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NeoVedanta:TheProblemWithHindu UniversalismFrankMorales

ItisbynomeansanexaggerationtosaythattheancientreligionofHinduismhasbeenoneof the least understood traditions in the history of world religion. The sheer number of stereotypes,misconceptionsandoutrightfalsenotionsaboutwhatHinduismteaches,aswell asabouttheprecisepracticesandbehaviorthatitasksofitsfollowers,outnumberthoseofany other religion currently known. Leaving the more obviously grotesque cryptocolonialist caricatures of cow worship, caste domination and sati aside, even many of the most fundamentaltheologicalandphilosophicalfoundationsofHinduismoftenremaininexplicable mysteries to the general public and supposed scholars of Hindu studies. More disturbing, however,isthefactthatmanywildmisconceptionsaboutthebeliefsofHinduismareprevalent evenamongthebulkoffollowersofHinduismand,alarmingly,eventomanypurportedly learnedspiritualteachers,gurusandswamiswhoclaimtoleadthereligioninpresenttimes. OfthemanycurrentpeculiarconceptsmistakenlyascribedtoHindutheology,oneofthemost widelymisunderstoodistheideathatHinduismsomehowteachesthatallreligionsareequal, thatallreligionsarethesame,withthesamepurpose,goal,experientiallytangiblesalvific stateandobjectofultimatedevotion.Sooftenhasthisnotionbeenthoughtlesslyrepeatedby somanyfromthecommonHinduparenttothelatestswamijiarrivingonAmericanshores yearning for a popular followingthat it has now become artificially transformed into a supposed foundation stone of modern Hindu teachings. Many Hindus are now completely convinced that this is actually what Hinduism teaches. Despite its widespread popular repetition,however,doesHinduismactuallyteach theideathatallreligionsarereallythe same?EvenacursoryexaminationofthelonghistoryofHinduphilosophicalthought,aswell as an objective analysis of the ultimate logical implications of such a proposition, quickly makesitquiteapparentthattraditionalHinduismhasneversupportedsuchanidea. ThedoctrineofwhatIcallRadicalUniversalismmakestheclaimthatallreligionsarethe same. This dogmatic assertion is of very recent origin, and has become one of the most harmfulmisconceptionsintheHinduworldinthelast150orsoyears.Itisadoctrinethathas directlyledtoaselfdefeatingphilosophicalrelativismthathas,inturn,weakenedthestature andsubstanceofHinduismtoitsverycore.ThedoctrineofRadicalUniversalismhasmade HinduphilosophylookinfantileintheeyesofnonHindus,hasledtoacollectivestateofself
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revulsion,confusionandshameinthemindsoftoomanyHinduyouth,andhasopenedthe Hinducommunitytobepreyeduponmuchmoreeasilybythezealousmissionariesofother religions.TheproblemofRadicalUniversalismisarguablythemostimportantissuefacingthe globalHinducommunitytoday.

WhatsaKidtoDo?
Indian Hindu parents are to be given immense credit. The daily challenges they face in encouragingtheirchildrentomaintaintheircommitmenttoHinduismareenormousandwell known.Hinduparentstrytheirbesttoobservefidelitytothereligionoftheirancestors,often havinglittleunderstandingofthereligionthemselves,otherthanwhatwasgiventothem,in turn, by their own parents. All too many Indian Hindu youth, on the other hand, find themselvesunattractedtoareligionthatislittlecomprehendedorrespectedbymostofthose around themHindu and nonHindu alike. Todays Hindu youth seek more strenuously convincingreasons for following a religion thanmerelythe argument thatit isthefamily tradition.TodaysHinduyouthdemand,anddeserve,cogentphilosophicalexplanationsabout whatHinduismactuallyteaches,andwhytheyshouldremainHinduratherthanjoinanyof the many other religious alternatives they see around them. Temple priests are often ill equippedtogivethesebrightHinduyouththeanswerstheysosincerelyseek;momanddad areusuallyevenlessknowledgeablethanthetemplepujaris.WhatisaHinduchildtodo? AsItravelthenationdeliveringlecturesonHinduphilosophyandspirituality,Ifrequently encounterarepeatedscenario.HinduparentswillapproachmeafterIvefinishedmylecture andtimidlyaskforadvice.Theoftenrepeatedstorygoessomewhatlikethis:Weraisedour daughter(orson)tobeagoodHindu.Wetookhertothetempleforimportantholidays.We evensenthertoaHinducampforaweekendwhenshewas13.Nowattheageof23,our childhasleftHinduismandconvertedtothe(fillintheblank)religion.Whenweaskhowshe could have left the religion of her family, the answer she throws back in our face is: Mama/dada,youalwaystaughtmethatallreligionsarethesame,andthatitdoesntreally matterhowapersonworshipsGod.SowhatdoesitmatterifIhavefollowedyouradviceand switchedtoanotherreligion? Many of you reading this article have probably been similarly approached by parents expressingthissamedilemma.Thetrulysadthingaboutthisscenarioisthatthechildis,of course,quitecorrectinherassertionthatsheisonlyfollowingthelogicalconclusionofher parentsoftenrepeatedmantraallreligionsarethesame.Ifallreligionsareexactlythesame,
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afterall,andifwealljustendupinthesameplaceintheendanyway,thenwhatdoesitreally matter what religion we follow? Hindu parents complain when their children adopt other religions, but without understanding that it was precisely this flawed dogma of Radical Universalism,andnotsomeinherentflawofHinduismitself,thathasdriventheirchildren away.Mycontentionisthatparentsthemselvesarenottobeblamedforespousingthisnon Hinduideatotheirchildren.Rather,muchoftheblameistobeplacedatthefeetoftodaysill equippedHinduteachersandleaders,theguardiansofauthenticDharmateachings. InmodernHinduism,wehearfromavarietyofsourcesthisclaimthatallreligionsareequal. Unfortunately, the most damaging source of this fallacy is none other than the many uninformed spiritual leaders of the Hindu community itself. I have been to innumerable pravachanas(expositions), for example,wherea guruji will providehis audiencewith the followingmetaphor,whichIcalltheMountainMetaphor.Truth(orGodorBrahman)liesat thesummitofaveryhighmountain.Therearemanydiversepathstoreachthetopofthe mountain,andthusattaintheonesupremegoal.Somepathsareshorter,somelonger.The pathitself,however,isunimportant.Theonlytrulyimportantthingisthatseekersallreachthe topofthemountain. Whilethissimplisticmetaphormightseemcompellingatacursoryglance,itleavesoutavery importantelementalsupposition:itmakestheunfoundedassumptionthateveryonewantsto gettothetopofthesamemountain!Aswewillsoonsee,noteveryreligionsharesthesame goal,thesameconceptionoftheAbsolute(indeed,eventhebeliefthatthereisanAbsolute), orthesamemeanstotheirrespectivegoals.Rather,therearemanydifferentphilosophical mountains,eachwithitsownuniqueclaimtobethesupremegoalofallhumanspiritual striving.

