The Nature of Hinduism and Conversion to Christianity
Posted July 30, 2003
Author: Dr M.N. Shrivastava
Source: Stabroek News 8.15.98
I read with interest the views of Mr R. Singh in his letter captioned "There is a true sacred Hinduism" (SN 22.6.98) and of Mr C. Campbell in his letter captioned "Mr. Singh should look again at the Gita" (SN 14.7.98) on what they consider to be real Hinduism and on the problem of Hindus converting to Christianity.
Being a born Indian and a Hindu, I believe Hinduism is much wider than the two writers conceived it to be. Since there had always been internal freedom in India to think and question, many diverse ways of worshipping God came up within Hinduism. Interestingly, the concept of God itself is of Hindu origin. The famous German scholar Max Meuller says "....in fact, the Rigveda is the only document in the world where one can see the evolution of the concept of God ....". The other religions of later origin (including Christianity and Islam) borrowed (the concept of) God from Hindus. The Hindus realised that there has to be conceived a hidden but omnipotent and omnipresent supreme power to keep law and order in the society, in addition to the authority of the state. Thus, though whether God created the universe may be questionable to some, Hindus were the first to 'create' God.
And, as usual when a new concept is developed, many `views', `ideas' and `hypotheses' are put forward which ultimately synthesise into one. Hindus accomplished this thousands of years back. Mr Singh is right when he says that worshipping God in abstract (nirakar) form was the first Hindu way of worshipping Him. However, the Hindus soon realised that this form of worship is difficult to be understood and followed by the common man, therefore they conceived a sakar (visible) form of God and conceptualised that Nirakar (abstract) God can convert himself into sakar (visible) form and even in the form of human beings and accepted Ram and Krishna as Avtars of the Supreme, as rightly pointed out by Mr Campbell (SN 14.7.98). There is no reason to think why He cannot and should not do it. The other religions modified the ideas and said that He sends only messengers and does not incarnate Himself.
Hinduism permitted worshipping God in different forms, as creator of the universe, as sustainer and as destructor (when the time comes) giving rise to the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh (Shankar). Hindus were also the first to initiate worshipping female goddesses in the form of Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Parbati, Sita and Radha, giving a high status to motherhood in the society. Even one can worship Him as his friend (as Arjun did), as husband (as Meera Bai did), or as a small child deity (as Surdas did). If He really exists, why should He not respond to all these forms of worship? It is just like a child when feeling hungry calls his mother by any word he may have learned-like mom, mama, mummy, amma or whatever-mother always knows he is calling her only. So whatever the way of worship, He knows you are praying to Him only.
Hindus realised that truth has many facets. The Upnishads declared 'Ekam sad vipra buhudha vadanti' - "God is one, the sages have described him in different ways". The Hindus never fell into the error of imagining, as some people do, that theirs is the only ultimate truth and that no further inquiry is required. Dr Radha Krishnan - second President of India and a great scholar - said " .....The Aryans (Hindus) did not possess the pride of the fanatic that theirs was the only true religion...." This is also one reason that when put under physical threat, pressure or when lured by money (as done by Muslims and Christians respectively during their long rule in India), Hindus sometimes tend to change religion as they believe that all paths lead to Him only. So to get the benefit, why not follow other paths.
The true Hindus really feel pity for them as to them this is like leaving a highway and following a narrow and uncertain short cut.
On one hand, Hindu dharma encompasses within itself Jainism and Buddhism which even do not believe in the existence of God, on the other hand, it nurtures the supreme philosophy of 'Vedanta' (the end of vedas) which propounds that everything which exists whether living or non living is the physical manifestation of God only. When God may have thought to create the universe there were only two alternatives before Him either to create everything out of nothing or to convert Himself into all whatever we see. Things only change form, they cannot be 'created'. So whatever we see through our eyes is all Him only and should be loved as such. If so, then where is the scope to hate any person, thought, or religion?
Thus, Hinduism is the only religion which permits co-existence. In other religions you should follow their path otherwise you are a sinner. This inhibits them to accept any place in their heaven for persons of any other faith including Mahatma Gandhi as enquired by Lancaster (SN 21.7.98) and K.K. Abraham (SN 22.7.98). Hindus understand their compulsions in taking this stand. Those religions were created as reactions to something that already existed and to attract people, they had to say that they are messengers of God sent with a new set of instructions. Hindus believe their own religion to be `anadi' (eternal) and `anant' (endless). The one which `begins' has to `end'. One prominent Hindu philosophy, Karmyoga, says if you have done your duties to your best in your lifetime you will reach Him, even though you may not have believed in His existence or prayed to Him even once.
Hindus consider diversity in religious thought within Hinduism as their strength, rather than a weakness. Diversity prevents conflicts. Uniformity (as exists in other religions) can give them strength but it can prove to be a weakness also as happened with the doctrine of communism recently. Those who favour uniformity become intolerant to dissent which goes against the spirit of inquiry. Tolerance in religious thinking is also reflected in tolerance in political thinking. The diversity of thought is perhaps the strength of Hinduism and explains why Christianity - which reached India before it reached Europe (52 AD) - and which completely swallowed the mighty empires and civilisations of Greeks and Romans could convert only 1.5% of Hindus to its fold, and that after two centuries of its mighty rule, and almost only those people having low economic status. It's just because it could not match the strong philosophical base of Hinduism. They could `lure' or `threaten ' but only rarely `convince' the common man.
In 1893, after Swami Vivekananda delivered his lecture at the World Congress of religions on Hinduism in Chicago, a leading New York newspaper wrote "....how foolish it was on our part to send missionaries to India to convert such a learned race to Christianity....". In Guyana, the problem of Hindus converting to Christianity is mostly due to ignorance of the principles and philosophy of Hinduism. The cultural part of the religion has been given good attention currently, the Hindus now need to understand in greater depth their intellectual and philosophical base by reading books and scriptures. For this purpose, there is need to establish good libraries in each Town and Temple. Hundreds of books are now available in English on Hindu religion and philosophy, it's not that essential to know Hindu or Sanskrit for this purpose, although it would be desirable.
Thus, if there can be any world religion, in principle it can be Hinduism only - and it will be one day.
Dr M.N. Shrivastava (Indian Rice Expert)