The Supreme Artist – A Poem

There is a painting in the evening sky;
There is an interesting drama in life;
There is music in the sound of birds…
And there is poetry hidden inside all of the above….

This universe is a work of art. We have all been created as a work of art; God as the essence of universe is the source of this art and God as the beautiful personification is the supreme artist.

– Shanmugam P

Love Yourself and Love Everyone, as God is Love – Thus Spake Jesus Christ

I came across this image today and it got me into thinking:

Rather than calling it ‘thinking’, I would describe it as a creative process which started flowing as I began typing.

Everything has a reason in nature even though it seems to be an unconscious process. It not only includes your forgetfulness, but also includes all the suffering you go through, every tear you shed and every lesson that you learn after that.

Jesus said blessed are the people who suffer. That is not a joke; suffering makes you to think and search for a solution; it creates empathy and sympathy for other people who suffer; suffering makes you to learn the lessons of life; suffering makes you search the divine inside you. So yes, if you are suffering now, you are blessed. And do you suffer thinking you are not good enough? If yes, forgive yourself and accept yourself as you are. No matter what you did in the past, forgive yourself! It could not have happened any other way because every effect has causes. What happened to you or through you certainly had a reason to follow.

Ok. Enough looking at your own suffering. Turn around and look at the face of the next person you see; yeah, do it now! He or she, only that person completely knows the suffering they went through; only that person knows every step they took in their life; only that person knows how much they are trying their best; only that person knows their struggles, painful memories, accomplishments, situations etc. Who are you to judge and label them as good or evil?

You don’t have that measuring scale! We all have planks in our eyes which stop us from recognizing the sawdust in the eyes of the others. May it is not a sawdust but you are projecting it! So isn’t it a good idea to throw those planks away and remove the blurriness from our own eyes first?

So, forgive the person you just saw wholeheartedly, accept them as they are and love them. Just try to send a thought wave of love. Try it!

Then open your windows and look at your neighbor. Repeat the same steps with them, repeat it for every person who you see after that. Just try for a few minutes or may be longer.

Come on, it is not that hard!

After all, it is another human being just like you, who has a story that you don’t know. It is the same breath, the same consciousness and the same Divine which resides within you. The kingdom of God is within him just like it is within you. It just have to be discovered by turning in (or metanoia, the actual Greek word for repentance used in the Bible).

Now you see someone that you really hate. Do you know him or her? Not really. Yeah we talked about it. Forgive and love, just try it….

The world will be a better place with more understanding, more love, less intolerance, less ingroup-outgroup bias, less prejudice and less hatred…

God is Love. We find Him in love.

Now, Is it very difficult to love the one who gave the message of love to the world and got nailed for it?

No. You don’t have to be a Christian to do it. You don’t have to be baptized to do it. And you don’t have to stand in the streets and give flyers to make someone understand it either!

Why is there so much hate between Hindus and Muslims in India?

(Republishing my Quora answer for the same question) …This is going to be a long answer because I want to cover many aspects which are related to Hindu-Muslim disunity and also suggest some solution for that.

Before I answer the question, let me narrate how I grew up and what values I was taught when I was very young:

  1. My first introduction to anything religious happened through Lord Ayyappa, if I try to remember clearly. My father used to wear mala and go to Sabarimala in Kerala every year. Sabarimala is a symbol of religious tolerance, as there is also a shrine of Vavar, a muslim friend of prince Manikandan there. Every Sabarimala devotee has to first go to a mosque of Vavar and offer salutations before having the darshan of Ayyappa. I learned at a very young age how this promotes religious tolerance.
  2. During my first standard, I studied in Presentation convent, Thachanallur. It was a Christian convent and our classroom was very close to a church. I didn’t know anything about Christianity back then; but for me, Jesus was just another God. I didn’t find anything odd in thinking that way.
  3. During my second standard, I lived in Colachel, Tamil Nadu, a town where Hindus are a small minority. Majority of the residents in the town are Christians and Muslims. I studied in a Muslim school where I was the only Hindu in my class. We lived in a big compound owned by a Christian family that had a lot of animals including cows, turkeys, hens etc. The compound was full of bones of animals as the Christian family ate meat regularly. Inside the same compound, a Brahmin family, an old Muslim couple and us lived together like a big family. It was also the time when Babar masjid was demolished. But we all lived very peacefully there. We celebrated all our festivals together.
  4. During my 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th std, I studied in another school in Tittagudi, where I had a close friend called Anbarasan. Their parents had an interesting story. They were Christians; but one day his father wore mala to Sabarimala without his mother’s knowledge. This led their whole family to accept both Christianity and Hinduism. Since I was his close friend, I always went to his house before going to school and used to have a light morning breakfast there. We used to discuss a lot about both religions as my friend was very much devotional.
  5. In 7th standard, I entered a Hindu school, which is Swami Jayendra Sarasvati Swamigal golden jubilee matriculation higher secondary school in Tirunelveli. There were lots of Muslims and Christians there, as their parents didn’t mind their children studying in a Hindu school. They valued the quality of education more than religion. Each day for us began by reciting slokas from Guru Gita, Dakshinamurthy slokam, Saraswati sloka, Shanti mantra etc. On Fridays, we had an hour long Bhajan session and everyone including Hindus and Muslims sang those songs. And here is one of the songs we used to sing:

Govind Bolo Gopal Bolo

Ram Ram Bolo Hari Nam Bolo

Allah Malik Isha Nanak

Zoarastra Mahavir Buddha Nam Bolo

Govind Bolo Gopal Bolo

Ye Nam Sare Hai Jivan Sahare

Paramananand Ke Kholte Hai Dvare

Jo Nam Chaho Vo Nam Bolo

Prem Se Bolo Bhav Se Bolo

Translation:

Sing the glorious names of Govinda, Gopala,

Rama, Hari, Allah, Sai, Jesus, Nanak, Zoroaster,

Mahavir, and Buddha. As companions in life,

they open our hearts to supreme bliss. Chant

the name you choose with love and devotion

There is a small shrine of Vinayaka in front of the house. During every Hindu festival we ate prasad together. We celebrated Holi and Raksha Bandhan together

6. During 10th standard, I studied in a school in Thirumalaiappapuram, a small village in Tirunelveli district in between Pottalpudur and Ravanasamudram which had Muslim majority. We had a lot of muslims there, playing together with Hindus. There is a famous dargah in Pottalpudur where Kandhiri is celebrated by people of all religions.

7. My role models during these days also insisted that all names like Allah and Ishvara were various names for one God. I read about Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who practiced different religious paths including Sufi Islam and Christian mysticism, attained the same samadhi experience, and proclaimed that all these religions are various paths leading to the same goal. I spoke regarding Ramakrishna and Vivekananda in lectures in my school and won many prizes in competitions conducted by Vivekananda Kendra. I also loved the poems of Bharathiyar, who wrote songs about Jesus and Allah too. I learnt that he had even given a speech about Prophet Muhammad in Pottalpudur dargah during his time.

8. In my personal life, I have had some close Muslim friends. There was a girl called Fathima in my first company who took care of me like a mother. She also fell in love with a Hindu guy and married him. There was also a Fazil Hussain who stood beside me for every problem. In general, I have received lots of love and hospitality from Muslims. So, I have been conditioned to never think that a Muslim or a Christian is an outsider or someone who doesn’t belong to my group or block.

But only when I began to see the kind of comments made by religious extremists online, I woke up to a different reality. The beautiful world of religious tolerance that I saw in school life is now being threatened; I am scared that if we do not act now, we may no longer be able to brag about the unity in diversity in India, after a few generations.

Let us come to the question now. What is the reason for hatred between Hindus and Muslims in India?

The simple reason for any conflict that arises between two groups is In-group favoritism, or in-group–out-group bias:

“In-group favoritism, sometimes known as in-group–out-group bias, in-group bias, intergroup bias, or in-group preference, is a pattern of favoring members of one’s in-group over out-group members. This can be expressed in evaluation of others, in allocation of resources, and in many other ways.

This effect has been researched by many psychologists and linked to many theories related to group conflict and prejudice. The phenomenon is primarily viewed from a social psychology standpoint. Studies have shown that in-group favoritism arises as a result of the formation of cultural groups. These cultural groups can be divided based on seemingly trivial observable traits, but with time, populations grow to associate certain traits with certain behaviour, increasing covariation. This then incentivises in-group bias.”

We derive our sense of self and ego, not only based on the individual abilities and skills but also based on the group that we belong to. You may be someone who were born just 30-40 years before. But you derive your pride from good things about your culture, and even boast about an ancient ancestor of your group for the good things he did; As a Hindu, you take pride in a temple that was built by someone who lived about 1000 years ago, even though you might not have done anything worthwhile yourself to deserve it. You never had a choice when it comes to where you were born. And you had no idea who your ancestor were 5-6 generations before or what kind of values the great-grandfather of your great-grandfather had. But yet, the very fact that you belong to that group makes you have a sense of superiority.

Then you were told that people from a different group destroyed your temple about 500-600 years before. You also come to know that many people who are identified with that same group indulge in terrorism. You start seeing the world in groups instead of seeing individuals. Just like you derive your pride from your group even though you didn’t do anything to deserve it, you also begin to look down on this ‘other’ group and start to stereotype them. You generalize this whole group, and you somehow tend to think that someone who was born about 30-40 years in that ‘different’ group is responsible for temple destruction and terrorsim. You see him as an outsider.

You know, it is human nature to have some kind of prejudice. But the real maturity is to grow to go beyond that. So, if someone tries to pour fuel into your prejudice or provoke your sense of ego based on your group identity, it is very important to recognize and resist that. Failure to do so is the cause of the growing hatred between Hindus and Muslims.

Do you know what keeps fueling this prejudice? Politics! But unfortunately, even based on politics we create groups. We tend to be married to one political party and be committed to vote for that group for life. We get too defensive when trying to support a political party and we even lose friends because of that. Even based on this answer, people will try to judge me and place me in a political group: a congress supporter, a sickular person, an Anti-hindu etc.

But the reality is, I hate today’s politics and how it is going. I am not attached to any political party or committed to vote them for life. In democracy, I am the king and I do not have to wipe the feet of any politician.

Politicians just play with your emotions to get votes. And you give in. Now, your political leaders become your gurus and authorities. You begin to worship them, blindly support them, kill the spirit of democracy and allow the unity of diversity of this country to be threatened. You fall for it when they act like they are the saviours of your religion, which makes you to neglect the true dharma of this land. You end up worshipping Godse and demonise Gandhi!

A politician openly says in media that Hindu boys should rape Muslim girls. A politician openly declares that Godse, who did nothing but kill a 70 year old man, as a patriot. Most of these politicians say things which are utter nonsense and seems to be lacking real intelligence. Yet, we support them, worship them and try too hard to defend them. And when someone tries to point this out, we try to come with a list of faults from another party, so that your group appears better (which is nothing but fooling ourselves). And when a person who belongs to the ‘other’ group questions it, we stereotype him just based on his Arabic name and troll him.

Yet, when someone asks in Quora if India is becoming intolerant, we have the guts to deny it, because accepting it hurts our self-esteem. So, just to save our self-esteem and pride and to make your people feel better, you start denying the reality and deliberately lie; You close your eyes to the hatred and prejudice. And in order to prove that you country is still tolerant, you come up with examples from other countries to show how we are actually better.

Let us say someone comes to your house and says that there is a lot of garbage in your house and that you should clean it. If you respond by saying, “You know, other houses are worse; you haven’t seen them. They have more garbage than we do”, then you are actually being stupid. There is no reason to look at another house. If your house has even a little garbage, you should attempt to clean it for your own good. But if you remain deaf when someone points that out, you just pave way for more garbage to gather in your house in the future. And soon, it will be worse than other houses.

If you want to know how much poison the minds of people have gathered, just look at the nature of comments on Twitter and Facebook; just see how cheap people get in abusing other people inhumanely, just to save their face and establish their superiority. There are Facebook groups tied to political parties who openly abuse the ‘other’ group members and sometimes I am left speechless and concerned after seeing all that.

The true maturity is the ability to see our own faults and criticize ourselves. We have to take our sense of self less seriously. Pointing out the faults in our own group, acknowledging them and being willing to rectify them is not the same as defaming ourselves or putting ourselves down. It only shows that we are always ready to improve and grow.

There are also two other problems that I would like to point out:

  1. Black and white thinking: Because of too much attachment that we have towards our own culture, we tend to white wash our culture completely; and we tend to ‘black-wash’ another group completely. Caste system? British created it. Sati? That happened because of Muslims.. Our culture? Oh, our culture is golden and there is no fault in our culture at all and never has been. Asram Bapu? He is a Hindu and so I will defend him. Nithyananda? I don’t care how many people he raped; since he is trying to create a Hindu country, I will support him. Raja Raja Chola? Oh, he was a great Hindu king who conquered many countries in South Asia, very peacefully without killing a single human. Did you say Akbar and Shah Jahan were great? Go to Pakistan. We Indians never did anything wrong right from the day God created us, we never suppressed women, we did everything only for good. In fact, the fact that my own grandfather who ran a restaurant in my village had a separate room for dalits, separate bucket to wash their hands etc is something that happened because of some evil ‘outside’ influence. Yes, none of our scriptures have any defects while all other scriptures of the world are complete nonsense.. And people like Rumi, Kabir, etc never existed because nothing good can actually come from the ‘other’ group. This way of thinking is sickness and it needs medicine. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa? Since he said that all religions lead to the same truth, he must be deluded or someone who never existed. (I was told that I am living in a fool’s paradise just because I said the same thing). Have you ever bothered to check why some people say that all religions lead to the same goal? Have you ever bothered to understand why Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi spoke good things about Islam and Christianity? Are you aware that Shirdi sai baba was both a Muslim fakir and a Hindu saint? We are drinking too much alcohol! No, not the ones which are sold in bars; The name of this alcohol is ‘pride’ and it is too intoxicating.
  2. Conformity: The group we belong to and identify with gives us a sense of belonging. So, we try to unconsciously conform to the norms of our own group. We tend to agree with what the members of our own group say, and this takes precedence over logic or ethics. Because, when our self-esteem is threatened, our mind is willing to compromise on logic and ethics. This is a fact in psychology; but the true maturity is to see through that and go beyond that. Guess what, we are not doing that! We simply tend to support someone’s opinion just because they belong to our group, especially if that opinion shows our group in a favourable way and puts down the other. That is like eating chocolate for us. I have seen many intelligent people simply agreeing to things just to conform. And Quora or any social media platform that signals an acceptance by your group members through upvotes and shares acts as a perfect breeding ground for all this.

How to increase Hindu – Muslim unity?

Hindus need to take the first step for that. Why Hindus? Because, we are the ones who claim that we are tolerant than the others. It is our Dharma which teaches that the world is one family. Rather than asking a different group to be tolerant with us and be peaceful us, we need to set an example by doing the first step. Only by seeing examples, other people get inspired. When you make religious tolerance as the highest value to conform to, people from other religions will also start to conform to those values. As I said, conformity is something natural to humans.

What we call as Hinduism is a huge library. And we have a huge list of saints who are important. On the other hand, Islam has just one central holy book and just one important Prophet with whom all of them all emotionally connected. So, even to compare Hinduism and Islam and argue which one is better is very unfair. It is like a huge army with thousands of weapons fighting with a single man who has a small knife. Who has to be more generous here?

You can very easily insult a person who practices Islam. Just cherry pick the so called ‘sword’ verses from Quran and ignore all the verses in the Quran that says things like ‘there should be no compulsion in religion’, or ‘If you kill one human, it is like killing the whole of humanity’. Pick some controversial verses from Hadiths that were written more than a hundred years after the death of Muhammad and use those verses to portray Islam as completely evil. Most importantly, ignore all the verses which are good. On top of that, try to insult the only person that they revere and put him down by calling him with abusive names, without caring about the historicity. Don’t worry, the whole world is with you when you do that.. Many people will come and agree with you and even rejoice at the insults that you are passing. And when you do this, forget about the claim that your religion is tolerant.

Because, the beauty of stupidity is that you can have double standards. On the one hand you can claim that your religion is very tolerant, generous, and forgiving; on the other hand you can go down to any level of intolerance to put down the ‘other’ groups and rejoice in making fun of them. Why should you care about the feelings of an innocent harmless Muslim who is already too scared about the hell fire and is in a dilemma? Why should you have any compassion to any Muslim to help him deal with his cognitive dissonance? After all, 600 years before someone from their group destroyed a temple and somewhere in the world, a sick-minded terrorist is bombing people; and this innocent Muslim is responsible for all of that!

There is an intelligent priest in Quora, an expert in Pancharatra and Mimamsa and a ‘proud’ Shudra, who actually contributes to pouring fuel in this glowing fire of intolerance. I like most of his answers. He is never abusive himself and is a very nice person. But one thing he does is, constantly cater to the needs of some extremist Hindus who are looking for some dose in the alcohol of superiority. Whenever Islam is put down, many people who are looking for this dose rejoice and upvote. And, probably the priest also gets some comfort because now he conforms to the opinions of a particular group and his need for the sense of belonging is satisfied. Who cares about a different perspective on Islam? The world has already made up their mind about it and we can all join in the chorus. Well, while this does absolutely nothing to stop terrorisim and obviously cannot undo the calamities which has happened in the past, it continues to spoil the ‘proud’ people. May be the priest doesn’t know what is happening in India or doesn’t care about the politician who said that Hindu boys should rape Muslim girls or that Godse is a patriot (After all, these politicians are Hindus, right?).

