I have been thinking on this topic for a long time. It is very clear to me, and perhaps too many of you, that there are two distinct religious traditions in the world. Some of them have a good following. Some others may not have.
One tradition does not believe in conversion. A Jewish person is born of a Jewish mother. A Zoroastrian is born of Zoroastrian parents. A Hindu is born of Hindu parents. And so too are the followers of Shintoism, Taoism and many other tribal religious groups all over the world. They are born to be the followers of their religions. In other words, they do not want to convert anybody. In India, when the Parsis, Zoroastrians, came as refugees, being driven from Iran, they came to Bombay, they were received and allowed to settle down in India.. They were very faithful to their religion and they lived their religion. They did not cause any problem to others. Hindus accommodated them as even they accommodated the Christians, the Muslims and many other small tribal traditions. Our vision of God allows that. We generally accept various forms of worship. We accept many forms of prayers; one more really does not matter to us. In fact, some of our Hindu friends in their puja rooms have a picture of Jesus and they don’t see anything wrong about it, nor do I feel anything wrong about it.
I would call the Jewish, the Zoroastrian and the Hindu traditions as non‑aggressive traditions. For me, aggression is not just a physical one. It need not be the Kargil type. There are varieties of aggression. You can emotionally be aggressive. In the United States, it is a crime to be aggressive towards the children. Simple abuse is looked upon as aggression. Verbally you can be aggressive. Physically you can be aggressive. Economically you can be very aggressive. And the worst aggression, which I consider more than physical aggression, is cultural aggression or religious aggression.
Hurt is born of many sources. I am hurt if somebody encroaches upon my piece of land that is vacant, and the court supports that person and gives me the responsibility of finding a new house for him; it is an aggression. I, get hurt. That he encroached upon my property is itself a good source of hurt. It is enough to hurt. That the law protects the one who encroached makes me more hurt. That hurt cannot be easily healed, because it leaves you helpless and the helplessness is a source of great hurt. If somebody physically hurts you, of course, it is very well known that it is a hurt. It is treated as a crime and there is a penalty for it.
If I am emotionally abused, then, that also is a great hurt. For example, people in authority can abuse you. The employer can abuse you emotionally. Husband can abuse. Wife also can abuse the husband. In‑laws can abuse. For these, I can seek some redress somewhere.
But the worst hurt, I would say, is the hurt of a religious person ‑ whether what the person believes has a basis or not. It is not my domain of enquiry to say whether it has a basis or not. Each one is free to follow his or her religion. Everybody would, have a certain belief system. Either the person is convinced or the person needs to be convinced. On the whole, he believes in the whole theology and follows that theology. He has the freedom to follow that theology. That is human freedom.
What is it that one is connected to as a religious person? He is connected not to any particular person here, who is the member of the contemporary society or his family. I am connected to my parents as their son. I cannot take myself as just a son; I am connected to other people too. I am son to my parents. I am also the father to my children and husband to my wife. I am uncle, cousin, neighbour, employer, employee and citizen. I have a number of hats to wear every day. As the religious T, I have different roles to play, day after day.
A son is related to a person outside. A brother is related to a person outside. A citizen is related to a country, a state. As a religious person, who am I related to?
Let us for the sake of convenience call that religious person a devotee. To whom is that devotee connected? Definitely, not to anyone here. I may be a religious son. I may be a religious father, religious brother, religious husband. In fact, if I am religious, the religious ‘me’ is going to pervade every role I play.
Basically, first and last, I am a religious person, if I am one. That religious person is the basic person not related to anything empirical. He is related, of course, to a force beyond ‑ whatever that force may be. One may say that force is God, and He is in heaven. Another one may say, He is in Kailasa. Another may say, He is in Vaikuntha.
Another may say, He is in Goloka Brindavan. And another may say, He is elsewhere, elsewhere and elsewhere. But the person related to that force is the one whom we call a devotee, and that person has an altar. That person is not an empirical person in the sense he is the father or son or daughter. He is the basic person.
