In this somewhat lengthy article I, as a born if not a practicing Hindu, would like to look into the current state of my inherited religion in modern India in the first part, and following it, present a brief exposé on the central concept of the religion of the Hindus in the second part. As my acknowledgment at the end of this article will aver, the materials for my current enterprise have been garnered from my two public lectures some years ago.
Religion minus Paranoia, Community without Communalism
I would like to point out at the very outset that I am not attempting to propose any theory of communal harmony. That lofty task I am content to leave to others more equipped and experienced than myself, while I take this occasion to share with my fellow contributors and readers some of my concerns as an ethnic Indian and as a historian, whose scholarly interests include, in addition to his own area of specialty in European history, the life, logia, and achievements of some nineteenth-century Hindu religious reformers and leaders.
Let me, then, clarify the issue of definitions. First of all, by Religion I mean a system of belief in a higher power, that is, the Divine, who is seen as the creator and maintainer of the world and its every being. Its essential domain, I maintain, is private; it belongs to the individual conscience. There is, of course, the other and more popularly subscribed definition of religion that is derived from the Latin root religare, something that binds people together. In this sense, religion, derived from religare, resembles the Sanskrit word for religion dharma, which is derived from the root dhr, meaning, to hold together.
Paranoia, as psychologists maintain, is “a disordered mode of thought that is dominated by an intense irrational, but persistent mistrust or suspicion of people and a corresponding tendency to interpret the actions of others as deliberately threatening or demeaning.” It is a pathological state par excellence in that it is a mental disorder characterized by systematized delusions.
By Community, I do not in intend to follow the German model provided by Ferdinand Tönnies and popularized by Max Weber that distinguishes between Gemeinschaft [community] and Gessellschaft [society]. This model makes community, Gemeinschaft, a consequence of man’s natural spontaneous and organic will and society, Gesellschaft, a product of man’s reflective or rational will or choice. By this definition, community becomes a natural human association while society becomes an artificial and mechanical association. I choose to follow a more modern definition, one provided by the sociologist Robert Nisbet. As he writes,
By community I mean something that goes far beyond mere local community. The word ... encompasses all forms of relationship which are characterized by a high degree of personal intimacy, emotional depth, moral commitment, social cohesion, and continuity in time. Community is founded on man conceived in his wholeness rather in one or another of the roles, taken separately, that he may hold in a social order.
Nisbet’s definition underscores two variables: (1) interaction or association; and (2) common values. We of course know that there has to be a third element for community to form — a place, because a community is also a group of people occupying a common space.
It is my contention that political groups in India have abandoned or abjured the basic premise of religion and subverted the notion of community by fanning the flame of communalism that has escalated into paranoia. The upshot of the whole affair is that Indian democracy, the much-touted largest democracy on earth, faces extinction. Democracy in India as well as elsewhere in the world — in places such as the Balkans, some parts of the Middle East and Africa, and Ireland, to name just a few regions — is threatening to be reduced to demonocracy!
The noted sociologist Samuel Huntington speculates (I summarize his ideas here and in the paragraph following) that the fundamental source of conflict in modern world will be neither ideological nor economic but preeminently cultural. The clash of culture or, if you will, civilizations, will dominate global politics. What do we mean when we talk of a civilization? A civilization is a cultural entity involving a large number of people as with China or India or a very small number of people such as the Anglophone Caribbean. Civilizational identity will be increasingly important in the future and the world will be impacted by the interactions among such major civilizations as Western, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American as well as African. “The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”
Huntington’s epigrammatic dictum is based squarely on his conviction that civilizational differences are marked by different history, language, culture, tradition, and above all, religion. These differences give rise to differing world-views that inform notions of relationships between individuals, between individuals and the state, and between God and man. The nation as the familiar signifier of human identity is fast weakening due to rapid socio-economic changes occurring in the post-Cold War world yielding place to religion. The “fundamentalist” religious movements — found in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam — are attracting young college-educated, middle-class professionals. As Gilles Kepel has it, the unsecularization of the world is a dominant social fact of life at the end of the twentieth century. The revival of religion, this “revanche de Dieu” (title of Kepel’s book in original French), “the revenge of the Gods,” is providing a basis for identity and loyalty that transcends nations and civilizations.
