- The Roots of Religious Conversion in India – 1
- The Roots of Religious Conversion in India, Part II: Conclusion
The previous issue described the historical expansion and the current status of Islam and Christianity in India. With the way their action is executed in the mankind, both the religions have crafted the script of their own imminent decline, unless they are reformed. Presently, in India, the raging issue of religious conversion – born out of a narrow sectarian mentality – should not be accorded more importance than is due to it, since it carries within itself the seeds of its own demise. For, religious conversion is an aberration that has nothing to do with the true spirit of religious following. In India, it can never present a threat to the national conception and role of religion, since the Indian ideal of religion transcends the narrow bounds of religion itself. It is based on the ideal of the Sanatana Dharma – the eternal religion. It is the nature of the Sanatana Dharma which has and continues to resist the proselytizing tendency of semetic religions and prevents them from gaining an upper hand in India and putting an end to its native civilisation and culture as they had done in Egypt, Persia and Greece among many others. The following are some selected excerpts from the writings of Sri Aurobindo on Indian religion and its spirit.
“There is a mighty law of life, a great principle of human evolution, a body of spiritual knowledge and experience of which India has always been destined to be guardian, exemplar and missionary. This is the sanatana dharma, the eternal religion.”1
The eternal religion is to realise God in our inner life and our outer existence, in society no less than in the individual. It is the basis, permanent and always inherent in India, of the shifting mutable and multiform thing we call Hinduism.
Hinduism – The Sanatana Dharma
“…the foundations of Hinduism are truth and manhood, esha dharmah sanatanah. Hinduism is no sect or dogmatic creed, no bundle of formulas, no set of social rules, but a mighty, eternal and universal truth. It has learned the secret of preparing man’s soul for the divine consummation of identity with the infinite existence of God; rules of life and formulas of belief are only sacred and useful when they help that great preparation.”2
“The religious culture which now goes by the name of Hinduism not only fulfilled this purpose, but, unlike certain credal religions, it knew its purpose. It gave itself no name, because it set itself no sectarian limits; it claimed no universal adhesion, asserted no sole infallible dogma, set up no single narrow path or gate of salvation; it was less a creed or cult than a continuously enlarging tradition of the Godward endeavour of the human spirit. An immense many-sided many-staged provision for a spiritual self-building and self-finding, it had some right to speak of itself by the only name it knew, the eternal religion, sanÀtana dharma. It is only if we have a just and right appreciation of this sense and spirit of Indian religion that we can come to an understanding of the true sense and spirit of Indian culture.”3
“The inner principle of Hinduism, the most tolerant and receptive of religious systems, is not sharply exclusive like the religious spirit of Christianity or Islam; as far as that could be without loss of its own powerful idiosyncrasy and law of being, it has been synthetic, acquisitive, inclusive. Always it has taken in from every side and trusted to the power of assimilation that burns in its spiritual heart and in the white heat of its flaming centre to turn even the most unpromising material into forms for its spirit.”4
“The world moves through an indispensable interregnum of free thought and materialism to a new synthesis of religious thought and experience, a new religious world-life free from intolerance, yet full of faith and fervour, accepting all forms of religion because it has an unshakable faith in the One. The religion which embraces Science and faith, Theism, Christianity, Mahomedanism and Buddhism and yet is none of these, is that to which the World-Spirit moves. In our own, which is the most sceptical and the most believing of all, the most sceptical because it has questioned and experimented the most, the most believing because it has the deepest experience and the most varied and positive spiritual knowledge, – that wider Hinduism which is not a dogma or combination of dogmas but a law of life, which is not a social framework but the spirit of a past and future social evolution, which rejects nothing but insists on testing and experiencing everything and when tested and experienced turning it to the soul’s uses, in this Hinduism we find the basis of the future world-religion. This sanatana dharma has many scriptures, Veda, Vedanta, Gita, Upanishad, Darshana, Purana, Tantra, nor could it reject the Bible or the Koran; but its real, most authoritative scripture is in the heart in which the Eternal has His dwelling. It is in our inner spiritual experiences that we shall find the proof and source of the world’s Scriptures, the law of knowledge, love and conduct, the basis and inspiration of Karmayoga.”5
Debate on Conversion: A Fundamentally Flawed Outlook
In the light of Sri Aurobindo’s above words on the Indian religion, it is evident that the current debate on religious conversion is basically superficial – as it only touches the surface of the whole thing. All this is not to dispute that from the point of view of organisations that have sprung up to protect the Indian religion, protesting against conversion is right and springs from a growing spirit of solidarity among the Hindus which is the one true foundation for the building up of the national character. However, to assume that conversion (either way) poses a real threat to the eternal springs of Indian religious consciousness of tolerance and inclusion and should be checked by enacting formal laws is to go too far and is likely to be counter productive to the native genius of India at a time when, more than ever before, the truth and wideness of the spirit of Sanatana Dharma has become a necessity for the survival of the human race. Any formal interference with the religious freedom – as is done in most orthodox Islamic countries – will be contrary to the spirit of the Sanatana Dharma.
1. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo 08, p.24, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
2. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo 07, p.928, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
3. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo 20, p.179, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
4. Ibid., pp.133-34
5. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo 08, p.26, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry