Tolerance in Polytheism  

Few years ago I was in Egypt staying in a hotel as a tourist. After few acquaintances a beautiful girl on the reception counter asked me a question “Who are you?” “I am an Indian.” I replied. “Yes I know that” she replied, “but what faith you follow? Are you a Christian? Or a Muslim?” “No!” I replied, “I am neither Christian nor Muslim”. She was shocked to listen to that. “Then who are you?” “I am a Hindu”. I was sure it was a Greek word to her. She could not understand who am I.

There is no doubt that the leading religions of the world today are Christians and Muslims. I am sure a common man in Europe or US will react the same way the receptionist in Egypt reacted. In the aftermath of September 11, some of my American friends asked me the same question. “Are you religious? If so, what faith?” It appears that Americans are now eager to know about the religions around the world and their teachings, their beliefs and faiths. Probably they want to know religious dimension of the September 11.

I told my American friends, I am a Hindu.

“Who am I?” This is a question being asked by our forefathers, I told my American friends. I am born to a Hindu father and Hindu mother. Therefore, I am a Hindu by birth. But what is Hinduism? Can I make a definition of Hinduism? Hinduism itself is a very complex religion. Or is it really a religion at all?

One can believe in one god and he can be a Hindu. He may believe in Multiple deities and still he can be a Hindu. Further more, one may not believe in god at all, still he can be a Hindu. This is very big chaos. It is unorganized one. There isn’t any institutional support for it’s organization. You can’t compare Hinduism with any of the present leading religions where you have to believe in one concept of god.

But in this chaos there is underlying strength. The strength of respecting all faiths about “The God” and that is the spirit. This spirit is called Hinduism. This allows you to think independently and objectively. This also allows you to develop healthy disrespect to everything that comes to you.

On this background am I a religious? What can I tell to my American friends? I do not go to temple. I do not make any regular rituals. I have learned some of the rituals in my younger days. I still enjoy doing it sometimes just like any poem. I like the feelings behind those rituals. I study them objectively and really enjoy it. But nobody has made any compulsions on me to perform these rituals regularly. Even if I challenge some of these rituals, nobody is going to challenge my Hinduism.

Some of the ancient Indian religious literature is very intellectual. In Vedas there is discussion about the universe and its existence. My Hindu forefathers were inquisitive. They were trying to find answers to many questions, which have remained, unanswered even today. Some of the questions were like:

  • Who is the creator of this universe?
  • Is there any creator at all?
  • If not, how this universe came in to existence?
  • How did water came in to existence on this earth?
  • Is this creator hiding somewhere?
  • Can I communicate with him?


At the end, Veda says he might be there or he might not be there. But WE (Hindus) pray to that supreme abstract authority that is the creator of this universe.


Probably all religions call that creator as a God. The concept of god is something abstract. Just like Music or a great painting or a poem. With this background, majorities of the Hindus in India have respect and tolerance towards the different religions. In India Zoroastrians who came from Iran is the happiest religion. Their population all over the world is about 100,000. Ninety percent of them are in India. They respect local customs and beliefs. They have freedom to perform their rituals. They are free to keep their identity as Zoroastrians for centuries. There are many prominent figures from this religion that have influenced Indian Politics, Business, Art and Literature. Jews came here from Jerusalem. They had complete freedom in India. Many of them returned to Israel but still have cordial relationship with their Hindu Brothers. They still visit to meet their Indian friends. Both of these religions were fighting against Muslim oppression. They got a shelter and home in India. Buddhism was originated in India. It has respectable place in the society.


One can observe that Buddhism which was originated in India could expand its religious appeal from Japan to Afghanistan. But we have never heard that that the Indian religion was propagated with political force. It was always an intellectual affair. Hinduism traveled from India to many parts of East Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia. But adoption of Hinduism in these civilizations was never by force. Until the recent rise of Jehadi Fundamentalism in these countries, every religion had its own respected place in these civilizations. But the situation is changing fast.


Unfortunately, the well known and leading religions that believe in “One God” are problematic. Both of them were originated in the Middle East. They have a political dimension in their organization. There isn’t purely a spiritual thinking. That is their strength and weakness also. They are well organized and there are political benefits of organization. They are more disciplined in their goal of spreading their religions. In the religions that believe in “The One God” concept you need a mediator like priest or mullah to relate or communicate with the god. Or may be to understand the religious teachings. But when you need to communicate with the god or interpret the religion through a priest or mullah he gains a political position. You can not defy him. That is their political strength. But on the other hand they force their views on the people who have different concepts about god. They are not ready for coexistence. If these religions that believe in “The One God” concept do not keep their separate identity with fanaticism they will loose their identity and will loose their Political Dimension.


Christianity also propagates “The One God” concept. When Pope John Paul visited India recently in November 1999, he saw Asia as a fertile field to spread Christianity. What does it means? Is it not a religious madness? How should Asians react to this? How should Hindus react to this? Is it not similar to Islamist ambitions of conquering America?


In the long 1400 years history of Islam very few have adopted this religion in appreciation of the religious thought but due to the violence and conversion. They have succeeded in propagating their views many times by brutal and violent force. And today they are considered as world’s leading religions.


Native Americans are many ancient people. They speak ancient languages, not common to any of the living languages of the world today. They all believe in more than one god. Sadly, they hide that to conform to religious teachings about "The One God". In this process we do not know how much knowledge the mankind has lost. Similar to this, Islamic invaders in India destroyed many Buddhist Universities and torched many invaluable books and scripts. All this was done to propagate the religious teachings about "The One God". And this is going on for centuries.


If we take a glance at the Indian History we will find that major problems the world faces today have been visible as predictive indicators in India for a long time. With the rise of Democracy and Human rights movements, developed countries have developed historical disconnect. September 11 has brought them the reality of conflicts of religions and civilizations.


Because of their liberal thinking it is very difficult to organize Hindus. Last 75 years RSS is trying to organize Hindus against this religious madness of “The One God” religions. However they are not successful influencing even two percent of the Hindu population. But the attitude of the religions that believe in “The One God” concept is forcing Hindus to take a different view now days. You can compare this with the present backlash in America against Muslims after September 11.


This is the reason why BJP is finding appeal in India. Media’s description of this appeal as a Hindu Right Wing, or Hindu hard-liners or Hindu Fundamentalist really is not able to describe the ground situation. I would even say even though Hindus reacted to massacre in Godhra, Gujarath violently but they will not be able to organize fundamentalism through out the country. Purely on religious ground it is practically impossible to organize Hindus on extremist views. They themselves will challenge such madness immediately.


The attitude of believers of "One God" is forcing them to react.

There are lots of things the world has to learn after September 11.








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