We often see people casually repeating some verses from Veds and other Hindu texts. Often in Indian Cultural events abroad, it’s quite popular to repeat lines like ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ and ‘Ahinsha Parmo Dharma’, They are said as part of speech to show the inclusiveness of all culture and race, plurality and non-violent nature of India and Hinduism.
Most people just repeat these verses without understanding the meaning and the context in which they were said. These one line verses are so popular that people are not even aware that the verses they are repeating are incomplete.
Let’s try to examine misquotation and misinterpretations of these verses along with their real meaning and context.
1. Ekam Sad Vipraha Bahuda Vadanti
This verse will probably get the award for most misquoted verse in history of mankind, it is so overused and misquoted that you will find these misquotations repeated even by major gurus and Hindu websites. a simply web search will show hundreds of hits for the same.
What is being spread:
Rig Ved Book One, Hymn No. 164 Verse 46
एकं सद् विप्रा: बहुधा वदन्ति।
“Truth is One (Same), wise describe it differently.”
Another popular translation – “God is One (Same), whom the sages call by various names.”
The full mantra reads as follows:
Indram mitram varuNam agnim ãhuh,
atho divyah sa suparNo garutmãn,
ekam sad viprãh bahudhã vadanti,
agnim yamam mãtari’švãnam ãhuh.
इन्द्रं मित्रं वरुणमग्निमाहुरथो दिव्यः स सुपर्णो गरुत्मान्।
एकं सद् विप्रा: बहुदा वदन्ति। अग्निं यमं मातरिश्वानमाहुः।।
English – Meaning
They hail Him as Indra, as Mitra, as VaruNa, as Agni, also as that divine and noble-winged Garutmãn. It is of One Existence that the wise ones speak in diverse ways, whether as Agni, or as Yama, or as Mãtari’švãn. – Rigveda 1.164.46
Hindi – Meaning
एक ही सत्यरूप अर्थात् परमेश्वर का विद्वजन विभिन्न गुणों एवं स्वरूपोंके आधारपर विविध प्रकारसे वर्णन करते हैं । उसी को (ऐश्वर्य संपन्न होनेपर) इन्द्र, (हितकारी होनेसे) मित्र, (श्रेष्ठ होनेसे)वरुण तथा (प्रकाशक होनेसे) अग्नि कहा गया है । वही ( परमात्मा ) भली प्रकार पालन कर्ता होनेसे सुपर्ण तथा गरुतमान
How and Where this Verse is Misinterpreted
This verse is used in the following scenarios
1. To show that Hinduism is a monotheistic religion and Hindus also believes in One (numeric 1) God; And all the Hindu Gods and Goddesses are nothing but manifestation of that One God.
2. To validate other religions as simply another path to reach the divine. (all religions are same theory) Despite other religions being younger to Hinduism and not of Dharmic in nature.
3. To validate Gods of other religions as nothing but one and the same thing and manifestation of that One God (all gods are same theory)
Saying all gods (of other religions) are one and same thing, and I respect them sounds like a good idea but contradicts the very definition of monotheism as it asks for exclusivity of deity not inclusivity. What makes these ideas one sided and not mutual is that other religions may not be reciprocating in the same manner, as it goes against the basic tenets of monotheism, which is explained below.
The Correct Meaning
This verse describe that all the Hindu Gods like Indr, Agni, Varun are nothing but BrahmaN itself, showing the Oneness with BrahmaN. This verse shows the pluralist/polytheist nature of Hinduism, but ironically 1/4 part of it is used to show Hinduism as Monotheistic.
BrahmaN (not to be confused with lord Brahma or Brahmin) is the source from which the whole cosmos has originated, BrahmaN has no gender, it is both with-form (saguna brahman) and without-form (nirguna brahman), it is the building block of cosmos. Everything we see around us, every molecule is nothing but BrahmaN. Even the air you are breathing is nothing but brahmaN, even the electrons flowing in a electric wire is BrahmaN and even the computer you are reading this one. Since everything is BrahmaN, divinity exists in everything.
Some people are so stuck on what they have learned from other sources that even if you show a verse directly from Vedas, they dont believe it. They try to defend their arguments by giving reference of a guru, where the guru happens to be committing the same mistake.
It’s obvious the people are repeating only 1/4 of the verse skipping 3/4 of the verse, but why do they do it? The answers lies in multiple factors:
Firstly, there is complete ignorance of Hindu knowledge and any kinds of sprit of inquiry or knowledge seeking. People expect 2-Minute noodle wisdom and doesn’t want to read much.
Secondly, the modern day Hindus have a inferiority complex to proudly claim their Dharma as a polytheistic religion. Since there is lack of knowledge most Hindus aren’t able to clearly explain to others when faced with abuse and questions by Abrahmics, so they go into apologetic mode and choose the easy path of trying to convince the others that they are also Monotheistic religion and they also believe in One god.
