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Monday, October 25, 2010

One God

I had another wonderful, rousing discussion at my study group last night. There were two different topics from it that I wanted to talk about, so I'll save the other for tomorrow.

The first is that toward the end of the evening the conversation descended into talk about conversion. In a group of Hindus talk of conversion is always about the efforts of Islam and Christianity to convert the Hindus away from Hinduism. Obviously, of course, a painful topic.

Being advaitists, the people at my study group believe as I do that really all religions are one, all of everything is one, and practicing any religion as it was intended, would lead to the same liberation.

However, the behavior of the people in certain religions does not always show that truth. Part of the passage that we read from Saddarsanam by Ramana Maharsi with commentary by Swami Tejomayananda says "The fanatic says 'My path alone leads to salvation,' and 'My God alone saves.' He has not understood that the worship of the name and form of the Lord and following a particular path are only means to purify the mind and this can well be achieved by other ways."

I spoke up at this point to show the other perspective. I said that there are times when conversion is appropriate because each individual needs to find the best way for him or herself to purify the mind.

I very rarely say to people that I am a convert. I am not comfortable with it, I feel as though it makes me less of a Hindu. And maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. Certainly, everyone there was very happy to have me call myself a Hindu (as far as I could tell, anyway) and they quickly modified talking about conversion in a negative way to say that it was fine for each individual to find a good path for himself, but not okay for him to force others to his path.

Agreement could not be reached on the idea of what is forced. Is it okay to tell people about your path if you think it might benefit them? Is it never okay to tell people about your path?

One man quoted someone whose name I can't remember, but it was quite brilliant. This man said that when approached about converting to Christianity, the wise man in question would say, "If there is only one God, and I am worshiping a God, then it must be the same God, because there is only one-- so what's the problem?"

I adore that. It's so true. It reminds me of a talk I heard once where the professor made the argument that ancient Judaism was not monotheistic. According to his reading of the Torah, the Jews believed in the existence of the heathen Gods, but that theirs was superior. In modern times, the Abrahamic religions believe that only one God exists. Well, so do we. So, if there is only one God, our God and their God must be the same one.

I guess that means it comes down to arguing over what is the best way to worship Him.


  1. Namashkar,
    My guru teaches that all religions are paths up the mountain, but they are not all equivalent. Some go all the way to the top and some only part way. Following some of the less complete religions might still be right for some souls, but may lead to a better birth where they have a chance to follow a path that will advance them further.

    I think it is important to realise that all religions are not as good or equivalent. Many Christians try a modified Pascals wager on people believing this "If you are right then following Christianity will be as good as your faith, but if you are mistaken then you will be tortured eternally every day in hell for eternity"! How can this sort of faith be equivalent to believing in one loving God who will allow all to reach moksha!

  2. I found this quote this morning, and it seems to fit your post pretty well:

    Follow your morals before authority,

    Take the right way before the easy way,

    And Listen to God before religion.

    I think each person has to find what speaks to them, and that's the appropriate path, which is why forced conversion is so frustrating. That's assuming another's path is the right one for me, which isn't necessarily true. So while I don't think dictating religion to a person is right, I do think that there are people out there who are seeking, and it's not a bad thing to tell those people about what you've found to work for you. You're not expecting them to give themselves over to what you're talking about; it's just presenting an option they may not have heard about, and if it works, great. If not, there's another path for them.

    God is at the heart of it all, or at least He should be.

  3. I love your blog, Aamba! The more time passes, however, the less inclined I am to believe that all religions lead up the same mountain. I have trouble believing that Satanism (LaVeyan or otherwise), the Temple of Set, Scientology, or some other faiths really will take their faithful, devoted followers up the same mountain as Sanatana Dharma. It's entirely possible that my own perspective is still too limited, but I have trouble with this belief. I believe that many faiths lead up the same mountain as Sanatana Dharma - sometimes in spite of their own scriptures and/or orthodox beliefs, though.

  4. What it also comes down to for me is this: even if Judaism and Islam say there is only one God, they attribute different words and different commandments to God than Hinduism does. So, they believe that God has commanded them to kill unbelievers while Sanatana Dharma does not attribute such a command to God. So, even if all three of these paths "lead up the same mountain," there is a big difference between who/what each of the paths believe God to be/desire. It seems to me that the great Christian, Jewish, and Muslim mystics achieved knowledge similar to that of Hinduism by being willing to contradict their own scriptures and official priests, often at the cost of their own lives.

  5. Fantastic quote, Laura, that is exactly what I'm feeling these days. And you're right that the problem is the assuming that your path is right for someone else.

    Anonymous, now that you've brought up Scientology, it's true that it's hard to see where that one is going! I am determined not to judge, though, if it feels right for someone and it helps him, then so be it.

    Like many of you, Sanatana Dharma seems so perfect and so complete and so loving that I can't imagine anything better. It's hard for me to believe that it isn't right and best for everyone! I struggle not to give in to that thinking.

    There are people of all faiths who reach enlightenment, though it does sometimes seem like some of them are doing it in opposition to their faith's scriptures. It's strange.

    I think this will lead into the topic for tomorrow, but basically I think that's an example of the truth calling to us within our own experience. We can never depend too heavily on writings or teachings of others. We have to always check, does this feel true to me?

