4 Jul 2007, 1107 hrs IST, www.timesofindia.com
Does it matter if the ice lingam at the Amarnath cave has melted down? No way, said Gurinder in Jammu, who has come with a group of ten for the pilgrimage. Every step we take for the shrine is a fulfilment and the journey itself is a reward, no matter whether the physical ice lingam is visible or not. The same sentiments were echoed when the bomb blasts en route to the shrine had disrupted the yatra and not a single yatri went back out of fear or apprehending more trouble. The journey continued. What makes the common, people, otherwise busy in their own life-earning a living through various professions, to face bitterest odds and risk their lives to make such pilgrimages just for a darshan , a holy see? And this has been continued since time immemorial. They undertook such arduous journeys when there were no facilities, tracks and communication systems. Pilgrims would do their afterlife rituals before they left home, knowing well they may not return live. The harshest pilgrimages were Kailas Manasarovar yatra in Tibet, Hinglaj in Baluchistan and Amarnath in Kashmir. All these have continued uninterrupted till the contemporary times of global warming and the changing contours of the journey's management. Yet what has remained unchanged is the flow of faith and enthusiasm. Most of the Hindu pilgrim centres are in the heights of the Himalayas, defining the sublime beauty of nature under a reigning solitude which provides space to introspect and evaporating egos with the mighty silence of the mountains. This itself is like experiencing the gods, whether the physical eyes could see Him or not. Love, the passionate complete surrender devoid of any demand for a return gift transforms into an unflinching faith. And there hangs a beautiful story of Yudhishthira in Mahabharata. On their bodily ascendance to the heavens in the higher Himalayas, experiencing the odds in the steep climb near what is known as Badrinath today, Arjuna became irritated and angry and asked his elder brother, O Yudhisthira, what makes you to love this rude, rough and difficult Himalayas, where I find nothing but rocks, dust and an unfriendly environment. Yudhishthira smiled and said I don't love the Himalayas because it gives me something in return, I love it, for being just what it is-Himalaya. Obviously true love doesn't expect converting the beloved. It is this power of the sublime, the one way love or the faith, that has made Hindus survive the centuries of vicissitudes and upheavals facing the most cruel and barbaric forces of their times. Hindus never used clichés like 'harvesting the souls' or 'liberating the heathens and the pagans' from darkness. For them the world remained as a family- vasudhaiva kutumbakam and their prayers, whether at the birth or death rites, always wish good of all human beings and the nature. Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah, Sarve Santu Niramaya -let everyone be happy, everyone be without diseases, including the human beings, mountains, rivers, vegetation and animals. This message of karuna -the compassion reverberates in the entire Asia even today where Indian philosophers had gone centuries before spreading the teachings of dharma. In Kashgar (Xinjiang, China) I was taken to see beautiful Mor stupa inside Gobi desert, built about 1600 hundred years ago, during the time of Kumarjiva, an Indian monk, who went to Kucha after having learnt teachings of Buddhism in Kashmir. He was arrested by an arrogant Chinese general for preaching Buddhism and kept behind bars for seventeen years till an emperor freed him. He continued his preaching, influenced the local population with his scholarship, earned the title of Kuo-shih meaning 'teacher of the nation' and is still revered by Communist China with great honour. He is no longer an 'Indian' but a perfect Chinese Buddhist monk, like other great saints Kashyap Matanga, Gobharana and Samant Bhadra, the latter is famous as a Bodhisattva who came from India on a white elephant and to whom an entire Mountain Emei Shan is dedicated. He is worshipped as the protector of China.
Compare this with other 'missionaries' who introduced inquisitions, destroyed temples, bombed Bamiyan to 'serve' their faith. Christopher Columbus described the purpose of his voyage to the King of Spain in these lines, ".....for the end which I suppose to be earnestly desired by our most illustrious king, that is, their conversion to the holy religion of Christ..." And what happened after Columbus thought he has discovered India? Famous anthropologist Jack Weatherford has portrayed the Columbus impact in his book Indian Givers in these lines: He seized 1,200 Taino Indians from the island of Hispaniola, crammed as many onto his ships as would fit and sent them to Spain, where they were paraded naked through the streets of Seville and sold as slaves in 1495. Columbus tore children from their parents, husbands from wives. On board Columbus' slave ships, hundreds died; the sailors tossed the Indian bodies into the Atlantic. Because Columbus captured more Indian slaves than he could transport to Spain in his small ships, he put them to work in mines and plantations which he, his family and followers created throughout the Caribbean. His marauding band hunted Indians for sport and profit - beating, raping, torturing, killing, and then using the Indian bodies as food for their hunting dogs. Within four years of Columbus' arrival on Hispaniola, his men had killed or exported one-third of the original Indian population of 300,000. Within another 50 years, the Taino people had been made extinct' The population of the United States prior to European contact exceeded 12 million. Four centuries later, after the missionary 'discoveries', the count was reduced by 95% to 237 thousand. So when a thought and a social life are attacked to 'harvest', it reacts in different ways. Indians abroad are doing well, living and re-establishing their age old attributes of love, compassion and brilliance, but back home their religion, social traditions and way of life are under grave threat from the same forces who gave Columbus, Stalin and Gazhnavi. Any effort to convert a Hindu means deriding the values of compassion and violating his faith, the oldest one on this earth, which recognizes that all paths lead to god. Universal brotherhood demands respecting the other faith too as true as yours. It's a different attitude from being tolerant.