The hurt of a basic person is going to be a hurt, which is deep, and true. There is no healing power which can heal that hurt. That is the reason why any religious sentiment, if it is violated, in anyway, will produce a martyr. There is a martyr ready to be born in that basic person. And thus the religious sentiment seems to be the most sensitive.
Whenever a religious sentiment is hurt, you will find that, in the Indian press, there is a complete black out, in terms of who did what. Even the names are not given. They will say one community fought with another community. I think it is correct because it prevents further escalation. We generally do guess work and say it must be this community or that community.
This is so because, that sentiment is very deep and has to be respected ‑whether it is a Muslim sentiment or a Christian sentiment or a Hindu sentiment or a Jewish sentiment. That sentiment has got to be respected. If that respect is not shown, then the State has to protect that sentiment. You tell me whether it is correct or not! The State has got the responsibility to protect the religious sentiment of all the people. That I consider is secularism.
In America, the religious sentiment of every individual is protected. You can go to the court and get an answer, if there is something wrong done to you as a religious person. There is justice. They respect. In fact, if you register an institution as a “religious church”, they take it as a religious church. You don’t require to submit even an income‑tax return. Until there is a public complaint, they respect it. They give you the freedom. Here, if an institution is said to be “Hindu Religious”, there is no tax exemption for the donor. It is entirely a different thing altogether.
A religious sentiment has got to be respected by everyone, whether he believes in my religion or not. Just because I don’t believe in your ideas, you can’t stand on my toes! If you don’t like my nose, it is your problem. I don’t have any problem. If my ideas and my belief systems are not acceptable to you, I give you the freedom not to accept them. But you don’t have any business to stand on my toes to hurt me in any manner.
In fact I will fight for your freedom to think differently. You must be free enough to differ from me. Bhagavan has given us the faculty of thinking, of discrimination. We are not shy of enquiries. Our whole method of enquiry is to invite poorvapaksha objections. We will create objections that cannot even be imagined by you and then answer them. We welcome them because we are not shy. We want to explore and find out what the truth is. But that is entirely a different thing. You have the freedom to differ from me; I have the freedom to differ from you. This is what I am telling you.
This is the attitude of the non‑aggressive traditions. On the other hand, the second category of religions, by their theologies, is committed to conversion.
Conversion is not only sanctioned by their theologies but also is practised by their followers. And that is their theology. They have got a right to have their own belief systems. But they don’t have a right to thrust them on you. They are free to believe that unless one is a Christian, one will not go to heaven. They have a system, a set of non‑verifiable beliefs ‑ nitya‑paroksa ‑ on which they base their theology.
Someone says, “I have been sent by God to save you”. I can also say the same thing. I will have ten people with me, because I can talk. If I don’t talk and be a mouni baba, still there will be ten people. It is easy to get ten people anywhere, especially in India. I can say, “God sent me down to save all of you!”
Once, I went to Kilpauk Mental Hospital. Just for a visit, of course. It is my own imagination. It is not true. The Kilpauk Hospital is one of the most ancient mental hospitals in this country. Next one is in Agra. We have got the number one status in many things and this is one!
Early morning, all the crows had flown away. Nobody was there. I saw a man standing under a huge tree talking in loud voice, “Listen to me. I have come here, sent down by God, to save ail of you. You please ask for forgiveness of your sins. Those who want to be saved, please raise your hands”. Then he said, Thank you, thank you, thank you”. He thought that from the audience many people had raised their hands. But there was no audience. I was the only one standing behind him. Not even in front of him. I was naturally amused but I was not surprised, because I knew where I was.
As I was enjoying this situation, well, I heard a voice from the heaven. It said, “This is God speaking. I did not send him down. Don’t believe him”. When I looked up, there was one more fellow ‑ sitting on the tree.
