Dec 09, 2023
Dec 09, 2023
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.
Dr. Morales is trying to decide the question of Hindu Universalism by taking an opinion poll from members of various religions. He also seems to be concerned that Hindu Universalism may result in Hindus becoming disrespectful to members of these religions. But the truth of the matter is not decided by a democratic vote or by the proprieties of etiquette; it is decided by the fact of the matter, which is, whether Universalism exists in Hinduism.
It is ironic that Dr. Morales should bring up the Etiquette Argument here considering that the alternative option for a Hindu would be to look upon the Gods of the other religions as so many vacuous concepts (since it is impossible for him, with his conviction of a unitive Reality, to believe that there are different mountains). Surely, a Hindu would be more lacking in respect if he were to call the Gods of the other religions vacuous concepts than to say that he sees these Gods as aspects of the same God he prays to!
The Imposition Argument
This argument is based on the grand delusion that Hinduism has taken control of the world’s religions!
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, 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.
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.
In speaking about the rights of other religions, Dr. Morales would have us believe that Hindus have some kind of sovereignty over all the world’s religions and are in a position to force their views on them. Apart from posing to us a fiction as an argument, I would think also that Dr. Morales has misunderstood Hinduism. A Hindu does not impose his views on members of other religions – he says rather that a Christian would move towards God by being a good Christian and a Muslim would move towards God by being a good Muslim. We would need to dive deeper into the nature of Hindu ethics to appreciate this point.
The Scriptural Basis of Hindu Universalism
Hinduism derives its universal vision of from its own scriptures. Universalism is not an aberration of Hindu tradition as Dr. Morales claims, but is the blossoming of its great heart. In order to show that it is thus, we shall begin our exposition by first taking up the same Rg Veda verse that Dr. Morales had analyzed in his paper and demonstrate that it contains within it the idea of a grand universalism. The verse is:
‘ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti’
‘Reality is One, sages call it various names’
In order to understand the full import of this verse, it is necessary to understand the profound Hindu doctrine regarding the relationship between Brahman and names. In the Chandogya Upanishad of the Sama Veda, we come across the following narration that invokes this relationship:
Svetaketu went to the teachers house when he was twelve years of age and having studied the Vedas till the age of twenty-four, he returned conceited, immodest and proud of being a learned man.
To him, his father said, ‘O, Svetaketu, O good looking one, now that you are conceited, proud of being a learned man, and immodest like this, did you ask about that instruction through which the unheard of becomes heard, the unthought of becomes thought, and the unknown becomes known?’
Svetaketu asked: ‘O, venerable sir, what is that instruction?’
‘O good looking one, just as by knowing a lump of earth, all that is made of earth is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is clay;
‘O good looking one, just as by knowing a nugget of gold, all that is made of gold is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is gold;
‘O good looking one, just as by knowing a pair of nail-scissors, all that is made of iron is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is iron – even so, O good looking one, is that instruction.’
‘Those venerable teachers did not certainly know this. For, if they had known this, why should they not have told me? May you, venerable sir, tell me about it.’
‘O good looking one, so be it’, said he.
Then follows the instruction regarding Brahman, the significance of the entire instruction being that this universe of diverse names and forms is not different from Brahman, and that the seeming difference it has from the Great Being is ‘vacarambhanam’, having its origin in speech only. The seeming separation is ‘vikarah’, transformation, that is ‘namadheyam’, given to it by name only. The Brahadaranyaka Upanishad says:
Now, all this (universe) was then undifferentiated. It became differentiated by name and form: it was known by such and such a name, and such and such a form. Thus to this day this (universe) is differentiated by name and form. (I.iv.7)
According to Advaita Vedanta, the effect is pre-existent in the cause, and all names and forms abide eternally in Brahman. There is in reality no creation because that which is already pre-existent cannot be born again. It is the magic of words that plays upon the screen of non-duality and holds us enrapt to the siren songs of plurality. In purely logical terms, the world is aja, unborn, and the doctrine of non-creation is called ajatavada. But there is in Reality a mystical nature through which the unborn unfolds, and this mystery is evocated beautifully in the Advaita doctrine of vivartavada. According to the Grammarians, vivarta is the unfolding of Vak (speech) through four stages of evolution. These stages are called para, pashyanti, madhyama and vaikhari.** The mystery of vivarta is that, in each of these different stages, the word and the object denoted by the word remains the same and the difference brought about by vivarta is the mystery of its own difference, as it were, and the world springs into being in the womb of this great mystery. A word is essentially one with Brahman as para vak. It springs from its heart into the formless embryo – the pashyanti – which is the causal seed that is ready to sprout into manifest form. In its middling state - madhyama – it presents the forms in ideality before it springs into the luxuriance of the created world as vaikhari. A form is not a non-form because it is unmanifest, for in that unmanifest state it is the very same form that becomes manifest. In all stages of speech, creation remains always non-different from Brahman. Therefore, every name ultimately points to Brahman, and in the ultimate vision of the Hindu, even the clod of earth and the expanse of the sky is Brahman; how then can a Hindu say that the Reality of other religions is not Brahman? This then is the import of the Rg Veda verse ‘ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti’, that Reality is One though sages and different religions may call It by various names. The difference is merely the difference of names.
