Two-fold religious goal:
This topic is a very important one because a number of people the world over, mainly Hindus, believe that all religions have the same goal. We need to objectivity understand this topic without any prejudices. Let us look into all the implications.
One thing is certain – all religions have goals; this not doubted by anybody. When one looks into the theology of any given religion, one thing that emerges is any religion is not meant for God, but it is only meant for a human being – male, female does not come into the picture. If religion is for a human being, then it should present the human being a goal which is desirable or which is more preferred because of a threat to some damnation after death. Therefore, what is this goal?
We can look at this goal in a two-fold way. One is dharma. It is held by good thinkers that all religions are committed to dharma. But then, is it the dharma of a given religion, its own dharma, or is dharma universal? If each religion has got its own view of dharma, then even in terms of dharma we do not have a common goal.
Some of the popular religions that were not there before, in history, but have come into being, have a belief of dharma. This belief is rooted in their own theologies. When we look at a value like ‘ahimsa’, non-hurting,’ what does a Hindu think of ahimsa? Is it universal? Or it is subject to double standard? Is it all right to kill somebody if that person does not accept another person’s religion? If he or she does not, then already this person is an enemy to God. That means God has already given the true religion: this has got to be accepted – lock, stock and barrel.
And the one who does not believe this, is an enemy to God and, therefore, an enemy to the faithful. This gives the faithful a sanction, a scriptural sanction to killing; dangerous! The end becomes the end; it justifies the means. Danger beings here, where the end becomes so sacred that the means can be flouted. One need not bother about the means at all because the end is sacred. One can use deception, one can use seduction, one can use coercion – all these one can employ because it is a religious sanction; it is justified.
The theologies are giving sanction for employing any means – fair or foul. Upfront nobody comes and tell me, “This is my belief – I am starting this hospital, I am starting this school, in order to convert you. I give you this help in order to bring you to my flock.”
Nobody, just nobody tells me this openly. The end is so sacred that the means is not at all a matter for consideration.
In all the assemblies of the religious leaders that I have attended, I do not find any leader belonging to these popular religions accepting one universal common value. I have been struggling to make them accept at least one value. I proposed ‘ahimsa’ in one meeting. And they said, “We do not believe in it.” (Hush).
Later, in yet another religious leaders’ assembly I advocated, “Let us have mutual respect among religions. Let us promote mutual respect among religions.
I may not accept what you believe but I will defend your freedom to have your belief.” This is what I said. “I give you the freedom. You can have your own beliefs.
One has got a right to believe, and so please believe. You respect me; whatever is my belief. I also respect you and we can live in harmony.” But they just will not accept that. They say that they cannot have mutual respect because having mutual respect means they have to accept my religion. I asked, “What is wrong in that?” They say, “It is wrong because if I accept your religion then your religion becomes true.” “If it becomes true, what will happen?” “Then I cannot convert you; I need not convert you. But, your religion is wrong.”
Where is harmony, Sir? How one is going to have mutual respect? Only the educated Hindus believe ‘all religions lead to the same goal.’
For us Dharma is universal-the very basis for one’s interaction
For us Dharma is universal. It is not mandated by anybody. It is not history. It was not given out by somebody, a special person telling us, “Do not do this, do this. This should be done, and this should not be done.” Any given person did not give these kinds of mandates, in history, at a given time. Before the advent of that person also there were human beings; one cannot say that they did not have any matrix of value, dharma.
Every human being is endowed with a faculty of choice. That means one must have the matrix of values to base one’s choices. You have to make your choice, and I have to make my choice. If there is no choice and if both of us are programmed, then we will live according to our own programming, Svabhava. There is no problem. Once I have free will – I can do an action, I need not do that action, and that I can do it differently. So this free will is a tremendous freedom; you can blast the whole world if the power is with you! It is a freedom.
When the human being is endowed with such a freedom then it would be a lacuna in the creation if there were no provisions for self-discipline, and no mechanism to discpline oneself.
