This volume comprises the largest collection of Shri Ram Swarup's writings ever published between two covers. Many of the articles have been printed for the very first time, and they span a period of over four decades. The book includes critiques of Christian and Islamic thought from a Hindu perspective and suggestions on how Hinduism can be practiced in modern times in tune with its deeper spiritual teachings. It also incorporates several short articles and book reviews written for various newspapers and magazines.
The volume is divided roughly into three sections dealing with Hinduism, Christianity and Islam respectively. In each section, the reader will come across writings on many different topics illuminating the Dharmic perspective on numerous issues of modern relevance. These writings show Ram Swamp's profound understanding of social, historical, religions and spiritual issues and also illustrate how Dharmic principles can provide a solution to problems facing humanity today. The author's writings offer a compelling intellectual and spiritual defense of Hinduism vis-à-vis competing world-views, and provide for a practical way to put Hindu renaissance back on track.
Ram Swarup was a unique thinker who not only showed an acute awareness of modern challenges to and distortions of Hindu traditions, but also suggested practical remedies that were rooted in the perennial Hindu spirituality itself. He demonstrated the universality of Hinduism in space and time and its ability to adapt itself to ever changing conditions in our world, even while retaining its core principles. As the excesses of materialism, consumerism and terrorism in human societies become more and more debilitating, Shri Ram Swarup's expositions of Hindu thought and spirituality acquire a greater relevance and significance in providing solutions to humanity as a whole.
Though he never had an organization, a mission or an ashram and preferred to remain in the background, Ram Swarup nevertheless became one of the dominant figures in modern Hindu thought. He brought an important new point of view into the Hindu renaissance of the past two centuries which can move it in a new positive direction. He not only wrote about Hinduism in the India context but relative to the world as a whole and the major movements and ideologies of our times. He articulated a Hindu point of view in a clear, succinct, cogent and comprehensive manner that makes it compelling for all those who have an open mind and an inner vision.
Ram Swarup represents the deeper response of the Hindu mind to the critical cultural and religious challenges of today. His work has had a strong impact in India already but its main impact is likely to be for the future, for generations yet to come, as he was a thinker ahead of his time. His impact in the West, though crucial in regard to a number of individual thinkers, is yet to come and may prove more significant. Starting with his main disciple and colleague Sitaram Goel, he has inspired a whole group of thinkers and writers East and West, who are disseminating his ideas and inspirations in various ways. In introducing his writings, I will try to first put the Hindu movement into a broader perspective, reflecting my study of his writings.
Start of the Hindu Renaissance
The nineteenth century witnessed a remarkable and largely unexpected renaissance in Hindu thought, Yoga, Veda and Vedanta that brought back to life and placed in the modern context, the world's oldest spiritual heritage. An ancient religion that seemed on the verge of extinction was suddenly awake and able to express and assert itself on the stage of the modern world, providing a new view of humanity, culture and religion that could enrich all cultures and countries.
Many western educated Hindus went back to their own traditions and sought to create new movements within Hinduism that reflected a deeper interpretation of their older teachings as well as a new projection of it for the modern age. They sought to restore, reform and universalize Hindu thought. They did not see a need to abandon their traditions for the trends in western thought or religion that they were exposed to-though that had come to dominate their country and its educational institutions-but rather began to recognize in their own traditions something more spiritual and more comprehensive than the products of the western mind, which seemed to them mired in materialism and dogma.
Swami Dayananda of the Arya Samaj in the late nineteenth century brought about an important call to return to the Vedas and provided strong critiques of western religions and philosophies, which had put Hinduism under siege and in defense. He personally debated with western missionaries and educators and was able to show that Hindu thought had a depth that they could not dismiss or even counter when it was clearly articulated.
Then at the turn of the twentieth century, Swami Vivekananda of the Ramakrishna Mission took the message of Hinduism, Yoga and Vedanta to the western world itself, where he was enormously successful, setting up missions in Europe and North America that continue to the present day. Vivekananda also helped revive the ancient traditions in India, setting the stage for the modern Hindu, Yoga-Vedanta movement.
Whereas Swami Dayananda sought to preserve the Vedic message to protect Hindu society from colonial efforts to undermine it, Swami Vivekananda sought to universalize the Yoga-Vedantic message to transform the world. Hindu thought suddenly had not only a renewed value for India but a new message for the entire world. Many other teachers and thinkers of India took up similar views and activities.
Influence of the Indian Independence Movement on the Hindu Renaissance
The late nineteenth century saw the beginning of another major movement in Indian thought and society, the Indian independence movement. It started under the inspiration of the Hindu renaissance through Vivekananda, Dayananda, B. G. Tilak, and Sri Aurobindo and others like them, who looked to Hindu thought through the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita and Vedanta for the foundation of the national struggle. The Hindu renaissance naturally became strongly aligned with the Indian independence movement as India was a Hindu majority country.
