important phenomenon of (the original) Indian religions, those ones
that were born and developed on Indian soil is the theory and practice
of non-violence. It is difficult not to underestimate, how deeply this
way of life, understanding of the surrounding world, interrelationship
with the nature of the great majority of Indians penetrates the
everyday life of them.
Most of them are
devout believers in god(s) and in the permanent circle of life, in
rebirth, reincarnation. According to opinions (written and verbal) I
was able to collect and summarise, around 80% of followers of Indian
religions believe in the sanctity of animal life as well. Thus, the
belief in three interconnected phenomena, in supernatural power, in
the teaching that the quality of one’s next life depends on
his or her behaviour during the present life and in the absolute
sanctity of life led to non-violence, non-violence towards
their fellow citizens of this globe and also towards the whole animal
world. Vegetarianism of different strictness is just one of the simple
appearances on the surface of this internal hate of killing (and then
eating) animals, there are much deeper forms, expressions of love and
esteem of nature (the powers of nature as well).
I do not cite
philosophers writing about religion and I have never meditated on this
subject as carefully as I do now. I may see a lot of aspects in wrong
light: correct me in case you do not agree with me.
One of the
striking results of the basic beliefs is probably that a lot of
animals are god-like features (Nandi, the bull, snakes), that gods
appear with animal-heads, like the elephant-headed Ganesh (or Ganesha),
the famous god of luck and the horse-headed god (to come?). But I see
the same reason behind the rich varieties of gods. I am not talking
about the fantastic scene of gods of the official tableau (hm,
it does not exist!) of Hinduism, but of the fact that everything on
the earth may become god for the common people of India. They may
worship flowers or even grass, a tree (think of the banyan-tree, for
example), a piece of stone in front of a tree, a column of a temple.
One small figurine on the wall of a temple may be treated as a new
shrine, anointed with oil, presented with flowers. We left with this
the question of love of the nature and entered the field of richness
of Indian fantasy.
The Indian way
of seeing the world through the wonderful (and absolutely human,
natural) philosophy of non-violence must have effected Jesus Christ as
well. I thought much earlier than I read the first book expressing the
same idea: Jesus had spent his years of absence in India,
before returning to Israel with his well-formulated preaching. The
idea of Trinitarianism exists in Hinduism in the form of three gods:
Brahma, the Creator, Vishnu, the Preserver and Siva, the Destroyer,
representing different values of the same God (they say so). This idea
is as dark for me as the Trinity in the Catholic teachings. There are
also a lot of similarities in the ceremonies and means of worshipping,
like usage of songs (how early was discovered the force of music and
songs to influence human beings!), of holy water, censing, the usage
of rosary, bells, the Christian greeting of God by the everyday Indian
greeting, Namaste. I do not want to say that these methods are
used only by Indians and followers of Jesus Christ, the line of
similarity is much wider, still striking.
important fact originates from the general idea of non-violence: no
Indian religion ever intended to convert others. In fact Indians open
wide eyes seeing non-Indians clad into Indian robes and worshipping
their gods. Most of gurus who arrive to the USA (why almost
exclusively there?) to teach Hinduism (Hara Krishna, etc) are
money-makers, not real preachers.
question, should I use capital letter in the word God (according to my
dictionary god is to be used when one describes gods of believers in
more than one god, God is the Almighty of monotheists) reminds me a
much more interesting question: do Hindus really believe in so many
gods? Now, I learnt from S. Radhakrishnan, that in spite of the
richness of forms, in which the God of Indians appears in the eyes of
its believers, Hinduism is monotheist religion! Siva is as much the
same God as are the 100 (or more) incarnations of Krishna or is Amrita,
the small goddess of Hinduism and - in the form Amirita - of
Zoroastrianism. Amrita - the nectar of everlasting life - is at least
4000 years old.