A universal matrix of values should be the basis, and one’s knowledge of this forms the very basis for one’s interaction.
Ahimsa is not a negotiable value
Look at this very clearly. I have to make choices. A cow has the instinct to survive. I also have the same instinct to survive. Any living organism has the instinct to survive. Every insect, every plant, every tree has this instinct to survive; there is no exception to this rule. Therefore, everyone wants to live.
A human being also is a living organism and has the instinct to survive like even the animal has. If a cow apprehends some danger it can kick a person, it can gore a person to death. The cow will have no regret. A cow is vimuktah – dharma-adharmabhyam vimuktah; it is above dharma and adharma. So you want to survive and the cow also wants to survive. But, the cow does not know that you want to survive. However, you know that you want to survive; you know this very well. This two-fold knowledge is complete, backing your free will.
Once you have the free will, then you can abuse it. What is freedom that cannot be abused? But that you do not abuse is the wisdom. If there is no possibility of abuse there is no freedom.
Somebody tells me, “You please walk freely.” Right in front of me is a bayonet, to my left is bayonet, to my right is bayonet, behind there are three fellows with bayonets; where is the freedom to walk? Therefore, freedom means it is subject to abuse; even God has to stand and watch! That is freedom. Once freedom is given, then there must also be certain basis for choice given, and that is what we say, dharma, knowledge. This insight, this fact – that I want to live and others also want to live – I am not ignorant about; I know.
I do not want to get hurt, others also do not want to get hurt; this is the basic dharma. Every other human being also knows this. Therefore, we have a universal value, ahimsa. When we analyse every other value such as non-cheating, non-stealing, non-robbing, not telling lies, not taking advantages of a weak situation, we find they are all centered on one value – ahimsa. ‘Ahimsa paramo dharmah, non-hurting is the basic value. This is Veda. It is not a negotiable value.
If ahimsa is the basis for all other values forming a matrix of values, then it is not taught to me by somebody. A mosquito is not taught, no monkey is taught in order to survive. It is given. For a human being also, untaught it is given. This is the Hindu vision, the Vedic vision of dharma.
Dharma is one more manifestation of God and is not negotiable
We go one step further. We don’t say dharma is a mandate of God. We say dharma is one more manifestation of God. It has got to be, because it is given. It is given, right in your head, because the basis is knowledge.
You ask anybody with a set of questions; you ask a Benaras Pandit – ‘Do you want to get hurt?’ ‘No’. Ask a Harvardian. ‘No’. Ask an Eskimo. ‘No’. Talk to an aborigines in Australia. ‘No’. If I ask you, ‘Do you want to get hurt?’ ‘No.’ it is universal, and only universal knowledge does not require to be taught.
It is knowledge that comes along with you, like even your breathing. The basic instinct to survive and the capacity to know that others also want to survive, gives you knowledge of dharma. What a device! This is basic to you, the basic person.
I am a cognitive, knowledgeable person who has this basic knowledge of the value of dharma, that is, ahimsa. When I deliberately hurt a person by cheating, by deception, by using foul means, just because I think that the end justifies the means, then I am going to be guilty basically. Then I need to be indoctrinated to really overwhelm my basic knowledge. That is why a lot of indoctrination takes place to a human being through religious theologies that do not accept the universality of this important value, ahimsa.
We look upon everything as a manifestation of Isvara, whether you are a Vaisnava or a saiva. There is nothing other than Isvara. Everything is a manifestation because it is given. My body is given, senses are given, my buddhi is given; the faculty to know and the basic knowledge, the software, is given already. It is loaded. When you buy the computer, it comes with Windows. You have it already! Everything else is addition. So, how can one go against one’s own intimate knowledge and be without being guilty.
I cannot pass in my own estimation of myself. That is why I seek others approval all the time. If I pass in my own estimation, I need not seek others approval.
