1883- Dr. zakir naik vs sri sri ravi shankar full debate part-1
Concept of God in Islam and Hinduism by Dr.Zakir Naik!
D R V Acharya examines how Islamic scholar Zakir Naik misled Islamic hordes on Hinduism
First, this is a long article and second I am not a follower of Osho Rajneesh. But I have admired his works and I stop my admiration when the symptoms of greed and materialism becomes evident in his teachings. I like religious, secular and spiritual leaders who have a strong sense of humanism, individuality and service and I felt Rajneesh although he had a strong empathetic social consciousness he never did any practical welfare work for the betterment of society. Rajneesh despite his deep insights into the human condition became a victim of greed and got cut off from the world by his solipsistic tendencies. He eventually became an Ivory tower philosopher albeit an intelligent and colorful one. I have loved reading especially his discourses on the diverse mystical traditions of the world. I also admire his talent of public speaking and his irreverence to religious and political authority. Osho had the guts to critically examine hallowed and respected ideas and people. On most occasions in his public life he exhibited sound reasoning and conveyed extraordinary insights into the human condition.
I recently happened to bump across a website about an Islamic speaker Dr. Zakir Naik and his talks on the concept of God in different religions. Zakir Naik also had a dialogue with the popular self help guru Sri Sri Ravishankar. Although it was termed a dialogue, it turned out to be more of a debate with Zakir Naik pronouncing his typical clichéd Islamic rhetoric with a full fledged debunking of polytheists and idol worshippers. Zakir Naik also picked on Sri Sri Ravishankar for publishing a book on comparative Islam and Hinduism. This book had Sri Sri Ravishankar comparing some Islamic ideas and concepts and claiming that it originated from Hindu culture. Sri Sri Ravishankar not anticipating the confrontation tried to play it down and looked like he wanted to rush back to the cave in his Ashram. He also was openly apologetic about the publication of this book and tried to escape from the awkward situation by claiming that this book was printed in a hurry and it was written with an intent of bringing the two religious communities closer in the context of a Muslim-Hindu riot. He also pledged that he would not allow printing of further copies of the book. Sri Sri Ravishankar is not generally known for his discursive thinking and intellect and his big strength is his emotional appeal to people based on personal charisma and the excellent PR machinery of his organization. Many a times he has goofed up on public platforms. I had once attended a seminar on ‘Science and Conciousness’ in the Indian Institute of Science and evidenced first hand Sri Sri Ravishankar talking utterly irrelevant things. The other eminent speakers on the podium like the Nobel Laureate Charles Townes (inventor of the laser and maser), the mathematician Roger Penrose and Zoologist Jane Goodall were visibly disturbed by his lack of erudition and grasp of what was being talked about. Sri Sri Ravishankar was also rubbished on stage by the renowned artist and film script writer Javed Akthar. On another occassion Sri Sri wrote an article in a national newspaper comparing Marxism with the teachings of the Bhagwad Gita. He was again rubbished by a lot of readers for his utter lack of understanding of the ‘Dialectical Materialism’ of Marx (he was not aware and never even mentioned anything about this in the article) or the Vedantic teachings of Bhagvad Gita. He was just content in stating simplistic homilies.
Coming back to the the ‘Concept of God’ dialogue, Sri Sri Ravishankar completely misjudged the tenor of the whole programme. The audience were predominantly Muslim and were asking well orchestrated and pre-determined questions which I thought came from the medieval missionary polemic against Hinduism. It took sometime for me to realize that at this age and time there are still majority of the people who do fervently believe in such religious jingoism.Sri Sri Ravishankar’s soft stand and unwillingness to debate and confront put him in an awkward position in the programme.
