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Excellent/must-read publication for all followers of Sanatana Dharma aka Hinduism. This can be used for presentations in educational institutions also.

This material is published by Hinduism Today MagazineKauai Aadheenam, Hawaii, USA.

You can also download this publication in pdf file from here. Please share it with your friends too.

14 Questions People Ask About Hinduism and 14 short tweetable answers!

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In this essay we will look at Sanatana Dharma (or Hindu Dharma or more popularly Hinduism) as a major world Civilization.

 

The emerging world order

The world today has shrunk into a global village. Ease of Air travel, the Internet, Cable TV that is available around the world, migration of people, have all radically transformed the world, within the last 50 years. There is both an economic and a cultural transfusion, occurring around the world that is clearly flattening the world rapidly. Technology has revolutionized it, and nations today are more inter-dependent than they ever were before. At the same time, the import of culture en masse is also at work causing a diffusion of the boundaries between one nation and another. India is rapidly “westernizing” adopting the cultural icons of the West, such as capitalism, competition, consumerism and entertainment. Simultaneously some 20+ million Americans are now practicing Yoga, and aspiring for some form of spiritual practice. Indian Gurus and Acharyas are also traveling around the world, sharing their special wisdom, method and practice with all who will listen. 

Remaking of the World Order

Professor Samuel Huntington in his important work, “The clash of civilizations” has proposed that the boundary of “Nations” as unitary entities will diminish in importance as people move more easily about. Today we find families in which the members live in many continents and countries. People will retain more easily their loyalty and connections with their country of origin, or better still the civilization they belong even as they give their loyalties to the new countries of their settlement. The diaspora will more easily integrate with its civilization of origin, creating a bloc. The emerging world order, will be remade along the lines of the major civilizations, such as Western, Latin American, African, Islamic, Chinese, Hindu and Japanese, with each civilization operating increasingly homogeneously, crossing the boundaries of many countries.

While the Nation States may continue to operate as the most important ‘actors’ on the world stage and affairs, their interests, associations, alliances and conflicts will be shaped by cultural and civilizational factors. For example Europe is striving through the instrument of the European Union, to operate as a homogeneous bloc, even though it is comprised of many nation states. Islamic countries similarly exhibit a cultural affinity with each other, (as witnessed in their support for Palestine) that is more fundamental than any temporal inter-civilizational alliances that they may create.

Human history, is largely about the history of civilizations – such as the Roman, or Egyptian. In the era of colonialism, (until 1920’s) mostly there was the Western civilization and the rest of the world which was either colonized or waiting to be colonized. In the era of communism (until 1990’s) there were the two major civilizational blocs – Western Capitalist and Communist, with the rest of the world either aligning with one or the other or struggling to remain non-aligned. With the demise of Marxist-Leninist communism in Russia, there is now emerging a multi-polar civilizational order, in which the West’s relative importance is declining. Global politics is becoming multi-polar and multi-civilizational. But first things first – We will begin by formally defining what we mean by a Civilization.

 

What is a Civilization?

A civilization is characterized by a continuity of culture, the sum total of its values, norms, institutions, modes of thinking, customs and practices to which successive generations in a given society have attached primary importance. It encompasses a world view and a way of life that is distinct and unique to a particular people and their original, creative process. It encompasses shared forms such as language, art, architecture, song, music, aesthetics, food, history, religion, philosophy, mythology and spirituality.

Civilizations may also encompass sub-groupings, that attempt to define themselves distinctly, but on the whole, the sub groups have more in common with each other, than with groups outside the civilizational boundary. While the sub-groups within a civilization may even fight with other sub-groups, they may also more easily engage in alliances with each other. A civilization is thus a totality, a union of sub groupings, which may each have a beginning and an end, but the civilization itself evolves, adapts and endures through long periods of historical continuity. Civilizations survive through time – they live through the rise and fall of empires, governments, kings and social and ideological upheavals. There is within each civilization an essence, a set of primary structuring ideas and principles around which the people of successive generations coalesce, thus breathing new life into those ideas and principles which symbolizes the civilization’s continuity.

Encounter between civilizations

 

Historically there were two processes through which one civilization encountered another – One was through diffusion, a largely peaceful and gradual process through which one civilization learnt about another, primarily through trade and commerce, intellectual discourse and dialogue. The other was through conquest, invasion or colonization, in which one civilization dominated another, imposing its will, subjugating the conquered and eliminating or destroying their culture.

When the Vedic religion of India spread through today’s Afghanistan, Iran and even had echoes in Egypt and the middle east (pre 2000 BCE), it was through a gradual process of diffusion – primarily a peaceful, intellectual and spiritual process. Similarly when Buddhism spread all over China, it was through a similar process of diffusion. When Islam exploded all over the middle east, (post 700 ACE) the encounter was usually a bloody affair, involving decisive military dominance. Similarly the colonial era when the West colonized the whole world, the process essentially involved military superiority, subjugation and control. European settlement of the Americas which has nearly decimated the native American civilization and rendered them into reservations, was again a violent military conquest.

But both these processes occurred at a time, when the civilizations themselves were removed from one another – characterized by a separation by space and time. Inter-civilizational encounters were few and far between, very limited and sometimes very intense. Ideas, technologies, religions, philosophy moved from one civilization to another but it took centuries. Even the conquered, did not easily give up their civilization overnight. It took a few generations to decimate and destroy their culture. In other cases, the conquerors assimilated the culture of the conquered and whole cultures metamorphosed. Today, this separation by space and time has been eliminated. Inter-civilizational encounters are taking place every day, every hour, in every nation. In every school class, there are multi-cultural students, trying to make sense of each other’s background and culture.

Every place where there is a diaspora, there are numerous inter-civilizational contacts. We are truly witnessing the emergence of a world order, in which human beings from different civilizations will have to learn to live side by side, in peaceful interchange, learning from each other, studying each other’s history and ideas, art and culture and mutually enriching each other’s lives. The alternative to this, is quite simply mis-understanding, tension, clash and eventually catastrophe. The future era belongs to inter-dependence, a co-mingling of the world’s cultures, a gradual assimilation and learning from each other, an ability to assimilate that which is true and great, no matter where it came from.

Sanatana Dharma (Hindu Dharma) is a major world civilization

Today (In 2007) Hindus represent approximately 14% of the World’s population. (Compared with Christians – 33%; Muslims – 21%; Non-religious 16%). They represent probably the world’s oldest continuous civilization that has survived through major periods of historical strife, numerous invasions, colonization, partitions, internal divisions and even the onslaught of westernization in recent times. Many authors have tried hard to make a distinction between the terms Hindu, Arya, Sanatana Dharma, Arya Dharma, Vedic Dharma and India, primarily by defining a term more narrowly than it warrants, and then proceeding to find a term that is more encompassing. For example, Jawaharlal Nehru tries hard in his “Discovery of India” to define Hinduism first as something very narrow i.e. a Brahminical creed; then as something too broad i.e. everything to everyone; and then dismisses it as nothing at all, because it is simply too vague i.e. a search for truth as Mahatma Gandhi puts it. So he uses the term Indian Civilization which is at best an even more recent creation than the term Hindu itself. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar tries to make a distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva, with the former term having a more religious orientation, and the latter term representing a more encompassing civilizational connotation. In this essay, we take the position that the term Sanatana Dharma is synonymous with the term Hindu Dharma (or Hinduism), and represents the essential nature of the Indian civilization.

The distinction between the two is difficult to make. To assimilate this point of view, we must examine the characteristics of this civilization in some detail. What are the distinct marks of this civilization? What are the primary structuring ideas and central principles that characterize this civilization? What are the great themes around which people of successive generations have coalesced thus breathing new life into this civilization? How do these central ideas differ from corresponding ideas from other civilizations that are co-extant today? Does this civilization have anything distinct and unique to offer the world? Has there been anything original and creative within this civilization that has a bearing and implication for all mankind? What is the core civilizational identity that separates the members of this civilization, from others? Without knowing clearly what these are, we will not know the future of this civilization or its role – nay, we shall also become one of a mob, become increasingly universal, westernized and alienated from our own roots.

1. Karma – Action and its consequence

Central to the civilization of India encompassing all Indian traditions, whatever name they go by, is the concept of Karma. “As you sow, so you reap” is a simple way of understanding its import, but this axiom does not go far enough. For the sowing and reaping may be separated by a great gulf of time. In its root meaning the Sanskrit word Karma (which comes from the root “Kri” which means “To do”) merely means “Action”. But the law of Karma says that any action has consequences, far in excess of what is visible to the eye. Therefore, the word Karma includes all its consequences (Phala), for they arise together, even though separated by time.

To understand the principle, let us examine a simple karma – an action such as drinking a cup of coffee. The immediate consequence is of course one is pleasantly gratified. There is another consequence that caffeine accumulates in the body with its own long term implications on the physical body, especially its nervous system. But both these are visible consequences; the not so easily perceptible consequence is that the experience of coffee settles in the deep recesses of the mind, and it begins to surface again at a later time in the form of desire for coffee. Thus sensations, both pleasant and unpleasant when stored up in the memory, resurface as desires, and stimulate action again and again. This then is the cycle of karma, action, its results both visible and invisible, and the resurfacing of desire, and the re-enactment of the same karma again. A karma involving a transaction between two individuals represents the next level of complexity. If I love my wife, she might love me back; If I neglect her, then surely I am tempting her to neglect me as well. If I hurt another, he may be incited to hurt me back; And if someone hurts me, and I am unable to hurt him back; then the hurt remains unresolved, and may show up as a need to hurt someone else. I may take out my anger against my boss on my dog. Thus in the every day interactions between people, there is a kind of continual emotional transaction going on, a kind of depositing and withdrawing – what goes around does come around. One can be a source of joy and good cheer, but equally a source of pain and suffering. So far so good; We are still within the realm of psychology, and ordinary psychic processes. The great intuitive leap of Sanatana Dharma is that the cycle of karmic repercussions transcends multiple life times – That is, I may commit an act, for which I may think I have evaded its consequence entirely in this life time, but surely it will catch up with me, in some future life.

