T. R. Jawahar
Should a liberal person, a journo at that, oppose conversions? Does religious freedom include right to convert others? This and many more. To me, the truth was obvious, as revealed by my spontaneous aversion to the Pope’s call, but it defied articulation and worse, acceptance, at least in the mainstream. This was when the Swamiji came out with stunning arguments against religious conversions. His declaration that conversion ‘tantamount to violence,’ at one stroke, dismissed all self-doubt and actually emboldened me to make it a matter of conviction, personal, professional and patriotic. And I was just one in a crowd of many who were wallowing in the same self-defeating muck of foolish tolerance of the intolerant and coy acquiescence to their mischief. And the impact was not confined to individuals like me but created world-wide ripples.
For the first time, Om challenged Rome in the language it understood and the message has truly gone home. Shorn of the semantic sophistry and the secular smokescreen, conversions were shown up for what they are: cheap marketing tricks to enlarge the flock and through that, enhance political control. While it is puerile to believe that the attempts to convert, which is deemed a religious calling by expansionist, exclusivist faiths and their followers, will abate, Swamiji has certainly legitimized the opposition to it, lent the issue voice and vocabulary, reversed the debate and brought it to the global intellectual table. His formulation that conversion is an assault on human rights is a masterstroke that gives a perspective in the modern idiom and no surprise therefore that even the UN has taken note of it. But better still, several ‘pagan’ faiths world over which were wiped out by the onslaught of evangelizing, aggressive religions, are now trying to stage a comeback and reclaim their lost, rightful place, in history and geography too. In that, Swamiji’s campaign can be compared to Swami Vivekananda’s US Parliament of Religions coup last century.
But to dub Swamiji as a mere agitationist against conversions is to trivialize his real worth. His opposition flowed from a larger dharmic world view that Īśvara can be attained by many ways by any seeker and He has no ‘particular address nor any sole franchisee’. Swamiji’s mantra: ‘There is not one god; there is only God!’ It is with this unassailable wisdom that he unapologetically convinced an influential Jewish forum in Israel recently that ‘Hindus were not idolaters but saw, and therefore, worshipped divinity in all forms’. To the familiar question on everyone’s lips ‘Should I believe in God’, Swamiji’s nonchalant reply always is ‘Not unless you want to lend him five hundred rupees’! For Swamiji, the almighty is not a matter of belief, but understanding. Reason why he teaches and others listen!
While Swamiji is at the vanguard in protecting and promoting sanātana-dharma, his concern for the ‘dharmī’ too is abiding. This spiritual master is a man ‘for’ the world too: For him, service to society also is Īśvara and the organizations he has spawned, like Aim for Seva, render stupendous services in the fields of education, healthcare, vocational training, women’s emancipation, tribal welfare etc. The Acharya Sabha that he launched a few years back seeks to bring various sampradāya, traditions on a single platform on issues concerning the Hindu society and faith. This Sabha, for instance, is in the forefront of a movement to extricate temples from the grip of a ‘secular’ State. He is the moving spirit behind many such auspicious ventures and physically moves around a lot too.
He is a ceaseless globe-trotter and has ashrams and audiences in Bharath and beyond. But he relishes Rishikesh on the banks of the Ganga the most. Swamiji recently turned 80 and was feted. For a spiritualist on an eternal quest, age 80 is a minor mortal milestone. But for the legions of his admirers and disciples it was an occasion for rendering guru-dakṣiṇa, not of material things, but as an emotional acknowledgement of a man whose message lent meaning to their lives. Sages like him have always sustained and enriched this ancient land. They carry in their soul the undying torch of truth and the undying spring of compassion. Blessed are those, ‘objective’ journos included, who come into their orbit! śrī gurubhyo namaḥ.
(The author, a chartered and cost-accountant by qualification, is one of the top journalists in India. Jawahar is the Editor-in-Chief of Talk Media Publications and the Chairman and Managing Director of News Today and Maalai Sudar. He is devoted to the cause of Hinduism and its traditions.)