Mar 21, 2023
Mar 21, 2023
In December 2004, there appeared in some eGroups an article titled ‘Does Hinduism Teach That All Religions Are The Same? A Philosophical Critique of Radical Universalism’. Subsequently, the article also appeared in some print journals including this website. The author of the article, Dr. Frank Gaetano Morales, is ostensibly regarded as one of America’s leading authorities on Hindu philosophy and religion. In his article, Dr. Morales launches a scathing attack on the conception that all religions are the same, a message that Hinduism has been proclaiming to the world for the last 150 years, and claims that this idea – which he calls Radical Universalism – is not only alien to classical Hinduism but is also the primary factor that is responsible for the debilitating weakness that we now see amongst the followers of Hindu religion. According to Dr. Morales the idea that all religions are the same is an import into Hinduism from foreign sources and it has weakened the fibre of the religion to such an extent that it now stands in danger of losing its vital élan and inner propelling force.
The following words taken from the paper of Dr. Morales is representative of what he has to say on the matter:
The doctrine of what I call "Radical Universalism" makes the claim that "all religions are the same." This dogmatic assertion is of very recent origin, and has become one of the most harmful misconceptions in the Hindu world in the last 150 or so years.
It is a doctrine that has directly led to a self-defeating philosophical relativism that has, in turn, weakened the stature and substance of Hinduism to its very core.
In modern Hinduism, we hear from a variety of sources this claim that all religions are equal. Unfortunately, the most damaging source of this fallacy is none other than the many un-informed spiritual leaders of the Hindu community itself.
When the Critique of Radical Universalism was first posted into various discussion forums, the author had expressed the hope that it would become the definitive statement on the issue. A visit to Dr. Morales’ website atwww.dharmacentral.com/universalism.htm informs us that this historic critique has created an enormous impact on Hindu intellectuals and leaders globally and that it is now causing a thorough reassessment of the idea of Radical Universalism. I am of the view that a reassessment of the idea, if it is to be done, should be undertaken only after the arguments furnished by Dr. Morales in support of his thesis have been critically examined, especially as it seeks to dethrone from Hinduism a universalism that has so far been the rubric of its message to humanity. It is in order to provide just such a critical examination that this response is undertaken.
There is of course much in Dr. Morales’ paper that finds an immediate resonance in my heart, especially when he writes words such as these:
Unfortunately, in our headlong rush to devolve Hinduism of anything that might seem to even remotely resemble the closed-minded sectarianism sometimes found in other religions, we often forget the obvious truth that Hinduism is itself a systematic and self-contained religious tradition in its own right.
Hinduism’s unique place in the world does not, by any stretch of the imagination, have to lead automatically to sectarianism, strife, conflict or religious chauvinism. Indeed, such a recognition of Hinduism’s distinctiveness is crucial if Hindus are to possess even a modicum of healthy self-understanding, self-respect and pride in their own tradition. Self-respect and the ability to celebrate one’s unique spiritual tradition are basic psychological needs, and a cherished civil right of any human being, Hindu and non-Hindu alike.
It is sadly true that the contemporary Hindu is alienated from his roots and is largely oblivious to the great philosophical doctrines and tenets of his religion. He has allowed himself, by his own neglect, to be severed from the living waters of the greatest truth ever bequeathed to humankind. This neglect has robbed him of his self-worth as a Hindu and has reduced him to a state of servility whereby when he speaks about his religion he must do so by seeking support from outside rather from the bounteous inner springs of his own inheritance. But, the cause of this chronic malady is not Radical Universalism as Dr. Morales claims; it is rather the Hindu’s abandonment of his moral duty, a neglect that has sapped his vitality to the extent that he is today reduced to the state of being an abject apologist.
There is certainly a crisis facing the Hindu today. While the efforts of Dr. Morales to combat the apathy of the modern Hindu is commendable, and while his message that we must return to the purer form of Sanatana Dharma is well-founded, it seems to me that in his overzealous attempt to cleanse Hinduism of the perceived evil of Radical Universalism he is in danger of overstepping the mark and denying to Hinduism its great universal vision and overarching syncretism in which it subsumes the diversities of the various religions of the world.
