Pseudo Universalism of Hinduism: Christians are often caricatured as intolerant towards other faiths. In contrast, Hinduism is said to be a religion which accepts all other religions as true and therefore the most broad-minded and tolerant of all. Jerry Thomas examines (a) whether Hinduism really teaches that all religions are true (b) is Hinduism a non-missionary religion? (c) is Hinduism a tolerant and non-violent religion (d) what are the real reasons behind the opposition to conversion. An E-book of Sakshi: An Apologetics Network in India.
Six Blind Men and an Elephant: Also the Sage who Sees
Most of us, if not all, have heard the story of six blind men and an elephant. Six blind men went to learn about an elephant and each of them touched one part of the elephant such as tusk or side. Later each of them described the part as though it is the complete description of the elephant itself and started a dispute on this. Usually the story ends there and we are told the moral of the story:
This version of our Indian story was popularized by John Godfrey Saxe.
However, all the versions of six blind men and elephant do not end like this. There are other Indian versions of this story where there is a wise man who resolves to them this conflict.
In fact, in this article, we will see that among the various Hindu sects there was always a claim of a man with a clear vision and that man was the founder of their respective sects.
Vaishnavism: There is No God Except Vishnu
One of the major sects among the Hinduism is Vaishnavism. Their major text is Srimad Bhagavatam. Vaishnavism does not teach that ‘all religions are equally true and valid for salvation’. Rather it very clearly teaches that there is no god except Vishnu (or Krishna in the case of ISCKON).
Srimad Bhagavatam: Srimad Bhagavatam has an interesting story of a curse being pronounced on the followers of Shiva. There was a sacrifice being performed in which all the great sages, demigods and fire gods participated. Then Daksha, leader of the Prajapati’s and Shiva’s father-in-law entered. All demi-gods and fire gods rose to welcome Daksha except the Shiva. Then Daksha became angry and derided Shiva by saying:
“He (Shiva) has eyes like a monkey’s”, and
“He (Shiva) lives in filthy places like crematoriums, and his companions are the ghosts and demons. Naked like a madman, sometimes laughing and sometimes crying, he smears crematorium ashes all over his body. He does not bathe regularly, and he ornaments his body with a garland of skulls and bones. Therefore only in name is he Shiva, or auspicious; actually, he is the most mad and inauspicious creature. Thus he is very dear to crazy beings in the gross mode of ignorance, and he is their leader.”
Hearing this one of the principal associates of Shiva cursed all Brahmins for hearing the curse without a protest. When Brahmins heard it, Bhrigu cursed all the followers of Shiva. We read:
“When all the hereditary brâhmanas were thus cursed by Nandis’vara, the sage Bhrigu, as a reaction, condemned the followers of Lord Shiva with this very strong brahminical curse. One who takes a vow to satisfy Lord Shiva or who follows such principles will certainly become an atheist and be diverted from transcendental scriptural injunctions. Those who vow to worship Lord Shiva are so foolish that they imitate him by keeping long hair on their heads. When initiated into worship of Lord Shiva, they prefer to live on wine, flesh and other such things”.
Points to be noted:
- Brahma and Shiva are demigods (and not God)
- Shiva has been cursed
- Followers of Shiva also has been cursed
Padma Purana: Further in Padma Purana it says: To blaspheme devotees who have dedicated their lives to chanting the holy name of the Lord. The holy name, who is identical with Krishna, will never tolerate such blasphemous activities.
Point to be noted:
- It is blasphemous to take the name of Shiva.
Nammalvar: In fact, early Vaishanava devotee Nammalvar expresses it very strongly.
You believers in Linga mythologies
And you Jainas
Becoming all of you choppers of logic
Becoming even your gods
He stands thereOur lord:
Come see him in Kurukur
Where rich ears of paddy
Fan him like ceremonial yak tails.
In this place without lies
Come praise him.
ISKCON: Further ISKCON, a sect (or cult) within Vaishnavism clearly rules out any devotion except to Krishna.