As the global influence of the West is increasing, it is prompting the non-Western world to resist it by turning inward. Thus we hear of “Asianization” of Japan, “Hinduization” of India, “Re- Islamization (i.e., internal jihad) of the Middle-East,” or “Indigenization of Africa.” Interestingly enough, the trend of de-Westernization is spearheaded by the elites of the non-Western world, who are influencing the hoi polloi, those typically unthinking multitude, swayed easily and entirely by the Western fads and fetish reifying by the media on the one hand and, to cite India's sitiuation, by the Hindutva zealots among the political, cultural, and economic elites, on the other. The apparently innocuous though often ridiculous effect, as in the case of Indian musical arts, is fusion that has resulted in a mongrel classical raga renderings with bands and drums and gestures thereby “fusing” raga and rap, or as in social festivities and habits, combining the filial rakhibandhan and the erotic Valentine’s Day, while at the same time, blazoning ghastly rubicund blob on the forehead (resembling the terrible butcher of Kalighat) on any auspicious occasions.
The city of Kolkata where I was born and bred in my younger days, boasts, alongside Western style malls, mansions, flyovers, clubs and pubs, a rising class of astrologers and fortune tellers with laptops and smart phones and a thriving guru industry. Thus, Western concepts and values, their superficial global spread notwithstanding, “differ fundamentally from those prevalent in other civilizations,” as Huntington has postulated. To quote him further, “Western ideas…have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian, Japanese [Buddhist-Shinto], Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures. Western efforts to propagate each ideas [sic] produce instead a reaction against ‘human rights imperialism’ and reaffirmation of indigenous values, as can be seen in the support for religious fundamentalism by the younger generation in non-Western cultures.”
As people define their identity in ethnic and religious terms, they are likely to develop a hostile binary world of “us versus them.” In this context the historic clash between Muslim and Hindu in the subcontinent manifests itself not only in the rivalry between India and Pakistan but also intensifying religious discord within India between the militant Hindus and the Muslim minority and vice versa. The destruction of the 465-year old Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 by a band of fanatics, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing Hindu fundamentalist organization, and other groups of Hindu communalists, brought to the fore the issue of whether India will remain a secular democracy or become a Hindu rastra, or a Ramarajya denuded of its original import of a righteous regime now perverted into a veritable theocracy. This threat of a second partition of the country on religious line has plunged millions of Hindu Indians into despair over the viability of the constitutional, secular, pluralist, and democratic order that was created in 1947.
Since the mid-1980s, the BJP has attempted to reshape the Indian political agenda, harnessing the temple dispute to mass hysteria. They began a holy brick or Ramashila movement in 1989 with a view to laying the foundations for a temple dedicated Lord Rama, whose supposed birthplace, they claimed, had been usurped by the Muslim shrine, even though there is neither historical nor archaeological evidence that a temple once stood at the mosque’s site. However, the BJP stalwarts argue that this is a matter of faith not open to rational or legal disputation. The BJP’s influential leader L.K. Advani inaugurated a chariot march [Rathayatra], on a Toyota van converted into a makeshift chariot, and this episode resulted in major riots in the country. When the current Prime Minister Mr. V.P. Singh moved to ban Advani’s violent march, he was removed from office, victim to a political coup d’etat. His successor P.V. Narasimha Rao allied with the BJP and thus gave the party an official imprimatur as well as respectability. The BJP increased their voting score from 12% in 1989 to 21% in 1992 and even more percentage thereafter.
The BJP has emerged the most hawkish hard-liners and this political stance has earned the party increasing popular support. One of the secrets of The BJP is that it has found powerful allies in a non-parliamentary group, the Vishva Hindu Parisad [World Hindu Council], the militant Bajrang Dal, and the avowedly fascist Shiva Sena [Shiva’s Squad] of Maharastra. Though “the B.J.P.’s base remains narrow, largely confined to upper-caste Hindus in the north and the center-west,” its “hatred-driven, jingoistic version of Indian nationalism” and its “version of Hinduism which is intolerant, bellicose, male supremacist, ‘Aryan,’ social Darwinist and casteist,” is “seriously at odds with the inclusive, syncretic and pluralist character of popular Hinduism.” In the new century in the savage Gujarat massacre of February 2002, the state’s BJP Chief Minister Mr. Narendra Modi received a “clean chit from the SIT [an interesting sounding acronym for Special Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court of India] and even boasted in respect of the Gujarat riot that his government had applied “full strength” to “do the right thing.” He is, incidentally, a likely candidate in the ensuing election for the position of the Prime Minister of India. Laus Deo !