Now it happens oftentimes that a great idea loses its living force because it has been uttered once too often by the vulgar and the rabble. It is quite natural for us to judge the truth of a person’s words in accordance with the worth of the person that is uttering them. The profound message of Hinduism that all religions lead to the same goal has been repeated with such regularity and unimaginative banality, by every new-age Hindu guru and self-styled Hindu intellectual, that it has lost its living force and become a meaningless cliché. While such a historical turn of events is unfortunate, we would be guilty of intellectual laxity if we were to discard it merely because of the dubious nature of the carrier of the message. A truth is a truth whether it is uttered by a saint or by an idiot.
Radical Universalism and Hindu Universalism
What exactly is meant by the term ‘Radical Universalism’? If by Radical Universalism is meant that all religions are the same in the sense that all religions are identical in terms of their attributes, doctrines and practices, then clearly there is no such thing as Radical Universalism in Hinduism, not even in neo-Hinduism. No Hindu, including a neo-Hindu, unless he or she be an imbecile, actually means that Hinduism is the same as Christianity or that he or she is impervious to the perceived differences between these two religions such as the difference between the rituals of a Christian going to Church and of the Hindu going to a temple, or the Christian that believes the world to have been created ex-nihilo and the Vedantist that believes the world to be an illusion. That Dr. Morales is using the term Radical Universalism in the sense of denying all those differences that are seen to exist between religions is evident from the following statements of his:
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.
The common mistake that is often made, however, is to mistake the long-held Hindu tradition of tolerating other religions with the mistaken notion that Hinduism consequently encourages us to believe that all religions are exactly the same.
Dr. Morales seems to believe that the statement ‘all religions are the same’ is identical to the statement ‘all religions are exactly the same’. But Hinduism does not say that all religions are exactly the same. Hinduism says that all religions speak of the same Reality though they may call this Reality by different names or conceive of It differently. Again, Hinduism does not say that all paths take you to the same ultimate goal. Hinduism says that the paths of all religions lead to the same goal even if they should not succeed in taking you right up to the summit.
There is in reality no such thing as Radical Universalism. The idea that ‘all religions are exactly the same’ is devoid of meaning like the sentence ‘he is the son of a barren woman’ because the multiplicity of religions indicated by the sentential-subject ‘all religions’ is negated by the predicate ‘are exactly the same’ to present a mere word-combination devoid of meaning. Dr. Morales violates the subject-predicate structure of language by interpreting the sentence ‘all religions are the same’ to mean that all religions are exactly the same. When it is said that ‘all religions are the same’, the predicative part of the sentence ‘are the same’ does not predicate identity as Dr. Morales thinks, but predicates a sameness that lies within the diversities of attributes found in the various religions. We shall show what this sameness is in the next section.
We shall henceforth use the term ‘Hindu Universalism’ to refer to the true universalism that exists in Hinduism as distinguished from Radical Universalism, or the absurd idea that all religions are exactly the same. Dr. Morales conflates the two and presents them as if they constitute one single idea. It is this conflation that has derailed the entire Critique of Radical Universalism and reduced it to the level of mere sophistry instead of being worthy of the title of Philosophical Critique that it bears. By treating the genuine universalism that exists in Hinduism as well as the misbegotten idea that all religions are exactly the same as one amorphous idea under the common banner of Radical Universalism, Dr. Morales denies not merely the idea that all religions are exactly the same, but also the veneer of sublime universalism that runs through the texture of Hinduism.
While it is true that there is in neo-Hinduism a distressing trend to reduce the great universal ideas of Hinduism into naïve, and often, inane platitudes, we must at the same time guard ourselves from overly reacting to it and discarding the sublime with the profane. If Dr. Morales had merely denied that traditional Hinduism subscribed to the idea that all religions are exactly the same, we would have had no cause to write this reply, but since he also attempts, on account of his indiscriminations, to dispossess Hinduism of some of its central tenets, and to go so far as to belittle great Hindu saints like Sri Ramakrishna, we shall be obliged to set our labours to correct the serious distortions caused by his paper. We shall do this by first exposing the fallacies in Dr. Morales’ reasoning, and then by showing that the origins of Hindu Universalism are found within its own scriptural revelations. Since Dr. Morales does not distinguish between Radical Universalism and Hindu Universalism, we shall be constrained to treat the arguments proffered by him against Radical Universalism as arguments aimed against Hindu Universalism and demonstrate that these arguments are fallacious. Furthermore, we shall show that Universalism is not the cause of the chronic malady that plagues Hinduism today, and that the true cause of the disease is the Hindu’s abrogation of the moral code that he or she is to live by.
