Dharma and Universal Values of HumanismDISCUSSION PAPER
Universal values, Personal
law, Religious discourse, Religious conversions
Sharma, People First, September 2000
Dharma is an ancient philosophical concept of India. As
propounded in various scriptures, Its attributes, include
characteristics such as: rationality, sense of duty, justice,
peace, truthfulness, compassion, non-violence, rectitude,
humanity, spirituality, tolerance, ethics, service to others,
and philanthropy. Dharma thus truly symbolises universal values
of humanism and can form the basis of global ethics.
Hinduism is not a religion but "dharma" which means a
way of life based on universal values of humanism. Within
Hinduism there are various "panths" or religions.
"Dharma" has been incorrectly interpreted as
"religion" and consequently "dharma-nirpeksh"
construed as "secularism", leading to the present
confusion in concepts. The official translation of religion is
"panth" and of secularism is "panth-nirpeksh".
The true interpretation of "Dharma" signifying the
above stated attributes can only be "universal values of
Hinduism, Bahai and such other faiths represent henotheism, that
is oneness of various manifestations of the only
super-consciousness. Many tribal religions are polytheistic in
that they have belief in many gods. Religions such as
Christianity and Islam are monotheistic in that they assert that
there is only one god and specified prophets. Thus a Hindu
naturally accepts that Christ and Mohammed are manifestations of
god but Christians and Muslims have difficulty in accepting
other gods and can, at best, "tolerate" them. As a
result, they tend to resort to convert those whom they perceive
"non-believers". Social reformers such as Christ and
Mohammed themselves never claimed that they were god or the only
representatives of god.
Self-seeking priesthood in most religions, with intent to
establish its hegemony, distorted the values preached by all
faiths, and divided society. Hindu priesthood converted castes
based on profession to birth, made a section of society
untouchable, and introduced exploitative customs. The Muslim
priesthood till today sanctifies four wives and abuses religious
dictats called "fatwa". Christian priesthood claims
superiority and entices the poor of other faiths to conversion.
In the epic poem Gita revered by many western scholars, the
godhead Krishna says that whenever injustice and exploitation
becomes unbearable, I will come again and again. He came again
as Christ, Mohammed, Sikh gurus and other social reformers, and
in the twentieth century as Gandhi. Most of them were not
accepted in their lifetime. Now at the turn of the millennium,
the survival of society depends upon their preaching.
"Dharma" based on universal values of humanism asserts
secularism with total acceptance of all faiths whereas the
western concept of secularism is of mere tolerance of other
religions. Hinduism and Bahai faith are thus truly secular.
The third millennium should strive for such true secularism
based on universal values of humanism.
1 Personal law through in-community referendum
The personal law
of any community is not a religious but a social matter.
However, since sentiments are associated with it, it should be
validated through referendum within each community. Contemporary
social values are that women should have equal inheritance
rights as men, a person can have only one spouse, and divorce by
consent or decree should be permissible. These are opposed by
high priests of some communities. In such cases, personal law
based on contemporary social values versus customary personal
law should be referred for decision through referendum within
the community, and the verdict of the referendum declared the
personal law. Well meaning citizens and most women will clearly
vote in favour of contemporary social values.
2 Religious discourse and festivals at
governance, that is village and urban neighbourhood governments,
the grassroots assembly consisting of all adult men and women
constitutes the supreme authority. There is thus a confluence of
community and governance. If therefore the grassroots
parliament, in open assembly, resolves that in the village or
neighbourhood schools discourses in religions and spirituality
shall be held, certain festivals of religions will be arranged,
and participation in them will be optional, it shall not be
construed as violation of secularism.
Disputes shall be referred to citizenís councils at the
sub-district and finally at the district level whose decision
shall be final. State and national governments shall have no
jurisdiction over social issues.
3 Religious conversions to be non-exploitative
conversions are of three types, namely (1) State supported as
during the Muslim and colonial rule in India, (2) motivated by
service, such as education, healthcare and skill upgrading for
augmentation of earning capacity, and (3) motivated by
intellectual conviction. The second type has elements of
exploitation of poverty and illiteracy, and is truly not
conversion through conviction. Conversions, based on such
exploitation, cannot be acceptable to contemporary society.
Conversion, through service, of persons who are not at least
high school graduates, should be treated as forced conversion,
and those responsible should be liable to prosecution under law.
The persons converted should however be free to profess any
religion they choose.
Conversion through exploitation of poverty is provoking attacks
on Catholic priests not only in India but also in Pakistan and
other countries. It is leading to social tension and ongoing ill
will between communities. The above law will promote social and
religious harmony and true secularism based on universal values
of humanism, and not mere tolerance of other faiths.