This is a non‑verifiable belief as you can see. In addition most of these religions, when they talk of heaven, are promoters of tourism, really speaking. I am interested in making my life here, right now. If there is something you have got to say to make my life different, I am ready to listen to you. If there are some pairs of ears ready to listen to some other thing, let them have the freedom.
That there is a heaven is a non‑verifiable belief. That, following this person, I will go to heaven, is another non‑verifiable belief. That I will survive death, is a non‑verifiable belief. There is nothing wrong in believing. But we have to understand that it is a non‑verifiable belief. And having gone to heaven I will enjoy heaven, minus cricket match, is another non‑verifiable belief. The unfortunate thing is another fellow says: I am the latest and the last. Don’t follow that fellow; follow me”. That really confuses me. He ha~ really no argument to give that he is the fast. That I am the latest, is another non‑verifiable belief and what is promised is again not verifiable.
I say, let those non‑verifiable beliefs be there. I want them to have those beliefs, even though I will not advocate them. I want them to have freedom. Let them enjoy the freedom to have their beliefs. But what is the basis for that person to come and convert me? If you are convinced of something, you can try to convince me and not convert me. Did you ever notice a physics professor knocking at your door, asking for your time, so that he can talk to you about the particles? Never! If you want to learn physics, you have to go to him.
But here, every day, I am bothered. At the airport I am bothered, in the street corners I am bothered, at home, I am bothered. They want to save my soul!
I say this is not merely an intrusion; this is an aggression. There are varieties of intrusions. If the sound is too much outside, with all the loud speakers, well, it is an intrusion into my privacy. One can complain; not in India, of course! Here also we have got laws. It is not that we do not have laws. But we have ‘in-laws’ at right places. You know!
So nobody has any business to intrude into my privacy. You come and tell me that I have got to save my soul. But I don’t look upon myself as condemned for you to come and save. We, really, don’t have a word in Sanskrit, equivalent for salvation. Because, ‘salvation’ means you have been condemned. Unless you are condemned, you need not be saved.
But this man comes and tells me that I am damned. I have to believe that first. Then he appoints himself to save me. This is very interesting. This is how the union leaders work. You create a problem and then appoint yourself as a leader to solve it. You become inevitable thereafter.
Instead of the word ‘salvation’, we have a word ‘moksha’. Here, among the dignitaries there are many gurus. All of them have a common word and that common word is moksha. Is it not true? For every one of them it is moksha.
Moksha is not a word which is equivalent to salvation. It is derived from the verbal root moksh = mokshane. It means freedom from bondage. All of them use the word moksha. Even Saankhyas use this word. Vaiseshikas, Naiyaayikas and all others use this word moksha. In fact, if moksha is not an end in view, it is not 0 school of thought to talk about. We all have a moksha. Even Chaarvaakas, the materialist, has his own concept of moksha. ‘Body goes’; that is moksha for him. He says, bhasmeebhutasya dehasya punaraagamanam kutaha.
So the word moksha does not mean salvation. It refers to freedom from bondage. On the other hand the aggressive religions have this belief system that you are condemned and you have to be saved.
When I look into these theologies, what I see is very interesting. I need not say anything to prove that they are illogical. I have to only state what they say!
I would like to illustrate this:
You must have heard about the ‘Godfather’. You know the Mafia don is called the Godfather. He makes an offer that you cannot refuse.
He comes and tells you: I am buying your house”.
You may say, I am not selling”.
He says, “You are selling”.
This type of approach was existing in Madras for some time, I am told. I hope it does not come back again.
The fellow comes and tells: I am buying your house!”
And you reply, “This is my house and I am not selling”.
He says, “You are selling it and you are selling it at this price”.
He decides the price also and then tells you, I know exactly where your children are studying and when they are coming home also”.
He threatens you and buys the house.
Thus, a Godfather is one who makes an offer that you cannot refuse.
