Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Africa became Christian by submission, not by conversion."

The following are excerpts taken from a 1998 article by Rev. Dr. Timothy M. Njoya titled The Church as a Global Society. Njoya is a minister of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.

I have intentionally edited out, as much as possible without destroying the sense, all positive (or even exculpatory) references to Christianity. Obviously, Njoya is a Christian, and he wishes to contrast his critique of the Christianity of the European Colonialists with what he would claim is the "true spirit of the Gospel", or something like that.

But the fact is that what the European colonizers and missionaries and slave-traders did in Africa was perfectly in line with the whole history of Christianity up to that time. And, further, it is perfectly consistent with the "true spirit" of all forms of monotheistic religion, which by their very nature manifest themselves through violence and coercion.

[This is a follow-up to this previous post, also dealing with the history of Christianity and Colonialism in Africa.]
The first thing Christianity did in Africa was to make people surrender their sovereignty to church hierarchies and governments. African dictators did not learn any lessons in democracy from the way churches were established, like fiefdoms.

Christianity brought to Africa nothing of the modernization, democracy and industrial revolution that the missionaries enjoyed in their own countries. The church made the divine right of political and church leaders part of its curriculum of evangelism. Africa became a junkyard for governments discarded by the Enlightenment and the American and French Revolutions.

The slave trade and colonialism ended, not because there was any conversion or improvement in western Christianity or democracy, but because slavery and colonialism ceased to be profitable enterprises due to improved technology. Evil carries its own seeds of self-destruction. But self-destruction is not the same as repentance . . . .

By not accepting liability for the ravages of capitalism and imperialism, the church becomes a liability. Christianity should stop playing the role of maintenance and repair in the capitalist system. The church cannot cure western guilt with charity, poverty alleviation projects, contextualization, indigenization or Africanization programmes . . . .

The Christianity we have now is a soul-saving machine with no awareness of the demands of the gospel. The main preoccupation of the church is to assure those who have no value in capitalism of the great value for their souls in heaven.

Soul-salvation is a tragedy. Missionaries treated Africans as cartons containing souls, just as poachers reduce elephants and rhinos to carcasses: carrying tusks and horns . . . .

Africa became Christian by submission, not by conversion. African governments were similarly established, by conquest and not by consent . . . .

"The first thing Christianity did in Africa . . . ."

Below is a fascinating and thoughtful essay by Patrick Gathara, a Kenyan writer and political cartoonist, on the subject of the upcoming Kenyan constitutional referendum (and the issue of abortion in particular). The essay appears in Gathara's blog, but has also been picked up by the Nairobi based publication East African, and also at allAfrica.com. Much of the essay deals with the role of missionaries and the Church in the history and politics of Kenya and Africa. Also see this post, and also this one, and the links found therein, for more on Traditional African Religions and the interplay of Christianity and Colonialism in Africa.
Last week, when retired Anglican Archbishop David Gitari warned the Kenyan church that it risked being defeated at the referendum if it maintains the "No" stand at the referendum on the Proposed Constitution, he underlined the fact that the country’s most venerable institution stands at a critical crossroads in its illustrious career.

The church objects to the section of Article 26 that empowers doctors to end a pregnancy if it endangers the woman’s life or she needs emergency treatment. Christian leaders are also opposed to the retention of Kadhis’ courts in the proposed Constitution under Article 169 and 170, which limit their authority to disputes over personal status, marriage, divorce or inheritance, where all the parties are Muslims and agree to take the case to a Kadhi.

However, with most players across the political spectrum, including civil society, rallying behind the draft, the church is being confronted with the awkward possibility of being on the wrong side of history. The situation has also raised fundamental questions regarding the historical role of religion in the country’s political development and whether it has been a force for change or a tool of appeasement.