Please remember. It is the comparison of religions (to feel superior) that makes the differences and gaps in humanity larger and larger. Dharma is a path; it is not an identity. The focus of Dharma is to ensure the well-being of yourself and others. If you want to brag, please pick something else. Buy fancy clothes and post your pictures on Instagram, write beautiful and useful answers on Quora and enjoy the pride of being appreciated, go to the gym and build a six-pack to show off, play cricket and impress others etc. But do not touch dharma! Dharma is not for you to brag.

OK. Now, let me tell you about my views on Muhammad; This may help you to get a different perspective:

  1. Historians agree that we can’t be sure about Muhammad’s life at all. The only thing we can say for sure is the fact that a person called Muhammad existed.
  2. But they do agree that Islam improved the status quo of the pre-Islamic society. Islamic society was an improvement of what was existing.
  3. We also know that Muhammad was invited to be a mediator in Medina to handle religious intolerance. It is not an opportunity that some cruel bigot can get.
  4. If a person is cruel and he is just after power and money, there is no reason for him to promote charity, welfare of orphans etc or even name his religious doctrine as ‘Islam’ which is a word related to peace and surrender. There is no reason why there should be even a sentence in Quran that says that there should be no compulsion in religion.
  5. Human beings are not generally good in judging others. We really do not know another person. Trying to judge a person who lived about 1500 years ago based on some bits and pieces of information that we have is not going to work out.
  6. No human being is perfect; so I am pretty sure that Muhammad was not a perfect man either.

Also, please understand this: A human being’s behavior, personality, moral sense etc strictly depends on two things: Nature and nurture. Pre-Islamic society was very backwards and this was the society that Muhammad was brought up in. Now ask yourself these three questions:

  1. If you had been born in 5th century Arabia, what kind of person would you be?
  2. If Muhammad with his same genetic make up is born in today’s world in a developed country, what kind of person he would be?
  3. If Muhammad was born in 5th century India instead of Arabia, what kind of person he would have been?

Place Muhammad in his own time and in his own society. Before you try to judge him, place him in the stage where he belongs to. So, abusing Muhammad in an attempt to criticize Islam is not only unfair, it will only make you as a ‘hater’ in the eyes of Muslims. As soon as you talk ill about Muhammad, all the ears will be closed and you can’t expect any open-mindedness from the other side, even if you want to engage in some healthy discussion. At least, try to understand human psychology.

Now, my views about Islam:

  1. Islam means ‘submission’ or surrender to the supreme God. This concept of surrender exists in all religions. For me, this is the only criteria that defines a Muslim. In that sense, I am a Muslim too.
  2. Allah is just another word for God or Ishvara. I am not too obsessed with names. Also, this is what Ramakrishna, Kabir, Rumi, Vivekananda, Gandhi etc taught me. And the opinion of a modern Godse fan or Savarkar’s fan cannot change that. (By the way, Savarkar praised Nazism and he said that Indians should do the same thing to Muslims. So, I think any political party that is associated with this guy is evil).
  3. I reject the concept of eternal hell because it contradicts with Quran itself. I think the idea of hell and heaven were only brought to control the order of society based on fear. These ideas were first popularized by Plato.
  4. Quran says, ‘everywhere you turn, there is a face of God’. So, as long as you see the face of God in an idol, it is not shirk.
  5. I do not agree that Muhammad is the last messenger of God. In fact, Muhammad was considered as seal of Prophets, which seem to indicate that Muhammad concluded and finalized the teachings of specific prophets accepted by Jews and Christians.
  6. I do not agree with Sharia laws and I think most of them are outdated.
  7. I am completely against the cruel blasphemy laws, killing people in the name of faith or anything that is unethical, which is done in the name of Islam.

I do not have to abuse Muhammad or totally blackwash Islam to say all that. And I am pretty sure that we can come up with a list of problematic aspects in many religious scriptures of many religions.

When you come across any idea from any religion, there are only two simple questions to ask:

  1. Is it rational?
  2. Is it ethically correct?

If yes, accept it; if no discard it. This was the simple message of Mahatma Gandhi.

Hindu-Muslim conflicts are caused when we see these religions as an identity. But we don’t have to. We can discuss independant ideas without worrying about which religion it comes from.

Please remember.. You cannot make a person to leave his religion by condemning his religion. This has never worked. Most of the conflicts in religions have been resolved by syncretism and exchange of ideas. Even Shankaracharya united six different traditions under Vedantic philosophy by fusion of ideas and not by completely condemning any tradition. In fact, Muhammad himself did exactly that to unite the people of Arabia under a common law.

If you want to look at Islam from different perspective, please read this: Prophet Muhammad Exposed – A Different Perspective That Everyone Should Read

There is also a difference between Hinduism and Dharma. We have all been misled on that. Please read this to know more: Hinduism and Dharma: The Distinction between a Religion and a Way of Life.

Also read Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Other Non-Muslims on Muhammad, Islam and Quran

Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Other Non-Muslims on Muhammad, Islam and Quran

Quotes of Swami Vivekananda on Islam, Muhammad and Quran:

  • Mohammed by his life showed that amongst Mohammedans there should be perfect equality and brotherhood. There was no question of race, caste, creed, colour, or sex. The Sultan of Turkey may buy a Negro from the mart of Africa, and bring him in chains to Turkey; but should he become a Mohammedan and have sufficient merit and abilities, he might even marry the daughter of the Sultan. Compare this with the way in which the Negroes and the American Indians are treated in this country! And what do Hindus do? If one of your missionaries chance to touch the food of an orthodox person, he would throw it away. Notwithstanding our grand philosophy, you note our weakness in practice; but there You see the greatness of the Mohammedan beyond other races, showing itself in equality, perfect equality regardless of race or colour.[Source]
  • Mohammed— the Messenger of equality. You ask, “What good can there be in his religion?” If there was no good, how could it live? The good alone lives, that alone survives.[Source]
  • Mohammed was the Prophet of equality, of the brotherhood of man, the brotherhood of all Mussulmans.[Source]
  • Among Mohammedans the prophets and great and noble persons are worshipped, and they turn their faces towards the Caaba when they pray. These things show that men at the first stage of religious development have to make use of something external, and when the inner self becomes purified they turn to more abstract conceptions.[Source]
  • England has the sword, the material world, as our Mohammedan conquerors had before her. Yet Akbar the Great became practically a Hindu; educated Mohammedan, the Sufis, are hardly to be distinguished from the Hindus; they do not eat beef, and in other ways conform to our usages. Their thought has become permeated with ours.[Source]
  • For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam — Vedanta brain and Islam body — is the only hope. I see in my mind’s eye the future perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible , with Vedanta brain and Islam body.[Source]
  • I am firmly persuaded that without the help of practical Islam, theories of Vedantism, however fine and wonderful they may be, are entirely valueless to the vast mass of mankind.[Source]
  • Islam makes its followers all equal — so, that, you see, is the peculiar excellence of Mohammedanism. In many places in the Koran you find very sensual ideas of life. Never mind. What Mohammedanism comes to preach to the world is this practical brotherhood of all belonging to their faith. That is the essential part of the Mohammedan religion; and all the other ideas about heaven and of life etc.. are not Mohammedanism. They are accretions.[Source]
  • It is a mistaken statement that has been made to us that the Mohammedans do not believe that women have souls. I am very sorry to say it is an old mistake among Christian people, and they seem to like the mistake. That is a peculiarity in human nature, that people want to say something very bad about others whom they do not like. By the by, you know I am not a Mohammedan, but yet I have had opportunity for studying this religion, and there is not one word in the Koran which says that women have no souls, but in fact it says they have.[Source]
  • The fact that all these old religions are living today proves that they must have kept that mission intact; in spite of all their mistakes, in spite of all difficulties, in spite of all quarrels, in spite of all the incrustation of forms and figures, the heart of every one of them is sound — it is a throbbing, beating, living heart. They have not lost, any one of them, the great mission they came for. And it is splendid to study that mission. Take Mohammedanism, for instance. Christian people hate no religion in the world so much as Mohammedanism. They think it is the very worst form of religion that ever existed. As soon as a man becomes a Mohammedan, the whole of Islam receives him as a brother with open arms, without making any distinction, which no other religion does. If one of your American Indians becomes a Mohammedan, the Sultan of Turkey would have no objection to dine with him. If he has brains, no position is barred to him. In this country, I have never yet seen a church where the white man and the negro can kneel side by side to pray. Just think of that: Islam makes its followers all equal — so, that, you see, is the peculiar excellence of Mohammedanism. In many places in the Koran you find very sensual ideas of life. Never mind. What Mohammedanism comes to preach to the world is this practical brotherhood of all belonging to their faith. That is the essential part of the Mohammedan religion; and all the other ideas about heaven and of life etc.. are not Mohammedanism. They are accretions.[Source]
  • This Vedantic spirit of religious liberality has very much affected Mohammedanism. Mohammedanism in India is quite a different thing from that in any other country. It is only when Mohammedans come from other countries and preach to their co-religionists in India about living with men who are not of their faith that a Mohammedan mob is aroused and fights.[Source]

Swami Vivekananda on Quran

  • Let the Vedas, the Koran, the Puranas, and all scriptural lumber rest now for some time — let there be worship of the visible God of Love and Compassion in the country. All idea of separation is bondage, that of non-differentiation is Mukti. Let not the words of people dead-drunk with worldliness terrify you. ” — Be fearless” “Ignore the ordinary critics as worms!” Admit boys of all religions — Hindu, Mohammedan, Christian, or anything; but begin rather gently — I mean, see that they get their food and drink a little separately, and teach them only the universal side of religion.[Source]
  • Religion must become broad enough. Everything it claims must be judged from the standpoint of reason. Why religions should claim that they are not bound to abide by the standpoint of reason, no one knows. If one does not take the standard of reason, there cannot be any true judgement, even in the case of religions. One religion may ordain something very hideous. For instance, the Mohammedan religion allows Mohammedans to kill all who are not of their religion. It is clearly stated in the Koran, “Kill the infidels if they do not become Mohammedans.” They must be put to fire and sword. Now if we tell a Mohammedan that this is wrong, he will naturally ask, “How do you know that? How do you know it is not good? My book says it is.” If you say your book is older, there will come the Buddhist, and say, my book is much older still. Then will come the Hindu, and say, my books are the oldest of all. Therefore referring to books will not do. Where is the standard by which you can compare? You will say, look at the Sermon on the Mount, and the Mohammedan will reply, look at the Ethics of the Koran. The Mohammedan will say, who is the arbiter as to which is the better of the two? Neither the New Testament nor the Koran can be the arbiter in a quarrel between them. There must be some independent authority, and that cannot be any book, but something which is universal; and what is more universal than reason? It has been said that reason is not strong enough; it does not always help us to get at the Truth; many times it makes mistakes, and, therefore, the conclusion is that we must believe in the authority of a church! That was said to me by a Roman Catholic, but I could not see the logic of it. On the other hand I should say, if reason be so weak, a body of priests would be weaker, and I am not going to accept their verdict, but I will abide by my reason, because with all its weakness there is some chance of my getting at truth through it; while, by the other means, there is no such hope at all.[Source]
  • We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonising the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of THE RELIGION, which is Oneness, so that each may choose that path that suits him best.[Source]

Mahatma Gandhi on Muhammad, Islam and Quran

  1. I wanted to know the best of the life of one who holds today an undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind. I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet the scrupulous regard for pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission.   When I closed the second volume of the book about his life, I was sorry that there was not more for me to read about his great life.
  2. “From my reading, I received the impression that the Prophet was a seeker of Truth. He was godfearing. In this I know I am not telling you anything new. I am only describing to you how I was impressed by his life.”

Gandhi on Theory and Practice of Islam – by Dr. Anupma Kaushik.

The word Islam means peace but today it invokes images of violence, totalitarianism and irrationality. (Afkhami, 1995, 33) Islam is one religion which of late has been associated with terrorism and fundamentalism worldwide. Names like ISIS, Boko Harem, Al Qaeda, Taliban, Al-Shabaab, have become synonym with fundamentalism and terrorism. (Times of India, 2015, 10)Â The troubled spots in the world today such as Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan where violence and fundamentalism have disturbed peace are mostly associated with Islam. (The Hindu, 2015, 12) This raises the question whether Islam is a peaceful religion or not? However this is not a new question for a country like India which had a huge Muslim population living with people of other religions at times peacefully but at others not so peacefully. Even in pre independence era leaders like Gandhi had to deal with this issue.

Gandhi claimed that he had read the Quran more than once and also many books on Quran and the Prophet. (Gandhi, 1949, 235) He claimed he had read Maulana sahib’s Life of the Prophet and also Usva-e-Sahaba and insisted that Islam never sanctioned destroying places of worship of other religions. (Gandhi, 1949, 139) He also claimed that the Prophet often fasted and prayed and that the Prophet had revelations not in moments of ease and luxurious living. Gandhi claimed that he had cultivated respect for Islam. (Gandhi, 1949, 94) He clearly saw the difference between teaching and practice of Islam. He regarded Islam to be a religion of peace.  He claimed that there is nothing in the Quran to warrant the use of force for conversion. He also claimed that the holy book says in the clearest language possible that there is no compulsion in religion.  To him the Prophets whole life was a repudiation of compulsion in religion.  He argued that Islam would cease to be a world religion if it were to rely upon force for its propagation. (Gandhi, 1949, 19) He had the view that Islam in the days of Harun-al- Rashid and Mamun was the most tolerant amongst the world’s religions but there was a reaction against the liberalism of the teachers of their times. The reactionaries had many learned, able and influential men amongst them and they nearly overwhelmed the liberal and tolerant teachers and philosophers of Islam. He believed that Muslims are still suffering from the effect of that reaction, but he believed that Islam has sufficient in it to become purged of illiberalism and intolerance. (Gandhi, 1949, 99)

Muslims argued with Gandhi claiming that he is wrong in saying that Islam enjoins non-violence upon its followers and that the Prophet himself met force with force at Badr. Muslims even argued that use of force is allowed on the particular occasions specified by Islam and especially against the non Muslim Government Islam prescribes only sword, protracted battle and the cutting of throat. (Gandhi, 1949, 261) Gandhi accepted that being a non Muslim he can always be challenged and hence is at a disadvantage while interpreting the Quran. However he argued that he was aware of the battle of Badr and similar incidents in the Prophet’s life and also of the verses in the Quran that contradicted his claim of Islam being a peaceful religion. He asserted that it was possible that the teaching of a book or a man’s life may be different from isolated texts in a book or incidents in a life. (Gandhi, 1949, 262) Same goes for the Quran and the Prophet and to Gandhi the central teaching of the Quran remained that of peace. (Gandhi, 1949, 263) Gandhi acknowledged that some passages can be quoted from Quran which are contrary to peace. But he argued that same can be found in Christianity and Hinduism as well. He reasoned that we are all growing along with various religions. He acknowledged that the followers of Islam are too free with the sword, but in his opinion that was not because of teaching of Islam but due to the environment in which Islam was born. He argued that Islam is a comparatively new religion and is yet in the course of being interpreted. He rejected the claim of Maulvis to give a final interpretation to the message of the Mohamed. (Gandhi, 1949, 134)

He found Muslims to be brave, generous and trusting if their suspicions were disarmed. (Gandhi, 1949, 62) He however acknowledged that in his experience he has found that Muslims are as a rule bully. (Gandhi, 1949, 48) However he tried to explain this behavior by stating that although non-violence has a predominant place in Quran, the 1300 years of imperialistic expansion has made the Muslims fighter as a body. They are therefore aggressive. Bullying is the natural excrescence of an aggressive spirit. Hence they have become bullies. (Gandhi, 1949, 66) He claimed to have read Quran and to him it did not sanction or enjoin murder. (Gandhi, 1949, 125) He believed that Muslims have an ordeal to pass through. He felt that they were too free with the knife and the pistol. He cautioned that the sword is not an emblem of Islam, but clarified that Islam was born in an environment where the sword was and remains the supreme law. He lamented that the sword is too much in evidence among the Muslims despite the message of the Prophet. He advised that it must be sheathed if Islam is to be what it means – peace. (Gandhi, 1949, 131).