On the Sameness and the Distinctiveness of Religions
Since the core issue at hand relates to the sameness and difference of religions, it becomes necessary for us to examine the thesis put forth by Dr. Morales in the light of the fundamental principles of logic (nyaya) by which things may be said to be same and different. The basic fallacy in the argument put forth by Dr. Morales is rooted in the premise that if two things, A and B, are the same then they are identical to each other as represented by the relation A = B. This kind of logic, which is called pure logic, abstracts the signs A and B from the natures of the things that they are applied to. In pure logic, the signs A and B are called variables and, in practice, they are applied to various objects of the world without consideration of the type of objects they are brought to bear upon. The fundamental problem with this method is that, in actuality, the signs A and B, and the relationships that prevail between them, are never independent of the natures of objects in the world, because the natures of the relationships that abide between objects are given in the very natures of objects themselves. Modern logic does not recognize that the word ‘logic’ comes from the Greek word ‘logos’ which means ‘word’, and that it is the intrinsic relationships between word-objects that must determine the operations of logic. When we apply modern logic to mathematics, the logical rules apply accurately because they are made to work within the limited framework of mathematics wherein the objects in question are confined to mathematical objects – or numbers - but when the variables are not numbers they must necessarily be applied in manners that are commensurate with the objects that they seek to bring into relation. Though analytical philosophy (or modern symbolic logic) attempted to do this, it fell short of its professed aim because it was derailed by the sense-reference theory (due to Frege) that created a spurious schism between mind and matter. For a purer and more pristine form of logic, we would need to go to the ancient science of logic as given in the organon of Vedic metaphysics and epistemology.
According to the Vedas, this world is nama-rupa, or name and form. Name is padaor word. Form is artha or object. Therefore nama-rupa, the nature of the world, ispada-artha, or word-objects. The study of padartha is nyaya shastra or logic.Nyaya is one of the subsidiary accessories with which one is to approach the study of the Vedas. Therefore Nyaya is called an upanga or subsidiary arm of the Vedas; the Vedic religion is a rational religion. Unlike modern logic, Nyaya does not admit of something called pure logic that may be abstracted from the things to which they are applied. All rules of logic are inherently united with the objects to which they apply because the rules of logic are the structural schemata of the objects themselves*. In other words, logic is the relational structure of the world. And because the world isnama-rupa or word-object, grammar, the relational structure of words or language, is mirrored in metaphysics, the relational structure of the world. There is thus no difference between the structural schema of the world and the structural schema of language because they are not two disparate things, but two aspects of one structure that are mirrored in each other. (Wittgenstein seems to have had a glimpse of this truth). Relationships such as sameness and distinctiveness must be applied in accordance with the rules of nyaya shastra, especially when the subject matter happens to be religion and metaphysics. This we shall now proceed to do.
As we have pointed out already, Dr. Morales starts with a wrong premise by assuming that the sense of same as attributed to things denies the difference that persists between them. Differences in attributes do not necessarily make the things that have those attributes different. An apple is the same as another apple in respect of being an apple despite the fact that one may be large and the other small, one red and the other a shade of green, or the one sweet and the other tasteless. Now there are many senses in which sameness is asserted of things and it behoves us to discern in what sense sameness is indicated of them amidst the varieties and differences that are naturally perceived of them in the world. The sentence ‘He is that same Devadatta’ asserts the sameness of the person Devadatta as subsuming the differences seen at different times and different places of the same person. When one goes back to a river that one had visited the previous day and says that ‘it is the same river’, one is asserting the sameness of the river notwithstanding that Heraclites thought you couldn’t step into the same river twice. Obviously Heraclites was using the term ‘same’ in a metaphorical sense to convey that the waters of the river are forever in a state of flux and that there is nothing of the river’s constituent that remains the same when you step into it again. But it is nevertheless the same river despite every single constituent having changed because otherwise Heraclites would scarce have been able to recognize any river at all. The sameness of a thing is not given to it by its diverse attributes, but by its universal. The river Ganga remains the same river Ganga because of the Ganganess that is persistent in the ever-changing flux of rushing waters that we see before us. An existing thing may remain same with itself, and yet it may be different to our perception at different places and at different times in accordance with the attributes that it manifests in differing loci of space and time. Again a thing may be different from another and yet the two may be the same in respect of their essential natures. What is it that is different in same things and same in different things? An examination regarding the sameness and difference of things must be done in the light of the natures of samanya and vishesha (universal and particular) and dravya andguna (substance and attribute). Otherwise one is prone to fall into all sorts of confusions.