I feel that the degeneration of Indian democracy, its loss of communitas, meaning, “an undifferentiated, egalitarian, direct, and spontaneous coming together of people” formed in the era of the Indian nationalist movement under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, cannot be entirely ascribed to the BJP paranoia. In one sense, the Hindu religious and spiritual leaders are responsible for injecting in people’s mind the uniqueness and ubiquity of Hindu religion. It is not a fact that Sri Ramakrishna articulated religious harmony because he practiced the rituals of the Christians, the Sikhs, and the Muslims. His popular dicta “yata mat tata path” meant the various sectarian opinions within the ambit of Hindu religion (see Swami Mrigananda’s seminal interpretation in his Yata Mat Tata Path: Hindu Aikyer Bhitti, 1994 cited in Narasingha P. Sil, “Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Research: Hagiography versus Hermeneutics,” Religious Studies Review, vol. 27, issue 4, October 2001, 355).
It is also not true that his great disciple Swami Vivekananda preached religious eclecticism in the world. Behind the rhetoric of tolerance for every faith, both the Great Master and his famous disciple preached the gospel of the superiority of sanatana Hindu dharma. In fact Swamiji even planned a Hindu conquest of the world (Swami Vivekananda and His Guru, Madras, 1897, ii). He even claimed to have conquered America prior to his travel there by dint of, as his brother Mahendranath wrote, a great spiritual power, the mahakarana shakti (Mahendranath Datta, Sri Sri Ramakrishner Anudhyan, Kolkata, 1989, 184). Though most Hindu prophets and Swamis use the rhetoric of egalitarianism and philanthropy they do so with the express purpose of making Hindus look noble and great. Thus even if the BJP domination is crushed, the Hindus — especially of the respectable and educated class — will continue to use the rhetoric of religious equality and freedom and yet harbor their conviction in the ultimate superiority of their faith only.
One way to counter this trend is to recognize the truth that religion — Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Christian, Muslim, or Sikh — is a matter of individual conscience. It needs to be nurtured in the private domain of the individual’s interiority. The public rituals of a God-oriented religion must yield to the practice of human-oriented ethics. If we are to live peacefully in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society and yet wish to create a community, we need to invoke the prescriptions of the ancient Chinese sage Confucius, who conceived of a realizable utopia in human society and called it Datong or moral commonwealth. We need to orient ourselves into loving our fellow human beings irrespective of their creed or color of skin or their mode of worship and prayer and thus, in the context of India, transmute the concept of Dharmarajya into that of an Indian Datong.
*An expanded and modified version of my lecture at the Association for Communal Harmony (ACHA) in cooperation with SANGAM (Reed College Association of South Asian Students), Reed College, Portland, Oregon on February 24, 1996.
The Religion of the Hindus: Its Purport and Purpose
An academic discourse on the essence of Hinduism involves two discussions: one of Hindu soteriology, that is, the scheme of salvation (moksa) and its meaning, and the other of Hindu anthropology, that is, the human-centeredness of Hindu world-view, in other words, the implication and significance of Hindu moksa or salvation as well as Hinduism’s emphasis on man (used in a generic and not in any gender sense) and the material world. Frankly my objective is to provide a modest but meaningful response to the popular reputation Hindu religion has received in the Western world since the days of Karl Marx (1818-83) and even earlier.
In his article in the New York Daily Tribune (June 25, 1853), Marx famously observed that a “strange combination” of “a world of voluptuousness” and “a world of woes” “is anticipated in the ancient traditions of religion of Hinduism.” “That religion,” he commented further, “is at once a religion of sensualist exuberance, and a religion of self-torturing asceticism.” Marx, however, was a nineteenth-century intellectual and his observations were certainly the most appropriate representation of what appeared to his untrained but uniquely gifted imagination based on the superstructure of an alien culture. However, if this observation of the rationalist Marx seems extremely critical of the religion of the Hindus, a little over a generation later the Hindu missionary Swami Vivekananda’s triumphant claim in the United States (1893-96) for the primacy and supremacy of Hindu Vedanta is equally extreme. While eschewing the extreme posture of either let me get to the real essence of what goes for Hinduism much like the proverbial swan that is able to separate the milk substance from water in liquid milk.