He clarified that however good Islam may be in abstract the only way it can be judged is by the effect produced by each of its votaries considered as a whole. (Gandhi, 1949, 63) He told the Muslims that they cannot protect Islam with the lathi (stick) or sword. The age of lathi (stick) is gone. A religion will be tested by the purity of its adherents. He argued that if a religion is left to the goondas (criminals) to defend it, it will do serious harm to that religion including Islam. Islam will in that case no longer remain the faith of fakirs (mendicant monks) and worshippers of Allah. (Gandhi, 1949, 78)

He objected to destruction of Hindu temples by Muslims. (Gandhi, 1949, 71) He acknowledged that he had found difficulty in the Muslim circles about invoking reverence for Hindu Vedas and incarnation. (Gandhi, 1949, 98) He expected Muslims to tolerate other religions. He reminded Muslims that Islam is judged by their conduct. (Gandhi, 1949, 72) However he also argued that when a person of any religion does evil, it is an evil done by one person against another and each one should personally try to remove the evil because we are persons first and our religious identity is secondary. One should not blame the Muslims as a whole for some evil committed by a person or a group of persons. (Gandhi, 1949, 22) He explained that when blood boils, prejudice reigns supreme; man whether he labels himself a Hindu, Muslim, Christian or what not becomes a beast. (Gandhi, 1949, 44)


He advised that it is no use becoming angry with all Muslims in general. (Gandhi, 1949, 24) He sought to gain Muslim friendship by right of love. (Gandhi, 1949, 26) In his characteristic non-violent arguments, he argued that if only one party were to continue its guilt and the other consistently remained patient and suffering the guilty party would be exhausted in the effort. If there is no reaction following the action the world would attain salvation. (Gandhi, 1949, 37) But if we answer an abuse with a slap a slap is returned with a kick, the kick than is returned by a bullet and so the circle of sin widens. But generally those who believe in taking a tooth for a tooth after a time forgive one another and become friends. So let us recognize this rule of mutual forgiveness and forget one another’s wrongs. The easiest method of achieving peace is to give up the idea of complaining against one another and to concentrate our attention upon taking preventive measures so that there is no recurrence of madness. (Gandhi, 1949, 38)

He argued that religion is being interpreted in the lives of those who are living these messages in silence and in perfect self dedication. The seat of religion is in the heart. We have to write the interpretation of our respective faiths with our blood. (Gandhi, 1949, 135) He advised everyone to not force their views on one another. He argued that those who force others to respect their religious wishes are irreligious savages. (Gandhi, 1949, 46) He argued that an attitude of non violence in mutual relations is an indispensable condition. People must not break each other’s head in respect of religious matters. (Gandhi, 1949, 47)

He believed that Muslims alone are not to be blamed for everything in every place. (Gandhi, 1949, 84) When he received reports of acts of violence by Muslims he investigated the facts before passing judgments. (Gandhi, 1949, 55) He had to deal with cases in pre-independent India where Muslims had abducted Hindu boys and girls who were forced to embrace Islam. The remedy he suggested was non-violent resistance and if that is not possible than through most violent self-defense. (Gandhi, 1949, 119) He received complaints that Muslim men invade Hindu quarters and insult Hindu women. They also take forcible gifts from Hindu shopkeepers. (Gandhi, 1949, 152) Gandhi termed such men who let their women be abused and their goods be taken by force cowards. He said where there are cowards there are going to be bullies. Hence the cowards need to be taught how to be brave. (Gandhi, 1949, 152) But at hearing about murders of Hindus he asked out loud if Muslims are practicing terrorism. (Gandhi, 1949, 282)Â He declared the Khaksar organisation to be a militant organization in 1940. (Gandhi, 1949, 301).

However he claimed that he can never be an enemy of Muslims no matter what any one or more of them may do to him. (Gandhi, 1949, 163) His ultimate remedy was to deal with the wrong but not to hurt the wrong doer. (Gandhi, 1949, 163) Thus to him the ultimate answer lay in the concept of ‘Live and Let Live’ or mutual forbearance and toleration in life. He claimed that this is the lesson he had learnt from the Quran. (Gandhi, 1949, 236) In his opinion, religion binds man to God and man to man and hence Islam binds not only Muslim to Muslim; but also Muslim to non-Muslims. The message of the Prophet was not just for Muslims and if anyone claims to the contrary he does greatest disservice to Islam and is poisoning the minds of Muslims. (Gandhi, 1949, 310).

In fact when he was travelling to quell Hindu-Muslim riots in Bengal, he always carried the Gita, the Quran and the Bible. (Gandhi, 1949, 500) He appealed to Muslims to do away with purdah system. (Gandhi, 1949, 502) When some Muslims objected to this and said that Gandhi had no right to speak on Islamic Law, Gandhi countered by saying that this is a narrow view of religion. He hoped that this narrow view was not shared by other Muslims. He claimed the right to study and interpret the message of Islam. He said that Islam was not a creed to be preserved in a box. It was open to mankind to examine it and accept or reject its tenets. (Gandhi, 1949, 523) He also appealed that women folk should be rescued from the thralldom of ignorance and superstition. (Gandhi, 1949, 506).

He considered himself to be as good a Muslim as he was a Hindu and an equally good Christian and Parsi. (Gandhi, 1949, 538) During his prayer meetings, he always included verses from the Quran Sharif. He reminded people of folly of looking upon one religion as better than another. (Gandhi, 1949, 585) Some people at times objected to recitation from the Quran when prayer meeting was being held in the Valmiki Temple. He preferred not to hold the prayer meeting without the recitations from the Quran. (Gandhi, 1949, 584) When some Muslims objected to his reading of Arabic verses from the Quran,herefused to accept the objection. He asked why cannot he acclaim Mohammed as his Prophet. (Gandhi, 1949, 589).

He advised both Hindus and Muslims to not look towards leaders for solutions but to look towards themselves and if they did than their desire for peace would be reflected by the leaders. (Gandhi, 1949, 505) He quoted from the Prophet that, “A perfect Muslim is he from whose tongue and hands mankind is safe. No man is true believer unless he desireth for his brother that which he desireth for himself. The most excellent jehad is that for the conquest of self. Assist any person oppressed, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.” (Gandhi, 1949, 509).

He welcomed inter-religious marriages with mutual friendship and respect for religion of each other. (Gandhi, 1949, 542) He did not believe in state religion and opposed state aid to religious bodies. He only wanted schools to give ethical teachings as fundamental ethics were common to all religions. (Gandhi, 1949, 543)

Other Non-Muslims on Muhammad, Islam and Quran

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) British philosopher, mathematician, and Nobel laureate, whose emphasis on logical analysis greatly influenced the course of 20th-century philosophy.

• “Our use of the phrase ‘the Dark Ages’ to cover the period from 699 to 1,000 marks our undue concentration on Western Europe… From India to Spain, the brilliant civilization of Islam flourished. What was lost to Christendom at this time was not lost to civilization, but quite the contrary… To us it seems that West-European civilization is civilization; but this is a narrow view.” [History of Western Philosophy, London, 1948, p. 419]

Hamilton Alexander Roskeen Gibb

Hamilton Alexander Roskeen Gibb (1895-1971) A leading orientalist scholar of his time.

• “But Islam has a still further service to render to the cause of humanity. It stands after all nearer to the real East than Europe does, and it possesses a magnificent tradition of inter-racial understanding and cooperation. No other society has such a record of success uniting in an equality of status, of opportunity, and of endeavours so many and so various races of mankind … Islam has still the power to reconcile apparently irreconcilable elements of race and tradition. If ever the opposition of the great societies of East and West is to be replaced by cooperation, the mediation of Islam is an indispensable condition. In its hands lies very largely the solution of the problem with which Europe is faced in its relation with East.”[Whither Islam, London, 1932, p. 379.]

• “That his (Muhammad’s) reforms enhanced the status of women in general is universally admitted.” [Mohammedanism, London, 1953, p. 33]

James A. Michener

James A. Michener (1907-1997) Leading American writer; recipient of honorary doctorates in five fields from thirty leading universities and decorated with the Presidential Medal of freedom, America’s highest civilian award.

• “No other religion in history spread so rapidly as Islam . . . The West has widely believed that this surge of religion was made possible by the sword. But no modern scholar accepts that idea, and the Qur’an is explicit in support of the freedom of conscience.” [Islam – The Misunderstood Religion, Readers’ Digest (American Edition) May 1955]

Edward Gibbon

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794). Considered the greatest British historian of his time.

• “‘I believe in One God and Mohammed the Apostle of God,’ is the simple and invariable profession of Islam. The intellectual image of the Deity has never been degraded by any visible idol; the honours of the prophet have never transgressed the measure of human virtue, and his living precepts have restrained the gratitude of his disciples within the bounds of reason and religion.”[History Of The Saracen Empire, London, 1870, p. 54.]

• “More pure than the system of Zoroaster, more liberal than the law of Moses, the religion of Mahomet might seem less inconsistent with reason than the creed of mystery and superstition which, in the seventh century, disgraced the simplicity of the gospels.” [The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 5. p. 487]

Jared Diamond

Jared Diamond Professor of Physiology at the UCLA School of Medicine; recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1998.

• “Medieval Islam was technologically advanced and open to innovation. It achieved far higher literacy rates than in contemporary Europe; it assimilated the legacy of classical Greek civilization to such a degree that many classical books are now known to us only through Arabic copies. It invented windmills, trigonometry, lateen sails and made major advances in metallurgy, mechanical and chemical engineering and irrigation methods. In the middle-ages the flow of technology was overwhelmingly from Islam to Europe rather from Europe to Islam. Only after the 1500’s did the net direction of flow begin to reverse.”[Guns, Germs, and Steel – The Fates of Human Societies, 1997, p. 253]

Annie Besant

Annie Besant (1847-1933) British theosophist and nationalist leader in India. President of the Indian National Congress in 1917.

• “I often think that woman is more free in Islam than in Christianity. Woman is more protected by Islam than by the faith which preaches Monogamy. In Al-Quran the law about woman is more just and liberal. It is only in the last twenty years that Christian England, has recognized the right of woman to property, while Islam has allowed this right from all times.” [The Life and Teachings of Muhammad, Madras, 1932, pp. 25, 26]

Sarojini Naidu

Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949) A writer, poetess and one of the most visible leaders of pre-Independent India. President of the Indian National Congress and the first woman governor of free India.

• “Sense of justice is one of the most wonderful ideals of Islam, because as I read in the Qur’an I find those dynamic principles of life, not mystic but practical ethics for the daily conduct of life suited to the whole world.”

• “It was the first religion that preached and practiced democracy for, in the mosque when the call for prayer is sounded and worshippers are gathered together, the democracy of Islam is embodied five times a day when the peasant and king kneel side by side and proclaim: “God Alone is Great.” I have been struck over and over again by this indivisible unity of Islam that makes man instinctively a brother.”

[Lectures on “The Ideals of Islam;” see Speeches And Writings Of Sarojini Naidu, Madras, 1918, pp. 167-9]

Arnold J. Toynbee

Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975) British historian, Lecturer at Oxford University.

• “The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue.” [Civilization On Trial, New York, 1948, p. 205]

William Montgomery Watt

William Montgomery Watt (1909- ) Professor (Emeritus) of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

• “I am not a Muslim in the usual sense, though I hope I am a “Muslim” as “one surrendered to God,” but I believe that embedded in the Qur’an and other expressions of the Islamic vision are vast stores of divine truth from which I and other occidentals have still much to learn, and Islam is certainly a strong contender for the supplying of the basic framework of the one religion of the future.'” [Islam And Christianity Today, London, 1983, p. ix.]

Prophet Muhammad Exposed – A Different Perspective That Everyone Should Read

I am republishing a few Quora answers of mine regarding Muhammad, the Islamic Prophet. I have maintained a neutrality and have written these answers in a way to make people open-minded and think differently. As always, I am writing this post to promote religious tolerance.

Why do you think Prophet Muhammad was a good person or a bad person? Please provide unbiased facts based on his biography wherever possible.

I think Muhammad was just like any other human being, a mixture of kindness and aggression.

If you watch old or medieval Tamil or Bollywood movies, you will see a hero who is endowed with all the positive qualities of the world. His love for parents, sisters, and poor people is mind blowing. He knows how to fight, how to dance, how to give lengthy speeches and he will convince you that he is the best human being.

On the other hand, you will see a villain who acts like an animal, has no sense of respect or regard for human life and emotions, will kill anyone for anything and doesn’t even have a simple trace of kindness. You will hate him!

But you can’t find a single human being in the above two extremes. The world is not black and white and people are not black and white. So categorizing a human being as good or bad is not realistic.

I see a human being as a process, not an entity. It is a process that begins in the womb and ends in grave, directed by two forces: nature and nurture.

When Muhammad was a little kid, he would have looked quite innocent, like this:

The society that brought up conditioned him. Muhammad got his moral values from his society. And this pre-Islamic society was not very evolved in terms of ethics. There was no big state or empire and there was no common law regulating the morality and social conduct of people living all over Arabia.

A question to ask yourself now is, if you had born in such a society, how would have you grown up and what kind of moral sense would you had?

If you were born in a tribal society of cannibals, you would have been a cannibal too. You would have not been taught that it was wrong because that is how your society survived.

Female infanticide was very common in pre-Islamic society. Many people were illiterates. Raiding a caravan was a norm. And there was no big leader to tell people what is wrong and what is right. It was also the time when polytheistic worshippers, Jews and Christians were living with mutual intolerance.

But what is the difference between pre-Islamic society and Islamic society? The new Islamic society was worse if you compare it with modern society; but it was better than how it was before. Islam was an improvement. But yes, it led to many negative consequences too.

It created a new culture which created its own art, music, and literature. But this is not to deny the endless inhuman deeds done by many people who not only followed this faith but also thought killing people in the name of faith was a religious duty and a gateway to heaven. Innocent people are still being massacred in the name of blasphemy, which I find to be the most cruel violation of human rights: Denying free expression.

Lots of temples were destroyed and lots of artwork was smashed. Some had purely political reasons. But that is not to deny some had religious reasons too.

But what does this all say about the personality and character of Muhammad?

First let us see what modern historians say about the historicity of Muhammad:

While the existence of Muhammad is established by contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous historical records attempts to distinguish between the historical elements and the ahistorical elements of many of the reports of Muhammad have not been very successful. Hence the historicity of Muhammad, aside from his existence, is debated

Apart from the fact that a person called Muhammad existed, we can’t really be sure about his life. Hadiths are unreliable because they were not written at the time of Muhammad.

According to Harald Motzki, “On the one hand, it is not possible to write a historical biography of the Prophet without being accused of using the sources uncritically, while on the other hand, when using the sources critically, it is simply not possible to write such a biography.”

Heger (2008) argues that Muḥammad “the blessed one” being a title of Christ does not necessarily preclude the historicity of the prophet of Islam. It rather opens up a scale of possibilities summarised in three alternatives to the default assumption of the historicity of a Muhammad recognizably similar to the hadith accounts,

  1. the Islamic tradition on the life of Muhammad is entirely legendary,
  2. Muhammad is historical, but was active roughly a century later than suggested by Islamic tradition,
  3. there were two distinct people, both given the epithet Muhammad or “blessed”, one active in the early 7th century, and author of the Meccan suras, and the other the Mamed of Johannes Damascenus, author of the Medinian suras.

Ok. So we really know nothing for sure. What does Quran indicate?

I don’t see Quran as either black or white. There are actually many verses that I like, which defines the nature of Allah. Allah is just an Arabic word for God. But that is not to deny that there are numerous verses that asks people to come to war even if they don’t like it, kill the kafirs whenever they see them and many others which are seen as totally inhuman according to the standards of an evolved society.

Before we explore the motivation behind such violent verses, let us first see what kind of revelation would have actually happened to Muhammad. Was he authentic when he said Gabriel dictated the verses?

It is possible to see things which are not there, and hear things which are not there. In fact, dreams and hallucinations are already capable of producing such an effect. Any content that comes out of such an experience comes from one’s own mind. But because of the convincing nature of such experiences, one would really think that he was talking to someone else and getting those information.

So, was there anything divine about it?

It is possible that Muhammad actually went through a spiritual experience. We can’t say anything about the nature of it. Whether it was permanent or impermanent, whether it was transformative or not etc cannot be said. We don’t know if it was what Eastern traditions define as self-realization or just a glimpse, satori.

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was able to see Goddess Kali and talk to her but the experience is a creation of the brain. It may have to do with the right and left side of the brain. They appear to have two different conscious fields and sometimes act like two people being in one body, if the right and left hemispheres of the brain are surgically separated. For example, see Alien hand syndrome – Wikipedia.

By the way, Muhammad and Ramakrishna were not the only two people who claimed to have such an experience. Let me give you another example:

Conversations with God (CwG) is a sequence of books written by Neale Donald Walsch. It was written as a dialogue in which Walsch asks questions and God answers.

The first book of the Conversations with God series, Conversations with God, Book 1: An Uncommon Dialogue, was published in 1995 and became a publishing phenomenon, staying on The New York Times Best Sellers List for 137 weeks. The succeeding volumes in the nine book series also appeared prominently on the List.

In an interview with Larry King, Walsch described the inception of the books as follows: at a low period in his life, Walsch wrote an angry letter to God asking questions about why his life wasn’t working. After writing down all of his questions, he heard a voice over his right shoulder say: “Do you really want an answer to all these questions or are you just venting?”

Though when he turned around he saw no one there, Walsch felt answers to his questions filling his mind and decided to write them down. The ensuing dialogue became the Conversations with God books. When asked in a recent interview how does he ‘open up’ to God these days, Neale stated “I am reaching out to touch others with this information. When I reach out and touch others with this information I reconnect immediately with the divine presence.”

Conversations with God (CwG) is a sequence of books written by Neale Donald Walsch. It was written as a dialogue in which Walsch asks questions and God answers.[1] The first book of the Conversations with God series, Conversations with God, Book 1: An Uncommon Dialogue, was published in 1995 and became a publishing phenomenon, staying on The New York Times Best Sellers List for 137 weeks. The succeeding volumes in the nine book series also appeared prominently on the List.