As another example, if I did not provide for my wife and children, thereby inflicting great hurt on them; In this lifetime, the consequence for me may have been limited. But my children grow up without the role model of a good father; and this in turn impacts fundamentally how they treat their own husbands, wives and their children as well; which then continues on into the next generation. Thus the family structure breaks down over successive generations, and the consequence of Karma ripples through many lifetimes and many generations. It comes back to me, in the sense that I may in some future life be born as the child of the one who was my child in this life. Thus the main idea is that the consequence is inescapable; and one thinks that one can escape it, only by restricting one’s view to that portion of my life, which is visible to me, which is my current life. Sanatana Dharma saw that a single life with an abrupt beginning and end, without the flow of psychic impressions, which conditions future life was an inadequate view of life. Thus in its vision, human life is lived again and again, imprints of psychic impressions are carried around over and over, and thus there is a continuity. Every life at its very beginning inherits tendencies and attitudes, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses from prior lifetimes (Samskaras).

Every life is cast amidst a group of characters, with whom it has been cast before; every encounter with another has its source in the distant past. It is only the body that dies; there is a part of human life that survives the death of the body, carries with it the memories and tendencies and verily re-incarnates, assuming another body. There are even deeper dimensions to Karma, the collective dimension; In the interactions between nations, there is the force of Karma in action. Friendly nations turn into foes, actions of past generations come back to haunt the current one; Massive deficit spending only burdens future generations. Our whole lifestyle is today producing Karma that is going to come back to us. We destroy nature’s bounty, make species extinct, poison the atmosphere, blow holes in the Ozone layer at our own inevitable peril. Thus we are all trapped in this inexorable wheel of Karma, both experiencing the consequences of past Karmas, as well as unleashing new Karmas upon the universe, at the same time, both individually, and collectively. Other civilizations simply do not have an equivalent concept of Karma. This is the unique and distinctive center – the core Civilizational principle of Sanatana Dharma, a foundational organizing idea, from which all other constructs of this civilization flow.

2. Purushartha – Kama, Artha, Dharma and Moksha

Sanatana Dharma, postulated that there were four primary categories of human pursuits, four ends towards which all human endeavor is directed. And in life after life, human beings return to these, relentlessly, and literally continue where they left off. They called these human ends “Purusharthas” – which were four-fold Kama, Artha, Dharma and Moksha. Kama and Artha are easily known – for all human beings in all civilizations pursue these ends, without exception. Kama is the pursuit of the fulfillment of one’s desires and wants. Any Action we take now, that is going to result in pleasure or happiness directly, and preferably now, sooner than later is the pursuit of Kama.

Artha is the pursuit of Security and Well being now and in the future. Any Action we take now, that ensures our safety, security and well-being later, is the pursuit of Artha. Thus drinking a cup of coffee is Kama, going to the movies is Kama, visiting a favorite restaurant is Kama, enjoying some quiet music is also Kama, playing a game is Kama, in fact all actions that lead to any manner of sensory pleasures, satisfaction and fulfillment is Kama. Going to college is Artha, taking an exam is Artha, keeping a job is Artha, buying a home is Artha, starting a business is Artha, investing in the stock market and in retirement funds is Artha – And we see that in all manner of everyday actions, and pursuits we are established firmly in these two Purusharthas, as all human beings are too no matter whither they came from. In fact, much of human life is spent in these two pursuits – a vast majority of human beings simply live and die within the confines of these two pursuits.

But the real distinction of Sanatana Dharma is stamped upon its last two Purusharthas, Dharma and Moksha. In postulating these Purusharthas, Sanatana Dharma conceived of human life as an evolutionary process, a progressive refinement and uplifting, that passes through many life times, many pastures, many experiences both pleasurable and painful, many accomplishments and failures, much joy and sorrow, frequent progression and regression. And in the passage of life through these experiences, human beings grow out of their primarily animal tendencies, attain to a greater refinement of the mind and heart, begin also to inquire into the nature of human life, it limitations, and finally begin to lay the foundations of an authentically spiritual, creative and self-expressed life, which are the domains of Dharma and Moksha.

Sanatana Dharma proposed that the human being is himself capable of initiating a further evolution of his or her being, through a self-directed process of actualization, and inner realization. The whole range of possibility of being alive, did not end with mere survival and experiencing a few pleasures. Verily, there is a domain beyond, where the human being expands and fulfills a further dimension of growth – in which a much wider and greater experience and fulfillment is possible. And this wider possibility is not based upon sensory contacts with the world, but much more a matter of an inner growth and expansion. Sanatana Dharma saw the opportunity of human life, ultimately as an ascent of the human spirit, its progressive freeing up from its mortal coils, its time-bound pursuits and limitations, and as a great self-initiated uplifting into an altogether different plane of seeing, being and acting, from whence a human being can verily touch the divine. In a manner of speaking, the human being had the potential to transform himself into the divine, become divine himself as it were, and manifest the divinity in the world - and this transformation is verily the content and motivation of the last two pursuits of human and life – Dharma and Moksha. No other civilization has conceived human life I these terms. In fact, the human and the divine are strictly separated by a vast and unbridgeable gulf. The divine is separate and distant, only to be feared and worshipped, only to be approached through intermediaries, prophets and messiahs.

3. Moksha – The Spiritual end of human life

Evan as Sanatana Dharma saw that human beings come and go upon this earth, and Karma causes us to replay and re-enact the dramas of our lives over and over, through many lifetimes, it also recognized the possibility of a spiritual life and accorded a primacy to it as no other civilization has done. In its view, man is not merely a producer and consumer of goods and services; he is more than just a member of a tribe, class or community; he is verily much more than a rational, intellectual being capable of moral, artistic and aesthetic aspirations; he is all these, and he transcends all of these; indeed he abides in divinity itself, unbeknownst to himself, from whence he came and where he must return. Sanatana Dharma saw that there is indeed a way out of this seemingly endless cycle of repeated birth and death (Samsara), and called the attainment of that end Moksha (also called Nirvana by Buddhism and Kaivalya by Jainism). As the ultimate end of a human life, whether in this lifetime or in the future, and the inexorable journey that all human beings are on, no matter to what extent they recognize it, Moksha is the third most important and unique characteristic of the Hindu civilization.

This is presented by our scripture (The Vedas, Upanisads, The Bhagvad Gita, Puranas etc.) and affirmed generation after generation, as a self-realized fact, by the Rishis, Yogis and Achayras. The Rishi of ancient Bharata, discovered a means of knowledge (A pramana) beyond sensory perception and inference which becomes available when one turns one’s gaze inward, and delves deep into one’s own being. They found that when one’s outward distractions are quieted, it is possible to contact realms of being which reveal the truths of the self and the universe that are beyond ordinary reach. They called the inmost self Atman and they recognized that it is unborn and undying and is non-different than the essential truth (Sat) of all beings; indeed it is non-different than the transcendental divine principle that is the ground of all manifestation, which they called Brahman. And when one rises to that spiritual end, one sees all things in oneself, and oneself in all things, and there is an underlying unity (Ekam) amongst all things and beings, manifest and unmanifest, celestial and terrestrial, of the past, present or future. And this unity of being is not only real but it is conscious (Chit) and filled with unspeakable bliss (Ananda), and reaching this state of being one can authentically declare “Aham Brahmasmi”. The Rishis taught that the pursuit of Moksha is the appointed end for all Jivas, and even as we come and go into this world in numerous Janmas, ultimately we must tire of all things temporal, all things that captivate us of this world, and set our heart on transcending all these comings and goings. It is but ignorance (Avidya) that keeps us distracted, forever pursuing goals that are fleeting, impermanent and ultimately unfulfilling. Sanatana Dharma teaches us that the passage from the unreal to the real, from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, from repeated births to immortality is the principal opportunity of every human birth.

Other civilizations simply lack a concept that equals Moksha. Indeed their views of Heaven and Hell, are simplistic and primitive in comparison. Man (or Woman) begins suddenly and ends equally suddenly. He brings neither proclivities from previous existence nor carries traces and tendencies into a future life. There is a single life, which is but a brief interlude, between two eternities prior and post, and at the end of life, a single judgment and an eternal punishment – a punishment that far exceeds in length of time, the time spent in actually living. The whole religious foundation is based on the notion of a vengeful God, who eternally punishes, (with no recovery possible) and in select cases spares punishment based on whether the person surrendered to the right “Ummah” or to the right “Messiah” or even whether they were baptized or not. Hell itself is a horrible, fiery place of suffering, of unspeakable torture, pain and sorrow, of conscious and continuous torment, suffered under the wrath of a vengeful God. And when saved from their terrible Hell, one goes to Heaven which is a beatific place, where one lives in proximity with God, eternally gazing upon Him, or in union with Him.

