Modern Day Guruism in India and the West
Course: Introduction to Hinduism
I made a few comments about these men. I showed you their pictures before, but I want to make sure that we're clear on some of the main points there. Then we'll do some festivals and, I think, we'll finally be through with this third cycle of the devotional marga. So, then we can go back and begin to show how it all relates together. So next class period, you can make a note to make sure you bring your chart, because we'll be going back to that chart and making some integrative comments about the chart next time. Lord willing.
Question: What chart?
The chart that has the three vehicles of modern Hinduism – jnana marga, karma marga, bhakti marga. That chart. And I'll bring some extra copies in case any of you forget. I know that's highly unlikely anybody here will forget, but just in case.
One of the remarkable things about guruism, as we've already indicated, is it brings together ... and we've seen how much of this is now happening ... where things are integrated from various parts of the marga system. So essentially you have often high caste or Brahminical leaders who are recognising that the bhakti movement could essentially rob them of their power. And so the bhakti movement has been incorporated back into Brahminical Hinduism. So Brahmins will often dominate Bhaktism as well by saying they are a particular incarnation of a god or they are a particular channel to god – which is what Joy so powerfully shared with us last time with her experience. So because of that, it has really broadened, and in some ways continues to show how the margas relate one to another.
A few figures we want to focus on that I think tie into many Western influences as well. The first is Paramhansa Ramkrishna. This is a Hindu mystic who declared, not just the unity of Hinduism, which we have seen in the gurus, but the unity of all religions. He is born as a Vaishnava into a family in Bengal. He actually has strong Brahminical background in all of his roots. You know, you remember – typically you find in North India Shaivite; south India Vaishnavite. In his case he grows up in the east over in Bengal and he becomes a priest of Kali, who you're very well acquainted with now.
He became ecstatically devoted to Kali and spent many, many hours, reportedly, weeping, going through various puja experiences, ecstatic experiences, until he actually had a vision of the goddess, according to his belief – of Devi herself. He was so enraptured by this that he could no longer hold down an ordinary job, even in the temple. And he began to study under some other Brahmins who taught him various meditative techniques. One he gained a particular lot from a particular Brahmin woman, as well as this sadhu whose name was Tota Puri, who was famous because he refused to ever wear any clothes. I guess that's one reason why he meditated all the time. He didn't need any clothes because he was focused on his meditation.
Ramakrishna began to practise these meditative techniques and he claims that he had a vision of Krishna and Radha, who you now also are well aware of. He had further visions of Krishna and Kali, which we already discussed. But then eventually – and this really, I think, is what makes him important – is that he claimed to have a vision of Jesus Christ and of Mohammed. And this is a very important ... from a pure historical point of view ... quite apart from how we might unwrap this as Christians. A very historical point of view, this is another major step in terms of how Hinduism has interacted with the modern world, especially other religions.
What he essentially does is he says that in this vision he saw that there were not just three paths to enlightenment. In other words, he's talking about jnana marga, karma marga, bhakti marga. OK, this is one of the impulses that we've seen that Ramakrishna very powerfully illustrates is the attempt to transcend the three margas – or find some way that find how do they work with each other. Because Hinduism is always about what is the relationship between the one and the many. This is one of the great ... you know, cosmical homology. All of that is how diversity can reflect oneness. And so, you can't really have three paths in Hinduism. Ultimately there's got to be some way this is part of one singular vision.
So he claims that there's not ... it's not jnana marga, karma marga and bhakti marga, but there are hundreds of paths to enlightenment, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, among others. He declared that all religions are different paths to the one eternal being who he simply calls as you might expect, sat cit ananda – the whole sat cit ananda doctrine we discussed as well. It goes back to the Upanishads.
So here's a guy who very cleverly is connecting to the Upanishadic vision which we saw is essential for any teacher in India – a Brahminical teacher especially. So he ties everything into sat cit ananda from the ??? Upanishad. He is leaning heavily into the whole bhakti movement by drawing upon the popular stands. And he's trying to basically find a way to transcend this whole discussion we had earlier about the relationship of devotion, knowledge and works. Or is it like this: knowledge, devotion, works. OK, we've looked a lot at this kind of paradigm, and this is ... there's no question this is a tension within Hinduism about what is ultimate. Essentially this is a battle over jnana marga and bhakti marga, obviously. So if you have essentially the Brahmins over here arguing for knowledge and you have the masses of people that are now called scheduled caste or the broad non-upper caste people arguing for Bhaktism, then you essentially have this pressure between these two that could essentially create fracturing, which is not part of the Hindu vision.
So he's saying: No, no, no. There is something which transcends all of this. And sat cit ananda (being, consciousness, bliss), this whole doctrine of the Upanishads, is the overarching thing which not only unites this but all religions together. He says, for example, and I'm quoting him here: "Both Kali and Brahman, both Krishna and Christ, are different aspects of the same reality." Now, there's nobody in jnana marga who would argue that Kali and Brahman are the same. Kali is something that's over here – that people worship in ignorance. Brahman is the all-pervading, you know, nirguna Brahman. You can say nothing about it and all that. So to equate Kali and Brahman is itself pretty radical, although we could see that in many of the bhakti movements in south India, especially the Tamils. But between Krishna and Christ? This is now taking a stand that begins to integrate Hinduism with how it relates to other religions – which we've not seen a lot of in this course, especially we've not talked about it at all, how do Hindus see themselves relating to Christianity, much in a formal way.
