Sects And The West

Recently, several German websites, as well as Swiss ones, some of them Government-related, have listed many Hindu organizations, as “sects”, or “cults”. Amongst them are prestigious organizations such as the Ramakrishna mission, or the Art of Living Foundation and its founder, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Ironically, the Art of Living is not even a Hindu organization and the secular credentials of the Art of Living, which teaches its Basic Course to Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike, are rock solid! Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is also a founding member, along with several world leaders, of the International Association for Human Values (IAHV), a Geneva-based organization that aims to re-awaken human values. He has been a featured speaker at many forums across the globe including the European Parliament, the United Nations Millennium Summit and the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The Art of Living Foundation is on top of that an international Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations and works in formal consultation with the World Health Organization (WHO) on global health policy for the 21st century.

What do the West see as sects ? Basically any organization which is not Christian and which has a Hindu flavour (Tibetan Buddhism, although it has borrowed from Hinduism many of its precepts, such as Karma and reincarnation, seems to have become acceptable – even fashionable – in the West and thus escapes the labeling of “sects”). It is true that gurus teaching in the West can be a mixed lot, and some of them might have brought a bad name to Hinduism, but the ordinary Indian meditating every morning, or doing his pujas, practicing his asanas, chanting bhajans, or doing pranayama, does not feel he is doing anything out of the ordinary. There is no sectarism here, no fake mysticism, no pagan obscure rites. One can trace this accusations of sects that have been applied to Hindus, to the coming of Christian missionaries to India, who had a vested motive to show Hinduism in a bad light. It is true that Hindus adore Gods made out of stone or cast in brass. But is it less rational or Cartesian to think, as the Catholics do, that Mary conceived a child while remaining a virgin, or that Christ came back from the dead and ascended physically to heaven (and not in his subtle body, which is more likely)? Muslim invaders were also immensely shocked by this worshipping of images and gods and set upon destroying hundreds of thousand of temples and idols. But Alexandra David-Neel, the intrepid French explorer, writer and mystic, had observed that the role that Gods play in India is remarkable “because the images or statues are like a battery which is charged over the ages by the adoration of the devotees, who in turn can draw energy, inspiration, or grace from these statues”. She goes on: “As a battery, the energy in the statue will not get discharged, as long as the faithful continue worship it by their cult and adoration”. And she concludes: “Gods are thus created by the energy given out by the faith in their existence”.

At any rate, Hindus are great rationalists, as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has often pointed out that they have discovered, for instance, that the sound Aum, “Amen” for the Christians, “Amin” for the Muslims”, possesses very strong vibrations which take you to the deepest level and that the Creator is the Original Verb: Shabda Brahman; that the ragas, these few notes of music on which one can improve indefinitely, have also a strong inner power; or that the breath is the physical conduit to the Divine, which Indians have codified into pranayama, the Indian science of breathing. But nothing, without any doubt, is more scientific, more logical, more Cartesian, more noble and prophetic than the Vedas, the most ancient and sacred Scriptures of Hinduism, which are nearly totally ignored in the West and misunderstood in India.

The most ironic thing is that Christian missionaries in India not only proselytize freely, but they keep running down Hinduism. Remember how two years ago the US Baptist Church came out with a pamphlet which described Hindus thus: “More than 900 million people are lost in the hopeless darkness of Hinduism. Pray that Hindus who celebrate the festival of lights will become aware of the darkness in their hearts that no lamp can dispel”. Furthermore the Church seems to be even using coercion to convert: tribal Hindus in Tripura, for instance, have formed vigilante groups, claiming attempts by separatist militants to convert people at gunpoint to Christianity. These conversions are particularly being carried out by the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and it is believed that up to 5,000 tribal villagers were intimidated into converting to Christianity by the NLFT during the past couple of years in Tripura .

Do you think that Hindu organization in Europe or the States would be allowed to behave in that way, let alone trying to convert Christians to Hinduism ? The most effective way to make sure that Indian and Hindu organizations get in the West the respect that they deserve, would be for the Indian Government to also list all Christian organizations who are engaging in conversions, or are known to be hostile to Hindus, as sects. But does the Government have this kind of determination and grit ?

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