Such a Heaven is conceived mostly in earthly terms (like a beautiful Garden) – It is free from sickness, death and tears, free from sorrow, but it will have all things pleasurable and desirable on this earth, indeed only multiplied manifold. Sanatana Dharma also speaks of a heaven and hell, (Swarga and Naraga), indeed it speaks of many lokas, many heavens and hells, but our sojourn in all these realms is also temporary, and we return to embodied life once more, replete with the Karmas that we once more have to work out and transcend, as we evolve spiritually towards Moksha.

4. Brahman – And many Devatas (Gods)

Sanatana Dharma perceived a God, who transcends all things created and uncreated, manifest and unmanifest, who was nameless, formless and attribute-less, and yet one who permeates all of creation, and called that God Brahman. (Now within Sanatana Dharma, we have called this Brahman, by many names – Parameshwara, Parashakti, Parabrahman, Purushotthama, Shiva, Narayana etc. but in this essay, we will confine ourselves to that singular word Brahman). The Yogi saw this Brahman, in all creation, in the human heart, in the lofty mountains, the glorious rivers, the bounteous earth, in every creature, plant and tree. The Rishi perceived this Brahman as the ordering principle behind the laws of nature, the seasons, the dawn and dusk, in the miracle of birth and death, in re-birth and the cycle of life. The Vedas taught that this universe, with all its forces, laws and cycles (Jagat) as being non-different than that Brahman, thus being the visible, phenomenal manifestation of Brahman (Isavasyam Idam Sarvam). Thus this Brahman is both transcendental and immanent in all his manifestation – It is not that there is one God here or many, but there is only God here, in his infinite multifarious forms. You and I are but centers and expressions of his divinity, in our phenomenal existence, but indeed one with Him, in our essence. 

So Sanatana Dharma honored many forms, many Gods, all as representations and symbols of that one Brahman. It said that Brahman has no forms and no names, yet, celebrated its Gods as the source of all names and forms, with a thousand names and forms. It found the loftiness of the various Gods reflected in the depths on one’s being; it saw that our own inner qualities and aspirations reflected as outer Gods. It said that this very same God, can be invoked and worshipped in a thousand forms, since all forms proclaim his glory. Thus Shiva is a transcendental Yogi, Krishna is dancing amidst us as Ananda, Saraswati is the great goddess of learning and Rama is verily the embodiment of Dharma. Sanatana Dharma honored an individual’s or a community’s preference and selection of the God of their choice for worship (Ishta), while recognizing at the same time that in worshipping one God, we worshipped them all. Thus God was both single, multiple and beyond both as well.

A God of this conception did not become less for being amidst a multiplicity of Gods, they represented each other, and they did not abhor any new or strange Gods – for there were no strangers here. We did not need to hate other Gods in order to love our God, we saw the same God in all Gods, whether they are ours or another’s. The Gods set an example of peaceful co-existence for us, and we too aspired to co-exist peacefully amongst a variety of people with different beliefs and backgrounds, respecting our different views, but nevertheless recognizing the essential unity of all creation. Even as the Gods of Sanatana Dharma said that “Those who worship other Gods also worship me”, the God of other civilizations said that “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me”. Even as Sanatana Dharma said that there is the spark of divinity within man, other Civilizations conceived their God in the image of their own human passions, desires and jealousies. Even as Sanatana Dharma said that there is only God here, other civilizations said there is only one God, and thereby began to deny other Gods. In this denial of other Gods, they laid the seeds of proselytization, conversion, conquest, wholesale destruction of cultures and slaughter on an unprecedented scale.

Even as Sanatana Dharma proclaimed that all of this universe is one family (Vasudaiva Kutumbakam), other civilizations have found their religion best fulfilled in destroying cultures and traditions one after another. World History today is mostly about this conquest, written by the conquerors. “In the Koran there is the doctrine that a man who does not believe these teachings should be killed; it is a mercy to kill him! And the surest way to get to heaven, where there are beautiful houris and all sorts of sense enjoyments, is by killing these unbelievers. Think of the bloodshed there has been in consequence of such beliefs” (Swami Vivekananda – II.352-2) “Conversion is an act of violence, because it is a deliberate intrusion into the religious life of a person; it hurts deeply; it creates an alienation between the converted and his family, community and ancestry. The nature of this hurt is one that can never be fully healed. As an act of violence, it incites the hurt to be violent – It begets violence. (Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Arsha Vidya Gurukulam).

5. Yoga – The path to re-union of the Atman with Brahman

Sanatana Dharma celebrates the soul’s yearning for God, the pangs of its separation from God, and its delights of union, in a thousand songs across the length and breadth of India. Indeed this journey towards re-union, is the central drama of human life; All human connections, attachments, separations and reunion are mere reflections of this cosmic play. Yoga treats man as a transcendental spiritual being; it invests his spirit with a human body; it accorded a primacy to the consciousness that indwells a human body, and proposed that the physical body is a by-product of processes in consciousness, not the other way around. Yoga is the way of retreating inward, the cessation of all chatter and vibration; Yoga is the transformative process, whence the outward oriented mind renounces its longings and cravings, and settles inward. This journey is an intensely personal and unmediated journey – It involves a preparation, purification, intense longing, renunciation, worship, learning, devotion, austerities, meditation, a going inward, deeper and deeper within, and ultimately an awakening to eternal wisdom and knowledge. One has to transform one’s attitudes towards outer life, and greet with equanimity, that which is pleasurable or painful (Samathvam Yoga Ucchyate – Bhagvad Gita), and take a plunge inward. There is no easy beaten track; one has to travel through a pathless land; yet there are as many paths as there are people, and one’s path is defined by one’s own predispositions (svabhava). There are many Yogas – Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Hatha Yoga and so on and on, and yet each Yoga includes others, and the difference is only in degree of emphasis. Yoga unfolds many techniques in this process – Mantra, Japa, Asana, Pranayama, Puja, Tantra, Jnana, Dhyana and so on an on. Sanatana Dharma, truly accommodates a multitude of possibilities on the path of Yoga, and a continuous customization of these eternal principles, for the specific spiritual needs of any given individual, community, time and place. Verily no other civilization, has such a rich tapestry of maps and paths representing that inward journey. Verily no other civilization has even come close to experimenting with that inner life, in so complete a manner as Sanatana Dharma has.

The western religions and civilizations that were founded upon them, lack this concept of Yoga almost in its entirety. They lack interiority, as Ram Swarup puts it, they lack a sufficient grasp of consciousness and its deeper realms. They are consumed with all things outward, with conquest and conversion, with expansion and competition. The modern incarnation of the Western philosophy, is its capitalism, which is concerned primarily with production and consumption, and endless enjoyment of the senses. The pre-occupation of Western philosophy has been with social ordering, how efficiently goods and services may be produced and distributed; as to whether power and wealth should be centralized and concentrated, or distributed, and what the mode of such distribution may be; whether abundance and affluence should be a product of state controlled process or left to the relentless neutrality of the market place.

A civilization that has not graduated beyond Artha and Kama, and does not recognize Moksha has no need for Yoga or Dharma. Western Science, has no capacity to investigate the processes of consciousness, simply because consciousness is inaccessible to perception and inference. Consciousness is not available for any kind of measurement, and therefore fundamentally confounds the scientific method. In fact, modern science regards consciousness as a consequence, a by-product of the physical body, the brain in particular, and thus the entire scientific endeavor to understand consciousness is rudimentary at best. Western psychology is confined to the study of the pathological and neurotic – it is mostly untouched by the spiritual. Yet, even in this capitalistic west, today, millions are turning inward, seeking a little respite from the mad dash of competition, the endless running hither and thither, hankering after and accumulating; getting ahead and staying ahead. Yoga in the west today is still in its limited physical form – Asana is but one of the eight angas of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. Even still, it is a window, through which one may quieten one’s mind, and begin to get in touch with the stillness and silence of one’s inner being.

6. Dharma – A way of Life upholding the order of all things

Sanatana Dharma (The eternal Dharma) teaches us that the goals of Artha and Kama, (Security and Pleasure – loosely translated), are valid pursuits in life, (as they are in all civilizations without exception) but must be lived consistent with an eternal cosmic order (Ritam in the Rig Veda, Dharma in later texts), in which all beings are inter-dependent, indeed humans, animals, plants, devas and asuras are all part of this great Mahat.

Karma connects us all, inexorably. The Rishis saw that rights and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin, and Sanatana Dharma chose to imbue the entire Hindu culture with a clear emphasis of responsibilities and duties over rights. When the parents perform their duties towards their children, the children get their rights; when the children perform their duties towards their parents, the parents get their rights; and so it is between husband and wife, the teacher and the student, the state and its citizens. Where people live truly in conformity with their dharma, the individual rights of all others are naturally granted. So the culture de-emphasized Rights, which creates only a competitive clamoring where each group, sub-group is organizing itself to lobby and fight for its rights. Instead Sanatana Dharma taught that one must live consistent with one’s own dharma, and leave the rest to Ishwara or Bhagwan.