So Ramakrishna had a number of followers. His most important was a man that is now known to you. His name was Narendra Nath Datta, who today is known as Swami Vivekananda. This was his most devoted follower and this is the one who brought the message of Ramakrishna to the Western world. You ??? have his dates there before you. And again, you can see in his name … all of these figures take names that, you know, you see with Ramakrishna. You see the name Rama and Krishna in his name. That in itself is interesting. That is a very bhakti name. But with Vivekananda, this actually is a very important suffix for a Swami, a teacher. An enlightened teacher always has the name ananda at the end of it. So everyone recognises it. An ordinary person does not call themselves ananda.
And, in fact, I feel a little bit embarrassed about this, but it's just it works out. In my own writing in India, if I'm writing for a Hindu audience, I never publish under the name Timothy Tennent, because it's immediately recognised as a Western name. So, if it's a book, if it's a scholarly book, like my book on, part of our textbook, that book which is now in Hindi is under Timothy Tennent. That's fine. But if it's any thing like tracts, pamphlets, booklets, my name is Praymraj Dharmananda. And I ??? that name. Dharmananda – dharma ananda. Because people who see that recognise it as a teacher. And they will read it as someone who is an Indian who teaches. It's actually very, very common all through Indian history. People always publish under pen names. It's not at all unusual.
Narendra Nath Datta took on the name Swami Vivekananda and he taught that the Vedantic ideal was true. He accepts tat twan asi. But, like we have seen with Ramakrishna, he says that the problem with tat twam asi is that it is not something that only a Brahmin can have an insight into. So you have the same thing here. On the one hand, he is tipping his hat to the jnana marga, saying I acknowledge that the Brahmins are right – that the greatest insight of the Upanishads is tat twam asi, thou art that. But they were mistaken in thinking only Brahmins could perceive this unity. He said there are many ways, many paths, through which someone can perceive this unity. And he does not deny the Brahmins can achieve it through their Brahminical way of knowledge, but he says there are other paths that equally help someone achieve the insight of tat twam asi.
So now you're finding the ??? by some of these Brahmins to broaden the Upanishadic vision to encompass even the most popular movements and even other religions. He calls this neovedantism. This is a new vedantism. The result is, as you can see in the handout, a number of things happened because of this that are very important in the history of Hinduism.
The first is the emergence of social ethics. The moment you distance yourself from a Brahminical exclusive religion and you open the door to other classes or castes of people, then this provides an avenue through which you can enfranchise somebody rather than disenfranchise them. Because, up to this point, the sudras especially are disenfranchised, and the dalits even more so. They have no hope but, hopefully, through improving their karmic debt, maybe be reborn as a Brahmin someday. That's about the only hope they have. Now they have hope because they can ... I'm saying this obviously, speaking as a Hindu, they have hope. I know from the point of view of the gospel, they need the gospel. But I'm saying, from their perspective, they have hope because now there is an avenue through which a person who's not a Brahmin can achieve enlighten and have the essential unity of tat twam asi. We'll later see how the philosophical foundation of this is laid out by Ramanuja, but we're not there yet.
And by the way, this is very, very popular nineteenth century stuff. Nineteenth century, if you know the general literature of nineteenth century in general in the Western world that deeply influenced the East. This was the heyday of natural theology, of general revelation, of ??? optimisms before World War I, World War II, which throws us in this horrible pessimistic period. People were very optimistic about human nature, what could be perceived and known. So this is all part of a general intellectual milieu that Hinduism is also drawing from. So, social ethics is pouring into Hinduism as a part of this overall optimism about the human race and what we can accomplish, what we can do, how we can help each other and on and on and on.
The British Raj is in their heyday in India. And don't forget, the figure I did my doctoral work on, who's this nineteenth century Bengali, who he later becomes a leader. He is probably the most important early leader of the nationalistic movement. He's the one who started the whole nationalistic movement in Bengal, which is where it all was given birth and where later Ghandi would pick up and use a lot of his own techniques that he would use. But if you read his early writings ... I mean, the man can find nothing wrong with the British. It's the greatest thing in the world. This is god's gift to us. I mean, you won't believe it – I mean, just gushingly, gushingly positive about the British presence in India.
It really isn't until 1905 that you ... August 1905 when the British partitioned Bengal that you really begin to find negative reactions spring up about the British presence there. Now that's still some years before Ghandi, so this takes a long time obviously … 1947 … to really finally fully blow up.
But in these early, early, late nineteenth century, very positive. Train lines have been laid. They are so excited when the British lay the telegraph line and somebody talks between Bombay, now Mumbai, and Calcutta. They couldn't believe it. How could somebody on one side of the country talk to someone on the other side of the country? They couldn't believe it. And they connected a line that went from ... I'm not sure where it was. It was somewhere in north India, maybe Bhopal or somewhere, up to Delhi. And they just couldn't believe that people could talk to people between Delhi and Bhopal. It just blew their minds. All the literature on this was just O effusive. The British were just wonderful. All these riches coming into our country.
There were people who were so amazed by the train station. In fact, when they first laid the tracks in India, there were many of the villagers who had never seen a train before. And they didn't know what they were doing. They saw them strapping these huge metal, you know, a little like a gigantic belt across the country. And word got out that the British were actually going to use these belts to hook India up to a barge and pull India all the way to Britain like a big floating barge. Just pull India to Britain. Join it all together – one big happy family. I mean, it's unbelievable literature in this time period. So, none of this is a surprise.
But the second thing that happened that's important is what we've discussed in a larger sense when the missionaries came, but Vivekananda is another missionary, just a Hindu missionary, the reification of Hinduism. This is definitely happening in full bore nineteenth century. Prior to this time, the word Hinduism has never been used to describe holistically the religion of this group of people, 82% of India. There are people who worship Ram, people who worship Krishna, people who worship ... there are Vaishnavites, Shaivites, and so forth. It is not until this period that you begin to find Hinduism emerging and that term Hinduism referring to a unified religion of some kind which is a great advancement on the overall Hindu ideal.