    Despite the story of the ten commandments, I do not believe that God ever wrote anything down (except for the God that is in each of us). There are no writings that are the direct word of God and so it is up to us to feel and search and find God in whatever ways we can.

  6. Oh, and Tandava, I think you are so right that using Pascal's wager for something like this is so ridiculous.

    Particularly since there are so many different religions that claim to be the only way. If I was going to "be on the safe side" by being a Muslim, what would I do if the Christians were right?

    Do you ever watch South Park? On that show, when they show the afterlife it turns out Mormon was the correct answer. Literally, they say it like that: "Oh, I'm sorry, the right answer was...Mormon."

  7. In India there is a saying "Ishwar-Allah tero naam" - meaning Ishwar (Hindi for God, used by Hindus) and Allah refer to the same God. Unfortunately, Muslims in India do not quote this line. It is only the Hindus in India who are forced to proclaim this ad-nauseum. I am probably repeating myself on your blog, but there is no common meeting ground between Hinduism (which allows for unbelievably numerous means of worshipping diverse manifestations of Brahman) and my-way-or-the-highway-type Islam/Christianity that are exclusivistly monotheistic. Slightly off-topic, do you know that Hindus in UP created a deity and temple for Mother English? The deity has a pen on one hand and a computer in the other. The reasoning behind it (according to the newsarticle I read) is that people seemed to realize that to get ahead in today's world, you need to be conversant in English. So, the language has been accorded the status of a deity! This apparently has had an electrifying effect on neighbouring villages where young children have taken up English education with vigour. This is why I am Hindu! Though the action may seem superficially stupid, actually the recognition of a language which leads to economic growth as a goddess is quite profound, if you think about it!

  8. Do you ever watch South Park? On that show, when they show the afterlife it turns out Mormon was the correct answer. Literally, they say it like that: "Oh, I'm sorry, the right answer was...Mormon."

    I didn't see that Aamba, but it illustrates why I am sure that these exclusive religions can't be right. It makes God petty and legalistic; "you are only saved if you believe exactly this, never mind if you are a good person".

    What really underlies this is when you hear Christians saying "you are not a true Christian if ....", emphasizing that if you believe in the "wrong view" of God and Jesus then you are not really believing and won't be saved. I once made a list of all the things that I had read on the internet that mean that indicate people are "not true Christians". It transpires you are not saved if:

    * You are a Catholic and pray to saints
    * You are not a Catholic
    * You vote Democrat
    * You vote for anyone who does not oppose abortion
    * You support gay marriage and people being openly gay.
    * (historically) You were involved in the crusades
    * You don't actively preach the gospel
    * You don't send $10 to (some preacher)
    * You are involved in the manufacture of crucifixes
    * You paint a painting of God
    * You are some sunday school teacher who told the children to paint a picture of God
    * You accept that people from other faiths can won't go to hell
    * You believe in evolution
    * You don't think that the bible is 100% literally true
    * you don't understand or accept that Jesus existed before his birth - in fact before creation
    * (in the UK) you believe that the Church should be disestablished (separated from the State)

    I once brought this list out when some preachers came to my door and said that "Christianity gives certain salvation". I pointed out how uncertain it was if people would go to hell for all of these things. The guy said (wait for it) .... "the people who believed the things on the list are not True Christians"! (To be fair he laughed himself when he realised what he had said and told me that he believed that they would be saved but had some wrong beliefs)

  9. If one reads and try to understand a new faith at intellectual,philosophical or spiritual level.And voluntarily follow the new faith.
    Then "conversion" is perfectly fine. With your blog, I would put you in above category. There many Hindus who read Bible and Koran to understand its philosophy.

    The problem arise when conversion is forcefully, by unethical methods (luring by money,financial promises, using bad words for native faith).

    In India's long history, Hindus did have frequent intellectual debate "Shastrath" with Buddhist, Jain etc at philosophical level, peacefully.

    But when Muslims came to India to convert, they killed thousands of Hindus,Buddhist, Jains and other dharmik followers.

    Now Christian Missionaries are aggressively trying to convert tribal,poor people by luring money,jobs,health care etc.
    They defame Hindu gods. One sentence I remember , they tells "Hindu God Krishna is a womanizer, he flirts with thousands of innocent Gopis"
    Watch this documentary

    Due to this long history of unethical conversions, many Hindus dislike word conversion.

    As against

    Sanatan Dharma scriptures are universal. There is no force to read it or follow it, even for born Hindus. Only ones inner sense drive them to read it. And if someone like its content then they follow it. Also , there is no exclusivity, they can still continue reading/following their born faith along with Sanatan Dharma scriptures.

    But if someone forcefully trying to tell other to read Sanatan Dharma scriptures.It is as unethical as it could be.

  10. Tandava, I love your list. That's brilliant. Yes, that has been an issue for me with Christianity too. I've been to church services for a number of different branches of Christianity and each one said that their interpretation of it was correct, and the other churches were wrong and not true Christians. Every single one of them said that!

    Pravin, I agree, the trouble is forceful conversion. Conversion chosen for one's own reasons free of outside influence is rare!

    I am horrified by the unethical means of conversion being used, but I don't know what to do about it! The best I can do at the moment is to have pride in Hinduism and to hope that I inspire others to have pride in it too.

  11. Hi Aamba

    This would be relevant to the discussion of "One god" topic

    Outsiders Compare Hellenismos to Hinduism

    newton ( from india)