The Vedas tell us of our responsibilities towards all beings, ancestors and future generations, all others, neighbors and fellow beings, animals and plants, indeed all things around us. Sanatana Dharma recognizes that all life is yagna, a constant interchange. And in this concept of Dharma no one is excluded; We are indebted to all, we owe duties towards them all, to our Gods, to our ancestors, to our Rishis or yore, to our fellow beings, to future generations yet to come, to our animals, birds, to the bhutas, the earth, the sky, the air, water and fire. Our rituals are expressions of this recognition, of our acknowledgement and deep reverence for the great inter-dependence of all existence. Man is capable of authentic Dharmic action, only when he grows into the life of the spirit. In the Rig Veda, the purpose of human life is described succinctly in the phrase

Atmano mokshartham jagat hitayacha

which means the pursuit of Moksha while keeping in view the welfare of the world. The pursuit of the welfare of the world is then recognized as a distinct purushartha – a distinct goal and end of life. A man can awaken into a life of service and contribution, with a reduced concern for his own welfare, and in this selfless sacrifice, he finds his self-unfoldment and self-expression. His own spiritual sadhana then becomes a dedication, for dharma samsthapana and for loka sangraha. He becomes a model for all, a spiritual leader, a visionary, an example to be followed. We begin to revere him as Guru, Acharya, Yogi and Rishi.

In contrast, exclusivist cultures and civilizations lack an adequate concept of man, beyond his belonging to a particular creed or ummah. They are taught that they are a special chosen people, and their great virtue is to belong to a particular body of believers; they owe nothing to those who do not believe as they do; they divide the world into believers and non-believers, into the faithful and the infidels (kafir); and the great command of their God, is the willful denial and destruction of those who do not believe as they do; They should all convert and become part of their particular community of believers or die. Animals have no souls, the earth need not be venerated, they all exist for our consumption, manipulation and exploitation – Indeed production, distribution and consumption of an increasing array of goods and conveniences, without regard for the consequences, upon our earth, upon our fellow beings, animals and plants or even our own inner spiritual life, is the creed of modern society. In this we compete with one another – who can produce more, with less; who can exploit the natural resources that the earth has produced over millennia within a few decades; who is more efficient; more skilled; with newer and better technology; who can make bigger and better bombs and sell them to those who want to hurt, maim and destroy; And this new God of the marketplace devours all; We are poisoning the air, polluting our waters; and we have unleashed forces upon this planet, which will surely come back at us, with devastating consequences.

7. Rishi, Yogi, Guru and Acharya

Sanatana Dharma does not admit to an exclusive prophet – but rather opens to all the potential of Rishi and Yogi. The Vedas and Upanisads are declarations made by the Rishis and Yogis of yore no doubt, but their inner journey and realization can be replicated here and now. One can equally today, through one’s own application and devotion, arrive at the very same realization that has been taught in the Vedas; This is not some abstract idea, but a living principle attested to by every generation in India, which throws up its share of Gurus and Acharyas, Yogis and Rishis. The 20th century alone has given us Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Ramana Maharishi, Sri Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Swami Chinmayananda, Bhakti Vedanta Swami Prabhupada, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Sathya Sai Baba, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Ammachi, Mother Karunamayi among many others. There is no first Seer – even the Rig Veda acknowledges that there were seers before. There is no last Rishi either, for who can foreclose the possibility of a new attainment, a new realization, a fresh affirmation of that age old reality? Without the living Rishi tradition, the scripture is nothing but empty words, a distant possibility. It is the living Guru and Acharya, who brings the entire spiritual tradition alive, in his being, action and example. This institution of Guru, who sustains the sampradaya and breathes new life into the tradition, is perhaps the single most important reason that Hinduism has survived the lethal onslaught of the combined wrath of Christianity and Islam, that descended upon its shores, in the last thousand years. They are the true Bharat Ratnas, the real gems of India.

Human potential and possibility reaches a zenith in the person of these Mahatmas; the soul of India and Sanatana Dharma shines in these beings; Bharat Mata herself smiles on them, and the masses of India venerate them, adore them, congregate around them, worship them and celebrate their presence. All manner of spiritual rejuvenation arises around them; many charitable works and projects; temples, hospitals, educational institutions, flower around them, and get constructed and consecrated as acts of outpouring devotion. Other civilizations simply cannot understand them; they have no categories in which to place them; for they are not academicians armed with degrees and scholastic accomplishments; they are not entrepreneurs who having made their millions have now turned philanthropists, who have founded endowments and foundations; they are not intellectuals writing papers and propounding some new theory regarding society and humanity; They receive no stipends or grants from organized institutions; There is no committee to decide whether they should be anointed as saints or not. There is no evaluation process, comparing them with others in their category; They are not awarded Nobel Prizes or other accolades and recognitions of any kind, they are not in the media, but they go on working, quietly, silently, with a prayer in their hearts, and a blessing on their lips. They live under the sky, without regard for themselves;

They surrender themselves to the will of Bhagwan; They inspire millions; And the society supports them. We have in this civilization a reverence for Sannyasa, a stage of life, in which human life finds its ultimate flowering, a person renounces all personal interests, preferences, even a concern for their own security, and abandons himself (or herself) into the realm of Dharma and Moksha, and we honor that. Contrast this with exclusive creeds, that are centered on an exclusive God, a chosen people, and an exclusive prophet or messiah. God speaks to his chosen people through a chosen prophet, and there shall be no other ever again like him. In fact human salvation (after death) is attained only through surrender to this exclusive prophet. His word is final and cannot be improved upon; He is the only one, the only intermediary; the only savior; the only communicant of God’s will and plan; His visions and revelations are God’s word, and if we do not surrender to him, and give him our obedience, we shall incur eternal hell. These creeds operate more like an army, a horde, organized for continuous and protracted confrontation with all unbelievers. They seem to have a unity of purpose and an internal coherence, but their purpose is to clash and conquer. Whatever religiosity there is inherent in these creeds, it seems to be in service of their politics, their goal of relentless expansion.

8. Sampradaya – The source of a Pluralistic Society 

Sanatana Dharma has given rise to many Sampradayas, many traditions, both ancient and modern. They all arose with the advent of specific Rishis or Acharyas – like Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Guru Gobind Singh, Chaitanya, Buddha, Mahavira or Swaminarayan. They each affirmed the ancient truths, but they may have emphasized different aspects of that truth. They taught the truth about life and God, as they saw it; as they deemed appropriate for the specific time and place; They made adjustments in their teachings appropriate to their social setting; They offered corrections, and restored balance where they saw imbalances. They all inspired millions; simplified and codified great spiritual teachings for the sake of easier application and practice; People gathered around them, deeply inspired by their personal charisma and spiritual presence, and began to preserve those specific teachings and thus were born these great Sampradayas. But the Sampradayas did not claim exclusivity or superiority. None said this is the last word. They all affirmed what was said before, and said it newly, for a new generation. What intellectual sparring there may have between one Sampradaya and another was confined to certain core set of philosophical principles.

But mostly the Acharyas understood, that each Sampradaya has a validity, a relevance to those who are most attracted or disposed to it. Sanatana Dharma taught that each human being begins at a different place in his or her spiritual journey; each moves in this realm according to their own unique readiness; they have different starting points, different capacities and different needs; Each has his or her own path; and the Sampradayas are mere aids, support structures that provide a homogeneity and a sense of community for the time being. Here in lies the true genius of the Hindu civilization. It recognized the need for individuation, the deeply personal and individual nature of Spiritual Sadhana and transformation; It recognized simultaneously as well the need for preservation of spiritual knowledge for inter-generational continuity, and thence a need for a tradition (A Parampara); for one does not have to re-invent everything all by oneself, in every generation. Sanatana Dharma reconciled these twin needs of its civilization – of variegation and individualization on the one hand and preservation and continuity on the other, in the form of its myriad co-existent sampradayas or spiritual traditions. This genius is enshrined in the Rig Veda (I.164.46) which states a fundamental vedic principle :

"Ekam sat vipraha bahauda vadanti".

This means “To that Truth which is one, the Wise give many different names”. This Statement represents a law, a universal principle that is unique to Sanatana Dharma, and is indeed at the heart of its innately pluralistic and accommodative nature. So it enjoins its adherents to look upon humanity as a single family ‘Vasudaiva Kutumbakam’, who may yet subscribe to different sampradayas. In this way, Hinduism has both spawned and assimilated different traditions, different ways, different teachers, Gurus, different views and paths. We can find today, within a single family, different members following different Gurus, Acharyas and Sampradayas. So while it did not see any problem (nor does it see today in many cases) in co-existing with other creeds such as Christianity and Islam, it has a great difficulty in organizing itself to respond to the special challenge posed by these monotheistic, exclusivist and expansionist religions / ideologies. Hinduism has historically been organized for peaceful and harmonious ends – not for a continued confrontation with external enemies. The average Hindu, has no problem co-mingling with the average Muslim or Christian, and in some cases even in visiting a Church or Mosque; even praising Jesus and Allah as spiritual masters on an equal footing as many of its own Hindu Rishis (as in the song “Ishwara Allah There Naam”). But we do not on the whole perceive the wolf in sheep’s clothing – we have not adequately distinguished these civilizations as being based on theologies that are not in any sense “Dharmic” whatsoever. When we say “Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava” we are now confusing Dharma and Adharma completely.

9. Sanskrit – Shruti, Smriti and Puranas

Many thousands of years ago, before the age of writing, on the banks of the River Saraswati, the Rishis of India, spoke to the Gods and to each other in a Deva Bhasha and called it Samskrtam. And in this language, they sung their poems, their praises to the Gods of their time, they expressed their insights and visions, and they preserved their dialogues and discussions.