So Vivekananda argues for many paths, one vision. And so it helps to say that Hinduism is not some fractured, horrible distortion of multiple belief systems that are hopelessly contradictory, which it certainly is at any observable level – but O beyond all this observable contradictions and fractions and various subdivisions is in fact a unified vision. That's a very important thing, if that's true, because that is a reification that's occurring that makes Hinduism a point of study, like this class.
The third thing is that Hinduism becomes now a major player in the global religious vision of the world. Hinduism as a world religion – what has often been called the birth of the saffron mission. Now that's the title of a book that came out maybe three or four years ago by CB Matthew entitled The Saffron Mission. It talks about essentially the birth of Hinduism seeing itself as an evangelistic movement.
Back in the nineteenth century again, Max Muller said that all religions could be divided between those who were evangelistic and those who were not. And he said the evangelistic religions would include Christianity, Islam and Theravada Buddhism. All the others are non-evangelistic. But that's no longer possible today to talk in those terms because Hinduism, especially in the nineteenth century, took on this idea of we can spread the message of Hinduism around the world and the world will benefit from it. It's called the saffron mission.
That really culminates in the very, very famous speech of Swami Vivekananda at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893. I cannot overestimate the importance of this speech he gave at the World Parliament of Religions 1893. He actually gave two addresses. This was the birth of Hinduism in America especially and more broadly in the Western world. I have a copy of both of his addresses to pass out to you because I think it's that important. It's like Mar5tin Luther King's I have a Dream speech, in the sense that it's one of those speeches that defines an entire movement.
And so, it's not just that Vivekananda said it. It's the fact that what he said resonates so powerfully with the participants in this gathering of people who gathered. It was a Parliament, a gathering of religious representatives from all over the world to discuss how religions interact with each other. The result was, I don't think any of our lives have been the same since this speech because it electrified those who were there. In fact, if you look at the literature, when people left that meeting ... and this goes on for ... this was several weeks of meetings ... this is a long ... not just a one day affair ... it's like ten or twelve days. This gathering which had hundreds and hundreds of people participants from all over the world, everyone when they came back home and wrote their reports and reflected on ... they're all Vivekananda, Vivekananda, Vivekananda. If you go ask anybody who's a scholar of this period of time and you ask them: "What is the one most memorable event of the Parliament of Religions, they'll say Swami Vivekananda's speech. And so, I'm going to pass it out to you, both. He gave one and then he was asked to give a closing speech at the end because he was so ??? electrifying thing. But it's affected modern-day pluralistic attitudes dramatically. And I think in some ways ... Yes.
You do live in Chicago?
Yeah, it was 93. Yeah, it was the hundredth anniversary of it. Right.
Question: ??? downstairs in a convention hall, all the booths set up. It was interesting to walk through and ping-pong ??? all side by side. Latter Day Saints trying to like get you ??? trying to proselytise you ???
I can imagine. I can imagine. Well, you got a little taste for what it was like in 1893. I won't read the entire thing to you, but I want to read a few parts of this. If you look at the first page, which is the opening address on September 11, 1893, which begins: "Sisters and brothers of America". If you look down in the second paragraph, he said: "I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true." Now you see how that is the original Ramakrishna vision? So Vivekananda came West. He didn't want to start the Vivekananda mission, but the Ramakrishna mission. He claims that Ramakrishna is an incarnation of Chatainya whom we have not studied. We don't have time to study. Chatainya is an incarnation, a reincarnation, of Krishna. There is Krishna. There is Chatainya. There is Ramakrishna.
And he had this great insight. Again, that whole Gita thing, which in the Gita has all religions inside of Krishna, right? So this is a part of that whole vision of the Gita that Ramakrishna connects to. So he's saying all religions ... we accept all religions as true, not just all Hindu sects.
"I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites who came to south India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to a religion which had sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you brother in a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood".
Now this is a phrase which so many Indians know. "As the different streams, having their sources in different paths, which men take their tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to thee." This is the famous thing. There are many rivers. All rivers lead to the ocean. In the same way, all religions lead to god. This is his basic view. And then he quotes the Gita.
"This present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication." Listen to what he says here. "A decoration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita." And he quotes the Gita – the text we've already looked at, though his translation is different than ours. "Whosever comes to me through whatsoever form, I reach him. All men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me. Sectarianism, bigotry and its horrible descendant fanaticism have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons,, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time had come and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death knell of all fanaticism, of all persecution with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal."
This is definitely nineteenth century talk. But he is talking about toleration of all religions as equal. This is what we call pluralism, which is, in fact, really a form of allowing for any path – not political pluralism, but religious pluralism – allowing for any religion to be equally efficacious.
On the back, he had an even more spirited final charge on 27 September 1893. Listen to what he says, going down to the third paragraph. "Much has been said of the common ground of religious unity. I am not going just now to mention my own theory." Then he goes on to give us his theory. "But if anyone here hopes this unity will come by the triumph of any of the religions and the destruction of others, I say to him: 'Brothers, yours is an impossible hope'." And this is probably the most quoted part of this passage. "Do I wish that the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid. The seed is put in the ground and earth and air and water placed around. Does the seed become the earth or the air or the water? No. It becomes a plant. It develops after the law of its own growth, assimilates the air, the earth and the water, converts them into plant substance and grows into a plant. Similar is the case with religion. The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth. If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world it is this. It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world and every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance, help and not fight, assimilation and not destruction, harmony and peace and not dissension."
