Spiritual Symbols (Karmasthana) – Ram Swarup

Sri Ram Swarup had wished the following note to be incorporated into a new edition of Hindu View of Christianity and Islam published by Voice of India. We have a copy of the note from Sri A.P. Joshi and herewith share it with readers. It will be of special interest to those who know Ram Swarup’s perceptive critique of Christianity and Islam. – IS

Ram SwarupSri Ram Swarup’s Note on Karmasthana

Prophetic religions have no worthwhile theory of self-purification. They have felt that they do not need one. They deal in ready-made truths received from their God by their prophet in a revelation and communicated to his followers as dogmas. In Hinduism there is a problem of truth itself, the problem of receiving and communicating it. In this tradition, problems relating to the message, the medium and the source are important and are open to questions and inquiry. In prophetic tradition, to raise questions about them is unbelief, infidelity and is punishable.

Prophetic religions have at best a theory of inspiration (ilham and the holy ghost). But in actual practice, this doctrine is a veritable psychological trap and has often led to much charlatanism and to excesses. Apollonius, the great saint of the Greco-Roman world advises that we should avoid philosophies and people who “claim to be inspired, for people like that lie about Gods and urge them to do many foolish things”.

In prophetic religions, the prophet is supposed to speak for God, but in most cases, it is difficult to decide who speaks for whom – the prophet for God or God for the prophet. Similarly, it is not sure where God begins if he begins at all and where the prophet ends. In the case of the prophet of Islam, it was seen that his revelations were quite accommodative and served his convenience as Aisha, his young wife, pointed out. Sometimes it also happened that words supplied by the recorder became part of the heavenly text which upset him greatly. But Umar  was flattered when he saw that some of the suggestions he had made became Allah’s injunctions.

Salman Rushdie has discussed the phenomenon of revelations of Islam’s prophet in his Satanic Verses from the modern psychological angle. He finds there is no Allah and no message. It is prophet all over. He dictates with one mind and listens to what he himself has dictated with the other.

We need not disagree with Salman’s observations about the prophet of his discussion. But we need not accept his larger intellectual format about spiritual life. Hinduism believes in Gods, in higher life and higher truth; it believes that this truth is not alien to man but is akin to him; that he is surrounded by it, lives in it and breathes in it, but to become aware of it requires a pure heart.

To a superficial look it may appear like prophetism, at least in some essentials. But a little discrimination will show that it is not so. Prophetism deals in special Gods, special revelations, special dispensation. Sanatana Dharma tradition is concerned with laws of the spirit that apply to all and are true for all time. It does not discuss historical oddities; it discusses higher life as a regular phenomenon of life. Revelation is taking place all the time and man is nourished regularly by heaven and he lives in interchange with Gods. Prophetism with its exclusive Gods and special messengers and revelations is a caricature of this truth.

Sanatana Dharma teaches that to become aware of the higher life and establish its rule, the soul has to develop new organs of perception like faith, dhyana or meditation (devout attention), discrimination and prajna. Faith is recognised in many religious traditions, but the others find emphasis mainly in Hindu tradition and those which are related to it, like the Greek Pythagoreans and Neoplatonists. Upanishads say that meditation is greater than thought and they found that the earth, atmosphere, waters, mountains, Gods as well as men, all are mediating as it were. In this tradition, spiritual discrimination (viveka) and purified intelligence (buddhi) are highly valued.

Upanishads also teach that a man becomes what he desires, aspires to, thinks and dwells upon. So it gives importance to purify his seeking, his desire and his thoughts. This can best be done by contemplating and dwelling on the objects of his seeking themselves.

In Hindu spiritual tradition, man’s seeking is for truth, for immortality, for light, for plenitude, for fullness, for the vast, for liberation. Lead me from falsehood to truth, from darkness to light, from death to deathlessness, from the small to the vast is the Upanishadic prayer. The Upanishads also teach that the best way to realise them is to meditate and reflect on them. The great truths of the spirit are also the great anusmritis and anudhyanas – that is subjects and objects worthy to be remembered and meditated upon reverentially again and again.

