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.