In his introduction to Religion and Politics in Kenya: Essays in Honour of a Meddlesome Priest, Ben Knighton, who teaches at the Africa Studies Centre in the University of Oxford, notes that Evangelical Lutherans of the Church Missionary Society reached Buganda in 1877 closely followed by Roman Catholic missionary orders. The proposed Uganda Railway led to a host of missions from many denominations targeting the region, but faced with the Anglican–Roman Catholic duopoly in Uganda, they stopped off in the East African Protectorate that became Kenya Colony. In fact “in many localities of Kenya, it was the missionary who took up residence before the district officer.”

A 1998 article penned by Rev Dr Timothy Njoya states: “The first thing Christianity did in Africa was to make people surrender their sovereignty to church hierarchies and governments.” According to John Lonsdale, retired professor of Modern African History at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity College, the missionaries saw colonial rule as good for the natives, who, to them, appeared to be barbarous polygamists, afflicted by famine and disease — a savage and suffering people, for whom British rule was clearly a blessing.

When they did speak out against the heavy taxes and forced labour imposed on Africans for the benefit of white settlers, it was not out of outrage at a perceived injustice. Thinking African men guilty of sinful sloth, they had already concluded that forced labour was indeed a good thing, if properly supervised by a British official. They only proposed that those African men who could prove they had worked for themselves, and their families, for a season, be exempted from conscription. This was meant to protect their African converts, who were deemed to have been redeemed from their laziness.

It is ironic, therefore, that while the church for the most part desisted from openly criticising the injustices of colonialism, it nonetheless sired the leadership of the African nationalist movement. According to Knighton, the Church of Scotland, in Thogoto (Kikuyu for Scot) and the influential Anglican centre and mother church at Kabete between them created the Kiambu elite that became the African political establishment of Kenya, “right at the heart of the new nation, ensconced on the pleasant, greener side of the capital.”

In fact, not only was the future African nationalist leadership educated in mission schools, many of them were religiously inclined. Knighton points out that Bildad Kaggia was an itinerant preacher and both Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga remained deeply devoted their tribal African Instituted Churches to the end of their days.

As the national stature of these leaders grew, so did the profile of the Christian church. A recently released study of religion in sub-Saharan Africa shows a steep rise in the number of Christians between the 1950s and the 1970s accompanied by an equally precipitous drop in adherents to traditional religion. It was in this period that Kenya became a majority Christian country.

After independence, the Africanisation of the economy was mirrored by the ascent of Africans to the leadership of the church. According to Lonsdale, just as an educated political elite, wielding power along ethnic lines was emerging, so a clerical elite was created in the church, also segmented along tribal lines — a result of the colonial policy which permitted different missionary denominations to enjoy separate spheres of territorial, and tribal, influence to stave off religious strife.

With such a confluence of interests, the churches were initially reluctant to criticise the increasingly authoritarian bent of the Kenyatta government. According to Knighton, though the churches had in 1969 belatedly fulminated against Kenyatta’s oathing of the Kikuyu following Tom Mboya’s murder, no individual of the church challenged the nation and “those in authority” in the mass media till David Gitari’s radio sermons following the assassination of J.M. Kariuki in 1975.

When Daniel arap Moi ascended to power following the death of Kenyatta, he too was allowed a long honeymoon period despite the increasingly brutal nature of his dictatorship, especially following the 1982 coup attempt. In fact, when Rev Njoya kicked off the call for the “second independence” with his New Year's Day sermon in 1990, he was vilified even by some church leaders who would later become luminaries in the fight for democracy including the late Archbishop Manasses Kuria, who declared that “the church of the Province of Kenya supports President Moi and the one-party system." Njoya’s own church, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, warned him against confrontational behaviour toward the government, reiterating the PCEA's unreserved support for President Moi and government.

Eventually though, the tide turned and, in the words of Galia Sabar-Friedman, “the church took upon itself the role of advocating democratisation in Kenya.” However, as Lonsdale observes, its motives may have been somewhat mixed. “Kenya’s churches first protested on behalf of their clerics and their flocks against the Moi regime’s abuses of power in the ‘queue-voting election’ of 1988, not on behalf of the Kenyan citizenry at large. In this they followed, if unknowingly, the example of the missionaries on the issue of forced labour 70 years before.”