A most marvelous tradition of Sanskrit literature was thus born and preserved, mostly orally, through chanting and repeating, the sacred sounds of the Vedas, the Upanisads, the Brahmasutras, The Yogasutras, Dharmashastras, The Bhagvad Gita, the Puranas, the Smritis, the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Grhyasutras, Shrautasutras and so on. They wrote the great epics of their time, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, in the same language; and these epics got embedded into the psyche of its people; they were revered and celebrated, in dance and song; in literature and drama; in festival and ritual; in art and architecture; in poetry and philosophy in every nook and corner of the land. The Rishis gave us the major darshanas – Nyaya, Vaisesika, Sankhya, Yoga, Karma-Mimamsa and Vedanta.

From Sanskrit was born a variety of other languages, which each evolved locally and got specialized; Yet it is not hard to see that every language of India has had its origin in Sanskrit and derives many of its own concepts and ideas from this great language. When Europe encountered Sanskrit, it was initially bewildered and astounded – For here was an extraordinary language and it seemed to be the mother of all languages not just in India, and perhaps even their own European languages such as Latin, German and English. For a time, in the early 1800’s they were even greatly committed to the study and understanding of India’s literature. Sir William Jones who started the Asiatic Society of India, in 1784, is said to have remarked "The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure, more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin and more exquisitely refined than either." But soon, their colonial aspirations of conquest and domination, and of civilizing the so called ‘native’ peoples of the world, took over, and they postulated wild theories of Aryan invasion, from somewhere in Asia, and called them the first invaders and colonizers of India. They said that Sanskrit itself was foreign to India; they denied India its culture, and its philosophy. This served their colonizing purpose, but these theories are losing ground, gradually, and world history itself may have to be re-written. But nowhere in the world, no culture, no civilization has an equivalent corpus of literature that is predominantly dedicated to the life of the spirit – to the varied nuances of Dharma and Moksha. In this regard, the civilization of India indeed has originated one of the most important and critical body of knowledge, known to humanity, and whatever is left of it must be preserved again for the sake of all of humanity.

10. Varna and Jati – The Caste System 

In the eyes of the others, Hinduism has become synonymous with Caste. This word Caste is used to translate both Varna and Jati, so that the distinction between them is therefore easily lost. Heaps of vilification has been piled upon this system; every shade of reformer has written eloquently about how the Caste system is an evil, and that it needs to go. Every foreigner has waxed philosophically about the ills of this system; Yet the reality is that every Hindu, before even he or she recognizes themselves as a Hindu, will know themselves through a Varna or Jati identity.

In other words, the Jati identity is stronger in India than the Hindu identity. It has a reality that transcends time; It has an inherent strength and durability that cannot be easily wished away. Is survives even conversions into other religions – for even the converted hold onto their original caste identity. It indeed is a fundamental institution of Sanatana Dharma that has survived several millennia. Let us contrast this with a new idea like “Communism” or “Marxism”. These ideas held great sway for a short period of time, even Jawaharlal Nehru was very taken by these ideas, spawning a whole generation of Indian “intellectuals” who subscribed to these new found creeds; yet where is it all today? Soviet Russia, the bastion of Communism, has given up on its core ideas. These creeds have not lasted even 200 years, yet we vilify a social organizing idea, that has survived and evolved over several thousand years. So in our discussion we will not take the view that Caste is evil, but that it was a natural evolution of the Dharma, and thus a characteristically Dharmic institution. But first some distinctions based on how it was all meant to be. 

"Chaturvarnyam mayaa srishtam gunakarma vibhagasah"

(Bhagwan Shri Krishna, Bhagvad Gita, IV.13)

Krishna is saying that “The four orders of society were created by Me according to their Guna (qualities/behavior/character) and Karma (profession/work/effort)”. The missing term is “Kula” (Family or Ancestry) or “Janma” (Birth). In other words, Krishna is clearly saying that the distinction of Varna is not based on birth or family; anyone whose character and vocation warrants it can belong to any Varna. Thus Varna which can be translated as ”Color”, is more precisely translated as “Varieties” or “Classes”. One becomes a Brahmana not by birth, but by turning his gaze towards Brahman, by desiring to know Brahman, by settled effort towards attaining Moksha, by being learned in the Shastra, and therefore upholding and protecting the Dharma, by being self-less in his service to humanity, by rising in Yoga.

The Brahmanas are verily the pride of our land. One becomes a Kshatriya, not by birth alone but through demonstrating valor, a sense of social justice and order, and a deep concern for the establishment and sustenance of Dharma. Similarly A Vaishya demonstrates skill in business dealings, and a deep driving ambition to expand his wealth. A Shudra, is content with serving the other classes, for the time being, but he too may turn god ward, and change his status. Varna is not at all a problem if we allow an ease of mobility across them. If people by their own effort and practice, by character and tendency, by chosen work and vocation, can move themselves from one Varna to another, how can we find fault with this classification which is universally true in all civilizations? Jati on the other hand, has much more to do with Kula dharma.

One is born into a Jati, but not necessarily into a Varna. Jati is what allowed for vocations to get passed on from generation to generation. A sculptor’s son became a sculptor, a farmer’s son a farmer and a priest’s son a priest. As for the relation between Jati and Varna, it is somewhat ambiguous. Sometimes, a Jati contained within it all four varnas, and sometimes, a Jati was wholly contained within a Varna. In any case, the proliferation of Jatis took place over time, as localized phenomenon, as natural expressions of the Dharma, without any supervising and ordering influence. The ancient civilization of Sanatana dharma based its society on the structure that aided its spirituality, first and foremost.

The whole social fabric was built up to fulfill that highest law of being – the loftiest spiritual end. Individual liberty was not its chief concern, but communal liberty was. Every community was free to develop its own version of religion, the forms of its worship, the dharma of its being – thus each community had its own Dharma and within itself it was independent; every village, every city had its own organization quite free from all political control and within that every individual conformed to his swadharma, not because he or she had no choice, but that was his highest choice. But all this was not put into an over-arching centralized political unit. The social structure was thus decentralized; Thus Jati and Varna was the ultimate expression of a pluralistic society which upheld simultaneously its spiritual principle of “diversity”, while also sustaining its practical need for inter-generational homogeneity. It is important to recognize that when everyone is free to do whatever he or she pleases, society may have reached its highest expression of individual liberty; but it also simultaneously loses its ability to transmit anything of real value and importance from one generation to the next. So we see today, that the more a society emphasizes individual liberty, (as in the Western world), the more it is losing its family structure, and inter-generational continuity. 

Lastly, the whole system of Varna and Jati, was devoid of any competition amongst them. The Hindu society was organized for peaceful, harmonious and spiritual ends. Competition is a recent phenomenon; Difficult as it may be, let us for a moment imagine a society that had no notion of competitiveness whatsoever; where the different Varnas and Jatis lived peacefully together, in service of each other; providing to the whole society, their best gifts and talents all in the spirit of Dharma. Such was the ordering of the Civilization of Sanatana Dharma. Such was how it was meant to be. How did it all begin to get rigidified? Fossilized? Indeed how did it come to pass that people of different Varnas claimed a social status by virtue of their birth? How did it happen that each Varna and Jati began to resist marriages that crossed a Varna or Jati boundary? When did a concern for purity of a Varna, get expressed as a “Don’t touch me” phenomenon? How did the Castes start competing with one another, and thus losing their inherent regard for each other? It is difficult to imagine that a spiritual philosophy that so upheld the essential divinity of man, consciously engendered a social system that was unequal and unfair to its segments.

Thus we cannot find the root causes for the degradation of the Varna and Jati system, in the core values of the civilization. Western scholarship and many of the Indian Marxist “intellectuals” have taken the view that the central responsibility for this so called “degradation” of the Varnas and Jatis, lies on the doorstep of the Brahmins. We do not subscribe to this. We propose that while there may have been an occasional ‘excess’ on the part of an individual Brahmana, we cannot subscribe to the notion, that the Brahmanas got organized on a national scale, and suddenly decided to oppress all the other castes. The Brahmanas have never been organized enough; they have never been powerful enough; their influence was mostly intellectual and spiritual; On the other hand, most likely under the shock of the Islamic invasions, when the Kshatriyas fell one after another, when the rapacious force of Islam was rampant upon the land, when the decentralized social order could not offer any organized resistance to the invaders, each Varna and Jati collapsed in upon itself, desperately trying harder to hold on to its dharma, its sampradayas and samskaras, and preserve the remaining vestiges of their great spiritual tradition at all costs; from the clear and present danger and pressure to convert to Islam. Perhaps that was one turning point.

The British rule of India, further alienated the Hindus from their own spiritual source, by introducing a secular education, and drawing its Brahmanas away from their vedic studies. Perhaps that was yet another turning point. Recent westernization has brought with it a competition amongst people, and the castes of today are at loggerheads with one another, claiming special favor and status, as a minority, as an oppressed and backward caste et al. May be this was another turning point. We have legions of modern writers, mostly westernized types, who are now ready to wholly decimate this ancient system of varna and Jati – Yet their efforts are coming mostly to nought. It is all getting further rigidified, and strengthened. Coalitions amongst the castes are the new politics of Democratic India. Caste is here to stay, and it is one of the central organizing principle of Sanatana Dharma, whether we like it or not. We can transform it, but only first by owning it fully, by accepting it as what it was meant to be, and what it has become.