What else should
I tell you that I feel important or simply interesting in the
religions of India?
important aspect is that Indian religions are not Churches as such, as
the main religions in Europe are. There are no heads of Churches
and religions, bishops, small officers of the armies of religions
fighting for saving the maximum possible number of souls (tax-payers).
No hierarchy exists at all. Is this also the result of the basic
values? I would say yes, the everyday thinking in terms of
non-violence effects the methods of preaching as well. Achariyas,
gurus and prophets called by other names fight not for power, but
intend to teach people in peaceful manners to solve their problems, to
obtain peace of mind. They establish a kind of school, collecting
interested listeners around them and trying to share their
views, discussing their values, their theories with their
followers. These places are the ashrams. The ashrams are
absolutely independent from each other, no power can (or want to) bind
point: how a good guru shows his abilities to his followers? Seances
are held when 100 questions may be asked. The guru listens to all the
hundred and only after all the questions have been asked, starts
replying them in the order they were asked. Some say there are not
very difficult techniques to memorize 100 questions. Try to repeat the
performance in public.
Lets go to a
short description of religions, existing in India.
Hinduism is the
dominant religion throughout the country. It lost its overall power
only once, 3 – 4 centuries BC, when Buddhism took over as the main
religion of the country. Some consider that the victory of Buddhism
may be attributed to the absence of sacrifices and other false
priestcrafts, I believe that Buddha’s preaching for more equality
and against the cast-system played at least as important role as the
revolt against the priesthood of Hinduism.
I have mentioned
the three principal gods of this religion: Brahma (his consort is
Sarasvati, riding a swan, she is the goddess of learning),
Vishnu, an outstanding figure in the Vedas already (Lakshmi, his
consort rose from the ocean and is liked and worshipped as goddess of
wealth and prosperity) and Siva, riding on bull Nandi and whos consort
is Parvati. Parvati appears on the pantheon of Hindu gods in other
forms, incarnations as well: as Durga and Kali, both being dark and
fearful beings. Kali is probably the most cruel of all the gods and
goddesses, having black head and her red tongue always hangs out
thirstily. She is usually decorated with a garland of skulls and cut
off heads of humans. I just read in one guide that savage sacrifices used
to be offered to her, but the sacrifices of present days are
merely flowers. Why do we hide facts? I have a slide taken in the yard
of a Kali temple in Calcutta, when goats were sacrificed, one after
the other. And this was not just an occasion, butchers (priests?)
curved up the animals and the small pieces of flesh were sold to
worshippers, who then offered them – along with flowers – to the
goddess. Indians told me that not long ago human sacrifices used to be
offered as well.
Going back to
the Trinity: if there is any division among believers of Hinduism, it
is caused by these three gods. Believers are divided into groups
according to their belief that one of the principal god’s values
dominate the Universe.
pantheon is rich of avatars, incarnations of two of the
principal gods, Vishnu and Siva.
Vishnu alone had
10 avatars, two of them being very popular figures among believers.
Rama is the hero
of one of the two most outstanding epic poems of India, Ramajana. He
and his wife Sita are widely worshipped.
eighth incarnation of Vishnu is definitely the most popular god of the
pantheon and not without reason: he has absolutely human values.
Painted always in blue and playing on his flute he is surrounded with gopis,
apparently in love with him, or at least playing love-games with
this amiable, playful god. His popularity must be the cause of the
great number of his incarnations as well. Wonderful! Compare him with
the bigotry of Christian saints.
Siva is also
worshipped in two well-known forms. One of them is the lingam,
the central image in most of Hindu temples. It is not easy for people
of Western cultures to appreciate this symbol of fertility, the force
behind Creation as subject of worship. The other form, popular mostly
in the south, is Nataraj (or Nataraja), the Cosmic Dancer. This
depiction of Siva became one of the symbols of India, the other two
being the wheel of Ashoka and Taj Mahal.
forget about the sacred cow, when deals with Hinduism. If I
understood India well, there is one more reason besides sanctity of
animal life, that made cow a subject of worship, a subject protected
even by the constitution of India. Cows gave everything to the
inhabitants in the early stages of development: pulling power when
working in the fields, milk as the best product of nourishment,
excrement, used as fertiliser and as combustible as well. Cows are
sacred creatures indeed, be careful, driving car in India: if you hit
a cow you may be lynched by witnesses. On the other side: owners of
cows treat them as common tame animals, may even hit them with sticks
in case they do not behave.
thousands of aspects will be left out. I decided to mention only two
more that I found just interesting for myself. I hope I am not going
to be boring for you.