Now, what about God, the Father? He is worse, I tell you, because he says either you follow this person or I will condemn you eternally to hell. This is worse than the offer of the Mafia don! This too is an offer, which I cannot refuse. And it is worse.
In the other case at least, I can do something. But here he is not even visible. He is sitting in a place even safer than Dubai! I cannot do anything to him. This is the non‑verifiable belief on which their religion is based.
He has the right to follow that religion. Let him follow his religion. All that I say is he does not have anything much to offer to me. If he thinks he has something to offer to me, let him have the freedom to think so. But he has no freedom to intrude into my privacy.
He converts the Hindus by any means ‑ by marriage, by some enticement or by some preaching which creates a fear. He talks about the goodies available in heaven ‑if you go to heaven, you will enjoy this and that. You will have beatitude and be saved. Otherwise, you will go to hell. It will be too hot etc. So, more out of fear of hell, one may choose to go to heaven.
He says and does all this to convert others to his religion. I say, this is wrong because if one Hindu or Jew or a Parsi is converted, and the other members of the family are not converted, they are all hurt. Even the converted one must be hurt underneath. He will be debating whether he was right in getting converted, It takes some time for him to heal that. He is also hurt. All other members are definitely hurt. The community that comes to know of this conversion is hurt.
Please tell me, what is violence? What do you call this act that hurts? I call it violence. It is not ordinary violence. It is violence to the deepest person, the core person, in the human being. The religious person is the deepest. And if that person is hurt, I say, it is violence, frank and simple.
It is pure violence. And what does it do? It wipes out cultures.
I would like to go to Greece and see the live culture of the people who lived there. Where is that culture now? I have to imagine how they might have lived. I only see the huge monuments that are left behind.
And like this, many other cultures have been totally destroyed. The native cultures of South America, North America and Australia have all been destroyed. What about the Hawaiian culture? Gone! All the tribal cultures in Africa have been destroyed. How many cultures, for the past two thousand years, are methodically destroyed? The humanity is the sufferer and is poorer for it.
We need all the cultures. And let the humanity enjoy the riches of the different cultures. It is a mosaic of cultures, Each one has got some beauty. With the destruction of religion comes the destruction of culture. When a new religion replaces the old, a culture is destroyed.
After converting, they may try to preserve the art forms like Bharatanaatyam with the themes of the new religion. But without Nataraaja where is Bharatanaatyam, without devotion, where is nrityam?
And therefore, the culture cannot be retained if the religion is destroyed. It is true with reference to all other cultures also. But definitely it is true with reference to our culture, because, you cannot separate culture from religion.
Our religion and culture are intertwined. The religion has gone into the fabric of the culture. When I say ‘Namaste’ to you, it is culture. It is religion. When you are throwing rangoli, it is religion; it is culture. There is a vision behind all that. Every form of culture is connected to religion and the religion itself is rooted in the spiritual wisdom. This is because we have a spiritual tradition.
And therefore there is no cultural form unconnected to religion. Destruction of culture is destruction of religion. Destruction of religion is destruction of culture. If this destruction is not violence, what is violence? I would like to know?
I say CONVERSION IS VIOLENCE. It is rank of violence. It is the deepest violence.
Not only that, in our dharma‑shaastra, it is said that if somebody forcefully occupies another’s piece of land, he is called an aatataayi. For an aatataayi, in our shaastra, there is capital punishment.
Occupying another’s land or another’s house or flat, against the will of the owner is a grave paapa according to our dharma. Many times, when the owner asks, “Give me back my house”, the tenant invariably replies, I am sorry. I cannot give you the house, because my children are going to the school in this area. Please find a similar house for me. Then I will move”. When the owner finds such a house for him, the tenant says, It is too far away for the children to go to school. Please find something in the same neighbourhood”. It means, I would like to be here”. If you go to the court, twenty five years would be gone. But occupying another’s land is not dharma as per our culture.