In an interview with Larry King, Walsch described the inception of the books as follows: at a low period in his life, Walsch wrote an angry letter to God asking questions about why his life wasn’t working. After writing down all of his questions, he heard a voice over his right shoulder say: “Do you really want an answer to all these questions or are you just venting?”[2] Though when he turned around he saw no one there, Walsch felt answers to his questions filling his mind and decided to write them down. The ensuing dialogue became the Conversations with God books. When asked in a recent interview how does he ‘open up’ to God these days, Neale stated “I am reaching out to touch others with this information. When I reach out and touch others with this information I reconnect immediately with the divine presence.”[3]

Now you may ask, if such a spiritual experience has happened to him, wouldn’t it have made him as a more peaceful man? Not necessarily. Since the nature of spiritual experiences and self-realization has not been studied much yet (even though there is a growing research on this field), there is no way to really know how a spiritual experience changes a person’s behaviour and personality.

But there is one thing which is certain. If you say that Muhammad was a barbarian, I would say that he was a better barbarian. One thing very important to note is that before Islam, there was no such religion in Arabia which had charity as one of the five pillars. Historians do not disagree that Islamic society was an improvement when compared to the pre-Islamic society.

I do not believe that any book is an infallible word of God. I haven’t come across such a book. All religious texts are filled with scientific errors. And Quran, for me, is an outdated book. But I have quoted selective verses from Quran that describe the nature of Allah in my book “Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam”. It is only those verses, which indicate that Muhammad might have indeed gone through a spiritual experience. For me, God is a not a person in the sky. It is more related to one’s experience and consciousness. So I don’t believe in a personal God, eternal hell or final judgement day. But by my experience, I know that spirituality is not nonsense.

Muhammad was neither too good nor too bad. He is a combination of various traits. He was probably cruel at times and compassionate at times. In spite of his good intentions, he possibly had a feeling of vengeance and certain amount of intolerance towards Jews of his time; that was probably because of his previous experiences in the past that put him through a lot of humility.

But he was probably very ambitious to bring changes in the society and had a good charisma. The critics of Muhammad during his time do not criticize him as a cruel or bad man. They called him mad and possessed. He was known to be honest too.

But in terms of modern ethics and law, he is a criminal (if the claims of his critics were true); child marriage and mass murders will land him in jail and may even lead to a death sentence.

But if Muhammad was born in today’s world in a developed country, he would not be doing whatever he was doing in his time. Because, the culture and society that brings him up is different; and hence the conditioning is different. So a Muhammad of modern day may actually follow the modern norms and try to improve the society.

2. How cruel was the prophet Muhammad?

Prophet Muhammad is one of the most misunderstood men in the history but also the most influential person in the history. A strong bias exists in the society among non-muslims which has led to a lot of misconceptions. One big mistake that people do regarding Muhammad is judging him based on today’s norms. But the pre-Islamic Arabian society was a society of conflicts, superstition, female infanticide, social disorder, inequality based on economic disorder, religious intolerance etc.

Historians agree that Prophet Muhammad brought social reforms that improved the status quo of Arab society:

According to William Montgomery Watt, religion for Muhammad was not a private and individual matter but “the total response of his personality to the total situation in which he found himself. He was responding [not only]… to the religious and intellectual aspects of the situation but also to the economic, social, and political pressures to which contemporary Mecca was subject.”

Bernard Lewis says there are two important political traditions in Islam—Muhammad as a statesman in Medina, and Muhammad as a rebel in Mecca. In his view, Islam is a great change, akin to a revolution, when introduced to new societies.

Historians generally agree that Islamic social changes in areas such as social security, family structure, slavery and the rights of women and children improved on the status quo of Arab society.

For example, according to Lewis, Islam “from the first denounced aristocratic privilege, rejected hierarchy, and adopted a formula of the career open to the talents”.

Muhammad’s message transformed society and moral orders of life in the Arabian Peninsula; society focused on the changes to perceived identity, world view, and the hierarchy of values.

Economic reforms addressed the plight of the poor, which was becoming an issue in pre-Islamic Mecca.

The Quran requires payment of an alms tax (zakat) for the benefit of the poor; as Muhammad’s power grew he demanded that tribes who wished to ally with him implement the zakat in particular.

How can one ignore this when talking about Muhammad? Muhammad is the doorway to understand Islam. When you truly understand Muhammad and his character, you can also understand Islam.

He was a simple man, though he was a ruler. This was his room:

More about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him!).

  1. He was considered as honest and trustworthy by all people of his time, including his enemies. He was described as a person who was generous, always smiling, worked hard for the upliftment of poor and united the whole Arabia into single Islamic polity.
  2. He wanted equality in the society. He was very clear that no one should discriminate based on skin color, economic status and others.
  3. He was against female infanticide which was wide spread in those times.
  4. He introduced Islamic way of greeting people which is ‘as salamu alaykum’. It means ‘Peace be unto you’.
  5. He always had a smile on his face. “I have never seen a man who smiled as much as the Messenger of Allah.” (Tirmidhi).
  6. He was concerned about the welfare of orphans. It was probably because he knew the pain of it; he was an orphan himself. A Hadith says, ““The best house among the Muslims is one where an orphan is well treated, and the worst house among the Muslims is one where an orphan is badly treated.” (Ibn Majah)
  7. He helped people and co-operated with them. “I saw the Messenger of Allah on the Day of the Trench carrying dirt (that was dug from the trench) until His chest was covered with dirt.” (Bukhari)

Comments about him by historians and biographers:

Edward Gibbon (d. 1794), a historian and member of England’s Parliament, wrote, “The good sense of Muhammad despised the pomp of royalty. The Apostle of God submitted to the menial offices of the family; he kindled the fire; swept the floor; milked the ewes; and mended with his own hands his shoes and garments. Disdaining the penance and merit of a hermit, he observed without effort or vanity the abstemious diet of an Arab.” In other words, he not just endured the coarseness of an austere life, but it flowed naturally from him. He was not trying to encourage monkhood or self-deprivation, nor was he faking this minimalism to earn praise from the people. Gibbons continues, “On solemn occasions, he feasted his companions with rustic and hospitable plenty. But, in his domestic life, many weeks would pass without a fire being kindled on the hearth of the Prophet.”

According to Washington Irving (d. 1859), an American biographer and diplomat, “He was sober and abstemious in his diet and a rigorous observer of fasts. He indulged in no magnificence of apparel, the ostentation of a petty mind; neither was his simplicity in dress affected but a result of real disregard for distinction from so trivial a source … His military triumphs awakened no pride nor vainglory, as they would have done had they been effected for selfish purposes. In the time of his greatest power, he maintained the same simplicity of manners and appearance as in the days of his adversity. So far from affecting a regal state, he was displeased if, on entering a room, any unusual testimonials of respect were shown to him.

Bosword Smith (d. 1908), a reverend, schoolmaster, and author writes, “Head of the State as well as the Church; he was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without the Pope’s pretensions, and Caesar without the legions of Caesar, without a standing army, without a bodyguard, without a police force, without a fixed revenue. If ever a man ruled by a right divine, it was Muhammad, for he had all the powers without their supports. He cared not for the dressings of power. The simplicity of his private life was in keeping with his public life.”

His perseverance:

Consider a man who never knew his father firsthand, hardly enjoyed the compassion of his mother, and then lost his grandfather, and then his uncle and dearest wife simultaneously. Consider a man who lived to witness every single one of his children die save for one, who was treated like a menace and fugitive after decades of building a flawless reputation among his people. Consider a man who experienced physical abuse until he would faint, was starved for years by his own people, and faced countless campaigns of character assassination. Consider a man who was driven out of his home, sent fleeing to Madinah for shelter, only to find hypocrites there awaiting every opportunity to betray him. Consider a man watching assassination attempts against his life unfold regularly, as well as the murder and mutilation of his relatives and companions, and then the slander of his cherished wife Aisha (rA), the daughter of his most loyal comrade. Who could persevere with hope, and persist in matchless ethics, through all this except someone infused by a unique aid from the heavens? The Prophet ﷺ rose from that abyss of negativity and not only survived, but became a fountain of mercy and empathy for people, animals, and plants alike. This is nothing short of miraculous; only God brings the dead out of the living, and produces a spring from a rock, and nourishes a rose in the desert. Only God could have kept him smiling throughout, playing with his grandchildren, standing by his principles, and lifting the spirits of those who suffered so much less than him. Only God could have empowered him ﷺ to have compassion for the heartless, forgiveness for his enemies, and concern for the arrogant. Only God could have kept his heart grateful at times when others could not even be patient, and his heart merciful at times when others could not even be just.

In my recent book Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam, I have shown the beauty of Islam and how its essence is the same as the essence of Hinduism and Christianity. It explains what true Islam is, the side of Islam which was preserved secretly and unknown or unrecognized by the mainstream Islam. You can find the link to the book in my profile.

Update: 1st October, 2019

Unexpectedly and by the grace of Allah, this answer has become the top answer of all my answers. So, I want to use this opportunity to let readers know a few more things. Religion as how it is understood in today’s world is actually a recent Western concept. It was created based on Christianity, when some Christian theologians were trying to prove that Muhammad was a fake prophet and Hindu deities were satanic (Read Carl Ernst’s books for detailed evidence). The whole concept of religion as it is understood today is based on Christian model, with a single holy book, a single saviour. But today many of us have made religion as an identity. People tend to be more inclined to prove that their religion is better than others. But true religion has got nothing to do with pride. It is a love affair and totally private. It is very sad to see that some politically inclined Hindus take political propaganda as authority. Even here, some comments are just trying to make fun and insult instead of being open-minded to understand the reality. This is not about your religion vs another religion!

Anyway, I just wrote a poem today. It is mainly an expression of gratitude, but also requests God to empower me in explaining the truth about religions to people. If you want to know more, buy my book. Here is the poem:

Also read:

Sufism – The Islamic Mystical Path of Love and Surrender

15 Things About The Character of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) Every Muslim Must Spread

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH): A Man of Character

This website debunks a lot of myths about Muhammad: Muhammad Fact Check

Also read this: https://www.quora.com/Was-Prophet-Muhammad-a-virtuous-man-or-a-man-of-good-character-In-some-hadiths-he-is-portrayed-as-a-slave-trading-sex-obsessed-man-If-these-hadiths-are-true-why-do-Muslims-follow-him-And-if-these-hadiths-aren%E2%80%99t-authentic-which-ones-are/answer/Shanmugam-P-12

3. What are the differences between Allah and Brahman? Aren’t they both the same absolute infinite intelligence? A stark similarity between the Quran and the Upanishads?

Before we talk about Quran, I want to explain something.

Most of the disagreements in spiritual schools are only about the terminology and not about the essence. This may sound too controversial for many to hear, but I have walked on the spiritual path over three decades to confirm this. You need to have extraordinary open-mindedness and willing to explore my blog and my book if you want to see why I am saying this.

For example, Shankara never discarded yoga or Buddhism when it comes to the effectiveness of practice or the truth that these paths lead to; but Shankara strongly objected to using negative terminology like ‘Shunyata’; Shankara also disagreed with certain metaphysical elements in the schools of Yoga and Samkhya. For more details with clear evidence, read this: Buddhism and Vedanta are the Same – A Detailed Comparison

The terminology in spiritual schools have created a lot of confusions. This is strengthened by the fact that the ultimate truth is beyond words; and it gets worse when the words get translated to another language. For example, atman really means ‘self’. And when we try to interpret all these words after several centuries later, we are completely unaware of the fact that these words have also had different meanings at different times.

But when you see spiritual truth as a bunch of words and concepts, you may not see this. You need to see words only as pointers.

Now, before I talk about certain verses in Quran, Muhammad has to be understood. (That is why I have included the answers about Muhammad in the beginning). His experiences are in a way similar to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, (who actually went through multiple paths including Islam and confirmed that all these paths lead to the same truth).

Ok. Now I am going to quote the complete third chapter from my recent book: “Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam”:

Chapter 3. The Nature of God, Adam and Eve and Abraham

In this chapter, I am going to try to define something that is essentially indescribable. So, the words in these chapters actually point to God, even though it can be fully grasped only when the oneness of God or the oneness with existence is felt in one’s moment to moment experience.

In Hinduism, God is described as Avyakta, which means impersonal. He is not a person. God is also described as Sat-Cit-Ananda, with three of his important aspects. Sat means truth. God is the only truth there is. All other truths we see are modifications of the same truth. Cit means consciousness. Your own consciousness is nothing but an aspect of God. But this consciousness is pure awareness, devoid of one’s thoughts, emotions, sensations and perceptions. If you look at your own mind, you can notice that there are two aspects to it. Your actual contents of the mind and the awareness which witnesses these contents. That is why the Bible says that God created man in his own image. This image is not the physical appearance of a person, but the pure consciousness itself. Ananda means bliss, which refers to the eternal bliss that you experience after you go through a spiritual transformation. This Sat, Cit and Ananda are roughly equivalent to Father, Son and the Holy Spirit of Christianity. We will see in what way they are different in an upcoming chapter.

We all know that human beings evolved through natural selection. So obviously, Adam and Eve were not real people. But the story of Adam and Eve has a metaphorical interpretation. When we were born, we were not only naked but we didn’t experience a separation from God in our early childhood. This is before the intellect understood the difference between ‘you’ and the ‘world’. During those days, you felt one with the existence and one with God. In other words, we lived in a metaphorical Garden of Eden. But this oneness was lost when we started to discriminate between the individual self and the rest of the existence. This was possible because of our own temptations to grow and this is also essential as a part of the growth. So Satan, which is the personification of our own temptations was responsible for the fall from Eden. When we developed our discrimination between ‘me’ vs ‘world’ and ‘right vs wrong’, we also lost our innocence and the oneness with God. In other words, we lost our paradise or the Garden of Eden.

Regaining this Garden of Eden is entering the Kingdom of God. It is the same as getting baptized by the Holy Spirit. For that we have to purify ourselves and regain the innocence of childhood. This doesn’t mean that you will lose your discriminative faculty. This means that in spite of the presence of your discriminative faculty, you would still experience the oneness of God. When Jesus says in Matthew 18.3 that you cannot enter the kingdom of God unless you become like a little child, this is what he means.

Consciousness and God

Let us now explore the relationship between consciousness and God and see how consciousness is the image of God. When you see a tree, you are able to see it because the sun’s light is reflected from the tree. Even though the sun gives light, both sun and light appear as a perception in our consciousness. In other words, even though the sun shines the objects, it is consciousness which shines both sun and the objects and makes them perceptible by us. Consciousness is like a screen where every sense perception including light, smell, touch, taste and sound are perceived. It is also the screen which shines the contents of our own mind, including thoughts, emotions, etc. So consciousness is like the absolute reality. You can doubt the existence of anything that appears as a perception in your consciousness but you cannot doubt the existence of consciousness itself. Because it is self-shining and self evident.

Imagine a television screen. You see a movie on the screen and the movie shows various objects. But do those objects have any independent existence apart from the screen? No! Even though thousands of objects may appear on the screen, the screen is the only thing that has actual existence. Similarly, God as consciousness is the only thing which has actual existence in your experience. After spiritual transformation, the psychological boundaries that separate you from God dissolve. Then you feel like you are living in an ocean of consciousness and you see God as the absolute truth.

David Flusser, who was an Israeli professor of Early Christianity and Judaism of the Second Temple Period at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem quotes a legend about Abraham from ‘The Legend of the Jews’ by L.Ginzberg:

“When the sun sank, and the stars came forth, he [Abraham] said, “These are the gods!” But the dawn came, and the stars could be seen no longer, and then he said, “I will not pay worship to these, for they are no gods.” Thereupon the sun came forth, and he spoke, “This is my god, him will I extol.” But again the sun set, and he said, “He is no god,” and beholding the moon, he called her his god to whom he would pay Divine homage. Then the moon was obscured, and he cried out: “This, too, is no god! There is One who sets them all in motion.”

This actually explains how Abraham intellectually discerns that God sets everything including the stars, the sun and the moon in motion and that God as consciousness shines its lights on them and reveals them. This legend is also mentioned in Quran 6: 75-80. Flusser also shows how the same concept is present in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

“But [once] when Janaka, [king] of Videha, and Yajnavalkya were discussing together at an Agnihotra, Yajnavalkya granted the former a boon. He chose asking whatever question he wished. He granted it to him. So [now] the king, [speaking] first, asked him: “Yajnavalkya,

what light does a person here have?” “He has the light of the sun, O king,” he said, “for with the sun, indeed, as his light one sits, moves around, does his work, and returns.” “Quite so, Yajnavalkya. But when the sun has set, Yajnavalkya, what light does a person here have?” “The moon, indeed, is his light,” said he… “Quite so, Yajnavalkya. But when the sun has set, and the moon has set, what light does a person here have?” “Fire, indeed, is his light,” said he… “Quite so, Yajnavalkya. But when the sun has set, Yajnavalkya, and the

moon has set, and the fire has gone out, what light does a person here have?” “Speech, indeed is his light,” said he… “Therefore, verily, O king, where one does not discern even his own hands, when a voice is raised, then one goes straight towards it.” “Quite so, Yajnavalkya. But when the sun has set, Yajnavalkya, and the moon has set, and the fire has gone out, and speech is hushed, what light does a person here have?” “The soul (atman),indeed, is his light,” said he, “for with the soul, indeed, as his light one sits, moves around,does his work, and returns.”