The teachings of
Hinduism – as of most of ancient religions – contain a lot of
prescriptions of hygienic character. The most striking is probably
that the body of Hindus is divided into two distinctive parts from the
point of view, which part should be touched by which hand. A Hindu
eats and washes his or her teeth using right hand and washes his or
her lower parts using left hand. It is also prescribed by holy
scripts, how, when, on what distance from rivers, lakes, trees should
one pass the motion, using what should wash himself, etc. Wise advises
for the bigger part of the population even today.
The other aspect
is the self-purification after committing sin. There are different
ways, starting from taking several baths (sometimes up to 100) in one
of the sacred rivers (the best being Ganges), drinking the water of
those rivers, offering special sacrifices to the best loved piety of
the person involved, to the extreme to consume a mixture of four or
five “sacred materials”: milk, dung, urine and ghee (a special
kind of butter) of the sacred cow, adding honey to the mixture. I hope
this habit is on the way of extinction.
There are two
religions derived from Hinduism: Buddhism and Jainism.
Both differ from
the usual conception we understand under religion. None of them deals
with god as the supernatural power that created the Universe and
directs our faith, behaviour, thinking, fate.
Both were born,
created at the same period of development of Indian thinking: it is
not proved that the two prophets, Prince Siddartha and Mahavira, the
first tirthankara ever met, but they could have.
I am not brave
enough to talk much about the two religions: both concepts – close
to each other - are quite difficult to interpret by common man like me
and you may easily find good treatments of the subject opening Western
sites like About, Yahoo! or almost any of the above indicated general
What I want to
underline about Buddhism is, that this religion (if you may call it
religion at all) is definitely atheist. Siddartha, the Buddha
(and his close followers) has never talked about supernatural powers
that could solve anything instead of you, that anyone’s fate was in
the hands of someone above us. Your salvation comes from inside, you
have to be righteous, seeker of truth, benefactor. He has never talked
about himself as representative of supernatural power.
He was converted
into a god-like creature much later, by his followers, as it is
happening in our days with Mahatma.
philosophy achieved unbelievable scientific results. They new –
without having the slightest opportunity to make experiments, backing
their philosophical concepts – that the world is infinite in both
“directions”, both the micro- and the macro-world is endless. They
treated time too as infinite, counted time in aeons of countless
quantity. Fantastic knowledge at times, when Europe did not exist as a
part of any significance of the world.
Buddha is not
the only one preaching this theory, according to followers of
Buddhism, buddhas appear time to time on this globe. The next one is
expected some 30000 years from now. There are at least two places in
India/Nepal where Maritrea, the next Buddha is already worshipped: in
a monastery close to Darjeeling (in Ghoom) and at a rock-wall of the
Himalayas, where his name is carved in.
nothing to do with supernatural as well. Their concept is more
philosophical than religious. The interpretation of “right
conduct” that leads to salvation contains the basic principles of
non-violence and total tolerance for other faiths which may all contain
a partial truth. Compare this “ideology” with that of some
popular faiths in the USA preaching that “the only truth, the only
god is ours”.
consider that soul and matter exist separately as well, therefore the
ideal peaceful existence for soul is the state of its liberation from
matter’s (body’s) tyranny. Their tirthankaras are such perfect
souls, but they are only examples how this liberty may be obtained
and not gods. The Jains – since they also understood the infinity of
the world – do not even seek a god or any supernatural power as
Creator of the Universe, by definition eternal. Half a millennium
earlier than Jesus Christ, son of the Creator of Universe was
born (who created the Universe in seven days, etc.)
