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Interfaith Conversion

Recently, there was a news report (in The Washington Post) concerning 'inter-religious conversions'; the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. - the Southern Baptists - having sought to convert those "lost in the hopeless darkness of Hinduism". (Last month they also had targeted the Jewish community by way of bringing out a prayer book during their ten holy days. And some news accounts say the same group has targeted Muslims and Buddhists next, and prayer books on both these religions would be printed to coincide with the holiest days associated with both religions.)

I make an humble attempt to write regarding my view on this subject.

These conversion reports and appeals must have a cause; and that cause is inability of Hindus to grasp the essence of Hinduism. Based on many Books and Commentaries multiple interpretations are possible, and hence we hold diverging views! Hindus are, as if, ashamed of their own religion due this diversity. And instead of making efforts to understand the meaning of "superstitious" rituals and forms of worship majority of the 'literate and educated' Hindus dance to the tune played by the 'modern western scientific thinkers'.

And the note of their music harps:

"Hinduism is superstitious, Hinduism allows useless primitive worship of countless idols and images of clay, metal, and paper etc. Hinduism sanctions exploitation on the basis of caste." 'Mumbai is a city of spiritual darkness. There eight out of every ten people are Hindu, slaves bound by fear and tradition to false gods.' Or, 'Satan has retained his hold on Calcutta through Kali and other gods and goddesses.' And 'Hindus are lost souls, with no concept of sin or personal responsibility.' They also quote how millions of Hindu downtrodden got converted to Buddhism at the call of the Dalit leader Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.

Most Indians in India, US, or Europe cannot effectively counter such false and half-true allegations. This is possible only on the basis of understanding New Vedanta. Most of the Hindus do not know Religion of Vedanta in theory, then how can they practice the same in their lives! They fail to project the greatness of Advaita Vedanta, the perennial philosophy of Sanatana Dharma - as expounded in the Gita and the Upanishads. Most of the Hindus do not understand that rituals and mythologies are but necessary outward expressions, albeit somewhat crude at times, of the inner core of vedanta.

'Unity in Diversity' is all right for advanced scholars, but for average lay reader, it is better to project "minimum common basis" of Hindu thought. Thus the attack on individuals is minimized. One can argue the case better if the belief is projected to be held by the majority. Then they cannot 'Divide and rule'. And last but not the least, one must live like a Hindu. Let everyone know how glorious and gracious it is to be called a Hindu, one of the most cultured and civilized way of life!

One must try to project the basic gross view of Hinduism. Details would follow! We have to defend Hinduism in whatever crude form it may appear to others. This is because the temple of 'Advaita Vedanta' cannot be built without cementing power-blocks of rituals, traditions, idol worships, and mythologies. Therefore, in our defense of Hinduism we should be able to project the effulgent vision of Highest Truth of Advaita. If this is not done then others may be justified in their attempts to demolish the building of crudeness, rudeness, exploitation, and casteism sans effulgence of Purity and Truth.

In this regard it would be worthwhile to know what Swami Vivekananda said in this respect more than one hundred years back:

Excerpts from the "Address at the Final Session" dated 27th September 1893 by Swami Vivekananda at the Parliaments of Religion Chicago 1893.

"Much has been said of the common ground of religious unity. I am not going just now to venture my own theory. But if any one here hopes that this unity will come by the triumph of any one of the religions and destruction of others, to him I say, 'Brother, yours is an impossible hope.' Do I wish that the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid."

"The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth."

"If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world it is this : It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possession of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anyone dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: 'Help and not Fight', 'Assimilation and not Destruction', 'Harmony and Peace and not Dissension'."
C S Shah

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