The insight of every religion is an epiphany. An epiphany is not a mere perception, but is the penetration of vision to the Numinous Ground that underlies the corporeality of the world. The Numinous Ground of every religion is a Living Principle. According to Vedanta, the essence of the Living is chaitanya, and chaitanya is undivided (akhanda) and immutable (akshara). How is it possible for a Hindu to say that the Living God of other religions is another mountain when the essence of the Living is Undivided Consciousness? For him the Reality that sages and different religions call by different names is the One Undivided Reality that he calls Brahman. This is the grand Universalism that we find in Hinduism and it finds one of its most beautiful expressions in the Svetasvatara Upanishad of the Krishna Yajur Veda:
"The whole universe is filled by the Purusha, to whom there is nothing superior, from whom there is nothing different, than whom there is nothing either smaller or greater; who stands alone, motionless as a tree, established in His own glory." (III.9)
"All faces are His faces; all heads, His heads; all necks His necks. He dwells in the hearts of all beings. He is the all-pervading Bhagavan. Therefore he is the omnipresent and benign Lord." (III.11)
"The Purusha with a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet, compasses the earth on all sides and extends beyond it by ten fingers' breadth." (III.14)
"His hands and feet are everywhere; His eyes, heads, and faces are everywhere; His ears are everywhere; He exists compassing all." (III.16)
"That is Agni; It is Aditya; It is Vayu; It is Chandrama. That Self is the luminous stars; It is Hiranyagarbha; It is water; It is Virat." (IV.2)
"Thou art woman, Thou art man; Thou art youth and maiden too. Thou as an old man totterest along on a staff; it is Thou alone who, when born, assumest diverse forms." (IV.3)
"Thou art the dark-blue bee; Thou art the green parrot with red eyes; Thou art the thunder-cloud, the seasons, and the seas. Thou art beginningless and all-pervading. From thee all the worlds are born." (IV.4)
These Vedic verses are sufficient to show that there flows a great stream of universalism in Hinduism. Brahman is the Godhead in all manifestations of God. There is no question here of the Reality of other religions being different mountains. The question is only regarding the manner of conception of the One Living Reality. And though various religions may conceive Reality differently, Hinduism sees that all these conceptions are of the same Reality, the differences between them being merely due to the differentiating power of names. When Brahman, the Godhead in all manifestations of Gods, is beyond the pairs of opposites, it would be juvenile to bring up specious arguments purporting to show that there are contradictions between the Reality of various religious. In one of the most sublime dialogues of the Upanishads, Yajnavalkya answers Gargi when she questions him on the nature of Brahman:
"O Gargi, the knowers of Brahman say this Immutable is That. It is neither gross nor minute, neither short nor long, neither red nor oiliness, neither shadow nor darkness, neither air nor ether, unattached, neither savour nor odour, without eyes or ears, without the vocal organ or mind, without the vital force or mouth, not a measure, and without interior or exterior. It does not eat anything, nor is It eaten by anybody." (Br.Up.III.viii.8)
Brahman is untouched by the pairs of opposites and yet It is the substratum of the entire universe. Brahman is the material cause of the universe, and therefore all this is Brahman alone. From the Aitareya Upanishad of the Rg Veda we have the following words:
“He is Brahman, He is Indra, He is Prajapati; He is all these gods; He is the five great elements – earth, air, akasha, water, fire; He is all these small creatures and the others that are mixed (with them); He is the origin (of the moving and the unmoving) – those born of an egg, of a womb, of sweat, and of a sprout; He is horses, cows, human beings, elephants – whatever breathes here, whether moving on legs or flying in the air or unmoving. All this is guided by Prajnanam, is supported by Prajnanam. The basis (of the universe) is Prajnanam. Prajnanam (Consciousness) is Brahman.” (III.i.3)