The third Indian
religion that is originated from Hinduism is the Sikh religion.
It was found by
Guru Nanak in the 15th century with the aim to bring Hindus
and the Muslim occupants closer to each other. They did not succeed in
fulfilling this concept by preaching and after falling victims of cruel raids by the
Moghuls, their 17th-century head, Guru Gobind Singh
converted them into a martial community, prescribing – among other
changes – to wear 5 signs to make Sikhs easily distinguishable by
the enemies, teaching them to be always ready,
always fit to fight and win. All of them got common “family name”,
Singh, meaning lionhearted and the five signs are: unshorn hair (under
turban), comb, steel bracelet, sword and shorts. He also created
Khalsa - the word is an abridgement for spirituality, worldly
enjoyment and unity - the path to bring Indians of different faith and
origin together. Anyone from any background can join the Khalsa,
without any barriers of caste.
Sikhs call each other
Sardarji. If you are not Indian and want to
be kind to a Sikh, do the same.
Singh’s idea was bright: Sikhs became and are tall, sportive, good
fighters (most of the officers of the British-Indian army were Sikhs),
excellent technicians and their community is known as the one of
The rest of
religions were brought to India.
Only one of them
had success, because of two reasons, I believe. The Moghuls were cruel
converters and Hindus had to give way in masses and – not less
important – the Muslim religion preached equality of human beings,
the new society was casteless, which pulled in all the lower strata of
Hindus. Till today, after the caste system has penetrated the Muslim
community again, the second – both by number of believers and
influence - religion of India is Islam.
A few words
about Zoroastrianism, a small religion, strange for onlookers from
West and misunderstood from more than one aspect.
The followers of
this faith have escaped from Persia, from invading Arabs in the 7th
century and settled down in and near Bombay. They brought with them
the sacred fire which has to burn permanently on the shrines of their
temples. I have a good collection of holy books of Zoroastrianism and
I believe that this fire is just symbol of their God, the same
Almighty, most of religions worship. At least I did not find clear
reference to the fire as their god.
misunderstanding is that the way they bury their deceased ones is a
cruel, barbaric ritual, since they put the dead on towers built for
the purpose and let vultures to clean the bones from flesh. Think over
quietly: their original homeland was desert, it was impossible to
cremate the dead under the soil, jackals would find them, it would
have also been incredible to burn them, since wood was in short
supply, lakes and rivers were also insufficient to swallow the dead.
The only efficient way was to let them be eaten up. Nothing horrifying
The more so
since the holy scriptures contain fantastically advanced instructions
of hygienic nature. Parsees new thousands of years ago, that a dead
body should be pulled out of water touching only his or her clothing,
that the clothing of both the dead and the rescuer had to be burnt –
just one example.
Parsees are a
small, but very efficient community. Some of the best entrepreneurs,
scientists of India are Parsees and they are fond of Western classical
above written one would think I am blind or at least close my eyes
when something ugly about India is coming up. Though I indeed like
India, it is certainly not the case. I know ugly faces of India as
well: the unbelievable poverty of the masses, dirt, beggars,
prostitution, sale of children, women in hopeless situations, the very
low level of agriculture, burglaries, killings, hatred among ethnic
groups, violence in certain areas, corruption. Why should I deal with
such problems in details? Centuries will go, these problems will
remain. We face most of these difficulties in Hungary, in Europe, all
over the world.
One of the
reasons I am atheist.
But one cannot
avoid dealing with the ugliest sin of the Indian society, the caste
system, if one intends to draw comprehensive picture of India.
The shame is of
such extent that most of Indians – including Indian web-sites –
do not touch this question.
I can touch only
the surface of it here.
