A priest propagating Christianity once came to see Sri Mahasannidhanam. He was working towards converting everyone in southern India to Christianity and the reason for this, he claimed, was to lead everyone to heaven. He spoke to Mahasannidhanam and expressed his desire to start a church near the mutt.
Mahasannidhanam: Why do you think you want to start a church here?
Priest: I want to preach to people here.
Mahasannidhanam: What are you going to preach about?
Priest: I want to explain to people the greatness of Christian faith and attract them to Christianity.
Mahasannidhanam: Before preaching others, why don't you tell me about your religion? Let me understand about your religion.
Priest: I am fine with it. Please ask me any question you want and I will answer it.
Mahasannidhanam: When did your religion start?
Priest: our religion is 1973 years old.
Mahasannidhanam: Wonderful to know that. So it becomes clear that there is a known beginning for your religion. Were there people living before the existence of your religion?
Priest: If there were no people, how would we have preached our religion? So there were people even before the start of our religion.
Mahasannidhanam: You claim that only those following your religion will go to the heaven and the rest to hell. So, what about all those billions of people who lived before the start of your religion? Did all they all go to hell?
Priest: I am sure all went to hell because of not following our religion.
Mahasannidhanam: Is this view logically correct? Even the current day government doesn't impose such a rule. Today I frame a law and penalize people who existed before the framing of the law for not following it! Is that not ridiculous? How would a community of people know some rules or religion which would be framed in future, ahead of time and follow them? And just because they didn't of this, would the all kind lord push them to hell?
Priest (confused): Probably you are correct. They might have gone to heaven.
Mahasannidhanam: Now your second statement is also not logically correct. Now that you have agreed that people who existed before the framing of your religion went to heaven, how true is the claim that only those who currently follow your religion will reach the God? Now you also claim that those who don't follow your religion go to hell. As you yourself agreed earlier, all people before the existence of your religion went to heaven. Now after your religion came into existence, some are going to hell because of not following your religion. So by framing your religion, have you not done injustice to those who are now going to hell!
Priest: Please don't ask me such questions. Spare me.
Mahasannidhanam: OK. Let's leave that topic. Now there are various miseries and pleasures in this universe. What is the reason for these?
Mahasannidhanam: God has made one person a beggar and the other a millionaire. So does God like one person and dislike the other?
Priest: How can we know all that? It is all his wish.
Mahasannidhanam: If everything was his wish, then why didn't he give happiness to all? Why did he make some people miserable?
Priest (confused): I can't answer this question.
Mahasannidhanam: There seems to be no logic in your reasoning. Ok let's forget this topic too. Some people die as infants. Some die after aging. When infants die, do they go to hell or heaven?
Priest: How can infants commit sins? They will certainly go to heaven.
Mahasannidhanam: Oh! Our parents have then committed a great mistake then. They didn't let us die as infants and brought us up. If the children were killed after birth, they would directly reach heaven. We would not have grown up, committed mistakes and gone to hell.
Priest (confused even more): I cannot answer questions as these. You are confusing me.
Mahasannidhanam: Ok let's leave this topic also aside. Now, every person who dies either goes to hell or heaven according to you. Can you tell me when?
Priest: Whenever God decides their fate.
Mahasannidhanam: Oh Lord! God must be crazy! He decides their fate whenever he wants!
Priest: No, no, there is a certain way things happen.
Mahasannidhanam: Can you explain that 'certain' way?
Priest (stammering): w w..well.
Mahasannidhanam: Ok. I will tell you what your religion says. Correct me if I am wrong.
Priest: Fine sir.
Mahasannidhanam: In this world, if a man commits a mistake, he will be arrested and placed in a jail initially. However, if he has to be retained in the jail, it is only by the orders of the judge. If the judgment is in his favor, he will be released from prison. If the judge asks him to wait for years and years till everyone commits a crime before passing his judgment, is there a way out for the prisoner?
Mahasannidhanam (consoling him): Your religion is the greatest for you and so is mine for me. Everyone should sincerely practice his own religion. It is incorrect to claim one's own religion as the only way for liberation and accuse other religions as doorways to hell. You like your mother and others like their mothers. According to our Sanatana dharma, lord is beginning-less and so is this universe. Our Sanatana Vaidika dharma is also eternal. Every creature earns merit based on his action. The actions themselves are insentient. It is the Lord who grants merits for the actions committed. It is also true that the Lord is compassionate. If the criminal accepts his crime in front of the judge, the judge certainly reduces the severity of punishment. But if the criminal commits the crime every now and then and asks for forgiveness each time, will the judge forgive him? Our Shastras not only teach us faith or shraddhA but also viveka and vichAra - sense of discrimination. The other religions rely only on faith. It is very important for religions to have both the aspects - faith and rationality. We have prophets or Avatars like Sri Rama and Sri Krishna but they have not defined or started our dharma. Instead, our Sanatana dharma actually gifted these great men to the world. Having the privilege of being the followers of such a meritorious path, we should all be thankful to the lord.