Dr. Morales makes a case that the great Hindu Acharyas never subscribed to the idea of universalism. As proof of this proposition, he points to the intense polemics that these Acharyas engaged in. Dr. Morales does not seem to realize that what is at stake in vada, or Hindu polemics, is Vedartha, the ultimate Truth of the Vedas, and not the negation of other conceptions of Reality as being different mountains. Shankaracharya, arguably the greatest and most uncompromising of the Acharyas, mentions that the other aspects of Brahman are also visions of Reality even though they constitute the Lower (apara) Nature of Brahman and fall short of the ultimate Truth of Vedanta. The same Shankaracharya who demolished in debate every other school of Hinduism prevalent during his time was also the Dharma Rakshaka that was responsible for re-establishing the worship of Vaidika Gods after the decline of Buddhism in India. Contradictions certainly exist between various conceptions of Reality, but the vision that goes beyond conceptions to the Ground of conceptions sees all these conceptions as attempts to grasp the same Ground that is the One Reality. In Vedic culture, polemics is not opposed to Universalism but is the way to the ultimate vision that subsumes all the diverse conceptions of Reality in it. According to Suresvaracharya, the disciple of Shankaracharya, the various doctrines about Reality exist eternally in the Nature of God:
All these alternate views (different darshanas) existed, before creation, in the Atman, as the sprout in the seed. They were displayed by the power of Maya comprising ichha (will), jnana (knowledge) and kriya (action) of Ishvara. (Manasollosa,II.43)
Universalism is ubiquitous in the pages of Hinduism. While its roots lie in the Vedas, it gushes out into the lives of millions of Hindus through the subsidiary scriptures of Hinduism known as Smrtis. If we have to look for universalism in Hinduism, we would have to also bring in these subsidiary scriptures, which we shall now do.
There is a great wealth of literature in Hinduism called the Puranas. They belong to a class of scriptures known as the upangas3, or subsidiary arms of the Vedas. One finds in these scriptures a unique conception that is not found in any other religion of the world. It is the concept of avatara – the doctrine that God incarnates on this earth from time to time. I am surprised that this doctrine does not find a place of mention in Dr. Morales’ paper, for it is this conception that gives to Hinduism the universal vision in which it sees the different religions of the world as having been revealed by the same God. One finds the seeds of this idea in the Bhagavad Gita, which is regarded as one of the prasthana-traya (three-fold canons) of Hinduism:
Though I am unborn, of imperishable nature, and though I am the Lord of all beings, yet ruling over My own nature, I am born by My own Maya. (IV.6)
Whenever there is a decay of dharma, O Bharata, and an ascendancy of adharma, then I manifest Myself. (IV.7)
For the protection of the good, for the destruction of evil, for the firm establishment of dharma, I am born in every age. (IV.8)
Would Dr. Morales have us believe, in the face of this declaration by Lord Krishna Himself, that the prophets of other religions were all fakes who beckoned their followers to different, ungodly, mountains? In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says that even those who pray to lesser gods (in the taxonomy of gods) only pray to Him:
Even those who, being devoted to other gods, worship them with faith, they worship only Me without knowing it, O son of Kunthi. (IX.23)
The Puranas narrate the manifestations of God both in the heavenly realm as well as the earthly realm. One of the significant things about the Puranas is that they are not mere legends bound in papyrus scrolls; they bring to life the presence of Divinity all around us by enshrining the places on this very earth where God had manifested in His Leela. The Hindus call these places tirthas. Wherever one goes in India, one finds places that have been hallowed by the presence of Divinity. The land of Bharata is blessed with thousands and thousands of such tirthas – that is why it is called the pavithra bhoomi. The Hindu does not approach these tirthas as he would approach a mere place, but he approaches them as places infused with the Divine Shakti of Godhead****. To him, in the final revelation, the clod of earth is not earth but God, and the slab of stone is not stone but God. For in the Vedantic truth they are indeed God – the earth and the slab of stone are the shimmer of Light, the dance of Effulgence in the Divine Consciousness of God. The goal of a Hindu is to cleanse his soul so that he may behold God in all things; how then can we say to him that the goals of other religions are so many different mountains? Such a thing can never be! It is what the Hindu sees that constitutes his universalism. Let us not deny to him his very heart.
