hunger is common to all; but tastes differ.
There are different forms of God to suit all tastes.” - Swami
Yogaswarupananda, of the Divine Life Society, a Vedanta-based foundation in Rishikesh.
religion, by the help of more or less myth which it takes more
or less seriously, proposes some method of fortifying the human soul and enabling it to make its peace with its destiny.
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spent laughing is time spent with the Gods. - Japanese Proverb
Development - Hindu Perspective
I I I
Lessons from the Hindu Perspective Related to Development
keeping with the theme of the Conference, I have selected four areas
where the Hindu Faith provides an insight into the causes of extreme
poverty and offers practical solutions from the Spiritual perspective.
Hindu Perspective on Reducing Inter-Religious Conflicts – often
the source of untold misery creating the most marginalised and disenfranchised people in our
the genius of the common man throughout the ages to live harmoniously
with people of different faiths, it has been very easy for the
demagogues to inflame, from time to time, the passions and fury in the
name of Religion. In the brief span of our existence, what havoc we have
created in the name of our faiths, our belief systems. From Jihads,
Crusades, to the Inquisitions. The irrational claimant of the Biblical
land, the fanaticism of the Hindutwa crusader, the relentless Fatwas
against anyone questioning the interpretations of this or that doctrine.
The killing fields of Cambodia, the Gulags, the ethnic cleansing of the
Third Reich, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Biafara. The suicide bomber blowing up
innocents in the skyscrapers, air, land and on the high seas. It matters
little whether the supremacy of one’s own doctrine is dreamed up by
the uncivilized Taliban in the caves of Afghanistan or by the civilized
SS Gestapo eating with forks and knives while listening to Bach. The
list goes on and on. At least it’s democratic. It transcends all
cultures in all eras.
are examples of people being inflamed by passion rather than by reason.
How easy it is to make people forget basic plurality of their identities
in favour of one dominant identity - my faith, my belief system, whether
dogmatically Muslim, Hindu or Christian. According to some, Religions
would have done a better job had they accepted human authorship, at
least for the historical part. To the Hindu mind to accept something as
the last word, the last prophet, is one of the greatest blunders of the
the converse is also true for the vast majority of ordinary people of
faith, when left alone, do live in harmony.
the UN Peace Summit in 2000 which adopted the Millennium Development
Goals, a very senior monk of the Indian Swami Order, Swami Veda Bharati 37,
made an offering “Unifying Streams in Religion” in which he traces
hundreds of examples of harmonious and unifying streams that have also
existed and continue to exist amongst people of all faiths. Copies of
this booklet, which is being used as a starting point in conducting
further research in documenting and cataloguing religious harmony, are
available at the front desk.
Veda gives a beautiful description of the ancient Hindu concept of Sarva
Tantra Siddhanta. 38
Epistemological approach to harmony - which goes beyond mere acceptance
or tolerance of other view points or belief systems. As explained by
Swami Veda, there are three approaches to acquiring knowledge: i) the
dogmatic path taken by the fundamentalists who view their particular
belief systems as Perfect Squares, ii) the more egalitarian approach is
to view all belief systems as squares nestled within each other, each
satisfying the attributes of a perfect square except that my
square is of course the outer one. This is an approach taken by most of
us in this room. The third path, the enlightened approach, is to think
in terms of triangles within the Square, with each triangle having its
own internal logic and consistency, each pointing to the same one
Mahatma Gandhi was approached by a grief stricken Hindu family whose
only son was killed by rioting Muslims at the height of the carnage
created by the Partition of India, Gandhiji’s handed them an orphaned
Muslim boy with the plea that the child be raised as a Muslim – the
faith into which he was born, not as a Hindu.
it be nice to see that starting with Gandhiji’s birthday, October
celebrated as International Day of Non-Violence, if Missionaries of all
faiths involved in development work were to comfort those in need in the
faith they - the recipients of the aid - were born into and not in the
faith of the donor.
Altruistic Motives to Aid – A Paradigm Shift away from Self-Interest in attaining Prosperity
answer to the question - Where do I come from? Where do I have to go?
How do I go there? Creation - Destiny - Quest, the Gita discusses three
some it is through the path of Devotion, complete surrender. For others
it is deep Contemplation. For the Man of action not content with praying
in public places of worship and not quite ready for a life of quiet
contemplation, Gita offers a unique solution – to connect with
divinity through Altruistic Action by doing one’s duty as an offering
without entitlement to the reward of one’s actions. 39
Expectation of success yes – but not the entitlement to a personal
reward. It’s a very original thought which can be better understood by
the following metaphor.
surgeon performs surgeries. He or she is not elated when the surgeries
are successful. Conversely, if the patients die the surgeon is not
despondent but carries on. He or she is not indifferent to the fate of
the patient, far from it; they keep abreast of the latest in saving
lives. But they are detached from the success or failure in the
execution of their duty – akin to accepting the element of grace in
the final outcome of their actions.
philosophy of self-less action (Nishkama Karma) links with the
design itself of creation as partnering with the Deity for the faithful.
is a complete denial of the economics of Adam Smith in his Wealth of
Nations in which he declares that self-interest alone creates
prosperity. While this view may well have served the conditions
prevalent just before the Industrial Revolution, abuses inevitably set
in and the pendulum has swung too far. We all know the disastrous
side-effects of pure self-interest. Naomi Klein in her recent book The
Shock Doctrine 40
painstakingly documents abuses of self-interest in post Tsunami /
Katrina relief efforts and the excitement of global business
opportunities in the aftermath of surgically carried out shock and awe
to the Gita it is not in the true nature of Man to act with
self-interest for pitiable are those who are motivated by desire for
personal gain from the fruits of the action.