The religion of the Hindus neither provides a prescription for a vegetative life nor encourages a concern for the life hereafter at the cost of life here on earth. In fact, the myths about Hindu spirituality and mysticism derive from a colossal misunderstanding. Nor does Hinduism possess a therapeutic or narcotic value for anyone looking for a super-sensuous experience — a “trip” away from a life that has become unlivable. Unlike Christianity, Hinduism is not an alternative to the material world but primarily the means of supporting and improving human existence in it. All Hindus are not naked or half-naked starry-eyed anchorites, indifferent to mundane needs or believers in and practitioners of non-violence and vegetarianism. The Aryans, the originators of Hindu thought, were a very earthy and active people who developed a vastly influential material and military culture.
Arguably, the very concept of Hindu spirituality is a Western interpolation or invention. In fact, there is no Sanskrit word for spirituality. The currently popular term adhyatmik, meaning “concerning the atman or the self,” is an artificial construct derived from English influence and is made equivalent of “spiritual” in Judeo-Christian terminology. The Christian notion of spirituality is grounded in an antinomy between the “flesh” and the “spirit.” The idea of spirit or soul in Christian teachings is predicated on belief in a higher, transcendental world apart from the world of matter. Admittedly this Christian transcendental or spiritual world (based no doubt on Platonic idealism and neo-Platonic mysticism) has become the repository of all the highest moral ideals of man in their realized form. But it has also become a world ruled by an idealized God of absolute perfection — a perfection so absolute that man is unable to attain it and consequently, alas, alienated from his self-externalization, that is, God, as Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-72) had argued.
Hindu religious sentiment, on the other hand, remained true to the original motivation of all human beings, which was to become free from all restraints and constraints imposed on humanity by nature. Thus Hindu spirituality — if indeed we are to use such a terminology — is a pursuit, not of bliss or beatitude, but of power. Hindu literature provides numerous instances of how by undertaking rigorous taspasya and austerity the asuras and danavas elicited divine boons to be invincible and immortal and how because of their excessive hubris the beleaguered gods devised ways and means and even took recourse to various subterfuges to bring the haughty adepts to book. The most notorious of such a “blessed” but hotheaded tapasvin was the demon king Hiranyakashipu, as we learn from the Bhagavata Purana.
We need to recognize that Hindu or Vedic religion and/or Hindu theology are not the work of a single intellectual or prophet but the product of the collective wisdom of the Aryans who had begun their invasion of the Indus Valley and the adjacent regions (that would eventually become Aryavarta or the Aryan territory) some five or six thousand years ago. These Vedic Aryans also appear to have adapted the religious practices of the indigenous Dravidians, who got themselves pushed out of their homes into farther south. Indeed, as has been said, “Hinduism is more like a tree that has grown gradually than like a building that has been erected by some great architect at some definite point of time.” Hence the main difficulty for a student of Hinduism is the lack of a single book like the Bible, or the Koran, or the Zend Avesta. On the other hand, Hinduism’s message is disseminated through innumerable sermons, stories, allegories as well as philosophical-metaphysical speculations and discourses.
There are, inter alia, the four Vedas, the 13 major Upanisads, the two epics—the Ramayana (the lore of Lord Rama) and the Mahabharata (the story of Greater Bharata), and nineteen Puranas (sacred lores of the antiquity). The Upanisads are philosophical treatises of differing lengths, the oldest of which were composed between 800 and 400 BCE, and the latest, as late as fifteenth century CE. If all the Upanisads were collected in a single volume, they would make an anthology about the length of the Bible. The nineteen Puranas are said to contain a total of over 425,000 verses, compiled piecemeal, from the third through the sixteenth centuries CE.
Hinduism is infinitely concerned with human beings and their station in the cosmos and their relation to it. The Bhagavadgita (“Song of the Lord”) teaches that a human being is more than just a body, and a personality that includes his mind, memories, and raciocination. Underlying the human personality and animating it there exists a hidden self, the Atman as well as the supreme reality or the Brahman, or God. A human being is thus a composite of body, personality, and the Atman-Brahman (or as India’s poet laureate of the world Rabindranath Tagore eloquently evoked, the Jibandebatä or the Lord of life).