ATraditionofTolerance,NotCapitulation
Historically,precolonial,classicalHinduismnevertaughtthatallreligionsarethesame.This isnottosay,however,thatHinduismhasnotbelievedintoleranceorfreedomofreligious thoughtandexpression.Ithasalwaysbeenareligionthathastaughttoleranceofothervalid religioustraditions.However,theassertionthata)weshouldhavetoleranceforthebeliefsof other religions is a radically different claim from the overreaching declaration that b) all religionsarethesame.Thisconfusionbetweentwothoroughlyseparateassertionsmaybeone reasonwhysomanymodernHindusbelievethatHindutoleranceissynonymouswithRadical Universalism.Tomaintainahealthytoleranceofanotherpersonsreligiondoesnotmeanthat
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wehavetothenadoptthatpersonsreligion!

UniquelyHindu:TheCrisisoftheHinduLackofSelfWorth
In general, many of the worlds religions have been periodically guilty of fomenting rigid sectarianism and intolerance among their followers. We have witnessed, especially in the recordofthemorehistoricallyrecentWesternreligions,thatreligionhassometimesbeenused asadestructivemechanism,misusedtodividepeople,toconquerothersinthenameofones god, and to make artificial and oppressive distinctions between believers and non believers.Beinganinherentlynonfundamentalistworldview,Hinduismhas,byitsnature, always been keen to distinguish its own tolerant approach to spirituality visvis more sectarianandconflictorientednotionsofreligion.ModernHindusareinfamousforbending overbackwardstoshowtheworldjusthownonfanaticalandopenmindedweare,eventothe point of denying ourselves the very right to unapologetically celebrate our own Hindu tradition. Unfortunately,inourheadlongrushtounburdenHinduismofanythingthatmightseemto evenremotelyresembletheclosedmindedsectarianismsometimesfoundinotherreligions, we often forget the obvious truth that Hinduism is itself a systematic and selfcontained religioustraditioninitsownright.InthesamemannerthatChristianity,Islam,Buddhism, TaoismorJainismhavetheirownuniqueandspecificbeliefs,doctrinesandclaimstospiritual authority, all of which fall within the firmly demarcated theological bounds of their own unique traditions, Hinduism, too, has just such Hinducentric theological and institutional bounds.Likeeveryotherreligion,Hinduismisadistinctanduniquetradition,withitsown inbuilt beliefs, worldview, traditions, rituals, concept of the Absolute, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics,cosmology,cosmogonyandtheology.Thegrand,systematicphilosophicalconstruct thatwetodaycallHinduismistheresultoftheextraordinaryeffortsandspiritualinsightsof thegreatrishis,yogis,acharyasandgurusofourreligion,guidedbythetranscendentlightof theVedicrevelationthathasstoodthetestoftime.Itisatraditionthatisworthyofhealthy celebrationbyHindusandrespectfuladmirationbynonHindus. SucharealizationandacceptanceofHinduismsuniqueplaceintheworlddoesnot,byany stretch of the imagination, have to lead automatically to sectarianism, strife, conflict or religious chauvinism. Indeed, such a recognition of Hinduisms distinctiveness is crucial if Hindusaretopossessevenamodicumofhealthyselfunderstanding,selfrespectandpridein theirowntradition.Selfrespectandtheabilitytocelebrateonesuniquespiritualtraditionare
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basicpsychologicalneeds,andacherishedcivilrightofanyhumanbeing,Hinduandnon Hindualike.

