whether or not all religions are really just the same. Radical Universalism is politically expedient in that it supposedly showcases Hinduism’s liberality; but it is also privately acknowledged as a subversive idea that harms Hinduism to its essential core. The RSS leaders’ answer to this dilemma is to create philosophical round squares by simultaneously affirming both contradictory claims. We are told that Christianity is just as legitimate a path as Hinduism, while simultaneously being told that we cannot allow any Hindus to convert to this “alien faith”. Aggressive and unethical missionary activities in India is a legitimate issue that needs to be addressed. Holding to such a contradictory position, however, is not the most effective way to stem the tide of unethical conversions in India.
The glaring inconsistencies inherent in such an untenable position reveal even more dramatically both the contradictory nature of Radical Universalism, as well as the damaging effects that this unsound dogma has had on our leaders’ ability to discern authentic Hindu teachings from absurdities espoused in the name of Hinduism. With such intellectually lethargic leaders as these, is it any real wonder why the average Hindu remains bewildered about what Hinduism actually teaches, and that intellectually inquisitive Hindu youth find themselves so easily lured to other, seemingly more rational, faiths? The gratuitous irrationality of Radical Universalism has led to widespread theological bewilderment on the part of ill-trained Hindu leaders, the common Hindu parent, and intellectually dynamic Hindu youth. If Radical Universalism is true, then in opposing Christian missionaries the RSS is only opposing another legitimate path toward the summit of the one sole mountain of truth. If Radical Universalism is false and non-Hindu, then the RSS will have to renounce Radical Universalism, and renew and reassert itself with dynamic vigor as the defender of authentic and traditional Vedic Dharma against the aggressive missionary activities of all non-Hindu religions. If such philosophical clarity were to guide our present Hindu leadership, coupled with the Hindu masses finally taking pride in a religion that begins to actually make sense, the very real threat of Christian and Islamic missionary aggressiveness would quickly fade away in the face of a resurgent pride in Hindu Dharma.
Radical Universalism weakens the Hindu spirit. Vedic Dharma fortifies it. If the RSS and the Sangh Parivar are ever going to be taken seriously by the Hindu masses as a movement of vision, courage and legitimate Hindu renewal, the RSS has to decide whether or not the time has finally arrived for Radical Universalism to be firmly denounced and abandoned. Moreover, the RSS needs to realistically assess the damaging effects of neo-Hinduism in its own development, as well as in its effects on the greater Hindu community, and realign itself as a defender of traditionalist Hindu Dharma. The immense implications of this intra-Hindu debate for the preservation of Dharma and for securing a meaningful future for Hindu youth cannot be overestimated. We must preserve Vedic culture and secure a future for Hindu children. It is time for our Hindu leaders to lead.
Beacons of Hope
Reclaiming the Jewel of Dharma
Sanatana Dharma, authentic Hinduism, is a religion that is just as unique, valuable and integral a religion as any other major religion on earth, with its own beliefs, traditions, advanced system of ethics, meaningful rituals, philosophy and theology. The religious tradition of Hinduism is solely responsible for the original creation of such concepts and practices as Yoga, Ayurveda, Vastu, Jyotisha, Yajna, Puja, Tantra, Vedanta, Karma, etc. These and countless other Vedic-inspired elements of Hinduism belong to Hinduism, and to Hinduism alone. Though they are elements of Hinduism alone, however, they are also simultaneously Hinduism’s divine gift to a suffering world. Thus, so many of the essential elements of Hinduism are now to be found incorporated into the structures and beliefs of many of the world’s diverse religious traditions. The world, both ancient and modern, has appreciated, either with direct acknowledgement or not, the greatness of Hindu ideals. When we make the sentimentally comforting, yet unthinking, claim that “all religions are the same”, we are unwittingly betraying the grandeur and integrity of this ancient heritage, and contributing to weakening the philosophical/cultural matrix of Hinduism to its very core.
Each and every time a Hindu upholds Radical Universalism, and bombastically proclaims that “all religions are the same”, she does so at the dire expense of the very Hinduism she claims to love. To deny the uniqueness and greatness of Hinduism leads, in turn, to a very unhealthy psychological state of self-loathing, a sense of unworthiness and a schizophrenic confusion on the part of anyone who wishes to consider themselves Hindu. This is especially the case for Hindu youth. The effects of this debilitating inferiority complex, coupled with the lack of philosophical clarification, that result from the denigrating influence of Radical Universalism are the principal reasons why Hindu parents find their children all too often lacking a deep interest in Hinduism and, in some cases, even abandoning Hinduism for seemingly more rational and less self-abnegating religions. Who, after all, wants to follow a religion in which it is claimed that the very basis of the religion is to exult the greatness of other religions at its own expense? The answer is: no one.
If we want to ensure that our youth remain committed to Hinduism as a meaningful path, that our leaders teach Hinduism in a manner that represents the tradition authentically and with dignity, and that the greater Hindu community can feel that they have a religion that they can truly take pride in, then we must abandon Radical Universalism. If we want Hinduism to survive so that it may continue to bring hope, meaning and enlightenment to untold future generations, then the next time our son or daughter asks us what Hinduism is really all about, let us not slavishly repeat to them that “all religions are the same”. Let us instead look them in their eyes, and teach them the uniquely precious, the beautifully endearing, and the philosophically profound truths of our tradition…truths that have been responsible for keeping Hinduism a vibrantly living religious force for over 5000 years. Let us teach them Sanatana Dharma, the eternal way of Truth.
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I wish to thank the following people for their tremendous encouragement and support in creating this work: Pujya Swami Sri Dayananda Sarasvati, Mr. Rajiv Malhotra, Dr. David Frawley, Mr. Vishal Agarwal, Mr. Robert Threlfall, Dr. Keith Yandell, Dr. Anita Bhagat Patel, Dr. Manan Patel, and Mrs. Frances Elizabeth Morales.
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