Hindu unity should have a grand purpose, not just a grand past

[By Bhanu Dhamija]

A lot of negative publicity was generated by RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat’s recent appeal for Hindu unity in his speech at Chicago World Hindu Congress, but for all the wrong reasons.  He was criticized for using an analogy that was construed by some as an insult to India’s minorities.  All Bhagwat said in conveying the importance of unity was that “the lion, if he is alone, wild dogs together can invade and destroy him.” The attack on him was sheer mischief.

Bhagwat wasn’t wrong in his suggestion that without unity any society can fall. His real fault was in not offering a blueprint for Hindus to unite.

No doubt, Hindus are tough to unify.  As Bhagwat noted, “They never come together, they never stay together, they never work together.  Coming together of Hindus is itself a difficult thing.” But this is all the more reason that the chief Hindu leader of the day should offer a way forward.  Instead, all Bhagwat said was, “We have to learn to work together, separately.” He implored all Hindus to be the best at what they do, connect with good people, and share a common vision.  He went on to speak of how “the world over, people cry for Hindu wisdom.”

Reliance on Glorious Past Alone

Therein lies the rub. Efforts at Hindu unity fail because they rely only on a glorious past. The arrogance of our age-old “wisdom” inhibits the various Hindu sects from working with each other.  Each thinks it possesses the ultimate answers.  What makes this chauvinism worse is that Hinduism does allow each sect sufficient latitude to draw credibility from the same Vedas.

History is rife with examples of failed attempts at Hindu unity.  Even in the heyday of the Hindu empire of Chandragupta Maurya (300 BC), Hindu sects such as Jainism, Buddhism, and Ajivika vied for dominance.  Maurya himself is thought to have joined Jainism.  Ashoka, his grandson, became the chief patron of Buddhism.  In modern times, Brahmo Samaj, a movement founded in the 1800s by Ram Mohan Roy to bring Hindus together under a monotheistic umbrella, splintered within a generation, for many wished it included polytheism and idolatry.  Hindu Mahasabha, an effort launched under the British raj to counter the Muslim League and protect Hindu rights, fizzled even during the freedom struggle.  Its brand of Hindu unity—Hindutva—failed to attract secular Hindus.

Principles of Unity

Vivekanand understood the importance and the difficulty of unifying Hindus. “Unity in religion,” he once said, “is absolutely necessary as the first condition of the future of India.”[1] When he was welcomed by both Arya Samajis and Sanatanis for a presentation in Lahore, he noted, “There have been sects enough in this country… and there will be enough in the future, because this has been the peculiarity of our religion … but what need not exist is sectarian quarrel.”[2]

He then described the “great principles in which we are all one, and whoever calls himself a Hindu believes.” He put them as follows: 1) We believe the Vedas to be the eternal teachings of the secrets of religion; 2) We believe in God, the creating, the preserving power of the whole universe; 3) We believe in nature being without beginning and without end; and 4) All Hindus believe that man is not only a gross material body, or the finer body, the mind, but there is something yet greater—for the body changes and so does the mind—something beyond: the Atman (eternal soul).  Vivekanand concluded by saying, “Ask a man who wants to start a sectarian fight, Have you seen God? Have you seen the Atman? If you have not, what right have you to preach His name—you walking in darkness trying to lead me into the same darkness—the blind leading the blind, and both falling into the ditch?”

Vivekanand’s plan was to take these fundament spiritual principles to the masses, and build a teaching staff.  And then to ask it to impart religious and secular—eastern and western—education to the Indian people.

To Vivekanand’s great principles for Hindu unity, we might add three more.  One, Hindus believe in humility.  Our past may be glorious but we are not genetically superior people.  Our ancestors came up with some interesting answers to man’s toughest questions, but there is more to learn.  Hindu unity should have a grand purpose, not just a grand past.

Second, Hindus must believe in equality.  Our caste system is hurting our own people.  Dalits must feel equally ‘Hindu’ for any plan of Hindu unity to succeed.  And third, Hindus must unite based on true secularism.  Our religion’s inherent inclusiveness, based on mutual respect, is our greatest strength.

Hindu Secularism

Hindu secularism is the toughest principle to put into action, for it requires both sectarian and universal thinking on the part of its adherents.  Most reform and unifying movements expect Hindus to unite based on sectarianism, while touting Hinduism’s universalism.  To succeed in having it both ways, these efforts need a system of checks and balances so that a sectarian Hindu majority doesn’t turn Hinduism into a fanatical religion.

Unifying a billion plus Hindus holds huge promise.  It is an enticing prospect for any political leader or outfit.  But more importantly, it is the necessary first step for a Hindu renaissance.

[Bhanu Dhamija is Founder and CEO of the Divya Himachal Group and author of ‘Why India Needs the Presidential System’.]

[1] The Future of India, Lecture by Vivekanand, Complete Works, Vol3, p312

[2] The Common Bases of Hinduism, vol3, p396