[The following is an excerpt from a longer essay titled ‘Hinduism and the Future of Inter-religious Harmony in India’ published in my e-book – The Thinking Indian: Essays on Indian Socio-cultural Matters in the Light of Sri Aurobindo.]
Let us now go a bit deeper to see if Sri Aurobindo means something more when he says that Hinduism would have or could have taken religions like Islam and Christianity within itself. To do so it is also important to consider this assimilation process that is being spoken of here, and also what is meant when we say that Hinduism is an inclusive religion.
In order to remain inclusive, Hinduism should have the capacity to integrate the spiritual realizations, truths, and experiences revealed within the fold of other religious traditions, otherwise it is not inclusive at all. Going by historical record, we can see that what we now know as Hinduism has taken in elements from all sorts of traditions—Vedic, Upanishadic, Buddhist, Jain, Tantric, Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Sikh—all of these and many others have been integrated into what has now evolved as Hinduism.
But it is important to emphasize that for Sri Aurobindo, Hinduism is not any particular belief or practice but essentially an inner experience that is available to all humans. It is this experience-based Hinduism that might become, as he says in an essay published in Karmayogin on June 19, 1909, the “basis of the future world-religion” (CWSA, Vol. 8, p. 26).
“God gives Himself to His whole creation; no one religion holds the monopoly of His Grace” (The Mother, CWM, Vol. 15, p. 27). Sri Aurobindo and the Mother remind us that each religion is only a partial expression of the Truth and they all, in their own unique ways, have helped the mankind in its progressive march. To quote from Sri Aurobindo:
“Each religion has helped mankind. Paganism increased in man the light of beauty, the largeness and height of his life, his aim at a many-sided perfection; Christianity gave him some vision of divine love and charity; Buddhism has shown him a noble way to be wiser, gentler, purer; Judaism and Islam how to be religiously faithful in action and zealously devoted to God; Hinduism has opened to him the largest and profoundest spiritual possibilities. A great thing would be done if all these God-visions could embrace and cast themselves into each other; but intellectual dogma and cult egoism stand in the way.” (CWSA, Vol. 13, p. 211)
Because each religion brought to mankind some important aspect of the Truth, the future of humanity requires that these religions embrace and “cast themselves into each other.” This is the kind of integration or assimilation process that Sri Aurobindo is speaking of in the statement we have been discussing.
A few more insights from Sri Aurobindo and the Mother will help us gain further clarity on this topic, especially about the future of religion itself (and thereby the future of inter-religious harmony). While speaking of the role of religion in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Sri Aurobindo once said that there will be “no place for rigid orthodoxy, whether Hindu, Mahomedan or Christian in the future. Those who cling to it, loose hold of life and go under—as has been shown by the fate of the Hindus in India and of the orthodox Mahomedan countries all over the world.” (Letter dated 23 February 1932, published in the Bulletin, Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education 52, February 2000, p. 80).
This helps us see that for Sri Aurobindo religion is useful as long as it doesn’t turn into a rigid orthodoxy—no matter what religion it is. If present multi-religious India has to fulfill her mission of being a spiritual guru of the world, she has to move beyond the rigid orthodox religiosity to a more inclusive and wide-embracing spirituality (whether it is religion-based spirituality or religion-less spirituality). We must also remember that the true spirituality thrives on diversity and shuns uniformity. In order to keep a healthy, pluralistic society we need healthy dialogue and acceptance of different religious truths and beliefs. These ideas are also echoed in the following words of the Mother (CWM, Vol. 15, pp. 27-29):
“Instead of excluding each other, religions ought to complete each other.”
“The spiritual spirit is not contrary to a religious feeling of adoration, devotion and consecration. But what is wrong in the religions is the fixity of the mind clinging to one formula as an exclusive truth. One must always remember that formulas are only a mental expression of the truth and that this truth can always be expressed in many other ways.” (6 December 1964).
“All religions are partial approximations of the one sole Truth that is far above them.” (April 1969).
But is there a future beyond religion? Perhaps the true harmony between religions is only possible when we can boldly envision and work towards creating a world without religion, but a world steeped in true spirituality.
