In July, 2000, I was one of the Comparative Religions Panel members of the Vira Saiva Samaj of North America's World Conference held in Toronto, Canada. What follows is, in part, the speech I gave there comparing Vira Saivism to Christianity. I thoroughly enjoyed my survey of both religions. It made me take a close look at Vira Saivism, stoking my admiration and pride for my religion.
Vira Saivism and Christianity are both monotheistic, but very different. Christians believe that their religion is the only path to God, that Jesus Christ is the only true prophet and that the Bible is the only divine scripture. Anyone who does not believe that will be condemned. This belief spurs urgent missionary activities by those who believe it would be selfish of them to not spread the Word and save other souls.
In contrast, Hindus and Vira Saivas take an entirely different view of religion. Vira Saivas, although strongly monotheistic, do not believe that they have a monopoly on the truth. There is nothing in Vira Saiva scripture or history to show that Vira Saivas believe that their path to salvation is the only path. Vira Saiva monasteries and religious leaders never acquired the amount of worldly power that the papacy did. They never ordered any religious wars, nor had their own separate police and courts to enforce religious law. Vira Saivas did not torture or burn heretics. And, unlike Christians, Vira Saivas do not believe that people are born in sin.
God in the Old Testament of the Bible is a vengeful, jealous God that smites those who disobey him. In Vira Saivism, God is all-pervading. He transcends the universe completely. God is indescribable, and God's form is beyond human ken. God is represented to humans in the form of the Linga. Vira Saivas believe that the soul and God are not separate. The appearance of separateness is an illusion created through the soul's ignorance. As it progresses through spiritual enlightenment, the soul realizes that God and it are one and the same. This state is called moksha.
In Christianity, the goal of life is to go to Heaven after one dies. Heaven is often described as a physical place of eternal happiness in God's presence. Good, practicing, pious Christians go to heaven. People who lead a bad life go to hell. The New Testament Book of Revelations describes a judgment day at the end of the world when souls will stand before God to be judged worthy or unworthy to be taken into heaven.
In contrast, Vira Saivism's goal, moksha, can be achieved in this lifetime. After death, Vira Saivas believe that the soul merges with God like a water drop with a larger body of water. That is called lingaikya. They believe that merging with the Divine is possible within this lifetime. The soul is like a reflection of ultimate Reality. In Christianity, the soul after death does not merge with God at all. The soul remains eternally separate from God. Vira Saivas believe that there are good and evil impulses in all of humanity, but do not believe that evil is a separate force outside of God's control, actively working against him, as with Satan in Christianity. Vira Saivism does not have an apocalyptic worldview, and does not believe that the world will end in fire, summoning the coming of a physical incarnation of God.
In Vira Saivism, one attains moksha by leading a good life. This means that one should have faith in and devotion to God. One should follow the Panchacharas, five rules which state one's duty towards one's own spiritual development, towards God, toward the Vira Saiva community, and service to humanity. This includes doing useful, productive work for society and showing compassion towards all living creatures.
Even though Vira Saivism and Christianity are monotheistic, they are very different religions!
Anupama Swamy is a senior at Ohio Wesleyan University with a double major in international studies and history. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Quotes & Quips
"To be angry is to avenge the faults of others on ourselves"
Death is often thought of as extinction of light. Yes, in death, light is extinguished, very much as we put out the light when the night is over and the sun is already up! Dada Sadhu Vaswani
In 1903, the artist William Simpson conversed with an Indian "jogi," around whose naked feet moved several rats. Simpson asked: "Don't you see them?" "Yes," was all the yogi said. "Why don't you kill them?" asked Simpson. "Why should I kill them?" he replied. Simpson recalls, "Here was the whole onus of the matter between us thrown on my own shoulders, and I felt how difficult it would be, with my limited knowledge of the language, to express to this man a European's ideas about rats. I thought to sum the whole case up in one sentence, 'We people kill them.' The sentence sounds much better in Hindustani, Hum log aisa karta hai. To which he answered, 'Hum log aisa nakin.' My sentence was literally, 'We people do so;' His, 'We people don't so.' So far as there was any argument in either of these statements, I felt that the reply was quite as cogent as the words I had uttered, and that I was beaten by this ascetic, who sat there calm and cool. I always feel a twinkle of amusement when I look back to this conversation." William Simpson's autobiography as published in 1903
The most blasphemous thing I have ever heard in my life. Darren Logan, of the conservative Christian Family Research Council, in his reaction to Ted Turner's speech at the UN Millennium Peace Summit, in which Turner colorfully challenged the concept of "only one true religion"
A doctor gave a man six months to live. The man couldn't pay his bill, so he gave him another six months. Henry Youngman
This body is a world, a universe just like the one outside, and that is why satpurushas (great beings) all say to look there, inside. If you look outside of yourself, you won't find anything. Swami Prakashananda quoted in his biography
Advertisement for a psychic's hotline: Don't call us; we'll call you.
I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work. Thomas Edison
Patience comes to those who wait.
One who is ignorant of the way asks one who knows it. Directed by one who knows, he journeys onward. This is indeed the blessing of instruction, that he attains the path that flows straightforward.
Rig Veda 10.32.7
The will is not free--it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect--but there is something behind the will which is free. Swami Vivekananda
Find the key to yourself and every door in the world is open to you.
Chance favors the prepared mind.Louis Pasteur
A child outgrows your lap, but never outgrows your heart.
God cannot alter the past, but historians can. Samuel Butler
When I meditate, my mind not only wanders, sometimes it leaves completely.
Color--it's just a pigment of your imagination.
While driving in Pennsylvania, a family caught up to a horse-drawn Amish carriage. The owner of the carriage obviously had a sense of humor, because attached to the back of the carriage was a hand printed sign: "Energy efficient vehicle. Runs on oats and grass. Caution: Do not step on exhaust."
One day a man came home from work to find total mayhem. The kids were outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud and muck. There were empty food boxes and wrappers all around. As he proceeded into the house, he found an even bigger mess. Dishes on the counter, dog food spilled on the floor, a broken glass under the table, and a small pile of sand by the back door. He headed up the stairs, stepping over toys, to look for his wife. He was becoming worried that she might be ill, or that something had happened to her. He found her in the bedroom, still in bed with her pajamas on, reading a book. She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went. He looked at her bewildered and asked, "What happened here today?" She again smiled and answered, "You know everyday when you come home from work and ask me what I did today?" "Yes," was his reply. She answered, "Well, today I didn't do it!"
Illegal aliens have always been a problem in the United States. Ask any [Native American] Indian. Robert Orben
I say in lectures today that fifty percent or more of American marriages go bust because most of us no longer have extended families. When you marry somebody now, all you get is one person. I say that when couples fight, it isn't about money or sex or power. What they're really saying is, "You're not enough people!" Kurt Vonnegut in his 1997 novel/memoir, Timequake
Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding. Albert Einstein
That which is most alive in us is indestructible.
"I gained nothing at all from Supreme Enlightenment, and for that very reason it is called Supreme Enlightenment." Gautama Buddha
Speaking Pleasant Words
Tirukural 92: Better than a gift given with a joyous heart are sweet words spoken with a cheerful smile.
Tirukural 95: Humility and pleasant words are the jewels that adorn a man; there are none other.
Tirukural 99: Why would anyone speak cruel words, having
observed the happiness that kind words confer?
Tirukural 100: To utter harsh words when sweet ones would serve is like eating unripe fruits when ripe ones are at hand.