This piece is an after-thought on my “The Myth of Similarity Between Religions” where I argue that all religions are not the same. I continue here and argue that Dharma is different from religion as understood in West.
I’ve based my understanding of religion mainly on the perspective of practitioners, to confirm if my understanding of the religion accurately represents its true position.
Fate of a good atheist
We shall consider an atheist who is a man of certain values, law-abiding and treats others well. But, we repeat, he does not believe in any religion.
From a Hindu perspective, this man’s fate is entirely dependent on his karma [roughly sum-total of his deeds in life]. His lack of belief does not interfere with the law of karma, and if his conduct is good, post-death he may in all probability get a human life again with better material prosperity.
However according to Islam and Christianity, the person’s lack of belief on Prophet Mohammed and Jesus Christ respectively, qualifies him for eternal hellfire after death. The atheist’s good work notwithstanding, his lack of belief renders all positives useless.
Please note that by belief we specifically mean belief-in-Jesus-ONLY or belief-in-Prophet-ONLY. These religions are categorical in naming only their Saviour’s God as one and reject Gods of other faiths. They do not believe that salvation is possible outside their faith.
Fate of a Hindu
We analyse here the fate of a Hindu from various standpoints.
From a Hindu perspective, a Hindu’s belief on Hindu principles is of little influence on his fate. His belief does not absolve him of any sins he has committed. If one is a sincere Hindu, he must automatically seek the welfare of world and should not hate/harm others. However, if he harms others, (except as defence) he must face his karma however pious he might have been. A Hindu who kills innocent people of other religions too faces retribution for his deeds.
To both Christianity and Islam, a Hindu just by virtue of being one, is worthy of contempt however lofty he might be in human terms.
A case in point is the opinion of Maulana Muhammad Ali (an important Muslim leader of Khilafat movement of 1922, India) on Mahatma Gandhi: "However pure Gandhi's character may be, he must appear to me from the point of view of religion inferior to any Mussalman, even though he be without character”. He repeated it later, saying, 'Yes, according to my religion and creed, I hold an adulterous and a fallen Muslim to be better than a Mr. Gandhi."
According to core scriptures of Islam, it is a pious to destroy Pagan temples, forcefully convert them to Islam, and kill those who refuse to obey the rule of Allah. Likewise, a pious Christian feels justified in exploiting poor people or those mentally weakened by problems and forcing them to convert in lure of material benefits. Social-service has always been the mask under which the missionary apparatus seeks to convert “heathens”. If conversions are banned, the whole “healing” will end instantly.
Fate of a Muslim and Christian
The Hindu position with respect to Muslim and/or Christian believer follows the pattern of an atheist. If this believer performs good karma he will reap good harvest, his non-belief in Hinduism has nothing to do with his fate. However, if this believer kills innocent people in the name his religion, he will face due negative karma. Hinduism doesn’t absolve any sin committed in the name of converting others. Unless necessitated by dharma [for larger good of mankind] and purely as a defence against atrocities, war is not scripturally sanctioned.
This cannot be misinterpreted by anyone for his selfish cause and needs proper examination beforehand [like all efforts were made to avert Mahabharata war and only as the last resort when all discussions fail, is war declared].
On the contrary, a Christian and Muslim are actually urged to go around the world and “help” people realize their truth. All means are justified to convert the unbelievers. While Islam is still pre-modern, Christianity post-reformation is more subtle and intelligent in this endeavour. But the root motivation remains the same.
Let us imagine a hypothetical situation where the whole world forgets the past and there is no way to regain knowledge of history. What happens to Islam and Christianity in such a situation? Because both cite their authority on truth, based on historical references, these religions are sure to fall apart.
But Hinduism is like a scientist’s discovery of nature’s laws. Just like if Newton would not have discovered the law of gravity, it could have been discovered by someone else although it might have taken more time. Extending the same logic of mass-amnesia to this concept, we can be sure that the same law can be reached again through independent enquiry which is not subject to prior knowledge or belief.
The principles of Hinduism are universal and open to anyone to wishes to gain from them. It is not the political affiliation of religion that matters. One may call himself a Muslim, Christian or Hindu, but what does not change is man’s relationship with his activity. This has little to do with politico-religious organization and depends on self-realization.
One line sums it all: Hinduism: Liberation through Knowledge. | Abrahamic religions: Salvation through Faith.
So what is dharma?
Dharma can be termed as an intrinsic nature of each matter whether animate or inanimate. It is the dharma of tiger to hunt down other animals and eat them. The dharma of inanimate objects when studied in detail becomes what we term of Physics today, like it is dharma of earth to revolve around the sun.
Likewise, irrespective of one’s political affiliation to a cause which differs with space and time, one’s dharma is deeply interweaved with one’s activities from which none is exempt. The intrinsic nature of human community also has a dharma and each varna contributes towards maintenance of universal dharma by performing its sva-dharma (personal dharma) well. A non-religious society can be ethical. But a non-dharmic society cannot be ethical.
Contrast this with the Monotheistic Prophetic religions – they appear like an imperialist ideology that provides a garb under which its people indulge in wanton exploitation. The rapid rise of these religions and its longevity is explained by its apologists as a vindication of its truthfulness – I contend that longevity isn’t necessarily a measure of a theory’s correctness. Sometimes, a theory is just too useful as a tool for many people who abuse it for their own selfish purposes.
I conclude by offering two paradigms that contrast Indian and Western culture.
- Two millenniums ago, Emperor Ashoka of Maurya Empire surrendered to Buddhism [which I consider as an offshoot of Sanatana Dharma]. Here, the warrior surrendered to the faith and changed himself for better to became a benevolent ruler.
- Sometime later, Constantine the Roman Emperor, accepted Christianity. Instead of the Christianity changing the warrior, the warrior manipulated Christianity to further his imperialistic designs.
That helps understand to a considerable extent the difference between Dharma and Religion.