Can you imagine it? This is very, very influential stuff that has affected the way religions are viewed broadly in the West. Prior to this point, the majority of Americans believed that Christianity was the only true religion. All others must be displaced by gospel preaching. Today, it is not, as you know, widely held by rank and file mainstream people. This is viewed as a strange belief of evangelicals that Christianity is somehow or another unique or Christ is normative. And I, in my book, I argue very passionately for the normative, unique nature of the gospel. But I think that we should be aware that this kind of thing is very, very much a part of, I think, the kind of set paradigm now, the default paradigm.
OK, thoughts or comments on Vivekananda and his famous series of brief addresses to the Chicago Parliament of Religions?
Question: Were both of these figures, Vivekananda and Ramakrishna, both Brahmins?
Yes. This is very popular thing for certain Brahmins to realise. The heat is coming on us, so let's popularise our movement.
A number of streams came from Vivekananda's thought. We'll try to briefly highlight some of these. Because of time, we're going to have to maybe do this a little quicker than I hoped, because we have a lot more to cover today outside of this. But I think we should acknowledge that one of the things that was really brought up and taken up from Vivekananda is this social ethical stream.
You find this especially in the work and writings of Ghandi. Because Gandhi is not a Brahmin. Gandhi is not a Brahmin. He's a Vaishnava. So he's high caste, but he's at the third tier. Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya. So he's a mutra.. He's a merchant. And he's from Gujarat. He's a Gujarati. He's not from the most, you know, like great earth-shaking places. I mean, everybody that's anybody in terms of Hindu philosophy comes from either Yupi or Kerala or maybe Tamil Nadu if you count some of the bhakti poets and all that. But when you're looking at ... Gujarat is not a place that produces like great Indian leaders historically. So, in many ways, Gandhi comes out of the blue.
He studies law in London. He's exposed to this theosophical society, which was a very interesting nineteenth century movement which again tries to bring all religions together. You may have heard of a woman called Annie Besant. She became a very popular speaker around the world. She was an Irish woman who came to India and argued that India is wonderful and can be the only hope for the world. And she was one of the cofounders of the Indian National Congress and also one of the cofounders of the Banaras Hindu University – a famous university in Varanasi in India. Very powerful woman. My own figure that I studied debated her on several occasions in various public meetings because she was in many ways represented this kind of Western acceptance of Hinduism as the solution to the world's ills.
So Gandhi borrowed something from Jesus I think in the Sermon on the Mount. But he also borrowed a lot from general tendencies in Hinduism at the time – Vivekananda's idea that perhaps Hinduism could be a uniting force to bring peace to the world. Gandhi does accept that tat twam asi scheme, but it applies it sociologically, not ontologically. He says the vision is not the vision of the oneness of god, but the vision is the oneness of humanity. That's a very different kind of application of it.
And he insists that it is not a matter of caste. Again, Gandhi does not seek, as is popularly thought, Gandhi does not seek the abolition of the caste system. This is something you get from the movies about Gandhi, not the actual real Gandhi. Gandhi was extremely insistent that if the caste system is gone, Hinduism is gone. He argued for a reform of the caste system. In fact, you look at the list of terms there. The last term on that list under Gandhi is a term varnashrama-dharma. That refers to ... in fact, you can break it down. Varna – what does varna mean?
Colours. Right. That's referring to the four colours: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra. Ashram is this term for the gathering of people – the gathering of these colours into a common law – dharma. The idea was that there should be a unity among the four varnas and the multitude of castes – jojati a part of the varna system. That will create a societal role where everybody knows their role. So what he would say is: Don't get rid of the street sweeper, but give the street sweeper dignity. That's very different from saying let's bring uplift to the street sweeper. So he renames ... Gandhi's the one that renames the outcast. He calls them ... or the untouchables, unseeables ... he calls them Harijans, which means ... Well, you know the word hari – means lord or god. Harijan means children or those who belong to god, children of god, harijan.
So this today has been rejected. The dalits hate this expression today because they think it's paternalistic, you know: O yeah, you're the children of god and we'll take care of you. But at the time this was considered to be like a big breakthrough that he had the guts to call an untouchable a child of god.
So Gandhi tried to bring together a number of social issues ... I've not list these as terms you need to know, but he called the heart of his message, what he called satyagraha, soul force. Non-violence – ahimsa – very important Jain doctrine he brings into his ethic. The welfare of the community. And this is a little known part of his writings, but brahmacarya – the idea of Brahmins and people maintaining chastity in order to keep down population explosion which was a concern at that time, early twentieth century.
So Gandhi, which I'm assuming you may be aware of already to some degree – we won't have time in this class to develop his life in a more holistic way. But as you know, Gandhi is the one that is considered the father of the nation. If you pluck out bills from India, the rupees, many of them have Gandhi's picture on them. There are ... almost every village or town will have a little Gandhi statue or a ... in Dehradun, for example, we've got a nice little park there on Rajpur Road, Gandhi Park, and people go there with their children and all and it has a big statue of Gandhi there. This is very typical. All over India you'll see various pictures of Gandhi.
There's a very powerful statue in Delhi that shows Gandhi on the salt march. The salt march is the very famous rebellion of Gandhi against the British and he's trying to again say: India can look after itself. We can make our own salt. We don't have to import it. So he goes to the sea to make salt because the British, at that point, outlawed the Indians from making salt. So they go to the ... he has this march to the sea to make salt as in great defiance of the British. And so he wears his what's called a doti. It's like just a simple one cloth that he wraps around him here and he has, you know, it a little thing over ... In fact, I think I may have ... yeah, he's wearing this – this outfit here, with his famous stick and he's making his way to the sea.