To see a constricted meaning in the Rg Veda sentence by subjecting it to the likes of Exegetical Categorical Analysis is mere verbiage that has no bearing on the question of Hindu Universalism. Dr. Morales tries to make a case that since this Rg Veda verse is an ontological statement, it fails to support the soteriological claim that all paths lead to the same goal. But here we have to ask Dr. Morales: Is there soteriology that is independent of the ontological nature of Reality? The means of salvation is necessarily given in the vision of Reality that a religion subscribes to. In Advaita Vedanta, for example, release ‘obtains’ from realizing the identity of the atman with Brahman. (I enclose the word ‘obtains’ within quotes because release in Advaita is the revelation of truth as it eternally is and is not an event or result of action). This is commensurate with the ontological vision of Advaita in which Brahman is the sole Reality that admits of no difference within It. In Visistadvaita, release is obtained by the consciousness of the soul expanding by jnyana-bhakti to attain identity with the Lord in an eternal sesha-Seshi relationship. This is commensurate with the Visistadvaita vision of ontology in which the world (and the soul) is the inseparable body of Brahman. The soteriological path of each school is grounded in its own unique ontological vision of the Reality. And yet the Reality of which they all speak is One, though sages and different religions may call It by various names or conceive of It variously. The difference is ‘vacarambhanam’, having its origin in speech only.
Hinduism recognizes that all paths lead to the same goal though it does not subscribe to the view that all of them take you right up to the summit. The key element of this universal idea is not the identity of the goals, but the directedness of the paths to the goal. Now, where shall we look for the source of this Hindu universal idea? Again, I am surprised that Dr. Morales is blind to one of the central doctrinal tenets of Hinduism. It is the doctrine of transmigration of soul.
Just as a man casts off worn-out clothes and puts on others that are new, so does the embodied (Self) cast off worn-out bodies and enters others which are new. (Bh. Gita. II.22)
The Hindu belief that all paths lead to the same goal must be seen in the context of this Hindu doctrine. The goal of moksha is extremely difficult to attain. The Bhagavad Gita says:
Among thousands of men, one perchance strives for perfection; even among those who strive and are perfect, only one perchance knows Me in truth. (VII.3)
The goal is not attained in a single birth. One strives for it in birth after birth. Hinduism recognizes that it would be myopic to say that one path is right for a soul and another path wrong. The horizons of our vision stretch from birth to death, and we know not whence a person has come, nor the destination to which he goes. There is a path in Hinduism for every aspirant of the truth, some that would take him from where he is situated today and lead him slowly to the next peak where he can tarry a while before he proceeds with his journey on perhaps another path that leads him higher still. One traveller may be stationed at the foot of the mountain, and another may be stationed away from the foothill and across the river. The one needs mountain shoes, and the other a raft. There is no use giving a raft to the first and shoes to the second. The path of religion is not a physical tract; it is the inner path of the soul. Can one say here where a particular soul is situated or what prescription it needs where it is now situated? How then can we say on which path a person should tread? For one that is fit to be on a path, the Supreme One decides what path he or she is to take. In the Bhagavad Gita, the paths are called Yogas, and this is what the sixth discourse says:
He who strives not, but who is possessed of faith, whose mind wanders away from Yoga – having failed to attain perfection in Yoga, what end, O Krishna, does he meet?
Having failed in both, does he not perish like a riven cloud, supportless, O mighty-armed, and perplexed in the path to Brahman?
This doubt of mine, O Krishna, do Thou dispel completely; for none other than Thee can possibly destroy this doubt.
The blessed Lord said:
O Partha, neither in this world nor in the next is there destruction for him; none, verily, who does good, My son, ever comes to grief.
Having attained to the worlds of the righteous and having dwelt there for eternal years, he who failed in Yoga is reborn in a house of the pure and wealthy.
Else, he is born in a family of wise Yogins only. This, verily, a birth like this, is very hard to obtain in this world.
There he gains touch with the knowledge that was acquired in the former body and strives more than before for perfection, O son of Kurus.
By that very former practice is he borne on, though unwilling. Even he who merely wishes to know of Yoga rises superior to the Word-Brahman.
According to Hinduism, birth is not an accident. One is not thrown into the world, but is stationed here by the workings of the Great Law. The path given is what is earned. There is here no inferior path and superior path; there is the path that is appropriate to where one is stationed. But they all lead to the same goal – ultimately. That is Hindu Universalism.
It has been shown adequately in this section that Hindu Universalism springs from the soil of its own scriptures. It was not implanted into Hinduism by the designs of the British rulers nor was it brought into it by the interpolations of the Brahmo Samaj. It has always existed in the Great Heart of Hinduism. Lastly, before we proceed to the next section, we would like to respond to a rather misleading statement of Dr. Morales:
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.