Dharma is to be interpreted, all right. That is why our vision of dharma – and that it is universal – is available for interpretation. Unless there is universality in what you think as dharma, there is no question of interpretation. Whether it is a law written, it has got to be universal, at least for the country or for the State, like the Religious Endowment Act; that is only the State Act. Even that has to be in harmony with the constitution of the country. But there is no law without being subject to interpretation. That only make me more responsible. That does not give me any license.
It is not enough to know what is right and wrong. I should be a Kusalah Satyanna pramaditavyam, dharmanna pramaditavyam, kusalanna pramaditavyam… I must be a dharma-kusalah. I must be able to interpret dharma. Therefore, dharma for us is Isvara. However, even in terms of dharma, all religions are, unfortunately, not holding the same vision. But all the indigenous religions more or less held the same view, until they were destroyed.
We saw where all religions stand with reference to the first goal – dharma.
What is the other religious goal? One person’s concept is salvation. I ask, ‘Who is to be given this salvation?’ ‘The condemned person, the damned person.’ Am I damned? I am an individual, why should I be damned? Is there a creation other than Isvara being in charge?
Anyway the concept is, ‘you need to be saved.’ ‘From what I need to be saved, you please tell me very clearly, from what I should be saved; I want to be objective.’ ‘From what I should be saved, Sir?’
In 2000 when the millennium started on the 1st January, I happened to be elsewhere; there was a New Year gathering. One person asked me, “Swamiji, what is your message on this day?” I said, “I have no message, but I have a prayer.” “What is that prayer?” “My prayer is: O Lord, save me from saviors.” (Claps).
‘What is it that I need to be saved from? From my loans? If I am relieved of that, I will be very thankful to you, come on.’ ‘Will you clear my debts? Ok, that will be nice. Do you want to save me from any disease I suffer from? Please come and save. What you want to save me from?’ ‘From your sin.’ ‘Which sin you are talking about?’ ‘The original one.’ ‘What is the original one?’ ‘Because you have got parents.’
I don’t accept this at all. I am a Hindu I respect my mother, I respect my father do not tell me I am born of sin, and that too in this country. (Claps). That is very ridiculous. Somebody died for you: I say, that person did not ask me at all (Laughter). I was not even there at that time. So how can you say, somebody died for me? I am not responsible for it.
For us freedom, moksa is the goal
In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna is addressed by Krsna as, ‘Hey Anagha!’ Agha means papa, Anagha means, papam na vidyate yasya – the one who is blemishless. But in this country we are addressed as ‘O, Papins-O, Ye sinners.’ I refuse to accept that. Even if it is your belief, you have no business to address me as a Papin. (Claps). If I have some papa, I have to take care of it; I don’t need anybody’s help. I must have the freedom to take care of myself. I refuse to be addressed as ‘O, Ye, sinner.’ We even do not have a word equivalent for sin. Sin according to them is the original sin and other sins; we do not have that.
Our concept of papa is karma-phala. It can be simple, or it can be little more complicated but there is no other papa. Even the word punya has no equivalent in English. Merit or virtue is but an apology for punya: it is not an equivalent. Punya is the result of a prayer, ritual, it is adrsta, unseen result of a meritorious action. Any reaching out action produces punya. If this is our vision, then what is it that I want to be saved from? Suppose I am already saved?
We have a vision like that. Atma is nitya-suddhah, even pure, nitya-muktah, ever liberated. If I am nitya-baddhah, ever liberated. If I am nitya-baddhah, ever bound, there is no moksa, liberation, possible. If bondage is centered on I, then that bondage is real. That means, the ‘I’ is limited, there is no question of freedom from that. if I am already free, I should own it. This is what freedom is.