Conclusion

We have presented ten essential ideas, primary structuring concepts around which the civilization of Sanatana Dharma, has coalesced, from one generation to the next. Details have varied over time – We have had a great Vedic period, an extraordinary Upanishadic period of spiritual insight, followed by the rise of Buddhism, and the recovery of Vedanta, all strengthened by the Bhakti movements – But running through all these great eons of time, Sanatana Dharma represents a civilization that organized itself primarily to enable the life of the spirit. It valued diversity as an essential fact of life, and supported it.

Yet it allowed spiritual truths to be realized, codified and systematically transmitted for future generations to interpret and recognize. This is the essence of this civilization, and there is no other on this planet like it. Today, India is modernizing, westernizing, and there is a great inter-mingling of ideas under way. Will the essence of our civilization survive? Or will it get lost, in this mad dash of capitalism and consumerism? Will we gradually lose our future generations? Will the great body of spiritual knowledge that is enshrined in our scripture, culture, religion and way of life, slowly give way to a universal culture, a universal civilization, where India’s unique civilizational heritage is lost both to itself and to the world? The survival of this civilization is not certain, for there are grave dangers arrayed against it. If we do not recognize these dangers, and summon our will to act and address them, we will also be willful parties to its slow decay and extinction.

References

1. Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Talks and Discourses

2. Clash of Civilizations, Professor Samuel Huntington

3. Sri Aurobindo, The Renaissance in India

4. Ram Swarup, Essays on Hinduism

5. Swami Vivekananda, Complete Works

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Today Secularism is the fashion in India. It is the “in” brand. It is the brand to give oneself, lest one be called “communal”. Many Hindus who are born in Hindu families, who carry the seeds of their Sanatana Dharma in their blood and their consciousness, have become ardent and vocal secularists. This article is addressed to the Secular Hindus, and is an effort to engage their minds, in the hope that some of them may be open to a fresh evaluation.

First of all there are two kinds of Secular Hindus.

1. Type A - Those who think that all religions are equally valid – “Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava” kind.

2. Type B - Those who think that all religions are equally invalid – The Atheist, Anti-religious, Anti-Spiritual kind

Let us look at each one in turn. The first kind of (Type A) Secular does believe in religion, at least in his own Hindu religion, and values it. He believes in the dharmic values that the Hindu religion, inculcates in him, and he recognizes the place of Spirituality in human life. He may himself be a deeply devout, and spiritual person. He most likely goes to temples occasionally, performs some form of puja, bhajan or yoga or other devotional activity; he may even have studied the Bhagvad Gita or some other Hindu scriptures to an extent; But he has not done any serious study of the world’s other religions. He has not done any deep research on the Bible or the Koran, and cannot distinguish clearly the major distinctions between them and his own Dharma. So he naively believes that all religions are the same; they lead to the same goal; they are all different paths to the same end. He may have even been told by some well meaning Gurus and Acharyas that this is indeed so. So having reached this "secular’ position, he then proceeds to condemn as “Hindutva” and “Communalism” anyone who makes distinctions between the religions, and thereby raises a warning regarding the future of Hindu society.

The second kind of Secular (Type B) does not believe in Religion of any kind. He abhors and disdains them all equally and regards them as the superstitious by-product of humankind of a bygone era. He is modern, and does not need any religion, either his own or another’s. Thus having begun his inquiry into the subject with this prejudice, he then proceeds to ignore all scriptural study altogether. His acquaintance with his religion is therefore very cursory, and he does not feel the need to study this any further. He identifies himself, with a rational and scientific view of the world, easily gets carried away with modern western scholarship, which proposes all kinds of new philosophies, (like Marxism, Communism, Capitalism, Materialism etc.) which he deems adequate for his purpose. Not only does he not study other religions, he doesn’t even study his own. He most likely loathes “Swami’s” and “Gurus” and avoids them. Because he is a Hindu by birth, he is compelled to profess that he does not practice it, he does not believe in it, and he goes out of his way to condemn his own religion. He is deeply ashamed of his own religion, and keeps criticizing it at every turn. A few of them also take to studying the Hindu religion, but specifically for the purpose of criticizing it – The intention is not to learn, but to condemn. So there are legions of scholars, who pick up topics such as Caste, Sati, Idol worship, Brahmins and heap volumes of criticism on their own religion of origin.

The Type A Secularist is someone we can call the Gandhian Secularist. Mahatma Gandhi deeply and sincerely believed in the possibility of unity amongst Hindus and Muslims in India. Whether we agree with him or not, this was his stand, and he brought the great strength of his spiritual and moral force to bear upon this possibility. He hoped and wished that he could forge a unity between Hindus and Muslims that would allow the two communities to co-exist peacefully in Independent India. Whatever Mahatma Gandhi was, he was not ignorant. He took very studied positions on almost all issues. He saw that India’s Muslims were mostly Hindus in prior generations, perhaps long past, but nevertheless they carried the Hindu culture with them in some small measure. They had converted under the relentless pressure of Islamic rulers, and frequent threat of violence. But this was all long past. He saw that Hindus and Muslims were now cast together in this country, to weave a common destiny and they cannot be separated easily. He in fact may have been the one who created the slogan “Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava”. This is an inclusive Secularism, that believes that we must treat all religions equally, all people equally regardless of their religion etc. Even today there are many Gurus and Acharyas who say this – they even quote a Rig Vedic verse called Ekam sat vipraha bahauda vadanti and apply this verse to prove that all “Dharma’s” must be looked upon equally.

The Partition of India both on its left and right, (picture Bharat Mata with her two hands cut off) delivered Gandhian Secularism a decisive blow, and rendered the possibility of unity amongst Hindus and Muslims, as almost an utopian fantasy. The Partition was brought upon India, because the Muslim leadership decided that it was impossible for them to live in a Hindu majority India, and they needed their own Islamic State. The Hindus kept on saying that we can all be friends – Hindu-Muslim Bhai Bhai etc., and held out the hope that we can be one country. The Muslim leadership said – No; that is not possible. The matter is really simple – If in a relationship between a man and a woman, if the woman or the man decide that a relationship is no longer possible, then the relationship breaks down; it matters little whether the other person keeps saying “No, we can still be in a relationship”. Similar is the case with Hindus and Muslims – Only the Hindus keep saying “all religions are the same; we can all live peacefully together”; The Muslims laugh at the naivety of the Hindus, and say – “No Islam is special and different. We can all live peacefully together but only if you convert to Islam first”. So now we have unfriendly states on either side of India which have actively decimated the Hindu population within their respective countries, and are supportive of terrorists who have the most evil designs on India.

The Type B Secularist is someone we can call the Nehruvian Secularist. Jawaharlal Nehru believed that religion itself was irrelevant and somewhat backward and superstitious. With his western education and temperament, he was attracted to Karl Marx, Lenin, Stalin and the Russian experiment. These were all “Godless” and “Unspiritual” ideologies. It did not matter to Nehru, that the Communist experiment in Russia had resulted in the massacre of millions of people under the regime of Josef Stalin. He ignored that, (by what logic he justified this in his own mind remains to be discovered) and allied himself and our country closely with Russia and the Socialist way of life. Nehru thought that the primary ill of Indian society was its poverty and lack of development, and he committed himself energetically to India’s modernization, albeit driven by the State. In doing this he and his people fashioned a Secular State out of India, which ignored its Hindu Dharma, its Dharmic institutions, and Dharmic education.

Nehruvian Secularism has also been dealt a mortal blow in more ways than one. Communism is dying all over the world – Only in India it seems to have some left over momentum. Socialism has given way to Capitalism all over the world; In 1991, in India, a Congress Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and his Finance Minister Manmohan Singh presided over the reversal of the trajectory that Nehru had set for India. India is rapidly demonstrating that left alone, people develop themselves. Development need not be moderated and regulated by the State. Power when concentrated in the hands of a few, ultimately corrupts people – Indira Gandhi and her Emergency was a demonstration of that. But as much as she loved staying in power, even she could not cross the line as Joseph Stalin did – through dictatorship and murder on a vast scale. This can be attributed to the essential dharma of our land. Russian communism had no dharma at all – It was pure Adharma. Pakistan has no Dharma at all – It’s leaders have no regard for its own constitution. They amend it left and right to suit their private needs. Most of their transitions of power have been through murder and bloodshed, which is an essentially Islamic tradition.

But what is indeed strikingly common to both kinds of Secularists (both Type A and Type B) is that they don’t apply themselves and study the major religions and scriptures of the world, nor the history of major civilizations. Because even a cursory study of the Bible and Islam, will reveal how violent they are towards unbelievers and kafirs. Every religion has to deal with the ethics of human behavior – both amongst the followers of their religion, as well as between the followers of their tradition and those who do not follow their tradition. Equality, Tolerance and commitment to Peace, is good not only for the believers, but also necessary between believers of a particular faith, and those who subscribe to a different faith. In this latter characteristic, Hinduism is vastly different and has an infinitely superior record compared to both Islam and Christianity. While Hinduism is inherently pluralistic, and it allows many traditions to co-exist peacefully, Christianity and Islam are very severe towards the non-believers. While Hinduism is inherently Dharmic towards all people independent of what they believe in, Christianity and Islam offer their protection and allegiance to you, only if you convert to their creed. They prescribe the worst form of violence towards the kafirs and unbelievers – And this is borne out both by their scripture as well as their history. It only takes a cursory study of their scripture and their history, to find the patterns and correlations emerging. Their history is consistent with their ideology as embedded in their scripture, and their scripture contains the kernels of their ambitions and conquests, in the past, present and future. Christianity and Islam are fundamentally organized to be in a state of permanent conflict with the world of non-believers and kafirs. Whatever rudimentary notion of Dharma they may have, when it comes to their interactions with unbelievers, they are 100% Adharmic, even Asuric.