There are two
basic points regarding which all experts agree: the origin of the
caste system is connected with religion (Is it not fantastic? – with
the religion, Hinduism, which teaches non-violence.) and with the
invasion of India by Aryans. The intruders not only pushed the
inhabitants, Dravidians down to the south, but also worked out
(brought by them?) a system of making the original population second
class citizens of the society, the caste system. Do not ask me
details, how this inhuman ideology could penetrate the masses, how the
Dravidians became a part of the upper layers of society, how could
this system achieve the level of throwing out of the society (in the
proper sense of the word) huge masses. Libraries have been written
about it, but nobody could explain the real deepness of human slavery,
of the structure of mind of those who accepted the highest levels and
treated their fellow human beings like dogs or pigs.
I want to throw
light on a couple of misunderstandings prevailing among non-Indians
regarding the caste system.
foreigners talk of four castes. This is a mistake. There are close to
three thousand castes (at least in the ‘70s), changing, dividing,
growing, disappearing. When we talk of four, those are classes:
Brahmins (the class of priests – my God, priests in the most
inhuman role one can imagine – and teachers, one can only
wonder again, what kind of teachers?); Kshatryas (administrators and
soldiers); Vaisyas (the business class and those connected with
crafts) and Sudras, the slaves (or using more mild expression,
those who do not belong to the upper classes but are still
caste-Indians). The rest are classless, casteless, untouchables
I have described
(in Hungarian) in “my Delhi” one case that shocked me in 1972,
some 25 years after the caste system was prohibited by law. I was
trying to get someone to take up a combined job that would contain
cleaning as well and could not find anyone. I was later told that only
untouchables may take up the cleaning part of the job and the sweeper
of the Trade Counsellor’s Office was introduced to me. I made a few
steps towards him, wanting to shake hands. He made the same steps
backwards, because – as I immediately understood – he could not
touch me, could not let me come close, could not throw even his
shadow on me! What a shame on me, what a shame on India, what a
shame on the whole human race!
Mahatma and his
followers understood very well that this ugliest of sins has to be
eliminated in case they want to have one nation, want to have
political and economic freedom, want to develop fast.
But it was only
a nice dream to stop the practice by low. It will cause headaches for
India for at least decades to come, the society is so much interwoven
with the system.
The law secures positive
discrimination for the Harijans (Children of God – introduced by
Mahatma to reduce the pain), one example that should be followed all
over the world (including Hungary) for discriminated strata.
misunderstanding: pariahs are just one group (caste) of the
untouchables, not the entire mass of Harijans. I do use the definition
caste not without purpose. The Harijans divided themselves into castes
of casteless people. The same has happened to believers of faiths in
India that won significant position because one of their basic
principles was equality. The Hindu system of castes slowly but surely
penetrated into them as well.
Do not ask
Indian ladies, if the coloured dot on their forehead was a sign of
caste distinction. You will never get proper reply.
If you – a
foreigner – arrive to India, do not keep your nose high: in the eyes
of orthodox Hindus you are untouchable, he cannot consume his own dish
– if he is caste-Indian - in case your shadow was cast on it.
And I am not
joking: in Calcutta, where I occupied the post of Trade Commissioner
for Hungary, I was asked by a newly appointed Honorary Consul to
receive him for an introductory meeting. I offered him to dine with
us, he refused, then to have an afternoon tea with us, he accepted.
But neither he himself, nor his pleasant wife consumed a drop of
liquid, not talking about sweets or anything else. They were obviously
afraid of pollution from untouchables.
A cook has to be
Brahmin, otherwise your Brahmin guest will not touch your dishes. In
most of the cases they clarify the situation by asking the cook. The
rule is not very strict any more, I have to believe, because –
though we could not be sure about the caste-position of our cooks –
our guests never refused to enjoy what they were offered.
is – and must have been for thousands of years – a sure sign of
acceptance of friendship in India, like hug among non-Indians.
We do not offer
sites to read, most of the best western sites and “our” general
Indian sites deal with religions, just one – as a matter of
curiosity, how products of religious character are offered – www.saigan.com
– Giri Trading