Following the routing of Kanu in the 2002 elections, the churches again went AWOL. Knighton says they “lost their critical distance from government.” He singles out the general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Kenya and chairman of the Ufungamano Initiative, Mutava Musyimi, who, “having been a resolute opponent of President Moi was anything but with President Kibaki. Musyimi accepted high-level government appointments, such as chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Campaign Steering Committee, and did not resign after the shameful hounding out of John Githongo and the resignation of the director, Jane Kiragu, in February 2004.”

During the run-up to the 2007 general election, and the ensuing violence, the churches found themselves hopelessly split. According to Knighton, when Kofi Annan searched for a senior churchman of integrity and courage to enable a Kenyan solution to the post-election crisis, he couldn’t find one. They were all regarded as too compromised.

Rev Musyimi, who had resigned his church job, was running for parliament along with several other churchmen and women including Bishop Margaret Wanjiru and Pastor Pius Muiru, who also ran for the presidency. As reported in the Nation, some clergymen even admitted to blessing warriors to engage in violence and inviting politicians to disseminate hate messages that incited people against members of various communities.”

Gitari opposed the candidature of both Wanjiru, and Muiru saying, “Bishops and other ordained church leaders should not seek elective political positions.” He would later lament that “the state and the church have gone to bed together… the church has been compromised… the conscience of society has been wounded.”

Following this debacle, it was not till February 2009, at a nationally televised prayer meeting and fundraising for the Sachangwan and Nakumatt fires in which 160 people were burnt to death, that the churches found their voice, launching a blistering attack on both the president and the prime minister in an attempt to recover the high moral ground.

As the above history demonstrates, the Christian churches have not always, nor even often, stood on the side of ordinary Kenyans. While they have been a potent force for much positive change, it is instructive to note that they have accomplished this primarily in pursuit of their own selfish interests, and not the common welfare. When dictatorship has suited them, they have embraced it and kow-towed to its whims. Their current stand on the constitution should be understood in this light.

"The Basis of Universal Spirituality" (Contra Prothero, Part Two)

[The following is, complete and unaltered, The Basis of Universal Spirituality, which comprises Chapter Five of Sita Ram Goel's book Defense of Hindu Society. Much of this is, in turn, quoted from Ram Swarup's book The Word As Revelation: Names of Gods. The footnotes are active links that will take you to the Voice of Dharma website, where the online edition of the entire book is available (along with many other books by Sita Ram Goel and others). For a little background on Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swarup see: Hindus and Pagans: "A Return to the Time of the Gods", and also: "The Buddha, Sri Aurobindo and Plato": an interview with Ram Swarup. Also see Contra Prothero, Part One.]

The Basis of Universal Spirituality

Sri Ramakrishna was one day taunted by a sceptic that the Kali he worshipped at Dakshineshwar was only a slab of black stone carved into a bizarre female figure and decked with glittering trinkets. The saint was taken aback. So far he had not cared to see the sacred icon in its supreme spiritual splendour. He had been content to witness the Divine Mother in all Her majesty in the cave of his heart whenever he was in a state of samãdhi. Now he had been challenged to find out if what he worshipped was a figment of his fevered imagination.

He entered the sanctum sanctorum and stood before the sacred icon. He fixed his gaze on the holy figure, and prayed with all his concentrated psychic power: Mã ! dyãkhã dê (Mother ! Reveal Thyself). And lo and behold! The Divine Mother dazzled his physical eyes with the same indescribable infinities as he had witnessed with his inner eye while meditating on Her form. He looked back at the sceptic who had accompanied him, and smiled with compassion. The sceptic had seen nothing which he had not seen before. To his physical eyes, the Goddess was still a slab of black stone. And it had not been given to him to train the inner eye.

