Hinduism is a dharma – a way of life – that gives absolute freedom to each and every individual to seek his self-realization in any manner he wants. The Rig Veda treats with respect even sceptics. Unlike the Semitic religions, there is no threat of hell to unbelievers in Hinduism. The Hindu Dharma also allows freedom to everyone to seek God or the Ultimate Reality in any manner, name or form. The Vedic Rishis who sang the praises of various devas in the Vedic Hymns, were very clear that these various devas were none other than the different powers of one Supreme Consciousness behind the entire manifestation and also that these powers were present in each and every human being, the realization of which will enable him or her to seek his or her identity with the Supreme Consciousness. The Vedas presented these various powers in different names like Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni etc., who were sometimes worshipped individually, sometimes in combination like Mitra-Varuna, sometimes one of them as predominant and others subordinates, and at some other times collectively as Vishwe-Devaah.
In the Puranic period, the creative, sustaining and dissolving powers of the ultimate reality or Consciousness-Force were represented as Brahma-Saraswati, Vishnu-Lakshmi and Shiva-Shakti. These are also worshipped individually and collectively. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are worshipped together as Dattatreya. Saraswati, Lakshmi and Durga are worshipped as manifestations of Mahashakti. Sometimes, Vishnu and Siva are combined as Sankara-Narayana. Apart from these, there are many other puanic deities born out of the trinities — Ganesha, Subramania, Ayyappa, etc. There are cults formed around each of these deities and temples have been built for them. However, absolute freedom is given to a Vaishnavite or worshipper of Vishnu and His incarnations like Rama and Krishna to worship Ganesha, Subramania or Shakti and to a Shaivite or Shakta to worship Vishnu or any of his incarnations. There is no room for fundamentalism or fanaticism in Hindu Dharma, no crusades, no jihads, against worshippers of other deities.
In later days, when new religious systems like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism came as offshoots of Hindu Dharma, they all accepted the universal values propounded by the great sages and seers. Buddha was accepted as avatar or incarnation of Vishnu and Buddhism adopted the deification of Buddha as Tathagatha. Rishabha Deva, the first theertankara or ford-maker of Jainism was glorified as a great Vedic rishi. The Namadhari sampradaya of Sikhism was born out of Vaishnavism of Sri Ramanuja and the Guru Granth Sahib of the Sikhs contain the devotional songs of many renowned Hindu saints of the renaissance period. Later, when Sufism, the Theosophical Movement, the Brahma Samaj, the Prarthana Samaj and the Arya Samaj came into existence because of the interaction of Hinduism with alien religions like Islam and Christianity, the Hindus wholeheartedly accepted them also as part and parcel of their dharma.
The Rig Veda, I.45.1, mentions worship of not only the Devas, but also of the men who have attained perfection. It is the religious right and duty of the Hindus — individually or collectively — to worship Mahapurushas who have attained perfection. The Mahapurushas may belong to the ancient, mediaeval or modern period. Hinduism also allows absolute freedom to the individuals or the collective groups to worship the Ishta Devata or object of adoration in any manner they want. It includes the right to set up spiritual organization or temple or ashram in the name of a Mahapurusha by any one who believes in, adores and worships the Mahapurusha or by any religious group. Therefore, patenting of the name of a Mahatama by any individual or organization is ultra vires and against the fundamental rights of other devotees of the Mahatma who may not accept the authority of the individual or organization claiming monopoly right over the use of the name of the Mahatma. It is also against basic human right to profess and practise any religion of one’s choice. There are umpteen number of independent organizations, mutts, religious sects and ashrams named after various Mahapurushas and no one has any exclusive right over any Mahatma. Thus a Hindu has a legal and moral right to worship and adore Mahatmas like Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Sivananda, Swami Dayananda and Sri Aurobindo individually or collectively. There are various ashrams and religious groups set up by the followers of these Mahatmas, which are all independent bodies. Institutions like Aravinda-Bharati which combines study of the works of Sri Aurobndo and Mahakavi Bharati, Sri Aurobindo Kapali Shastry Institute of Vedic Culture which promotes studies of the Vedas in the light of interpretations of Sri Aurobindo, Sri Vasishtha Ganapati Muni and Sri Kapali Shastry, and Bharatamata Gurukula Ashram of Sister Nivedita Academy which promotes the study and propagation of the philosophies of all these great Mahatmas of the modern period are rendering yeoman service to the Hindu cause. No one has claimed copy right for the use of the names of any of these Mahatmas.
