Our Cultural Characteristics
Q : With all the multitude of faiths, sects, castes, languages, customs and habits, how can you call this a single society at all? Where is the single way of life you call 'Hindu'?
A : Well, this questions stems from a superficial view of our Hindu life. A tree, for example, appears to be full of heterogeneous parts like the branches, leaves, flowers and fruits. The trunk differs from the branches, the branches from the leaves all as if entirely different from one another. But we know that all these apparent diversities are only the varied manifestations of the same tree. The same sap runs through and nourishes all those parts. So is the case with the diversities of our social life which have been evolved down these millennia. They are not more a source of dissension and disruption than a leaf or a flower is in the case of tree. This kind of natural evolution has been a unique feature of our social life.
Q : How do you define 'Hindu culture'?
A : Well, we feel it, though we cannot define it!
Q : What is the use of a thing which we cannot define?
A : For example, the entire course of medical science is evolved in order to protect life. But even the most modern scientists have not been able to define what 'life' is. But that has not come in the way of the utility of medical science. The outward manifestation of 'life' and its impact on man is sufficient to convince us of its actuality. So our culture does have a reality, a vital role in our life; but we cannot express or define it.
Q : Hindu culture is often dubbed as being anti-progressive, against equality, and a shield for all money bags and express of define it.
A : Our Upanishads have declared in declared in that famous sloka Ishaavaasyamidam sarvam. ...that ''God permeates all Creation. Whatever is left over by Him, after offering Him, enjoy only that much. Do not rob what belongs to others." It means that out of whatever wealth we acquire, only the minimum should be used for one's sake and the rest offered to society. Manu has said that to claim or to make a personal use of more than that, is verify an act of theft against society.
With such unambiguous commands of our culture before us, will such charges stand even for a single moment?
Q : In the cultural sense in which you use the term 'Hindu', does it mean that Muslims, Christians etc., can be Hindus without giving up their respective religions?
A : The question itself implies the distinctness of these people. When someone calls himself a Hindu the declaration must necessarily have connection with his behavior as a Hindu.
Q : If behavior is to be the test, it will be observed that many Hindus are just like Muslims or Christians in the method of eating, drinking and living. If you could assimilate such Hindus, why not the Muslims?
A : After traveling all over the country I have experienced that there is an intrinsic unity in the Hindu society. All perceptible differences are superficial. That unity has created in us a certain point of view of looking towards things. Even after the slavery of a thousand years it is still existent in one form or another.
Q : Don't you think that culture changes according to time?
A : The fundamentals do not change. The outward expressions do change.
Q : Can you mention any one of the aspects of Hindu culture you want to emphasis?
A : That all Hindus are one and equal.
Q : Don't you think that bread is more important than culture?
A : Christ has said that man does not live by bread alone.
Q : May not the development of Hindu culture hinder the evolution of a composite culture?
A : It need not. Firstly, a composite culture, if any, cannot grow on weak and deficient constituents. Secondly, the basic culture of the country, while absorbing elements of other cultures, retains its identity and name.
Q : Does the revival of Hindu culture involve of 'Varna Vyavastha' also?
A : No. We are neither for nor against caste. All we know is that it served a great purpose in critical times and that if the society does not need it any more, it will pass away and nobody will be sorry for that.
Q : Is it (Varna Vyavastha) not a must for Hindu Society?
A : It is not an avasthaa or a condition of society. It is only a Vyavastha, a system. You may keep it or reject it according as it serves the purpose or not.
Q : Does Hindu Dharma advocate war as the remedy for conflicts between countries?
A : No. Our Dharma looks upon war as the last resort, not to be undertaken lightly at the very first provocation.
Q : Is there any place for violence in the life of a society?
A : Yes, but it should be used as a surgeon's knife. Even as a surgeon uses his knife to perform an operation to get rid of an infected portion to save the patient, so also violence in certain extraordinary circumstances can be used to cure the society of any malady that needs such a surgical intervention. Further, certain other conditions should be fulfilled. One who applies violence should have perfect control over it, should know when, where, to what extent and how far to apply it, when to end it and how to repair the damage caused, if any.
Q : Is belief in rebirth well founded?
A : Definitely. Recently a Western scholar had been touring our country collecting evidences in that regard. Merely because we do not remember our previous birth, it is no proof of its non-existence. Why, can we remember what we ate on such and such a day? There are some who remember their past lives.
