Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Our Religion – A Comparative Study

Prof. Harendra Chandra Pal

Our Religion–A Comparative Study

(Ripon College, Calcutta)

The word ‘Religion’ derived from Latin words, ‘Re’ and ‘Liegere’ or ‘Ligare,’ means bind ; that is to say, it means that which binds human beings to each other in the bonds of love and sympathy and fellow feelings in their mutual rights and duties; which themselves will bind to God, the Universal Soul. This power of binding together hearts of men in unison with God has given birth to a particular religion to different people, countries or nations. And really every new birth of a religion has given birth to a new civilization in the world. Therefore the one purpose of religion is to realize the self within ourselves.

In these days of strife and chaos and communal feelings, it has become an incumbent duty for us to make a comparative study of the religion, or rather the civilization, of the other sect or community, which, as Max Muller says, ‘will teach us the divine education of the human race’. It may be that we shall find many imperfections or obscurities in the religions of other communities or countries, not to say of our own religion. Max Muller in his book on the Science of Religion has given a suitable reply: “God has not provided for the interest of men by a new counsel or late compassion; He had instituted from the beginning for all men one and the same path of Salvation…….Now what might be the explanation for the necessary imperfections of the early religions of mankind?…A mother may indeed offer to her infant a complete repast, but her infant cannot yet receive the food which is meant for full-grown men. In the same manner God might indeed from the beginning have offered to men the truth in its completeness, but man was unable to receive it, for he was still a child.”

Before going deeper into the subject matter, let me refer here to two interesting stories (which will show that really there is no diversity in different religions), one from Islamic books and the other from the scriptures of the Hindus. Once upon a time an Arab, a Persian, a Rumi and a Turk happen to travel on the same path of life. The path is surely long and thorny, necessarily they become tired and hungry; now they require food which will give them nourishment of strength and peace. They have their coins which they place forward. But they do not know one another’s tongues. They begin quarrelling among themselves asking in their own languages, the Arab, as ‘Enab,’ the Persian, as ‘Angur,’ the Rumi, as ‘Astafil’, the Turk, as ‘Uzam’. In the meantime a well-informed fruit-seller passes by. He readily understands their several languages of them and satisfies them by supplying the grapes which they require.

The other story runs thus: Two persons are hotly disputing as to the colour of chameleon: One say, “The chameleon the palm-tree is of a beautiful red colour. The other contradicts him saying that the camel is not red but blue. Being unable to come to a decision, they both go to a man who lives under the tree and has watched the chameleon in all its phases of colour. He satisfies them both by saying that they both are right.

The Muslims have their religion, which is called ‘Islam’. The word ‘Islam’, (derived from ‘Salama’, to surrender) means the calm resignation and surrender of one’s own lower self to the higher Self or God. In the same way the Hindus have their own religion which is called ‘Sanatan’ or ‘Vaidik’ Dharma, i. e., the everlasting or the scientific religion. (The word ‘Hindu” or ‘Hinduism,’ is really a misnomer, which has originated from the word ‘Hind’ or ‘Sind’ or ‘Indus,’ i.e., the people living by the sides of the river Indus, and consequently the people are called in English as Indians). The word ‘Dharma’ (derived from ‘Dhri’, to hold and bind together) means that by holding which one may attain the goal of life. And this is not possible without surrendering one’s own lower self to God. The Sanatan or Vaidik Dharma is only the everlasting or scientific principles for attaining the Higher Universal Self,

Every religion has been described as the ‘Command or Revelation of God’, which was presented to us by the Prophet, the Paigambar (Messenger), or the Avatara (One who descends). We have our Quran revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, the message-bearer, who received the commands of God sent to him through the Holy Spirit. In the same way, we have our Krishna, the Avatara, who descended to this world for the well being of men, and in the inspired moment advised Arjuna–the words collected together have been named the Gita. In the Hindu religion there are many other Avataras, or Great Souls who presented their sacred words to the world–such as Upanishad, the sayings of different ‘Rishis’–which is generally known as Vedanta, and Dhammapada, the words of Buddha. In the same way the Muslims also had other prophets, such as Abraham, Moses and Jesus.

All the prophets have proclaimed the same truth of the universality of their own religions. The Quran declares, “This that I am now uttering unto you, the Holy Quran–is to be found in the ancient Seers’ writings too; for teachers have been sent to every race.” The Gita also utters likewise, “The teaching I am giving you, was given by Vivaswat to Manu, by Manu to Ikshvaku, and then by many rishis, age after age.” And Maulana Rumi in his Masnavi, which has often been called the Quran in the Persian language, says, “By loving wisdom does the soul know life; what has it got to do with the senseless strife of the Hindus and Muslims?”

Ruh ba `a ql-ast wa la `i lm-ast yar
Ruh ra ba Hindu wa Muslim che kar.