LettingtheTraditionSpeakforItself
Whenwelookatthephilosophical,literaryandhistoricalsourcesoftheprecolonialHindu tradition,wefindthatthenotionofRadicalUniversalismisoverwhelminglyabsent.Theidea that all religions are the same is not found in the sacred Hindu literature, among the utterancesofthegreatphilosopheracharyasofHinduism,orinanyofHinduismssixmain schools of philosophical thought (the Shaddarshanas). Throughout the history of the tradition,suchgreatHinduphilosophersasVyasa,Shankara,Ramanuja,Madhva,Vallabha, Vijnana Bhikshu, Swaminarayan (Sahajanand Swami) and others made unambiguous and unapologeticdistinctionsbetweenthereligionofHinduismandnonHindureligions.Thesages ofpremodernHinduismhadnodifficultyinboldlyassertingwhatwas,andwhatwasnot,to be considered Hindu. And theydid so often! Thislucid senseof religiouscommunity and philosophical clarity is seen first and foremost in the very question of what, precisely, constitutesaHindu.Withoutknowingtheanswertothismostfoundationalofquestions,itis impossibletofullyassessthedamaginginadequaciesofRadicalUniversalistdogma.

WhoIsaHindu?
Remarkably,whenthequestionofwhoisaHinduisdiscussedtoday,wegetamultitudeof confused and contradictory answers from both Hindu laypersons and from Hindu leaders. Some of the more simplistic answers to this question include: anyone born in India is automaticallyaHindu(theethnicityfallacy);ifyourparentsareHindu,thenyouareHindu (thefamilialargument);ifyouarebornintoacertaincaste,thenyouareHindu(thegenetic inheritancemodel);ifyoubelieveinreincarnation,thenyouareHindu(forgettingthatmany nonHindureligionsshareatleastsomeofthebeliefsofHinduism);ifyoupracticeanyreligion originatingfromIndia,thenyouareaHindu(thenationaloriginfallacy).Therealanswerto thisquestionhasalreadybeenconclusivelyansweredbytheancientsagesofHinduism. Thetwoprimaryfactorsthatdistinguishtheindividualuniquenessofthegreatworldreligious traditions are a) the scriptural authority upon which the tradition is based, and b) the fundamental religious tenets that it espouses. If we ask the question what is a Jew?, for example,theansweris:someonewhoacceptstheTorahashisscripturalguideandbelievesin themonotheisticconceptofGodespousedinthesescriptures.WhatisaChristian?Aperson
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whoacceptstheGospelsastheirscripturalguideandbelievesthatJesusistheincarnateGod whodiedfortheirsins.WhatisaMuslim?SomeonewhoacceptstheQuranastheirscriptural guide,andbelievesthatthereisnoGodbutAllah,andthatMohammedishisprophet.Inother words,whatdetermineswhetherapersonisafollowerofanyparticularreligioniswhetheror nottheyaccept,andattempttoliveby,thescripturalauthorityofthatreligion.Thisisnoless trueofHinduismthanitisofanyotherreligiononEarth.Thus,thequestionofwhoisaHindu issimilarlyeasilyanswered. Bydefinition,aHinduisanindividualwhoacceptsasauthoritativethereligiousguidanceof theVedicscriptures,andwhostrivestoliveinaccordancewithDharma,Godsdivinelawsas revealedinthoseVedicscriptures.Inkeepingwiththisstandarddefinition,alloftheHindu thinkersofthesixtraditionalschoolsofHinduphilosophy(shaddarshanas)insistedonthe acceptanceofthescripturalauthority(shabdapramana)oftheVedasastheprimarycriterion for distinguishing a Hindu from a nonHindu, as well as distinguishing overtly Hindu philosophicalpositionsfromnonHinduones. IthasbeenthehistoricallyacceptedstandardthatifyouacceptthefourVedasandthesmriti canon(oneexampleofwhichwould includetheMahabharata,Ramayana,Bhagavad Gita, Puranas,etc.)asyourscripturalauthority,andliveyourlifeinaccordancewiththedharmic principlesofthesescriptures,youarethenaHindu.Thus,anyIndianwhorejectstheauthority of the Vedas is obviously not a Hinduregardless of his or her birth. While an American, Canadian,Russian,Brazilian,IndonesianorIndianwhodoesaccepttheauthorityoftheVedas obviouslyisaHindu.OneisHindu,notbyrace,butbybeliefandpractice.