Another’s kshetra is another’s kshetra. It has nothing to do with me. Kshetra-apahaari is an aatataayi. The one who does arson or poisons somebody is an aatataayi, and there is capital punishment for him. One who kidnaps another’s wife is an aatataayi and there is capital punishment for him. All these actions deserve capital punishment. And if, simply for occupation of a land of another, there is capital punishment, think of what would be the punishment for the destruction of a culture.
Suppose somebody is ashastrapaani, unarmed, and you kill him, it is not correct. Karna in the Mahaabhaarata uses this argument when he was completely unarmed. Talking to Arjuna, he said, I am an ashastrapaani; you should not hit me now. Krishna had to tell him that Karna was not unarmed, but he was duly disarmed. There is a lot of difference between the two. Krishna had to convince him.
So here, a Hindu is an ashastrapaani. A Jewish person is an ashastrapaani. A Buddhist is an ashastrapaani. A Parsi is an ashastrapaani. That is, they are all non‑aggressive. When you try to convert them, it is like hurting an ashastrapaani.
You cannot ask me to change the genius of my culture, the genius of my religion. It is the tradition of my culture and religion that I do not convert. It is not a situation where, you convert and I convert. And the one who has a better organisation is going to convert more number of people. It is not a percentage game of the market.
Here it is one sided. I cannot change the genius of my culture because I do not believe in conversion. I allow you to be a Christian. I allow you to be a Muslim. You be a Christian, you be a Muslim. You pray; it is fine for us. I let you be a Muslim or a Christian, even though I do not say, “All religions lead to the same goal”. I don’t commit that ubiquitous mistake.
But I give you the freedom. You please follow your religion. Don’t ask me to convert others to my religion like you, because I cannot convert. It is because I do not believe in it. My parents did not believe in it. My grandparents did not believe in it. My Rishis did not believe in it. And I don’t believe in it. You cannot change a culture in order to be on par with the others. It is against the genius of our culture.
It is not only our culture, which is like this; there are other cultures too. The number of the Parsis is dwindling. I loathe to see the destruction of the Parsi culture. They are harmless good people. But now they are the losers.
Jewish people are also the losers; their numbers are also dwindling. They are fighting to preserve their culture and religion. They are not converting. There is no evangelism in Judaism. There is no proselytization. There were never any inquisitions. They were the sufferers; they were the victims of aggression, and planned aggression for ages.
And therefore, conversion is not merely violence against people; it is violence against people, who are committed to non‑violence.
I don’t say Hindus do not fight. They can fight very well. You don’t tell me, “You put your house in order”. I will put my house in order, in my own time and in my own way.
If two brothers are fighting over an empty piece of land that is there next door, and a third man occupies the land saying, “Because you two are fighting, I am occupying this piece of land”, what is this logic? Some people advance this logic to me and say that we are all fighting and therefore they are in. We may be fighting amongst ourselves but we have to settle that among ourselves. That does not mean YOU can be violent.
Somebody says we must have ecumenical dialogue. I had attended some of these dialogues. And I stopped attending them. Because I don’t see any use in it. On one such occasion, I said, I can have a dialogue with a Christian, if he is ready to change, if convinced, after the dialogue”. Is he, if convinced, going to change his stand? Is he going to stop conversion? Don’t ask me to have a dialogue with you when you are standing on my toes. You just move away. Then we can have a dialogue.
The world religious conferences that are held are only meant to neutralise any protest against conversion. That is all. Because they don’t want to stop conversion. So what is the use of saying, “We are all same. We are all going to the same God”. It is something like saying, you know, your property is my property; my property is your property; your money is my money; my money is your money. Therefore, let my money be with me and let your money also be with me! So this is all wrong thinking.
