Calcutta Notebook


Laloo-Nitish combination has won six of the ten seats in the recent by-polls in Bihar. This is being seen as resurgence of the ‘secular forces’. The results of the Lok Sabha elections appeared to indicate that people had decided to vote for economic growth and have put other divisions aside. It is clear that circumstance was but temporary. The deep religious schism in the country persists.

The fact is that differences in the religious beliefs of Indian people remain intact. The distinction between "us" and "them" is deep in both the camps. The secular thinking is superficial. It suggests that religions may believe in different messages of One God but they must coexist peacefully. One may harbor inner hate towards other religions but behave courteously towards them. This has not worked and will not work because the inner feelings will erupt at critical points of time and the facade of secularism will come crashing down as has been happening repeatedly- most recently at Muzaffarnagar. True harmony between religions can be established only when inner love and respect towards each other is cultivated.

All the three major religions in the country—Hindu, Islam and Christianity— proclaim that there is oniy One God. Isavasya Upanishad states that all that exists is Brahman. There is nothing other than Brahman. The Quran says at Sura 6: "There is only One Allah. There is none equal to Him." The Bible states at Isaiah 44.6: "I am the first and I am the last and there is no God other than Me." The dispute arises in deciphering what this One God said.

The true nature of God has not been resolved satisfactorily yet. However, there appears to exist an agreement that God is not a person with a mouth and a voice. So how does God convey His message? It appears that Great Persons like Krishna, Moses and Mohammed were able to establish contact with God. God gave them certain inspirations or directions which they expressed in words as per their understanding. Then these words were transmitted orally for long periods before they were written down. So there is a long gap between God's message and what is available to the believers. First, the inspiration was expressed in words. For example, God may inspire a Holy Person to wage war. Now whether the 'war' means intellectual war or physical war would depend upon the temperament and understanding of the Holy Person. Then, the words were chosen by the Holy Person to express the inspiration of 'wage war' in words. For example, it could be expressed by a tribal leader as 'Take bow and arrow and attack.' The same inspiration could be expressed by a modern army man as 'sit on a computer and launch a patriot missile.' The words chosen to express God's inspiration necessarily depend on the historical context of time and space. Lastly the meaning of the words expressed by Krishna, Moses and Mohammed has to be culled out by the present religious leaders. Whether 'wage war' should be understood as waging war against non-believers or against other religions is decided by the living religious leaders.

Then there is a gap between the words spoken by the Holy Person to whom the word was revealed and that is available to believers. There is a long gap between the life and sayings of Rama and the writing of the Valmiki Ramayana that took place in 300 BCE approximately. Likewise the Jewish tradition holds that Moses was given the commandments by God around 1500 BCE. The Jews invaded and lived in Palestine thereafter. Later they were enslaved and taken to Babylon. Saint Ezra brought the sayings of Moses from Babylon to Palestine around 600 BCE. This was followed by a long period of oral and written transmission. The earliest written text of the Bible available is the AlepiDO Codex dating to about 900 AD. So there exists a gap of about 2400 years between the commandments given by God to Moses and they being available in writing. The situation of the Quran is better but suffers from the same problems nevertheless. The Quran was revealed by Prophet Mohammed when he went into a trance. The words uttered by him in trance were either written down or memorized or both. About a hundred years after the Prophet there arose questions about what exactly was the true revelation. At this time Caliph Uthman took upon himself the responsibility of compiling the true Quran. He ordered all other copies of Quran to be burnt which means that there existed other dissenting versions. The Quran available to the people is the one that was organized by the Caliph as per his understanding. It is not necessarily what was revealed by the Prophet. In the result, none of the religions may have the true word of God as it was revealed.

Truly, all religions are like the blind men describing the elephant. One says the elephant is like a pillar, another says it is like a fan and third says it is like a broom. All three are correct yet incorrect.

All religions proclaim the existence of One God. It follows that the message also has to be One. The task is to rediscover that One message. This is possible only if all religions accept that there is a gap between the word of God as originally revealed; and as available in their texts. It is possible that the message may have been modified in between. A dialogue between religions with such underlying flexibility alone will help all concerned reach the true message of the One God.

The present model of secularism does not rise to the occasion. It accepts that One God has given different messages. It only seeks to establish worldly coexistence between people believing in different messages. This does not work because the inner self continues to negate, even hate the other.

Both the secularist and Hindu camps stand on weak footing. The secularists do not face the so-called differences between the religions and are happy singing false songs of equality. The Hindus are happy singing the glory of their religion notwithstanding the fact that the Hindus are continually getting constricted at the global level. Neither camp is willing to delve deeper into the religions to discover the True and One message of God. Need of the hour is to establish a dialogue between the Hindus, Muslims and Christians at the deeper level. Let scholars come together and discuss whether all three religions believe in One God? If yes, then wherefrom does the difference emerge? Only such deeper dialogue will take the country and the world towards peace and happiness.

Vol. 47, No. 19, Nov 16 - 22, 2014