ClearlyDefiningHinduism
Traditional Hindu philosophers continually emphasized the crucial importance of clearly understandingwhatisHinduismproperandwhatarenonHindureligiouspaths.Youcannot claimtobeaHindu,afterall,ifyoudonotunderstandwhatitisthatyouclaimtobelieve,and whatitisthatothersbelieve.OnesetofantonymousSanskrittermsrepeatedlyemployedby manytraditionalHinduphilosopherswerethewordsvaidikaandavaidika. Thewordvaidika(orVedicinEnglish)meansonewhoacceptstheteachingsoftheVedas.It refers specifically to the unique epistemological stance taken by the traditional schools of Hinduphilosophy,knownasshabdapramana,oremployingthedivinesoundcurrentofVeda as a means of acquiring valid knowledge. In this sense the word vaidika is employed to
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differentiatethoseschoolsofIndianphilosophythataccepttheepistemologicalvalidityofthe Vedasasapaurusheyaoraperfectauthoritativespiritualsource,eternalanduntouchedbythe speculations of humanityjuxtaposed with the avaidika schools that do not ascribe such validitytotheVedas.InpreChristiantimes,avaidikaschoolswereclearlyidentifiedbyHindu authorsasbeingspecificallyBuddhism,JainismandtheatheisticCharvakaschool,allofwhom didnotaccepttheVedas.ThesethreeschoolswereunanimouslyconsiderednonVedic,and thus nonHindu (they certainly are geographically Indian religions, but they are not theologically/philosophicallyHindureligions).

DharmaRakshaka:TheDefendersofDharma
With the stark exception of very recent times, Hinduism has historically always been recognizedasaseparateanddistinctreligiousphenomenon,asatraditionuntoitself.Itwas recognized as such both by outside observers of Hinduism, as well as from within, by Hinduismsgreatestspiritualteachers.ThesaintsandsagesofHinduismcontinuouslystrived toupholdthesanctityandgiftoftheHinduworldview,oftenunderthebarragesofdirect polemic opposition by nonHindu traditions. Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Charvakins (atheists), the four main philosophical schools found in Indian history, would frequently engage each other in painstakingly precise debates, arguing compellingly over even the smallestconceptualminutiaofphilosophicalsubjectmatter.ThesagesofHinduismmetsuch philosophical challenges with cogent argument, rigid logic and sustained pride in their tradition,usuallysoundlydefeatingtheirphilosophicalopponentsinopendebate. AdiShankaracharya(788820),asonlyoneofmanyexamplesofHinduacharyasdefending their religion, earned the title Digvijaya, orConquerorof All Directions. Thistitle was awardedShankaraduesolelytohisformidableabilitytodefendtheHindutraditionfromthe philosophicalincursionsofopposing(purvapaksha),nonHinduschoolsofthought.Indeed, Shankaraisuniversallyattributed,bothbyscholarsandlater,postShankaranHinduleaders, with being partially responsible for the historical decline of Buddhism in India due to his intenselypolemicmissionaryactivities.NoRadicalUniversalistwashe! The great teacher Madhva is similarly seen as being responsible for the sharp decline of JainisminSouthIndiaduetohisimmensedebatingskillsindefenseofVaidikaDharma.Pre modern Hindu sages and philosophers recognized and celebrated the singular vision that Hinduism has to offer the world, clearly distinguished between Hindu and nonHindu religions,anddefendedHinduismtotheutmostoftheirprodigiousintellectualandspiritual
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abilities.Theydidsounapologetically,professionallyandcourageously.TheHinduworldview onlymakessense,hasvalueandwillsurviveifallHindussimilarlycelebrateourreligions uniquenesstoday.

