Now that I have said in my last post that Abrahamic religions are “authoritarian” and that Dharma is not, but instead is “authoritative”, except for the Manu-samhita and the Gita depending on how you read it, let me say this. I am well aware that we – everybody, no matter what our faith is – have a pesky tendency to critique other paths for something while sort of white-washing that very same characteristic of our own belief system. I can go on for a while on this but I won’t. Dogmatic contradictions and abuses of power on one level or another in the East and in the West come to mind.
But what I really want to talk about is something that I became re-aware of yesterday as I observed Valmiki Jayanthi, the birth date of the poet who wrote Ramayana. Valmiki is also credited with giving birth to the “sloka”, the poetic verse in which many of the Hindu scriptures are written.
Valmiki was also, depending on who you ask, a thief named Ratnakara by birth. The story goes that he had attempted to rob the great sage Narada who would eventually tell him the story of the life of Rama, which Ratnakara was later charge by Brahma to write down. Ratnakara was robbing to feed his family, and Narada asked him essentially if he, Ratnakara, could share the blame for the robbery with his family for whom he was committing the act. When none of his family would agree to such an arrangement, Ratnakara became a student of Narada’s. He had learned an important lesson. Though we are all interwoven in this tapestry called life, we are all responsible for our own actions. At least this is my interpretation.
This is the story one often encounters in regard to the early life of Valmiki. However it also shows in historical record that this version of his life was not mentioned anywhere until the 9th Century of the Common Era, casting doubt on its historicity. But the possibility still exists that it is true.
Now, here’s where Mormons come into the story. I, myself have expressed strong doubt toward the authenticity and the authoritative nature of the Book of Mormon based on (among other things) the criminal record of its writer, Joseph Smith. I admit it. But if we disregard a text based solely on what it’s writer once was, where would we be? Given the supposed back story of Valmiki recounted above, the Avatarness of Rama would be called into question even more than it already is by non-adherents to Vaisnavism (who likely have no reason to believe there is any truth in Vaisnav text to begin with, I realize). But still it is fanning the flames of misunderstanding, and mistrust of other religions – an attitude which is already such a scourge in this world.
Hinduism is not “redemptive” in the same sense as Christianity is, but most Hindus would agree that our dharma is “progressive” and it is about overcoming what we once were. Many maybe would not state it quite like that, and that is okay. But I think that is a universally understandable way to state it. In more Hindu terms, it is about removing the Tamasic veil from our Selves and revealing the Sattwic.
Another possibility is that the old aphorism is a reality, that Valmiki as well as Joseph Smith, regardless of their human shortcomings, had “been made a vessel” or an “instrument” of God. It doesn’t matter. Regardless, the fact remains that we could spend eternity poking holes in one another’s respective belief systems or we can simply allow each other to walk their paths. In fact we can do each other one better by making an effort, as Ram Dass so eloquently put it “to walk each other back home.”
Jai Hari Aum.