The point which was made that day at Dakshineshwar was that to the physical consciousness a slab of stone in any shape or form will always remain a slab of stone, while to another consciousness which has awakened to some sublime dimension the same slab will reveal its innermost mysteries. To a consciousness such as that of Sri Ramakrishna who had already scaled the highest spiritual heights, the slab of stone became an incarnation of Sat (Truth), Cit (Consciousness), and Ãnanda (Bliss). It was not the icon which was inert and inconscient; it was the witness within the sceptic which had not yet awakened to its own spiritual power. It is not the Gods who are unwilling to reveal themselves; it is the worship which has not yet known how to woo them.

This is the spiritual secret discovered by the Vedic seers. This is the mystery and miracle witnessed and vouchsafed by Hindu saints and sages throughout the ages. And this is the vast vision which forms the spiritual centre of Hindu society.

There is a consciousness, inherent in all beings, everywhere and at all times, which, when reached and brought forward, witnesses the world-play as a drama of divine forms and forces. There is not a thing, nor a thought which does not get transfigured from the terrestrial into the celestial, whenever and wherever this consciousness comes into play. Everything then returns to and resumes its supreme spiritual status, or becomes the outer symbol of an inner sublimity. It is these sublimities which invite the seer’s worship as Gods and Goddesses. It is these sublimities which spur the bhakta to burst out in song and stuti, the paens of praise pouring out of a grateful heart for being permitted to witness what has been witnessed.

The Vedic seers were not primitive animists who invested the phenomena of physical Nature with anthropomorphic attributes, as the “Science” of Comparative Religion will have us believe. They were spiritual explorers who discovered and employed well-defined yogic disciplines to raise up human consciousness from its terrestrial turmoil to its transcendent tranquility. Nor were the Vedic Gods and Goddesses born in the poetic hyperboles of some barbaric bards, as the “higher criticism” of modern Indologists will have us imagine. The poetry did not precede the birth of the Vedic pantheon. On the contrary, it succeeded that birth when the Vedic seers saw the inner secrets of outer forms.


Sages such as Sri Aurobindo who have meditated on Hindu iconography, and savants such as Ananda Coomara-swamy, Stella Kramrisch, and Alice Boner who have studied the subject, assure us that the forms and features of Hindu icons have a source higher than the normal reaches of the human mind. The icons are no photocopies of any human or animal forms as we find them in their physical frames. They are in fact crystallizations of the abstract into the concrete, of the infinite into the finite. They always point beyond themselves, and a contemplation of them always draws us from the outer to the inner.

Hindu Šilpašãstras lay down not only technical formulas for carving holy icons in stone, and metal, and other materials. They also lay down elaborate rules about how the artist is to fast, and pray, and otherwise purify himself for long periods before he is permitted, if at all, to have a psychic image of the God or Goddess whom he wants to incarnate in a physical form. It is this sublime source of the Šilpašãstras which alone can explain a Sarnath Buddha, or a Chidambram NaTarãja, or a Vidisha Varãha, to name only a few of the large assembly of divine images inhabiting the earth. It is because this sublime source is not accessible to modern sculptors that we have to be content with poor copies which look like parodies of the original marvels.

The same sages and savants inform us that the Hindu temple architecture and the rituals that are performed at the time of pûjã, also have a sublime source. This is a deep and difficult subject, largely beyond the reach of the present writer. I shall, therefore, not proceed with it. What needs to be emphasized is that the plurality of Hindu Gods, the icons in which they are embodied, the temples in which they are installed, and the rituals with which they are worshipped, are not mere accessories and aids towards some deeper spiritual vision; instead, they incarnate the vision itself.

Ram Swarup has presented the proper perspective on the plurality of Hindu Gods as well as their incarnation in concrete images, in his recently published book, The Word As Revelation: Names of Gods. His discussion leaves no doubt that the plurality of the Hindu pantheon, and the large use of concrete images is not only quite in keeping with but also necessary corollaries of (1) the spontaneous processes of human psychology, (2) the normal growth of human knowledge culminating in spiritual vision, and (3) the natural development of human language for incorporating and communicating that knowledge and vision. I will quote at length from Ram Swarup’s book because I find it difficult to clothe his insights in my own language.