Sameness is given by samanya, or universal. The fundamental and inviolable truth of a thing is that it is same with itself. This is its samanya (universal). A red thing is red not because of some other thing, but because of its redness. A thing is as it is by virtue of its own nature. Whenever there is a red thing in this world, it is the same redness by virtue of which it is red and because of which we are able to say that it is of the same color. For if the color red in one thing were to be different than the red color in another thing, the two things would not be of the same color, as the color of one being different than the color of the other there would be a difference of color perceived, and by difference sameness cannot arise. Neither can be it said, as contemporary philosophers are wont to say, that the red color in the two things are numerically different, because the difference seen pertains to the duality that is seen and not to the color that is perceived to be the same amidst the duality. Thus when sameness is seen of an attribute in two different things, it is not due to any other reason than that the samanya of the attribute is seen in both.
When we speak of sameness with regard to attributes, we do so in respect of the attributes that are same in different things, but when we speak of the sameness of existing things, we do so not with regard to the sameness of their attributes but with regard to the sameness of the things in which various attributes inhere. The first is the sameness of attribute in different substantial things and the second is the sameness of the substantial thing amidst the varieties of attributes in the instantiations of the substantial thing. While there is not much confusion regarding the sameness and difference of attributes, there is considerable scope for misapprehension with regard to the sameness and difference of substantive things because of the multitude of attributes that inheres in them. It is necessary therefore that the nature of substance and attribute be made more lucid.
We do not see merely attributes in the world, but see attributes as inhering in unities of existence. The unitary existence of the various attributes of a thing is substance (dravya). Attributes describe the way an existing thing (substance) is. Attributes have no existence except in the substance that they predicate, for substance is their existence. There is no existential difference between an attribute and the substance that it inheres in, and therefore there are no two different existentials in a substantial thing. As a result, no binding relation can be posited between substance and attributes. (The view that I am presenting here is strictly not that of Nyaya darshana, but that of Vedanta). Substance, in its capacity as substance, cannot be perceived in itself because what is perceived of it is its attribute. Yet in each perception, the existence, or isness, of the attribute perceived is substance, for the essence of substance is existence.
What we see as an existing thing is substance in which diverse attributes inhere. In other words, a substance comprises innumerable attributes in a single unitary existence. Now, a thing (substance) does not derive its identity from the individual attributes that describe it, nor by the combination of these attributes, but by thesamanya that identifies it. That is, an apple does not derive its identity of being an apple by the redness, or the roundness, or the sweet taste, that describes it, nor by a combination of these attributes, but by the samanya that identifies it, namely appleness. It is in the essence of the samanya, appleness, to comprise the manifold of attributes that describe an apple as a unitary thing. Therefore, when we speak of substantial things, the samanya of the thing comprises a multitude of attributes within it without detriment to its unity, i.e., the one apple is both red and round without detriment to the unity of the apple.
Now therefore, the sameness of two substantial things is given by the samanya that identifies them both as being same. Since the samanya of a substantial thing is the unity that comprises the manifold attributes of the thing, two substantial things may be the same essentially even though the attributes in the manifold of each may be different. That is, two apples would be essentially the same (as apples) even though one may have the attribute of being large and the other small, one red and the other a shade of green, or the one sweet and the other tasteless, because the samanya, appleness, that identifies them both as apples informs of their essential sameness.
It is also necessary for us to here consider the natures of samanya and vishesha so that we may not be confounded by the differences of particulars that arise from the sameness of samanya. Now Samanya is never manifest by itself as samanya. It is brought forth to cognition as a particularised instance of its manifestation. The manifestation of universal (samanya) is therefore always a particular (vishesha). A particular is never existentially separate from the samanya. If it were separate, it would be separated from the existence of its sameness, which is absurd. Therefore, a particular is not different from the samanya of which it is a particular. Thus there arises the hierarchy of genera and species as particulars of the universal and from which they are never different. All flowers are flowers due to the flowerness in them, and even though a rose and a lotus are different from each other as particular kinds of flowers, they are both not different from being the flower that they both are.
