Swami Sarvalokananda delivering lecture in Zirve University, Gaziantep Turkey, on 30.12.2015
This is a wonderful Vedic prayer – a prayer to the Lord – Lead us from the unreal to the real, lead us from darkness to light, lead us from mortality to immortality.
Distinguished guests, esteemed faculty members of this great institution, students, ladies and gentlemen present here. My previous speaker has very beautifully explained and shown in his powerpoint presentation, the diverse culture, diverse language, diverse religion, diverse lifestyle and diverse dresses in India. Now you have a comprehensive idea about the Indian culture, civilization and tradition.
Though India is a land of diverse culture, language, religion and lifestyle, the characteristic of India is unity in diversity. This is very important. See how we live together in India – somebody mentioned that Muslims in India are considered second class citizens. This is a completely wrong idea and propaganda. I have asked many Muslim friends in India, How they feel in India? They say they are very happy, comfortable and are living with dignity. If they go to Islamic countries, they are not treated as they are treated in India – with all dignity! This unity in diversity is therefore a characteristic of Indian culture and civilization.
Clarifying some misconceptions about Indian religious practices
1. The logic of polytheism in Hinduism – the difference only in name & form
There is a misconception about India – its culture and religion. Many non-Hindu friends in India as well as abroad have mentioned to me that you worship many gods and goddesses. This confuses us. Yes, Hinduism believes in polytheism, and worship many Gods and Goddesses. Somebody worships Shiva, somebody Krishna, somebody Rama. God is one, Allah is one. But there are different manifestations of Allah of God or Atman or Brahman. These are all manifestations. We worship in different names and forms according to the taste, temperament and liking of the people.
I often give a classic example: you go to a mall and want to buy a coat. You will like one thing and your friend will like something else. Somebody likes a white coat, somebody a brown coat, somebody likes a short coat and somebody a long coat. There are different tastes and temperaments.
Similarly in Hinduism, there are different gods and goddesses – the manifestation of the same God – different names and forms. That is why Hinduism believes in polytheism.
2. Image and nature worship
Another question often faced is that of image worship – photos and idols.
Let me tell you about one incident from the life of Swami Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda was a great spiritual leader and saint of the 19th Century. This question was asked by king Alwar (of Rajasthan) to him. Swamiji was the King’s (Mangal Singh) guest. In his court they were discussing about image worship. King said – Swamiji I don’t believe in idol worship.
In the court there was a big picture of Mangal Singh hanging on the wall. Swami Vivekananda asked one of the ministers to take out the picture and put it on the ground. He then asked the minister to spit on it.
All people present were disturbed – you are asking us to spit on the picture of our own king? We respect our King. We cannot do that! Swamiji said why not? This is a simple picture. Made of color and canvas. The courtiers said we cannot do it because we see our king Mangal Singh in this picture. It is not just color and canvas. Swamiji then said, those who worship idols and images do it not as idols alone. They see God in the image. That is why this worship is done.
So the image is not worshipped as an image, or idol as idol. We see God in the image or idol. That is why we worship an image.
The previous speaker was saying that Hindus worship trees and nature. Some people say this is ridiculous. All religions admit that God is all pervading. Allah is not only in a temple or mosque, He is all pervasive. Present in living and non-living beings. Similarly Hinduism sees God everywhere – whether it be living or non-living beings. We see the presence of God in the tree, stone, mountain – everywhere. That is why trees etc. are worshipped.
3. Cow slaughter
Now a days, beef is not allowed in India. Slaughtering of cows is strictly prohibited. This was not the case earlier. Some non-Hindu friends ask why is this so? How does a cow become a mother?
Hinduism calls a cow mother – “गौमाता” (Gaumata). There is a philosophy behind this. The cow’s milk nurtures the baby. It is a balanced and nutritious diet – not found in the milk of any other animal. There has therefore been a tradition of thousands of years where children are given cow’s milk. That is why the cow is considered as mother.
Therefore Hindus do not like taking beef. Just as Muslims do not take pork. All these are specific food habits of each and every religion.