He introduces the subject as follows:

“If we look at the word ‘God’, we find that though today it has acquired a forced, intellectualized outward meaning appropriate to the mentality of the present age, yet it still retains the memory of the idea of a deity of a more intuitive people and of more spontaneous times.

“Etymologists connect this word with Gothic guth, which is Skt. huta, which means ‘one to whom oblations are made’ and, therefore, one who is worshipped. It connects us with the period when fire was a great living symbol of the deity within and around. In later times, the symbol was denounced as nature-worship by some sects but there was a time when it claimed, along with the Sun and the Sky, universal acceptance. Even Moses who belonged to an iconoclastic tradition had a glimpse of his God through the medium of fire. And in the Old Testament itself, certain hymns are considered ‘nature hymns’ by its scholars.

“Etymologists also connect the word with the German word gotse whose original meaning was an image or a figure. In the Norse language also, the word meant ‘image of a deity’. So the word perhaps referred to the practice of worshipping God through various images and figures, a practice quite common amongst different peoples all over the world, ancient as well as modern.

“There is another feature worth noticing. Spengler tells us that the Old German word for ‘God’ was a neutral plural and was turned into a masculine singular by Christian propaganda. The same is true of the word in the Norse and Teutonic languages. But after the heathens were converted, God changed his gender and number. This can hardly be regarded as the deepening of its meaning and conception.

“The Hebrew word Elohim too is plural in origin, form and sense. The same is true of the Semitic word El. It is not the name of the deity common to all but is a common name for different deities in the Semitic world.

“Thus we see that the untutored and the more spontaneous intuition of the human race excludes neither the plurality of Gods nor the use of images and nature symbols from its religious sensibility. The denial comes when the mind becomes too conceptual; or when dogmatic faith develops faster than understanding.

“If we study the ancient religious literature of the Hindus, particularly the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Mahabharata, certain things stand out prominently. The very first thing is a very large use of concrete image. There are Gods like Indra, PûSana, VaruNa, Ašvins for whom there are no physical correspondences, but many important Gods like Sûrya, Agni, Marut take their names after natural objects.

“There is also another important feature that we notice. The spiritual consciousness of the race is expressed in terms of the plurality of Gods. In these two respects, at least, the Hindu approach agreed with the spiritual intuition of other ancient peoples.


“The physical and intellectual are not opposed to one another. The names of physical objects become names of ideas, names of psychic truths, names of Gods; sensuous truths become intellectual truths, become spiritual truths. As the knowledge of the senses becomes the knowledge of the Manas and the Buddhi, the knowledge originating in the higher organs of the mind also tends to filter down to the levels of the Manas and the senses. So in this way even the highest knowledge has its form, colour and sound. This need not lower down its quality in any way. In fact, this is the only way in which the sense-bound mind understands something of the higher knowledge.

“This reverberating, echoing and imaging takes place up and down the whole corridor of the mind, at all levels of abstraction. Here, as we traverse the path, we meet physical forms, sound-forms, vision-forms, thought-forms, universal forms, all echoes of each other. We meet mantras and yantras and icons of various efficacies and psychic qualities. In one sense, they are not the light above but they are its important formations. They invoke the celestial and raise up the terrestrial.

“There is another reason why images in the Vedas and the Upanishads are concrete. When the fever of the soul subsides, when the mind becomes calm, when the spiritual consciousness opens, things are no longer lifeless. In this state, things which have hitherto been regarded as ordinary are full of life, light and consciousness. In this state, ‘the earth meditates as it were; water meditates as it were; mountains meditate as it were.’1 In this state, no need is felt to separate the abstract from the concrete because both are eloquent with the same message, because both image one another. In this state, everything expresses the divine; everything is the seat of the divine; everything is That; mountains, rivers and the great earth are but the Tathãgata, as a Chinese teacher, Hsu Yun, proclaimed after his spiritual awakening.

