Hinduism & Semitic faiths
Publication: The Observer
Date: February 2, 1999
The fellows excerpt has been taken from Shri Ram Swarup's chapter, 'Hinduism
vis-a-vis Christianity and Islam', in Politics of Conversion edited by Devendra
Research Institute, New Delhi: 1986)
In a world suffering from so much unnecessary conflict, the truth of unity
and harmony has to be emphasised. If a man is the same in his more common
sensibilities, he must also be the same in his spiritual ones. If he laughs when
he is tickled and pained when he is pricked, he must also be filled with a sense
of awe, wonder and holiness in the presence of the profundities and, mysteries
Mile this truth comes naturally to a Hindu or Buddhist, it is denied both in
theory as well as in practice by Christianity and Islam. They believe that not
only are they different, but they are also superior. From the start, they
believed that the god they worshipped was superior to the gods of their
their religion was invested with truth while others wallowed in falsities.
The scriptures of Semitic inspiration are hortative, admonitory; they urge,
they re. prove, they enjoin, they warn, they even enforce. There is a note of
feverishness in them. But the atmosphere of the Hindu scriptures is unhurried,
relaxed and expositional. The first variety seem to goad you; the second
one to lead you step by step.
The first one is passionate, zealous, the second one calm and detached. The
first one plays on your hopes and fears; it threatens you with a hell and
promises you a paradise; while the second one aims at opening up your
There are other differences as well. Christianity and Islam are religions of
faith; Hinduism and Its powerful offshoot, Buddhism, are religions of Prajna,
wisdom. The former deal with Intensifies of feelings, the latter aim at
awakening the mind. The former have been religions of piety with a strong
tendency to deny reason. The latter are religions of 'understanding', giving due
place to reason though it will have to be purified and separated from the dross
of desire before It becomes an instrument of a higher life. In Hinduism, faith
is rendered by the world shradha, that which lies hidden in the recession of
the heart; so, faith means faith in the hidden truths of the soul, faith in the
unrealised possibilities of the mind.
In Christianity and Islam, faith means belief in the established dogmas of
the Church, or belief in the external authority of a particular book, or a
prophet. Similarly, the word 'reason', too, has different connotations here.
In Islam, reason was overpowered by faith from the very start; In
Christianity when eventually it earned some kind of uneasy place, it had to
become the handmaid of faith. It was apologetics.
In the West, people had to wage a grim battle against Christianity in order
to liberate reason from its shackles.
The Islamic world has yet to learn to evaluate its religious dogmas, its
history, its book, its Prophet, his personality and his revelation in the light
of reason, both secular as well as spiritual.
There are other very important differences. Christianity and Islam are built
round historical personalities; Hinduism round the truths of man's own higher
So if there was no Jesus or no Mohammed, there would have been no
Christianity and no Islam. But according to the Hindu approach, man's religion
does not depend on any such exigency.
There is a dharma for all times, sanatan dharma, because it lies there always in
According to Christianity and Islam, God has given his truths finally and
once for all through his favourite, intermediary and these are now deposited in
The other revelations and books are either denied or they are considered as
merely preparatory: They exist merely to confirm the truths of the new
revelation. Subsequent revelations become
false or redundant.
Hinduism also does not teach a God who reveals himself only to a chosen
individual, letting others receive their truths from this exclusive channel. It
speaks of truths which are revealed
wherever there is seeking, purity of aspirations and motives, necessary
It believes that all nations share God's grace. It does not believe that
there are pagans and infidels waiting to be converted to a particular system of
beliefs and ideas or a race of the damned waiting to be saved. Hinduism respects
differences and seeks God's working in different races and peoples.
One can see for oneself that in this kind of approach, there is no place for
'conversion'. True religion can neither be borrowed nor lent. A man carries his
religion with. in himself wherever he goes and he has to be his own lamp. The
conversion one experiences at this level is inner and it is very different
from the conversions that the countries have known under the aegis of
Christianity and Islam. These conversions are political and military acts, acts
of aggressive hard sale.