Many laughed when I had titled my book as “God as political Philosopher”. Most importantly for intellectuals, who live in Hindu ideology and for those who worship idols, this is an unthinkable question. A person who lives in an undemocratic way in his daily life feels scary when democratic processes are linked to God. Even touching a book of such a title creates fear! But this is a very important question and it needs to be seriously examined, especially in a country like India.
Humanity in the world faces three kinds of thoughts, practices and ways of God:
- Abstract God, who is shapeless and eternal.
- Forces and individuals who were born as humans, became prophets, and gradually were transformed into the Gods of world. Gautama Buddha and Jesus Christ have influence over the world’s spiritual consciousness and social and political values of people in this way.
- Gods imagined in human form. These type of gods exist across all over the world, only in India does one group of people believe in Vishnu and his clan of incarnations, and another group in Shiva and the divine powers created around him.
At a global level, so far, there has been no congruent discussion on how and from where the individual, family, social, political and democratic values have emerged. The abstract god’s individual values, his teachings and the human values he thought of creating or created, are very important. Though they are generally seen in global discourse, they are visible extensively in the Bible and the Koran. As the Bible was written before the Koran, we can see that the Old Testament in its entirety has a great deal to say about the characteristics and actions of this God in various directions. The continuity between the Bible and the Koran is visible from a definite perspective.
The Koran greatly emphasizes the abstract God. The first democratic characteristic of the God is a detailed elaboration in the scripture that God has created all human beings equal. Another economic democratic character that is visible in this God is that humans are created superior to all other animals (including the cow), and nature and its creatures have been created for food and other human purposes. However, whatever ideas were inscribed into these two books the human recognition of godly creation is made to be understood by humanity at large first by Jesus Christ and then by Prophet Mohammad. Later in the course of history Mohammad remained a human prophet while Jesus Christ achieved the status of God.
Gautam Buddha and Jesus Christ are the only two prophets and social reformers who are considered to be gods and are recognized so across the world. Today there is a wide spread acceptance that Buddha is a god who has influenced the whole world with his ideas. Though idols and images of Buddha exist in monasteries and temples, it is his teachings, his way of life and his community-building concepts that rule the eastern part of the world. He has a lot of influence in India. Jesus has a greater influence on the world than Buddha. The institutionalization of Jesus’ life story and teachings in the four gospels of the Bible, the statue of his crucifixion, the cross, and the formation of the church, have changed the demographics of the world. Buddha and Jesus are against violence. Their teaching inspired hopes for equality across the whole human race. Both their life stories have extended discussions on societal construction, change in man-woman relationships, desired forms of rule and democratic values. There are plenty of implementable suggestions in their teachings. They have a strong impact on the social and political systems of the world.
There are many democratic values in the way the Buddha instituted his monastic communes and engaged with his disciples. The motto “Sangam Sharanam Gachami, Dhammam Sharanam Gachami, Buddham Sharanam Gachami” of those times has played a vital role in attacking caste, class and the inequalities between men and women. The way Jesus engaged with his 12 disciples shows many democratic characteristics. More than this his fight for the freedom of Samaritans (dalits over there), women, Gentile men and women, slaves and prostitutes, seem to be one step ahead of the Buddha’s democratic values. He is the one who clearly stated about the necessity of separating state and religion. The ‘Kingdom of God’, which he placed in front of people as an inspiration, has greatly helped Christian countries to evolve their democratic principles. Buddha and Jesus have done a lot for the development and practice of democratic values in the society.
One clearly visible aspect in the above argument is that of the abstract God. Even now, more than state, law, police and military, greater power, what governs people’s behaviour across the world is the belief in abstract God. The concept of God and the devotion, love and fear surrounding it have an effect on all institutions. Even in today’s human governance the role of God is greater than that of the state.
Seen in this light, do the gods of Hindu society in both Vaishnava and Saiva schools demonstrate any democratic practices? In the present context when the state institutions and political parties of India have declared spiritual and political allegiance to Vaishnavism and its Gods, it is important for us to look into and discuss in depth, whether these gods and the religious ideology created around them show any characteristics of safeguarding the democratic life processes and state institutions? This is necessary because most of the people in the current ruling political party, BJP, in the Congress, communist-socialist leaders and also many regional party leaders are running their social and political lives and their parties based on Vaishnava values. Not even the communists and revolutionaries are out of this framework. Though they proclaim atheism they live within the Hindu ideological boundary and also conduct their politics in the same space.