“According to Hindu thought, the names of Gods are not names of external beings. They are names of truths of man’s own highest Self. So the knowledge of the epithets of Gods is a form of Self-knowledge. Gods and their names embody truths of the deeper Spirit and meditation on them in turn invokes those truths. But those truths are many and, therefore, Gods and their names too are many, though they are all held together in the unity of a spiritual consciousness.”


Next, he provides a peep into how the Western-Christian mind views the Vedic pantheon. He proceeds:

“This way of looking at the Godhead is disconcerting to the Western schematic mind. In the Vedic approach, there is no single God. This is bad enough. But the Hindus do not have even a supreme God, a fuhrer-God who presides over a multiplicity of Gods. If there has to be a plurality of Gods as is the case in all polytheistic religions, there could at least be a tabulated statement of Gods arranged in some order of superiority and inferiority, each God having some distinctive characteristics of his or her own. But here we have no such thing, no ranking, no order of seniority and precedence, no hierarchy, no recognizable magistracy; it is all anarchy. This melee could not even be called a pantheon - a body of Gods, however disordered (Gk. pan+theos); it is a body of demons and evil spirits, pandemonium (pan+diamon).

“It seems that the Hindus were either confused about their Gods or that these Gods were not jealous enough to be like the God of the Bible. The Hindus worshipped their Gods in turn with the same supreme epithets. It seems to be like a philanderer wooing several women at the same time with the same vows, promises, and protestations and telling each in turn that she is the only beautiful and true one for him. If they only knew what the man was doing there would be trouble enough for him. In like manner, if a Hindu God knew what his worshipper was telling his rival God, it would either expose the devotee’s insincerity or the powerlessness or his God.”


Finally, he presents the Vedic point of view in the following words:

"But there is another approach, quite a different one, which was adopted by the people of the Vedas. According to this approach, ‘Reality is one but the wise call it by different names; they call him Indra, Mitra, VaruNa, Agni, Yama, Mãtarišvãn.’2 Reality is like the Ganges: different villages along its banks are differently named but they are all on the same river; the people drink the same water and their soil is watered and fertilized by the same source. The Reality is like an ocean rolling against different continents; you taste it anywhere, it is the same. The Reality is like a nugget of gold; it is the same at the corners, at the top, or at the bottom, or in the middle. Like a lump of sugar, it is sweet at all points. Similarly, whether you go East or West, South or North, you move in the same pervading space and you meet the same truth and principle of things.

“The Hindus do not call their Gods either “One” or “Many”. According to them, what they worship is One Reality, ekam sat, which is differently named. This Reality is everywhere, in everything, in every being. It is One and Many at the same time and it also transcends them both. Everything is an expression, a play, an image, an echo of this Reality.

“In Vedic literature, the question of the number of Gods was no point of dispute and agitated no mind. The number could be increased or decreased at will. It all depended on the principle of classification, on the context, and on the viewpoint.

“There are two ways of regarding the Godhead. In one approach, God is a jealous one. He brooks no other. He is Ismael-like, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him. But in the Vedic concept, all Gods are friends, one and equal. BrahmaNaspati is associated with Indra, Soma and DakSiNa; they are invoked jointly. The Maruts are requested to come along accompanied, saMjagmãno, by Indra, and both are called of ‘equal splendour’, samãna varcasa.3 Indra and VaruNa are offered conjoint praise, sadhastut.4 They are invoked together. ‘I invoke you both,’ says the worshipper;5 or, ‘come Agni with the Maruts,’ is the repeated prayer of the devotee in another hymn.6

“Spiritual life is one but it is vast and rich in expression. The human mind also conceives it differently. If the human mind was uniform without different depths, heights and levels of subtlety; or if all men had the same mind, the same psyche, the same imagination, the same needs; in short, if all men were the same then perhaps One God would do. But a man’s mind is not a fixed quantity and men and their powers and needs are different. So, only some form of polytheism alone can do justice to this variety and richness.

