Dharma Vs. Religion – 1

Shri. Sita Ram Goel

When the European scholars in 18-19th Centuries (CE) began to translate the literature of India in their own languages, they felt a special difficulty with regard to one word. That word was ‘Dharma’. In European languages, there was no one word which could completely express the essential nature of Dharma. So, the European scholars had to make use of different words relative to the context in which the word had been used in Indian literature. In the English language, Dharma was translated as religion, righteousness, law, tradition, moral code, etc., according to the context. Thus, European scholars confirmed that great saying of Bhishma Pitamaha in the Mahabharata : The dynamics of Dharma are deep.

But the modern scholars in India did not have to experience any such difficulty in the context of translation. They heard the word ‘religion’ of the English language and decided instantly and unanimously that this word should be translated as ‘Dharma’ in all Indian languages.

The performance was very economical, so that all the sects of Sanatan Dharma – Smarta, Jaina, Bauddha, Shaiva, Vaishnava, Shakta, Saurya, Ganapatya, Siddha and Santa on the one side, and Islam and Christianity on the other, were brought within the circumference of one common denomination – Dharma.
Among the schools of Sanatan Dharma, the tradition of mutual tolerance and equal regard was as old as the schools themselves. This tradition was now extended to Islam and Christianity without any doubt or hesitation. This extension (of equal regard) was quite correct from the Sanatan Dharma point of view, if Islam and Christianity were Dharmas similar to the Dharmas of the schools of the Sanatan Dharma.

But Christian theologians and missionaries and the ulema and mullahs of Islam could not wholly agree to this reciprocal exchange of equal regard. They liked it very much that the schools of Sanatan Dharma cultivate respect towards their religions, but they could not agree to the proposition that their own religions should manifest reciprocal regard for Sanatan Dharma or for any of its schools.

Christian theologians and missionaries said that all schools of Sanatan Dharma carry the message of Satan, and that they did not conform to the Divine message given by Jesus Christ. Muslim ulema and mullahs gave fatwas that all schools of Sanatan Dharma were ‘kufr’ and had nothing in common with the unique revelation from Allah, conveyed through Prophet Muhammad.

The demand of discrimination was to find out a solution to this dilemma. An attempt should have been made to know why Islam and Christianity had nothing in common with Sanatan Dharma. But Indian scholars paid no heed to the statements from the spokesmen for Christianity and Islam. These scholars contented themselves with this much only that the Scriptures of Islam and Christianity contained some sentences which sounded consistent with Sanatan Dharma. And by publishing collections of such stray sentences with their own comments, these scholars proclaimed that they were experts on Islam and Christianity as well.

Needless to say that this was a presumptuous attempt, the evil consequences of which the Hindu society has had to suffer. The more strongly the Hindu society pronounces its goodwill towards Islam and Christianity, the more sharply increases Islam’s persistence to convert India into Dar-ul-Islam, and Christianity’s harangue that until India becomes the land of Jesus, India’s salvation is impossible.

In this situation, the right course is that expositions of Islam and Christianity be heard from the mouths of their own spokesmen, and then alone a decision be taken whether, in the context of their religions, the notion of equal regard towards them is justified or not. The Hindu society should shed the illusion that it alone is competent to speak on behalf of other societies.

The two traditions of Worship

History is witness that both Islam and Christianity have been in conflict not only with Sanatan Dharma but also with many other ways of worship which have flourished outside India. In fact, conflict with regard to mode of worship commenced with the emergence of that psyche which Christianity and Islam carry within them. Before the rise of Christianity, no trace of any bloodshed regarding mode of worship can be found in the history of the world. With the advent of Islam, even those areas of the world were drenched in blood where the sword of Christianity had not reached. Therefore, first of all we should get acquainted with the psyche of Christianity and Islam, and then compare that psyche with the other psyche which has been nourished in the traditions of worship that have been destroyed by Christianity and Islam or which they want to destroy.

A bird’s-eye view of world history tells us that there have been two traditions of worship. We will call one the tradition of Advaita, and the other Monotheism.
The tradition of Advaita is prevalent particularly in the ancient cultures of India, Iran, Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and Japan. Before the spread of Christianity, the Celt, German, Frank, Slav and Scandinavian peoples of Europe were also followers of Advaita. In the cultures of the original inhabitants of South and North America, the stamp of Advaita is clearly visible. In those communities of Africa also which have not yet been converted to Christianity or Islam, consciousness of Advaita exists. In ancient Ethiopia, the shape of Advaita was sufficiently refined.

(Shri. Sita Ram Goel was an Indian religious and political activist, writer, and publisher in the late Twentieth century. He is considered to be one of the two Sages of Modern Hindu Renaissance.)

Among the schools of Sanatan Dharma, the tradition of mutual tolerance and equal regard is as old as the schools !

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