The term Brahman is derived from the Sanskrit root brih, meaning “to be great.” The Holy Spirit may be the nearest equivalent of Brahman in Christian terminology. Brahman is generally considered by the Hindus as God possessing three attributes: sat, cit, and ananda. God is sat, that is, being (i.e., existence); He is cit, that is, awareness or consciousness; and He is ananda, that is, bliss or joy. Utterly real, conscious, and beatific, God is Sachchidananda — a composite word comprising sat, cit, and ananda. According to the Hindus, the entire creation is the outcome of God’s superfluous and spontaneous dalliance, His lila or joyous play — to quote Kazi Nazrul Islam’s popular song dedicated to this playful Sachchidananda: “Khelicha, he birata shisu, e bishva laye anamane” [O the Great Child, you play with the universe all by Yourself].
One of the Upanisads has a simple but significant story. Once a boy asked his father to explain to him the mystery of the universe — the mystery of Brahman. The father spoke to him of the earth and its natural resources, of life and the breath of life [prana], of mind and reason, and of consciousness behind and beyond mind and reason. In the end the boy got his answer and his enlightenment:
And then he saw that Brahman was joy:
For from joy all beings have come, by
Joy they all live, and unto joy they
This unique Hindu paradigm of cosmos as the product of purposeless divine dalliance or lila is in marked contrast with the Judeo-Christian universe created out of the intelligence of a transcendent God for a divine telos.
Even though God is conceived as pure bliss and His creation the product of bliss, human life, alas, is painful. The misery and sufferings of life derive from man’s inability to fulfill his three basic desires: he wants being (sat), knowledge (cit), and bliss (ananda), each of these in infinite degree. In other words, what man really wants is moksa or complete release from the three primary limitations that beset his present existence: (1) he has a limited knowledge, in other words, he suffers from false knowledge (avidya), (2) limited happiness, and (3) limited being because he is mortal — the three things he really wants. In other words, man wants power over nature — not to transgress it but to transcend it.
This power is what Hindus consider as salvation, and as they believe, it is within man’s reach. The things man wants are already his. He is the sumtotal of body, personality, and atman-brahman. He is not apart from his God. According to the Hindus, God is not ensconced somewhere above or beyond us, in some distant Empyrean, He is within us. One only needs to be conscious of this identification. There is a Hindu sect called Baul (literally meaning batul or “crazy") who mock at those who run frantically about the world and along various faiths looking for God. The baul insists that one should find God by gazing into the bright mirror of one’s heart.
But not everybody can be a baul; nor is it necessary to become one. Then, how to achieve the divine consciousness? Hinduism’s specific directions for actualizing this identification come under the science of yoga. But yoga is neither merely a collection of spiritual gymnastics nor solely transcendental meditation (TM). The Sanskrit word yoga comes from the same root as the English word “yoke.” Yoke carries a double intendre: to unite (“yoke together”) and to place under discipline or training (“being under a yoke”). Both connotations are present in the word yoga. Defined generally, then, yoga is a method of training designed to lead to integration or union of human spirit with God who lies concealed in its deepest recesses.
There are four paths or four yogas through which this identification can be achieved. These are:
the way to God through knowledge (jnanayoga);
the way to God through love (bhaktiyoga);
the way to God through work or action (karmayoga); and
the way to God through psychological exercises (rajayoga).
Of these four, the ways of love and action — bhaktiyoga and karmayoga — are most popular in India, though not always with the right attitudes and consequences. All the basic principles of bhaktiyoga are richly exemplified in Christianity. The way of love developed in India after the Greek invasion (third century BCE) when worship of images in temples began following the introduction of Greek arts, especially sculpture and architecture.
The entire Bhagavadgita combines at once the ways of love and action. The third canto of this book of this devotional poem contains the famous verse (# 19):
Therefore, do thy duty perfectly, without care for the results, For he who does his duty disinterestedly attains the Supreme (Purusah).
Now, such a doctrine of disinterested action is opposed to the natural inclination of the human mind generally, and more opposed to the inclinations of the Hindu mind, for, as I see it, a Hindu does not even worship his Gods without the motive of some gain. Nonetheless, appearing as it did in the second century CE, the doctrine of disinterested action appealed to some reflexive spirits among the Hindus in the same way Stoicism (c. fourth and third centuries BCE) appealed to the Hellenistic Greeks and the Romans. The Bhagavadgita’s doctrine of disinterested action was emotionally satisfying because it brought into mind peace and reconciliation with the world and stability.