(It is necessary at this stage to introduce a word of caution for the modern reader. In speaking about padarthas such as substances and attributes, and universals and particulars, we find that we are quite unaccustomed to grasp these things lucidly. There are no answers to these questions in contemporary science and philosophy because contemporary science and philosophy looks for substance in the world when substance cannot be found by looking for it in the world. Substance is the bare isnessof things, and it is already grasped in the perception of each thing in the originary moment of its cognition. It is likewise with samanya or universals. A universal is not grasped by thought laboring to grasp it. Thinking particularizes the thing thought about, and a particularized thing is a particular, not a universal. The natures of substances and universals are grasped by the stillness of apperception in the act of perception. That stillness is the disassociation of the witness from the things it witnesses. Nyaya is a cleansing of the intellect so that it may sink back into its source, the Heart, from which it sees the Truth. In the philosophy of Nyaya this is callednihsreyasa).
Now, two things may be said to be the same in respect of their attributes when there is in them a sameness of the attribute even though the things themselves may be essentially different i.e., an apple and a table may be same in respect of their redness even though the things themselves are different (as apple and table). Clearly this is not the sense in which Hinduism says that all religions are the same. There are indeed attributive differences between various religions, and Hinduism does not negate these differences.
When two things are said to be the same essentially (in substance), then it is the sameness of essence that is asserted even though there may be differences in the attributes that inhere in them i.e., two tables are the same essentially even though one may be red and the other white. It is in this sense that Hinduism says that all religions are the same. Now religion, being an existing thing, comprises in it various attributes. Hindu religion is the same as Christian religion in respect of being religion, but is different from it in respect of the attributes that abide in it as distinct from the attributes that abide in Christianity. Hinduism and Christianity are the visheshas(particulars) of the samanya (universal) called religion and they possess the distinctive characteristics of their respective kinds. As religions they are the same because the essence of them both, as religions, is the same. Suffice it to say that when all religions are said to be the same, they are thus said not on account of the attributive differences that distinguish them one from another, but due to that which is same in all of them. This sameness is the essence of religion that abides in them all. What this essence of religion is, we shall now see.
Religion is different from the sciences in one fundamental respect: it places the origin of the world in a Living Principle. In Hindu terms, the origin of the world is the Great Being that is conscious and intelligent (chaitanya) as distinguished from Nature that is unconscious and inert (jada). The origin, sustenance and dissolution of the universe, has its ground in the Great Being that is called Brahman by the Vedas. Now religions may differ in the way they name or describe this Living Principle, or in the relations they posit as abiding between the Living Principle and nature (the world), but they do not differ in the one respect whereby all of them identify the ultimate causes of things to be a Living Principle in contrast to the sciences that look for ultimate causes in the natures of physical things. It is this that is same in all religions. And it is in the way that this Living Principle is revealed in Hinduism that gives to it its overarching universal vision.
Now it may rightly be asked of us why we should have gone to this extent to explicate the nature of sameness and difference when we had already shown that there is no Hindu, whether classical or neo, that actually abides by the notion of Radical Universalism if Radical Universalism means an effacement of the differences perceived between religions. The answer to this question is as follows: Dr. Morales places the idea that all religions are the same as standing in opposition to, and being mutually exclusive from, the idea that each religion is a distinct religion with its own doctrines, world-view, etc. By creating this artificial opposition, and by not distinguishing the nature of difference that may be manifestly present in things that are essentially of the same nature, he proceeds, by means of fallacious reasoning, to deny the validity of not only Radical Universalism, which is not present in Hinduism, but also Hindu Universalism, which is certainly present in Hinduism. Indeed, he goes so far as to say that the ultimate goal of each religion is a separate mountain that is completely different from, as well as isolated from, the mountains of other religions, an idea that is not only foreign to Hindus but is also one that does violence to the expansive heart of a true Hindu. We shall demonstrate in this paper, in further support to the arguments furnished above, that Hinduism does include within it an overarching universalism that sees all religions as speaking of the same Reality, and that the differences in their conceptions pertain only to different aspects of the same Being.
IIt is clear from the foregoing deliberations on sameness and difference that the underlying sameness of religions does not in any way undermine the distinctive features of each religion. Neither would Hinduism lose its distinctive character as a great religion by virtue of seeing this underlying sameness in all religions.
The Disbanding of Logical Fallacies
Dr. Morales presents his case with such persuasive force and rhetoric that it is easy to overlook the many fallacies that lie hidden between the lines of his arguments. Unless one is alert to the sophisms therein that rise like canards to lead one astray, one is likely to fall into an abyss of confusion. The fallacies in the critique, of which there are many, arise both due to the failure to distinguish between the sameness and the difference of things as well as due to elementary derailments in logic. We shall show in this section that the key arguments presented by Dr. Morales against Radical Universalism reduce to fallacies when applied against Hindu Universalism.