Why do Hindus reach their “Secular” positions and conclusions without proper inquiry? This is what is called “Avichara Siddhi” – A conclusion reached without much thought or research. It is like a conclusion “The sun goes round the earth”. Well it is obvious - We can see it go round and round, yet it takes some inquiry (Vichara) before we can say, No – The earth is spinning on its axis, and that merely creates the impression of the sun going around the earth. Why have Hindus become so lazy intellectually, that we will not apply ourselves to the proper study of these topics? Why do we jump to some conclusion first, without appropriate research and then keep repeating our position, ad nauseum? Why have we become mere sloganeers shouting ourselves hoarse with our position, which has not been properly thought out and formulated in the first place? Lastly in our hurry to embrace Secularism, we have thrown the baby out with the bath water, we have abandoned our Dharma altogether. Today, we find secularists everywhere – on TV, in the Radio, in the news magazines; in the universities; in politics. It has become our new creed. To falsify the Secular creed is to invite the worst form of counter attack and slander.

Today India is developing fast. Our economy is growing. A section of our society is becoming affluent. But corruption is also rampant in every walk of life. The politicians are leading the nation in being self serving and corrupt. The concept of Dharma, Ethical Values, a sense of Sacrifice and Service that Swami Vivekananda talked about has not permeated our public life. Will modernization solve all our problems? Is it sufficient to modernize without a corresponding effort to establish Dharma in the land? Corruption is Adharmic. Capitalism generates great wealth alright, but it distributes this wealth in a very uneven way. What are the rich of our land going to do with their riches? Will they use their riches in service of the poor? Capitalism is Adharmic too – in that it engenders no value system. What do the affluent do for their society – during their leisure? If we were to follow the inspiring example of the west – we know the answer. The great fruit of capitalism is mindless entertainment, endless pleasure seeking and non-stop shopping. Can the task of caring for the poor be left in private hands, or do we socialize it and give it to our politicians? We need to resurrect Dharma into the center of our lives. How are we going to do it, if we keep on swearing by secularism? Hindu Dharma emphasized people’s duties and responsibilities. Not their rights. Today, we have only a screaming group of casteists and castes, who are ever more shrilly demanding what is due to them i.e. their rights. There is no possibility of Dharma in this. A secular education does not guarantee an adequate appreciation of ethical values, duties, responsibilities and a deeply imbibed sense of discernment between right and wrong action. How do we give our children a matrix of moral values and norms, if we ignore our own Hindu Dharma in our secular schools and colleges? How do we inculcate in our next generation, a value for Dharma and Moksha which are indeed the unique civilizational characteristics of our Hindu society, if we don’t even address these in our educational institutions? This is the unsolved problem of our time. We sowed seeds of “Godless” ideologies drawn from the west, and we are harvesting a rich bounty of corruption across the length and breadth of our land.

So, we appeal to our secular brothers and sisters – Please think first; study your own scripture first; then study the other’s scripture; then study the history of all the religions; See the correlations and correspondences for yourself. Then let us see if you continue to be secular. You may discover that it is only in the comforting cocoons of ignorance, illiteracy and mindlessness that secularism can flourish. You may find that Secularism cannot stand even the most rudimentary intellectual scrutiny. But please do not defend your Secular value system on the foundation of your unwillingness to study these subjects; Please do not say – I won’t read my scripture; I don’t have time; I won’t read history; I don’t have time for that; I will not attempt to read the scriptures of other religions; I have even less time for that; But I know I am a secular Hindu; and I know I am right and all the rest of you are communal.

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Any civilization is characterized by a continuity of culture, the sum total of its values, norms, institutions, modes of thinking, customs and practices to which successive generations in a given society have attached primary importance. It encompasses a world view and a way of life that is distinct and unique to a particular people and their original, creative process. It encompasses shared forms such as language, art, architecture, song, music, aesthetics, food, history, religion, philosophy, mythology and spirituality.

India"s civilizational character, is patently and dominantly Hindu. Whether we call this Hinduism, or call this Sanatana Dharma, or Arya Dharma or the Indic Civilization, or Hindutva, it does not really matter. These days, the word Hindu has become too politically charged with meaning - One can only say that India is not predominantly Hindu by mis-representing what Hinduism is fundamentally; by narrowing down what is meant by the term Hinduism into a creed or religion comparable to Islam and Christianity; There have been endless argument around this - Vinayak Damodar Savarkar made a fine distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva; the former having a more "religious" sense, while the latter has a more encompassing sense i.e. geography, culture, history and spirituality. Yet these distinctions are artificial, for who can adequately define what Hinduism is and what it is not ?

It is common to hear people say "Hinduism is not a religion - It is a way of life"; Yet even that is inaccurate. Perhaps it would have been better to say "Hinduism is not just a religion - It is much more than that". Even the best minds have struggled with this question "What is Hinduism ?". In his "Discovery of India" Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru grapples with this question. "Hinduism, as a faith is vague, amorphous, many sided, all things to all men. It is hardly possible to define it, or indeed to say definitely whether it is a religion or not, in the usual sense of the word. In its present form, and even in the past, it embraces many beliefs and practices from the highest to the lowest, often opposed to or contradicting each other. Its essential spirit seems to be to live and let live".

And yet we have to recognize right at the very beginning of his thesis, he commits an error - for that Hinduism is not just a faith; It accommodates those who believe and those who do not; and those who believe differently; There are those within the Hindu fold who are guided by faith alone; And yet there are those who come to Hinduism through the exercise of reason alone; And still others who pursue their Dharma or Yoga. It indeed is "amorphous, many sided" and that is its very basic character. It"s many sided-ness allows Hinduism to hold within its perspective both the narrow and the dogmatic, and the vast and philosophic. When I say I am a Hindu, I may mean that in a narrow sense, of a highly ritualistic, traditionalistic and conformist sense; I may yet mean that in an expansive mystic sense; Hinduism verily encompasses Bhakti, Jnana, Yoga and Tantra, Upanisad and the Bhagvad Gita, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Hindu saints include Vyasa, Vashishta and Vishwamitra, and equally Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhvacharya. The concept of Karma is Hindu essentially, so is the idea of Dharma; Our songs that celebrate the lives of Rama and Krishna are Hindu; Sanskrit is Hindu and so is the entire corpus of Sanskrit literature. And within this corpus we find all manner of secular knowledge as well, such as Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Tarka, Mimamsa and so on. We also have Charaka and Sushruta, Sayana and Kalidasa; Who can say Kalidasa was not a Hindu when he wrote Raghuvamsa, Kumarasambhava and Shakuntala ?

If we argue the case that all of this is somehow not Hindu, and Hinduism is a much narrower creed, (frequently called Brahminism by other authors) then we must deal with the question what is not Hindu - and why ? We think Buddhism is somehow not Hindu; yet its Nirvana is just another way of saying Moksha; It completely accepts and assimilates Karma, Dharma, Yoga and Dhyana into its philosophical framework. Ahimsa is a Hindu value; So is the notion of Sangha - as in Satsang; It may have de-emphasized Bhagavan or Brahman, but what it did emphasize is entirely contained within the Upanishadic thought process. Buddhism verily came from Hinduism; and the relationship between the two is more one of mother and daughter; and less one of equals. Sikhism then is even more a daughter, than Buddhism is. Hinduism is much more like a family of Sampradayas, a family of traditions, and in this family, Buddhism, Sikhism is all "sister" and "daughter" traditions. The daughter may say I have no relationship with my mother - but the mother cannot ever say "she is not my daughter".

Every which way we look, in India, it is filled with the history, geography, tradition, mythology, philosophy and culture of Hindu Dharma. We must therefore acknowledge that India is a Hindu country that has in its midst, the presence of many religious minorities, both those which descended from Hinduism, but are claiming separateness and those who descended from outside of India"s geographical boundaries. But ultimately, even the vast majority of religious minorities of India also descended from people who were originally Hindus. A conversion of religion, whether of the heart, of induced by force or allurement, renders a person religiously different; but culturally largely the same. This cultural sameness may disappear over time, and the Muslim or Christian of successive generations may become progressively differentiated, from the mother culture; Even then racially they continue to be the same.

If independent India had elected to declare itself a Hindu country, (albeit with a few minorities) would it have become suddenly less tolerant of its minorities? When it comes to religious tolerance and acceptance, when it comes to accepting and acknowledging a multitude of paths and means to the one same truth, the record of Hinduism is infinitely superior to other religions especially those that came from the Middle east. Could it be argued, that a Hindu India would have become less tolerant, and thereby endangered its minorities? Yet this was the very "fear" that was at the source of the partition of India into Pakistan and later Bangladesh. One can understand the minorities being thus "afraid" of their future - but the majority Hindus succumbing to that fear, only betrays a poor understanding of Hinduism altogether. Hindu history has been one of being conquered, and brutalized - Never have Hindus brutalized other people, in the name of their religion. Never have Hindus claimed some special status for themselves, simply for being Hindu. And yet we did not assert that truth.