Brahman, as revealed by the Vedas, is not a specific conception. Brahman is the Great Saman of concepts. Brahman cannot be contained or limited by any conception whatsoever for It is the Being beyond conceptions. Yet, Brahman is that in which no concept is negated; every single thing remains in Brahman in the exactitude of its true nature, and the knowledge of Brahman is the enlargement of the aperture of our vision to the sweeping compass of Its presence that can never be grasped in its entirety. Brahman goes farther than conception can go and stretches farther still beyond the farthest horizons. The ‘neti, neti’ of the Upanishads does not subtract the world from Brahman, but weeds out the tangled knots of the mind in trying to grasp the Great Ungraspable that is at once not all this and is yet all this. Brahman is the Great Unmoved Mover; He is the Immutable that moves. He is the Spanda, the vibration that has no motion. He is Akshara and He is not other than all this that is born and passes away. Who indeed has ever known Him but Him? The Knowledge of Brahman is the purnanubhava beyond conception that includes the essence of all conceptions; Brahman is not a specific conception. Dr. Morales is confused between conception and Vedic epiphany.
Hinduism and the 72 Houris of Islam
In the Divine Comedy, that great medieval classic which has been called a metaphor of Western culture, Dante Alighieri paints a picture of Prophet Mohammed as a sower of discord and shows him suffering for his sins in the infernal regions of hell, his body mangled and split into two from chin to crotch, and his guts, heart, lung, liver and gall bladder hanging out between his legs. While the Divine Comedy is no doubt a work of considerable merit, it still cannot be absolved of stooping to the kind of religious bigotry that has often turned Western history into a horrible saga of blood. Admittedly, the flavor of Islamic religion may not be palatable to the Christian sensibility, but that is hardly a justification for the kind of violent and morbid depiction that Dante paints of Prophet Mohammed in the Divine Comedy. There are some Christians not wanting even today who believe that Islam is a fraudulent religion, and though Dr. Morales is a Hindu and not a Christian, his words carry the same kind of innuendo when he quotes the Quran to portray that the salvific state of Islam is a kind of earthly paradise in which 72 virgins lie in wait for the pious Muslim.
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.
The first thing that strikes one on reading these words is the self-contradiction that is inherent in it:
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.
Brahman is Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss). To be united with Brahman is to become Brahman. If a Christian, Muslim, Jain or Buddhist were to be united with Brahman, he would therefore find that he is supremely happy (Ananda). If he is upset instead, it only means that he has failed to unite with Brahman! Union with Brahman comes about only when the mind is free from the proclivities to get upset and is unperturbedly blissful. Again, if a Christian, Muslim, Jain or Buddhist were to be united with Brahman, he would find himself free from all confusion because Brahman is the All-Knowing One. If he finds himself confused instead, it only means that he has failed to unite with Brahman. Union with Brahman comes about only when all confusion is gone and the light of jnana shines in the heart. To say that a Christian, Muslim, Jain or Buddhist would get upset and confused on finding himself united with Brahman is a self-contradiction in terms. The contradiction results from equivocating on the meaning of the term ‘union with Brahman’. So much for Dr. Morales’ understanding of Vedanta! What Dr. Morales claims to be stating unequivocally turns out to be a shining example in equivocation!
The Upanishads state that Brahman presents Itself in accordance with the conception of Reality that one is fixated on. One that conceives Brahman as nothing becomes nothing (Tai.Up.VI.1). One that conceives Brahman as kevala becomes kevala. The goal of Vedanta however is to attain complete freedom from the limiting boundaries of conceptions by awakening to the Brahman that is the source, sustenance and dissolution of conceptions. Gaudapada says in his Karika on the Mandukya Upanishad that all these conceptions are of the nature of chittaspanditam, the vibration of Consciousness. Regarding the ways in which different schools conceive Reality, he says:
Anyone, to whom a teacher may show a particular object as the Reality, sees that alone. And that thing, too, protects him by becoming identified with him. That absorption leads to his self-identity with the object of devotion. (Karika.II.29)
Through these things that are really non-different from the Self, this Reality is presented as though different. He who truly knows this grasps the meaning of the Vedas without any hesitation. (Karika.II.30)
Dr. Morales finds it quite bewildering that there should be in Reality a salvific state in which 72 virgins are found waiting upon the soul in paradise. But a true Hindu does not find such a salvific state dissonant with his universalism. Dr. Morales seems to carry with him the influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition with its abhorrence for the erotic, an affliction that stems more from the excessive institutionalization of the religion by the Church rather than from true Christianity itself. To a Hindu, the erotic is not something alien; it is as natural to life as breathing is. Eros touches every man and woman, and that is the reason men and women gravitate towards each other, marry and procreate. The essential form of the erotic is Beauty, and its primary flavor is Sweetness. This erotic essence lies masked beneath the separation of the inner man and woman that is within us all. The union that the genders seek in their mortal bodies is the eternal unity of the masculine and the feminine that they see dimly refracted through the prism of duality. The unending lure of man for woman and of woman for man is a reflection of this underlying union of male and female in the mirror of flesh, and the blinding passions that it inflames can cause a man or woman to descend to the depths of hell, but when the same desire is sublimated into love for the Divine, it can become a path to salvation. The radiant sweetness of love that shines when there is single-minded devotion to the Lover is called madhura-bhava. It is the central theme of Rasa-leela, the play of Radha and Krishna enacted in Vrindavana with all its intense longings and passions converging to the rapturous union of Lover with Beloved. In Christianity, this theme appears in the form of Bridal Mysticism and it is articulated beautifully in the Dark Night of St. John. It is also the mystic theme of the Sufi in the blossoming of the Islamic heart.