The Circular Logic Argument
The Circular Logic Argument states that Hindu Universalism leads to reductio-ad-absurdum by virtue of its claim that all religions are the same. The argument is as follows: if Hinduism is able to see that all religions are the same, then it becomes superior to other religions by virtue of this very vision (which other religions do not claim to see) and thereby it contradicts the claim that all religions are the same. In the words of Dr. Morales:
Looking first at the very statement "All religions are the same" itself, we quickly discover our first problematic instance of circular logic.
The problem that is created is that since only Hinduism is supposedly teaching the "truth" that "all religions are the same", and since no other religion seems to be aware of this "truth" other than modern day Hinduism, then Hinduism is naturally superior to all other religions in its exclusive possession of the knowledge that "all religions are the same". In its attempt to insist that all religions are the same, Radical Universalism has employed a circular pattern of logic that sets itself up as being, astoundingly, superior to all other religions. Thus, attempting to uphold the very claim of Radical Universalism leads to a situation in which Radical Universalism’s very claim is contradicted.
The entire argument is premised on the assumption that the sameness of religions implies a lack of difference between them. But as we have seen, this premise is wrong. Even if we should consider that Hinduism would become superior to other religions by virtue of its vision that all religions are essentially the same, then such superiority would become a distinctive mark of Hinduism that is in no way detrimental to the underlying sameness of religions. It becomes a distinctive mark of Hinduism, in contrast to the distinctive marks of other religions, and as each of them is a vishesha-religion, the distinctive marks that inhere in any one of them do not negate the essential sameness that underlies all of them. Therefore, there is no danger here of a circular logic arising to negate the universal vision that is a characteristic feature of Hinduism.
It needs to be clarified here that a true Hindu, if he is truly imbibed of the universal vision of his religion, would never consider himself superior to members of other religions, but would rather embrace them in the expansiveness of love. Superiority is parasitic upon the notion of the other and otherness arises due to the loss of love. True religion is the opening of the heart, and what is opened is the expansive and all-inclusive door of love.
The Different Mountains argument
According to Dr. Morales, the realities spoken about by different religions are so many different mountains. He claims that this is evident from the fact that these religions take specific pains to disavow Brahman as being the God of their religions. All we have to say in reply to this argument is that Hindu Universalism is to be proved by the presence of universalism in Hinduism, and not by the expressions of parochialism that may exist in other religions, a fact that Dr. Morales seems to miss.
In modern Hinduism, we hear from a variety of sources this claim that all religions are equal. Unfortunately, the most damaging source of this fallacy is none other than the many un-informed spiritual leaders of the Hindu community itself. I have been to innumerable pravachanas, for example, where a benignly grinning guruji will provide his audience with the following tediously parroted metaphor, what I call the Mountain Metaphor.
"Truth (or God or Brahman) lies at the summit of a very high mountain. There are many diverse paths to reach the top of the mountain, and thus attain the one supreme goal. Some paths are shorter, some longer. The path itself, however, is unimportant. The only truly important thing is that seekers all reach the top of the mountain."
While this simplistic metaphor might seem compelling at a cursory glance, it leaves out a very important elemental supposition: it makes the unfounded assumption that everyone wants to get to the top of the same mountain! As we will soon see, not every religion shares the same goal, the same conception of the Absolute (indeed, even the belief that there is an Absolute), or the same means to their respective goals. Rather, there are many different philosophical "mountains", each with their own very unique claim to be the supreme goal of all human spiritual striving.
The logic employed by Dr. Morales is fallacious because it shifts the question in focus, which is universalism in Hinduism, to something else, namely, what other religions believe to be their goals. The question here is not of what other religions believe to be their goals, but of what Hinduism sees the goals of various religions to be, because what gives to Hinduism its universalism is to be decided by the intrinsic vision of Hinduism and not by the opinions of others. Dr. Morales is chasing shadows.
The Contradictions Argument
The Contradictions Argument is based on the ground that two things that are contradictory to each other cannot be the same. Dr. Morales posits that if the philosophical content of one religion were to be true, it would preclude the possibility of the others also being true. Here is the argument:
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.
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.