Zakir Naik is well versed in the art of islamic rhetoric and he is quite capable of mesmerizing his Muslim and other unthinking audiences into deception with confusing, illogical and fallacious arguments. Herd instinct is clearly evident in his followers. He makes up for his lack of critical thinking, scientific and rational sense by parroting and quoting by memory verses from religious books and scriptures by their chapter, page, verse and line numbers. This is taken as a sign of scholarship by his flock. He usually receives standing ovation from the Muslim audience whenever he indulges in these theatrics.
My amusement in this debate became more acute when the debater Zakir Naik put poor Osho Rajneesh to the Islamic litmus test, Surah Ikhlas or the touchstone of islamic theology. This Quranic verse or Sura mentions that God is without equal, without origin, without end, and unlike anything else that exists. This is the definition of Allah in the Quran and every other concept of God is weighed against this to create a semantic game to establish that this concept of god is the supreme most. Rajneesh had no defenders in there so it was an one sided debate with the final judgement of fallibility on Osho pronounced by Zakir Naik. Sri Sri Ravishankar was also apologetic about Rajneesh and he appealed to the audience not to judge other holy men like himself using Rajneesh as the yard stick. In this article I am trying to defend Rajneesh and eastern traditions against the polemics of the Islamic theologians. My intention of writing this article is because it is clear to me that the worldview and the value system espoused by Osho Rajneesh is far advanced and higher as compared to the value system of the old religions in general and Islam in specific. Rajneesh believed in peace, love, celebration, individuality, freedom of speech and enquiry. He encouraged people to challenge archaic values and traditions. His overall value system is quite humanistic, secular and rational as compared to the narrow parochial values espoused in religions like Islam.
Our scholar Zakir Naik begins his diatribe against Osho Rajneesh with the tone of abhorrence to the Indian godmen and pronounces his judgement before explaining the targeted person’s point of view. Picking Rajneesh is kind of very funny because Rajneesh believed in what can be called a Vedantic or quasi pantheistic God. He borderlined on atheism many times. Rajneesh’s god as can be evidenced from his voluminous discourses is akin to Spinoza’s god to some extent. Osho’s God is not the Allah or a personal God at all, and his system provides no reason for the revelatory status of the Bible or Quran or Vedas or of any religion for that matter. Osho identifies his concept of God with Nature and like Spinoza he employed a reductionist scientism while retaining some traditional eastern terminology. Zakir Naik claims himself to be a student of comparative religion but it is plainly obvious that his knowledge of the Eastern religions is very very superficial and about Osho, he believes what he wants to believe rather than what the Oshoietes or Hindus or Buddhists or Taoists or Jains believe. Also to put things in perspective, although Rajneesh’s worldview is quite similar to Hindu, Buddhist & Taoist worldview he never claimed to be a Hindu either by birth or by conviction. He was born a Jain and remained an eclectic. So to pick on him in a debate on the concept of God in Hinduism and Islam is in the first place wrong. Zakir Naik’s claim that the followers of Osho Rajneesh called him almighty god shows his profound ignorance of Osho Rajneesh, his followers and his teaching and also his ignorance of the concept of god in eastern traditions. The Islamic religion like Christianity and Judaism is based on man’s blind and obedient response to a divine revelation in the form of a book, the Quran. Quran is a medieval text inspired by the arabic god Allah to his last and final messenger Muhammad. The god of Islam is in principle similar to a Monarch who creates and rules the world with a set of laws. The concept of God in Islam is of a God who is apart from the universe and who is a skillful maker of the world. This God stands apart from the world and like a medieval monarch rules the incidents of the world and judges you on the judgement day based on the code of conduct as created in the holy book. You are sent to either heaven or hell based on your submission to the will of Allah and the adherence to the code of conduct as depicted in the Quran. Allah in Islam has no form or can never be depicted. However Allah is depicted through similes and metaphors like Allah is Akbar, ie great or Allah is Rahman or compassionate. The not so subtle Islamic theologians fail to grasp that even ‘figures’ of speech are depictions and are a form of idolatry. Idolatry is very much existent in Islam although in a veiled format. Islam is replete with symbols which are held sacrosanct and any blasphemy to those symbols are not treated kindly by the Muslim diaspora around the world. It is sacrilegious in Islam to picturize or idolize God but the attachment to symbols is quite evident in Islam and it is much more than what is present in the so called condemned pagan idolatrous religions. For example the Islamic prayer is only in Arabic it cant be localized in any other languages. All muslims bow their heads towards mecca for their prayer. Allah is an extremely localized god. So to compare a localized god with localized rituals to the concept of Vedantic Brahman which has no name, form and which permeates all existence is like as they say comparing chalk with cheese. The Islamic scholars are morbidly against idolatry in other religions but the mote in their own eye they seeth not.
