The Problem of Conversion - Make Hinduism a Missionary Religion
From The Editor's Desk
(Hinduwebsite Editorial - Exploring Truth Amidst Illusions and Distortions)
In recent times, the subject of religious conversions in India has become a controversial issue. It has become controversial because this time it is the Hindu groups who are doing the conversions. Many secular writers are unfairly critical of their actions and sounding alarm bells. All these years they have not talked against the mass conversion of Hindus by others and conveniently ignored the problem as if it was expected. If you visit some states in southern India, you will see that they have converted whole villages into other faiths. With a little research on the Internet you will know that it was done with the help of foreign money and support from the leaders of secular parties.
In our opinion, the intellectuals who speak with a secular zeal are worse than the missionaries. They are like the secular mullahs of the modern elite who for some strange reason choose the shadow of doubt about the right of Hinduism to protect itself rather than the light of ancient wisdom that keeps the pluralism of India alive. With their persistent propaganda, intolerance, and vehemence against Hinduism, they contradict the very ideal of tolerance which they claim to preach, with the sole mission to convert Hindus to their radical, materialistic, ungodly faith.
Religious conversions are part of pluralistic democratic societies. You cannot prevent them by passing a legislation. Hindus are now living everywhere in the world, and legislation against conversions in one country will not prevent their conversion elsewhere. Besides, it will make India look like a backward country, and go against the values of Hinduism. Instead of solving the problem, such a legislation will lead to clandestine conversions, and endless litigation because it will negate people's fundamental rights, such as their right to worship. Besides, its enforcement would require government machinery and a lot of expenditure, apart from creating additional problems such as corruption, complaints and court cases. Hence, prevention of conversions through legislation is not the right solution in a country where the government is expected to be secular, and where people from different faiths live in harmony.
At the same time Hindus cannot be passive to the problem of conversions and remain silent when other faiths keep converting their fellow Hindus. Conversion of Hindus to other faiths has been going on in India for the last several centuries. When Hindus came to power after independence, conversions should have either stopped or slowed down, but missionary activity actually intensified as Hindus betrayed their own faith and took refuge in secular politics. After India's independence at least 100 million Hindus have been converted into other faiths. With the spread of Internet and television, and hybrid movies from the film industry, you can expect the number to increase exponentially.
The best way to resolve this problem is not by doing what Hindus have been doing for the last 50 years by complaining and feeling indignant. The best solution is to change their mindset about the whole conversion issue and convert Hinduism itself into a missionary religion. Hindu scriptures do suggest that knowledge should be imparted according to merit. However, the restriction is mainly with regard to the knowledge of liberation, or some advanced spiritual techniques. Such knowledge is already limited to a minority of individuals within Hinduism itself. There is no taboo if you teach someone how to perform domestic worship or how to offer a prayer in a temple. Hindus are already making movies about our gods and religious subjects and putting a lot of information which was previously considered secret into public knowledge. Therefore, in today's world it does not make sense if Hindus stick to their traditional mindset about conversions and let their tradition evaporate in the heat of conversions.
Religious conversions have been part of Indian history since the earliest times. The Vedic religion which was originally confined to a few areas in the North spread to various parts of India through conversions only. Therefore, anyone who argues that the practice of religious conversions in Hinduism is a new phenomenon should study history. The Buddha converted hundreds and thousands of Hindus into Buddhism, including entire families of Brahmanas and Kshatriyas. So did Mahavira. So did countless Sramanic and ascetic traditions that were lost in history. Chandragupta Maurya, the legendary emperor of India was converted to Jainism. The descendants of most of those who were converted returned to Hinduism in due course. Many kings in the South were converted to Jainism and Buddhism, and vice versa. In the early Christian era many people converted to Buddhism and Jainism, and later their descendants reconverted to Hinduism. Along with them, the religious places, where Buddhist and Jain deities were worshipped, were converted into Hindu places of worship. It is true that the ancestors of today's Hindus were not necessarily Hindus. Some of them might have been Buddhists, or Jains or even the Lokayatas.