We find that only the names differ, the thing meant is always the same. Let us consider the different words for God and a human being ‘Allah’ means all-powerful. ‘Bhagavan’ also means the same. Khuda means One who comes himself (for our salvation). And ‘Hari’ means ‘One’ who attracts (the hearts of others to Himself). Likewise the Arabic equivalent for man is ‘Insan; (from ‘ins, uns, sympathy) which means ‘the Friend of his kind,’ i.e., a good man; and the Sanskrit word ‘Arya’ (from r to go) means the person to whom others go for relief, i.e., a good man or a gentleman. The words ‘manava’ and ‘admi’ mean also man,–which words have been originated from the words Manu (one of the earliest Seers of the Vedic scriptures) and adam (the first of the human race according to Muslim authority), respectively.

We have seen that religion stands for something, which is the fundamental basis of life. Then what is the purpose of life? According to Hinduism, it is ‘dharma’, ‘artha’, ‘kama’ and ‘moksha’ the first three of which should be cultured in the first half of life and the second half of life should be devoted to the achievement of the final goal ‘Moksha’ ‘najat’ or salvation, i.e., to be merged into God; the first three being used only for the preparation of the fourth or last. ‘Dharma’ is equivalent to Diyanat, signifying the laws and principles for making the life regulated, with the, help of ‘Artha’, daulat or wealth. And taking these two as support, one is to satisfy his desire or kama, or lazzatud-dunya (or sense-joy), as the Muslims say.

Ordinarily, the following are taken as essentials of the religion of Islam: – (i) Belief in Allah, the all-powerful, and His prophet Muhammad and the other prophets preceding him; belief in the Quran, as the words of God and the Day of Judgement; (ii)‘Namaj’ or prayer; (iii) Zakat or charity; and (iv) Hajj or pilgrimage. Likewise, the Hindus also have faith in Bhagavan, the All-powerful, and His Avataras such as Rama, Krishna or Buddha with their sacred words. They have also faith in the Judgement of Yama, the King of Hell; Sandhya-Gayatri and Upasana (prayer and fasting), Dano (charity) and Tirtha-yatra (pilgrimage).

According to the Sufis or the Islamic philosophers, the following are the main aspects of religion or the realization of the Higher Self: – (a) Shari’cat; (b) ‘Tariqat.; (c) Haqiqat and M’arifat; i.e., (a) the way of  rites and ceremonials, in other words, the way of actions performed selflessly; or the Karma-Yoga in Vedic language; (b) the way of love and devotion for the Bhakti-Yoga; and (c) the way of Truth and Knowledge or Jnana-Yoga. These are not really different paths. These various methods are given only to suit the different tendencies of individuals. And being developed they will find that these were meant only for the preliminary progress in the path of realization; otherwise they all lead to the same goal.

Let us see how God has been dealt with in these two different systems. He has been described in the Quran, as ‘La ilah il Allah’, (There is no God except He); in the same way the Upanishad says, ‘Ekamevadvitiyam, (one only without a second). God is not only the One alone, but He is the only Reality; He is the All-pervading One and there is nothing beside Him. The Quran declares, Allah surrounds and encloses all–His light enlightens all heaven and earth.

Allaho be kulle shay in muhit
Allaho nur us-samavati wal ard

And the Upanishad has said, “Brahman (God) abides, enveloping all things; all things appear illuminated by Its light.” Rumi has also said in the same way, “The Beloved is all in all, the lover only veils–the Beloved is all that live, the lover is a dead thing.”

Jumla m’ashuq ast w’aashiq pardayi–
Zinda ma’shuq ast wa’ashiq mardayi

This idea of God as everything, and there is nothing beside Him, in Sufistic terminology is often called, Hama u-ast (all is He), which is equivalent to Advaitavad (Non-dualism) of the Hindus. The two other conceptions of God in Vedic terminology are Dvaitavad (Dualism) and Vishishtadwaitavad (Qualified Non-dualism) which are equivalent to ‘Hama az u-ast’ (all is by Him) and ‘Hama ba u-ast’ (all is in Him).

It is also described in Sufistic books that ‘Salik-i-rah’ (The traveller in the path of God) must pass through so many planes to reach the highest plane where perfection (kamalyat) is attained. These are the five recognised ‘worlds’ of the Sufis: (a) ‘alam-i-nasut’ (the world of humanity or this world of phenomena) (b) ‘alam-i-malakut’ (the world of purity and angelic state, or the world of spirits and angels); (c) ‘alam-i-Jabrut’ ‘the world of power and splendour); (d) ‘alam-i-Lahut’ (The world of Divinity, relatively visible and comprehensible); (e) ‘alam-i-hahut’ (the world of absolute existence which is invisible and incomprehensible). Besides these five there are other two planes called Bahut and Rahut, which are the worlds of attributes. As the Sufis speak of seven planes, so the Hindus say of ‘Saptaloka,’ They are: Satya, Tapa, Jana, Maha Sva, Bhuva, and Bhu. Of these, the description of Satya-Loka, Jana-Loka, Tapa-Loka, and Bhu-Loka has much similarity with that of Hahut, Lahut, Jabrut and Nasut.

