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What kind of a God will condemn a 'heathen' child to eternal - Communalism Combat

Swami Agnivesh ()
1997 September

Title: What kind of a God will condemn a 'heathen' child to eternal Hell? -
(Part I of III)
Author: Swami Agnivesh
Publication: Communalism Combat
Date: September 1997

SWAMI AGNIVESH, better known for his work among bonded labourers, is an
unconventional 'religious professional' who never minces words. In this
very candid -some may even consider it highly provocative - piece written
from a Hindu perspective, he raises some uncomfortable questions against
what he considers to be the 'soul-saving imperialism' of Islam and
Christianity. He strongly believes that mere chanting of mantras about
what unites us will not help in bringing about interfaith dialogue or
communal harmony. What is needed to fight the rising tide of religious
fundamentalism and intolerance is an atmosphere of free doubt, debate and

Spelling out the Hindu view of a multi-religious society is certainly not
an easy task because within Hinduism there are innumerable paths,
philosophies, sects, systems - some of them highly sectarian. Of them, some
are open and tolerant, some highly philosophical, while others are plainly

Dharma meaning eternal righteousness, rule of law, ethical conduct etc.,
flows from the lofty ideals and principles set in the Vedas. Hinduism has
no founder or prophet but there are common grounds which most Hindus can

One of them is that the purpose of religion is to take the individual
through a gradual process to a higher and higher, or deeper and deeper
awareness, ending finally in liberation of the soul from all bondage.

Religion should also create -the necessary environment to support such a
lofty pursuit. We Hindus believe that the Creator is in everything there is
and Her/ His divinity is the innermost core of every man and woman. Through
the illusionary veil of ignorance about the self and our attachment to ego
we are unable to realize our oneness with God.

Innumerable paths have been developed by our sages and yogis, but they can
be generally divided into four major groups:

Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion;

Karma Yoga, the path of selfless service;

Jnana Yoga, the path of inquiring reflection; and,

Raj Yoga, the royal path of meditation.

Each one of these specific ways to God has countless subdivisions,
cross-sections and syntheses. Regrettably, not one individual follows any
one of the yogas in its purest form. All paths will lead - as the
Bhagavad-Gita, the most popular and revered scripture among Hindus says -
eventually to the realization of God.

We have been enjoined that by ceaseless introspection, each of us should
discern which is the path which is best suited to us at that moment or in
that stage of development. The responsibility is placed on each of us to
discern our swadharma. The task of the guru or teacher is to lead us to
discern that swadharma. To facilitate this approach to the Divine Self
within man, our ancient seers introduced the concept of Varna Ashram Dharma.

Varna, derived from the root Vri - to choose. Varna, generally gives each
individual his/her place in society, with corresponding rights and duties.
Varna cannot be passed onto the children. Our scriptures are clear that by
our nature and by our specific activity or profession we belonged to a
given varna.

The yardstick for judging ones varna is guna (abilities), karma (action)
and swabhava (aptitude). in the scriptures it says: At birth we are all
shudras but by our action and qualification we become twice born.

Life was also divided into four major stages under the ashram system: the
first part of ones life is to be devoted to study; the second to be lived
as a householder, having a family, enjoying wealth and all the material and
psychological properties (dharma, artha. kaama); the third stage is meant
for retirement and reflection; and the fourth is to be live d in complete
renunciation from all worldly desires and attachments, living a life of
spiritual practice and service to God and humanity.

The much maligned Varna Ashram Dharma is a revolutionary concept of
socio-spiritual engineering. While the caste system is based on birth which
breeds inequality and immobility, varna (derived from Vri, to choose)
negates any status, social or economic, based on birth. In fact, it
militates against the very institution of private property and private
ownership of means of production.

At the same time it discounts static-ism. Its a beautiful concept but
unfortunately has fallen into the hands of people who have given to it a
bad name. It is very difficult though not impossible, to- retrieve and
resurrect it. Everything in Hinduism, be it the question of how to rule
the country or that of the Tantric sexual union, has ultimately only one
final aim that: God or self-realization.

Hindus look at everything in terms of involution and evolution, an eternal
coming and going represented by the Trinity of Matter, Soul and God -
Traitavada. Hinduism contains the widest spectrum of religious thoughts
and practices, from the most primitive idol worship and sacrifices to the
highest and the most profound techniques of meditation.

Hindus are normally guided by a teacher whose sole duty is to lead the
seeker to the divine God within him. Since we believe that all humans are
on different evolutionary levels of spiritual awareness, we also accept the
fact that there are different teachings, paths, techniques, methods to
reach the final goal.

As we believe in an evolutionary process of the soul (which is supposed to
be identical with God), we move from lower to higher in a cycle of numerous
lives, taking birth according to our karma, or the sum total of our
previous acts and deeds.