Zakir Naik’s claim that Muslims are the culmination of Vedantic teachings of non idolatry is ridiculous to say the least. The intent of the Vedantic assertion about the sadhaka or the person on the vedantic path leaving behind all the idols and symbols means the sacrifice and trancendence of all those constructs of thought like symbols, idols and ideologies to realize the unconditioned consciousness, the eternal which can never be limited by thought which is just memory and the past. In the early part of the previous century people witnessed an enlightened person Baghwan Ramana Maharishi who had no need for any rituals, images, symbols or holy texts and he abided all the time in his true nature which is pure consciousness. When Vedantists talk about the culmination or the embodiment of their tradition they refer to a person like Ramana Maharishi. I wonder what the Muslim practice of non-idolatry has got to do with this state. This clearly shows that self proclaimed scholars like Zakir Naik have absolutely no clue about what Vedanta is all about. His understanding of Vedanta is totally flawed and he is content in just picking up those verses from the Upanishads and Bhagwad Gita which depict the (so called) monotheistic principle of Brahman and which is in some ways similar to the concept of Allah. There is a huge difference between the Monism (even dualism or qualified monism) of the Vedanta to the monotheistic belief in a Sky God like Allah. Monism is the acknowledgement of oneness of the universal principle of consciousness or Brahman.
What is the concept of god according to Vedanta. The Upanishads talk of Brahman as Sat-Chit-Ananda which is truth-consciousness-bliss. The Brahman is both unmanifest and manifest as Brahman or God has to be inclusive of everything. It is both Nirguna and Saguna. It has qualities and no qualities. There is a dialectical process of reasoning which is employed to express the inexpressible quality of Brahman or God. Essentially Brahman is the substratum of all that exists and being the substratum it is also different from all that exists. There is a trancendent quality of Brahman which is in some way similar to the monotheistic God. But the Upanishads are unequivocal in their claim that language fails to describe Brahman which is infinite (Anantha) and therefore it is depicted by dialectic reasoning like ‘It is far and it is near, it is the lowest and it is the highest’. There are many extremely poetic verses in the Vedantic texts which describe the dialectic ‘qualities’ of Brahman. Zakir Naik states that “The major difference between the Hindus and the Muslims is the apostrophe ‘s’. The Hindu says, “everything is GOD”. The Muslim says, “everything is God’s”, GOD with an Apostrophe ‘s’. If we can solve the difference of the Apostrophe ‘s’, the Hindus and the Muslims will be united.” Well Zakir Naik got it all wrong. The difference between Hinduism and Islam is that the Hindu believes that everything is ‘God as well as everything is God’s’ and Islam believes that everything is just God’s. The nearest point of convergence between Hinduism and Islam can be achieved by equating the qualities of Allah to Nirguna / Nirvikalpa Brahman and that is only after sanitizing the Allah concept of all the localized Arabic mumbo jumbo. However Brahman is much more than a transcendent and monotheistic sky god as it is both Nirguna and Saguna. It is without qualities as well as it has qualities. Because a god if he(or she or it) is worth being called a god has to be all encompassing. From the literal interpretation of Quran we can deduce that in Islam, Allah is separate from the world and Allah as a being lives probably somewhere up in the sky or another dimension. It is a sky god religion. If the God is separate from the world then Allah has to have a separate location and hence it becomes physical and materialistic with space-time coordinates . It is important to understand that the Islamic god is not Omnipresent and this god or Allah exists at some specific location which is distinct from the world created by Allah. In the vedic paradigm this is considered as nonsense as the universe has no beggining and end and God if he or she or it is worth being called a god has to be omnipresent and not localized at some corner of the universe from where this god directs all the actions of the world.