According to Swami Prabhupada, there is no god except Krishna for the whole world. He writes in Bhagavad Gita As It Is:
“We cannot take the medicine according to our own whim or the direction of a friend. It must be taken according to the directions on the label or the directions given by a physician. Similarly, Bhagavad-gita should be taken or accepted as it is directed by the speaker Himself. The speaker of Bhagavad-gita is Lord Sri Krsna. He is mentioned on every page of Bhagavad-gita as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan. Of course the word bhagavan sometimes refers to any powerful person or any powerful demigod, and certainly here bhagavan designates Lord Sri Krsna as a great personality, but at the same time we should know that Lord Krsna is the supreme personality of Godhead”
Conclusion: Vaishnavism does not teach that all religions are equally true or even less ‘all sects in Hinduism are equally true”. Granted that they may allow worship of other demigods. But there is a hierarchy here also. Bhagavad-Gita states it: Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings; those who worship ancestors go to the ancestors; and those who worship Me will live with Me.
Take away for us: Vaishnavism which is one of the major sects in Hinduism does not teach that all religions are equally valid paths for salvation.
Shaivism: There is No God except Shiva
Another major sect among Hinduism is Shaivism. Shaivism clearly teaches that there is no god except Shiva. Shiva is often addressed as Mahadeva (Greatest God) and Devadideva (God of Gods).
Shiva Purana: According to Shiva Purana Rudra Samhita, Sristhi Khanda, Vishnu and Brahma are creations and worshippers of Shiva. In Shiva Purana, Uma Samhita, Sree Krishna does penance before Shiva and salvation is attained by uttering the name of Shiva.
Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol. 67 writes this about the Shiva of Shaivism. Shiva is the supreme God in Shaivism, one of the major branches of Hinduism practiced in India. He is the formless, timeless and spaceless Supreme God. The name Shiva is the Holiest of Holy names. Shiva, according to some Hindu traditions, does everything. All other Hindu gods and goddess are lesser than Shiva. Shiva devotee Manikkavsagar attests to this.
Manikkavasagar, Shiva Devotee:
Indra or Vishnu or Brahma
Their divine bliss crave not I
I seek the love of thy saints
Though my house perish thereby.
To the worst hell will I go
So but thy grace be with me
Best of all, how could my heart
Think of a God beside Thee?
Points to be noted:
- Shiva is the supreme God according to Shivaism
- All other gods are demigods created by Shiva
- Salvation is by chanting the name of Shiva
Take away for us: Shivaism does not teach that ‘all religions are equally valid paths for salvation or all religions are equally true”.
Shaktism- There is No God Except Devi
Shaktism is another major sect of Hinduism. Shaktism teaches that there is no god except Devi and all others are her creations. In Devi Purana, thirty second and thirty third Khanda we read the dispute about whether Brahma, Vishnu or Shiva is the supreme and greatest god. Thirty third Khanda of Devi Purana says that it is Devi who is the supreme god and all others are demigods created by her.
Devi Purana: The Risi said: — O King! She is without beginning; therefore She had no origin at any time; that Highest Devî is Eternal and She is always the Cause of all Causes. (How then can any other be powerful like Her). O King! She resides in all the beings as the essential vital Force; deprived of that Force, every being is reduced to a dead carcass. She is pervading as the Universal Force of Consciousness in all the beings. The form of this S’akti (Force) is the form made up of consciousness itself, the Brahmâ. (For the force of Fire is Fire itself; it is not seen in any other form). Her appearances and disappearances at times are simply for serving the purposes of the Gods. O King! Whenever the Devas and men worship Her, Ambikâ makes Her appearance visible to destroy their pains and sufferings. She assumes various forms and possesses various powers. That Highest Îs’varî comes down of Her free will to serve Her some purpose or other. She is not like the Devas, under the control of Daiva or Fate; She is not under the influence of Time (as both Fate and Time are created by Her). She puts always every being to action according to his capacity. Purusa is not the Doer; He is simply the Witness. This whole Universe is the object seen. That Devî is the Mother of all this that is witnessed. She is the Manifested and She is the Unmanifested and She is the Effect also.
She alone is the Actress and manifests thus the world and thus gives the colouring to the Purusa. When the Purusa is coloured thus, She destroys quickly these worlds. It is said that Brahmâ, Visnu and Mahes’a are respectively the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer of the world; but this is merely a statement; really they are merely instruments in Her hands. Bhagavatî has created them in reality for Her Pastime and stationed them in their respective posts. She has bestowed to them Her part manifestations, i.e., Sarasvatî to Brahmâ, Laksmî to Visnu, and Girijâ to Mahes’a and has thus rendered them more powerful. They, the lords of the Devas, always meditate and worship Her as the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer of this Universe. O King! I have thus described to you, as far as my intelligence and knowledge go, the holy greatness and the excellent glory of Her (in reality, I have not been able to come to the end of it).