In Hindu Yogic tradition, there is a great emphasis on an in-gathered or recollected mind. A man can make no spiritual progress with a scattered mind. Such a mind is lost in its objects and it neither knows them nor itself properly. But once a mind is recollected, it knows what it is to be mindful. A dissipated mind is by nature sorrowful but a recollected mind is by nature joyful and luminous (vishoka and jyotishmati). A man with a recollected mind realises that he is more akin to mind than to its objects.

To conquer mind’s wanderings (vikshepa), it is necessary to acquire one-pointedness (ekagrata). For that one should practice the culture of One-principle (eka-tattva abbyasa). For this purpose, Indian Yoga has mentioned many subjects, objects and symbols for concentration and meditation (loosely rendered here as karmasthana). They help to settle the mind and a settled mind helps to purify them further.

Ultimately the best subjects and objects of dhyana are, as we just observed, the great truths of the Self itself but nothing that has a psychic and spiritual significance is ruled out. In India’s yogic tradition, friendliness, compassion, joy, passionlessness, mindfulness and equal-mindedness are considered great purifiers.

Many other subjects, symbols and objects are mentioned: elements, luminaries like fire, sun or sky and earth, any chosen deity or guru-figure, the mystic sound of Om, in short every symbol of psychic and spiritual potential is acceptable.

A karmasthana is not good enough and subtle enough to start with. But the process of meditation itself sets up a process which purifies it further, removes its blemishes and makes it a fitting channel for further spiritual progress. Under the alchemy of meditation, the symbol becomes increasingly more luminous, joyful and psychic. The process of meditation converts it into a new currency and makes it worthy of a new journey in a new terrain. Opened to higher influences, it is further purified and raised up. Unknown inner doors open and new Gods are born.

All this transformation is necessary. Any chosen symbol or figure must purify itself before it purifies others; it must become spirit-worthy before it guides on the spiritual path. The transformation takes place as a matter of course in accordance with the spiritual laws; it cannot be manipulated; it is self-determined and charters its own course. Its moving power is the aspirant’s sincerity and intensity of aspiration. On the spiritual path, nothing that is honest and sincere is lost and all lost and all threads meet and everything is added up and taken into account.

The process of meditation accepts all sattvika sentiments, objects and symbols but has no use for those which are rajasika and tamasika. Those who sit with their eyes closed but dwell with their mind on its lower attractions become worse. Strong hatreds, egoistic opinions, prejudices and preferences – whether one’s own or one’s God’s and prophet’s does not matter, for let us remember that there is lot of self-worship through worship of one’s deities and prophets – are most unacceptable. They add another danger. In a meditative mind, they appear as visions, voices and commands of one’s deity. They have deep roots, a stubborn life. A cat has nine lives, they have ninety-nine; they can remain dormant for a long time and reappear in many guises. To overcome them and to make them seedless is a great problem in the spiritual quest. But we are not taking up that question here.

Though Abrahamic religions lack the culture of meditation, pious and believing Muslims and Christians have often dwelt on their founders with great piety and reverence. This has benefited the symbols and under the alchemy of piety greatly improved them. In fact, some Sufis have given us a very different kind of prophet than the one we know in history. This prophet-figure of piety is at odds with the prophet of history. In some ways, this has produced much confusion and one figure has been mistaken for the other. It also became a source of mischief. The figure of the prophet of piety is used to sell the prophet of history and to propagate his cult.

Similarly, Christian monks have often meditated on Jesus in their monasteries. In one way, he is better fitted for this role. For in his case, there is little history to contend with and to shed. But he is a figure of theology which makes him equally intractable and impervious to light.