There is an instance of my own experience. Some years back, I went to a village for a Sangh programme. That was the first time I was going to that village. I was taken to the house where I was to stay. It was an old house - more than hundred years old. As soon as I reached the house, I went directly to the room where arrangements had been made for my stay. The host was amazed. I told him that I had a feeling that I had once stayed in that very house and in that very room.
Q : Are the followers of RSS strict vegetarians?
A : No. Our Shastras have not made any rule. Only the higher thing is recommended, that is all. Manu says :
Na maamsa-bhakshane dosho na madye na cha maithune
Pravrittireshaa bhutaanaam nivrittistu gareeyase.
(It is no vice if one takes to non-vegetarian food, wine and sex. They are all natural for a human being. But he should aspire to rise above them.) Our Shastras have taken the comprehensive nature of the world into consideration and made rules for different living beings to suit their different tastes, aptitudes etc.
Q : At least is it (vegetarianism) recommended in the Shastras?
A : Yes, it is - but not made a flat rule.
Q : Then, why banning of cow slaughter by legislation?
A : Because the cow is a special case. It cannot be classed with other animals. Even in the Vedas only cow is called aghnya, not others.
Q : So you don't plead for the stopping of slaughter of other animals?
A : No. Let us understand the spirit of our Shastras. They are not like other religions. They do not command us to go in a single narrow lane. They have taken into consideration all the human weaknesses. For example, it is told that one should try to dissociate himself from Kaama, Krodha, accumulation of wealth etc., and contemplate on Brahman. It is recommended. But everyone is told to marry and enjoy a happy and prosperous life. It is not possible for everybody to identify himself with Brahman. That higher thing is only recommended. That is the speciality of our Dharma. It is all-comprehensive and very practical. That is why it is called Dharma and other religions are called only Mata which make a flat rule.
Q : The cow, the very embodiment of humility, beneficence and innocence is taken as the symbol of our culture. A lion which is described as 'the king of animals by his own prowess' is also our cultural symbol. How can both of these contradictory things be reconciled?
A : Yes, both are our cultural symbols. Shri Krishna on the one hand preaches the Bhagavad-Gita and on the other holds the Sudarshana. The command of our culture is Idam Braahmam Idam Kshaatram.
Q : What is the speciality of Hindu culture in respect of womanhood?
A : Except his wife, a Hindu considers all the rest as mothers. The others consider the entire womenfolk except their mothers as objects of enjoyment.
Q : What is the special feature of Mahabharata?
A : It is a complete treatise on Dharma - the social order, Artha - the science of administrative and wealth, Kaama - the essence of human wants and their gratification, and Moksha - the supreme goal of all religions and philosophies.
Q : There is a common notion that our scriptures preach only individualism and not corporate life. How far is it true?
A : The oldest and the supreme scripture of ours is RigVeda. It sums up by giving certain specific directions to the people to live a corporate, organized and glorious life. It says : "Our minds should be one, our thoughts should be similar, we should help one another and bring prosperity and happiness."
Q : What is the proof that the Hindu way of life is founded on a firm base?
A : There were countless attacks from various foreign groups such as Shakas, hunas and Muslims. We stood like a rock and faced them keeping the frame of our society intact. Then came the European people like the Portuguese, French, Dutch and the British to annihilate us in a shrewd manner. Still, we have continued to live as the same people. In addition to the galaxy of saints and emperors right from the beginning of history, modern Bharat has produced giants like Vivekananda, Ramatirtha and Mahatma Gandhi. Is this not a sufficient test to prove that our Hindu life is founded on a firm base?
Q : No man is born as Hindu or Mussalman or Christian. It is only later on that distinctions are made.
A : This may be true of others. But for a Hindu, he gets the first samskaar when he is still in the mother's womb, and the last when his body is consigned to the flames. There are sixteen samskaars for the Hindu even before we emerge from the womb of our mother. We are born as Hindus. About the others, they are born to this world as simple unnamed human beings and later on, either circumcised or baptized, they become Muslims or Christians.
Q : Usually Muslims and Christians are not allowed inside the Hindu temples, whereas there is no such bar for the Hindus to enter mosques or churches. Why?
A : That is because a Hindu considers a church or a mosque as a place of worship, and reveres it as such. It is not so with the Muslims or Christians. They consider idol-worship a sin. They - especially the Muslims - pride themselves as idol-breakers. In fact, in our own country, countless number of broken idols and desecrated temples stand testimony to this attitude of theirs. They may not know the Hindu mode of worship but that does not matter. We shall have no objection even if they kneel and pray with devotion in their own fashion and in their own language, when they come to our temples. But with their attitude of sworn enmity it would be a sacrilege if they are allowed to enter our temples.