However, the Indian independence movement proved over time to be both a boon and a curse to the Hindu renaissance, expanding it in some areas but contracting it in others.
Many Hindus joined the movement and brought Hindu values and practices into it. Mahatma Gandhi, who later came to lead the independence movement, wore the garb of a Hindu Sadhu, spoke of the Bhagavad Gita as the greatest book, criticized the missionaries, and called himself a Hindu.
However, a tendency arose to modify Hindu thought for the sake of the independence movement. In particular, the need to bring religious minorities into the movement went against the need of Hinduism to awaken and reclaim its ancient glory. The Hindu reconversion movement that Swami Dayananda set in motion was almost brought to a standstill largely by Hindus themselves. It eventually became politically incorrect from the standpoint of the Indian independence movement for Hindus to defend much less promote their religious identity, so as not to politically alienate the non-Hindus in the country.
Because of the political necessities of the Indian independence movement, the effort in Hindu thought to articulate its own unique identity as well as to expand its reach gradually receded. The Hindu renaissance took a back seat for the Indian independence movement. The fearless and bold self-confidence of Vivekananda, Rama Tirtha and Swami Dayananda in relating the Vedic and Vedantic teachings gave way to an almost timid and apologetic seeking for consensus against the British.
Long Term Repercussions of the Indian Independence Movement on Hinduism
The muting of the Hindu voice that occurred in the Indian independence movement became hardened in independent India, largely to maintain political support of the same minorities. Politicians of a Hindu background found that they could get more easily elected by playing to minority religious vote banks and appealing to their religious identities and insecurities.
Hindus remained hesitant to project their own tradition in a positive way, much less criticize other religions, in order to avoid offending religious minorities that might vote against them or feel unwanted in the country. In some respects the situation became worse. For example, very few Indian politicians today would make the same statements against the missionaries that Mahatma Gandhi made during his lifetime, or even quote these, so as to maintain their Christian vote banks.
After the achievement of independence, the history, philosophy and global relevance of Hinduism failed to get properly articulated or taught. Vedic and Hindu schools did not come up. Hinduism did not take its place, much less its seniority and depth in the world's presentation of religious and spiritual traditions. It did not create its own global voice but remained under foreign, alien and often hostile outside interpretations.
While people in the world generally look at Christianity and Islam according to Christian and Islamic sources, Hinduism remains looked at primarily according to non-Hindu sources which have not changed significantly since the colonial era. While India achieved its freedom from colonial rule, Hinduism remained in the colonial and missionary shadow. It was not freed along with the country, nor did independent India seek to remove the distortions about the majority religion of its peoples, which it continued to allow to be taught in its schools, even though it collects money from Hindu temples taken over by government control.
Another negative result of the lack of proper formulation of Hindu thought was that Indians of an intellectual bent went over to other systems, notably Marxism, which had more to offer by way of an intellectual point of view and a future to strive for. People were not given any Hindu identity or sense of worth, so they naturally sought a non-Hindu or anti-Hindu identity. They embraced intellectual critiques of Hinduism and had no Hindu intellectual response to provide any balance.
The Global Spread of Hindu Thought
Global Hinduism has had a similar result, becoming both a help and a hindrance for the Hindu renaissance. In spreading their message globally, Hindu teachers found it easier to promote their own guru or sect of Hinduism and leave Hinduism itself behind or at home. The perceived ethnicity of Hinduism, its being limited to India and those born as Hindus was one side of the issue. The other side was the difficulty of communicating the Hindu tradition as a whole compared to the ease in promoting one particular guru or lineage.
Vivekananda himself, who was the first real global guru from India, found that the greatest interest in the West was in the figure of the guru-avatar, Yoga practices, meditation and a generalized Vedantic thought, while the missionary inspired fear of Hinduism as polytheistic and superstitious was deeply entrenched.
The result was that Hindu gurus in the West tried to appear as universal figures that accepted all religions and were Hindus only by accident of birth. This may have been necessitated by the anti-Hindu propaganda and even racism that they had to face initially-which was still strong in the West particularly in the early twentieth century-but it also became hardened into a trend of its own.
Rather than seeking to reformulate, articulate or defend Hinduism as a whole, Hindu gurus have usually given priority to developing their own particular group and its following, which they then seek to expand in its own right. If you ask western followers of such Indian gurus what religion they follow, they often say that they follow the universal religion of their guru, not that they are Hindus. This may be the case even if the individuals have Hindu names or are Swamis rooted in traditional Hindu orders.
One could say that Hindus are very universal in their sectarianism. Hindu sects have gone global and universal. Some have formulated themselves as new universal religions, with their guru as an avatar. Others claim to have gone beyond religion to a universal spiritual tradition. Yet few have taken the effort to openly honor the greater Hindu tradition or Sanatana Dharma as the universal tradition it has always formulated itself to be, even though they rely upon the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras and other standard teachings of Sanatana Dharma for their particular approaches. There may have been historical or cultural necessities for this phenomenon but its long term limitations must be recognized.
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