Meditation on historical Jesus also benefited the Jesus-figure. When dwelt upon with loving regard it tended to lose its blemishes and became more luminous. Thus it became acceptable to the meditating monks in spite of its inherent unreasonableness and untenability. And here too again as in Islam, the meditation-figure was used to promote the Jesus of theology.

For the sake of our Christian readers who lay great store by historical Jesus, let us dilate on the subject a little more. Let us say that Yoga does not care for a historical figure as such; it cares only for its psychic truth. It would suffice to say that to a man who sincerely follows the soul’s native aspiration for self-recovery, any chosen symbol, physical or psychic, historical or non-historical, any figure of a guru living or past – they are all acceptable starting points. The rest is added as he proceeds on the path and as the need arose. Therefore, a sincere Christian could, if he is so minded, adopt the figure of a historical Jesus without harm and even with profit. In the simplest way, it provides a focus for his religious impulses – in itself no small gain. And if his aspiration is pure, persistent and one-pointed, it could take him further on the spiritual path. As the believer dwells on his chosen figure with loving care, a process of change is set up which transforms the symbol. What is redundant drops and what is necessary is added. Under this alchemy, the figure thaws, becomes freer and is released from its historical and psychological confines; it turns to light above and within, absorbs it and is converted into its likeness; under this influence, it loses it opacity and becomes transparent and a reflector of truths beyond itself. [1]

If the figure of normal Jesus was allowed to run its course, it could become a channel of further spiritual progress. If a man has it in his soul and is spiritually ready, he would realise that though the figure is now lighted, it has no light of its own. He would become increasingly more aware of the forces at work within him – forces that bind and those that liberate. His soul may wake up and become a aware of its original, untarnished status. This would open up his prajna, or wisdom-eye; he would realise that salvation is a lawful act and it does not depend on a historical accident; that soul in its original status is not sinful but pure, untouched by evil (shuddham apapaviddham); that man is raised and saved by the Self, his true light and refuge; he would meet the indwelling saviour – who is in all and belongs to all. He would realise that he is nothing and God is everything, in all.

But a Christian believer operates in a very different atmosphere. He is not to find his God or saviour for himself, but both are given to him by the Church; he is not to follow his inner light – he is taught to distrust it – but be guided by an official theology. Under its tutelage, the saviour is conceived as a mediator between an offended deity and a sinful man; the figure obviously belongs to those religious cults and practices in which blood and sacrifice, both human and animal, dominate, not inquiry and contemplation.

It is obvious that such theology can have no exalted idea either of God or man. This theology is spiritually disabling in other ways too; it gives its believers exclusive revelations, exclusive Gods, exclusive saviours. It gives a God revealed to a chosen intermediary but to be believed by all; it gives a saviour who saves few but condemns many – the unbelievers invariably so. In this theology historical Jesus plays a pre-determined, ideological role. Under its influence, this figure deteriorates badly; instead of getting purified and uplifted as on the first route, it is debased and lowered in conception and spiritual quality; instead of converting into a psychic truth, it becomes a fanatic and intolerant idea; instead of becoming luminous and transparent, it becomes opaque with little capacity for receiving and reflecting higher truths.

The figure of Jesus as developed and available in Christian tradition is tamasika-rajasika. It would be difficult for it to recover whatever other possibility it ever had; it has now become a symbol – a frozen symbol – of religious aggrandisement; it is badly infected with raaga-dvesha – inwoven with its followers’ ambitions and hatred. The believer operates in the atmosphere of what is called theological odium; he learns to hate on a large scale, hate under many names and guises, hate his Pagan neighbours and the whole past of humanity. While he loves after a fashion his God – a form of self-love – he is taught to hate all other Gods or rather the Gods of others. While great claims are made for his God, Gods of others are abominated and denied. Thus the figure of a historical Jesus is made to support a huge, doctrinal superstructure of denials and arrogant claims; it presides over a vast apparatus of repression and self-aggrandisement. In this approach while history and the fraternity of believers run amuck, eternity and humanity have little place.