Some young men who had undergone modern education came to see Mahasannidhanam. They posed some queries, hoping to gain some insights into our ancient culture.
Question: What is Hindu Dharma? Who is a Vaidika?
Mahasannidhanam: Though people have made it a practice to refer to our dharma as 'Hindu dharma', it is actually Sanatana Vaidika dharma. Every one who follows the teachings of our Vedic dharma is a Vaidika. This group traditionally includes Sankhyas, Naiyayikas, Vaisheshikas, Mimamsakas and Vedantins. The present day Shaivas and Vaishnavas are also originally Vaidikas.
Question: Not everyone these days have read the Vedas. They are not aware of what is taught in the Vedas. How can they be called Vaidikas or followers of Vedic dharma?
Mahasannidhanam: Not everyone might have read the Vedas. But many follow the rules laid therein and accept the Vedas are the highest proof. They will hence be called Vaidikas as they accept the Vedas as the sole authority.
Question: How about people who know nothing about the Vedas?
Mahasannidhanam: Such people, who know nothing about the Vedas, generally follow one of the various traditions present today. Now, how did these 'traditions' or 'Sampradayas' come into existence? The elders, at some point in history, though what was right and what was not and decided what would bring happiness. They came up with various rules such as: speaking the truth, being just in actions, following non-violence etc. People learnt these rules from their parents and elders. The origin to all these practices, if one carefully observes, are actually the Vedas. These general rules accepted by most traditions and communities today are actually Vedic in nature. Now if people who have no idea about the Vedas, still follow sincerely these Vedic rules, they will still be Vaidikas.
Question: What happens if a Hindu does not study Vedas, disrespects them or does not follow its ideals?
Mahasannidhanam: He will be a 'bhraShTa' -fallen as the Vedic discipline is universal.
Question: Some preachers of Christianity quote the following reasons to prove superiority of their religion: Hindu religion is very narrow and conservative. Here, everyone tries for his own liberation. The Hindu dharma has no sympathy for other's pains and miseries. But Christianity gives utmost prominence to compassion.
Mahasannidhanam: True. Everyone should work for his own liberation. In order to start serious efforts for liberation, he would first have to purify his mind. How can one accomplish this? By freeing the mind from attachment and hatred. By giving up excessive attachment to worldly things, endless desire, greed, jealousy etc. To achieve freedom from these evils, one has to make his living Satvik. The first step to doing this is to inculcate qualities such as compassion, service to all creatures etc. While some religions preach compassion for fellow men, our Dharma advocates kindness to all creatures. Sri Krishna says in Gita, adweShTA sarvabhUtAnAM maitraH karuNa eva cha - never hate any being, show compassion and goodwill to all. So where is the truth in the statement that Hindu faith does not take care of addressing other's pains? Also the dharma preaches nirmamatA and nirahaMkAra - to give up the 'I-ness' and 'Mine-ness'. Once a man is released of these notions, he will naturally show love for all beings and will be compassionate to all. dAnaM variShTho dharmANAM - charity has great importance in our dharma. One is taught to donate the best of his possessions to others to relieve them of misery and suffering. The basic prayer we say is not - 'Forgive my sins' but instead 'lokAH samastA sukhino bhavantu' - may all the worlds attain peace and prosperity.
Questions: Why are there so many Gods and Goddesses in our dharma? Doesn't this create confusion in the minds of the people?
Mahasannidhanam: We are in essence worshippers of one God, going by the pramANa - ekaM sat viprAH bahudhA vadanti| eko devaH sarvabhuteShu gUDhaH. The lord, due to his infinite compassion, appears in various forms to his devotees. He appears to his devotees in whatever form he is invoked. Hence, this blame on our dharma is baseless. This is instead the greatness of our dharma which recognizes all valid means of Upasana and makes provision for all categories of people to achieve moksha by prescribing paths suitable of them.
Questions: Idolatry or Idol worship is considered evil by some.
Mahasannidhanam: We do not worship mere stones or logs of wood. We use idols as tools for concentration. The presence of divine energy in the idols is created by pronunciation of mantras and by the faith of the worshipper. As the worship of the infinite - absolute is not possible for all Sadhakas, idol worship has been prescribed as a preparatory practice. When a flag or a portrait of a president is shown disrespect, don't people object severely? But is that piece of cloth truly their leader or country? But when the leader is present right tin front of us, we look at him and not his portrait. Similarly, when we are capable of seeing the lord inside, we can do away with tools like idol, Linga, Yantra etc. but till then we should try to see the lord through these representations.
Question: Is it not suitable to modify the Shastras to suit the current age?
Mahasannidhanam: These days, corruption has gone beyond control. But can we make it legal if we are unable to control it? It is never correct to think of modifying or re-interpreting the Shastras, which are not only eternal but also universal. They are not affected by time and space. Only the great Rishis are capable to decide what a Shastra is and what is not. It is simply not in our capacity to do that. When we can't even figure out the results of our own actions, how can we even think of modifying or re-interpreting Shastras? One should stick to following the rules laid out by the Shastras designed by the all-knowing sages.