Freedom, moksa is the goal for us when this body is alive, the indweller of this body, the dehin, gains a victory over samsara, a life of becoming. Moksa liberation, in other words, is here and now, while one is living. Moksa is not heaven-bound. Suppose the religion tells me, going to heaven is the goal you better accept there should be many ways. Because to go to heaven one requires merit and one can earn merit in many ways. By doing one’s duty one can go to heaven. Reaching out to people doing seva, one can go to heaven. Reaching out to people doing seva, ffering prayers, or performing rituals and so on one can go to heaven. Offering prayers, or performing rituals and so on one can go to heaven. And, according to some theologies, doing more harm to people, to cultures, to religions also, one can go to heaven! But please know that by destroying cultures, traditions, history, and people, destroying the core person in everyone, nobody can go to heaven.
Let us see, what is that heaven? It should be a place. If you do not need to go anywhere then heaven is here. If after death you go to heaven, then it is a place, and it is a non-verifiable belief. The goal is a non-verifiable belief.
A belief is a judgement before knowledge and it is subject to correction on verification. If there is life after death, then that is not subject to verification.
There is nothing wrong for you to believe in that. But it is not subject to verification; it is a non-verifiable belief. That you can go to heaven, non-verifiable belief.
Heaven means it is definitely a place. Place means it is within space and time. Naturally, anything within time and space is time-bound. Nothing wrong for anyone to believe in a heaven; it is a human right to have that belief; that is fine. You can go to heaven. But that there is a heaven is a non-verifiable belief.
If somebody comes and tells me, “yesterday I went to heaven,” (laughter) and suppose you believe him. It is a non-verifiable belief, and you have got a right to have it.
In India too we have these kinds of beliefs; we have no problem with that. That say, ‘We will go to that loka.’ Please go. But if you say, ‘having gone to that loka, I will stay there eternally.’ Well that hurts my reason, anyone’s reason.
Heaven is a place in time and space if there is a beginning there needs to be an end: tadyatha iha karmacito lokali ksiyate evam evamutra punyacito lokah ksiyate. Very clean statement. Though sruti need not give any logic for its statement, it does give here the logic yatha iha, just as here – you came with a body into this world, a body that is subject to age and death – tatha amurta, same way there too (in heaven). Just as the physical laws, the universal laws, the geological laws and forces, how all of them operate here, so are the same elsewhere in place and time. Otherwise doing something here you cannot go there. The same laws should carry you there. So, just as anything carry you there. So, just as anything achieved here in time is found lost in time, so too there. One may have a special body perhaps, but that must needs to be lost in time. That is acceptable. If going to heaven is moksa, then there are many ways to reach the goal.
Since heaven-going is time bound, having gone, one will come back like a bad penny – ‘te tam bhuktva svarga-lokam visalam ksine punye martyalokam visanti; a very beautiful statement from the Gita.
All those who reached the svarga that is vast and varied, having spent from the punya earned here, they enter into lokas where the mortals live. So one can understand what is this svarga. There is nothing wrong if somebody wants to go to heaven; one has got the freedom to desire to go to heaven.
The problem lies here when someone says, “You can go to heaven, if you follow me.” This is a non-verifiable belief. Another person comes and tells, “I am updating Bhagavan,” and therefore he says, “Do not go after him, he cannot take you to heaven, you follow me, I will take you to heaven, I am the latest.”
Now, whom I should believe. One has got a right to believe. Believe but the other person also believes something entirely different. Between them there is nothing to prove one is wrong and the other is right. So why do they fight? I do not understand this. How can anybody fight with anybody else holding on to a set of different non-verifiable beliefs? How can there be any dispute? There is no dispute.
There can only be harmony, granting freedom for the other to believe in whatever he or she believes. That is what we need in this society. You grant freedom to the other and expect the same freedom from the other to hold on to your belief. That is the legitimate thing.
The Hindu vision of ‘Ista-Devata’
The Hindus have got this vision called ‘ista-devata’. Every Hindu home has a puja room in which one can find a gallery of Gods. When we show camphor light, Karpuram, we show to every God so that nobody gets angry. (Laughter). It is true. If one more God is given to us, it is not a problem for us.