TraditionalHinduismVersusNeoHinduism
A tragic occurrence in the long history of Hinduism was witnessed throughout the 19th century, the destructive magnitude of which Hindu leaders and scholars today are only beginning to adequatelyassessand address.Thisdevelopmentboth alteredandweakened HinduismtosuchatremendousdegreethatHinduismhasnotyetevenbeguntorecover.The classical,traditionalHinduismthathadbeenresponsibleforthecontinuousdevelopmentof thousandsofyearsofsophisticatedculture,architecture,music,philosophy,ritualandtheology cameunderdevastatingassaultduringthe19thcenturyBritishcolonialrulelikeatnoother timeinIndiashistory.ForathousandyearsprevioustotheBritishRaj,foreignmaraudershad repeatedlyattemptedtodestroyHinduismthroughovertphysicalgenocideandthesystematic destructionofHindutemplesandsacredplaces.TraditionalHinduismswisesagesandnoble warriorshadfoughtbravelytostemthisantiHinduholocausttothebestoftheirability,more oftenthannotpayingfortheirbraverywiththeirlives. WhattheHinducommunityexperiencedunderBritishChristiandomination,however,wasan ominouslyinnovativeformofculturalgenocide.Whattheyexperiencedwasnotanattemptat thephysicalannihilationoftheirculture,butadeceivinglymoresubtleprogramofintellectual andspiritualannihilation.Itiseasyforapeopletounderstandtheurgentthreatposedbyan enemythatseekstoliterallykillthem.Itismuchharder,though,tounderstandtheinsidious threat of an enemy who, while remaining just as deadly, claims to seek only to serve a subjugatedpeoplesbestinterests. During this short span of time in the 19th century, the ancient grandeur and beauty of a classicalHinduismthathadstoodthetestofthousandsofyearscameunderdirectideological attack.WhatmakesthisperiodespeciallytragicisthatthemainapparatusthattheBritish usedintheirattemptstodestroytraditionalHinduismweretheBritisheducated,spirituallyco optedsonsanddaughtersofHinduismitself.SeeingtraditionalHinduismthroughtheeyesof theirBritishmasters,apandemicwaveof19thcenturyAnglicizedHinduintellectualssawitas their solemn duty to Westernize and modernize traditional Hinduism to make it more palatabletotheirnewEuropeanoverlords.Oneofthephenomenathatoccurredduringthis historic period was the fabrication of a new movement known as neoHinduism. Neo
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Hinduism was an artificial religious construct used as a paradigmatic juxtaposition to the legitimate traditional Hinduism that had been the religion and culture of the people for thousands of years. NeoHinduism was used as an effective weapon to replace authentic Hinduism with a Britishinvented version designed to make a subjugated people easier to manageandcontrol. The Christian and British inspired neoHindu movement attempted to execute several overlappinggoals,anddidsowithgreatsuccess: a)thesubtleChristianizationofHindutheology,whichincludedconcertedattackson iconicimagery(murti),panentheism,andbeliefinthebelovedGodsandGoddessesof traditionalHinduism; b)theimpositionoftheWesternscientificmethod,rationalismandskepticismonthe studyofHinduisminordertoshowHinduismssupposedlyinferiorgraspofreality; c) ongoing attacks against the ancient Hindu science of ritual in the name of simplificationanddemocratizationofworship; d) the importation of Radical Universalism from liberal, Unitarian/Universalist ChristianityasadevicedesignedtoseverelywaterdowntraditionalHinduphilosophy. Thedignity,strengthandbeautyoftraditionalHinduismwasrecognizedastheforemostthreat toChristianEuropeanruleinIndia.TheinventionofneoHinduismwastheresponse.Hadthis colonialistprogrambeencarriedoutwithaBritishface,itwouldnothavemetwithasmuch successasitdid.Therefore,anIndianfacewascleverlyusedtoimposeneoHinduismuponthe Hindupeople.TheresultanteffectsoftheactivitiesofIndianneoHinduswereruinousfor traditionalHinduism. TheprimarydilemmawithHinduismaswefindittoday,inanutshell,ispreciselythisproblem of1)notrecognizingthattherearereallytwodistinctandconflictingHinduismstoday,neo HinduandtraditionalistHindu;and2)traditionalistsbeingtheguardiansofauthenticDharma philosophicallyandattitudinally,butnotyetcomingtofullgripswiththemodernworldi.e., notyethavingfoundawayofnegotiatingauthenticHinduDharmawithmodernityinorderto communicate the unadulterated Hindu Dharma in a way that the modern mind can fully appreciateit.Hinduismwillcontinuetobeareligionmiredinconfusionaboutitsowntrue
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meaningandvalueuntiltraditionalistHinduscanassertively,professionallyandintelligently communicatetherealityofgenuineHinduismtotheworld.Untiltheylearnhowtodothis, neoHinduismwillcontinueitsdestructivecampaign.

