Scripture and Authority

In such a scheme based on personal experience and exploration, as opposed to the authority of an exclusivist medium, it is the message that counts. The greatness of the Bhagavadgita as a pluralistic scripture resides in its message. Even without Krishna, the medium, the message remains. In contrast to Islam and Christianity which are historical religions, it is not possible to trace the birth of Hinduism to any historical person or period. As a result, if a great Hindu sage like Krishna or

Vishwamitra is found not to be a historical person, it is of little consequence to Hinduism - for it is their message that matters; Hinduism is, after all, a-paurusheya. This is in striking contrast to revealed religions - Christianity for instance - in which the whole structure collapses if Jesus is found to be not a historical person.

Another way of looking at it is to say that Hinduism is a-paurusheya whereas Christianity is paurusheya, deriving both its legitimacy and its authority from the word of a purusha called Jesus Christ. This of course lies at the root of the problem of Christianity: if the purusha called Jesus is shown to be not historical, the paurusheya religion called Christianity can hardly exist.

In addition, in the pluralistic Hinduism - as was also the case in pagan Greece -one is free to question both the message and the messenger - a freedom not granted in revealed religions. There is no enforcing authority in Hinduism like the clergy of Islam and Christianity, for there is no dogma and no exclusivist doctrine to enforce. Great centres of Hindu orthodoxy - like Sringeri, Kanchi, Udupi and others -represent only different traditions and schools of thought, they have no enforcing authority. A religious figure like the late Paramacharya ('Great Teacher') of Kanchi may be greatly revered as a sage, but his pronouncements carry no authority. He issues no fatwas that even an illiterate mullah can do with impunity in the name of Allah. For the same reason, there is also no such thing as heresy in Hinduism. Any religious or philosophic doctrine must stand or fall on its merits, it cannot rest on exclusivist authority as the word of the only agent of God.

This free-spirited approach of Hinduism is expressed in the following famous line from the Rigveda:

Let good thoughts come to us from everywhere.

Rigveda 1.89.1

As one can see, this is the very antithesis of exclusivism with its single authoritative source. Another example, the essence of universality as expressed in an ancient source - the Shivamahimna Stotra, verse three, attributed to Gandharva Pushpadanta:

As numberless rivers following different paths - straight or zigzag -merge in the same ocean, so too the aspirants of various tastes and capacities reach thee through effort.

Part of the same idea is stated more simply by Krishna in his great theophany of the Bhagavadgita. Here are two examples:

Whoever, by whatsoever path approaches me, I accept him for his salvation.

Bhagavadgita 4.11

All creatures great and small - I am equal to all; I hate none, nor have I any favorites. Bhagavadgita 9.29

This has the effect of undermining the claim of any 'prophet' as the exclusive agent of God - for God has no favorites. Viewed in this light, each and every one of us has the same access to God through our own efforts; we can all be prophets. Contrast this universality with the exclusivist demand of the Biblical God Yahweh -the terrific 'jealous God' - expressed through the medium of Moses:

Thou shalt have no other gods before me...

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation... Exadus 20.3,5.

Ye shall utterly destroy all the places wherein the nations which ye possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and every green tree. Deuteronomy 12.2

If thy brother, ...or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, nor thy fathers;

Thou shalt not consent... neither shalt thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:

But thou shalt surely kill him: thine hand shalt be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hands of all people. Deuteronomy 13. 6,8,9

So the Bible (and its close relative the Qu'ran) give scriptural sanction to intolerance making it a sacred duty to destroy others of different beliefs. This is the apotheosis of exclusivism: division of the world into believers and non-believers, with non-believers deserving death and damnation. With this background the violence-marred history of Christianity and Islam become entirely understandable. As the English historian Lord Acton observed regarding the Popes: "...[They] were not only murderers in the great style, but they made murder a legal basis of Christianity and the condition of salvation." (de Rosa, p. 249)

This is the inevitable consequence of an exclusivist doctrine though Acton seems not to have seen it; he attributed it to the character of the Popes rather than the character of the creed.

To sum up the difference: the pluralistic spiritual traditions of India and ancient Greece offer complete freedom of exploration to the seeker with no human intermediary - or his agents like the clergy - to bar the way. Secondly, religious doctrines carry no authority and there is also no enforcing agency like the clergy of Christianity and Islam. Exclusivist religions on the other hand deny direct access to God; in addition, the word of God - revealed only to an exclusive medium - carries the force of authority that is enforced by the clergy. These are the God-substitutes in Ram Swarup's picturesque phrase.

In addition, in Hinduism and Buddhism there is no concept of the original sin, but only of avidya or ignorance. A man is not born in sin but in ignorance. He is not redeemed by faith and repentance but by bodhi - or enlightenment. The word 'Buddha' which means the 'enlightened one' is derived from bodhi. The idea of passage from ignorance to light prevailed among the Gnostics also who rejected the notion of sin and redemption.36

Ultimately, the Hindu concept of godhead, like that of ancient Greece, represents a search for the meaning of the universe and of existence. In contrast, in the exclusivist creeds of Christianity and Islam, God is not invoked in search of answers to cosmic existential questions, but as the means through which to exercise authority. In the exclusivist tradition, God is not seen as a cosmic being: He is the

36 The ancient Brihadarnyaka Upanishad also says: (tamaso ma jyotirgamaya - lead me from darkness to light. It is clear that the Gnostics were familiar with Hindu and Buddhist thought.

source of authority which is always exercised by humans while invoking His name. Such creeds cannot survive when divested of authority, which is their sole support. Ram Swarup, who has probably made a deeper study of religions than anyone else living today puts it this way:37

In short, the two Revelations [of Christianity and Islam) reduced the concept of religion itself. Religion was no longer truth of the spirit; it became a hegemonic ideology, a creed to be imposed by jihad and salesmanship. Man's prayer took the form of a dogma, of beliefs, of articles of faith, which could be numbered, catechised, labelled and exported.

In other words, revelation is the result of applying the principle of reductionism to the world of mysticism and the spirit. Pagan gods are cosmic beings, while in exclusivist creeds He is the figure of authority. That is the fundamental difference.

As anyone can see, the pluralistic Hindu and Greek spiritual traditions stand at the pole opposite from the exclusivism of revealed creeds like Christianity and Islam. It is therefore a very great fallacy to talk of 'equality of religions' based on a superficial comparison of stray passages taken out of context. Pluralism not only permits freedom of choice and of conscience, it also denies exclusive doctrinal authority for anyone claim or claimant. The absolute and unquestioned authority for a single claimant - as seen for example in the Biblical passages quoted above - constitutes the essence of exclusivism. It is the single prop of authority for the creed; without this authority to uphold it an exclusivist creed collapses - and this is now the great threat posed by the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is the fate of every paurusheya religion -as perishable as its purusha.

Maintaining this authority also calls for an enforcing instrument called the clergy. Neither Christianity nor Islam can exist without clergy; they usually need also some form of government support, if not actually be in control of the government itself. The collapse of Christianity in the secular humanistic West, where it is no longer in control of the state apparatus bears testimony to this fact. The same will be the result in the Islamic world also if secularism ever takes hold.

The reason for this is not hard to seek. These two theocracies have been engaged mainly in secular activities while invoking God as authority. Once their hold over secular activities is removed, all they are left with is the empty invocation. As we saw in the last chapter, the 'Christian' West is no longer buying it. A theocracy cannol transform itself and exist as a spiritual entity when its enforcers are divorced from temporal power. Theocracy is power, or it is nothing This is one of the great lessons of history. It lies at the root of the collapse of Christianity in the West.

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