And in this statue in Delhi, you have a picture of Gandhi marching along and behind him they have very, very powerfully ... and this is a huge thing. I mean, Gandhi himself must be twenty feet high. So it has a kind of larger than life impression when you see it. But hey have carved in these statues the faces of all over of all India. You have various low caste people. You have high caste. You've got figures that are ... they have a Christian priest there – a guy with a cross around his neck from the south Indian church, the Mar Thoma church. They've got a Sikh man there with a turban. They have all the ways you'd recognise that Gandhi was leading the whole nation to some great national unity. So it's a statue symbolising national unity. And so this is part of the whole strive for 1947 declaration of independence which took place and finally was occurred. And India, of course, now is the largest democracy in the world.
Comments or thoughts about Gandhi that you might like to make? Yes.
Question: ??? accurate ???
It's horribly inaccurate. Yeah. It really is. It's a Hollywood version. It was actually done in cooperation with the Indian Tourist Board, not the Indian Historical Society. So it was done as a way to attract people to come to India. So really downplays many of Gandhi's more controversial parts of his life. There are many ... I mean, virtually a lot of things about it were true. It's not so much they were propagating lies, but it's what they left out – just the very careful way they treated Gandhi, especially his attitude toward caste. I loved it. I enjoyed the movie. But it's just a movie. It's like watching Pocahontas, you know. It was very interesting, but it didn't actually happen that way. So you just enjoy it as a movie. Unfortunately, most people today get their history from these movies and so it's a little bit of a problem. OK, other thoughts or comments?
Question: Is Gandhi ??? his stuff published?
It is. His probably most widely-published book is his one called My Experiment with Truth which has never been out of print since he published it. But you also have The Collected Works of Gandhi which are found ... almost any bookshop would have them. I mean, like a Barnes and Noble type bookshop. You can go on the internet and pick them up. So his writings are available and certainly there have been many, many thousands of books written about him and his writings and his teachings that he taught in his ashram.
Question: You're saying though that there's a ???
Question: You're saying that's rejected now?
The dalit movement today does not want a reform of the caste system but an abolition of it. And so they're saying the whole varnashrama-dharma conception is reinforcing the fact that caste and varna is part of the created order. See Gandhi never rejected that basic notion of the Rig-Veda – mandala 1090 – that people were created differently for different tasks. He doesn't ever object to that. The dalits want to say no. I mean, the fact is, right in Dehradun as well ??? contradictions you have a picture of the most famous dalit of modern times – the one who is the founder of the Indian constitution was written by a dalit by an outcast. And I think in some ways the tension between Ambedkar, who is this dalit, Ambedkar and Gandhi is a very powerful symbol of India's tension. Because Gandhi represents a purified Hinduism that interacts with the world as Hinduism.
I mean, you can't miss the fact that what Vivekananda is actually arguing for is that Hinduism swallow everything else up. He's not actually arguing for, you know, there's Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism ... if Islam and Christianity say: You're right, we're all one of many paths, that's Hinduism. So in many ways it's a very clever thing.
So Gandhi is actually arguing for the sustenance of Hinduism as a global unified force. He argues that Hitler could have been defeated through massive non-resistance, for example. We did not need to go to war against Hitler. Things like that. Trying to extend the Hindu vision to solve all social problems in the world. Whereas Ambedkar, who grew up as a dalit, said: I was born a Hindu, I'm not going to die a Hindu. And he led the whole charge against this to say: What would India look like if we were truly a secular, political establishment that allowed for freedom of religion. This is kind of the Western democratic idea. And that tension is very much in ... India today is still torn between these two ideals. Is this going to be a Hindu country? Or is this going to be a secular country that allows for religious pluralism?
Which actually brings me to the next point, which is the RSS Movement founded in 1925 with about 20 men. Again, the goal of it is to unite and liberate India and they do the most remarkable thing by tying bhakti movements into nationalism. Now, the amazing thing today, if you go to India today, you would think that it was always this way. I mean, my experience in India – I am now in my sixteenth year working in India – I never experienced a bhakti movement that is not tied into nationalism. To me, it's the way it's always been. But this is actually something that starts in the twentieth century. So the idea of making, for example, especially the goddess figure – Kali, Durga, Ma, the major expressions of Devi – to make the goddess figures symbols of India, which equals Indian nationalism, is a very strong motif that has been developed by the RSS Movement.
So they argue for the three Hs: Hindu religion, the Hindi language, and renaming the country Hindustan, the land of the Hindus. They are extremely, extremely opposed to a secular vision that would allow for other religious expressions. They even view Gandhi, forget about Ambedkar, they view Gandhi as going way over the line. In fact, on February 4, 1948, the RSS assassinated Gandhi. So Gandhi was assassinated by RSS. He's put to death because of him accepting the fact that Islam and Hinduism both had a place in India, you know, united India. The RSS was banned five days after Gandhi's assassination, but was brought back in July 1949 after a number of negotiations a little over a year later.
And RSS is very, very active today, believe me. We face this every turn that we make in north India. Every village we go to has RSS chapters. They have burned missionaries. Graham Staines was burned by RSS people in Orissa State. That was most famous missionary burring in recent years. We have a number of our church planters, Jeff and Lou Ann may know ... Do you know Aidisuna? Or Lemawapatanayit? Did you ever meet them when they were there? Anyway, these were people who graduated years ago – maybe fifteen years ago – but they are major regional leaders in Orissa State. Both of them are on RSS hit list, which means if they're ever found out alone, they can be killed. Frankly, even though it's against the law to do this. This is definitely against the law, but the local magistrates will look to the direction.
So, the RSS, what's happened is, until the early 90s, the Congress Power, the Congress Party, ruled India. Congress was the party of the Gandhi family – had a vision for a secular India, politically allowing for religious pluralism. The Congress Party fell out of power after Rao was caught with corruption. And now the party, ever since, has been the BJP Party. The BJP Party, in order to stay in power, because it's a fractuous party, they'd had to align themselves with various movements.
