WITHOUT freedom of thought, word and deed, there can be no change. Without change, there can be no diversity. And if India’s diversity is the model for the world, it is because India has always been free to think and act.
There are other factors in India’s favour: For example, the spirit of accommodation. It led Hinduism to become “a mass of philosophies, religions, mythologies and magic,” says Dr S Radhakrishnan. Do we, therefore, claim to be pre-eminent? No. Ashoka, the greatest Buddist missionary, never claimed pre-eminence for Buddhism.
True, India took its freedom to extremes. It made “God-making factories!” And yet there is only one God, the Rig Veda said. But the seers called him by various names. The spirit of diversity triumphed in India.
Acceptance of diversity prevented conflicts. It led to the richness of our civilisation. And to a spirit of “live and let live.”
The discovery that all gods are the same brought about the great reconciliation between the Aryans and the Dravidas. Aryans accepted the gods of the Dravidas, and the Dravidas accepted the Sanskritisation of the Tamil culture.
The Indians were the first to realise the many facetedness of truth. They, therefore, never fell into the error of asserting that they alone were right. Dr S Radhakrishnan says: “The Aryans did not possess the pride of the fanatic that his was the true religion. Tagore had an answer to such fanatics. He said: “If you (fanatics) think that there is no need for further enquiry your continued presence in the earth is not necessary.”
Uniformity can give strength to a nation. But it can also weaken it. A people who hanker after uniformity are intolerant of dissent and diversity. They turn against the spirit of enquiry. Their life becomes repetitive. It becomes meaningless.
India’s strength lies in its diversity. The free spirit of enquiry has given India the most wide-ranging system of thought. The genius of India is assimilative and receptive. It kept its mind open to science when others had closed their minds to science.
The Hindus might have produced about 200 Upanishads in all. These were speculative thoughts on various aspects of Hindu life. Today India is home to Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism and many reformist and triabal beliefs. There is no parallel to this.
Here are a few descriptions that make them distinct. Will Durant, US historian and philosopher, says of Hinduism: “Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.”
Although Jainism traces its roots to the Vedas, it rejected rituals and sacrifices. And while it is distinguished for its adherence to ahima, it is opposed to caste.
Buddha revolted against the Vedic rituals and sacrifices and the caste system. But Buddhism is also the logical development of the Upanishads. It contributed a great deal to ethics and psychology.
Although Christianity and Islam are not natives to India, they contributed much to produce the diversity of India. On the influence of Hinduism on Christianity, a Jesuit leader wondered how a people with many languages, religions and cultures lived together! It was a lesson for the rest of the world, he said.
Dr Akbar Ahmed, a Pakistani scholar writes that he is proud of India’s tolerance. “It provided space to Islam to flourish,” he affirms. And Sufism and Bhakti movement have contributed to each other. The infatuation for God is common to both Sufism and the Bhakti movement.
Reformist religions of India like Sikhism have no fundamental differences with Hindu philosophy. The disagreement is with the social accretions of religion. Sikhism is basically a peasant religion influenced by Islam and the Bhakti movement. One distinguishing feature of Sikhism is its great reverence for the Guru. In this it is closed to Islam.
India today is a microcosm of the world of races and religions, philosophies and ways of life, interacting with each other. This has caused concern among the Hindus. They ask: Is Hinduism lost on the sea of diversity? They have reason to fear, for while the state goes out of its way to placate Christianity and Islam, it rejects Hinduism in favour of secularism.
Be that what it may, history has chosen Hinduism as a world model of diversity. India alone can take-up that role.