It is somewhat difficult and it would require much space to show side by side all the similarities that can be pointed out between these two systems. Therefore, I have tried to show only the most interesting ones which may easily be comprehended by every one who cares for and thinks of religion. Let me add here another point of the Sufistic writers. We have seen that Persian poetry, which is in essence Sufistic, is full of ‘ishq’ and ‘muhabbat’ (love), and the “aashiq” and “mash-uq” (the lover and the beloved). So in the books of the writings of the Vaishnavas (followers of Vishnu, one name of God, who maintain that the ideal can be approached through love and devotion), we find that they are full of ‘prem’ and ‘bhakti’ (love and devotion); and ‘premiki’ and ‘premika’ (the Lover and the Beloved). And there is no book of the Vaisnavites, which has not described the love of Radha-krishna. In the same way we may say that there is no Sufistic poem which has not referred to the love of Yusuf and Zulaikha.

Let us consider here some general principles of life. And let us see what the two systems say regarding these. The Quran commands, “Slay none; God has forbidden it, except when justice requires.....And avoid false words…..women and men who steal shall lose their hands. Intoxications are Satan’s own device….They who avoid unlawfulness in sex and watchfully and resolutely control their senses, alone achieve success.” In the same way, Manu, the first law-giver of the Hindus, declares, “Ahimsa (harmlessness), Satyam (truth), Asteyam (honesty), Saucham (cleanliness) and Indriya-nigraham (control of passion), are the whole duties of men in brief.”

Reverence for parents has been enjoined in both the systems. The Quran says, “Bilwalidaini ihsana,” (serve and revere the parents). The Veda also declares likewise, “…..pitrudevo bhava, matridevo bhava” (let your parents be your god). About marriage the Quran orders us, “You may marry two, three or four wives, but not more; but if you cannot deal equitably and justly with all, you shall marry only one”. Manu also suggests in the same way, “They (the husband and wife) shall perform all the duties of life together, side by side, and be faithful to each other unto death and beyond.” About courtesy and behaviour the Quran ordains, “Idfa’ b-illati he-ya ahsan.” (Recompense evil, conquer it with good). In the same way Manu declares, “Don’t be angry with those who are angry with you, with sweet words reply the harsh words.”

Muhammad commands his followers, “Fight in the way of God, for the weak in men, women and children,” and we find that he was himself leader in the battles fought at his time. In the same way, we find Krishna after giving so many precepts to Arjuna, in the Gita, says at last, “Therefore fight (against the wrong-doer and oppressor).” And Krishna himself fought so many battles.

Thus we can show that the fundamentals of both the religions are the same in spirit, and it must be such; now if there is any difference, it is in the outer garb, by which is meant the formal rites and ceremonials, wheal also we find that there are many resemblances: the Hindus perform their initiations, the Muslims their Sunnat; both the systems use rosary (mala or tasbih) for helping their concentration of mind and both of them have special posture and movements of body and limbs at the time of prayer; both have so many sects and sub-sects, though in Hinduism they are innumerable, and in Islam, they are not more than thirty: (probably, it is for the reason that Hinduism is so old, and the latter is so recent–and it is to be wondered at that of these sects and sub-sects no reference is to be found in the scriptures of their systems. Of the Hindu caste system, no doubt there is reference to it in their scriptures, but the caste system of the Holy Books and the caste system that is current in society are quite different). Both have their priests–the Hindus have pujari and purohita; the Muslims have mulla, mufti and mua’zzim: the Hindus have sadhu, bairagi and sannyasi; the Muslims have faqir, darvesh and aulia: Both have monasteries; the Hindus have math and akhra; the Muslims have dargah and khanqah.

There is much dissimilarities, no doubt, regarding the outer garb. In such cases, we should always consider of the spirit; where it is necessarily the same. Here we may refer to the story said by Maulana Rumi in his Masnavi that Moses once rebuked a shepherd who prayed to God to appear before him so that he might put a pair of shoes on His feet. The voice of God came down and rebuked Moses, “We do not care for the language and word, we see to the condition of the heart–we sent you to bring souls near to Me and not to throw them away from Me.”

Ma zaban ra nigarim wa qal ra;
Ma darun ra nigarim wa hal ra.
Tu barayi wasi kardan amadi;
Ya khud aj bahr-i-baridan amadi.

In conclusion, I like to say that the Muslims, as they are called, are not real Muslims if they have not sacrificed their lower selves for the realization of the Higher Self or God; or have at least tried to do the same. In the same way we cannot call a Hindu to be a true Hindu if he is not really following the main principles of his Vedic Dharma. On the other hand, if a person of the Hindu Community has performed all the duties of life, and thus has realized the Universal Soul he is not only a true Hindu, but also a true Muslim too. Indeed there are man and man–the godly-man and the animal-man–of which the former should always be counted, and he is both a true Muslim and a true Hindu.

[Interested students may pursue the subject in greater detail in “The Essential Unity of all Religions” by Dr. Bhagavan Das, published by the Kashi Vidyapith, Benares.]

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