But Hindus are being forced to realise that not all paths believe in equality and they do not respect our way even if our ashrams in Hardwar and Rishikesh display the images of Christ and inscriptions of Allah in order to emphasize unity in diversity. From Sai Baba's centers to Ramakrishna Mission, this spirit of sarva dharma sam bhav (equal respect for all paths) is prominently at work. But there will not be a single Christian or Islamic centre which would show a respect for Hindu icons and ways of worship as a reciprocal gesture or as a mark of their universal spiritual vision. Recently The Economist reported (June 28, 2007): The Catholics' ultimate boss, Pope Benedict, is less flexible. He may feel that because we live in an age when acts of religious accommodation are possible—and, for the sake of world peace, necessary—it is more important than ever to draw doctrinal lines in the sand. In his recently-published book, Jesus of Nazareth , he seems to be saying that "much as we respect one another and accept one another's right to exist, there are important things on which we cannot agree." He refused to accept that Islam too can be a way to reach God. Last September he had quoted in Germany a Byzantine emperor who had called Islam irrational and violent. In India he had given a call to convert Hindus and make the present millennium an Asian one. A Hindu would have said just the opposite. Hence it's necessary to accept the right of all faiths to live their own way and abhor converting others. Asserting right to convert is to force Columbusisation in this age and times, forgetting the holocaust museums erected in the land of Indian Americans. While the world witnessed unspeakable barbarities by the Jihadis, Stalinists and Maoists and the Americans still remember with horror the mass killings during Columbus's voyage to their land with a mission to 'Christianize ' the locals who he mistook as Indians, the striking contrast with the way the Indian masters preached abroad nourishes the universal values of love and coexistence. In fact the Vedic universe symbolizes the concept and the spirit of the United Nations as a whole minus the controls of the US and other veto-powered members. Unfortunately the neo-colonialist mindset of a section of the Hindus has developed a special dislike for anything Hindu without even trying to understand the inherent message of the great way of living, the Dharma , genuinely. They fall into the din of aphorisms. They have created an atmosphere where to talk anything about Hinduism, to protect and support its icons, to reform and organise the Hindu society looks like a God-ordained responsibility of the RSS alone, pushing even nationalist slogans Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata Ki Jai as the sole' intellectual property' of the Sangh Parivar. This is ironical because every Hindu, in whatever party or the organization, has an equal responsibility and a right to safeguard Hindu interests. It's their outlook if they don't own it up. If a section of the Hindus start feeling dispossessed and is compelled to Islamise their response to be heard and recognized, the forces working to de-Hinduise our land alone would have to share the blame. A nation lives on her traditions and culture and if a majority is made to feel embarrassed about it, the future would look like a Saudi kingdom, with a façade of faith but perpetually dependent on the forces from abroad for its safety. Assuring Hindu dharma flower means supporting a liberal, democratic space, a natural bastion of freedom of thought, worship and speech. It abhors a mindset that stones a Rushdie image in Islamabad or Teheran and asks for his head, no matter our deep differences with his writings. In this beautiful earth, there is no alternative to understanding others and helping them to know us better through sublime, placid civil dialogue. Symbolically on one hand is the instrument of Yoga and on the other are the nukes and Osama's bombs. The choice is clear.
The author is the Editor of Panchjanya, a Hindi weekly brought out by the RSS. The views expressed are his personal.
The power of sublime
Comment:Whatever Columbus may have done, the US today still remains the upholder of human rights and dignity, of gender rights, justice, freedom of speech and religion -- unlike independent India, which in 60 years has seen the rise and sway of fundamentalism, female foeticide/infanticide, dowry deaths, justice run amok and the enactment of the Anti-Conversion Law in 6 of its states. "Compassion" "tolerance" and "respect" are essentially incompatible with the indignities of the Hindu caste system, the judgemental aspect of "karma" and the relentlessness of reincarnation. First respect all human beings before masquerading about respecting all religions.
4 Jul, 2007 2057hrs IST