What is religion and spirituality?
There are two aspects of religion. One is the external of religion and the other is the internal of religion.
All rituals – by any religion – are all the ‘external’ of religion. They are not the whole of religion. Therefore the other aspect is the internal of religion. This is the core of religion, and this core is spirituality – of any religion.
Now a days there is a lot of talk about becoming spiritual – in India as well as other countries. What is spirituality? It is the values to be practiced in human life. What are these human values? Why are we called human beings? What is the difference between man and animal? Apparently there is no difference between humans and animal. Humans also eat, and animals also eat. Humans also sleep, so do animals.The difference then is in one thing. Humans have the faculty of discrimination. Humans can think what is good and bad. Animals cannot. This is why humans are called the best creation on earth. No species other on earth has this faculty. In Sanskrit it is called “vivekabuddhi, vicharabuddi’.
This is why humans must display sterling human values. What are they? Love, affection, unselfishness, feeling of brotherhood, friendship, etc. A person who doesn’t possess these values cannot be called a human being. So you must possess them. All religions – whether it be Islam, Christianity, Hinduism or Zoroastrianism – declares and advocates the same thing – that you should be truthful, you must be accountable, creditable, loving, transparent, friendly, etc.
No religion asks people to speak lies or quarrel with other religions, or break the heads of people from other religions.There are, unfortunately, some people who do this. We hear that in Islam, a person who does not believe in Islam is a Kafir (traitor), and if a Muslim kills such a person, he will go to Allah. The more such people he kills, the sooner he will go to Allah. This is a misinterpretation. I was asking my friend Irfanji yesterday how is this so? Irfanji said that Kafir is misrepresented.
There are misconceptions about every religion – Hinduism, Islam, Christianity.. For example, other religions believe that Christianity had always emphasized on conversion. Hinduism doesn’t. Yes they may believe in it, but that is not the only motto or goal of Christianity.
Acceptance & Tolerance in Hinduism
There is another characteristic of the Hindu religion – universal acceptance and tolerance. If you read the history of India and Hinduism, you will find that these are two main characteristics. Hindus never reject anybody. They accept and respect all religions. Whenever anyone has come as a refugee, India has given shelter. For example, the Parsis came to India. They were driven away from their country. India gave them shelter, and they are living in India peacefully and with all dignity. This is the catholicity and liberal attitude of Hinduism.
Now a days we talk about terrorism. We are all scared of it. Why has it come up? Why are young boys trained and their brains totally washed to kill people of other religions mercilessly? Nobody knows the real philosophy or reason behind it. There may be some political interests, and people of ulterior motives just do to divide the people.
We have to live together. How can we live peacefully? This peaceful co-existence of religions in the world is very important. We should come forward and put an end to this terrorism. It is a burning issue – not only in India or Turkey, but all over the world.
There may be a difference in lifestyles, culture, dress, language. But basically there is no difference between human beings. The essence of any religion is that we are one and the same.
Religion always binds us, it never divides us.If religion divides us, it is not a true religion.
I am very happy to be here. I must appreciate the hospitality of the Turkish people. Wherever I have gone, they have welcomed and entertained us. This is a sterling human quality I have encountered. In Hinduism it is called “atithi devo bhava” – the guest is nothing but God. Here also I have experienced that. Any guest – whether from India, England or Germany, are entertained nicely here. And there is a feeling that they are one with all.
With these few words I would like to conclude my speech, and thank Indialogue Foundation of Mumbai. They invited us to Turkey to see the culture, religion, tradition, people and to realize & understand what Turkey is. We have seen everything. To some extent we have understood the tradition, culture and civilization. It has undoubtedly a very rich culture and tradition – one of the oldest in the world.
I would like to conclude with a Vedic prayer – “ ॐ सर्वेभवन्तुसुखिनः सर्वेसन्तुनिरामयाः।” (Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah Sarve Santu Nir-Aamayaah|)”
Let all be happy, Let all be healthy.