Thirdly, Mistranslating BrahmaN as ‘God’. And Oneness with BrahmaN as ‘One (single entity) God’ leads to this confusion. The english language has no words to describe BrahmaN since there were no similar or equivalent concept in their culture, which lead to mistranslation of Brahman as ‘God’. So its always better to use Sanskrit names whenever possible, even when writing in english. The Arya Samaj is one such Hindu path which does this mistake and claim that there is Monotheism in Veds, so they reject idol worship, worship of multiple gods and goddesses, Purans and any forms of iconography.
Fourthly, ignorance about the meaning of Monotheism. Most people would simple translate Monotheism as a belief in One-God, but it’s not true and only half part of the definition. Monotheism stands for belief in one (one as in numeric 1) god and rejection of all other gods as ‘false gods’, the rejection part is as important as the belief in one god, it asks for exclusivity of a particular deity depending upon the particular abrahmic religion.
The idea of Monotheism was coined in Iran by Zoroaster and later adopted by Abraham as a template for Judaism which started the three Monotheistic religions of the world.
The monotheistic God (if he ever to exists) is a egoistic, narcissist, jealous and insecure god, he demands complete submission from his followers, wishes that only he should be worshiped, rewards his followers a permanent place in Heaven if they worship him and condemn them to eternal Hell if his followers don’t worship him or believe in any other god.
The idea behind monotheism is that there is a all powerful sky daddy called god who created everything, so he (it ?) needs be outside of the cosmos to be able to create it. This over simplified idea sounds great for a ignorant mind 2000 year ago in the most backward part of the world, when we only take earth, sun and moon into consideration but as we explore the universe and move outside the solar system into galaxies and billions of stars, it tells us how large the whole cosmos is and how insignificant even our solar system is. So to have a God who created all this, he really needs to be all powerful, and yet he is so Powerless that he is unable to take a form and appear in front of his followers.
So, Monotheism has no place in Hinduism, when a Hindu believes in Lord Shiv, they don’t stop believing in Hanuman or Krishna or any other deity and call them false gods. For this reason only, You wont find Hanuman condemning the worship of Shiv or Kali as falsehood, asking his followers to attack Shiv or Kali temples. The Hindu pantheon and way of worship should be better called Henotheism and Monism not Monotheism.
Monotheism – Belief in one true god and rejection of others as false. ‘God’ doest have any manifestation (avatar) but sends out massagers which happens to be all males.
Henotheism – is the belief in and worship of a single god or goddess while accepting the existence of other deities.
Monism – Multiple point of view and ways of understanding as a single reality. Belief that a visible plurality masks a deeper oneness.
“This multiplicity of gods and goddesses (more correctly-Devas and Devis), is but the natural and spontaneous expression of an evolved consciousness that perceives reality through many different dimensions, whereas the creeds of the one god, one book, one path – are but imperialist ideas, or totalitarian systems, which aim to arrest freedom of thought and creative expression, by seeking to enslave the human mind in set beliefs and fixed templates, presenting thus, in evolutionary terms, a dead-end to mankind.” Source
The Hindu Psychology of Surrender
Hinduism, Not Simply a Monotheistic Religion
Is Hinduism a Monotheistic Religion?
2. Ahimsa Parmo Dharma
The shlok “Ahimsa Paramo Dharma” is mentioned several times in the Mahabharata. This shlok was popularized by Gandhi, at the time of Indian independence movement.
Not many people know that Gandhi had a Jain guru and he was influenced by the teachings of Jainism. In Jainism there is absolute pacifism where even harming a insect is considered a sin.
In Jainism, Ahimsa is absolute pacifism whereas Hinduism, Ahimsa is relative non-violence, So the Hindu definition is quite balanced and practical. Hinduism doesn’t impose total non-violence unless someone is a Sadhu (Monk). With due respect to Jainism, Jain path is Sandhu Dharma, better suited for a Sandhus (monk) who have renounced the worldly life for spiritual life.
Like with other verses, people are repeating an incomplete shlok.
The full shlok reads as follows:
अहिंसा परमो धर्मः
धर्म हिंसा तथीव च
ahiṃsā paramo dharmaḥa,
dharma hiṃsā tathīva cha
Non-violence is the ultimate dharma.
So too is violence in service of Dharma.
It’s pretty clear what the shlok is trying to convey. In the first line, it says Ahimsa is the ultimate Dharma (here Dharma is not translated as Religion), in the second line it says so is violence done in the protection of Dharma and destruction of Adharm. So the message is clear that people or state should strive to maintain Ahimsa, but should also be open to violence for the protection or establishment of Dharma.
Ahimsa is loosely translated as non-violence or pacifism which is not an accurate translation. Ahimsa not just means violence or harm in physical sense, but also means harm through speech, writing or thoughts. Ahimsa can be translated as a path of least harm.
Now people will wonder how it can talk of non-violence and violence in the same Shlok.
Mahabharat war can be used as a example here, the Pandavs had two options – one to fight the war or not fight the war and let Duryodhan rule.
If duryodhan’s adharmic rule is allowed to continue, it would result in sufferings of millions of people in his kingdom. But if duryodhan is defeated, it would save millions of people, so the least harmful solution here is to fight the war and end the duryodhan’s rule, saving millions of people from misery.
