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
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
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.
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
- Who is the creator of
- Is there any creator
- If not, how this
universe came in to existence?
- How did water came in
to existence on this earth?
- Is this creator
- Can I communicate
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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
attitude of believers of "One God" is forcing them to react.
There are lots of things the world has to learn after