Points to be noted:
- Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are creations of Devi
- Devi alone is the only true Supreme God
Take away for us: Shaktism does not teach that ‘all religions are equally true or salvation can be attained by following any path’. If three of the major sects of Hinduism do not teach that all religions are equally true and tend to be monotheistic rather than polytheistic, then from whom and why did we get the idea that Hindus tend to be polytheistic and accept all religions as equally true.
Smartism: Many gods but not ultimately true
It is the Smartism propagated by Adi Shankara that worships six deities – Ganesha, Shiva, Shakti, Vishnu, Surya and Skanda. Smartism allows devotees to choose their Ista god. Worshipping of any god is equivalent in Smartism. Most often non-Hindus view Hinduism through the eyes of Smartism. But Smartism is only one of the major four sects in Hinduism.
One may argue that though majority of the Hindu sects does not accept that ‘all religions are true and valid for salvation’, there is at least one major sect which believes in it. Herein is the twist of Smartism. Followers of Smartism are primarily followers of Advaita which was also propagated by Adi Shankara. If you have carefully read the first chapter of
this booklet, you would now know why Smartism allows worship of any deity. It is not because that ‘all religions are equal’ but due to their understanding that only a few people can comprehend Advaita and others need a lower level of religion.
In other words, Smartism does not accept worship of any gods as equally true in the absolute sense. It is for people with low level of intelligence. As Advaita were examined in Chapter 1 thorough writings of Swami Vivekananda, most important propagator of Advaita after Adi Shankara, I will now cite that one incident from the life of Adi Shankara to remove any misconception that Smartism accepts all religions as equally true. Adi Shankara had a debate with Mandana Mishra on Advaita. The condition of the debate was whoever is defeated will become the disciple of the other. On the defeat of Mandana Mishra, he left his worldview and became a disciple of Shankara.
In fact, Shankara had many missionary tours to convert Buddhists and Jains to Hinduism. If Smartism and Advaita teaches that all religions are equally true, then why would they bother to convert others? And it is not by accident that Swami Vivekananda himself named the organization he started as Ramakrishna Mission.
Let me quote Romila Thapar about Shankara.
Romila Thapar writes:
Shankarachyarya is said to have visited many centers of learning and debated with leading scholars, such as Madanamishra, Kumarila Bhatta and Prabhakara, as well as various Buddhists and Jaina scholars. He encouraged members of his ascetic order to propagate his teaching as part of a missionary enterprise. (Emphasis mine).
Take away for us: Though Smartism does teach that worship of any deity is acceptable, it does not believe that to be the absolute truth. In the absolute sense, majority of the followers of Smartism consider Advaita to be the absolute truth.
If this is the case, where are the Hindus who believe that ‘all religions are equally true and valid paths of salvation?’ In my study, there are hardly any schools of Hinduism which teaches it so. If so, one may ask, why they object to conversion. Why should a Hindu object to conversion if he also believes that salvation is not found in every religion but only in one. Should not then the freedom be given for everyone to make their decision for the most important decision in life-decision of eternity? That we will examine in the fourth chapter. Before that let us get our facts correct for a few more important points in third chapter■
Questions to Consider
1. Does Vaishnavism teach that ‘all religions are equally true’?
2. Does Shivaism teach that ‘all religions are equally true’?
3. Does Shaktism teach that ‘all religions are equally true’?
4. Does Smartism teach in the absolute sense that ‘all religions are equally true’?
Chapter 1: All rivers lead to the same sea: What does the sea mean?
This chapter examines the speeches of Swami Vivekananda and asks the meaning of Hindu universalism. If all religions are true, how can there be hierarchy among religions and why should a person be born as A
dvaita believer before he could attain salvation?
Chapter 3: Brahmin, Three Thieves and a Goat: Myths appear as true when it is repeated
Do we have historical evidence to say that Hinduism is a non-missionary religion and Hinduism is a non-violent religion? Or is it just a myth that is oft repeated and therefore we have to believe so?
Chapter 4: Emperor without Clothes: Speaking the Unpleasant Truth about Anti Conversion If ‘religious broadmindedness, tolerance and respect’ are not the real reasons behind the opposition to conversions, what could be the real reasons? Is it the doctrine, structure and practice of caste?
Appendix: Kesava Kasmiri’s Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita (1: 40-42 & 4: 13)
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 Shiv Maha Pura (http://www.neelkanthdhaam.org/Uspu.html)