HAF Responds to Inflammatory Remarks by Evangelist Zacarias in India Abroad

Printed on page A2 of India Abroad - July 9th, 2004

July 9, 2004

To: Editorial Office, India Abroad
From: Executive Council, Hindu American Foundation, Inc.
Re: Interview with Ravi Zacharias (IA, June 25, 2004)

Dear Editor:

We are disheartened to read the comments made by Ravi Zacharias on Hinduism and Buddhism during his interview with Shakti Bhatt [India Abroad, June 25, 2004, A29]. His misrepresentations of the essence and principles of these spiritual traditions reflect his own ignorance and bigotry rather than any deficiency within Hinduism and Buddhism. While Mr. Zacharias sees the complexity and layers of meaning within Hinduism as being “confused” and “inconsistent,” he lacks the understanding or respect to recognize the underlying harmony and wisdom of the diversity of strands of thought within it.

Mr. Zacharias is right in noting that Hinduism encompasses traditions ranging from atheism to pantheism and just about everything in between them. However, this plurality of traditions does not symbolize any internal contradictions or inconsistency. A true Hindu knows that his own path, whether it is that of bhakti, karma, gyana, or raja-yoga, is but one of many and has equal respect for all the winding paths that lead to the same Truth called by different names. The true Hindu recognizes that individual souls are like raindrops falling along their own unique path to the same ocean. The true Hindu does not need to judge the path taken by others as being good or bad, right or wrong, because he knows that the destination is the same, that all paths lead to the same goal.

Different expressions of the truth do not reveal any underlying contradiction. There are layers and levels of meaning, and the expression of them changes with time. Neither Hinduism nor Buddhism, nor any system of philosophy based on dharma, are stagnant. They are constantly evolving systems, perpetually adapting and customizing themselves to meet the needs of societies and cultures as they change and grow over time. While the underlying essence of Truth is changeless, the way it is expressed and manifested constantly changes according to place, time, and context. Human beings are ever evolving and with this evolution comes deeper understanding of the profound truths of all religions. This is why there is such a diversity of traditions and practices within Hinduism today.

Mr. Zacharias is gleeful in pointing out purported skeletons in the closets of non-Christian religions. While all cultures have their failings, he is unfair in focusing only on the societal problems confronting Eastern religions. While the foibles of the East may be more obvious and repugnant to him, it is because of his own ideology and biases that he cannot analyze or evaluate these cultures in a fair and balanced manner. Messianic zeal and a need to convert, to show others as being less worthy, less deserving of respect and acceptance, subvert his commentary into a superficial and bigoted condemnation of all that is non-Christian.

The correlation of the rise of prostitution in Thailand with Buddhism is a completely false and egregious allegation, as correlation does not in any way indicate causation. Socioeconomic circumstances and the exploitation carried out by foreign tourists are responsible for the situation, not the spiritual ethos of Buddhism. It would be just as inappropriate to hold Christianity responsible for slavery, colonialism, the genocide of Native Americans, the Holocaust, and the pedophilia of Catholic priests.

As for the sweeping generalization that Hinduism does not recognize the individual dignity of each person, that is yet another false stereotype. Hinduism sees all beings as manifestations of divinity and acknowledges the unity underlying all living forms, so that every single living being, not just humans, are to be respected and honored.

Mr. Zacharias’ comments are an affront to all those who believe in tolerance, pluralism, and understanding. We hope that Mr. Zacharias will reconsider his views and that India Abroad, as a respectable publication for all Indians, will provide the space for alternate views challenging such prejudice and misrepresentations to be aired.


Aditi Banerjee
Member, Executive Council
Pawan Deshpande
Member, Executive Council

Hindu American Foundation