Same applies to the solider who kills a terrorist, who if left unchecked would end up killing more people. Preaching Ahimsa to a terrorist who is standing in front of you holding a gun would not only be suicidal but also be stupid.
So, Violence done in the protection of Dharma or to stop bigger violence from happening is also Ahimsa. Than being a mute spectator escapist who would justify their inaction by giving half baked one liners like ‘it doesn’t matter, everything is maya’.
This is why Hinduism always makes a distinction between Dharma-Adharma and Righteous violence – Non-Righteous violence. The classic mistake people do is put all forms of violence in one basket and condemn all of it as wrong, like there is a competition going on about who is morally high.
Due to over emphases on Ahimsa we have come to point where witness the pathetic state of our people who have turned cowards, always waiting for some Avatar or Political leader to rise and protect them, despite having such a large majority within India, they are always afraid to take on a fight allowing their innocent children and women to be butchered, like in case of J&K and West Bengal.
Importance of kshatriya-dharma
3. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – World is one Family
In many Indian cultural event you will see people repeating “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” quite often, sometimes it is the main theme of the event, Like we have nothing else to say, despite having the largest collection of Texts.
Simple saying ‘World is One Family’ doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t tell if some person in the family is a good guy or a bad guy, it simply paints everyone with the same brush and says we are one family.
As per this logic even a terrorist is part of ‘one family’. Even Kauravs and Pandavs were one family, If simple saying we are one family we can avoid all conflicts then kurukshetra war could have not had happened.
Hindus often think it has been taken from the Vedas or from the Bhagavad Gītā, but it comes from a fable collection, the Hitopadeśa. And there, its meaning is not that positive.
The story goes like this –
Long ago, in the champakavati forest of magadh, there lived two friends – a Deer called chitrA~Nga and a Crow named subuddhi. It so happened that a Jackal named kshudra-buddhi (the proposer of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam), was passing by and his eyes caught hold of the healthy Deer as he was grazing nearby. The lust to devour him immediately arose in the Jackal’s mind, but knowing Deer to be too swift in a chase, he decided to fall back on his cunning – to win first the confidence of the Deer.
The Jackal approached the Deer and introduced himself as a lonely newcomer with friendly intentions, and proposed a friendship and brotherhood with the Deer. The naive Deer fell for the sweet words of the Jackal, and not knowing his true intentions, invited him to his own house.
On their way they found Deer’s old and wise friend, Subuddhi the Crow. Seeing them passing by, the Crow asked the Deer, ‘O chitrA~Nga, who is this second fellow with you?’ ‘A Jackal, my new friend’, answered the Deer. To this, the Crow asked: ‘But, do you know him well enough? One should never extend friendship and shelter to anyone without knowing their real nature and intentions, learning the history of their ilk and giving them a test of time.’ The Deer lightly shrugged this aside, saying, ‘But this Jackal is very friendly’.
Seeing his friend in delusions, He warned the Deer against trusting the Jackal without learning more about him.
So far the Jackal had kept quiet, and it is at this juncture that he opened his argument with the famous shlok of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam, demanding the Deer to not be of a narrow mind by considering the Crow a friend and himself an alien.
The vasudhaiva-kuTumbakam discourse successfully put to rest all doubts that had arisen in the Deer’s mind, and dismissing the Crow’s wise council he went ahead in bringing the vasudhaiva-kuTumbakam preacher into his home.
As soon as the cunning Jackal found the opportunity, he pushed naive Deer into a deadly trap. However before he could kill the Deer, the Crow devised a clever trick by which not only the Deer was rescued but also the Jackal was slain.
Moral of the story: only a dishonest or unscrupulous person would assert, and a fool believe, that “the whole world is one family”.
Now, that is the context in which vasudhaiva-kuTumbakam is recorded in the hitopadesha by the great pandit of politics Narayana, and he is unambiguously clear about its application when he assigns this shlok to come from a brotherhood-preaching shrewd subversionist. It gives a clear warning against blindly welcoming any idea, individual or group without due diligence of studying their history, nature and intent. I wonder what it says about modern Hindus that they all run away with this saying and even advertise it as the essence of their worldview.
Indian politicians love to quote this line often in international speeches. This out of context quotation is so common that you will find Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam engraved on a wall at Indian parliament. Once the President of India Pranab Mukherjee said ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is our Foreign Policy’ Such things tells a lot about how superficial the knowledge is of people who wish to complete with powers like China which has no identity crisis like India, no wonder India is perceived as a soft state. Following such out of context quotation in life or foreign policy only leads to disaster, where you think that world is one family and everyone around you is good.
A common tenet of Hinduism is “Sarva Dharma Sambhava, which literally means that all Dharmas (truths) are equal to or harmonious with each other. In recent times this statement has been taken as meaning “all religions are the same” – that all religions are merely different paths to God or the same spiritual goal.
This section is continued at Sarva Dharma Sambhava : Unity or Confusion of Religions ?
Ahimsa Paramo Dharma
Krishna Vishvarup Photo Credit – http://arjuna-vallabha.tumblr.com/post/80418497461