TheNonHinduOriginsofRadicalUniversalism
RadicalUniversalismisneithertraditionalnorclassical.Itsoriginscanbetracedbacktothe early19thcentury.Itisanideanotolderthantwocenturies.Itsintellectualrootsarenoteven to be found in Hinduism itself, but rather are clearly traced back to Christian missionary attemptstoalterthegenuineteachingsofauthenticHinduism.RadicalUniversalismwasin vogue among 19th century Britisheducated Indians, most of who had little accurate information about their own Hindu intellectual and spiritual heritage. These Westernized IndianswereoftenoverlyeagertogainacceptanceandrespectabilityforIndianculturefroma ChristianEuropeanaudiencewhosawinHinduismnothingmorethanthechildishprattleofa brutish,colonizedpeople.ManyexaggeratedstereotypesaboutHinduismhadbeenunsettling impressionableEuropeanmindsforacenturyprevioustotheirera.Ratherthanattemptingto refutethesemanystereotypesaboutHinduismbypresentingHinduisminitsauthenticand pristineform,however,manyofthese19thcenturyChristianizedIndiansfeltitwasnecessary toinsteadgutHinduismofanythingthatmightseemoffensivelyexotictotheEuropeanmind. RadicalUniversalismseemedtobetheperfectbasenotionuponwhichtoartificiallyconstruct a new Hinduism that would give the Anglicized 19thcentury Indian intelligentsia the acceptabilitytheysoyearnedtobegrantedbytheirBritishmasters. WeencounteroneofthefirstinstancesoftheRadicalUniversalistinfiltrationofHinduismin thesyncretisticteachingsofRamMohanRoy(17721833),thefounderoftheBrahmoSamaj. Ahighlycontroversialfigureduringhislife,RoywasaBengaliintellectualwhowasheavily influencedbytheteachingsoftheUnitarianChurch,aheterodoxdenominationofChristianity. InadditiontostudyingChristianity,IslamandSanskrit,hestudiedHebrewandGreekwiththe dream of translating the Bible into Bengali. A selfdescribed Hindu reformer, he viewed Hinduism through a colonial Christian lens. The Christian missionaries had told Roy that traditional Hinduism was a barbaric religion that had led to oppression, superstition and ignorance of the Indian people. He believed them. More, Roy saw Biblical teachings, specifically,asholdingthecherishedkeytoalteringtraditionalHinduteachingstomakethem moreacceptabletoIndiascolonialmasters.InhismissionaryzealtoChristianizeHinduism,he even wrote an antiHindu tract known asThe Precepts of Jesus: The Guide to Peace and Happiness.ItwasdirectlyfromtheseChristianmissionariesthatRoyderivedthebulkofhis
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ideas,includingtheantiHindunotionoftheradicalequalityofallreligions. InadditiontoacquiringRadicalUniversalismfromtheChristianmissionaries,Royalsofeltit necessarytoChristianizeHinduismbyadoptingmanyBiblicaltheologicalbeliefsintohisneo Hindureformmovement.Someoftheseothernonintrinsicadaptationsincludedarejection of Hindu panentheism, to be substituted with a more Biblical notion of anthropomorphic monotheism;arejectionofalliconicworship(gravenimagesasthecryptoChristiansofthe BrahmoSamajphrasedit);andarepudiationofthedoctrineofavataras,orthedivinedescent of God. Roys immediate successors, Debendranath Tagore and Keshub Chandra Sen, attemptedtoincorporateevenmoreChristianidealsintothisneoHinduisminvention.The BrahmoSamajistodayextinctasanorganization,buttheglobalHinducommunityisstill feelingthedamagingeffectsofitsperniciousinfluence. ThenexttwoneoHinduRadicalUniversaliststhatwewitnessinthehistoryof19thcentury HinduismareSriRamakrishna(18361886)andSwamiVivekananda(18631902).Though Vivekananda was a disciple (shishya) of Ramakrishna, the two led very different lives. RamakrishnawasbornintoaHindufamilyinDakshineshwar.Inhisadultlife,hewasaHindu templepriestandaferventlydemonstrativedevoteeoftheDivineMother.Hisprimaryobject ofworshipwastheGoddessKali,whomheworshipedwithintensedevotionallofhislife. DespitehisHinduroots,however,manyofRamakrishnasideasandpracticeswerederived, notfromtheancientwisdomofclassicalHinduism,butfromthenonVedicreligiousoutlooks ofIslamandliberalChristianity. Though he saw himself as being primarily Hindu, Ramakrishna believed that all religions aimedatthesamesupremedestination.HeexperimentedbrieflywithMuslim,Christiananda widevarietyofHindupractices,blending,mixingandmatchingpracticesandbeliefsasthey appealedtohimatanygivenmoment.In1875,RamakrishnametKeshubChandraSen,the thenleaderoftheneoHinduBrahmoSamaj.SenintroducedRamakrishnatothecloseknit communityofneoHinduactivistswholivedinCalcutta,andwouldinturnoftenbringthese activiststo Ramakrishnassatsangas. Ramakrishnaendedup beingoneofthe mostwidely popularofneoHinduRadicalUniversalists. Swami Vivekananda was arguably Ramakrishnas most capable disciple. An eloquent and charismaticspeaker,VivekanandawillbeforeverhonoredbytheHinducommunityforhis brilliant defense of Hinduism at the Parliament of World Religions in 1893. Likewise, VivekanandacontributedgreatlytotherevivalofinterestinthestudyofHinduscripturesand
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philosophy in turnofthecentury India. The positive contributions of Vivekananda toward Hinduism are numerous and great indeed. Notwithstanding his remarkable undertakings, however,VivekanandafoundhimselfinasimilarlydifficultpositionasotherneoHinduleaders ofhisdaywere.HowtomakesenseoftheancientwaysofHinduism,andhopefullypreserve Hinduism,inthefaceoftheoverwhelmingonslaughtofmodernity?Despitemanypositive contributions by Vivekananda and other neoHindus in attempting to formulate a Hindu response to the challenge of modernity, that response was often made at the expense of authentic Hindu teachings. Vivekananda, along with the other leaders of the neoHindu movement,feltitwasnecessarytobothwaterdowntheHinduismoftheirancestors,andto adoptsuchforeignideasasRadicalUniversalism,withthehopeofgainingtheapprovalofthe Europeanmasterstheyfoundrulingoverthem. WhileRamakrishnaledacontemplativelifeofrelativeisolationfromthelargerworld,Swami Vivekananda was to become a celebrated figure on the world religion stage. Vivekananda frequentlytookasomewhatdismissiveattitudetotraditionalHinduismasitwaspracticedin his day, arguing (quite incorrectly) that Hinduism was too often irrational, overly mythologically oriented, and too divorced from the more practical need for social welfare work.HewasnotmuchinterestedinRamakrishnasearlieremphasisonmysticaldevotionand ecstaticworship.Rather,Vivekanandalaidstressonthecentralityofhisownidiosyncraticand universalisticapproachtoVedanta,whatlatercametobeknownasneoVedanta. Vivekananda differed slightly with Ramakrishnas version of Radical Universalism by attemptingtosuperimposeadistinctlyneoVedanticoutlookontheideaoftheunityofall religions.VivekanandaadvocatedasortofhierarchicalRadicalUniversalismthatespousedthe equalityofallreligions,whilesimultaneouslyclaimingthatallreligionsarereallyevolving frominferiornotionsofreligiositytoapinnaclemode.Thatpinnacleofallreligiousthought andpracticewas,forVivekananda,ofcourse,Hinduism.ThoughVivekanandacontributeda greatdealtowardhelpingEuropeanandAmericannonHindustounderstandthegreatnessof Hinduism,theRadicalUniversalistandneoHinduinaccuraciesthathefosteredhavealsodone agreatdealofharmaswell. In order to fully experience Hinduism in its most spiritually evocative and philosophically compellingform,wemustlearnto recognize,andreject,theconcoctedinfluencesofneo HinduismthathavepermeatedthemassofHinduthoughttoday.Itistimetoridourselvesof theliberal,ChristianinspiredreformismthatsodeeplyprejudicedsuchindividualsasRam MohanRoyoveracenturyago.WemustfreeourselvesfromtheantiHindudogmaofRadical
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UniversalismthathassoweakenedHinduism,andreembraceaclassicalformofHinduism thatisrootedintheactualscripturesofHinduism,thathasbeenpreservedforthousandsof yearsbythevariousdisciplicsuccessionsoflegitimateacharyas,andthathasstoodthetestof time. We must celebrate traditional Hinduism. The neoHindu importation of Radical Universalismmayresonatewithmanyonapurelyemotionallevel,butitremainspatently antiHinduinitsorigins,anindefensiblepropositionphilosophically,andahighlydestructive doctrinetothefurtherdevelopmentofHinduism.