Vishnu and his incarnations– Rama and Krishna–are imaginary Gods. They don’t have a human life story such as that of Buddha and Jesus. Except ‘Bhagavad Gita’ which is now being said to be written by Krishna there are no other teachings by them. All the stories and pictures that surround them are in front us today.
Firstly, what is evidently visible in their stories is their violent heroism. God establishes violence as a norm worth following in practice. It is important to understand the impact of his description and image bearing weapons such as ‘thechakram, bow and arrow and Trishul (trident)’, have on human relations. The counter democratic process in them exists in the foundation of the caste system that is attributed to their birth.
That Gods have caste, is a characteristic that enables believers to defend undemocratic values. We don’t get to see any roots of caste in Shiva. But all the Vaishnava gods have their roots in the Kshatriya caste and bear the weapons of the Kshatriya tradition. Not having any democratic relationships either with their wives or with other women has greatly helped in building an undemocratic system. It is these values, which resulted in constructing an undemocratic civil society in India.
The Saiva school is slightly different from this. It primarily revolves only around Shiva. That Shiva has a lot of tribal characteristics is well known. Shiva too is an imaginary God. Writers of the later period wove stories around him. The visible markers of the Saiva school are a Trishul (trident) in the hand, a snake around the neck, a tiger skin cloak and a juggu (small drum). No connection with any particular person or state principles are evident in either this form of Shiva or the worship of the Shiva linga as practiced. There are no signs that this school created any social democratic principles. Parties like the BJP don’t use Shiva much!
In their ritual and social food habits Vaishnavas and Saivas, undemocratically and according to Hindu principles, follow vegetarianism, meatarianism or fisherianism through a mix and match. Within these schools there have been anti-caste revolts, but these don’t have any kind of recognition outside India.
The central agenda of this article has been to see how these three schools we discussed above — Formless God; Buddha and Jesus; Hindu imaginary gods– have influenced the political systems. The effect of the formless god is great among the current Muslim nations. Most of this effect has evolved from transformation of the principles of the Koran into social practices. The teachings of Prophet Mohammed (Hadith) has joined them. Democracy among all these nations is not able to stand so strong. There is a mix of dictatorship and democracy prevalent. The democratic countries which we see today as Christian countries have carried the ideals of the formless god along with that of Jesus. The study of the Bible had played a vital role in these countries. Positivism and the principles of democracy have emerged from the study of the bible. Today the political, social democracy is on firm ground in countries among which there is a great impact of Christianity.
Among the Eastern Buddhist countries, socialism and democracy are interconnected. The economic development in these countries (China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam) is very steady and strong. Along with the modernization of the society, emancipation of women is also happening rapidly. Within all these countries child marriages do not happen any more, and the widow marriages take place with a lot of respect. All this is possible because of the impact of Buddha on the civil society.
Now take the instances of remaining nations are India and Nepal. It is because of the Christian values brought by the British into India that the democratic system has come into place in 1947. Though the Vaishnava values tried hard to block democracy, the British imposed democracy on the country. A good constitution and democratic political practice have taken root because of the efforts of the Buddhist Ambedkar and the atheist Nehru. But in the civil society there is still a strong defensive attitude towards Vaishnava and Shaiva inegalitarianism and their practices of untouchablity. Intellectuals who publish writings about Hindu gods, their religious books, most importantly about Brahmanical practices, should clarify this issue, shouldn’t they?
If the God worshipped by a person doesn’t have democratic values, where else he/she can get those democratic values from? In fact, shouldn’t these clan gods explain why they create such gods who are violent, undemocratic and anti-women? Shouldn’t they also answer how, with so much of idol worship in a religion, people would learn democratic values from idols? They should indeed answer how a religion could be good if it refuses to change!
Note: This article is written by Prof. Kancha Illaiha in a Telgu daily. Here is the English translation. The right wing forces have filed a FIR on the ground that their religious sentiment has been hurt by this article. The article is an objective analysis of linkages between three largest religions and democratic values.