Six great religions that are immersed and influenced by Indian views and ideology, three emerging from the innate Indian thought - Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism - and three coming from Asia Minor but establishing themselves firmly in India, - Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Islam. Every religion deals with dozens of noumena, their specific credentials in life, taking towards the progress of the mind and the spirit. No one can deny that India is a great country with enormous diversity amongst a unity, and the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam makes us feel the whole universe is one family, and lead us to co-operate with one another. Spirituality is more a question of faith than a subject for intellectual analysis. However it does not mean that intellectual knowledge is irrelevant in spiritual practice, faith is of far more help than the intellect as all the above six religions have emphasized albeit in their own way. Hence, when we speak of an Indian ethos, we are speaking of cognitive assimilation of these six major religions with Hinduism, the dominant metaphysical belief system in India. The three religions that came in from Asia Minor and made a major impact on Indian culture are Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam. The three religions that emanated from within ancient India are Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism.
Reverting to an examination of Hinduism, not only Vedic rituals, but also any Karma (action) that we do, are meant to help us to attain mental purification. But it is only possible when one has the right attitude, one mind and the senses that have been purified.
We are meant to renounce all action and turn inward in search of Truth. Having attained that purity, the quest to know the truth of existence will intensify and we will automatically turn within. In the state of oneness, there are no Vedas and no gods or goddesses other than our own self. Everything is experienced as one and the same self, The Atma and Parmatma become one and this unification is the essence of Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism. The experience of oneness with the inner truth is the goal of Hinduism, as
the Upanishads have proclaimed.
Osho (Acharya Rajneesh) once said I was neither born nor will I be dead. I am merely passing through (this world). The Hindu, Zoroastrian and Buddhist thought is circular in the sense that the soul passes through a series of stages and rebirths before uniting with the Divine Force. Hindu metaphysics speaks of the Shiva Linga as representing the cosmic world and the Yoni symbolizing Shaktı, which gives rise to cosmic motion through infusing Power. They are mutually dependent and exist as a unity. The universe then is born out of the Divine Force and then spreads outwards before it is withdrawn into the Divine Force, as a process of cosmic evolution. Modern-day scientists from East or West also speaks similarly of the expansion and contraction of the universe as the red and blue effect and liken it to the snake eating its own tail as described in the Vishnu Purana. Several scientific scholars like Homi Bhabha and Abdul Kalam have alluded to the interaction between protons and neutrons as resembling the cosmic dance Tandav Nrutya of Shiva. Zoroastrian metaphysics similarly speaks of every being (person and animal) as having an Atish, a divine flame within it. Through evolution and after going through a series of births practicing good thoughts, good words and good deeds this divine flame rises in stature until it is worthy of joining the Divine Force. Whatever the difference may be, the concept of good and evil pervades all religion and it is here that morality makes its appearance.
Of the major religions in India, it can be argued that Sanatana Dharma which is commonly known as Hinduism is not a religion per se but a way of life as it has no known founder and is very pluralistic in nature. Buddhism is perhaps most humane as it speaks of ahimsa and tolerance with equal fervor. The Sufi doctrine challenges Islamic stiff dogma while remaining within the Islamic fold. Zoroastrianism is totally mind based like the other three and brings with it a richness and tolerance that remains unparalleled. It preaches universal tolerance and the earlier meta-physicists of this religion were known to say that many roads lead to the city centre and ours is just one.
When St. Thomas came to the southern coast of India to spread the faith, he took an ethnic look at the assimilation of thoughts from both sides and unveiled Indian Christianity. The modern Christian is caught between the culture of Hindu society from which his ancestors were converted and the European views that had a bearing on his psyche thereafter. Moses in the Old Testament in the Bible says I Am who Am. the ancient Hindus called Tatvam Asi or Thou art That and Shankaracharya said Ahm Brahasmi or I am That. In fact, it is also quite similar to the twin Sufi doctrines of Hama Azus or I am from Him and Hama Uus or I am He. Thomas Aquinas and Augustine took Christianity to a level far above the mundane ritualistic reading of the Bible. Within the Christian faith too there is a lot of plurality. For instance, the basis of Christendom lies in the Gospel of St. John, Paper III, and Verse 16, which reads thus:
God loved the world so much that he gave the world his only begotten son; he who believeth in Him, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and he who liveth and believeth in Him shall never die.