It is therefore time that Hinduism adapts to the challenges it faces in the contemporary world and becomes a missionary religion. Hindus should actively start converting people of other faiths not only in India but elsewhere. Here are a few suggestions how it can be done.
1. Hindus should stop being defensive about conversions and explaining to others why it is justified. There is no need to term the conversions as "ghar vapasi," or some kind of return to original faith. There is no guarantee that one of your ancestors 40 generations ago was a Hindu. So is the case with others. Therefore, calling any conversion, "ghar vapasi," is plain rubbish.
2. Hindus should change their whole mindset about conversions and organize Hinduism into a missionary religion. In this they should motivate and involve Shankaracharyas, spiritual gurus and renowned scholars to take leadership and provide guidelines to formulate and standardize the conversion process.
3. To organize conversions, Hindus should create a central organization with the help of donations from the public, charitable trusts, and temples. Its central purpose should be to formulate theological justification for the missionary activities, and establish missions in every part of the world to facilitate conversions into Hinduism and spread the faith.
4. For the purpose, each Hindu temple can be converted into a mission center where priests can officially convert people into Hinduism and offer guidance. Every temple can have a designated person to consult and a telephone number for contact.
5. The missions should make use of the modern technology to provide guidelines to people through Internet and other means about how and where they can convert and how they can participate in meetings and religious congregations (satsangs) to learn about their new faith.
6. The missions can request the spiritual gurus who have strong networks outside India to become involved with the objectives of such missions and do their part.
7. It is equally important to spread the knowledge of Hinduism among people who are already Hindus to remove their ignorance and reinforce their beliefs and commitment to Hinduism.
8. Hindu scriptures loudly affirm that service to the humanity is service to God. Hence, the missions should serve the poor and the needy irrespective of their caste, religion, nationality, or social background. Such service should be without motive or the need to convert.
9. If caste is going to be an issue in conversions, the missions should give them a default caste, such as a warrior's caste, or a merchant caste. Alternatively, they can be assigned an appropriate caste according to their current profession. For example, if they are farmers and landlords they can be asked to choose from a list of castes in which people of similar background are found. In the past many foreign soldiers from the armies of the Sakas, Pahlavas and Kushanas settled in India and adapted to Hinduism. Thus, there is already a historical precedence.
Hinduism has many positive features. There is a lot of emphasis upon virtue and moral purity in Hinduism. Therefore, the Hindu missions should practice conversions with compassion, kindness, understanding, and love, in the spirit of universal brotherhood, without tempting anyone and without coercing anyone. It means the missions must be managed by people who have a good understanding of the ideals of Hinduism. As long as the conversions are peaceful and people convert on their own, there is no need for Hindus to be defensive about conversions or explain their actions to anyone especially to the people of other faiths and intellectual atheists.
There is no taboo in Hinduism for anyone to become a Hindu by his or her own will. No religious ceremony is even required for such conversions. The Bhagavadgita clearly states that God loves those who spread his teachings. As such, there is no taboo in Hinduism against conversions or missionary activity, or spreading Hinduism. Hindu spiritual gurus have been doing it since ancient times. Swami Vivekananda wanted the Western world to embrace Hinduism. He himself sowed the seeds of change and lit the lamp of wisdom. There is already an awakening in the Western countries about Hinduism and many have turned to the faith. Hence, Hindus do not have to feel defensive about conversions or let yoga be stolen for secular causes. Besides, historically Hinduism has been a peaceful and spiritual religion. Hence, more Hindus means more peace and spirituality in the world.
Transforming Hinduism into a missionary religion will surely bring it into direct confrontation with other faiths and create some animosity. However, it should not deter Hindus from protecting and promoting their faith using the same logic and strategy used by them as service to God. Whether Hinduism becomes a missionary religion or not, conversion in India are not going to stop. The constitution does not allow Hindus to stop it. The secular parties will continue to support the minority groups to consolidate their political power and they will downplay the conversion of Hindus to other faiths. Therefore, it is our humble opinion that Hindus should awake and take Hinduism to every part of the world. if Hinduism has to survive the modern onslaughts and the invasion of technology, it must become an organized, vibrant, service-oriented, missionary religion.
Please spread this idea and let it gain strength and acceptance.
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