In each life we draw closer and closer to God to reach final liberation,
which can be experienced, according to our sages, here and now, in this
very life. In the close proximity of the individual soul (Atman) with the
Universal Soul (Paramatman), we finally realize that we have always been
with God, though having fallen to the illusion of separateness due to
clinging to our ego and illusionary individuality.

Our scriptures say there is nothing but Brahman - God who is all-pervasive,
all-embracing and all-containing. The total surrender to this Ultimate
Reality and living ones own svadharma (given duties without the sense of I
am the doer) is the highest purpose of life.

All religions, rooted in Hindustan, be it Buddhism, Jainism, or Sikhism and
a multitude of smaller sects, believe in the Law of Karma. This law has
been distorted and even perverted to justify social, economic and gender
disparity/discrimination. The law of karma means that the soul or the
individual reincarnates on this earth till it finally dissolves in Moksha -

All spiritual schools coming out of the Indian soil believe that each
individual must work out his own salvation, by continuous spiritual, mental
and physical purification till the grace of God is manifest.

For a Hindu it is unthinkable that there is only one true Savior or one
last Prophet and that whosoever does not believe in his message or gospel
will be condemned to eternal hell-fire. For us, the Grace of God is always
present and we find it incomprehensible and philosophically unacceptable
that an all-loving and all-powerful God condemns his own creation, his own
children into an eternal abyss. We believe that God, the Self within us,
seeks itself, or in classical Vedantic parlance. The Self seeks itself
through the self.

A Hindu can accept the idea that there are innumerable paths and ways to
God. He has no problems whatsoever in accepting different names for the
Ultimate Reality, be it called Brahman, Allah, Tao, Jehovah or whatever,
since he knows that the Ultimate is beyond name and forms.

With such a religious outlook, it is transparently clear why a Hindu has no
difficulty in entering into a dialogue with other religions so long as they
drop their exclusiveness. For us, there is no exclusiveness in any system
since each one only represents a part and never the whole, which contains
all. With such an all-embracing view it is easy to see why Hinduism has no
missionary command.

As we can see from this short but necessary introduction, there are
fundamental differences between prophetic religions and religions having
their roots on Indian soil. We are facing a situation where some religions
on one side have a missionary command and a moral obligation rescuing
others from the world of Satan, and on the other side with religious
systems which believe in pluralism and a multitude of approaches to God. In
the East, religion is an inner process of Yoga and no book or holy
revelation is taken as absolutely authoritative and above ones inner most

The scriptures lead beyond scriptures, declare the Upanishads. Though
human in origin, an exposition of truth is to be accepted. If otherwise,
even what is regarded as divine revelation is to be rejected. Even a young
boy's words are to be accepted if they are words of wisdom; else, reject it
like straw even if uttered by Brahma, the Creator, says Vashishta.

I have no intention to praise Hinduism in this article, I am fully aware
that our shortcomings are too plentiful, particularly on the social level.
I will gladly admit that we also have some Hindu fundamentalists who
consider Sanatan Dharma as absolutely unique and above other systems of
self inquiry and spiritual realization but this view is not common.

The dreadful situation that India finds itself in is mainly due to a
totally disinterested and alienated elite, due to a corrupted priest craft
and the consequential inferiority complex which is due to a thousands of
years of exploitation and suppression.

In recent times, Hinduism has never had a real chance to reform itself and
bring out the timeless universal ideals because the slightest genuine
spiritual movement among the Hindus is immediately being branded by the
minority communities as Hindu-chauvinism, Hindu backlash or fundamentalism.
We are basically victims of our own tolerant philosophical outlook.

On what base can there ever be a Hindu fundamentalism since no scripture is
absolutely authoritative for all Hindus, not even the Vedas since the
highest realization is always considered above scriptural knowledge? Too
innumerable are our teachings, methods, techniques, etc. to create any
monotheistic belief system on it.

Ignoring these differences does not bring us any closer together. The
Hindu masses are becoming increasingly aware that their pagan outlook is a
challenge to proselytizing faiths, particularly Islam and Christianity, who
have a moral obligation by their founders to go out into the world and
convert the heathen nations.

This awareness is being misused by many Hindu religious leaders through
their easy access to the mass media to create enmity between the different
religious communities. But let us look at the thesis: The 'Hindu view of a
multi-religious society', a little more closely.

We could - as is very popular nowadays - talk about the many things we have
in common with each other. But I believe that is high time that we also
take a closer look at the things which separate us from each other and
have been the cause of millions of deaths, unimaginable pain and suffering
for humanity. By only talking about the positive aspects of our faiths, we
are negating the negative side but whose shadow continuously looms in our

As we know from psychology, anything that is negated and suppressed can be
the cause of suffering and ill-health. In the same way, by not facing the
negative, the shady, the contradictory and destructive aspects of our
faith, by doing only goody-goody talk, we create a psychological situation
where it only needs the right demagogic spark to periodically create
situations in India which remind us of the Nazi era, or the more recent
"ethnic cleansing' in what was formerly Yugoslavia.

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