In the highest flight of Vedanta, the erotic is directed completely towards the inner beatitude of Self. Everything in the world is shunned in the freedom that the heart displays towards all external things. This characteristic of the sadhaka is called vairagya. In Advaita, for example, the sadhaka displays vairagya for everything here and hereafter up to and including the world of Brahma. He is like the burnt out wick of a lamp; he is nothing in his quest to attain everything. Without such supreme vairagya, one is not fit for the path of Advaita. How many sadhakas are there in this world - even amongst the yogis - that have this kind of vairagya? But Hinduism has a place for all sadhakas, even for the one that is lacking in this kind of supreme vairagya. Such a one, in whom there is still the trace of desire, has adhikara for other forms of sadhana. He is said to follow the path of the Lower Brahman. The distinction of the Higher and Lower aspects of Brahman is mentioned in the Prasna Upanishad:
Then Satyakama the son of Sibi asked Pippalada: Sir, if among men someone should here meditate on the syllable Om until death, which world verily would he win thereby? (V.1)
He replied: O Satyakama, the syllable Om is the Supreme Brahman and also the other Brahman. Therefore he who knows It attains, with its support, the one or the other. (V.2)
The two aspects of Brahman are existentially One. The Higher is the formless aspect and the Lower is the Lord ornamented with the universe. The Higher is the goal that Advaita Vedanta seeks, but paradoxically this goal is not a goal. The moksha of Advaita is not a state to be achieved; it is the revelation of the soul’s identity with Brahman, and this revelation is not contingent on place, time, or action. It is the awakening to the Truth that always is. Therefore the path of Advaita is strictly not a path. It has been called asparsa yoga, and in the words of Gaudapada, it is as untraceable as the footprints of a bird that has flown across the sky. Advaita however admits that those who are devoted to the Lower Brahman attain to salvation in stages. Shankaracharya says that the Lower Brahman is Hiranyagarbha, the Purusha that is identified with all the beings of the world. The fourth section of the Brahma Sutras describes the path that a soul devoted to the Lower Brahman takes on its way to release (moksha). The soul is said to start along the path of flame and is then led by the deities to the worlds of the gods and finally to the world of Hiranyagarbha. The soul abides here until the dissolution of the universe whereupon it obtains final release. Commenting on the sutra, Shankara says:
The idea conveyed is that when the time for the final dissolution of the world of the Lower Brahman is imminent, the aspirants who have acquired full realization there attain thereafter, alongwith Hiranyagarbha, the ruler of the world, the supreme state of Vishnu which is absolutely pure. This kind of liberation by stages has to be admitted on the strength of the Upanishadic texts speaking of non-return etc. But we have established earlier that it is incomprehensible that the Supreme (Higher) Brahman should be reached by any process of moving forward. (BSB.IV.iii.5.10)
In the world of Hiranyagarbha, the soul enjoys the pleasures of heaven that accrues to it from the merits it has accumulated in its journeys. The arrow of karma that has left the bow must exhaust itself before the hour of release comes. There is nothing strange if even a Hindu yogi should here find himself greeted by 72 exquisitely beautiful apsaras! Shankaracharya comments on the last sutra of the Brahma Sutra as follows:
“In the world of Brahman, existing in the third order of heaven (i.e., Brahma-loka) counted from this earth, there exists two seas called Ara and Nya, where is to be found a lake full of delightful food, where exists a banian tree exuding ambrosia, where is to be seen a city of Brahman called Aparajita (the unconquered), and where stands a golden palace made by the Lord Himself (Ch.VIII.v.3). That world is also spoken of variously in the mantra and eulogistic (arthavada) portions. After reaching there, the souls do not return as others do from the world of the Moon when deprived of their enjoyment.”