Here the word atman or Self is translated as soul. That is actually the real meaning of the word ‘soul’. Your true Self is not the self-image that you have in your head, not the opinions you have about you, not the story of your life but Sat-Cit-Ananda or God himself. As we saw earlier, God exists without a second. Nothing else has an existence apart from him. So you don’t exist as a separate entity either, even though it appears to be. Your Self is the Self of God.

The fact that God as consciousness and the light of everything is also described in Katha Upanishad:

“The sun shines not there, nor the moon and stars,

These lightnings shine not, much less this (earthly) fire!

After Him, as He shines, doth everything shine,

This whole world is illuminated with His light.”

Who is this Abraham? Was that a real person? Probably not. All historians agree that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses were not real people. These legends as stories were created to communicate subtle truths. First, the children read the stories. Then when they become adults, they could get teachings based on these stories, which metaphorically and sometimes directly convey a lot of insightful messages. This is how mythology and epics work. When I read the narrative of Old Testament, it resembles a lot with Indian Puranas (mythology) and Epics.

In the story of Abraham, God is shown to test Abrahmam’s devotion by asking his son to be sacrificed to Him. A similar story also exists in Periya Puranam, a Tamil text about Lord Shiva. The idea of somebody sacrificing his own son may sound barbaric. But we need to remember that these legends were created during a time when human sacrifice was a usual thing. Deaths and losing life was also very usual and out of 10 children only 5 or 6 usually survived to adulthood. One mistake that people do is to judge an older legend based on today’s social norms. But the world has changed a lot recently: now we have reached the agreement that human sacrifice is wrong, slavery is wrong and discrimation based on caste, creed or race is wrong.

But the story of Abraham was created to show an example of unconditional devotion. Such a devotion purifies one’s mind and makes him receptive to understand the absolute truth about God in one’s experience. The whole effort of Prophet Muhammad was to restore this path of devotion that is symbolized by the story of Abraham.

Many people have noticed similarities between Abraham and the indian concept of Brahma. The word Brahma has many meanings. It means the creator God as well as a priest. The word Brahman also means God as Sat-Cit-Ananda:

For example, Steven Rosen, an American author has written the following in his book:

“The similarities between the names of Abraham and Brahma have not gone unnoticed. Abraham is said to be the father of the Jews, and Brahma, as the first created being, is often seen as the father of mankind…’ We might also note that the name of Brahma’s consort Sarasvati seems to resonate with that of Abraham’s wife, Sarah [… each one’s identity as a wife and/or sister]. Also, in India, the Sarasvati River includes a tributary known as the Ghaggar…. According to Jewish tradition, Hagar was Sarah’s maidservant…. Both Brahmins … and Jews see themselves as the ‘chosen people of God.’ The Hebrews began their sojourn through history as a ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:6). Likewise, Brahmins are also a community of priests.” — Rosen in Essential Hinduism, p. 12.

Probably, the name Abraham may be a product of Hindu influence, through Mitanni kings who ruled northern Syria and southeast Anatolia. Many people have written about the similarities.

Nature of God revealed in Quran

Now, many people may feel a little averse towards Islam because of a stereotype that it has gained in the last century. It is seen as a violent religion and many verses from the Quran are often quoted to show how violence is encouraged by Islam. But the reality is, there were groups of people and tribes who wanted to kill Prophet Muhammad and they didn’t agree for a peace treaty. The violent verses in the Quran have to be interpreted in the right context, as encouraging war as a self-defence. The ‘unbelievers’ that Quran mentions often is specific to these people who were actually waging war against Muhammad and the Muslims of his time. I see Quran as a beautiful poetry. There are many beautiful verses in Quran which points to the reality of God. Let us see some of those verses:

“And We are nearer to him than the jugular vein” (50:16). This verse means that God as consciousness is very close to you than anything else.

“And He is with you wherever you are” (57:4). This means that God as your inner light or consciousness is with you all the time.

“We shall show them Our signs upon the horizons and in their selves” (41:53). – Quran calls its own verses as ‘ayat’ which means ‘signs’. It uses the same word to refer to the things in the universe. Everything that you see is the sign of God. In other words, consciousness is God and everything that is witnessed by consciousness is a sign of God, which doesn’t have an independent existence other than God’s own existence. In Hinduism, there is a word called Lakshmi, which means ‘sign’. Lakshmi is also a Goddess in Hinduism, which actually means that it is an icon among many icons in Hindu iconography which renders psychological aid for devotion. We will see how this Hindu iconography is different from the polytheistic idol worship in a different chapter. But here, we need to understand that Lakshmi is everything that is manifest and witnessed by consciousness, where as Vishnu is the actual consciousness which is all-pervading (pervades all over your moment to moment experience). A name similar to Vishnu also exists in Islam as one of the 99 names of God. The name Al-Wasi’ means all-pervading, which is the literal meaning of the word Vishnu. Here it means both physically or externally all-pervading and internally all pervading as consciousness/the base for your experiences.

Verse 41.53 also says that signs of God can be seen within yourself. If God is all-pervading and omnipresent, then He should also exist within you. He exists within you as the light of consciousness. An-Nur, another Islamic name for Allah means light, which is the same as Cit or consciousness in Sat-Cit-Ananda. He is the light of everything, because it is with His light you sense or notice anything at all. He is within you. That is why Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21).

In fact, the following verse from Quran explains about this aspect of God as light:

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The analogy of His light is as a niche, and within it, a lamp. The lamp is enclosed in a glass. The glass is like a shining star. Lit from a blessed tree, an olive neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil is almost luminous, though no fire touched it. Light upon light. Allah guides unto His light whom He will. And Allah speaks to mankind in allegories, and Allah is Knower of all things. (24:35)

The above verse is actually a beautiful piece of poetry

“Wherever you turn, there is the face of God” (2:115). God is omnipresent. Everything you see is actually a sign of God and God is the essence of everything. In this sense, he is both the subject and object, the observing conscious witness and the observed objects. This doesn’t mean that each object is God, as it implies the existence of multiple gods. This means that the multiplicity of objects is an illusion and that it is God who exists as everything; it is God who exists without a second. But this is actually a final truth which is fully grasped only after spiritual rebirth, after-life or self realization, whatever name you want to use for it. Before that, we will be discriminating between God and the signs of God, the observer and the observed, the consciousness and the object of consciousness. This discrimination and clear understanding of the difference between the two has to be completely understood in order to walk in the path towards salvation. This skill is called Viveka in Hinduism. Islam also has such a discrimination. The significance of Islam is that it has a statement related to this as its first pillar and it is called Shahada. The statement is “There is no god but God”. This statement has a deep meaning. ‘No god’ refers to the contents of consciousness, which are like moving pictures of the screen devoid of their own reality. That is why they are called ‘no God’, meaning that they do not have any reality separate from God; God refers to Sat-Cit-Ananda, or ‘Truth, consciousness and bliss’ which is the only reality. The Arabic statement of this is something you have probably heard, which is ‘la ilaha illa illah’. This line is actually meant as a spiritual practice. You observe every thought, every sensation and sense perception and every emotion that occurs in the present moment and realize ‘this is not God, this is a sign of God’. In Hinduism, this practice is called ‘Neti neti’. In the initial stages, you can mentally repeat ‘la ilaha illa illah’ as you realize that the ‘no god’ part. But it is important to note that the final truth you realize in spiritual transformation is the complete oneness. That is both ‘no god’ part and God part are God. Because, ‘no god and God’ implies the existence of two entities whereas God is one without a second. The picture is also a part of the screen! We will explore more about this in a different chapter.

Let us see the quote of some Sufi mystics about this God and no God discrimination (Sufism is a branch of Islam):

“With no god the practitioner negates other than the Real, and with but God he affirms the Presence of Exaltation. When he does this constantly and clings to it, the spirit’s attachment to

other than God is gradually cut with the scissors of no god. The beauty of but God’s authority discloses itself from behind the Pavilion of Exaltation. In keeping with the promise, Remember

Me, and I will remember you [2:152], the remembrance is disengaged from the clothing of letters and sound. The specific characteristics of Everything is perishing but His face [28:88] become evident in the disclosure of the light of Divinity’s magnificence” – Najm ad-Din Razi

No one says ‘No god but God’ correctly unless he negates

everything other than God from his soul and heart.” – Ibn Ata’illa

A poem of Sufi Poet and Mystic Rumi is also about this discrimination:

The joy and heartache of lovers is He,

the wages and salary for service is He.

If they were to gaze on other than the Beloved,

how could that be love? That would be idle fancy.

Love is that flame which, when it blazes up,

burns away all except the everlasting Beloved.

It slays “other than God” with the sword of no god.

Look carefully: After no god what remains?

There remains but God, the rest has gone.

Hail, O Love, great burner of all others!

It is He alone who is first and last,

all else grows up from the eye that sees double.

Discrimination between ‘God’ and ‘no god’ is called as viveka in Hinduism and is considered as one of the qualifications that a seeker or devotee needs to have to walk on the spiritual path.

That is, God is neither limited, mean, narrow-minded, nor poor in resources. All such notions about God, which arise from considering Him as essentially similar to human beings, are erroneous. God’s realm is boundless and so is His vision and the range of His benevolence and mercy. Moreover, God’s knowledge is all-embracing. He knows who remembers Him, as well as where, when and why he does that. (2:116). – This is a very important verse. It actually says that God is absolute infinity and unlimited. In Hinduism, we have the term ‘ananta’ for God, which also means unlimited. The same verse also says that God is not a person and that attributing human attributes to God is essentially a fallacy.

“Everything upon the earth is undergoing annihilation, but there subsists the face of your Lord” (55:26–27). – This talks about the impermanence of things and the permanence of God. Objects keep changing their forms, but God, who is the essence of all objects persists. In Hinduism, impermanence is known as anitya. It is very important to realize that all objects, things, feelings etc are impermanent and getting attached to them causes suffering. Spiritual path develops non-attachment, which is the direct result of purifying oneself.

The next verse talks about the stage of purification, when you purify yourself by unconditional devotion and meditation:

“By the soul and That which shaped it, and inspired it to its depravity and its godwariness. Prosperous is he who purifies it, and failed has he who buries it” (91:7–10).

Let us also see some other important names of God in Islam:

Al-Haqq means ‘Truth’. It is one of the names of God which is synonymous to ‘Sat’ in ‘Sat-Cit-Ananda’.

Az-Zahir means the manifest; Everything that is manifest is a sign of God, which do not have an independent existence even though they seem to be. When this is realized in experience, you see the face of God in everything, as explained by Quran 2:115.

Al-Batin means the unmanifest. Purusha Sukta says that both the manifest and the unmanifest are essentially God himself. But only one quarter of him is manifest as objects in the world, showing His sign or face; three quarters of Him is unmanifest.

Al-Hadiy means way. God is the source, destination and also the way!

As – Salam means source of peace of bliss. It is synonymous with Ananda in ‘Sat-Cit-Ananda’.

In fact, we can come up with an Islamic version of Sat-Cit-Ananda based on the above names. It would be ‘Al-Haqq’ – ‘An-Nur’ – ‘As-Salam’.

Please note that all these names, including Hindu names such as Vishnu, Lakshmi etc are various names of one Truth, which is God. Each name refers to a certain aspect of divinity. Rig Veda says ‘ekam sat, viprah bahuda vadanti’ which means that the Truth is one, but it is called by various names by wise people.

Sat – Cit- Ananda – Explained Further

We saw that pure awareness or consciousness is nothing but God. We are always conscious of something. Even during sleep, consciousness exists but there is nothing to be conscious of. Then, it is like an empty screen. This consciousness remains always the same, shining on everything like a screen of light. The objects like sense perceptions, thoughts, emotions etc appear in this screen and the light of consciousness shines on them, making them visible or known.

Also, at any moment we are always experiencing something. Even during deep sleep, there is an experience of peace. Divine peace or bliss is the base level experience which is felt in its purity when we sleep. But when we are awake, this base level experience gets clouded with impurities like desire, hatred, jealousy, boredom, suffering etc. So we don’t feel the underlying bliss. But once the mind is purified, the pure bliss and pure consciousness is all that exists, and this screen of truth, bliss and consciousness continues to show the contents of consciousness, such as thoughts, sense perceptions etc.

The sense of individual self which acts like a barrier between your inner world and the outer world disappears. Along with it, desire, jealousy, aversion, psychological fear etc also disappears. Since aversion disappears, you are left with pure love, a sense of acceptance, forgiveness and understanding towards all human beings. So God is revealed as He is, once the sense of individual self disappears. You are left with pure conscious experience of being filled with love, the love which belongs to God himself.

So, along with consciousness, bliss and truth are also a part of the screen that we are talking about in our screen metaphor. The screen is made up of three dimensions: Truth, Consciousness and bliss or ‘Al-Haqq’ – ‘An-Nur’ – ‘As-Salam’.

That is the end of the third chapter. Trust me, these words from Quran are impossible for a random warlord of the 5th century Arabia which didn’t even have the scent of any Indian schools of thought, unless the person had actually went through some experience.

4. Is Islam a peaceful religion?

Now the most important question. When you see countless massacres that are happening in the name of Islam, the most obvious conclusion that a person would make is ‘Islam is a violent religion and it is totally anti-humanity.’

While majority of Muslims would actually want to claim that their religion is peaceful, people who want to show Islam as violent claim that true Islam teaches Muslims to kill unbelievers. They insist that an ISIS terrorist is actually the true follower of Muhammad.

But do you realize that this insistence comes from some kind of aversion or a feeling of vengeance, rather than an attempt to create peace? Or may be it is coming from the strong temptation to prove how wrong Muslims are. But what I am saying is, If a Muslim wants to claim that his religion is peaceful, let him claim so. Because, it only shows a good attitude of that Muslim to interpret Islam in a peaceful way. It actually shows that this Muslim who claims that his religion is peaceful will probably not kill an unbeliever, smash a temple or be averse to other religions. Is that a good thing or bad? If you tell him that true Islam asks to kill unbelievers and destroy temples, and insist that an ISIS terrorist is the one who follows true Islam, you are not really adding any value but it even seems like you are indirectly teaching him to follow this ‘true, violent’ Islam that you talk about. I think we need to stop this and help Muslims with the cognitive dissonance that they are facing! Let them interpret Islam in a peaceful way and help them to interpret that way! Is there anything wrong in doing so? After all, it can only bring positive changes.

The key to peace lies in how we are going to bring up the upcoming generation. These children are innocent just like the baby you see in the top of this page. What are we going to teach them? How are we going to bring them up? This is the most important question.

Past is past; you cannot raise Aurangzeb or Mahmud of Ghazni from their graves and punish them because they are already dead. But do not punish the majority of Muslims who are living today, by looking them down just because some ruler, who is not even a common man, did something bad to your culture long before you and they were born.

I like the way how Islamic Religious Council of Singapore interprets Islam:

Also read: What Everyone Should Know about the Prophet Muhammad

Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Other Non-Muslims on Muhammad, Islam and Quran

Why is there so much hate between Hindus and Muslims in India?

Hinduism and Dharma: The Distinction between a Religion and a Way of Life.

What does it feel like to be Spiritually Enlightened?

One of the questions that gets often asked by seekers is, “What does spiritual enlightenment or self-realization feel like? I am republishing the answer I wrote on Quora for the same question.

Life is usually felt as a journey in time. You experience it as if you are travelling from point A to point B in time, with hopes, expectations and dreams. It is an unconscious search towards becoming boundless.

Human beings are running in a hedonic treadmill. Everyone returns to a base level of happiness as soon as the effects of a profit or loss, success or failure, pain or pleasure fades away. So, no matter what you try to do, you really do not reach the place where you are left with complete fulfillment. If you stop running on this treadmill, even your base level happiness seems to go low. So there is a constant need to run behind a next achievement, next success or even next spiritual experience. This concept of hedonic treadmill is now a psychological fact.

Spiritual enlightenment/self-realization:  What does spiritual enlightenment or self-realization feel like?

What spiritual enlightenment or self-realization does is, it liberates you from the hedonic treadmill. Because you actually reach the completion or ultimate fulfillment that you have been searching for. Suddenly, the psychological time stops. You are not looking forward to the future anymore. So you neither search fulfillment in worldly affairs nor search enlightenment. Because every search is searching something in the future. At self-realization, the past and the future becomes collapsed in the present. You do not even feel like you have travelled all the way through time to reach that place. You feel like you have been always there. Do you think you can imagine this state? No, you can’t!

You also lose the psychological boundaries between you and the existence. Normally, you feel a difference between being alone and being in a room with another person. You feel it in your bones because your consciousness is trapped inside an idea of being a person or an entity that is distinct from the ‘others’. But after self-realization, you no longer sense the ‘other’ this way! The psychological wall that stands between you and the other breaks and melts away, leaving you in an ocean of oneness. This is what they call as oneness of God.

It feels like, the world and the life runs like a movie, and you are just acting your role, without even feeling that you exist (as a person or an entity). In fact, the word ‘I’ now becomes just a point of reference rather than an experiential identifier of your body and mind. You no longer feel that you are a character in a life story, experiencing it personally.

The distinction between inside and the outside disappears too.