In declaring ourselves a Secular State, we necessarily had to diminish Hinduism, to reduce it to the same status of the other religions of the world. In saying we look upon all religions equally, we necessarily had to betray the religion of India - We necessarily had to take the view that it mattered little to us that the Vedas and Upanisads originated in India; but the Bible and Koran originated outside India. In embracing this European concept of Secularism, we had to assert that we as a state, owed no special responsibility to the entire body of the creative output of our native civilization - we had to reject Sanskrit, the Bhagvad Gita, Upanisads, Yoga, and all of the different Sampradayas of our tradition. We had to make a distinction between the sacred and the secular, when no such exists in our scripture, where all things animate and inanimate are considered equally a manifestation of the divine. Where ancient India saw the divine in all things; modern India had to reject that idea completely, and diminish all thought pertaining to the divine into the narrow realm of religion. We had to say that the future generations of our children will grow up not even having a basic grasp of their Hindu Dharma; For that knowledge they will have to go elsewhere outside the realm of their secular minded schools. Is this not a colossal betrayal of our own past? In our hurry to modernize, and integrate with the world, we have committed a grievous injury to our society. This is what rankles most about India"s "Secularism" - It has no respect for itself; for its own past; it has no capacity for self-reference. Everything it stands for is borrowed from elsewhere, from Europe, from Karl Marx, from the west - from sand castles that cannot even last a couple of centuries.

Jawaharlal Nehru continues in his Discovery of India - "It is therefore incorrect and undesirable to use "Hindu" or "Hinduism" for Indian Culture". And that was his great discovery! That there is an India distinct from its Hindu past! That India"s legendary tolerance and acceptance of others, is somehow not Hindu. That India"s capacity to assimilate and synthesize many diverse cultures and traditions, even attempt such a synthesis with inassimilable religions foreign to it is somehow not Hindu. For he later waxes eloquently about these intrinsic capacities latent in the Indian people - yet he is careful to distance those capacities and tendencies from anything to do with Hinduism, calling them "Indian".

Thus, the modern secular state of India began with an error, a lack of understanding, and ended with a betrayal. For those who truly understand the nature of Hinduism, its Upanisads, its Bhagvad Gita and Vedanta, its vast philosophic framework, its capacity to synthesize different paths and sampradayas into a harmonious whole, its emphasis on the life of the spirit, and its legendary pluralistic view of this world - this error remains a historic betrayal that needs to be addressed. For we have in our midst generations of Hindus growing up, into a new ethos of capitalism, consumerism, and Bollywoodism - They have not even the basic knowledge of their extra-ordinary Dharma.

Hindus can be blamed for being too divided; too fragile; too soft; too gullible; too pacific and too fatalistic - but to say that India is not Hindu, is to betray even a basic understanding of Hinduism or of India"s past. India needs to be Rediscovered, by Hindus, on their own terms; for their own people - not as the Chinese saw us, or the Islamic invaders and scholars saw us; or the British imperialists saw us, or even the alienated westernized Indians. This is the unfinished work of our time - India must reclaim its Hinduness fully even as we modernize; for the full measure of what India may contribute to the world at large, does not lie in our secular institutions, nor our industries, nor our new found prosperity or in our Information Technology accomplishments, nor in Bollywood - The full measure of what India has to contribute to the world cannot be measured in economic terms at all - For that we will have to return to our core, to our spirituality, to our scriptures, to our native "Shakti".

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Ever since the Rig Veda said “Ekam Sat Viprah Bahauda Vadanti”, Sanatana Dharma has fostered a diversity of beliefs, systems, paths and practices. Even in the conception of the one Brahman, being manifested as many Gods, i.e. many Devatas, this essentially pluralistic, liberal framework has prevailed in our Bharatavarsha. Even as a spirit of “Live and Let Live” has informed and permeated our civilization, it has progressively given rise to numerous sects, sub-sects and sub-identities, that learnt to live together without conflict.

Today, with the long and hoary passage of time, Hindus generally have a stronger attachment to Sub-Identities, rather than their over-arching Hindu Identity. For example, Hindu people identify themselves as linguistic groups such as Tamil, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi etc. Secondly, they also identify themselves by caste - such as Brahmin, Bania, Reddy, Yadav, Jat, Kamma, Ezhava etc. Thirdly, they are also divided by Sampradaya identities - such as Vaishnava., Shaiva, Kashmir Shaiva, Vedantin, Vishishtadvaitin, Gaudiya Vaishnava, etc. Fourthly, many Gurus and Acharyas, emphasize their own specific version of the interpretation of the Shastras, and create new Paramparas and followings. So you have the specter of Ammachi followers, Sai Baba devotees, Art of Living group, this Swamiji and that and so on.

In this background, Hindus, even though they are supposedly a majority in India, do not behave like a majority. They behave more like a large collection of small minorities. While from a Spiritual / Religious point of view this is not a problem, and India has always valued a certain inherent diversity, and a co-existence of different paths, sects and sampradayas, this is a very serious problem, from a political stand-point. For example, when the Kanchi Shankaracharya was arrested, it was very difficult for a Hindu in Assam or Himachal Pradesh to feel personally impacted. Even the Hindus in Tamilnadu, did not get terribly agitated – Or if they did, they expressed it merely by doing more intense Puja and Abhishekam, not by taking to the streets, and making some kind of political statement. Similarly when the Kashmiri Pandits were being persecuted, it is difficult for a Hindu in Tamilnadu to feel any impact. Even as Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh were being killed and persecuted by the thousands, the vast majority of the Hindus in India were able to ignore the problem completely. The predominant Hindu sentiment is one of aloofness and alienation – “As long as it didn’t happen to me or my immediate family, or my caste or community, why should I bother about it”.

In any modern democracy, (where numbers matter) assembling a coherent identity, translates to influence and power. This has always been the case through history. Politics has always been about "Us" versus "Them". So unless Hindus learn to forge together a larger overarching identity, and start behaving like a more coherent and homogenous group, they are in for trouble. This is because, there are many forces, which are very insistent and powerful, and patently anti-Hindu in the world today, which are very active in India. More and more, Hindus will find that their rights are being taken away, and their freedom is being attacked, their institutions are being destroyed and they won't even know why – and there are many examples - Rama Sethu, Amarnath, Plight of Kashmir Pandits, Arrest of Kanchi Shankaracharya, Distribution of Temple lands to Non-Hindu people, Usage of Hindu money for Non-Hindu purposes, such as for Haj pilgrimage, Ram Janmabhumi and so on. Each one of these issues is extremely intractable, and there is virtually no political energy behind the solution of any of these issues. Hindus will inevitably come out losers in their own country where they are supposedly a majority. All political decisions will be secularized, cannibalized and made on behalf of arbitrary groupings of various minorities, and never for the Hindu community as a whole. And Hindus will forever remain at the receiving end of the prevailing political dispensation, being a majority in name only, enjoying none of the advantages of any majority nor any of the advantages of any minority community. This is the fate of the Hindus today – They are neither a majority (by behavior) nor a minority (by identity) – A sort of a Trisanku Loka, neither here nor there. While they may be individually strong in some instances, they are collectively weak, in almost all instances.

Spiritual Masters and Teachers, our revered Gurus and Acharyas, therefore have a responsibility in this regard to foster, nurture and develop this Hindu identity.  They have to move beyond the largely prevailing attitude of staying strictly out of Politics and focusing only on Spirituality and Religion. It is insufficient, to stick to a spiritual and religious stand-point, and can take the view, that ultimately all Identity is a form of Maya or Mithya; We have to transcend all identities anyway, to attain Moksha; There is no value in harping on the Hindu Identity, when the real goal of Spirituality is to dissolve our Jivatma into the Paramatma; Further, Spirituality should not be corrupted by Politics; Therefore it is best for the Spiritually minded to stay strictly away from any activity related to Identity formation – especially if it is a Hindu Identity; In any case, it is easier and less controversial to talk about “Peace” and “Love” and soft matters of the heart – than to demonstrate courage and fearlessly take up unpopular and difficult issues, and take a real worthwhile stand on anything.

Therefore we call upon the Spiritually minded in India, to take the lead, to demonstrate courage, and come out on the side of the Hindu Identity, for the sake of the Lokasangraha, for Dharmasamsthapana, for the sake of this Eternal Dharma called Sanatana Dharma. They must be at the forefront of infusing Politics with a sense of Dharma, for the sake of our future generations. They must be the inspiration behind the emergence of a new vibrant Hindu leadership which boldly attempts to bridge Spirituality, Religion and Politics. Every individual Hindu must make a personal 'connection' between living life as a Hindu, in one's everyday life, doing Puja, observing festivals like Diwali, visiting temples, and occasionally hearing pravachans etc. and the activity of forging together a collective identity, that goes beyond linguistic, caste, sect and sampradhaya distinctions.

The “Hindu Vote is Sacred” – This must be our new Mantra. May this new Mantra ring in every nook and corner of India. We need a new Hindu Front – a Hindu wave; a Hindu friendly Government unfettered by the considerations of Coalition politics; free to pursue a Hindu agenda, for the sake of this land of Dharma. May such a Front, guided by the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, be formed, to consolidate the Hindu Vote bloc, as never before achieved in India. May all Hindus who are aware of this problem, and resonate with this participate in precipitating this Hindu Wave, and the possibility of a Dharma Rajya.