Please understand, we do not say all religions lead to the same goal. It is wrong. But all worship Isvara, if they worship. Some religions do not have Isvara. But Isvara is replaced by something else, whatever that may be.
The Buddhist will worship the Buddha who becomes Isvara. There is no issue. Therefore any ista-devata is fine, whether one worships Allah, Jesus or Lord Krsna.
But they have a concept that God who is sitting in heaven and created the world, and he is formless, beats all reason and logic. Does a formless God require a location? Does formless space require a location? If space requires a location, it is only in one’s head, not elsewhere.
(Laughter). One can have his or her beliefs; I give you total freedom to believe. But do not ask me to believe all this; do not ask me. (Claps).
Honestly, I am telling you, we can live in harmony if we give respect to people to have their beliefs. And Hindus do not have problems in this. We do not think that God will be confused, if you pray in any language. One can pray in Latin or Greek: for God there is nothing Latin and Greek! If God does not understand, it is his problem; it is not your problem. (Laughter).
When the Lord is all-knowledge, there is no question of his not understanding. If you address him in French or English or Latin, or even Italian, God will understand. You address him in Telugu, Tamil, or Kannada, he will understand. If you address him in Sanskrit, it is his own language and therefore there is no issue. (Claps). You address him in any language he will understand; he is not going to be confused. God can appreciate any language, any form of prayer, any form of worship. (Claps).
All Prayers are valid. But all religions do not lead to the same goal
All prayers are valid. Please understand this; all prayers are valid. But all religions do not lead to the same goal.
This is where the confusion lies. Prayer is a karma – Kayikam karma- physical action; vacikam karma- oral action and manasam karma- mental action. Being karma, an action, it will have result, a limited result. All prayers give limited results. We have sophisticated Vedic rituals. They will have more specific results but limited. We do not have just general prayers; we have got specific prayers for everything – for progeny, for rains, for wealth, for health, for memory and so on. That apart, all prayers are valid being karma. Coming from the Karta, the doer, Karma will produce result. Therefore, all prayers are valid. But that is not the goal.
We say that the whole Jagat is the manifestation of Isvara. And therefore my body-mind-sense complex belongs to that Jagat. And so I am asked to look upon this manifestation with Isvara-buddhi, all that is here is a manifestation of Isvara. That is our vision, the Vedic vision.
For a Hindu the means is much more important than the end. Lord Krsna says in the Bhagavad Gita, “…dharmaviruddhao bhutesu kamo ‘smi bharatarsabha – in all beings, I am the desire that is not opposed to dharma.” Remember there is a clause – Dharma aviruddha-kamo smi. Dharma is me and kama, your desire, also is me. While fulfilling a desire, also is me. While fulfilling a desire, you cannot go against me, dharma. Your desire is adventitious.
It has come only now. But dharma is before; for me, for you. The one who desires to sell the car, and the other who desires to buy the same, are governed by the same dharma, which is common to both. That Dharma is the basis and that is Isvara.
Dharma for us is Isvara and it is not negotiable. My life is committed to grow to conform to dharma. My inner growth is such that all that I like is what is to be done and all that I do not like is what is not to be done; then I am a made person. One may not be able to achieve it, but at least understanding what it is all about is to have a challenge in life.
Therefore, it is worth living. That is our vision. First I need to be a master in terms of dharma. One becomes a swami, master of oneself. Afterwards one can strive for moksa. Afterwards one can strive for moksa. If you want to go to loka, please go.
All that is here is one whole and that is you. The whole cannot be away from you, apart from you. The whole should consume you, should be you. That is a vision to be understood, right here. This is something amazing, what we have.
Therefore, let us settle for – all prayers are valid. Even this is not acceptable to the other two major religions because they do not accept other altars of prayer.
We alone can say that all prayers are valid. Thank you very much.
[Source: Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Do All Religions Have the Same Goals? (Arsha Vidya Research And Publication, 2010)]
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