Hinduism and its relevance to modern globalisation
A talk by Anil Bhanot on Hinduism and its relevant to modern globalisation, to the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists.
First of all, I want to thank you for your work in Information Technology, as I believe your field has enormous potential to provoke a new understanding of spirituality and religion. If that sounds like a rather strange role for an IT professional, let me explain.
The internet in particular has brought a plethora of religious thought out into the open in a way that has never happened before. You would probably be familiar how in the old days of Christianity, when the Bible and liturgy were read out only in Latin in church, so the ordinary man in the street had little choice other than to believe what his priest told him to believe. In the same way, knowledge of Hindu scriptures was kept a closely guarded secret by the Brahmin pundits, not so much in a power exercising mode, but because our collection of scripture is so huge – over 2000 holy books – that the training required to learn the scripture was lengthy and arduous. But today, thanks to IT, most of the scripture is coming out into the open and creating intense debate.
Of course, looking at this from a multi faith perspective, we can see how many people who claim to be religious are using the internet in a wicked and dishonest way – to glorify terrorism in the name of faith, for instance, or to engage in missionary activity, or to speak ill of other faiths in an attempt to condemn and overpower them. At the moment, countless different faith groups are clamouring for space, both on and off-line. Too many are claiming they and they alone have the truth. This is all wrong. But there are also many, many people out there in cyberspace who want to promote harmonisation of all the religions in our world, and I do believe the time will come when the internet will reflect a more compassionate, pluralistic view of spirituality and spiritual ideas. One day, I hope, we will know with certainty that we cannot have an exclusive right to be true, nor exclusivelyto be wrong either.
Hinduism believes that we all have an Atma, a divine spark within us, meaning humankind is inherently is good, honest and truthful. Over time, people in this information age will begin to adopt the values and ways of religion which are most appealing to them, assessing all religious teachings through the scales of logic, what makes sense to them. Lord Krishna says in the Gita, while describing his God attributes to Arjuna, that I am the logic or the reason in the debate.” Of course Krishna goes onto then talk about the faith required for salvation as he says to Arjuna, “seek refuge in Me alone,” to point out that faith is something higher than logic but faith or blind faith must never contradict logic in a negative or harmful way.
The limitations of logic are not difficult for us to see, for instance, while our grown-ups’ logic may dictate ‘fire is hot’, a baby’s logic does not. There is always a subjective element to logic. As some of you will know that even mathematics is essentially based on some fundamental assumptions. I studied actuarial science before taking up accountancy and we used to joke that while for an accountant 2 + 2 equals 4, with a solid green auditors tick, for an actuary the solution is only probable as he would say that it is probably an integer greater than 3 and less than 5. My point is that God as our creator or a super intelligence or as in the case of Hinduism the ultimate and absolute reality cannot be defined through logic or for that matter any religious text.
So Hinduism takes religion to a level much higher than religious text and that stage of the religion is about the “experience” of God. This is what we call ‘Darshana’. This experience of God is one’s ultimate goal in Hinduism. You get the proof of God only at this level and in India we get these ‘realised souls’ every so often.
This experience of God is achieved through the practice of Raj Yoga. The yoga we see in the West is Hatha yoga to keep our bodies fit but Raj yoga is basically a meditative yoga. It has eight stages but suffice to say that the main emphasis is on how to control the wavering mind. This is where we would first need to focus our mind on the deity we worship, say Lord Krishna or Shiva or Rama or Mother Goddess and so on. Then our levels of consciousness begin to rise, shown diagrammatically as ourKundalini stages, or Sidhies, until we reach a super consciousness state called Samadhi.
Katho Upanishad illustrates, ‘the body is the chariot, the senses are the horses, the mind is the charioteer and the Atma or the Self is the passenger. The stage of Samadhi is a subtle state of stillness, where one becomes an enlightened Yogi. The mind is then subdued under the control of one’s real Self, the Atma, or the divinity.
However, there is one final stage within this Samadhi and this is when the yogi has to further choose to break his bond with the deity he worships. This point can be painful for the Yogi. An enlightened yogi of the 19th century Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa wrote about the tears he shed when he had to surpass his love for his deity Mother Goddess, whom he worshipped, to go into the final state of Samadhi with the ultimate cosmic reality Brahman, a state which all such Yogi’s describe as pure bliss. In this state there is no ‘I’ or ‘Mine’ – it is said to be simply ‘Love’ itself.
Moreover this final state of Samadhi cannot be “willed” by the mind as it is beyond the mind and comes only through the Grace of God, ultimately, when all spiritual conditions are satisfied.
So, there is some Hindu theology for you! But what relevance does Hinduism have in the modern world?
