IN MY OPINION
A Protestant minister explains how India’s export of spirituality has benefited the West
FOR NEARLY ONE Thousand years, India was under the oppressive rule of invaders. The first to seek domination of this gentle subcontinent were Muslim warriors who invaded from the 800s to the 1600s. Next came the British who arrived in the 1700s and officially left in 1947. Attempts to convert Indian Hindus, first to Islam and then to Christianity, were a colossal failure. This was because India had a long established and culturally influential spiritual tradition. It was one which Islam and Christianity—supported by massive armies—could not destroy. Despite tremendous hardships, Indian Hindus continued to follow their Vedic religion, with its varied traditions, philosophies and approaches to spirituality.
Not only did India continue to follow her own path, but she also freely shared her rich traditions with the world. Those who live in the West have been greatly benefited by India’s export of spirituality. Here are just six of its amazing gifts to our world:
1. Religious tolerance: Swami Vivekananda famously expressed the Hindu approach to religious inclusion saying: “I accept all religions that were in the past and worship with them all. I worship God with every one of them, in whatever form. I’ll go to the mosque of the Muslim. I’ll enter the Christian’s church and kneel before the crucifix. I’ll enter the Buddhist temple, where I take refuge in Buddha and in his law. I’ll go into the forest and sit in meditation with the Hindu who’s trying to see the light which enlightens the heart of everyone. Not only shall I do this, but I’ll keep my heart open for all that may come.” This open, inclusive spiritual approach is something the Abrahamic religions still fail to grasp.
2. Nonviolence: There would be no Martin Luther King, Jr., without there first having been a Gandhi, who took the Vedic concept of ahimsa, or nonviolence, and used it as a tool for peaceful, political transformation. It is India that has offered the world an alternative to the violence and destruction of war.
3. Meditation: While Buddhists have recently been at the forefront of teaching meditation to the West, it should not be forgotten that the Buddha was not a Buddhist, but a Hindu; that he learned to meditate from Hindu teachers.
4. Yoga: This gentle practice has empowered women and men all over the planet to heal body, mind and spirit. In addition, yoga has offered many Westerners a spiritual pathway without heavy, harsh dogmas and doctrines. This movement has been highly instrumental in creating a new religious genre in the West—that of being spiritual but not religious.
5. Ayurveda: While this gift from India is just beginning to evolve in the West, it too is growing rapidly as people recognize ayurveda as the original alternative medicine. Subhra Krishan, author of Ayurveda: What It Is And What It Can Do For You, succinctly states: “The great thing about ayurveda is that its treatments always yield side benefits, not side effects.”
6. Vegetarianism: Vamsee Juluri, an Indian scholar and professor at the University of San Francisco, notes that vegetarianism has been given great importance in Indian philosophy and life “for the simple reason that our ancestors knew we could live without taking an animal life.” Professor Juluri says that this view was “an enormous leap in human civilization that the modern West has had a tough time coming around to accept,” adding that the Abrahamic religions—Islam, Christianity and Judaism—have been slow to outgrow “the limitations of their own religious and secular mythologies about humans and animals.”