It may sound too boring when you have not realized it yourself, but it is actually quite fulfilling, just like you feel during the end of a movie. After a movie is ended, you don’t regret that it has ended; so enlightenment is not something that will break into your life all of a sudden. It happens as a natural process after the game is over; after the drama is over.

How do you feel after removing a tight shoe that was hurting your toes for the past three hours while walking? The sense of separate self is like a tight shoe, and it puts a lot of pressure on you. You do not realize it since that is how you have lived your life from the beginning. But only when this pressure is gone, you really see how much pressure, strain and weight it was putting on you. You now feel like a free bird.

But words can certainly betray the actual meaning intended, when anyone who is free tries to describe it. This is beyond words!

There is a light inside you. Just follow it, walk where it takes you and you will find the source of the light one day.

There is something called seven-fold logic or saptangivada, which is a different form of logic that is used when talking about such subtle matters. You can read about it here: Logic And Spiritual Enlightenment – An Overview of Anekantavada, Saptabhangivada (Seven Valued Logic) and Syadvada of Jainism

I have put together a guide, in case you are a seeker; it has a series of articles : A Guide To Spiritual Enlightenment

Hinduism and Dharma: The Distinction between a Religion and a Way of Life.

(I am republishing the answers that I wrote in Quora about Hinduism. This is a complete guide to Hinduism. It is a collection of multiple answers posted in a single page. So it is very long. You can bookmark this page so that you can take your time in reading it.)

1.Is Hinduism monotheism or polytheism or considered both?

In my recent answers, I have been writing about Hinduism a lot but I noticed that the answers get a low visibility and agreement. I also kind of discovered the reason. I have been using the word Hinduism to mean something called ‘dharma’.

But people use the word Hinduism to mean a colonial version of system based on the modern concept of religion, which did not exist 300 years before. Yes, there is a difference between religion in general and the modern concept of religion.

So based on this, let me make a clear distinction between Hinduism and dharma. Hinduism is about 300 years old, the youngest religion in the planet, but the dharma that I am talking about has existed since time immemorial. Some use the term sanatana dharma; but I don’t like to use it because dharma includes both eternal laws and the rules and moral codes which keep changing.

Also, this dharma that I am talking about is universal, even though most of it developed in Indian subcontinent.

TLDR: Hinduism is polytheistic; the elements of this polytheistic religion is very old, even though Hinduism itself is a concept that is just 300 years old. But the dharma I am talking about is not polytheistic; but it has absorbed various polytheistic elements as a part of its iconography, seeing everything as the extensions or rays of one supreme reality.

Moreover, Hinduism is based on identity. The more Hindu you are, the more intolerant you will be towards Muslims and Christians. Politics can feed this fanaticism and can tempt you to be too defensive and sensitive towards this identity. You need a constant ego gratification that sees how barbaric other religions are, so that your own identity as Hindu seems better. So you will try to copy the concepts from other religions like conversion, blasphemy, seeing nudity as a taboo etc. There will be a constant temptation to keep the Hindu superiority alive and you can easily do that by constantly pointing out how worse other religions are.

In fact, to be a Hindu, all you need to do is to be born as a Hindu parent. You can prove yourself as a devout Hindu by constantly bragging about this identity. But to follow the dharma I am talking about, you need to apply it in thoughts, speech and action.

First, let us establish that this modern concept of religion is a recent invention:

Here is the excerpt from Wikipedia:

The modern concept of religion, as an abstraction that entails distinct sets of beliefs or doctrines, is a recent invention in the English language. Such usage began with texts from the 17th century due to events such the splitting of Christendom during the Protestant Reformation and globalization in the age of exploration, which involved contact with numerous foreign cultures with non-European languages.[22][23][27] Some argue that regardless of its definition, it is not appropriate to apply the term religion to non-Western cultures.[28][29] Others argue that using religion on non-Western cultures distorts what people do and believe.[30]

The concept of religion was formed in the 16th and 17th centuries,[31][32] despite the fact that ancient sacred texts like the Bible, the Quran, and others did not have a word or even a concept of religion in the original languages and neither did the people or the cultures in which these sacred texts were written.[33][34]

For example, there is no precise equivalent of religion in Hebrew, and Judaism does not distinguish clearly between religious, national, racial, or ethnic identities.[35] One of its central concepts is halakha, meaning the walk or path sometimes translated as law, which guides religious practice and belief and many aspects of daily life.[36] Even though the beliefs and traditions of Judaism are found in the ancient world, ancient Jews saw Jewish identity as being about an ethnic or national identity and did not entail a compulsory belief system or regulated rituals.[37] Even in the 1st century CE, Josephus had used the Greek term ioudaismos, which some translate as Judaism today, even though he used it as an ethnic term, not one linked to modern abstract concepts of religion as a set of beliefs.[2] It was in the 19th century that Jews began to see their ancestral culture as a religion analogous to Christianity.[37] The Greek word threskeia, which was used by Greek writers such as Herodotus and Josephus, is found in the New Testament. Threskeia is sometimes translated as religion in today’s translations, however, the term was understood as worship well into the medieval period.[2] In the Quran, the Arabic word din is often translated as religion in modern translations, but up to the mid-1600s translators expressed din as law.[2]

The Sanskrit word dharma, sometimes translated as religion, also means law. Throughout classical South Asia, the study of law consisted of concepts such as penance through piety and ceremonial as well as practical traditions. Medieval Japan at first had a similar union between imperial law and universal or Buddha law, but these later became independent sources of power.[38][39]

Throughout the Americas, Native Americans never had a concept of “religion” and any suggestion otherwise is a colonial imposition by Christians.[40]

Though traditions, sacred texts, and practices have existed throughout time, most cultures did not align with Western conceptions of religion since they did not separate everyday life from the sacred. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the terms Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, and world religions first entered the English language.[41][42][43] No one self-identified as a Hindu or Buddhist or other similar terms before the 1800s.[44] “Hindu” has historically been used as a geographical, cultural, and later religious identifier for people indigenous to the Indian subcontinent.[45][46] Throughout its long history, Japan had no concept of religion since there was no corresponding Japanese word, nor anything close to its meaning, but when American warships appeared off the coast of Japan in 1853 and forced the Japanese government to sign treaties demanding, among other things, freedom of religion, the country had to contend with this Western idea.[47][48]

According to the philologist Max Müller in the 19th century, the root of the English word religion, the Latin religio, was originally used to mean only reverence for God or the gods, careful pondering of divine things, piety (which Cicero further derived to mean diligence).[49][50] Max Müller characterized many other cultures around the world, including Egypt, Persia, and India, as having a similar power structure at this point in history. What is called ancient religion today, they would have only called law.[51][1].

The reason why a modern concept of religion developed:

The modern concept of religion developed to help European kings distinguish their power from that of church authorities. It was created to limit the power of the church. So life was segregated into religious and secular spheres. This segregation was not found in many other parts of the world.[1]

It is true that Hinduism doesn’t have a founder; it has founders; And most of them were British.

Before 300 years, no one identified oneself as a Hindu. There have been little intolerance between various schools of thought in India but that was not based on any identity. Most importantly, there was no ‘Hindu’ identity.

But Hinduism is actually an identity. Since this idea of Hindu identity is being constantly enforced by the society, politics and media, we are stuck in the world of comparison. Now it is natural that people feel an illogical responsibility to save their identity or Hinduism.

What is Dharma then?

Dharma is a way of living. It is not only about living ethically but to attain ultimate fulfilment and bliss in life through self-realization or God realization. Everything including Upanishads, epics, agamas, puranas serve as a means to direct you towards Moksha or ultimate liberation. The significance of moksha is Jivanmukti, or being able to live completely free from psychological suffering and psychological bondage; this can happen while living!

There are four goals in dharma:

  1. Dharma itself is a goal. It includes both the natural laws that govern the universe and ethical laws that govern people. More importantly, dharma includes instructions for attaining moksha or liberation.
  2. Artha – You don’t have to renounce the world for liberation. You are free to enjoy sufficient wealth.
  3. Kama – Pleasures are also not denied.
  4. Moksha – Dharma and moksha are mandatory in the path of dharma; acquiring wealth and pleasure is optional. It is typical for some people to have no attachment from both of these from the beginning and they tend to take sannyas earlier or just live as a bachelor.

In order to walk towards attaining God or liberation, dharma gives you three methods which can be combined in one’s life:

  1. Karma: Doing one’s duties while working on developing non-attachment to the fruits of action is karma yoga. Karma yoga involves choosing a way of living that suits your abilities and personality or svadharma. You as a person have certain obligations like make a good living and taking care of your family. But trying to do it with a sense of surrender and non-attachment prepares a person for self-realization and Moksha.
  2. Bhakti: Unconditional love towards one supreme God. Love and surrender cannot happen in a polytheistic religion. You cannot surrender to two different things. Dharma is a form of monism which considers Brahman as the ultimate reality and the essence of everything. But this Nirguna Brahman that is without attributes can be personified as Saguna Brahman or a God with a form. But unless it is monotheistic devotion, bhakti won’t make any sense. You are free to choose a specific form for bhakti. Bhakti also purifies one’s mind and prepares a person for self-realization and Moksha.
  3. Jnana: This involves inquiry into the nature of self and called as jnana yoga. It involves closely inspecting the contents of your consciousness, inquiring deeply into the nature of self and engaging in meditations like nididhyasana or mindfulness. Jnana not only includes this practice but also includes the actual self-realization itself, when you realize God in your experience. This can happen while living and give you the ultimate fulfillment and bliss that everyone is unconsciously searching for. The path of jnana involves getting insight about your own mind and its unconscious layers and untying many mental knots on the process.

Among all these three, bhakti is very common. It is found in dharma, Islam and the teachings of Jesus. Islam itself means submission to God. Bhakti is something that even a layman can understand. But according to dharma, we should work on developing bhakti as a pure unconditional devotion, instead of seeing it as a means to get what we desire. Only that pure devotion can purify your mind and make you ready for Jnana.

So dharma doesn’t have any conflict with the teachings of Jesus or Muhammad as far as the pure bhakti is concerned. Because no matter what one believes in (whether hell and heaven or Moksha), the devotion itself has the ability to lead one towards liberation. It is an effect that comes with a practice of devotion itself, regardless of what beliefs that devotion is based on.

There is something very important to notice here. Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad has only the bhakti part. They don’t cover jnana. Even though certain code of conduct is given and there is also a concept of surrender, the complete system of Karma Yoga as defined in Bhagavad Gita is not found in the Bible or Quran. Similarly, Buddha’s teachings concentrates deeply on jnana but ignore karma and bhakti. Dharma is the only one which has karma yoga, bhakti and jnana. In other words, dharma is not contradictory to the central teachings of both Jesus and Muhammad, but very complimentary. Dharma provides what other schools do not provide!

The reason why Bhagavad Gita is so central to dharma is because it defines dharma, elaborating on all the three methods that one can put together to reach the highest goal of dharma, which is moksha.

Dharma is a system of inquiry rather than a belief system. All rituals, stories and iconography can be interpreted in the context of dharma. This is the main difference between dharma and various polytheistic traditions.

While many Hindus talk about saving Hinduism, dharma doesn’t depend on any such community to save itself. There is a promise in Bhagavad Gita 4.7:

yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati bhārata
abhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānaṁ sṛijāmyaham

Meaning: Whenever there is a decline in dharma and an increase in adharma, O Arjun, at that time I manifest myself on earth.

Adharma doesn’t just mean something that is unethical, but it means violating the overall dharma.

2. What is, in detail, the Hindu religion?

Hinduism is a word that points to a geographical location. But it is not used as a geographical identity. It is understood as an umbrella term that connects various religious traditions. But the concepts that are common in all traditions of our subcontinent are the following:

  1. Atma Jnana or self realization
  2. Moksha or liberation.

This central nerve is forgotten and ignored by most of the Hindus today. But if you understand each concept in Hinduism by looking at its relationship with moksha, you will get a new understanding and extreme clarity on what this religion is all about.

There are four central goals in life, according to Hinduism: dharma (righteousness, social order and code of conduct), artha (wealth and education), kama (pleasure) and moksha (liberation). Moksha is the final and ultimate goal.

First, to distinguish Hinduism from Brahmanism, or the Vedic religion, let me quote from my recent answer:

What’s the difference between Hinduism and the Vedic religion?

Both are entirely different. Vedic religion is no longer followed.

When I say Vedic religion, I am talking about Brahmanism, a unique religion on it’s own which was very popular before the time of Upanishads and after the early Rig Vedic period.

Here are the aspects of Vedic religion.

  1. In Vedic religion, sacrifice is God, and it is more powerful than devas and humans. In fact, sacrifice or yajna created this world. So sacrifice is applied as a metaphor for many others things: birth, sex, burning a body in funeral pyre are all sacrifices.
  2. Devas attained immortality and went to heaven because of sacrifice. There is a story that says that when devas went to heaven, they destroyed all knowledge about sacrifice so that humans do not have access to them. But Rishis received that knowledge as revelation and gave it to mankind.
  3. Devas are not omnipotent. They depend on humans because they are pleased with oblations that we offer on fire. We also depend on them for rainfall, health, cattle, longevity, heaven etc. It is a mutual dependency. It is sacrifice which is omnipotent and that includes the hymns, melodies and the actual ritual.
  4. Each man is indebted when he was born. He owes to devas, Rishis and ancestors who are already living in heaven. So he has three debts. To clear the debt, he has to do these: a) To clear the debt to Rishis, he has to be initiated to study under a teacher and go through Vedic study. b) To clear the debts of Devas, he has to offer oblations five times a day and also offer seasonal rites. c) He has to give birth to a son to clear the debts that he owes to his ancestors. Progeny increases the glory of his ancestors in heaven. Also, a man is reborn as his son and thus attains immortality through son in the earth. At the same time, he also attains immortality in heaven after death.
  5. The wife and the son are two important people in Vedic religion. You are not qualified to offer oblations unless you are married, because you have to do them with wife. It is said that a wife completes a man by giving him the qualifications to do the rites.

So, you have to live a life as a house holder if you want to live according to Vedic injunction, as per Brahmanism. But when cities developed in North Eastern India, new ideas arose: the doctrine of samsara, karma, rebirth and moksha. People who were talking about these new concepts were wandering ascetics called sramanas. Many liberal Brahmins in the cities accepted these new ideas and tried to interpret them within Brahmanic religion which later led to asrama system. But Brahmins in villages were too orthodox and couldn’t accept these concepts because these parivrajakas or sramanas were not allowed to get married.

But slowly these ideas got absorbed in Brahmanism giving rise to Upanishads and the doctrine of Vedanta. Slowly, various folk religions, Shiva, Krishna, Vasudeva, Narayana cults got absorbed into Vedic religion and temple worship also became popular. Vedic popularity was replaced by agamas and puranas. It developed Hinduism as we know today.

But the heart of Hinduism lies in purusharthas: Dharma, artha, Kama, and moksha. It places Moksha as the final goal where as Vedic religion considered heaven as the final goal.

If you think about it, Brahmanism is life positive. Even though Sramana traditions were life negative, they actually offered a way out of psychological suffering while living. By taking the medititative aspects of Sramana traditions and combining it with life positive aspects of a house holder’s life, Bhagavad Gita came up with a complete path to moksha.[1]

Hinduism defines God in three levels:

  1. First you see God as saguna Brahman, a person with a name and a particular form. This is a very limited view of God because it puts him within time and space as a limited identity. Devotion can start at this level but this level has to be transcended. There are numerous forms to choose from.
  2. The second is Ishvara, which doesn’t represent a form but a formless personal God. This is similar to the concept of God in Abrahamic religions. But sometimes the boundaries between the concept of Ishvara and Brahman is blurred.
  3. The third is Brahman, when God is seen beyond the idea of a person. Now God is everywhere and everything. There is no distinction between God and you.

Here is something from another answer that I wrote:

Is Hinduism a polytheistic belief or is it a belief that accepts the many aspects of Brahman as gods or is it something else?

Strictly speaking, it is neither, because both polytheism and monotheism imply multiplicity: the illusion that there are multiple entities; the illusion that something other than Brahman exists….

This is a complex topic by appearance but simple when understood in experience. It is not possible to convey what Brahman is, in language. But we can kind of point to it.

Where does one entity end and another entity begin? Do you think your body is one entity? No. There are millions of microbes living in the body; and for them, you are a forest!

Where does the air inside your body end and the air outside your body begin? Where does the water inside your body end and the water outside your body begin? Apply this to space, heat and atoms of the body too.

‘Entities’ are creations of the human mind. For our own convenience, we have mapped various entities and named them: a car, a man, a cow, a grain of sand.

But in fact, about fourteen billion years ago, all that existed was primordial singularity: there was no space and no time! Don’t try to imagine that, you can’t! It expanded, cooled down and became everything! There was a time when there was no distinction between matter and energy.

Upanishads say that just like different ornaments of Gold are essentially Gold, everything is essentially Brahman. The multiplicity is illusion or Maya and it is also a part of Brahman. Only the mind creates it for practical purposes. If Brahman is like a screen, Maya is like the moving pictures in the screen. In screen, you may see thousand men marching together. But it is just one screen which is manifest as thousand men!

If ‘entities’ are illusions, then ‘me’ as an entity is also illusion. You are Brahman itself in reality. But this has got nothing to do with the egoic self of ‘me’ that you identify with. That ‘entity’ is an illusion.