The Christian orthodoxy holds more faith in the death and resurrection of Christ than in the birth of Jesus and the Immaculate Conception. The rivalries between the Episcopal (hierarchically governed) and non-Episcopal orders (egalitarian administration) are time-honoured and well known. However, as far as their work ethics is concerned it is much similar to what we have seen in Bhagavadgita, much like Karma yoga.
- Fundamentally, work is the manifestation of Man, himself.
- It is the nature of Man to work, as it is the nature of the Sun to radiate: in order to become manifest. There cannot be any nature of Man or of the Sun more spontaneous than this.
- Each Man is born with a mission in his life and distinct talents in accordance with that mission, whereby to fulfil his mission. It is through work that Man elects to nurture his talents and co-ordinate them into a systematic whole, whereby, to fulfil his mission. In pursuing the fulfilment of his mission in spirit and in truth, Man, pursues his self- manifestation in spirit and in truth.
- To deny Man work unjustly, therefore, is to deny Man the opportunity to manifest himself.
- Being so, work can neither be goalless, nor motiveless for it is through his work that Man strives to manifest himself
- In working, Man ought to take accountability, fundamentally, of the goal and the motive to which the work relates. These are the primary, innate and substantive aspects of work. The skill, the activity, the knowledge, the process, the system, and the method related to the work are the secondary, extraneous and facilitating aspects of work.
- It is in disassociating work from its substantive aspects and associating work, fundamentally, with its extraneous aspect: that Man either reveals his inadequate understanding of Reality or he cheats.
- To work, therefore, is to execute a role.
- It is the integrity and honesty with which a Man executes a role that distinguishes one Man from another: not one role- execution from another.
- The focus, therefore, is fundamentally on Man neither on his technique nor on his technology, neither on his environment nor on his organisation. The technique, the technology, the environment, and the organisation are but need-based creations of Man to facilitate him in achieving his goal and motive in spirit and in truth. The accountability, thus, is specific.
- A Man, of course, is worthy of his hire.
- The foundation of teamwork is individual commitment.
Zarathustra (or Zoroaster) was known as the Laughing Prophet and he lived and preached in the Iran of 650 BC circa. Zarathustra means, “wise man” and he never proclaimed himself to be a prophet. He preached tolerance of other faiths and promoted the intellectual quest for truth. He argued that the human mind was too minuscule to understand the Great Immensity and do we could see His manifestation through the five basic elements: water, fire, air, earth and sun. His followers are known as Zoroastrians and to escape conversion at the hands of Islamic invaders, the Zoroastrians fled with the holy fire to India. The religion has seeped in a high level of metaphysics whose real meaning and purport have been quite difficult to grasp. It could not have co-existed with Islam, which is rather baser in its ideology. They are not fire-worshippers as is often misunderstood but that they see Mother Nature and thus God being represented through the five basic elements, fire, water, earth, air and the sun. That is why Zoroastrianism talks of an ongoing prayer that begins (in one form) at birth and ends (in that form) at death. Communication with the Great Immensity is an ongoing dialogue which can be seen through the quality of human action.
Those among the first Diaspora landed in Gujarat came to be known as Parsis. Those that came in the second Diaspora a few centuries later became known as Iranis. The Parsi temples thus contain the five elements of nature: air, water, earth, and fire beside the fact that the adepts face the sun when they pray. The asylum was granted to them in India on specific conditions namely: (i) they will owe allegiance to India (or Hindustan) totally. (ii) They will not spread their faith or convert persons to it. (iii) They will adopt all Hindu rituals except during the navjote or thread ceremony and at death. In fact, a lot of the chants during the Parsi marriage ceremony are taken from Sanskrit.
The Islamic (Orthodox) View:
Islam in many ways is based on revelations by the Almighty to the Prophet Mohamed, very much like the Lord spoke to Moses in the burning bush as per the Old Testament. The Islamic faith accepts the Old Testament of the Bible and claims that Mohamed was the last messiah after Christ to have come to save mankind from sin. The Koran is a moral order or commands over the entire civil society that must be obeyed and total unquestioned submission is needed. For Islam either you are a believer (Muslim) or a non-believer (Kafir).