Unfortunately but perhaps inevitably, karmayoga for the Hindus has also developed into an orientation toward unobstructed self-assertion with a view to acquiring the capacity to perform miracles. The spirituality of the way of action seeks supernatural powers, to be used or not, as the possessor chooses. The main satisfaction is the pride of possession. Pursuit of this sort of spirituality is based on the belief that miraculous powers or gains beyond the reach of human effort could be obtained by special physical and mental exercises, one of which is asceticism and self-mortification. And there are myriad examples of how the titans and demons obtained power of the gods by performing tremendous tapasya. And yet the ultimate goal of this sort of self- imposed austerity is to obtain more and ever more power over man and nature, and as in the Puranic lores over the gods, by showing for some time how little one cared for the prizes and pleasures of the world.
In the West, both the Indian philosophy of karma and the Indian “curry” have met the same ridiculous fate. As curry connotes the sauce made with certain Indian spices and herbs but not the spices themselves (as is popularly marketed in the groceries), so karma with its cycle of cause and effect has been construed as fatalism. Most non-Hindus consider karma as fate and they think that the Hindus are fatalists. No doubt the theory of karma is based on the notion of cause-and-effect, but this often challenges men (here used in a gender sense) to act and be personally responsible for his actions. Hence there is another concept in Hinduism — that of purusakara or manliness (virtu in Latin) — which calls men to be active and to face all challenges in life like a man (here used in a gendered sense).
The concept of karma may be compared to the Calvinist notion of predestination or the “elect.” John Calvin’s (1509-64) opponents thought that the doctrine of predestination prevented people from caring for a good and honest Christian life since, according to this doctrine, only few fortunate souls were supposed to have been handpicked (elected) by God to be saved. Actually, predestination challenges a Christian to good life so that he can himself be aware of his worth and feel himself to one of the “elect.” Similarly, the doctrine of karma is intended to encourage men to exert themselves so that they could feel that their life has been well lived.
Hinduism permits worship of images of God. These images are merely “matchmakers,” responsible for introducing man’s heart to what they represent. Most Christians find it comparatively easy to talk of God the Father or God the Son or Jesus, or the Virgin Mother or Mary. But the Holy Spirit is a bit uncomfortably complicated for the ordinary folk. Similarly, ordinary Hindus are comfortable with Gods such as Shiva, Visnu, or Krisna rather than with such a metaphysical abstraction as the Brahman or the Sachchidananda. It is thus clumsy to confuse Hindu images with idolatry and polytheism.
Hinduism is not a proselytizing religion. It never aspired to convert humanity to any one opinion with the exception of some overzealous Hindu patriot-missionaries of the nineteenth century in the West. For the Hindus, what counts is conduct and not creed. Hence the main note of Hinduism is one of respect and goodwill for other religions. Sri Ramakrishna, who held his own faith to be of the superior kind, also counseled: “Dispute not. As you rest firmly on your own faith and opinion, allow others also the equal liberty to stand their own faiths and opinions.”
In the final analysis, it must be conceded that in spite of these strengths of their religion the Indians failed to live up to their own standards. In the march of history they have lagged behind the West socially, economically, and politically. The causes of this paradox are to be sought in the distorted development of India’s social life and in the stunted growth of her political life caused partly by the historic immigrations and incursions suffered by the subcontinent. Another explanation would be that Hindu religion failed to articulate a simplified faith with an aggressive church organization and either remained a concern or curiosity of the intellectuals and the anchorites or degenerated into an instrument of oppression by a priestly caste with its sterile injunctions and instructions and by a mushrooming class of miracle promising ganatkars [palmists and astrologers] and miracle performing prophets [gurus], who perverted and abused its teachings and duped thousands, even millions, in the country, and overseas. Perhaps it is an irony of history that even after having created a religion with a built-in mechanism for a democratic life of tolerance, reasonableness, and social activism, the Indians seem to have lost the race to the West that taught the world the virtues of individualism, pluralism, and social and political consciousness even after having borrowed an Abrahamic faith from the Middle East that preached humility, charity, renunciation, apolitical quiescence, and an absolute monotheism!
*This essay freely draws on the works of a number of scholars of Hindu theology in Indian and in the West. Earlier versions of this essay were read as my Keynote Address to “India in World History” program of Oregon International Council under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Eugene, Oregon on June 23, 1991 and at the Social Science Seminar, Western Oregon University on April 19, 2010.