That is why in Upanishads, you find statements like ‘Tat tvam asi’ : You are That!

So why do we have idols? Actually, they are not idols, they are icons or murtis. If Brahman Is everything, that Murti is also Brahman. We don’t bow down to it, we do namaskar; there is a difference. We do Namaskar to human beings as well. It is done with folded hands. It implies ‘I am saluting the essence inside you’! What is the essence of a Murti? Brahman! What is the essence of a human being? Brahman!

There are multiple forms for that Brahman to focus the mind and to interact with devotionally. A person can pick a form or Ishta Devata to suit his personality. Then all other Devatas are seen as the extensions of the Ishta Devata.

If you look at the history, it will be very obvious.Tulsidas was only devoted to Rama. Chaitanya was only devoted to the form of Krishna. So was Thirugnana Sambandar to Shiva, Arunagiri nathar to Muruga or Skanda, Avvaiyar to Ganesh and Ramakrishna Paramahansa to Kali. This duality of devotee vs God ends with a singularity, with the experience of oneness of Brahman. You can read more about it in my book ‘Discovering God – Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam’.[2]

Does Hinduism have rules and commandments?

Many people say that Hinduism is not a religion of laws and commandments. It is true. Because multiple traditions from the past have combined together to form Hinduism as we know today.

But if we rewind and go back to a period before 2300–2500 years, the religious traditions were a lot different. In fact, there were three types of religions in the Vedic period, before Upanishads were added to Vedic canon:

  1. Brahmanism which was full of rituals and law codes. Their goals in life were wealth, health, cattle, long life and heaven. This early Vedic religion had way more law codes than any religions that we know today. They did not accept the concepts of rebirth, moksha, karma and asceticism. And they had law code for each and everything.
  2. Sramana traditions which were all about asceticism, moksha, rebirth and ending human suffering. This wisdom was unknown to early Brahmanas. In fact Chandogya Upanishad specifically states that this wisdom was never conveyed to Brahmins before. In the late Vedic period, Brahmanism absorbed many concepts of Sramanic traditions. ( Read ‘Greater Magadha: Studies in the culture of Early India’ for extensive details on these two traditions.)
  3. Various folk religions all over sub continent that included polytheistic and animistic elements.

Brahmanism absorbed the concept of moksha from Sramana traditions and derived most of it’s iconography from folk religions. It is only after that agamas, and puranas were created and Hinduism as we know today took shape. But the entire Hinduism is unified by the four purusharthas: dharma, artha, kama and moksha.

So, the detailed law code was indeed present in Brahmanism. All Dharma sutras list forbidden food.But these rules are no longer followed today though.

For example, Apastamba dharma sutras 1.17.14-39 lists forbidden food for students:

14. He should not eat food obtained from the market,

15 even seasonings, with the exception of raw meat, honey, and salt;

16. oil and ghee, on the other hand, may be used after sprinkling them with water.

17. He should not eat, drink, or consume cooked food that has been left overnight

18. or turned sour,

19. with the exception of sugar-cane juice, rolled rice, gruel, roasted barley, barley meal,
vegetables, meat, flour, milk, milk products, and roots and fruits of plants and trees.

20. He should not consume anything that has turned sour without mixing it with some other food.

21. It is forbidden to drink any type of liquor;

22. as also the milk of sheep,

23. camels, and deer; the milk of animals in heat or bearing twins;

24 and the milk of a cow during the first ten days after giving birth.

25. Herbs used in the manufacture of liquor are likewise forbidden;

26. as also Karañja garlic, onion, leeks,

27. and any other food that is forbidden.

28. For a Brahmana states: ‘Mushrooms should not be eaten.’

29. The meat of one-hoofed animals, camels, Gayal oxen, village pigs, and Sarabha cattle are forbidden.

30 It is permitted to eat the meat of milch cows and oxen.

31. A text of the Vajasaneyins states: ‘The meat of oxen is fit for sacrifice.’

32. Among birds that feed by scratching with their feet, the cock is forbidden,

33. and among birds that feed by thrusting their beaks, the Plava heron.

34. Carnivorous birds are forbidden;

35. as also the Hamsa goose, the Bhasa vulture, the Cakra bird, and the Suparna falcon.

36. The Kruñca curlew and the Krauñca crane are forbidden, with the exception of the Vardhranasa cranes and Laksmana cranes.

37. Animals with five claws* are forbidden, with the exception of the Godha ̄ monitor lizard, tortoise, porcupine, hedgehog, rhinoceros, hare, and Putikhasa.

38. Among fish, the Ceta is forbidden,

39 as also the snakehead fish, the Mrdura crocodile, carnivorous fish, and others that are grotesque, such as the mermen.

( The four ashrama system in Hinduism was not really four stages of life in the beginning but four ways of life. After initial Vedic study, one can take up either of the four ways. Dharmasutras list law codes for all four ways of life, but they never fail to mention that grihastha life is the only way of life that is accepted in Vedic texts and that which guarantees heaven when followed according to the code of conduct.

Also, Apastamba dharma sutras also has contradictory views, hence it talks about rebirth and even the knowledge of self in some verses. That indicates that some portions of it were added probably much later.

But Gautama Dharmasutras lists four ways of life as the view of the opponent and refutes the view with statements from Vedas, insisting that the way of house holder is the only accepted way as per Vedas.).[3]

Is Hinduism a religion of beliefs?

Mahabharata talks about how various people had various beliefs and attitudes during its days. All those comes under the umbrella of Hinduism.

It is a set of schools which encourages logical inquiry, debates, mystical poetry, mystical fiction, healthy criticism, critical thinking, hermeneutics and also allow various folk religious beliefs to co-exist, influence and interact.

Most importantly, it has ways to end psychological suffering in life and feel complete, eternal, infinite, expansive, blissful and content. If understood properly, it can take you on a journey.

The four main goals of Hinduism are dharma (righteousness, social order), artha (weath, education), kama (pleasure) and moksha (liberation). Ultimately it is about self-realization and liberation, which gives you true and endless happiness.

Here are those verses from Mahabharata. Various seers ask Brahma about true dharma (religion):

To which, indeed, of the dharmas should a person here most closely adhere? What do they have to say about this? Tell us, for the course of dharma appears to us to be diverse and contradictory.

Some claim that there is life after death, while others maintain that there is not. Some express doubt about everything, while others claim certainty. Things are impermanent according to some and permanent according to others, unreal according to some and real according to others. Some believe that the one reality appears as dual, while others think that it is mixed;'” some teach unity, others separateness, and yet others multiplicity.

Thus do Brahmins who are wise and perceive the truth argue. Some wear matted hair and deer skin, others shave their heads, and still others go naked. Some say that one should not bathe, while others insist on bathing. Some favor eating, while others are given to fasting.

Some praise rites and others the cessation from them. Some assert the influence of both place and time, while others deny it. ‘ Some extol liberation and others diverse pleasures.

Some desire wealth, while others strive after poverty. Some maintain the efficacy of worship, while others deny it. Some are devoted to non-injury (ahimsa) and others to injury.”

Some claim that one attains glory through good deeds, while others deny it. Some delight in certainty as to the truth, while others adhere to skepticism. Suffering is the motive for some and pleasure for others.

Some assert the primacy of meditation, other wise men that of sacrifice, and still others that of giving gifts. Some assert the existence of everything, while others deny that anything exists.

Some praise austerity, while other people extol vedic study. Some assert that knowledge comes from renunciation, while nature philosophers claim that it comes from nature.

With so much disagreement regarding dharma leading in so many directions, we become bewildered, O god supreme, unable to reach any certainty. “This is ultimate bliss,” “No, that is ultimate bliss”: so thinking, people charge on, for one always praises the dharma that one loves. In this regard our judgment is confounded and our minds bewildered. This we want you to tell us, O lord: what is ultimate bliss?

  • (MBh 14.48.14-27)

But majority of today’s Hindus are being misled by political ideologies, suffering from groupthink, taking Hinduism as an identity instead of seeing it as a path, getting offended a lot, being hyper-sensitive and slowly forgetting the true essence of Hinduism.[4]

What is the relationship in Hinduism between Brahman, Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) and the rest of the deities?

bsolute reality is one without a second. But we can still divide it into two aspects: Purusha and Prakriti.

Purusha has three dimensions to it: sat or Truth, cit or consciousness and Ananda or bliss.

Brahma represents sat or the truth. Since Vedas convey the Truth, Brahma is shown to have four heads, representing four Vedas.

Vishnu represents cit or consciousness. Vishnu is a solar deity in Vedas and physically he represents sun which takes three strides in the sky everyday. Vishnu means all pervading. Spiritually, Vishnu represents the inner sun or consciousness, who strides and pervades the three states of consciousness which is waking, dreaming and sleeping.

Shiva is always associated with bliss. He is known as the Lord of sleep because He is the bliss that one experiences in deep sleep. So Shiva represents Ananda or bliss.

Just like Purusha, Prakriti also has three aspects or gunas. Prakriti is the one which animates the world and all actions happen because of three gunas of Prakriti. Saraswathi represents sattva or balance and also represents Jnana Shakti, the power to know. Lakshmi represents Rajas or activity and also the Kriya Shakti, the power to do. Kali represents Tamas or resistance and also Iccha Shakti, the power of will.

Purusha is like a screen where the movie of the existence is played. Purusha does nothing; everything is done by Prakriti. Prakriti is the moving pictures of the screen as well as the energy that animates the movie.

Brahma and Saraswathi together represent creation; Vishnu and Lakshmi together represent maintenance; and Shiva and Kali together represent destruction.

In addition to it, any one of the male deities of Trimurti and his consort can be used to represent Purusha and Prakriti. So, If you are a devotee of Shiva, you can see Shiva as Purusha and Shakti as Prakriti.

But always remember that the Truth is one, even though many names are used.

To understand more about Prakriti and it’s three gunas, visit this page: A Shamatha Meditation Based on Symbolism, Visualization, Mnemonics and Classical Conditioning[5]

3. Almost all early human civilizations practiced polytheism (idol worshiping and worshiping nature). Why is Hinduism the only ancient polytheistic religion that survived?

I strongly disagree with Rami Sivan here. Hinduism has survived simply because it is not polytheistic. In fact, it has a better version of monotheism. If Hinduism was really a polytheistic religion, It would have faced the fate of all polytheistic religions in the world that have disappeared.

It is true that there are many forms of God in Hinduism, but not many Gods. Either it is one and only Brahman or the division of a supreme God and a devotee.

But it is true that Abrahamic religions ban idol worship where as Hindus use murtis as a part of their iconography. But unlike other cults of idol worship, Hinduism do not consider a murti as God itself which will mean that everything else apart from the murti is not God. Murti is a representation of God.

So,

शिवमात्मनि पश्यन्ति प्रतिमासु न योगिनः |
अज्ञानं भावनार्थाय प्रतिमाः परिकल्पिताः || ५९ ||
– जाबालदर्शनोपनिषत्

A yogin perceives god (Siva) within himself,
images are for those who have not reached this knowledge. (Verse 59)

  • Jabaladarsana Upanishad

The raise of seeing God as a supreme ruler or Ishvara has a strong correlation with the raise of empires. A strict monotheism developed only during Persian rule in Judaism. Before that, it was monolatory. When people were living as tribes under many tribal chieftains, it was natural to have many Gods, which are independent of each other. But for a king of an empire, God is the divine patron while the king being his reflection. You can see this happening in the history, when a well developed cult of Shiva, Bhagavata deities and Skanda arose before 2000 years.

But we have the example of the divine ruler in Rig Veda itself. It is Indra. Even though Vedic hymns seem to talk about different powerful entities, two lines from Dirghatamas in Rig Veda, solves that problem:

Rg Veda 1.164.46

इन्द्रं॑ मि॒त्रं वरु॑णम॒ग्निमा॑हु॒रथो॑ दि॒व्यः स सु॑प॒र्णो ग॒रुत्मा॑न् ।
एकं॒ सद्विप्रा॑ बहु॒धा व॑दन्त्य॒ग्निं य॒मं मा॑त॒रिश्वा॑नमाहुः ॥४६॥

Translation:

They called him Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, Agni; and he is heavenly Garuda, who has beautiful wings. The truth is one, but the sages (or learned ones) call it by many names or describe him in many ways; they called him Agni, Yama, Mātariśvan.

When we move to Brahmanas suddenly there is Prajapati. But he survived only for a short time and evolved into Brahma.

And Upanishads proclaim Brahman is the only reality. I am Brahman; You are Brahman. This is what I call as a much better version of monotheism, an evolved monotheism where the division between the God and his creation disappears.

You can see the same theme in a poem of Rumi, a Sufi mystic:

When we move on to epics, we have the most important text of Hinduism (even though it is a smriti) which is Bhagavad Gita. And in Bhagavad Gita, Krishna is the supreme God. He also says that worshipping any God or deity actually goes to him.

The core concept of bhakti in Hinduism is surrender. You can either surrender to God or surrender to the existence. But you cannot submit yourself to two entities at the same time. If Hinduism is polytheistic, then surrender will have no place.

In Rig Vedic verse, we saw that Soma, Agni and Indra are one. In other words, the object of the sacrifice (soma), the carrier of the sacrifice (agni) and the enjoyer of the sacrifice (Indra) are all now one.

Bhagavad Gita literally says that: (Chapter 4, Verse 24)

ब्रह्मार्पणं ब्रह्म हविर्ब्रह्माग्नौ ब्रह्मणा हुतम् |
ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना ||

brahmārpaṇaṁ brahma havir brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam
brahmaiva tena gantavyaṁ brahma-karma-samādhinā

Translation:

For those who are completely absorbed in God-consciousness, the oblation is Brahman, the ladle with which it is offered is Brahman, the act of offering is Brahman, and the sacrificial fire is also Brahman. Such persons, who view everything as God, easily attain him.

We have Upanishads for Ganesha, Shiva, Narayana etc, and each will assert a specific form as a supreme God. Rami Sivan knows better.

Boothanatha Gita, the only spiritual text assigned to Ayyappa also says (Verse 1.8):

AdimadhyAntarahitam svayam jotih parAtparam

avyayam nirgunam rAjan kAladezAdi varjjitam

citganam nityamAnandam tatbhinnam nAsti vastu bho

asitatvamaham taccetyAmnAyah parikIrtitah

Meaning:

Oh king! Brahman has no beginning, no middle and no end. It shines on its own and is the greatest of the greatest. It is imperishable, attributeless and beyond space & time.

It has been described in the scriptures that it is conscious and always in bliss. Nothing other than that exists! It is you and it is also me.

What about puranas?

Puranas may seem to portray a picture of God having multiple subordinates. This is actually little similar to Gods having various angels as subordinates in Abrahamic religions. But the essence of the puranas seem to show the better version of monotheism, portraying the form of God as the supreme consciousness or Brahman itself.

If you see what the famous devotees of Hinduism worshipped, you will see that they were all devoted to one form of God.

  1. For Tulsidas, the entire world is Rama.
  2. For Chaitanya, everything is Krishna.
  3. Arunagirinathar worshipped Murugan and Murugan alone.
  4. All Shaivite nayanmars worshipped Shiva as the only God.
  5. All Tamil azhwars saw Tirumal as the supreme deity.

In the entire Patanjali sutras, there is only one reference to God. Patanjali mentions Ishvara as special purusha.

So where is polytheism in Hinduism? Which scripture in Hinduism says that there is more than one supreme ruler for this universe? You will either find non-duality, duality or some special kind of duality.

Among today’s Hindus, there is a very large gap between what they believe in and the essential truth conveyed in scriptures. Saying Hinduism as polytheistic will only increase the gap further. It promotes a wrong notion.

It is true that there are still polytheistic forms exist in villages and among tribes. But even though they are classified under Hinduism, their cults are not completely absorbed into Hinduism. But both Vedic religion and Buddhism has absorbed such polytheistic cults in the past. Buddhism absorbed deities like Manibhadra, Vajrapani etc. Syncretism has happened in all cultures.

In another answer, I read Rami Sivan saying that polytheistic is natural because all cultures were originally polytheistic. Well, all humans were originally homo erectus. But we evolved. The religions also evolved in the same way, The only thing is, Abrahamic religions have still not evolved into this better version of monotheism which Hinduism offers (with exception to Sufism and Christian and Jewish mysticism). It will happen as time goes because history repeats itself.

Adi Shankaracharya united various traditions under Advaita. He connected them all with a central philosophical core. And this philosophical core of Hinduism has been maintained by various people like Adhi Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Kabir, Tulsidas, Chaitanya, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharshi and more. It is only because of them Hinduism survived. So more than rituals and myths, Hinduism had a logical appeal to people. It has a strong scriptural basis as a foundation, which you cannot find in any polytheistic religion.

If only the first verse in the Ishopanishad were left intact in the memory of the Hindus, Hinduism would live forever

  • Mahatma Gandhi

(The first verse is ‘isavasyam idam sarvam’ which means ‘God is everywhere).

4. How would you compare the top 3 religions: Christianity, Islam and Hinduism?

This is going to be a long answer. Because it is not only intended to answer this particular question but will answer many other questions too. Because, I see a threat India; and based on the fact that this question is related to three major religions in India, I am going to answer this question to make many Indians understand what they misunderstand.