But before proceeding further it is important to understand the difference between the two. Sri Aurobindo makes an important distinction between two aspects of religion – religion as spirituality, and as religionism. Rejecting religionism or sectarianism in religion and ardently advocating spirituality he writes:
“It is true in a sense that religion should be the dominant thing in life, its light and law, but religion as it should be and is in its inner nature, its fundamental law of being, a seeking after God, the cult of spirituality, the opening of the deepest life of the soul to the indwelling Godhead, the eternal Omnipresence. On the other hand, religion when it identifies itself only with a creed, a cult, a Church, a system of ceremonial forms, may well become a retarding force and there may therefore arise a necessity for the human spirit to reject its control over the varied activities of life.” (CWSA, Vol. 25, p. 177).
The failure to make this distinction between true spiritual core of religion and its external shell of religionism is at the root of a lot of confused debate on issues concerning religious divide, both in India and elsewhere. But “religionism has not been the only perversion of true religion” (Nadkarni, 1996). In an essay titled, Hindu-Muslim Unity in Sri Aurobindo’s Light, he very clearly explains the other perversion that Sri Aurobindo has also warned us of in the chapter titled, Religion as the Law of Life in his book, The Human Cycle. Nadkarni writes:
“This perversion sets in when religion tends to mean, as it has often done, something different and remote from earthly life, leading to ascetic renunciation. The spirituality of which Sri Aurobindo has been the most articulate spokesman in our time respects the freedom of the human soul, because it is fulfilled by freedom; and the deepest meaning of freedom is the power to expand and grow towards perfection by the law of one’s own nature. True spirituality gives freedom to philosophy and science, to man’s seeking for political and social perfection and to all his other powers and terrestrial aspirations. Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo exemplify best the spirit of liberalism which has created out of the medieval Hinduism a vibrant, modern Hinduism, more than willing to reaffirm what is basic to the Hindu faith – respect for all religions.” (pp. 6-7)
This sets the stage right for our further analysis. In an essay Sri Aurobindo wrote for the June 19, 1909 issue of Karmayogin he gives us a glimpse of where the world is moving in term of its religious or spiritual destiny. He writes:
“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 [referring to the true spirit of Sanatan Dharma], 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.” (CWSA, Vol. 8, p. 26)
We see that on one level, Sri Aurobindo tells us that the future world-spirit is moving in the direction of a syncretic and inclusive eternal way (Sanatana Dharma) which takes in its fold the spiritual essence from all present world religions. And on another level, the more we understand and appreciate Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s vision of the future we find that they compel us to envision with them a world beyond religion, a world where the inner seeking, the spiritual seeking is the basis for human unity. This is abundantly clear in the following words of the Mother (CWM, Vol. 15, pp. 29-30):
“Religions are based on creeds which are spiritual experiences brought down to a level where they become more easy to grasp, but at the cost of their integral purity and truth.
“The time of religions is over.
“We have entered the age of universal spirituality, of spiritual experience in its initial purity.
“Religious teaching belongs to the past and halts progress.
“Spiritual teaching is the teaching of the future—it illumines the consciousness and prepares it for future realisation.
“Spiritual teaching is above religions and strives towards a global Truth.
“It teaches us to enter into direct relation with the Divine.”
So essentially it comes down to each one of us to see which of these truths sits better with what we feel inside us – whether the world-spirit is moving towards a syncretic world-religion or to an age beyond religion. There is no right or wrong answer here because each answer will be an expression of only a partial truth. The true Truth will be beyond any of these expressions.
But in the answer that we discover for ourselves is hidden the seed of the future we envision for India, especially regarding the co-existence of diverse religions and faiths in India. In this answer also lies the beginning of the individual responsibility we give to ourselves, each one of us — regardless of our religious backgrounds or spiritual leanings — who is concerned with the present and future of inter-religious harmony in India.
At the very minimum, this answer helps us come face to face with the truth that we must move beyond the straitjacketed debate between the so-called secularist and religio-chauvinist arguments, and begin to look for deeper understanding of the core of the issue. Only through a deeper understanding of the problem we can envision a more sustainable and lasting solution.
Regardless of what the ultra-rationalists (or pseudo-rationalists?) among Indian intelligentsia might say, India will never give up her deeply embedded religio-spiritual character. But if India has to fulfill her mission of being a spiritual guru of the world, she must raise herself above all sentiments and ideologies that smell of narrow chauvinism, no matter which religion they come from. And she must aspire for the Truth of the golden bright noon of the future which Sri Aurobindo sums up perfectly in these words:
“The Truth of the Divine which is the spiritual reality behind all religions and the descent of the supramental which is not known to any religion are the sole things which will be the foundation of the work of the future.” (Undated letter, published in the Bulletin, Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education 53, February 2001, p. 72)
Available at: Amazon.com Amazon.in
To read some reviews of the book, click HERE.