All forms of prayer are valid. That I can accept. They don’t accept that. I can accept because of my understanding of the shaastra. The Lord will understand, definitely, if I pray in Tamil or, Latin or Greek. There is nothing Latin and Greek to the Lord. He will understand in whichever language the prayer is made. If I pray in Samskritam, definitely, he will understand because it is His language anyway. I am very Catholic, understand’. I don’t have this kind of silly notions that it has got to be in one language and it has got to be in one form etc.
But we have certain special forms of rituals ‑ Vedic rituals ‑ which cannot be compromised with. Because we do not know how they can be different. We have no other pramaana for it. We do not have a means of knowledge to prove that this can be different.
They do not accept any of that. And they preach. It is not that they preach their own religion. They preach against other religions. And I consider that kind of preaching is violence. It breeds violence. I have a genius which does not permit me to convert. I cannot be asked to convert.
Therefore, the violence against me is a one‑sided violence. It is a rank one‑sided violence. They have gotten away with it for two thousand years. I want them to know that this is violence. Let them prove conversion is non‑violence.
I am hurt and many others like me are hurt. Millions are hurt. There are so many other issues to be discussed with reference to conversion. But I have only one to discuss here. It is the violence that is allowed to be perpetrated against humanity, against cultures, against religions. That is the only issue here; there is no other issue.
Violence is the only issue. Humanity should not stand with hands down and allow violence to be continued against a person who is non-violent.
There is another important fact in the Indian context, I tell you. I am a Swami committed to ahimsa. A sannyasi’s vow is ahimsa, really. It is nothing but ahimsa ‑sarva‑bhootebhyo abhayam. l am taking this sanyasa and offer a complete assurance to all the beings and to all the devataas, that I am not a competitor to any of them and that I will not hurt any of them ‑ kayena vacha manasaa. That is sannyasa. I am aware of this. I am a sannyasi .
Now I sit in Rishikesh. These two people come to me. One is a Padri and the other is a Moulvi. I invite both of them. They are religious people. I respect them. I give them seats. They try to argue with me about something. Generally, I do not argue with them. You can argue with people whom you can convince. I don’t want to argue with people who only want to convince me.
So I don’t argue. I enjoy their company. I sit with them and talk to them. They pick up a quarrel with me. And then they begin to beat me. Please note that, this is just an imaginary tale. And there is a policeman standing there. They go on beating me black and blue. I implore to the policeman, “Please stop them. I am committed to ahimsa. I don’t want to fight them back. You please do something”. I appeal to him.
He says, “This is a matter between religious people. I am secular. I am supposed not to interfere”. I appeal to him. Twice, thrice I request him. He does not respond to me positively. Then I think I have to protect myself. My shaastra will forgive me. Even though I am given to ahimsa, still I can protect myself.
And therefore I thought I will take care of myself. I am not just a weakling. I have got enough strength. And therefore, I can take care of these two fellows plus one more. I began to defend myself. The best form of defence is offence. That is what every husband does. And therefore, you defend yourself.
But the policeman stops me and says, “They are minorities. They have to be protected and you should not fight against them”.
“Hey, policeman, you are supposed to protect me. You are the Government. You are the State. You are supposed to protect me. You cannot be like this”.
This is the situation that prevails in India.
You have to change the whole blessed thing here. If the constitution has to be changed, let it be changed for good. My dharma is not violence. It does not allow conversion. And that dharma has to be protected. The State has to protect. If the protector does not protect, people should have a new protector to protect. That is all.
Conversion is violence. And it breeds violence. Don’t convert because, by this, you are converting the non violent to be violent. You are doing something wrong. This is drastically wrong. This error has to be realised. The sooner it is corrected, the better it is for all of us even for Christians and even for Muslims.
I want the Islamic culture to be there. I want the Christian culture to be there. I want the Hindu culture and every other culture to be there. Every culture is to be protected. That is secularism.
~ Speech given by Sri Swami Dayananda Saraswati at the Seminar “Violence to Hindu Heritage” on Saturday, July 17th, 1999 at Satguru Gnanananda Hall, Chennai