The un-Hindu Taliban
- Gandhi said Hinduism is not a religion
- Vivekananda, Ranganadhananda hold similar view
The term ‘taliban’ means students. So it is right to say that VHP and RSS leaders like Togadia and Mohan Bhagat are ‘taliban,’ since they are trying hard to understand Hinduism. That they are misunderstanding what they consider is their religion is largely the fault of the competitive and politically charged atmosphere of India today, the distortions brought by colonial education into our culture, and their personal self destructive egotism. The recent attempt by a few of their followers to ‘convert’ people of other religions to what they think is Hinduism is a pathetic revelation of how far they have strayed from the gentle beliefs of their ancestors. There can never be any ‘conversion’ to Hinduism, any more than one can politically convert a person into humanity.
Mahatma Gandhi once said that Hinduism was not a religion, but ‘a way of life.’ As an honest and practising Hindu he was quite truthful when he said he was ‘a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, and a Jew,’ as well. These strange statements are quite understandable and acceptable to ordinary Hindus, though perhaps others need some help to divine their meaning. More recently during a furious debate, Swami Ranganathananda, president of the Ramakrishna Mutt, refused to have the order politically categorised as ‘Hindu.’ Swami Vivekananda began his famous address to the parliament of the world’s religions in Chicago in 1893 with the words ‘Sisters and Brothers of America,’ because that is exactly how he perceived them to be. He also requested everyone not to be like a frog in a well.
Over a few thousand years a wealth of spiritual and philosophical search into the nature of existence, ethical conduct, the substance of enquiry, and physiological and psychological wellbeing has been grouped together as the Vedas, as Smrithi, as Upanishads, and commentaries upon all of this. Several main philosophical traditions were traced out. Among many, perhaps the two best known are those observed by Shaivites and Vaishnavites, though even the Lokayatas, who disbelieved in the existence of a personal God, were counted within the family of such traditions. All religious traditions were considered different spiritual paths, free for the individual to choose, from Buddhism, which emphasizes compassion and not ritual worship to later traditions that came into the land of the Hindus, including Islam and Christianity.
While meditative and spiritual practice was unique to every individual, which hence informed an understanding of Sanathana Dharma, ordinary Hindus came to accept the centrality of Adi Sankara’s exposition of Advaita. Brahman which is beyond all qualification creates, and gives rise to the yugas, and even to Ishwara and the time-based incarnations. The life path of a person, which seeks through individual practice for the unity of the individual Atman with Brahman is personal, unique, with or without the guidance of a guru. While ethical behaviour in this world, towards people, and all creation is an essential part of this individual search, rendering this spiritual quest into the confines of a political platform is the very anathema of Hindu spiritual exercise. An understanding of the concept of Maya or material illusion implies that the present is a conditioned reality and we must seek beyond its fluctuating manifestations. To define Hinduism in terms of this present-day ‘nonreality,’ and under even narrower terms to suit party political pressure is to emphatically deny the wisdom of the Hindu sages.
Failure of the spiritual vision is not unique to other religions, and such failure corrupted Hinduism as well. Political expediency, as found in Manu’s writings in the post-Buddhist post-reformation period, became cultural encrustation, which in time was transformed into the religiously sanctified practices of caste and gender oppression. Once again, we see a failure of spiritual vision in India. In this, the post-colonial period, some Hindus are seeking an assertive identity, similar to European nationalism, which brought imperialists enormous power, and their people untold tragedies in two world wars. It is possible that a few in the VHP and the RSS will succeed in creating a new sect or religion, maybe called ‘Hindutva,’ modelled on a narrow unspiritual politicised vision, similar to that of the Taliban. They might debate, quarrel, fight and threaten each other with conversions, but they will remain one small marginal sect among others in this vast human sea which does not recognise exclusivity of religious authority.