Indic Religions: Challenges For Survival
India is a peculiar cauldron of many religions, where the ‘majority’ religion has managed to survive despite many attacks on it. Islam and Christianity have been consistent in their attempts to dismantle Indian culture. At its fundamental level, the dynamic of religions is to either convert or kill the ‘other’ because that is how it spreads. The killing aspect has been subdued, but conversion is still the major means to attack other cultures. The pagan Greco-Roman world was destroyed by an aggressive form of Christianity in the early centuries of the millennia, while Islam could create havoc during medieval times. The clash of civilizations, essentially a fight between the two main Abrahamic religions based on truth values and one true God, spills over to India, where, surprisingly, they could not cause the same amount of damage as they could in the rest of the world.
There was something in Indian religions that did not allow such an easy conversion to other faiths, despite all efforts, both violent and non-violent, to do so. Buddhism, with stress on monastic life, could perhaps not withstand the Islamic attacks, but Hinduism did survive. The colonials fortunately did not make Christianity an official religion, nor did they give official support to the missionaries. However, the Protestant frameworks and the Enlightenment values (which again were mainly secularised versions of Christianity) were intensely inimical to the narratives and understandings of Indian religions and cultures.
The Portuguese did some forcible conversions during their rule, but they were unsuccessful in converting large populations. Francis Xavier, in frustration, wrote to the Pope that, were it not for the Brahmins, India would have easily converted to Christianity. What was it that made Hinduism resilient to mass conversions? Have they been consistently successful, and are there signs of the resistance now breaking down? There are new forces now added by way of Marxist and Communist thought. Similarly, the peculiar deracination of modern Indian youth, thanks to a secular education is making Hinduism and Indian culture even weaker.
A thriving India and the philosophy of Sanatana Dharma are the only hope for the future of humanity, and this thought-provoking book by Dr. Arvinda Rao not only shows how the attacks are being coordinated at various levels but also how the country needs to fight back, to regain its culture, and reach the high place that it always deserved.
Dr. K Aravinda Rao
It is rare that an IPS officer (1977 batch), retired from the top position of Director-General of Police of Andhra Pradesh, takes a deep dive into Sanskrit and Indian spiritual texts in his second innings. While in service, he played an important role in tackling Naxal extremism in the Telugu states. He served in various senior and important positions before superannuation. He was known for his tough handling of problems and his honesty. Popular perceptions tend to associate most of our IAS and IPS officers with not having deep roots in Indian culture, apparently due to the specific kind of education they receive to enter the civil service. Here, Dr. Aravinda Rao springs a major surprise.
He obtained a PhD in Sanskrit. He has authored various books on Sanatana Dharma in English and Telugu and, amazingly, wrote one book in Sanskrit (Analysis of Jnanam in Upanishads) too. His gurus are the famous Padma Shri Pullela Ramachandrudu and Tatvavidhananda Swami. He not only delivers online lectures on the Gita, Advaita, and Upanishads but also writes regularly in The Hans India on Sanatana Dharma every Sunday. He has received several awards and has been conferred the honorary title of Vachaspati by the Rashtriya Vidya Peetham for his Sanskrit studies.
Dr. Aravinda Rao has seen the destabilising forces from close quarters, and it is his worry for the survival of Sanatana Dharma that he took the exercise of authoring this book under review. He understands that Hinduism and its closest associate, Sanatana Dharma, are perhaps the only solutions to world harmony. Forces, out of ignorance or malice, are keen to dismantle it, and Aravinda Rao makes a clear statement in this book on the dangers faced by Hinduism and the ways to handle them.
Essential Philosophy of Sanatana Dharma
Aravinda Rao brilliantly shows how the philosophy of Vedanta, and the Upanishads unite all the Indian religions. He argues that for the so-called non-orthodox religions (Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism) it was not a rejection but an understanding that knowledge of the Vedas was not required for moksha. The principles of Sikhism, with which the author deals in-depth, have no clash with the principles of Vedanta and the Upanishads. Ananda Coomaraswamy, with regards to Buddhism, has demonstrated the same in his classic book, Buddhism and Hinduism.
