By M.S.N. Menon
From whence did all this creation come? What do we do while we are here on earth? And where do we go at the end?
These were the imponderables for which men had sought answers throughout the millennia. The Hindus have continued this quest. Naturally, they allow themselves freedom of enquiry.
The Chinese say, they are neither interested in the first question nor in the last question. They are interested only in what is one to do while he is here on this earth. Which is why the Chinese are the most pragmatic people on earth.
But the men of the Semitic faiths say that the answers were revealed to them by their gods. So, they have nothing more to enquire? They have no need for freedom? In fact, to enquire into God'srevelations is apostasy in the Semitic faiths. It can even invite the punishment of death in Islam.
In any case, they believed that the end of the world was imminent. Saving souls was thus the most important and urgent task. There was no point in brooding over the past or future, they thought.
We are not here on earth to live a repetitive existence, but to know the mind of the universe and be a conscious part of it.
But the Christians have discovered, of late, that they were wrong in putting their faith in revelation. Thomas Paine (1737-1809), the philosopher of the American Revolution, says in the The Age of Reason that the greatest tyranny in the world is to tie the future generations to a set of dogmas and beliefs. As if they have no mind of their own, as if they have no right to think, as if the world was coming to an end! But that is what Christianity and Islam did to their peoples. They tied them to dogmas and beliefs. They are like millstones round their necks today.
The Buddhists opted for freedom. Asked for his last message to his disciples, the Buddha told Ananda: Be ye lamps unto yourselves. In other words, be your own guides, think for yourselves and let reason guide you. To the Greeks, reason was divine. Through reason, man was in communion with God, they said.
But here in India, a country predominantly of Hindus and Muslims, the Hindus are on an eternal quest for the truths and the Muslims say that the truth has already been revealed to them by their God Allah.
Surely, these are irreconcilable positions. Do they understand the incompatability of their positions? They do not. They think that they can co-exist comfortably. But how ? This they do not know. Have they tried to find a way? They haven?t.
In fact, the Muslims are so inflexible, they say that ?not a word of the Quran will be changed?. But the customs and practices of the Muslims have steadily changed over the years without amending the Quran. So is the position of the Hindus: they too have changed without amending the Manu Shastras.
Today the customs and practices of the Hindus are being changed not even by the religious heads of the Hindus, but by the representatives of the people of India. Do not the Christians and Muslim legislators vote on bills pertaining to Hindus? They do. But they do not vote as representatives of Christianity or Islam, but as representatives of the people of India, as representatives of the Indian nation.
My point is: There is no need to amend the Quran or the Hadith. All that we need is a permanent representative statutory body to review the Constitution periodically, say once in 25 years. This will be an enlightened way of doing things and can avoid all the acrimony.
We are not here on earth to live a repetitive existence, but to know the mind of the universe and be a conscious part of it. Tagore says in East and West: ?The objective of Indian history is not to set up Hindu or some other dominance, but to secure a special kind of fulfilment for humanity, a level of perfection that must be a gain for all.? In short, he says, ?we are all here to build up a greater India.? This cannot be achieved by a more repetitive existence as in Islam. It can be achieved only through a continuous quest.