I believe the greatest gift Hinduism can give to our world today is its teaching about unity in diversity. The ancient Rig Veda of the 4rd to 5th millennia BCE teaches that God alone is “the unity in all the diversity.” It teaches that trying to make anything uniform is going against God’s wishes and that we must learn to respect the differences in creation, which cannot exist without diversity. It goes on to explain that our purpose in life is to deal with the challenges of diversity through non-violent ways, a Hindu value recently propagated by Mahatma Gandhi who showed its power against a mighty empire.
So the Hindu values of pluralism, of respecting diversity and other religions, and non-violence are some of the key values which are so relevant to the modern world. But let us look at the theological base for such values.
The Vedas go on to explain, in the words of Brahman or God, that his creation works in a flux, through the interaction of the twin pairs of opposites that he has created, like pleasure and pain, birth and death, good and evil and so on. In fact each pair is dependent on the other to bring about creation. For instance the male aspect in Hinduism represents potential energy and the female aspect represents kinetic energy. The male needs the female to bring about a movement, otherwise the male would be just like an inanimate thing. When the male aspect is infused with the female aspect only creation happens. In fact for every male deity we have a female deity, God and Goddess, in equal status.
So within this process of creation the Vedas further proclaim that humans are endowed by two complexes, superior and inferior. Although the Vedas also proclaim that no human being is of a higher or lower or middle status and all are equal in the spiritual sense the two complexes, superior and inferior, being part of what creation is, will set prejudices and graces among us.
All these twin pairs, however, are weighed if you like on the scales of morality – a law underpinning Dharma – and that leads to what is higher or lower, noble or base, in effect the difference between right and wrong. The idea is to rise always to the nobler ideals and shun the base nature, to do the right thing not the wrong one, before we are able to experience those states of Samadhi I mentioned earlier.
The Hindus therefore respect all religions for their spiritualities and we do not convert. Proselytising for us would be an anti Vedic practice, almost against God, as such an activity is about one’s attachment to ‘prejudice’, a form of one’s base nature. I think in the modern global world we need to get back to those Vedic precepts of respecting God’s diversity for what it is, provided we give no harm to others, and not try and impose one religion onto another as that is clearly a form of one’s own prejudice, usually based on one’s attachment to superstitions of his or her religion, not spirituality.
The spirituality of experiencing God leads us to see how we are all inter-connected in a sea of the transcendental spirit, so that if we hurt someone we believe that we are eventually hurting ourselves. That is the basis of the value of non-violence.
There is a beautiful verse by Lord Krishna in the Bhagwad Gita, compiled in the 2nd Millennium BCE which says, ‘He excels (in one’s path to be with Krishna or God) who sees the same thread of equanimity in all, whether saint or a sinner etc. He is an enlightened yogi and most dear to Me among Humans. I must explain here though that this does not mean that a sinner is the same as a saint but in Hinduism nobody is condemned, all share the divine spirit and have the option to exercise their free choice to start moving on the path of Raj Yoga towards the realisation of God. However, I must hold my hands up in shame here, that the Hindus do have their own social evil of untouchability in the caste system.
Finally I would like to explain the doctrine of Karma, which is normally misunderstood in the West, but I think is quite relevant to a more harmonious global village. The Encyclopaedia Britannica tells us that Karma determines ones status in life that you are born into a rich or poor status because of your past karma and it implies that if you are poor or disabled that you have to accept that you must have been a bad person in your previous life and so suffer the consequences. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact the concept of disability as a stigma has its roots in the West because the Abrahamic religions cannot explain why God creates this inequality at birth.
Karma is a law of cause and effect, with a moral base. It is a natural law. It is part of our Dharma and indeed all of the religions which emanate from India. Whatever we think or do will have an effect and that effect will become a cause for another effect and so the chain of cause and effect will go on. If you do good things you will get progress and happiness, if you do bad things which are hurtful to others – in the sea of interconnectedness – you will receive setbacks and pains later. That is it. There is no judge sitting outside of us who will bestow rewards on us or mete out punishments. Our thoughts and actions are our own judge and jury. So we are responsible for what happens to us, none other.
What this means is that because the inter-connectedness thread weaved in all life, Karma makes us think twice before we act so that we may not hurt another life since that hurt sooner or later will revert back to us in that sea of inter-connectedness.
There are several other values which emanate from these concepts of Karma, interconnectedness, pluralism that are necessary for a wholesome society, including wealth creation for which we worship Goddess Laxmi leading to business ethics, also a way of life under one of the 4 pillars of Vedas, ‘Nothing for self unless for society’ leading to our responsibility first to our family, then community, then nation and then the world, but all referenced to our own actions.
So, I will end here. I began by saying I believe IT has brought religious debate to the masses, I hope this morning I have managed to bring at least a little bit of Hinduism to the few.