The five duties of a Muslim are: (i) profession of faith in the prescribed form, (ii) observance of ritual prayer (iii) giving alms to the poor (iv) pilgrimage to Mecca and (v) fasting during Ramadan. The message of the Koran is to be read and understood in conjunction with the life of the Prophet Mohamed. The Islamic world is far from unitarist and there is a great deal of pluralism within it. However, the two things that are common to each kind of Islamic view are these. The supremacy and finality of the Koran (as well as its interpretation) is and the concept flows only from an interpretation of the Koran. The Shias consider the Ayatollah as the last Imam and this position passes on from generation to generation. The Sunnis consider that Mohamed was the last Imam and there can be none after him. The followers of Agha Khan are the most modern of the Muslims and quite liberal in their social mores. But it is the Sufis, who merit the greatest respect and intellectual acclaim. They were basically humanists who were seeped in high order metaphysics and relatively devoid of ritual.
The Islamic Sufi View:
Muhiyuddin Ibn Arabi was the founder of the great liberal doctrine of Sufism. He felt that God was love itself and that his heart was the seat of love. The distinction between temple, church, synagogue thus faded away. The Sufis fought for peace unto all and animosity with none. Many Sufi spiritualists like the saints Baba Farid of Punjab, Hamiduddin Nagauri of Ajmer, Shah Abdul Latif Bitani of Sindh and the poet Mirza Galib believed in the doctrine of wahdat al wujid which when translated means “the unity of all being”. This led them to state that the real being was Allah and the entire universe was His creation. Hence to make his distinction between the two would be improper. Of the great Moslem philosophers of old, three could be singled out. The first of these is Alfarabi who belonged to the School of Baghdad circa 950 AD. He saw logic as a stepping stone to the understanding of the philosophy. which he divided into Physics, (included within which were psychology and the theory of knowledge) and Metaphysics. The second Moslem thinker is Avicenna or Ibn Sina who is credited as having been the real creator of a Scholastic system of the Islamic World. Writing from Persia circa 1025 AD he divided philosophy in the wide sense, into logic, speculative philosophy (physics, mathematics, and theology), and practical philosophy (ethics, economics, and politics). To him God is Truth, Goodness, Love and Life.
But the Sufi scholar was very much abhorred by the orthodox clergy who could not turn religion into a political weapon. The moderates and the intellectuals among the Islamic community are perhaps the only people who respect the Sufi views and understand how that saw love and God in every human being.
Gautama whose name was Siddharth was a Sakyan prince who forsook worldly pleasures in quest of sublime peace nirvana. The term Buddha stood for “the wise one”. Human action was viewed as being represented in three ways: thought, speech and bodily action. One is expected to rid oneself of the bad ways of life or akusala (greed, hatred and delusion), and avoid prolonging one’s mundane existence and move towards papa. Instead, one should accumulate or merit punya, through good ways of life kusala and thus shorten one’s life and attain nirvana. Once the nirvana has been attained, one is no longer required to be entrapped in the wheel of existence or samsara. The concept of karma or deeds leading to rebirth at a lower or higher level of consciousness has been borrowed ipso facto from Hindu tenets. Some thinkers even hold Buddha as one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Buddhist spiritual literature and philosophy is founded on the Lotus Sutra, made up of 69,338 characters encompassing the totality of mystic principles.
Buddhism preaches that the cause and the effect of all reality lie within oneself and this is the logical culmination of the philosophy of karma. Buddhists placed these threefold virtues on a higher plane. (i) Consciousness, which composes of truthfulness, righteousness and veracity. (ii) Benevolence, which is typified through equanimity, loving, kindness, sympathetic joy and compassion. (iii) Self-restraint, which includes abstinence, contentment, purity, chastity and celibacy. The Buddhist view is that virtues build up character and these could be either performed by the emancipation of an individual or by developing the needs of a social organisation or civil society.
Buddhist social ethics are identified through the twin elements of the ethic of care and the ethic of rights. Society is essentially supposed to be caste-less and distinctions based on birth are rejected. The Buddhist concept of dharma relates to the cosmic order in the universe, unlike the Hindu concept that relates to sincerely performing one’s duty. But like Hinduism it is the king’s duty to protect dharma. In India, B R Ambedkar embraced Buddhism in the mid-1950s since it stood for equality of man before God. As a result, the faith has spread quite rapidly amongst members of the erstwhile denigrated and lower classes amongst Hindus (castes).
Chanting as a form of prayer is highlighted and communal chanting (in-groups) is given great importance as is concept sharing. There are select bands of people, who look upon Buddhism as a way of obtaining an emancipation of mankind from the bondage of karma, and for them, this is an ideology which goes beyond ritual and well into metaphysics.