This is... remember the Indian political situation is like the British system. It isn't like America where you can have a divided government between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch – have Democrats in the White House and Republicans in the Congress. You ... this is not the way it's done in Britain or here. The party in power produces the Prime Minister. If you don't have the power of the party behind you, you fall out of power. You have to elect a new Prime Minister.
So the BJP Party wants to stay in power. In order to do that they've aligned themselves with several groups – the most important is the VHP. And these are probably all just letters to you, but they're very important in India. You have the Congress Party which is the party in power for most of the time from 47 until more recently. This is called the BJP – it just stands for the People's Party – the People's Party of India. And then you have – they have aligned themselves with the VHP which is another nationalistic movement which is essentially the political arm of RSS. It's like in Northern Ireland how you have the Sinn Fein. It's just like Sinn Fein is for the IRA. IRA is not technically a political party, but they have their political wing through Sinn Fein. In the same way, VHP is the political expression of RSS. So if BJP does not have an alliance with VHP, they cannot stay in power. They'll go out of power today. So in order to stay in power, they have pressure from VHP to overlook some of the excesses of RSS.
And that's what we face in the last … especially in the last eight years, we've experienced, especially in north India, innumerable problems with this. And it's not just ... I mean, it happens on various levels. It happened on the level, and I would say this is the most dominant level, where you want to purchase land. Absolutely no ... no way. You just can't purchase land. There's just no ... they will never give you a permit because you're a Christian. The Congress never had that attitude. This is a RSS thing. You want to get a telephone. You can't get a telephone because you have to go through paperwork and they just ... it'll never make it to the top of the stack. There's kind of low-level problems.
And then it gets all the way to certain parts of India, particularly in certain parts of Madhya Pradesh and parts of Gujarat and Bihar and Orissa – those places especially – where just flat out they'll burn your church down at night. They will make threats against you. Because the Indian constitution says that you have the right to follow any religion you want. So according to the Indian constitution you can be a Christian. But the problem is they say – what the RSS says is they say: "You do have the right to be a Christian in India, but you have to be born one. You cannot become one." That's their position. If you become a Christian, that's against the law. You cannot be ??? ... they have laws across India, anti-conversion laws, which have been upheld by lower courts. It's still being considered by the Supreme Court whether this is legal or not. But right now, we operate in many states where it is against the law to baptise somebody – even though it's not against the law to be a Christian. You just can't become one.
Well, that obviously is a huge important distinction because if you cannot become one, then it simply reduces Christianity to propagated through families that are currently Christians – like the Malayalis in Kerala, wherever – Christian families in Tamil Nadu. But in the case in north India, where you have very few Christians, we have to rely upon a vigorous church planting movement which brings people from Hinduism into Christianity. And that's what they're opposing.
OK, thoughts or comments about RSS or any other political realities of modern India? Yeah.
Question: What are the Hs again?
The three Hs are Hindu, meaning Hindu religion. Hindi – they want the whole language of India to be Hindi. Right now, Hindi is the national language; English is the official language. So, in language in like dealing with foreign governments and all they speak English. Education is in English. But it's the heart language of India. But if you go to the south India, don't tell a Tamil Nadu he should learn Hindi. Those are fighting words. And in places like Kerala, Sigmulialum, you know, in Karnataka they speak Kannada. In the south you have this whole just range of languages, Telugu and other languages. They want to diminish the role of regional languages and make Hindi the language of the whole country because they're ... see they're powerful in the north where Hindi is spoken. And then thirdly is they want to rename India Hindustan. They don't like the term Bharat, because Bharat is a term which for them does not signify the Hinduness of India. Part of this actually is part of a larger scheme, because once you say Hindustan you have to acknowledge that the Indus River belongs to India because the word Hindu comes from Indus River. Where does the Indus River lie?
Pakistan. So, this is actually part of a larger concern to re-unite the entire sub-continent, which would include Bangladesh and Pakistan under an Indian flag. You can imagine the amount of bloodshed if you're talking about forcing the Moslems to abandon Islam and become Hindus. So there is a lot of potential danger to this thing.
But even apart from that, within India itself, if you're a Christian … and I'll be honest with you. If you look historically at the RSS, despite what we've experienced as Christians in north India, we meet the RSS every turn. We always say: "Praise God they have not given us the treatment they have given the Moslems." The Moslems have suffered far worse than the Christians. More Moslems have been put to death than Christians. More Moslems have been burned to death than the Christians have. More Moslem mosques have been destroyed than Christian churches. So this is not just an anti-Christian thing. This is anybody who's not Hindu and the Moslems have suffered horribly through this.
And one of the things that the RSS are saying they have, in Hindi, the translation in the English goes like this: Today the Moslems, tomorrow the Christians. So right now, we're focused on the Moslems. But we're going, in time, we're going to focus fully on the Christians. And one of the things that we noticed in recent years is a shift toward more direct Christian response because the Moslems fight back, as we all know. The Christians have been much more docile. And therefore they think it's an easier target.
OK, thought or comments about RSS? Yes.
Question: On the anti-conversion laws, are people who are born Christian are ???
The advantage that people who are born in Christian families have is that they have the constitution so clearly by their side and Supreme Court rulings from the High Court. It's also been upheld in the ... what's called the Rajya Sabha, the lower house and upper house of their congress. So, it's just very difficult legally to attack. They still find ways, but I'd say the main thing they're trying to stop is conversions, because they claim that Christians are paying people to convert. And that is against the law in India, for any group – even Hindus to do that.
