Written for the 2nd Conference of the WCER
I consider it a privilege to present a paper in this international conference, representing Hinduism and also Vivekananda Kendra – a spiritually oriented institution and a dynamic movement established to commemmorate the memory of Swami Vivekananda and to translate his world-vision into practice.
During the last decade of 19th century – in the year 1893 to be more precise – Swami Vevekananda addressed the World Parliament of Religion at Chicago, which turned out to be an epoch making one. The message of Universal Brotherhood and Harmony of religions which he conveyed, became part of the mainstream thinking of mankind in the 20th Century. Similarly, just on the eve of the third millenium, I am sure, this conference is also bound to make an indelible mark on the psyche of mankind and influence the course of history. I am confident that this conference will proclaim to the world that all the suppressed and submerged ethnic religions and cultures will once again regain their place of honour and enrich the world by their many sided contributions.
Lithuania which hosts this conference has the distinction of being the last European country to be subjected to the onslaught of Christianity. India too has the distinction of being the country which held Christianity at bay, at a mere 2.5% of the population, notwithstanding more than 200 years of Christian imperialist rule. But, Christianity is still posing a severe threat with the slogan “Evangelisation 2000 and beyond”. Organised moves, supported by foreign powers, and foreign funds are afoot to Christianise the people of India, particularly those simple folk from the tribal belt. Political overtones are also evident since the Churches are openly playing their political card in the current elections in India to achieve the above objective. Islamic fundamentalism is another factor trying to subvert India. They were more successful than the Christians though not to the extent they were in other countries of the world. But they won a major victory about 50 years ago when they carved out one third of India into a separate Islamic, theocratic state, from where the original religion of Hinduism has been practically wiped out. The efforts are still on The motto of this ‘World Congress of Ethnic Religions’ – “Unity in Diversity” – sounds almost like an echo of the Vedic hymn “Emam sat Vipra Bahudha vadanti” – Truth is one; sages call it by various names. India has been a land of diversity and religious pluralism. There had never been any religious persecuted from all over the world. From the point of view of language, religion and culture, Lithuania and India have much in common. Both have been worshippers of Divinity manifest in Nature. For us, God is not merely transcendantal or extra-cosmic, but is immanent in nature itself.Sun is looked upon by both as a great Divine manifestation. Gayatri – the most potent and popular mantra – is an invocation to the Sun. Similarly, Fire is worshipped as a great power of the Divine and is invoked in all the Yanjas. It is significant to remember that the very first mantra in Rig Veda invokes the God Agni. The same tradition continues unbroken to this day. All extraordinary manifestations in the World are imbued with the Divine essense. Bhagavad Geeta, the most popular sacred scripture, held in the highest esteem by all Hindus, mentions the Himalaya Mountains, the river Ganga the Ashwatha tree and a host of other special expressions in Nature as God himself. Hindu religion and the land of its origin are inseparably connected by these divine links. The land itself is sacred.
The dividing line between sacred and secular is unknown to Hindus. It is an import from West. This was so in the case of all Pre-Abrahamic religions, sometimes contemptuously called ‘Paganism’. Every sect in Hinduism shares this common perception. For all of them, the relation with the Motherland is sacred and inviolable. Devotion to Motherland is part of their religion and spirituality. Hindu concept in this regard is well brought out in the Vedic dictum – ‘Mata Prithvi Putroham Prithivya’ Earth is our Mother and we are all her Children. Similarly Hindus were global in outlook from very ancient times. One of the Vedic Mantras says: “Let noble thoughts come to us from all over the world”. (Aa No Bhadra Kruthavo Yanthu Vishwathaha). Modern globalisation and the Hindu concept of ‘world as a family’ are qualitatively different. For the Hindus, Earth is a temple where people come to offer worship. To the modern West, Earth is a market where sellers and buyers meet to exploit each other. For the Hindu, Culture is vital. For the modern West, Commodity is all important. Whereas the West looks upon nature as an object of exploitation, the Hindu considers Nature as an expression of Divinity.
With the advent of the Abrahamic religions Divinity was banished from the earth. As Sri Aurobindo, one of modern India’s greatest philosophers points out, “The Divinity had abandoned the earth and lives far aloof and remote in other worlds, in a celestial heaven of Saints and immoratal spirts”. Sterile modern rationalism has only reinforced this separation!
What we should strive for is to annul this forced partition between heaven and earth, God and Nature and rehabilitate heaven on this troubled and strife-torn planet of ours.
The present trend of globalisation is inherently a move towards homogenisation. It is already destroying the charming varieties in life, of language, costumes, food-habits, and even values and modes of worship. Whether one wants it or not, globalisation will bring in its wake a monotonous uniformity. It goes against the very grain of our common objective – Unity is Diversity.
This threat is inherent in the modern concept of globalisation because its very core is ‘global market’, – with its attendant evils of competition, exploitation, natural degradation, environmental pollution and sensuous and vulgur consumerism, cutting at the root of sustainable development. Future generations will have to pay a heavy price if we allow this trend to dominate. The Hindu alternative to global market is the ‘global family’ – ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ – a world family where variety will be cherished and all the peoples of the world will live as members of the same family; each caring for the other, each concerned with the other, and not exploiting each other, contributing to the total welfare and enriching and ennobling humanity as a whole. At the dawn of the new millenium, the vibrations of a promise of a regenerated humanity, with all the suppressed and submerged cultures and religions taking up their place in the community of nations is felt at the heart of humanity. But that is not going to be a mere revival. It will be a renaissance, drawing fresh energy and life-sap from the roots, re-inventing its manifestations in accordance with the changing situations and their demands. Secondly, against the background of all the advanced means of modern communications, they will also forge a bond of strong and healthy unity to work together in the common interest. Hinduism, which has been able to sustain itself through all these ages uninterrupted will lend a helping hand and play a positive role in the creation of such a new world of Spiritual unity and Cultural diversity.