The highest path of Advaita is for those that have the highest vairagya, but for others it is not unusual that jnana may arise even when subtle desires in the soul have not been fully eradicated. Such a soul attains the world of the Lower Brahman, and there it enjoys the fruits of its merits until the time of the dissolution of the world arrives. The Brahma Sutra says that the desires of a freed soul in Brahma-loka is fructified by its will alone without the need of any other agency, for in this realm the soul’s will is never infructuous. There is nothing incoherent if in this paradise the soul of an Islamic hero should be welcomed by 72 beautiful virgin youths. There is no reason why the elevated soul of a pious Muslim devotee should not have its share of pleasure in heaven. Hinduism may be uncompromising in its pursuit of truth, but its heart is large enough to accommodate the salvific states of other religions*****. Let us not confine Reality to the limited horizons of our myopic vision.
Ramakrishna and the Irruption of Hindu Universalism
In his attempt to negate Radical Universalism, Dr. Morales also degrades and belittles the Hindu saint, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who was perhaps the greatest living proof of Hindu Universalism.
The next two neo-Hindu Radical Universalists that we witness in the history of 19th century Hinduism are Ramakrishna (1836-1886) and Vivekananda (1863-1902).
Throughout his remarkable life, Ramakrishna remained illiterate, and wholly unfamiliar with both classical Hindu literature and philosophy, and the authentic teachings of the great acharyas who served as the guardians of those sacred teachings. Despite the severely obvious challenges that he experienced in understanding Hindu theology, playing upon the en vogue sentiment of religious universalism of his day, Ramakrishna ended up being one of the most widely popular of neo-Hindu Radical Universalists.
These are careless words. Do we recognize whom we are here sitting in judgment over? Which pole of the paradox that was Sri Ramakrishna are we speaking of? Is it of the Ramakrishna that was nothing but a flute through which Reality poured forth its Divine Music? Or is it of the Living Reality that filled the mortal frame through and through till there was nothing here but the Life of the Universe pulsating in the frame?
Do we recognise that there was no Ramakrishna, the man? That there was only Sri Ramakrishna, the artless child, and Sri Ramakrishna, the Unfathomable Reality?
This is Living Waters, not the arid desert of academy! The future of Hinduism is not determined by academic papers, but by the living founts of its living saints!
Religion is not archaeology; it is Life. The saint of Dakshineswar was not just a man; he was an irruption of epiphany into the flowing waters of Hinduism!
Did someone say that Sri Ramakrishna was not familiar with the authentic teachings of the great Acharyas? The authentic Self needs no teachings! It is the Reality that is spoken of in the Vedas! Have we not heard of the doctrine of Pratyabhijna? Sri Ramakrishna recognized within his Self what others strive to learn from without!
This world has come out of the Self; where shall ye find its truth if not in the recognition of Self? The Self is all this. Saints like Ramakrishna are not influenced from outside; they recognise each thing outside as the play of Eternity inside!
The play of Eternity is Kaala, Time! She is Kali who moves it; She is Eternity moving. She it was that filled Sri Ramakrishna!
Does anyone still say that Sri Ramakrishna was unfamiliar with the authentic teachings of Hindu religion? With what authority do we impugn the very life of Hindu religion? Are we blind to the fact that this child of God, this illiterate rustic from an unknown Indian village, was a blaze of jnyana-shakti that reduced great Hindu scholars into the likes of kindergarten students? Have we not heard of his meetings with Pundit Ishwara Chandra Vidyasagar and Pundit Shashadhar? The child of Kali might have been a simple and artless person, but the discriminative Sword of Kali never failed him. From where indeed did words like these arise in Sri Ramakrishna:
“No one can say that God is only ‘this’ and nothing else. He is formless, and again He has forms. For the bhakta, He assumes forms. But He is formless for the jnani, that is, for him who looks on the world as a mere dream. The bhakta feels that he is one entity and the world another. Therefore God reveals Himself to him as a Person. But the jnani – the Vedantist, for instance – always reasons, applying the process of ‘not this, not this’. Through his discrimination he realizes, by his inner perception, that the ego and the universe are both illusory, like a dream. Then the jnani realizes Brahman in his own consciousness. He cannot describe what Brahman is.
“Do you know what I mean? Think of Brahman, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, as a shoreless ocean. Through the cooling influence, as it were, of the bhakta’a love, the water has frozen at places into blocks of ice. In other words, God now and then assumes various forms for His lovers and reveals Himself to them as a Person. But with the rising of the sun of Knowledge, the blocks of ice melt. Then one doesn’t feel anymore that God is a Person, nor does one see God’s forms. What He is cannot be described. Who will describe Him? He who would do so disappears. He cannot find his ‘I’ any more.
“In that state a man no longer finds the existence of his ego. And who is there left to seek it? Who can describe how he feels in that state – in his own Pure Consciousness – about the real nature of Brahman? Once a salt doll went to measure the depth of the ocean. No sooner was it in the water than it melted. Now who was to tell its depth?