So they're claiming that people are ... and I told you, I think, before when Adisunow … I was just with him a few weeks ago in India. And he told me ... We were talking about this whole thing actually and the problems he has in Orissa state and he was brought in for questioning by the police who are RSS. And they said to him: "You had these meetings and we have records of all those who have been converted." He said: "I didn't convert anybody." He said: "All we do is preach the gospel. We just preached what God has done through Jesus Christ. God converted them." He said: "If you don't like that, go arrest God."
Now, I promise you, a foreigner could not say that. Only because he is from Orissa, born and raised there ... If a foreigner said that, I guarantee you'd be killed or put in gaol. I made a reference one night in Orissa, just preaching in a service. I happened to make the reference that ... this is when Rajiv Gandhi was president. This is even before BJP came to power, when things were much more, you know ... I made a reference to how would if feel if Rajiv Gandhi were to walk into this room. There would be a sense of electricity in the room because, you know, the Prime Minister walked in. It would be like if you said what would happen if right now George Bush would walk in here. People would: Wow, George Bush is here. And so I said: How much more so if the presence of Jesus is here. So I contrasted the political presence of Rajiv Gandhi with the spiritual presence of Jesus.
Well, when I got through ??? these policemen came up to me and said I had to go in for interrogation. And it wasn't like ... I shouldn't say interrogation, that's not right. That's like, you think of like Saddam Hussein whipping somebody. I mean, they took me aside for questioning. And they basically said: "What did you mean by that? What were you trying to say?" And I assured them I was deeply in love with the Congress Party. Rajiv Gandhi was one of my fans. I love Rajiv Gandhi. Da da da da da. I was just simply contrasting the political realities with the ... you know, I just told them what it really meant. And they said: "OK, that's fine. Go ahead, Be careful. Don't make any political references in your sermons." That wouldn't have happened in Delhi or ??? but down in Orissa – things like that. They're very sensitive to political things.
When ... Jeff, you went to Bhopal as well, right? And you've been there. You all stayed in GK Palace Hotel, right? The reason that they stayed in the hotel there – and that's the reason I stay in the hotel when I go there – is because if you stay in a home in India ... if you stay anywhere in India, if you're a foreigner, you've got to register with the government wherever you go. There's forms you fill out to say where you are, what you're doing. If we stayed in the home of Matthews Vargise, who is our host down there, he has to answer to the police. Why were these Christians there? What are they doing? It just creates a big hassle for him. So a hotel is, of course, a neutral place to stay. So sometimes it's actually advantageous, especially in places like Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, especially those three places, to stay in hotels because you can actually create problems for your Indian guest. This wouldn't be a problem in south India nearly as much, but north, you definitely have some of these problems.
Let's say a few things about the Hare Krishna movement. We've already looked at all this with Sai Baba. The Hare Krishna movement is another stream from all of this, where we have examples of Hinduism being exported to the Western world. It's another guru based movement. And it is a movement which has tried to rethink Hinduism for Western people.
The man that you see before you is name, and you can again see the Mah... now that you know these words, you can appreciate all of this. Bhaktivedanta. So you see this? The union of these two – the Vedanta, which is clearly jnana marga, with the word bhakti. So this is his swami name: Bhaktivedanta. Swami which means teacher. Prabhupada – one who steps, leads you into enlightenment. This figure is the founder of what we now know today as the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. It's a relatively small movement in India compared to around the world. But because people have seen this, it's important that I at least make reference to it here.
It is believed that he is a reincarnation of Chaitanya. I mentioned this figure ... this is a famous teacher in the Middle Ages that people believe is a reincarnation of Krishna. And so he is believed to be another incarnation, great teacher. Back in, especially in the 60s, he came to New York – in 65. The hippies gathered around him in droves.
And I remember as a child growing up, my father had a business in downtown Atlanta. And we used to walk down to the park every ... at this same time period when the guru that you followed was making his rounds around the ... Guru Marahaji movement. But the Hare Krishna movement was very strong in Atlanta. And so we used to eat lunch in Central City Park, Atlanta, and watch the Hare Krishna people dance and they would hand out literature and all this. And a lot of the people ... we would see hippies that would be watching them one week and then next week you'd see them there, you know, with their shaved heads with the little ponytail and they were "Hare, Hare, Hare, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare, Hare." They were doing the ... it was just something ... we could see the whole process of someone being an enquirer all the way to being a full disciple in the saffron robe. It's a quite a remarkable movement that's attracted a lot of young people.
Their rallying cry is the Gita alone, Krishna alone. It's like, you know: sola scriptura, solus Christus, sola fide. The Gita alone, Krishna alone. And the idea is that Krishna consciousness is superior to all other religions. So this is a very different kind of thing than kind of what we saw with Vivekananda saying all religions are equal paths. We're not going to convert you. This is a strong: We want to bring you into our movement.
I mean, I debated an ISHCON man right on Gordon College campus last year. He was trying to convince us of the truth of ISHCON. He was not at all saying: "O yeah, you Christians stay a Christian; Buddhists stay Buddhists." He wasn't that way. This is a very evangelistic kind of movement.
They argue that in classic ability to join together various margas that they accept the Brahminical scheme about Brahman and tat twam asi. They accept that. But they say: What the Brahmins do not realise is that Brahman has a personal consciousness. He is not impersonal. He is not nirguna Brahman. That Brahman has a personality and that personality is Krishna. So they equate Krishna with Brahman. Their scheme is ... rather than having Brahman as nirguna and saguna and all the many expressions which, according to the Vedantic scheme, if you remember, at the level of saguna you have all kinds of illusory expressions of Isvara. OK, so Isvara is the personal name of the creator god and Isvara has manifested himself in many ways, including, for example, in Vishnu, which has in turn has various incarnations, one of which is Krishna. OK. So this is kind of you standard bhaktism about Krishna, with the gopis and all of that. We've looked at in the previous lectures. But the ISHCON movement does not accept this. This is not ISHCON. They're saying that this is wrong. All of this is a reflection and point upward to Brahman who is known as Krishna. So they put Krishna here. This is not just a very devoted group that accepts the overall framework within saguna. So that makes this movement particularly interesting because it's a different kind of movement than we've seen in the past.