The linear narrative of Enlightenment places anything that comes later as an improvement or rejection of the previous. Thus, in Western-trapped narratives, many intellectuals constructed the Upanishads and Vedanta as a rejection or a rebellion against the “mindless ritualism” of the Vedas. In some narratives, the Upanishads and Vedanta are allegedly derived from Buddhism. Sri Aurobindo, who had a far better understanding of Indian culture than all our modern intellectuals combined, rejected this Enlightenment story of progress from the primitive to the advanced. He wrote that the Vedas were the highest ideal with which we began our civilization. The next period was the crystallization of the Vedic ideas and applying them to the material world (a spiritualization of matter). The final phase was that of degeneration, which we are witnessing now.
In almost all the Indian religions or traditions (orthodox and non-orthodox), the ideas of karma, reincarnation, and moksha generally form a common thread. This is different from the single-life philosophy of the Abrahamic religions and salvation only after death. All Indian religions stress the idea of unity in all (life, nature, and God) and moksha as the destination for any individual. Only the conceptualization of the final ideal and the route may differ in different Indian religions. The concepts of blasphemy and conversion by coercion are unknown and almost unethical in Indian religions. All Indic religions stress yoga, meditation, and renunciation in differing proportions to achieve the goal of moksha.
It is only politics and a poor understanding that try to separate the branches as separate trees. This is most acutely seen in recent times with Sikhism. Sanatana Dharma religions, despite differing from each other in many external forms and never shying from debating rigorously on many aspects of the para realm, rarely indulged in violence against each other. Not only that, Sanatana religions or traditions had no problems accepting people of non-Indian faiths who came from abroad to escape persecution in their homelands (Parsis, Jews, Syrian Christians). As is typical of the many indigenous religions, mutual interaction and genuine syncretism occurred at many levels. Integration was always happening at a socio-cultural level, but the thinkers and the politicians do not seem to allow that.
The Nature of Abrahamic Religions
The author explains in detail the nature of Abrahamic religions, which is a mix of theology, political organization, and imperialistic ambitions. The dynamic of the spread of Abrahamic religions is the conversion of the non-believer. At its core, there is a tamasic fundamentalism that refuses to include someone who does not believe in the one true God, book, or prophet.
Enlightenment values and secularism brought peace to the European world, but they were primarily a solution for Christendom at a specific time in its history when the various denominations were fighting each other. The later values of the West were mainly due to interaction with the Indian and Chinese civilizations, the author claims. Anyway, secularism was not a uniform solution for all non-Western cultures to deal with multiculturalism. The deep stresses that have developed in Europe with the influx of Islam/Muslims and the ever-increasing paradoxical fundamentalism in India show the problems in the secularism model.
How does a predatory religion that aims to spread through forcible conversion deal with a non-believer? The maximum that religions can achieve is mutual respect and tolerance. “Tolerance” means, at its essence, that one is superior, and the other is inferior. This can hardly be a long-term solution — that was well-developed in Indian culture, which was that of indifference. Islam came into India through violence, but the invaders settled here and successfully converted large segments of the population to Islam, who finally demanded and succeeded in splintering India into two nations on either side of Bharat.
Christianity, apart from Portuguese colonialism (the Goa Inquisition), did not see as much violence, but the English political power gave unofficial support to the missionaries who carried out a deep campaign against Hinduism. British policy also led to the deaths of tens of millions of Indians in famines. Brahmins became the biggest villains in most of the European narratives – with Sanatana Dharma, dubbed Hinduism, a corrupt affair, the caste/jati system a big evil perpetrated by Brahmins, and so on. Colonial intellectuals and missionaries combined to distort much of Indian reality and its texts, including concocting the obnoxious Aryan-Dravidian theory.
After the British left, the missionaries continued the attack on Hinduism overtly and covertly. The author quotes the work of Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan (Breaking India), which exposes the missionary attacks on Indian religions. In recent times, Sikhism has been under pressure from the churches. The Christian missions have been successful in Northeast India, where many tribal populations have now been converted and are practicing Christianity.
The Forces Against Hinduism and Indian Culture
The inimical forces against Sanatana Dharma and its closest correlate, Hinduism, are manifold and range from subtle to direct, from soft to hard. The author meticulously lists the forces acting in concert. At a narrative level, perfected by the colonials and missionaries and now carried forward by the left-liberals, is the caste system of India. Brahmins as manipulative and evil has been the most consistent narrative since the times of Al-Biruni and later Francis Xavier. It continues even today without change. Manusmriti is, of course, a favorite text to condemn and burn.