WereNotSuperiorThereforeWereSuperior
InadditiontodemonstratingthenonHindunatureofRadicalUniversalismfromahistorical andliteraryperspective,itisalsoimportanttoexaminethevalidityoftheclaimsofRadical Universalismfromanovertlyphilosophicalperspective.Weneedtoseeiftheideathatall religionsarethesamemakesanyobjectiverationalsenseatall.Theproblemthatiscreatedis thatsinceonlyHinduismissupposedlyteachingthetruththatallreligionsarethesame,and sincenootherreligionseemstobeawareofthistruthotherthanmoderndayHinduism, thenHinduismisnaturallysuperiortoallotherreligionsinitsexclusivepossessionofthe knowledgethatallreligionsarethesame.Initsattempttoinsistthatallreligionsarethe same,RadicalUniversalismhasemployedacircularpatternoflogicthatsetsitselfupasbeing, astoundingly,superiortoallotherreligions.Thus,attemptingtoupholdtheclaimofRadical UniversalismleadstoasituationinwhichRadicalUniversalismsveryclaimiscontradicted.A goodwaytoseetheinherentcircularlogicofthisclaimistoconductaformalpropositional analysisoftheargument. 1)ModernHinduismistheonlyreligionthatsupportsRadicalUniversalism. 2)RadicalUniversalismstatesthatallreligionsarethesame. 3)Nootherreligionstatesorknowsthatallreligionsarethesame. 4)Sincea)nootherreligionsknowthetruththatallreligionsarethesame,andsince b)onlyHinduismknowsthetruththatallreligionsarethesame,onlyHinduismknows thetruthofallreligions. 5)OnlyHinduismknowsthetruthofallreligions.

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6)Therefore,Hinduismisbothdistinctandsuperiortoallreligions. 7)Therefore, given Hinduisms distinctness from and superiority to allreligions: all religionsarenotthesame. 8)Sinceallreligionsarenotthesame,RadicalUniversalismisuntrue.

Hinduism:TheEmptyMirror?
AfurtherselfdefeatingaspectofRadicalUniversalismisthatitseverelynegatestheveryneed for Hinduism itself, relegating the Hindu tradition to merely being an ideological vehicle subservienttotheRadicalUniversalistagenda,andrenderinganymeaningfulsenseofHindu culturalandreligiousidentitybarren.IftheRadicalUniversalistsofneoHinduismclaimthat all religions are the same, then each and every religion is simultaneously deprived of all attributiveuniqueness.Theyaredeprivedoftheiridentity.ThisismanifestlytrueofHinduism evenmoresothananyotherreligion,sinceRadicalUniversalistneoHinduswouldbethesole representativesofRadicalUniversalismontheworldreligiousstagetoday. IfwesaythattheancientteachingsandprofoundlyuniquespiritualcultureofHinduismis qualitatively no better or no worse than any other religion, then what is the need for Hinduism? Hinduism then becomes the blank backdrop, the empty theatrical stage, upon whichallotherreligiousideasaregiventheunbridledfreedomtoact,entertainandperform, allattheexpenseofHinduismsfreedomtoassertitsownidentity.Hinduism,subjugatedto theRadicalUniversalistagenda,wouldfinditselfreducedtobeingmerelyaninertmirror, doomedtoaspiretonothingmorephilosophicallysubstantialthanpassivelyreflectingevery otherreligiouscreed,dogmaandpracticeinitsuniversalistimposedsheen.