There are three kinds of fallacies in the Contradictions Argument. The first is the fallacy of taking, as the ground of the argument, an example that is inapplicable to the case. To say that there exists a round square or a married bachelor is nothing but delusion. One might as well claim to have seen the son of a barren woman. Each phrase here – a round square, a married bachelor – is a unitary phrase and each must therefore have a unitary meaning, which in the examples cited it clearly fails to have. Therefore, these phrases are devoid of meaning. The locus of the qualification ‘round’ is ‘square’, and the locus of the qualification ‘married’ is ‘bachelor’. Each qualification is contradictory to the locus in which it is predicated and therefore it cannot abide in it. But when the loci are different, such as two tables, then these contrary qualities may abide in them without detriment to the essential sameness of the loci, as when we say ‘a square table’ and ‘a round table’. Square is contrary to round, but it is not unreasonable for these two contrary attributes to be found in two things of the same essential nature, for example, in two tables. Now therefore, two religions being two different loci, it is not illogical for contrary attributes to inhere in them despite their essential sameness as religions. The example of a round square or a married bachelor on which Dr. Morales bases his argument is inapplicable to the proposition to be proved.
The second fallacy arises due to the same error that Dr. Morales is prey to in theDifferent Mountains argument – the failure to look at the question of Hindu Universalism through the eyes of Hinduism. In order to see how Hinduism reconciles the seeming disparities between religions, it is necessary to look for it within the doctrines of Hinduism itself. According to Vedanta, the operative domain of logical rules is the field of logos (names and forms), whereas the Absolute is beyond the realm of names and forms. Hinduism sees that there is a mystical core in all religions that cannot be subjected to the rules of logic operating in the realm of logos. Contradictions pertain to names and forms, but the Reality of every religion is the Ground and Origin of names and forms. In Hinduism, the Absolute is beyond the pairs of opposites; it is the underlying Substratum from which the pairs of opposites arise and in which they dissolve. If there are contrary features in the philosophical contents of various religions as they conceive Reality, Hinduism sees them as the manifest forms of the same Transcendental Absolute, and the manifest forms of the Absolute are many and include within them the opposites. Hindu Universalism says that there is an essential sameness in all religions, not that there are no contrary features in them. Contrary things may be said of the same God, for example, God may be said to be both a great terror and also the all-merciful and compassionate One. Let us specifically take an example from Dr. Morales’ paper to see where he is going wrong:
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.
According to Vedanta, the Absolute is not governed by either/or propositions. The Absolute is not an entity that can be encapsulated in propositions because It is the Ground of propositions. The source of Dr. Morales’ error may be seen in his assertion that “the Absolute either has meaningful existence or it does not exist” because the Absolute in Vedanta is not a thing that may be said to have existence. It is Itself the Existence of all things. And when a thing is predicated to be existent in this world, the Existence of the thing is none other than the Absolute Itself. The Absolute is Sat-Chit-Ananda, and is the existence of both the square and the circle because it is the Sat that is in them. But the expression ‘square circle’ does not fall within the realm of Existence because it is a meaningless term and there is no thing such as a square circle for existence to be either predicated or denied to it. When Dr. Morales says that “the Absolute either has meaningful existence or it does not exist” he does not realize that the term ‘meaningful existence’ does not apply to the Absolute but to the meanings that lie in the Absolute because meanings are the forms that exist eternally in the Absolute. According to Vedanta, words are eternal and are eternally connected to their objects (meanings). Therefore, meanings are nothing but the eternal logos in the Absolute that is made manifest as the world. All propositions, including either/or propositions, are meaning-sentences and are hence contained within the realm of meanings (or logos) and do not reach the Absolute which is the Ground of words. Dr. Morales commits a category error in saying that the Absolute is either this or that. Now, the Absolute is also the Personal God because it is the Existence of the Persona in the manifestation of the Personal God. The Absolute is not merely an anthropomorphic God but also the morphologies of all forms of life including fishes and tortoises and lions. God manifested not only as Rama and Krishna and Jesus, but also as matsya (fish) and kurma (tortoise) and narasimha(man-lion). And lastly, the non-dual Absolute does not negate the plurality of this world because the Absolute of the Vedas is That by Knowing which all this is known, and all this cannot be known by knowing the One if all this is somehow not retained in the Vedic epiphany of the One. The paradox dissolves in the non-duality of Advaita through the vision of the unspeakable Oneness of the world with Brahman. In non-dual Kashmir Shaivism, the embracing of the paradox is known as sattarka. Dr. Morales commits a category error and thereby becomes susceptible to the fallacy of subjecting the Absolute, which is beyond logos, to the logical rules that are applicable only to the categories of logos.