Practically every social problem in India is seen through the prism of caste and discrimination of Dalits. India has the same number of social problems as anywhere else in the world. Aravinda Rao discusses varnas and jatis in detail and shows how the conflation of caste, a Portuguese concept, with varna and jati has caused tremendous confusion and strife. One of the main points that the author stresses is that caste is not a product of religion but a sociological phenomenon. Hindu texts talk only of varna, and there may be some rare mention of jatis, but religion did not create it. Unfortunately, our maTHadipatis and swamis are silent on this, though they agree that our scriptures simply mentioned the varnas but did not create the popularly understood class hierarchy of caste.
Scholars could never understand how India escaped a strict class hierarchy. The Sudras of today are different from the Sudras of old. During invasions, many Kshatriya clans called themselves Sudras by removing the sacred thread and caste marks. Lord Krishna was a dwija (Vysya) who studied the Vedas alongside Brahmin students, but today, the Yadavas call themselves as Sudras. The Swamis of traditional maTHas and also the modern swamis have a great responsibility in explaining and reviving the concept of dwija. The varnas were based on ideas like dharma, guna, and karma. Also, the divisions were based more on duties rather than rights and this is a crucial point differing from the modern narratives.
Even the modern crime data does not show increased violence against Dalits, as the author shows. This has been amply demonstrated in the path-breaking studies of Sufiya Pathan, Dunkin Jalki, and Nihar Sashittal. There is cherry-picking of data to focus only on one segment of society. It is surprising that the crime data does not isolate any other segments as victims except the Dalits. Hence, the comparison of violence against Dalit has to be with the general population. And Pathan, Jalki, and Sashittal show that, compared to the rest of the population, the violence against Dalits is, in fact, almost thirty times lower. But such narratives are uncomfortable for the entrenched and powerful academics and media commentators as well as political activists who have made “Dalit discrimination” and “Brahmin casteism” an international issue.
We hold on to the Aryan-Dravidian theory despite the absence of evidence against “invading Aryans displacing the indigenous Dravidians.” The left-liberal-Marxist-Communist combination of intellectuals and academics perpetuated this story based on their fixed exploiter and exploited paradigms. This single narrative, which unfortunately becomes a training element for our bureaucrats too, is the single most important reason for divisions in the country and the attack on Sanatana Dharma. The alleged separate identity of Dravidians, Dalits, and tribals from Sanatanis is based on this false narrative. Our history books still take time to obliterate this theory.
The author quotes Rajiv Malhotra’s seminal works Breaking India and Snakes in the Ganga: Breaking India 2.0 to highlight how the Christian Church, Islamic fundamentalists, left liberals, NGOs working for inimical forces like George Soros, foreign governments, and academics in India and abroad, to name a few, have come together to carry out a concerted attack against India. The interest of various forces is finally to break Indian culture and destroy Sanatana Dharma. Harvard University has a special role in this enterprise.
Sanatana Dharma and its various offshoots (labelled Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and so on) are, at their essence, about the harmony of the individual with the community. In this, there is not only a two-way synchrony between the individual and his larger communities (family, society, state, and nation) but also a mutual give and take between the individual traditions. The interaction between the various traditions of Sanatana Dharma does not involve violence or conversions. At a meta-level, a pan-religious identity cutting across nations (acutely seen in Islam) and the intense individualism of modern liberalism both become damaging to Sanatana Dharma.
Unfortunately, most educated Indians are ignorant of these issues, and many end up even internalizing these distortions. The author speaks of Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations,” and how Huntington was worried about Christianity and Islam finally clashing, with great global consequences. But Huntington ignored Sanatana Dharma, which in fact holds solutions for all of humanity.
Indic religions show the way for harmony between diversity. That is precisely the reason why Indic religions need preservation and protection from collapsing under the weight of defined and undefined attacks. The attacks have only increased as time has progressed. The three guNas—Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas— are tendencies that apply to religions and traditions. The focus of Indic religions is to foster sattva at an individual level and the group level too. The rise of sattva is conducive to inclusivity and acceptance of differing belief systems. The mutual interaction and organic syncretism are part of the sattvik rise. This has been a consistent feature of Indian culture and our Dharmic traditions.