Jains abhor violence and instead preach universal peace. Founded in India around the 6th century BC by Vardhamana Mahavira, Jainism is essentially a non-theistic religion of a significant minority that has restricted itself (unlike Buddhism) to the confines of India. Ahimsa or non-violence is the kernel of their religious doctrine that can be better interpreted as a non-compromising respect for all life. Ahimsa is practised for its intrinsic value, as are virtues like truthfulness, non-stealing, non-possessiveness, and sexual continence. All activity leads to karma that is seen as a bondage from which the adept must be freed.
Once the adept is freed from the bondage of karma the cycle of life and death is arrested and the adept can realise the highest form of evolution. The ethics of Jainism revolve around a rigid regimen of renunciation and the monastic community or samgha is what the adept must benchmark all actions against. The Jains are divided into two sects: the dighambara and the swetambara. Technically it means those who have divested themselves of all possessions and clothing i.e. dighambara and those who lead an austere life and wear simple and white clothing i.e. swetambara. With the passage of time pragmatism has caused Jainism to be reformed and modernised but nevertheless it still remains quite a fundamentalist albeit non-violent religion with a normative code of do’s and don’ts.
Perhaps there is an only important point at which the metaphysics of the Hindus, the Christians, the Zoroastrians, the Buddhists, the Jains and the Sufis is in agreement. And that is the acceptance of the fact that prayer is an ongoing communion with God and mankind should thank Mother Nature for the favours bestowed upon it as a part of this prayer.
Sikhism is a Faith and Sikh means student or discipline who maintain Sri Guru Granth Sahib as their holy book, Guru Nanak Dev while founding Sikh religion around 1469, brought the word of God to spread and evidence it upon the earth, through his hymns and prayers (Shabads), which are founding stone and are an inspiration to live a life of truth and uplift one in righteousness and spirituality. Siri Guru Granth Sahib is a compilation of these hymns and Shabads and while compiling these prayers Sikh gurus included the writings of Hindu saints, prominent among them is Sant Namdev of Maharashtra who stayed in Punjab for twenty years at Ghuman in Gurudaspur district. About sixty of his Abhangas are included in Guru Granth Sahib denouncing casteism and superstition and believing in the unity of God. Compilation of Guru Granth Sahib was done by Sikh gurus themselves.
Later on, in 1699, to give Sikhs a separate identity, Guru Gobind Singh who was the tenth guru, established Khalsa in order to reinforce the principles preached by all the previous gurus. The event took place on Baisakhi and each year this is celebrated with great fervor and zeal. Towards the end of his life, Guru Gobind Singh told to his followers "Sab Sikhan ko hukam hai Guru Manyo Granth" meaning "All Sikhs are commanded to take the Granth as Guru". So today, if asked, the Sikhs will tell you that they have a total of 11 Gurus. (10 Gurus in human form, and the Eternal Shabad Guru, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib).
Some basic beliefs are (1) there is nothing that is beyond or outside the one God. So, therefore there is nothing being creaed or destroyed, as the creation and destruction are still only part of the one. (2) The goal of life is to focus on being at one with God. The is attainable by meditation, prayer and being in the company of others who share a similar goal.
Followers of Sikhism are all trying to break the process of rebirth and become one with God (Salvation). Bad karma is keeping people from reaching union with God. Bad karma is a result caused by lust, greed, anger, attachment and pride from which a true Sikhs must try to stay away from these things. Sikhs also believe that a piece of god resides within everything in the world. Once an individual discovers the god within and stops searching elsewhere then can he reach salvation. They are meant to turn inward in search of truth. Shabad kirtan as a form of prayer is given great importance which is looked upon as a way of obtaining emancipation from the bondage of karma.
In this way, there were exchanges of ideas from Hinduism and a give and take transaction took thereby enriching its own crucible of thought. In addition, there are several cultures that have co-existed in India over hundreds of years and have influenced each other in some way. Within each culture too there were many strands and the only thing common to all was an appeal to the metaphysical forces and the predominance of respective religions. Hence to speak of a unique Indian ethos is quite misleading. In examining the dominant religious beliefs systems we have seen the plurality of beliefs and the diversity of cultures within India. This was possible because the borderless world was a fact even during those days.
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