BrahmanandFreeVolition
TheprimaryreasonwhyRadicalUniversalistsclaimthatallreligionsarethesameisfoundin thepretentiousassumptionthatthevariousindividualAbsolutestowardwhicheachreligion aimsare,unbeknownsttothemall,reallythesame.Inotherwords,themembersofallother religionsarealsoreallyseekingBrahman;theyarejustnotintelligentenoughtoknowit!As everyotherreligionwillvociferouslyaffirm,however,theyarenotseekingBrahman.Brahman is not Allah; Allah is not Nirvana; Nirvana is not Kevala; Kevala is not polytheistic Gods/Goddesses;polytheisticGods/GoddessesisnotYahweh;YahwehisnottheAncestors;the
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Ancestorsarenottreespirits;treespiritsarenotBrahman.WhenareligiousMuslimtellsus thatheisworshipingAllah,andnotBrahman,weneedtotakehimseriouslyandrespecthis choice.WhenaBuddhisttellsusthathewantstoachieveNirvana,andnotBrahman,weneed totakehisclaimseriouslyandrespecthisdecision;andsoon.Todisrespectfullyinsistthatall otherreligionsarereallyjustworshipingBrahmanwithoutknowingit,andtodosointhevery name of respect and tolerance, is the pinnacle of hypocrisy and intolerance. The uncomplicatedfactisthat,regardlessofhowsincerelywemaywishthatallreligionsdesire thesameAbsolutethatweHinduswishtoachieve,otherreligionssimplydonot.Weneedto acceptandlivewiththisconcretetheologicalfact.

DistinguishingSalvificStates
The Christians ultimate aim in salvation is to be raised physically from the dead on the eschatologicaldayofjudgment,andtofindherselfinheavenwithJesus,whoistobefound seated at the right hand of the anthropomorphic male Father/God of the Old and New Testament.Muslimsaspiretowardadelightfullyearthyparadiseinwhich72houris,orvirgin youth, will be granted to them to enjoy (Quran, 76:19). Jains are seeking kevala, or aloneness, in which they will enjoy an eternal existence of omniscience and omnipotence withouttheunwantedintrusionofaGod,aBrahmanoranAllah.Buddhistsseektohaveall thetransitoryelementsthatproducetheillusionofaselfmeltaway,andtohavethemselvesin turnmeltawayintothenihilismofnirvana.TotheBuddhist,Brahmanalsoisanillusion. Eachofthesedifferentreligionshasitsowncategoricallyuniqueconceptofsalvationandof theAbsolutetowardwhichitsfollowersaspire.Eachconceptisirreconcilablewiththeothers. Tostatethesituationunequivocally,ifaChristian,Muslim,JainorBuddhist,uponachieving hisdistinctnotionofsalvation,weretofindhimselfinsteadunitedwithBrahman,hewould mostlikelybequiteupsetandconfusedindeed.Andhewouldhavearighttobe!Conversely, theaverageyogiprobablywouldbequitebewildereduponfinding72virginswaitingforhim uponachievingmoksha,ratherthanrealizingtheeternalblissofBrahman.Onepersonsvision ofsalvationisanotherpersonsideaofhell.

ReclaimingtheJewelofDharma
Sanatana Dharma, authentic Hinduism, is a religion that is just as unique, valuable and integral a religion as any other major religion on Earth, with its own beliefs, traditions, advancedsystemofethics,meaningfulrituals,philosophyandtheology.Thereligioustradition
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ofHinduismissolelyresponsiblefortherevelationofsuchconceptsandpracticesasyoga, ayurveda,vastu,jyotisha,yajna,puja,tantra,Vedanta,karma,etc.Theseandcountlessother VedicinspiredelementsofHinduismbelongtoHinduism,andtoHinduismalone.Theyare alsoHinduism'sdivinegifttoasufferingworld. IfwewanttoensurethatouryouthremaincommittedtoHinduismasameaningfulpath,that our leaders teach Hinduism in a manner that represents the tradition faithfully and with dignity,andthatthegreaterHinducommunitycanfeelthattheyhaveareligionthattheycan truly take pride in, then we must abandon Radical Universalism. If we want Hinduism to survivesothatitmaycontinuetobringhope,meaningandenlightenmenttountoldfuture generations,thenthenexttimeoursonordaughterasksuswhatHinduismisreallyallabout, letusnotslavishlyrepeattothemthatallreligionsarethesame.Letusinsteadlookintotheir eyes, and teach them the uniquely precious, beautifully endearing, and philosophically profoundtruthsofourtraditiontruthsthathavebeenresponsibleforkeepingHinduisma vibrantlylivingreligiousforceforover5,000years.LetusteachthemSanatanaDharma,the eternalwayofTruth.fromHinduismToday,Kaua'i,Hawaii,July/August/September2005
Dr.FrankMoralesisadevoutHindu,ateacherandlectureronyogaspirituality,anordainedpriestinthe Vaishnavatradition,founderoftheAmericanInstituteforYogaStudies.HiscommitmenttoHinduthoughtand practicebeganatage12.HehasaPh.D.inPhilosophyofReligionandHinduStudiesfromtheUniversityof WisconsinatMadison.Hiswebsiteiswww.dharmacentral.com.

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