An absorption into Indian culture never means a loss of independence of the individual belief. India has been the greatest large-scale laboratory in the world, perhaps the only one, where such syncretism has been going on since the times when alien religions landed in the country to plunder. Other religious cultures in the world would never allow that. It is important to remember that the Christian world appears tolerant and inclusive today, but that is only the work of the Enlightenment, which blunted religious fanaticism.
In Indian culture, with Dharma as its essence, science too proceeds without friction. Great work in protecting Dharma is taking place in the country. This includes the work of traditional heads of Hindu seminaries, modern missions, educational institutes, Hindu activists, and intellectuals. They belong to all varnas. But, unfortunately, many intellectuals and media personnel are unaware of traditional India. The politicians are hugely guilty of this ignorance. Aravinda Rao makes a strong plea to these counterforces to play a more proactive role in addressing many of the troubling questions from the adversaries.
The falsification of history on the principles of secularism was done to protect the minorities, but that was a bad strategy. The program implicitly associated present-day Muslims with the invaders of the past. This is a gross injustice to both the Hindus and the Muslims and is paradoxically the cause of increasing friction between the two communities. As Aravinda Rao writes, we need strong central parties rooted in the civilizational ethos to take the country forward. He indicts the regional parties that cater to local loyalties and minority appeasements and have no stake in the civilizational heritage of the country.
Sadly, outdated British laws (the author provides examples here) continue as we struggle to decolonize ourselves decades after independence. The judiciary also shows bias in judgments that go against the cultural ethos of the country. A collegium system of appointments, and judges who are products of a deracinated educated system, show bias in judgments. Wokeism is a consequence of their training and lack of knowledge of Indian knowledge systems. This comes out clearly in their judgments and extrajudicial activism. The author uses the example of the attacks on Nupur Sharma in recent times to demonstrate this bias.
At a meta-level, we intuitively realize that Indic phenomena like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism are unlike the Abrahamic religions. The Indic phenomenon says, “I am true, but you are not false, and we can learn from each other.” The Western religions, in contrast, say, “I am true, and you are false, and you can only learn from me if you convert.” Such a contrasting attitude takes us to the thesis of Dr. SN Balagangadhara, who says that Indian phenomena are not religions but traditions. Traditions have a different configuration than religions. Multiculturalism was a successful project in India compared to other countries because, at a socio-cultural level, the religions that came from alien lands were getting “traditionalized.” They mixed with the already existing well-formed culture, keeping their individual beliefs and places of worship intact.
This syncretism at various levels was evident in socio-cultural life. But the evangelists and the Islamic madrasas precisely fight this organic syncretism. On the other hand, intellectuals, and academics, out of good intentions mostly, but mainly as a continuation of colonial ideas, seek to convert our traditions into proper religions, making them intolerant, hard, and doctrinal. Maybe our method of solution is not appropriate. But whatever may be the case, the hard elements of other religions are infinitely more powerful and dangerous than the fundamentalist Hindu. Hindutva, the word mentioned almost always in a pejorative manner, was always in defense against inimical forces and was never to attack or convert others. Whether it was Dayananda Saraswati and his Arya Samaj, Savarkar, and the Hindu Mahasabha, or political Hinduism after independence, the primary idea was defense rather than offense. It was simply the Kshatriya duty of the Hindu.
The two Abrahamic religions dominate the world scene, with 2 billion and 1.5 billion followers for Christianity and Islam, respectively. These religions combine intricately with politics, and both are closely associated with imperialism and expansionism. The so-called Right Wing of the World cannot come together to fight the anti-Hindu forces because the RW abroad implies a close association with the Church, which has a mission to destabilize Hinduism. Communism was always an anti-Hindu force, and China is making its contribution by sponsoring academics at Harvard and other Ivy League American universities to carry anti-India propaganda. The anti-Hindu agenda seems to have captured many academics and intellectuals in India. Thus, the author says, the Red-Green Alliance of recent times is a reason for most worry. Hostile neighbors on the north, south, and east is a matter of discomfort.
The Breaking India forces are strong and varied, and we need to recognize them and remain vigilant. This book by Dr. Aravinda Rao comes as a severe eye-opener to the uninitiated. For those who are already aware, the book gives comprehensive coverage of all the forces trying to break the unity of the country. The civilizational fight continues, and the Hindus need to defend themselves for not only the sake of the country but for the sake of all of humanity.