On occasion, State of Formation is pleased to offer its readers and contributors selections from guest bloggers. Over the next week we will publish four part series containing excerpts from a recent book authored Rajiv Malhotra entitled Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism. More information about Rajiv Malhotra is located at the bottom of this article.
The world is in a time of transition. Globalization, increasing movement of people across national boundaries, environmental challenges, religious conflict, emerging economies and a multi-polar world all demand shifts in thinking to resolve age-old human dilemmas and problems.
Many of the solutions offered for resolving today’s challenges, seem tired, dated and inadequate. They and the institutions created to propagate them stem primarily from the worldview of the West, which has been dominant in world affairs for almost half a millennium. This worldview in turn has been profoundly shaped by the history, myths, intellectual traditions and religious beliefs particular to Europe and America.
As the pendulum swings once again towards Asia and emerging economies and powers stir and find their cultural voices, we stand at a moment of opportunity. Many of us could be dismissive of the world’s diverse voices as we are wont to do – especially when they challenge long-held beliefs. Or we could admit new paradigms, disruptive as they may be to the privileged position of the West, yet promising in their ability to shape the world anew not only for the benefit of Westerners, but for all humanity.
One of the old paradigms which we have all heard is presupposed in the phrase “good news” used by Christians. (The phrase “good news” is a literal translation of the word gospel, which refers to the accounts of Jesus’s life in the bible.) The Christian Good News is usually associated with the saving acts of God through the sacrifice on the cross of his only son, Jesus Christ, for the atonement of the sins of humanity. Yet Hindus find such atonement unnecessary. For man is not inherently sinful, but divine. And we, every one of us, is endowed with the same potential as Jesus, to uncover this divinity within ourselves in the here and now – without the need for someone else’s past sacrifice. To explain this empowering idea I have coined the term, “Hindu Good News”™
Such glad tidings are only a glimpse into the Hindu Good News™, which exalts man’s own potentialities, emphasizes the essential unity of God, man and the cosmos, and insists that diversity rather than uniformity are the truest understanding of reality. Some of the key promises of such a worldview include the following:
- There is no such thing as Original Sin in the typical Christian sense. We are all originally divine as described by the Sanskrit term, sat-chit-ananda
- Historical prophets and messiahs do not control access to spiritual truth, as in Christianity and most Abrahamic religions. Yoga and related spiritual practices allow us to achieve a state of freedom from history – including historically shaped communal identities, races, bloodlines, and claims of religious exclusivity based on some unique historical event. In other words, we are not dependent on historical prophets, or the institutions of power that evolved based on them.
- There is no fundamental conflict between dharma and science, nor has there been any in the past in the dharma traditions.
- There need be no fear of “chaos” as in much Western cosmology and myth. What is often considered chaotic in the negative sense is merely the natural and normal manifestation of reality. It is only the limits of human cognition that misinterpret nature’s complexity, viewing it as fearful and evil, and worthy of annihilation.
- A blissful human life is possible while remaining respectful of nature. Nature need not be ravaged in order to “advance” and “progress” – indeed our own evolution would be hastened without the violation of the web of interconnectivity that sustains us.
- There is no need for any centralized religious authority whatsoever to advance us to our ultimate potential. One may experiment and discover one’s own path using the discoveries and tools of past exemplars as guidelines.
- Mutual respect among all faiths and traditions is a matter of principle in Hinduism, not a bow to “political correctness” or a grudging necessity imposed from without. It goes far beyond mere “tolerance” for others who follow different paths. We reject claims of exclusiveness and mandates to convert others to one’s own religion.
My latest book, BEING DIFFERENT: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism (Harpercollins, 2011), examines how this worldview is different than mainstream Western thought, including the Judeo-Christian variety, the secular variety of the European Enlightenment, and the postmodernist thought.
Rajiv Malhotra is an Indian–American researcher and public intellectual on current aﬀairs, world religions, cross-cultural encounters and science. A scientist by training, he was previously a senior corporate executive, strategic consultant and entrepreneur in information technology and media. He is the author of Breaking India (Amaryllis, 2011), was the chief protagonist in Invading the Sacred (Rupa & Co.), and is an active writer and speaker. He is chairman of the Board of Governors of the India Studies program at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.
Photo credit: Photo used from this site with permission with Rajiv Malhotra.