“Besides this variety of human needs and humus minds, the spiritual reality itself is so vast, immense, and inscrutable that man’s reason fails and his imagination and fancy stagger in its presence. Therefore, this reality cannot be indicated by one name or formula or description. It has to be expressed in glimpses from many angles. No single idea or system of ideas could convey it adequately. This too points to the need for some form of polytheism.


“In this deeper approach, the distinction is not between a true One God and the false Many Gods; it is between a true way of worship and a false way of worship. Wherever there is sincerity, truth, and self-giving in worship, that worship goes to the true altar by whatever name we may designate it and in whatever way we may conceive it. But if it is not desireless, if it has ego, falsehood, conceit, and deceit in it, then it is unavailing though it may be offered to the most True God, theologically speaking. ‘He who offers to me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, that I accept from that striving devotee,’ says Lord Krishna in the Gita.7

“He also assures us that ‘those who worship other Gods with faith worship me,’ for ‘I am the enjoyer of all sacrifices.’8 Devotion, faith, austerity, striving in the soul - they all belong to Him; they are His food; they can never go to a false God though so declared by a rival theology.

“The fact is that the problem of One or Many Gods is born of a theological mind, not of a mystic consciousness. In the Atharvaveda, the sage Vena says that he ‘sees That in that secret station of the heart in which the manifoldness of the world becomes one-form’, yatra višvam bhavatyekarûpam9 or, as in the Yajurveda where the world is rested in one truth, eka nîDam.10 But in another station of man, where not his soul but his mind rules, there is opposition between the One and the Many, between God and Matter, between God and Gods. On the other hand, when the soul awakens, Gods are born in its depths which proclaim and glorify one another.

“Worship is in man’s soul and the divine glory is reflected in every symbol. Therefore, the Vedic seers worshipped Him in many forms and under many Names. ‘Veneration to the great Gods, veneration to the lesser, veneration to the young, veneration to the old, we worship all the Gods as well as we are able,’11 that is their attitude. A true heart’s homage cannot go waste; it cannot go to false Gods; in a divine economy, it is taken up by That which is the secret meaning and the principle of truth in everything.”

It was this all-pervading sense of divinity which inspired Hindu seers and sages to sense the same Sat-Cit-Ãnanda sleeping in the stone, stirring up in the sapling, smiling in the flower, singing in the bird, shining in the sun and the stars, and resuming its own supreme status at the summit of spiritual experience. It was in this crucible of concrete spirituality that they saw the one Divine Substance manifesting itself in a multiplicity of forms, and many Divine Diversities dissolving themselves in one ubiquitous Unity.

It was these intimations from infinity which invited Hindu saints and mystics to invoke the same Reality in many Names and Forms, and make it accessible to each aspirant according to his or her aptitude (adhikãra) and in keeping with the stage of his or her spiritual development (ãdhãra). They devised many ways of worship and sang their devotion unto the same Divinity in many languages. It was this vision of the One-in-Many and the Many-in-One which is the source of the Vedic verse, ekam sad viprãh bahudhã vadanti, which has now been torn out of context and turned from a trenchant truth of Sanãtana Dharma into a tawdry slogan of Monotheism.

This Vedic verse is neither a defence mechanism to be put into operation whenever the monopolies of Monotheism mouth their war-cry of the ‘true One God’, nor a secularist slogan to be shouted whenever a Muslim mob stages a riot over music before a mosque or over a pig wandering away into a Muslim mohalla. On the contrary, it is the statement of a profound principle which informs sincere spiritual seeking everywhere, at all times. It is the basis of a universal spirituality.


1 Chãndogya Upanishad, 7.6.1

2 Rigveda 1. 164.46.

3 Ibid., 1.6.7.

4 Ibid., 1.17.9.

5 Ibid., 1.17.7.

6 Ibid.,

7 Gita, 9.26.

8 Ibid., 9.23-24.

9 Atharvaveda, 2.1.1.

10 Yajurveda, 32.8.

11 Rigveda, 1.27.13.