About a decade and half ago, this sadhu visited a foreign country for the first time to edit a series of volumes meant for spiritual education of children, based on the writings of a great Mahatma of Modern India, which was published by the branch of an organization founded by the Mahatma, on the occasion of the centenary of the Mahatma. The spiritual head of the organization’s branch in that country was all praise for this sadhu for his humble work and even eulogized that this sadhu had “immortalized himself in Sri Gurudev’s mission”. This sadhu came in contact with many of the devotees of the organization who were rendering yeoman service in the Ashram for years together and admired them for their dedication and self-sacrifice. Later, some of the disciples came out of the organization for some reason or other and joined other ashrams and spiritual organizations. Some set up their own independent ashrams. However, this sadhu has continued to maintain close and cordial relation with all of them, for this sadhu’s mission is to unite all Hindu brethren to whichever organization they may belong. This sadhu even gave initiation to the founder of a new ashram on his request. But, the spiritual head of the organization whom these people had left, who was indeed a patron of this sadhu’s work all these years, wanted this sadhu to advise the new group either to affiliate with his organization or not to use the name of the Mahatma. Though this sadhu was indebted to the spiritual head for his generous patronage to this sadhu’s work and he also knew very well the position and influence of the spiritual head in his country, this sadhu flatly refused to interfere in the matter and tried to point out to the spiritual head that, being devotees of the Mahatma, the members of the independent ashram had every right to do some spiritual and service activities in the name of the Mahatma. However, the spiritual head issued a notice to the leader of the new ashram that the former alone is authorized to use the name of the Mahatma and no one else has any right to use the Mahatma’s name. He even claimed that he has patented the name of the Mahatma.
During his recent visit to the country, this sadhu tried to meet the spiritual head and convince him, but he flatly refused to meet this sadhu. It did not stop there. This sadhu had applied for extension of his visa as he wanted to attend some religious programmes including a Dharma Prasaar Yaatra by some sadhu’s from India who were visiting the country under the auspices of a worldwide organization with which this sadhu is also associated. Even before he could receive any reply to his visa application, the Immigration Police of the country picked up this sadhu and tried to deport him. Fortunately some prominent Hindu leaders, attorneys and the head of the human rights commission in the country who were well aware of the good work of this sadhu in India and abroad, took up the matter with the authorities. In the meantime, the visa application of this sadhu was rejected and when an attorney wanted to know the reasons for the rejection, he was informed that the authorities had received allegations against this sadhu about ‘involvement in making derogatory and blasphemous remarks about other organizations’, ‘collecting funds from citizens under false pretences’ and the ‘alleged inciting religious dissent and disharmony among certain communities in the country’. However, this sadhu was permitted to apply for review of the visa application and the second time it was turned down on the ground that the purpose of visit was over.
While thanking the eminent Hindu leaders of the country who stood by this sadhu in the hour of crisis, this sadhu would proclaim with all courage of his conviction that the Hindus of the country have a legal right to pursue their religion according to the injunctions of the Vedas and the customs and practices followed by the parent Hindu society in the land of their forefathers. No individual or organization could deprive them of their right. It is for the Hindu leaders in India and abroad to see that the powerful and influential in the Hindu society do not crush under their heels the rights of the humble and weaker sections of the society. Fanaticism and Fundamentalism are the root cause of the ills afflicting the world today and the message of Hinduism is to root out these evils. These deadly viruses should never be allowed to afflict the Hindu society. Mother India has to be the spiritual guru of the whole world and Hindus in India and abroad should set the example of tolerance and acceptance of religious rights of all!
Author: Professor Sadhu Rangarajan