Q : In these days when power has come to mean only a means to wallow in luxuries and enjoyment, Lal Bahadur Shastri alone appeared to be an exception. His family continued to live in a rented house even while he was the Prime minister.
A : That is in line with our tradition. Chanakya, even when he was the Prime Minister of the vast Magadha empire, continued to reside in a small hut outside the capital. And so was Shri Madhavacharya who founded the famous Vijayanagar empire. He would conduct all the state affairs during the day remaining in the capital and return to his hermitage in the night.
Q : What was the role of the Joint Family in our social set-up?
A : Joint Family has been a great cooperative institution in our society. But it has by no means been the same unchanging thing throughout history. Even now, the family in the North is not what it is in Malabar, Economic and social forces are disintegrating it. But I feel that something should take the place of the Joint Family and the caste as social security systems. The old bond of love and service between man and man should not break even though the form of its fulfilment changes.
(With the Editor, Illustrated Weekly, November 1972)
Q : Why do you pin your faith on religion when most of the world is turning irreligious and agnostic?
A : Hinduism is on firm ground because it has no dogma. It has had agnostics before; it will survive the wave of irreligiousness better than any other religious system.
Q : How can you say that? The evidence is the other way. The only religions which are standing firm and even increasing their hold on the people are based on dogma - Catholicism, and more than Catholicism, Islam.
A : It is a passing phase. Agnosticism will overtake them, it will not overtake Hinduism. Ours is not a religion in the dictionary sense of the word; it is Dharma, a way of life. Hinduism will take agnosticism in its stride.
(With Moulvis at Coimbatore, 1956)
Q : Will not belief in One Name, One God, One Scripture help achieve human unity as Islam says?
A : Do you believe that God likes only Koran and not Geeta? Do you believe that He will come only if you call Him in the name of Mohammed and would refuse to come if you call Him Rama? Do you think that God understands only Arabic and no other language?
We Hindus believe that each individual can worship the Form of his choice in his own way. All can attain Him - if the effort be sincere and honest. And that is why Hinduism is not a proselytizing religion. The very idea of conversion starts with the assumption that mine is the only sure and correct way and all others must be converted to it. Do you believe in this? This, if said in respect of attainment of God, will be speaking too low of Him. In fact in Hinduism we not only tolerate another man's religion or way of worship, but we have a respect for it.
Q : But Hindus themselves are taking to converting Muslims and Christians nowadays?
A : It is not 'conversion' into Hinduism. It is only giving an opportunity for those who had been made to change the faith by force of circumstances in the past, to return to their ancestral faith. Is it not a fact that only a handful of Muslims came to our country from outside? All the rest have only came to our country from outside? All the rest have only changed their faith for well-known reasons. Returning to one's ancestral faith is not conversion at all, it is merely home-coming.
(With friends)
Q : Would you welcome conversion from other faiths to Hinduism?
A : If the sheer force of the tenets of Hinduism attracts the non-Hindus to the Hindu fold, then it is welcome.
Q : Who is a Hindu?
A : One who observes his religion without assailing others.
Q : Today all the important movements have a world-wide base. Whether they are economic systems like Capitalism and communism, or religious systems like Islam and Christianity, they all work on the international plane. By comparison, Hinduism sounds parochial and limited.
A : The international look is more an appearance than a fact. Behind each of them, is a powerful country - or group of countries - trying to control the rest of the world. It is bloated insolent nationalism, not honest internationalism. Unfortunately the weak-kneed Hindu is dazzled by such show of self-confident power.
I consider Hinduism the one true system of peaceful international living. It is a truer base for internationalism than all other 'isms' put together.
(With friends at Thane, November 1972)
Q : What are the unique characteristics of Hinduism, which are not found in other religions?
A : The idea of Ekam sad vipraah bahudhaa vadanti (Truth is one, sages call it variously) is one of the unique ideas o Hinduism. Secondly, whereas the others have been pursuing an outward search for happiness, our philosophy has concentrated on the inward search. It is this inward happiness that has been termed as shreyas.
The social order, if it has to secure maximum happiness to all, must be able to ensure shreyas to one and all. The philosophical basis for the incentive to do this lies in our concept of the community of soul and its realization. Bhagavad-Gita has said Ishwarah sarva-bhootaanaam hriddeshe:rjuna tishthati. Such a categorical assertion of the identity of soul in all living beings is found nowhere else.