Religion is actually a recent Western colonial concept which has been wrapped around some major spiritual paths in the world. The divisions like Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam have been created based on certain theological and cultural similarities. Most importantly, it was created to differentiate Christian theology vs the faiths of other cultures, when colonialism was alive.

But this division based on the concept of religions conveniently ignored the esoteric part of religions. They enforced and reinforced the idea that religions are all about a set of beliefs, myths and rituals. Result? 98% of Hindus have no clue about what Bhagavad Gita is, what Upanishads are all about and what are considered as four main goals of a person’s life in the culture that evolved in Indian subcontinent.

Because of this, religion has now become an identity rather than a path. People discuss how proud they are because of being in a particular religion and try to prove that their religion is better than another one. These people are completely misled and end up poisoning the minds of others rather than really understand the depth of their own religion and walk in the path shown by it. Religion is not a matter of pride!

If you think carefully, this concept of religions in its proto-form was only created as a political tool right from the beginning. For example, Vedas were not compiled until the formation of Kuru kingdom, the earliest kingdom in India. Before that, the verses existed with individual families. It was the rulers of Kuru kingdom who compiled them. This resulted in both negative and positive consequences. The positive aspect is that some valuable verses of ancient wisdom were preserved; but it also led to prejudice among classes or varnas for the first time. Winning in a war meant a lot to the king and he depended on the priestly class to provide him with suitable rituals and spells. So, creation of verses that was once meant for inner seeking and divine revelation had then become a commercial thing; varnas or the four classes in ancient India which were strictly based on occupation turned into a birth based system for the first time.. But this was then just a Vedic way of life and Hinduism in its present form didn’t exist.

Hebrew Bible was not compiled until Israelites returned from Babylonian exile during Persian rule. Judaism as a religious concept was created as a political tool. It was created to unify the people of Israel under one temple and one God, purely for political convenience. Before that, various schools of thoughts existed and various tales from folklore existed along with it, with complete freedom of religion. Neither Abraham nor Moses created Judaism, but preached a path, a path of submission to the one and only God.

Christianity was created by Roman Emperor Constantine as a political convenience. Jesus never found a religion but preached a path, a path of submission to the one and only God. That is the reason why the current images of Jesus look like a Roman pagan God and why December 25 is never mentioned as the birthday of Jesus anywhere in the Bible. The whole model of Christianity as exists today was primarily created by Constantine.

The same is with Islam. It is a way of life. All Prophet Muhammad did was preach the path of submission to the one and only God and also restate that Abraham, Moses and Jesus said the same thing. In addition to that, he brought cultural, social, religious, and political changes and reformation. It was Abu Bakr, a father-in-law of the Islamic prophet who had Quran to be compiled in current form in the current order, which led to a theological narrative based on that order, creating Islam as it exists now. Hadith and Sharia were compiled much later mainly as a political device. Contrary to the popular belief, Mughal rulers who ruled Delhi Sultanate were not really interested in converting people to Islam, because that would mean a loss to national revenue. By declaring non – Islamic population in Indian subcontinent as “The people of the books”, they could get them pay a tax.

Hinduism is a creation of British. Before that, there was a philosophical system that united many major traditions of faith. This system has Brahman, the only one without a second as the supreme reality. But it also had a system of iconography, with different forms of the same supreme reality that one can choose from. So, iconography, not idol worship, is the right word to describe the Indian system of submission to God. Adhi Shankara, unified various traditions into six different paths , Shanmata, which is based on six different forms of the same Brahman. This is very evident when you see how devotees in Tamil nadu approached devotion. A devotee of Shiva like Thiru Jnana Sambandhar would only praise the form Shiva and be devoted to Him alone. A devotee of Ganesha like Poet Avvaiyar would only sing the praise of form Ganesh. The same with Arunagiri Nathar to Muruga and Periyazhwar to Vishnu. These are not different Gods and the system is not polytheistic, but they are all forms or icons of the same Supreme reality. This is the essence of all Indian scriptures.

But just after 1st century BCE, a lot of puranas or myths were written, depicting a polytheistic picture. These were just stories intended to convey some philosophical truths then and there. For example, a long treatise on Advaita Vedanta is a part of Skanda Purana. But this led to many negative consequences. The concept of Hinduism during British rule was born with Puranas getting a higher importance. Because of this, Hinduism as now become mostly polytheistic as only a very few actually try to read and understand the scriptures, while majority is concerned with drinking cow urine, building Ram mandir, trying to prove that Internet existed during 50th century BCE in India and pretending to save Hinduism from Christians and Muslims of India. The people who claim to save Hinduism should feel ashamed because they think that a culture that has thousands of scriptures can get destroyed by two books, the Bible and the Quran. So whenever you see anyone who says Hinduism needs to be saved, you can be pretty sure that he understands nothing about Indian culture, its scriptures, traditions and schools of thought. You can also be sure that anyone who is trying to prove Hinduism is better than any other religion is not only wasting his/her time but is also kindling unnecessary prejudice in the society. What is the need to prove which religion is better?

Just like galaxies are moving far away from each other, we are moving far away from each other by appreciating and encouraging religious differences.

Do you know the consequences of this recent concept of religions? It has led people to pick up the most extreme view of any religion, and consider that it represents the beliefs of the whole population that follows that religion. For example, there are some verses called sword verses in Quran, which seem to suggest to kill any non-believer, but it actually refers to a specific historical context, to a specific tribe who were prosecuting the early Muslims in a cruel manner. Similarly, there is a concept called Jihad which simply means struggle, including any kind of positive struggle that one goes through in life, struggling to be a good human being, struggling to build a career and most importantly, struggling to purify oneself to reach the final goal. Jihad applied to war only in certain situations when Muhammad was alive. But certain terrorist organizations who hold extreme views on Islam and who interpret these verses according to their advantage do not represent what the majority of Muslims believe in. (But I am completely against inhuman blasphemy laws that exist in certain Islamic countries. They have also been misled.)

But people who want to prove that their religion is better than Islam would hold on to such extreme views about Islam and never even listen to counter arguments. I have explained a few things about Islam in the following two answers and I suggest reading them too:

Why do you think Prophet Muhammad was a good person or a bad person? Please provide unbiased facts based on his biography wherever possible.

Shanmugam P’s answer to How cruel was the prophet Muhammad?

Shanmugam P’s answer to Was Prophet Muhammad a virtuous man or a man of good character? In some hadiths, he is portrayed as a slave-trading, sex-obsessed man. If these hadiths are true, why do Muslims follow him? And if these hadiths aren’t authentic, which ones are?

But I insist and request again, do not see this answer as a discussion of whether your religion is better than another religion!

Also, if we start pulling out verses by the extreme interpretation of each religion and claim that this extreme view represents the religion in entirety (like we are doing to Islam), then Christianity and Hinduism will start sounding worse.

  1. There are verses in the Old Testament of the Bible which portrays God as someone who is instructing to stone infidels to death, including young children. Honestly, they sound more cruel than the verses from Quran taken out of context. Can we insist that this represents Christianity as a whole?
  2. There are a few Dharmasutras and Dharmashastras in Indian religious literature which say that molten lead should be poured into the ears of Shudra, the person of the lowest class, if he listens to the recitation of Vedas. There are verses in later literature which promote Sati, burning the widow alive in the funeral pyre of her husband. At least Islam and Christianity gives you a choice: you won’t be killed if you accept the truth that is being said (according to the extremist interpretation). But Hinduism leaves no choice. If you are a Shudra or a widow, you have no choice of saving yourself by accepting a faith! Can we take this extreme view and say that this represents Hinduism in entirety?

No!

Now, please don’t take whatever I said as an insult to Hinduism, because Hinduism, just like Christianity and Islam is just a concept; not an entity that can be insulted. But if you feel offended, that is because you have taken religion as an identity, instead of taking it as a path! It is connected to your self-image, rather than being connected to devotion.

Do you know Ramakrishna Paramahamsa? He was the guru of Swami Vivekananda. He practiced the spiritual paths of Islam and Christianity separately, reached the same experience of Samadhi and declared that all paths lead to one truth.

But I know that many so called Hindu saviours of today won’t agree with this, Their gurus are their politicians and political parties. That will make them think even Mahatma Gandhi as an enemy of India and call Godse as a true patriot. I have written a detailed book showing that the basic essence of all these three religions are the same. It is not a topic that I can cover in this answer. Go to this link for the details about the book: Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.

Also, I want to discuss Christian Evangelism. It is true that Jesus asked his disciples to spread the good news; but it was 2000 years before. Now, the good news has been spread and easily available on the internet. So, why is there a need for a missionary? This missionary business has become dirty, because a lot of these preachers are indulging in calling Hindu temples as Satanic. They misunderstand Hindu iconography; it is not the same as the polytheistic worship of ancient Israelite tribes or pagan Arabs. They didn’t have any philosophy and they didn’t know about the oneness of the Supreme reality that we call as Brahman in Indian culture.

Hindu temples are created based on Agamas which are based on human psychology. The system of worship by the way of Agamas includes stimuli of five senses : decoration of the deity and lamps; the smell of the incense, flowers and food (prasad); taste of the food; touch of sandal, tumeric and sacred ash on the skin; the sound of the bell and hymns etc. These stimuli are paired with the experience of devotion, so that every time you are exposed to one of these stimuli, you automatically get feeling of devotion. This is actually called classical conditioning in psychology. This is an useful tool in devotion and that is what the whole iconography is based on.

Anyway, this is not a time to prove which religion is better than the other, but this is a time to think about living in harmony with the brothers and sisters who belong to other religions. That is the beauty of India and that is what the Republic of India is meant for, Everyone of us living in harmony is the dream of Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhi haters stay away from comments; you will be reported and blocked).

Consider Shirdi Sai Baba; Consider Kabir; consider Ramakrishna; consider Abdul Kalam; consider Gandhi; these are the people who were familiar with the truths of more than one religion, and they proclaimed that all these religions lead to the same goal. I know they look different, but you haven’t gone deep. The difference is only in the periphery and the majority do not understand. I have explained in length in my book and it should be convincing enough for people who are already familiar with the path to self-realization or God-realization. There is an esoteric side to all these three religions and they are the same!

5. Why does Hinduism have many gods?

This question arises based on a false premise, because of not understanding the meanings of these words: Brahman, Ishvara, devata and murti.

Do you think there are equivalent English words? No. But since we mostly talk about Hinduism in English, we tend to misunderstand many things. You will be surprised to see how a lot of Sanskrit words lose their original meaning when they are conveyed using their English alternatives.

In Hinduism, God is referred to as avyakta[1]. vyakti means person. Avyakta means something that is not a person or that is not confined to clear limits. In other words, avyakta doesn’t have any boundaries. A more popular word for this is Brahman. Upanishads say that just like the ornaments of gold is essentially made of gold in spite of their difference in forms, everything is a modification of Brahman.

But it is not possible to conceive this all-pervading, infinite Brahman that is beyond time and space with our limited intellect. It can be only understood by experience, by a direct spiritual transformation.

So, Hinduism steps down a bit and provides the concept of Ishvara.

Ishvara has a personal touch. But it still doesn’t mean God as a person in the sky. The personification is quite fuzzy.

Ishvara comes from the root ‘Ish’ which means ‘to possess or own’. He owns everything, including your body and mind. Ishvara means supreme being.

Yoga sutras recognize just one God, Ishvara as the supreme being. This is more convenient for devotion and surrender. But this word, evolved. It was not used in the same meaning in Vedas.

If we step down a bit, we have Devatas or various forms of God. A devata has a form, personality and stories associated with it. It comes from the root ‘div’ which means ‘to shine’. So a devata is something so obvious like a lamp. It shines with certain attributes. But it is one of the a representations of Brahman.

Brahman is said to have no attributes in itself. But we associate these attributes to a devata to make devotion easier. One can choose an Ishta Devata and consider it as a supreme reality and see other devatas as extensions or emanations of it. So, your Ishta devata can be Shiva, Vishnu, Shakthi or any form you choose.

The final step down is murti. Murti essentially means something that has limits. You need to notice that it is the total opposite of avyakta. Murti also means manifest, because anything that is manifest has boundaries in the coordinates of space and time.

A murti is a physical representation of God. The murti and the temple appeals to your five senses and create strong psychological association with devotion or any spiritual experiences.

So there can be many murtis and devatas. But Ishvara is one. And saying Brahman is one in itself betrays the oneness of Brahman, because the mention of ‘one’ assumes the existence of an other or others. That is why it is said that Brahman is beyond words.


But

शिवमात्मनि पश्यन्ति प्रतिमासु न योगिनः |
अज्ञानं भावनार्थाय प्रतिमाः परिकल्पिताः || ५९ ||
– जाबालदर्शनोपनिषत्

A yogin perceives god (Siva) within himself,
images are for those who have not reached this knowledge. (Verse 59)

  • Jabaladarsana Upanishad

By the way,

Atman is not synonymous to the word ‘soul’; Atman means the true self.

Ahamkara is not synonymous to ‘ego’; Ahamkara means, the presence of the sense that one is the doer of his actions. (When ahamkara disappears, you realize yourself or attain atma jnana and be liberated from all mental bondage and mental pain while living. That is moksha.)

The most shocking thing would be, dharma is not synonymous with Hinduism. Because, Hinduism is a totally different colonial version of belief system which seems to have a lot of disconnected concepts. Religion itself is a recent Western concept, which tries to accommodate various theistic systems, rituals and beliefs into certain abstract categories. (go through linked answers at the bottom of the page for more details).

But if you go by the scriptures, you will see that this scriptural canon of Hinduism calls itself as ‘dharma’. Dharma means many meanings. These meanings bind the seemingly disconnected concepts of Hinduism together into dharma.

Dharma comes from the root ‘dhr’ which means uphold. During Vedic times, Varuna was associated with the upholder of divine order. He is responsible for the movement of the planets, the rain, the changing of seasons and all other natural laws. During the royal consecrations, the rajasuya yajna was conducted and the king was referred to as Varuna, because he upholds the dharma of people. He gives judgements and he makes sure that everything is functioning in the order. So he is called as dharmaraja.

Dharma also means the way of life. Dharma defines how to conduct your life that is not only righteous, smooth, and joyful but also leads to moksha, or the final liberation. And it gives four goals or purusharthas to people: dharma (personal order and righteousness), artha (wealth and education), kama (pleasure) and moksha (liberation).

Dharma is also synonymous with truth. It is an inquiry to the truth which finally leads to atma-jnana (self realization) and moksha.

In Mahabharata. Various seers ask Brahma about true dharma (religion):

To which, indeed, of the dharmas should a person here most closely adhere? What do they have to say about this? Tell us, for the course of dharma appears to us to be diverse and contradictory.

Some claim that there is life after death, while others maintain that there is not. Some express doubt about everything, while others claim certainty. Things are impermanent according to some and permanent according to others, unreal according to some and real according to others. Some believe that the one reality appears as dual, while others think that it is mixed;'” some teach unity, others separateness, and yet others multiplicity.

Thus do Brahmins who are wise and perceive the truth argue. Some wear matted hair and deer skin, others shave their heads, and still others go naked. Some say that one should not bathe, while others insist on bathing. Some favor eating, while others are given to fasting.

Some praise rites and others the cessation from them. Some assert the influence of both place and time, while others deny it. ‘ Some extol liberation and others diverse pleasures.

Some desire wealth, while others strive after poverty. Some maintain the efficacy of worship, while others deny it. Some are devoted to non-injury (ahimsa) and others to injury.”

Some claim that one attains glory through good deeds, while others deny it. Some delight in certainty as to the truth, while others adhere to skepticism. Suffering is the motive for some and pleasure for others.

Some assert the primacy of meditation, other wise men that of sacrifice, and still others that of giving gifts. Some assert the existence of everything, while others deny that anything exists.

Some praise austerity, while other people extol vedic study. Some assert that knowledge comes from renunciation, while nature philosophers claim that it comes from nature.

With so much disagreement regarding dharma leading in so many directions, we become bewildered, O god supreme, unable to reach any certainty. “This is ultimate bliss,” “No, that is ultimate bliss”: so thinking, people charge on, for one always praises the dharma that one loves. In this regard our judgment is confounded and our minds bewildered. This we want you to tell us, O lord: what is ultimate bliss?

  • (MBh 14.48.14-27)

So dharma is actually an inquiry into the truth rather than a collection of beliefs. Certain aspects of dharma keeps changing. For example, scriptures that provided social legal code for Brahmanism like Gautama dharmasutras, Baudhayana dharmasutras, Apastamba dharmasutras etc are no longer followed.

But Bhagavad Gita can apply for all time, because it provides an essence of the path to moksha without much of religious dogma. The essence is the same. But it can be adapted and applied to different times, different cultures and different societies by understanding the core concepts of this eternal dharma that Bhagavad Gita provides: Karma, Bhakti and Jnana.

This is the essence of dharma: live ethically and orderly with sufficient wealth, education and pleasure. To naturally attain liberation and eternal bliss, 1) Do your duties while being not-attached to the fruits of actions 2) Be devoted unconditionally to Ishvara 3) At other times, inquire into the nature of your existence, consciousness and mind and also engage yourself in meditation. Choose a way of living that suits your personality, abilities and interests (svadharma).

So, In my recent answers, I am trying to redefine Hinduism from the perspective of dharma