Question: So would they still section off nirguna and saguna ...?
No. They deny the nirguna Brahman. They deny that distinction which is a particular feature of Advaitism. It is not even a particular feature of Vedantism, we'll see later. So the idea of denying the nirguna/saguna is not a particular problem philosophically, because many people don't accept that distinction. That's a Sankara thing.
Question: If Krishna then has beginning and end, I don't understand like how Krishna has all of a sudden become nirguna Brahman?
Not nirguna Brahman but Brahman.
Comment: Just Brahman.
Yeah, Brahman. Right. But you're right. Conceptually, you're right. Nirguna Brahman. Well, because there they believe that the historical manifestations of Krishna, the avatars of Krishna, are merely reflections of the supreme personality of godhead. So it would be like saying – I mean, this is a horrible exam... parallel, but just to make it clear – they will: "Well Jesus was born. Jesus died. Why don't you accept the fact that Krishna can be born and died?" And yet we acknowledge that beyond that, transcendentally beyond that, Jesus is eternal. So they're acknowledging that Krishna is eternal. They don't necessarily deny that they're having an incarnation of Vishnu in Krishna. They don't deny that. They just believe that those are merely reflections of this great reality – that god can be known.
See, part of this is showing the Hindu longing for a personal god. This is really what lies at the root of this – the desire to say: All the advaitic vedantism can give us is a god who cannot be known. And now you have a god who can be known. That's a very powerful thing.
And here's a picture of Hare Krishnas people dancing. Now, this is the chant that they say when they're playing their damarus and their little cymbals, they'll say: "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare." They believe if you say that, you'll be liberated and saved. I've asked on several occasions people who follow this: "How can saying that save you?" Now, their answer is usually along the lines of this is what gets you into the transcendental presence of Krishna. This is what liberates you into the consciousness of the OM. So they don't believe that the unstruck sound, the OM that we looked at earlier in the course, is an impersonal force sound. It is a personality resonance of Krishna. Every... all these transcendental themes are reinterpreted as Krishna, personally as Krishna. So they believe that this somehow gets you in touch with this personal personality of godhead. Yes.
Question: Would Krishna changing the structure this dramatically, does it become more possible to do, to debate or do apologetics therefore in a Western fashion? Is this sort of structure changed significantly or is this not the case?
Well, I think it's a good point, a good question. I'm not sure I know the answer to it. I will say that it changes the methodology of what you approach. I have ... I only have a kind of a limited view of the role of apologetics anyway, even though I wrote a book on apologetics. I see it in a very limited role, as a part of a much larger strategy of what we do with Hindus. So I don't really view that as like is ... just read this book and go out – you should be properly prepared to do everything. I wish I could do something like that, but this is just like one little small part of the puzzle.
But I think the ... it is true, that one of the advantages that I've found in talking to ISHCON people is that you can talk about ontology – which is a very important point in any ... you, know because that's the point you can either talk about or not. I mean, that's not something that's allusive. Like, you know, a Buddhist doesn't have an ontology. At least they have an ontology and it can be spoken of. So you're not lost this abyss of nirguna.
In some ways, I've found it to be very helpful and I mentioned, I think, before, last time how I pressed the guy on the ... because he ... they really argue for a lot on the distinction between the worshipper and Krishna. But they don't believe ontologically that there's any ultimate distinction. That's a huge difference between Christianity and all Hinduism, but especially ISHCON. We believe that we are wholly other. God is wholly other than we are. He's uncreated. We are always created. We are sustained by His existence. He is not sustained by our existence. If we cease, it doesn't change anything. If God ceases to exist, we have no existence. So ontologically we are tethered to God in a way He's not tethered to us. They have the worshipper and the one who is worshipped fully tethered one to another. And that, to me, is a fundamental flaw in their ontology.
That will obviously help if you stopped and talked to this fellow right here. You know, because he may not have ever thought about that or care about it. All he knows is he was very lonely. Maybe he took drugs and he was searching and he found a family. And this family cared for him. And that's the level they think about this. You know, I ... now I have a meaning now. I have a belonging. I have a group. I do find more peace than I had before. So, at that level, that's one thing.
But I was talking to a guy who was a professional spokesman for ISHCON. He goes round and debates people, so, you know, I expected him to be more aware than he was.
So, apologetics is a matter of many different levels – what works and what needs to be done. Apologetics is partly for us, actually – for us to have the confidence to realise the coherence of the Christian worldview. And it gives us the courage to tell Vivekananda: No, all religions are not all the same. And I think that's the more value I see in like the book I wrote and other books like this.
OK. Finally, we're not going to get to the festivals. We'll do that next time, but time always flies. We just real quick. Another figure that I think represents part of this meditative/devotional stream – though now we're moving away from Hinduism – we're getting into the borders of other movements – is Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation. There's no question that he is another example of the India exports.
So I think about, particularly the Hare Krishna movement, Vivekananda and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi as examples of how the Western world today encounters Hinduism. We encounter it through the pluralism of Vivekananda, which I think has infected our society very profoundly. We encounter it through this kind of idea of the material West and the spiritual East idea which is in Hare Krishna, that, you know, I was once materialistic, now I'm spiritual. This is a huge myth about India, that India is a spiritual place and not very materialistic. But this is widely propagated in the West and this has affected how people view India, how they view Hinduism.