The idolatory in Hinduism is a symbolic representation of the divinity of the whole universe itself and in its essential form this brings about a reverence to the whole of this wonderful acausal creation. The Vedanta as also the Jain and Buddhist scriptures clearly mention that the world is acausal and it has always existed. To point to the origin of the universe at a specific time in history either through a God creating the universe or through some big bang is a logical fallacy as we would end up with the question as to what existed prior to this creation. How can something come out of nothing. Most of the eastern religions have deduced that the world has always existed in some form or the other. This appeals to logical and scientific sense than the stories of Genesis or the Islamic creation myth. Hence we find that the eastern religions hold a great attraction to the scientific and metaphysical philosophers of the west.
Now coming to the fact of Rajneesh calling himself Baghwan or God. Osho Rajneesh has clarified many times that he is not the God who created this world. ‘No not me’ he mentioned jokingly once. “I didn’t create this world with all the strife and suffering. I would have created a better place had I been God”. Surely Rajneesh never equated himself to the Allah, the medieval monarch like god. It would be good if Zakir Naik and his cohorts read some of the works of Osho (I have provided a link to a well know Osho site in the end for all the readers) and then try to counter him in arguments. Also he might do well to study Upanishadic texts in proper context rather than just using polemics and picking up verses which suit the rigid monotheistic belief system.
One key thing that most Islamists forget when criticising Hinduism and eastern traditions is that in the eastern tradition the spiritual path is individualistic and not based on a single holy book or frozen canon or teachings of a prophet. Hindu traditions are unlike the ‘collective salvation deal’ espoused by the Abrahamic religions. This individualistic approach although a great step in religious and cultural evolution of humanity has politically weakened Hinduism and it has become an easy target to the devious designs of islamists and christian evangelist missionaries, who are hell bent on bringing down a greater tradition to their crude level of understanding of religion.
Many of the evangelists and mullahs are in the habit of ridiculing some cultural symbols and personalities of the Hindu religion. Unlike the Monotheistic religions which are history centric i.e history is all important for man’s access to god, the eastern traditions have many incarnations, perennial access to truth and it is independent of history. That is the reason why Hindus call their religion ‘Sanatana Dharma’, eternal religion. To confine the advent of religion to a single prophet or set of prophets receiving revealation at a specific point of history is to limit the omnipotence of the divine. The intent of the Upanishadic religion or dharma is not just following a book but living as per the natural laws of life. A book however sacred or profound cannot capture truth because truth is a unitary moment which has to be discovered and rediscovered from moment to moment. So it is very silly from the perspective of Vedanta that God chooses some messenger like Muhamad or Jesus or Abraham or Noah and reveals to him some revelation and some dose of good social conduct and disappears into oblivion for eternity. Why is Allah so limited that he needs to communicate to only one person and the rest of humanity just need to follow all these codified injunctions. The message of the Upanishads is that God or Brahman cannot be captured in words much less in books. The semetic religious cannon can be aptly described as a set of few rules, universalized and canonized forever. However the dharma in the eastern traditions allows for an individualistic context based interpretation.