Christianity is a living example of a case where an innocent symbol was destroyed by a bad theology. But it does not mean there are no believing Christians now or in the past who did not overcome the faults of their theology. Many have loved their fellow believers without learning to hate their Pagan neighbours. All this shows that man is greater than his creeds and ideologies and that humanity could survive its hate-ideologies.

Note

This process should not be confused with the process that applies to cases like Krishna or Rama. Though these too could be and often are used as karmasthana, they are differently conceived. They are spiritual realities which took birth in the hearts of sages like Vyasa and Valmiki and given a psychic earthly life. But in the case of Jesus and Muhammad, they are historical characters being invested with a spiritual significance through the alchemy of piety. Psychically they were born – one in the mind of Paul and the other in the minds of Umar and Abu Bakr.

» Sri Ram Swarup (1920–December 26, 1998) was a Samkhya philosopher and Yogi who with Sita Ram Goel founded the publishing house Voice of India. He was a prolific author and one of the most influential independent Hindu thinkers of our time. He is best known for his profound critique of Christianity and Islam from the Hindu perspective and for his study of Hindu polytheism called The Word as Revelation: Names of Gods.

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3 Responses

  1. “Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd and bloody religion that has ever infected the world.” — Voltaire

  2. The Christianity has an additional problem. We wll talk about Islam later on. The Chritianity believes in Personal God and belief in personal God can never be defended without authority, reference and acceptance of Vedas. Except for hale and hearty Vaishnava path of belief in personal God, which is the only survivor in onslaught of all formless paths: Buddhism, Shivism, Jainism, Islam, Brahmism, shankracharya path etc., there is no other example of logically and spritually viable example of survval for long of belief in personal God. Vedas gives the context and alternatives of God with and without form under the beutiful concept of Dvaita and Advaita sciences. God is formless( adwait) and with form (dwait=2). So with dwait it reconciles with most acceptable. simple and universal aspect of formless God which is as described above. The personal God or God with the form is most difficult and highly evolved idea which is useless without the authority of Vedas which simultaneously describes with context and in relation to the formless God. The Christianity has no such analysis, context, relationship, authority to support its belief in personal god, which is bound to lose to more simple, universal, seemingly more logical onslaught of formless aspect of God like Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, confucism, Brahmism, shivism,Shankracharya paths etc. unless it has a solid link with Vaishnavism, Vedas description of incarnation of formless aspect into a permanent forms and then pluralism of God with form.

    As regards Islam, which believes in formless non personal God, it has all the disabilities of no context with the complete advaita, dwaita authority or precedent of Vedas. But it has advantage of piggy backing
    as many other with the context of precedent are there to spare its independent verification which is not available to Christianity in the absence of its relations with Vaishnavism which has its authentication in completeness of dvaita aspect in context to advaita.

    • Hinduism has the concept of ishta-devata who for the devotee is the personal god among other deities. This concept is very important and unique to Hinduism. Hinduism can therefore be identified as panentheism (Sita Ram Goel & Ram Swarup) which enables the devotee to cherish a particular deity without denying others.

      In Neo-Vedanta the guru has replaced the ishta-devata for the devotee. The guru has always been held in high esteem next to God, but the modern Neo-Vedantic practice must be considered an aberration which has resulted in a large number of godmen with personality cults misrepresenting Hinduism and Yoga in India and abroad.

      In Islam the all-pervasive cult of Muhammed (which non-Muslims are not aware of) has replaced the need for personal God.

      Christianity uses its ‘living’ personal god as a selling point to make converts among Hindus. Modern educated urban Indians brought up on the saccharin philosophy of Neo-Vedanta are very vulnerable to having their minds twisted and bent by the missionary.

      Ramanuja Acharya had a point when he emphasised the worship of Ishwara in a personal form as this practice protects the devotee from the onslaughts of the proselytising Muslim and Christian.

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