3. Secular Angst – being Secular or being Religious is not
is a totally unnecessary disconnect between Secular governments, Secular
civil societies, Secular funding agencies and Secular donor policies on
the one hand, and “non-secular” Religion on the other. What a
monumental waste of energy in the context of development.
the Hindu context it is the very deeply religious who are the most
Europe, a somewhat narrow definition of Secularism as a corollary to the
separation of State and Religion was, until now, a historical necessity.
However, as European societies become increasingly pluralistic, the
definition of Secularism may need some fine-tuning. Something to learn
from the meaning of Secularism as understood in the Hindu perspective
which goes back thousands of years – neutrality as opposed to
outright prohibition against religious engagement.
in modern India is intended to be strictly neutral in all matters of
faith with symmetry in the State’s treatment of multiple religious
practices. However, as noted by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen 41
the framers of the Indian Constitutions wisely set forth an initial
ameliorating phase, to correct historical social inequities like the
Hindu dominated cast system.
it’s a mistake to think that as societies become more “civilised”
there is less dependence on religion or that its influence
correspondingly declines. According to Hindu thought it would be ideal
for the two to move in tandem but civilisations, including all
scientific discoveries, by themselves are not at odds with Religion.
According to Amartya Sen, Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations is a
misnomer, there being no such thing as a Muslim or a Christian or a
Hindu civilisation – clash of cultures perhaps. Civilisation vs.
culture - former being materialistic, the latter dealing with
Spirituality - civilisations mark the progress of breaking open a
coconut with a rock to a more civilised way of eating the fruit from a
can opened with an electric can-opener and serving the fruit on fine
bone china. To many Colonial rulers, Mahatma Gandhi was an uncivilised Fakir
because he walked around half naked wearing pieces of cloth which were
not even tailored.
a group of people, can be at the bottom of the material ladder but be
very advanced spiritually. Conversely, a society can be very highly
civilised but low on the scale of humanistic values - the aberration of
the SS Nazis listening to Bach, Mozart, Beethoven eating with silver
cutlery and drinking the finest wines, yet capable of unspeakable
4. Redefining Development - an alternative understanding of
Development as it relates to the extreme poor – the primary theme of
made the commitment to engage Faith Based Organisations in development,
the challenge faced by the Donor Agencies including institutions like
the World Bank is not just who to deal with but how to contextualise the
engagement – and this will have to be an ongoing process not just
limited to the MDG targets.
it is not intended to channel development funds through organised
religious institutions most of whom are already involved in development
work, some purely altruistic, others motivated by the desire to attract
more adherents to the faith, and still others because of affiliation
with this or that political ideology.
being more a way of life, presents a slightly different challenge. As
discussed in my introductory remarks, the total freedom in connecting
with Divinity, does not lend itself to an institutionalized central
hierarchy. Almost every Hindu house has a special place, even a tiny
altar, set aside for worship with the members of the family often
serving as their own lay priest. The visits to any of the estimated 2.5
Million places of worship are more to mark anniversaries or are in
celebration of religiously inspires festive events.
absence of a centralised priestly hierarchy also presents opportunities
for transformation as in the case of Mahatma Gandhi, though a barrister
by training, appealed the most to his countrymen as a man of religion.
economic terms, the most cost effective way to harness the moral energy
of the Hindu faith communities is by mobilising the collective influence
of the opinion makers who are from within the international development
community, who speak the language of economics and finance, who work
amongst the very poor and who are at the same time deeply spiritual.
Laureate Amartya Sen 42
sends a very profound
and powerful message on freedom linked Social Development. Others like
Dr. Kamala Chowdhry 43
Co-chair of the World
Bank's Advisory Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development as
well as eminent scientist-cum activist Dr. Vandana Shiva 44
echo similar thoughts. There are former International civil servants
like Dr. M. S. Swaminathan 45,
credited with bringing the Green Revolution to the farmers of India and
pioneers like Dr. M. L. Dewan 46
who embraced Sustainable Development long before the others and who have
devoted their entire adult lives working selflessly amongst the
disadvantaged in achieving integrated development.
thinkers, activists, doers speaking the language of the official
development agencies and also possessing very deep ecumenical spiritual
underpinning, it is opinion makers like these who are potential
catalysts of change in engaging the Hindu faith communities.
Khanna is the organizer of the Ontario Branch of the Himalayan Yoga
Meditation Society, and one of the most active members of the Toronto
interfaith community. The article is based on a Keynote Address presented
Conference – Soesterberg, Netherlands, October
15-17, 2007. He can be reached at 416-590-9645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.]