The Dharmic value system is evolutionary and changes with the changing times exept for certain universal absolutes which are eternal. Hence in the Hindu tradition you have two classes of scriptures, the Shruthi and the Smrithi. Shruthi is the inspired part and are universal in their appeal and application. Smrithi, means that which comes from memory and it comprises of the social rules of conduct and other mundane aspects of human existence. Shruthi is changeless and smrithi is something which needs to be revisted and adapted to changing times and circumstances. Shruthi is somewhat akin to the categorical imperative of Immanuel Kant and Smrithi is similar to the hypothetical imperative. The essential problem with Islam is the mixture of Shruthi and Smrithi in Quran. Hence you find many recommended practices in Quran which were relevant during the time and context of 7th century arabia and which does not make any sense in a multicultural, cosmopolitan, secular and humanistic world. Zakir Naik’s claim that Quran is the greatest book on Art of Living is a ridiculous claim to majority of the people living by humanistic and democratic values. Sri Sri Ravishankar’s ‘Art of Living’ is similar to many modern day Hindu movements and it is an adaptation of yogic principles of health, vedantic theology, value system of modern humanistic psychology and the practices of the human potential movement. Osho Rajneesh contributed a great deal in the evolution of the Human Potential Movement. Islam with its frozen in time approach comes nowhere close to any of these systems in terms of content and quality.
Unlike the essential belief of one supreme being of the monotheistic semetic religions like Islam, the eastern religious traditions have a different paradigm of looking at this rigid structure of belief. There are some eastern traditional lineages which demand a priori belief in a supreme being and this supreme being can be either a male or female or both or neither. There are traditions which believe in the impersonal nature of ultimate reality and it allows multiple representations and multiple access to the one supreme lord. ‘As many people so many paths’ remarked the famous sage of Dakshineshwar, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. This flexibility has been considered and ridiculed as a weakness by many of the monotheistic preachers, however this is the inherent strength of the Hindu tradition. This showcases the inherent liberal and catholic(in the sense of all encompassing) views of the eastern religious paradigm. Monotheism has been rightly stated as My-Theism by several secular critiques of religion like Professor Richard Dawkins.
Some thoughts by Osho on brahman and god - “Brahman has nothing to do with the Christian or muslim idea of God. Brahman means godliness, the divineness that pervades the whole existence… the whole, the holiness of the whole.”. In his own words Osho claimed that he is God based on the following “Samadhi begins with subjective awareness and culminates in realization of our divine self, the all permeating godliness - within and without. This is the state in which the ‘Rishis’ in the east declared ‘Aham Brahmasmi’, the state in which sufi mystic Mansur declared ‘Ana’l Haq’, the state in which Jesus says, ‘I and my Father are one’. This state is called ‘Sambodhi’, enlightenment, divine realization”. When the tombstone of Osho has the message “Osho Never Born and Never Died”, it is a mention to the immortal and unconditioned Consciousness - the Self of all or ‘Brahman’. It is not the physical body of Osho as the physical body is perishable and what is not perishable is consciousness the substratum of all that exists. This Consciousness has no origin and no end, it has no ‘adi’ and ‘antya’. When Osho or eastern mystics affirm that they are God, they mean that everything else is as well God and the individual bodies are like waves in the ocean and the self, which is unconditioned awareness is the ocean itself. Our ‘scholar of comparative religion’
Zakir Naik accuses Rajneesh of proclaiming himself the God in the Semetic / abrahamic / Islamic religious sense. If these scholars of comparative religions can make up a good study of Rajneesh then hopefully they can come up with some wise arguments than just picking him up on some silly semantics. This is the problem with Muslim scholars, they are just too caught in words, symbols, obedience and adherence to arcane medieval texts that make their minds so closeted. But still they have the nerve or rather the foolhardiness to proclaim that Islam is a scientific religion.If you are a scholar of comparative religion or philosophy the first pre-requisite is to understand the paradigms, models and cultural symbols of that particular religion or school of thought. Without this understanding the interpretation of a particular religion will remain parochial and not true to the spirit. Finally I would like to request all the readers to consider and reflect on two of the greatest sentences from Rig Veda, the oldest known religious scripture in the world - “Truth is one but wise men describe it in many ways” and “Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides”. Let’s not limit the noble thoughts to come from a book or a few more books.