Monday, July 27, 2009

My Comment in Senthil's Blog Post on Conversion

Here is Senthil's actual post -
Realized that my comment was as good as a post, hence posting it here.
Much as I disagree with Priya Raju's stance on Hinduism/Brahminism, it must be said that she raises *some* valid points.
Also, even though most of her comments/writings seem fiercely (exclusively) anti-Hindu, I would like to think what she is doing is pointing out our recently-evolved-fallacies to those of us who claim the Sainthood and blemishlessness of Hinduism. I think and hope she would do the same to other religions too, irrespective of whether they (I refer primarily to the Abrahamic ones) claim purity/innocence/blemishlessness because it is obvious that of all the major religions, Hinduism (the "religion" that has sadly come to represent the gloriously more meaningful way of life that Sanatana Dharma is) is easily the least anti-other-religions (if it is, at all).
Anyhow, coming to conversions - all the while, a lot of us here have been looking at the evil that conversion is, from the converter's point of view and have been using the "it is evil to convert another for money...if you help the needy, help them unconditionally, without any prerequisites" refrain. Priya seems to have been looking at the other side - from the converted person's point of view, and I don't really see anyone having addressed that concern effectively. If you are in absolute dire need, with no means for survival, what would you do if someone offered a helping hand with a "minor" catch - changing your religion? (I specifically address this wrt to conversion from Hinduism-->Other religions because I am unaware of cases where poor people originally from other religions have been converted to Hinduism for money {Yes, we Hindus are 'poor' people today :D}). Why I say 'minor' is because of how few of us actually understand Hinduism today. Life is much simpler today, you can lead a perfectly comfortable life without associating any aspect of religion to it (it is a different matter that it is highly unlikely that your quest for inner peace will be satisfied by not following/understanding/knowing about Sanatana Dharma or something like it {if there is something else as insightful...}). And the concept of "inner peace" is something people don't really know about, as well, so few care for it.
Another issue is this - since we know this is Kali Yuga, we should know that bad actions have a higher probability of being a sure event, compared to good ones. In today's world, money is the end-all for most. And to acquire money, people are ready to do most things unthinkable in earlier times. Also, we need to realize that in today's world, money is mostly given by the rich to the poor to do 'bad' things, compared to for doing 'good' things. How many people today would give money to someone to be truthful or honest? Who would give money to a drunkard to stop drinking? I had, after seeing many Indian movies based on corruption as a child, (in the hypothetical situation that I become one of "those" rich people :D) often thought of giving money to officials to 'not accept' bribes, then realized, much to my chagrin, that my action would, again, in a sense, be bribing (to prevent bribing :P). Effectively, conversion for money is, as someone already said, quite analogous to prostitution. Yes, there is one difference in that conversion for inner-peace is possible, but I'm not sure if there are people indulging in prostitution for inner peace or seeking "higher" meaning in life. Then again, an informed person in the right circumstances would realize that you don't need to convert to follow meaningful practises (whichever religion it may be).
What I humbly feel is - most of today's Hindus dont really feel much about their religion in an informed sense (they are either Hindus just because they were born as one {easier prey for conversion} or the Ram Sene types, who are crazy about it because they just happen to believe in it {without correctly knowing why} and who want to be proud of their religion because there are others who are proud of theirs). The few truly informed Hindus are either blissfully involved in service to mankind (not Hindus alone) or serve as guiding light to a few genuinely interested seekers, often unfortunately having to share the "Guru"/"Swami" status with more dubious characters. The easy prey that are born Hindus are -
1) Spineless & gutless, and since they obviously dont belong to the informed category of Hindus, they have no reason to stick around when offered a better alternative. Again, it's Kali Yuga, and a majority of mankind (and quite a few Hindus) belong to this category - do anything it takes for money. And if they are not spineless or gutless
2) they sadly fall under the category of "poor". Unless the "poor" happens to be an intellectual Mahatma (meaning Great soul, not MK Gandhi) wrt Hinduism, there is no reason why he/she shouldn't take the money and convert, because it is a question of survival - after all, this is Bhuloka and in Kali Yuga, doesn't life take precedence over Dharma? And we really can't blame the poor for converting under distress with the lure of money.
IMHO, if at all we intend to stop conversion, we need to try doing something like the good work Swami Lakshmanananda did, in uplifting the tribal people in Orissa (I specifically mention good because I don't want to get into any argument with the [pseudo] secular types on any -ve accusations they might have against the Swamiji, like inciting communal violence, etc). Asking the evangelists to stop, I feel, is not going to be of much use because -
a. They are unreasonable people. Period. Their single-minded agenda is conversion, they will not stop at anything else. Asking them to stop is like asking the customers of prostitutes to stop having sexual feelings. It's not going to happen. Or you should have more power/money than them and force them to stop their conversion or convert them. (Joke :P)
b. We won't be addressing the root cause. As true Hindus, it is our duty to uplift the downtrodden and give them a chance in society. Whether the caste system was good or bad, I will not get into that argument now. We know for sure that the system is not going to work now. Besides, there is too much divisiveness & discrimination associated with it (wrongly). The only way to get out is making the "lesser castes" not feel lesser. And if there is financial trouble, help them eke out a living, don't give them money.
Wrt Brahmins being strong-minded enough not to fall prey to conversion, again, IMHO, I think that's sadly not the case. Yes, the %age of Brahmin converts may be less, but that is more due to their smart-ass'ness (courtesy history) than strong-mindedness. The Brahmin of my generation (I am 24) is no more knowledgeable than the "supposedly" less knowledgeable Shudra of ancient times. Most of today's Brahmins are fit for nothing more than being software engineers who code, guzzle down beer and see what's the best price to buy a flat in Malleshwaram/ECR or whether Bay Area is better than New Jersey to settle down. And among all the atheists/agnostics of all religions in the world, it's the Brahmins (Tam-Brahms, esp.) who question and mock at their own practices most. This is another thing I noticed - while atheists of other religions don't restrict their criticism to their former religion alone, most "Hindu" atheists somehow seem to have their scorn, sarcasm and criticism exclusively reserved for Hinduism alone. Beats me why.
To answer another question, though I disagree with a lot of ISKCON's teachings & practices, ISKCON conversions are at least more dignified than Evangelism in that they don't take advantage of someone's suffering. Their "conversion" (for want of a better word) addresses the mind rather than the financial status of a person, which is, IMHO, definitely more honourable.
I have made quite a few generalizations (not sweeping) in what I've written above. There are, as always exceptions, but most of what I've written is from what I've observed around me.
Apologies if I have said anything wrong or offended anyone, absolutely no intentions to do so. Just interested in constructive conversations to correctly understand, preserve and enhance Sanatana Dharma. :)