The third fallacy in the Contradictions Argument arises due to a lack of perspicuity regarding the meanings of difference and contradiction. A difference is not necessarily a contradiction; only those differences that are opposed to each other are contradictory. Dr. Morales sees contradictions when there are merely differences and not contradictions. The differences in the analyses of various religions regarding the human existential dilemma are not contradictory to one another, but are merely the differences in the assignations of causes to the human predicament. Every religion speaks about human existence as a degenerate state of an original Elysian state, or as a fall, or descent, from a Radiant Home. The causes assigned to this degeneration by different religions may be different, but Hinduism sees these causes as various stages in the manifestation of causality as it irrupts into the corporeality of this world. For example, Ayurveda finds the causes of diseases in the imbalance of the three doshas. Yoga goes deeper still and finds them in the obstructions of the flow of prana. Mimamsa goes deeper still and finds them in the workings of past karma. These causes are not contradictory to one another, but one is the manifest symptom of another deeper cause. Hinduism does not negate the original sin (or the fall) as being contradictory to avidya, but sees it as a symptom of primordial avidya. Again, there are differences and not contradictions between the means prescribed by different religions for attaining freedom, because all these prescriptive differences remain grounded in the principle of sacrifice which in the theistic religions take the form ofsurrendering to God.
It is somewhat astonishing to see that Dr. Morales should be bringing up the Contradictions Argument considering that he finds an underlying unity in the diverse sects and schools of Hinduism. It is quite evident to anyone that surveys the staggering variety and diversity of Hindu religion that Hinduism is itself rife with innumerable differences. If Dr. Morales’ argument were to be valid, then there would no such thing left as Hinduism, given that its sects and schools have so many contrary claims regarding not only the nature of Reality but also regarding the means to the highest good. One school of Hinduism speaks of Nirguna Brahman, another of Gunapoorna Brahman, another of Shiva, another of Shakti, another of Vishnu, and another of Kali; the list is almost endless. One speaks of the dissolution of self in Brahman, another of attaining Vaikunta, another of attaining Goloka, another of Apavarga. Some speak of jnyana as the path, some of bhakti as the path, some of nihsreyasa as the path, and some even of transgression as the path. It is indeed amusing to see that Dr. Morales finds an underlying unity in these schools, amidst all the lush differences that exist between them as it were, by seeing their common adherence to the Vedas. If Dr. Morales can find the unity of Hindu schools amidst such fecund variety as this, we are surprised that he is unwilling to see the underlying unity in the various religions of the world.
The Hermeneutics Argument
Dr. Morales employs hermeneutical analysis to show that the Rg Veda sentence ‘ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti’ is an ontological statement and not an epistemological or soteriological statement. While we agree with Dr. Morales that the Rg Veda sentence in question is an ontological assertion, we are bound to point out that the argument he employs only demonstrates this much and nothing more. It does not prove that Hinduism never had a universal vision. Let us examine the argument:
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".
In the above analysis, Dr. Morales has merely shown that if there are Hindus that take this Rg Veda sentence as an epistemological or a soteriological statement, then such Hindus are mistaken. He has certainly not demonstrated that the Rg Veda statement fails to apply to the Reality spoken of in other religions. In order to show that the proposition ‘universalism never existed in Hinduism’ is true, it would be necessary to demonstrate that traditional Hinduism never considered the Reality spoken of by other religions as being the One Reality that it speaks about. Now, a Hindu that considers Reality to be unitive would scarce believe that there are different realities or different mountains. Therefore, the only options that remain are: (1) he believes that the reality spoken of by other religions are the same Reality as the Vedic Brahman, or (2) he believes that the reality spoken of by other religions are vacuous concepts. Now the first option would result in universalism. Therefore, in order to prove that universalism never existed in Hinduism, it would be necessary to show that Hinduism considers the reality spoken about by other religions as vacuous concepts. But Dr. Morales does not even attempt to formulate, let alone verify, such a proposition. Therefore, his blithe conclusion that Universalism never existed in Hinduism is based on insufficient logical grounds.
More by : Chittaranjan Naik
Thank you for your interesting article.
"All those traditions and all those disreputable systems of philosophy that are not based on the Veda produce no positive result after death; for they are declared to be founded on darkness. All those doctrines differing from the Veda that spring up and soon perish are ineffectual and misleading, because they are of modern date" (Manu Smriti, 12.95-96, trans. Dr. Morales).
How can Hindu Universalism be defended against this quote?