“There is a sign of Perfect Knowledge. Man becomes silent when it is attained. Then the ‘I’ which may be likened to the salt doll, melts in the ocean of Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute and becomes one with It. Not the slightest trace of distinction is left.”
Tell me, Sir, you who say that Sri Ramakrishna wasn’t familiar with the authentic teachings of Hinduism, what these authentic teachings are. Before you dare to measure the words of the saint, quote me those words of Sri Ramakrishna (giving also the sources of your information) that you find so discordant with the authentic teachings of Hinduism. We shall then see who it is that is unfamiliar with the authentic teachings of Hinduism!
Unlike the lives of ancient and medieval saints that come down to us through the mists of legendary stories, we are fortunate to have the life of Sri Ramakrishna recorded in fairly accurate detail. But it is clear that Dr. Morales has not bothered to read them before writing his paper. How else does one account for such callous words as these?
Despite his Hindu roots, however, many of Ramakrishna’s ideas and practices were derived, not from the ancient wisdom of classical Hinduism, but from the non-Vedic religious outlooks of Islam and liberal Christianity. Though he saw himself as being primarily Hindu, Ramakrishna also resorted to worshipping in mosques and churches, and believed that all religions aimed at the same supreme destination. He experimented with Muslim, Christian and a wide variety of Hindu practices, blending, mixing and matching practices and beliefs as they appealed to him at any given moment.
Sri Ramakrishna had his first vision of the Divine Mother when he was twenty years of age. The year was 1856. For six years following this vision he practiced intense sadhana in the tradition of bhakti and meditation, paths that are intrinsic to Hinduism. In 1861, Ramakrishna met the Bhairavi Brahmani, a Tantrik teacher who guided him in the path of this ancient esoteric Hindu tradition. It may be noted that the tradition of Tantra has had such great Hindu saints as Matsyendranatha, Gorakanatha, Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta, and in recent times, Jnanadeva. Sri Ramakrishna’s Tantrik sadhana continued for four years until, in 1865, it culminated in the highest goal that a bhakta may reach – the state of madhura bhava which is the supreme bhakti that Sri Radha had for Lord Krishna, a love supreme in which everything in the world becomes subservient to the call of Divine Love. Shortly after this, Sri Ramakrishna met Totapuri, an avadhuta who had spent 40 years of his life in the practice of Advaita sadhana. Totapuri initiated Sri Ramakrishna into the esoteric secrets of Vedanta, and within a short time Sri Ramakrishna attained the vision of the unspeakable Non-Dual Truth. Totapuri stayed at Dakshineswar for eleven months, and following his departure, Sri Ramakrishna remained for a full six months in the ineffable state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, in complete neglect of his body and physical well-being. These years mark the first phase of Sri Ramakrishna’s sadhana – from the initial vision of the Divine Mother through the various paths of bhakti and yoga to the final vision of the highest Truth of Vedanta. When we recount all these years, we see that Sri Ramakrishna spent almost ten years in intense practice that belonged to the hallowed traditions of Hinduism. If Dr. Morales feels that Ramakrishna’s ideas and practices were derived from Islam and Christianity rather than from Hinduism, we can only conclude that Dr. Morales’ fertile imagination is susceptible to strange excursions into the land of fantasy.
It was only in 1866 – with ten years of Hindu sadhana behind him - that Sri Ramakrishna met a Sufi holy man and became eager to experience for himself how the Lord blessed devotees who worshipped Him through the forms of Islam. The sadhana lasted precisely for three days. It took place in the gardens of Dakshineswar and not in a mosque. In the words of Richard Schiffman, “this was followed by absorption in Allah, the Muslim God, whose attributes, in turn, led into the formless Absolute, the Brahman. The river of Sufi devotions had merged with the Hindu stream at the end in the selfsame ocean of Spirit without either name or form.” Eight years later, in 1874, Sri Ramakrishna undertook devotion to Christ. Again the sadhana lasted only for a few days. And again, the sadhana took place in the temple premises of Dakshineswar and not in a Church. It culminated one afternoon in the vision and absorption into Christ wherein “the two supreme lovers of God embraced, and merged into each other. Ramakrishna was propelled into deep rapture, which once again opened into the consciousness of the ineffable Brahman – the true wellspring of spiritual experience known to all the great prophets of mankind, and in which they are eternally united.” Ramakrishna recognised that Islam and Christianity are forms of the same Spiritual Truth. In Kashmir Shaivism, this recognition is called Ishvara Pratyabhijna.
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