The questions for this interview were lying with me for years. I was discouraged to answer because there were too many (17 in all) and I wondered who will read through a long interview. Yet when I got again a reminder during Corona lockdown, I answered them. You can scroll through them and pick what interests you.
- How you got attracted towards Hinduism? What was the turning point in your life?
It happened when I came to India on a stopover on my way to Australia and went to see the Swami Vivekananda Memorial in Kanya Kumari in March 1980. There I bought the book ‘Jnana Yoga’, and it impressed me a lot. It felt as if Swami Vivekananda put my vague intuition about what is true into words. Till then, I had read only on Buddhism and about some Indian gurus like Swami Yogananda and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Strangely, I did not associate them with Hinduism. I had heard in school that the main features of Hinduism were caste system and idol worship, and naturally, I was not interested in it. Only when I read Swami Vivekananda and came to know about Vedanta philosophy, which makes so much sense and which is based on the Upanishads, which in turn are part of the ancient Vedas, I realized that there is a big treasure in Hinduism and wanted to discover more about it.
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Soon after, I landed up at the Ardh Kumbh Mela in Hardwar and met two outstanding personalities – Devaraha Baba and Sri Anandamayi Ma. Thanks to them I realized that this ancient wisdom of the Oneness of all is meant to be experienced. They inspired me to do sadhana. Sadhana is about removing the veils that hide one’s true Being. This pure, blissful awareness is always there within us, and so close that closer is not possible, but it is clouded by thoughts and emotions. For me Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge, felt very natural, but Anandamayi Ma stressed the path of Bhakti Yoga, of devotion and love for the Divine. From then on, I had a purpose in life and was clear about it: if I am not what I think I am (a separate person in a big world), then I want to know what I really am. And I kept asking that true Consciousness in me “Please let me know you. Please let me love you”. I was sure that it is present and real.
- What is unique about Hinduism? Why is it different from other religions, particularly Christianity and Islam?
Oh there is so much uniqueness that it is hard to put it briefly. I consider Vedic knowledge or Sanatana Dharma as the original, most ancient and complete knowledge about what is true regarding us and the universe. It is called today inadequately ‘Hinduism’. An ‘ism’ usually means a fixed doctrine that must be believed, and Hinduism is the opposite of that. It allows the greatest freedom to connect with one’s essential Self, gives hints and methods, and does not go against one’s conscience. In contrast, Christianity and Islam put their doctrine above one’s individual conscience. This is wrong and has led to great suffering for humanity.
The religious belief systems, which came later in time, are either limitations or distortions. Offshoots of Hindu dharma, like Buddhism, are limitations of the vast ocean of knowledge, because they demand from the follower to identify with only one of the sages or one set of texts. The Abrahamic religions are distortions because they demand not only belief in a Supreme Intelligence (in English called God), but also blind belief in wild claims about this God, which have no foundation in truth and actually are harmful for a harmonious living together.
One more important difference: Hinduism encourages asking intelligent questions and using one’s intelligence to its fullest in the search for truth. Yet Christianity and Islam don’t want their followers to ask any questions or use their intelligence but want them to meekly accept what they are taught as ‘the one and only truth’. This truth was allegedly revealed to only one human being and it divides humanity into those who follow this particular person and those who don’t. Those who don’t are dehumanized as unbelievers or heathen. This blind belief is of course not good for a healthy mindset, and the consequence of such fabricated division can be seen in history and also in the present.
In Hinduism, it matters WHAT is said and whether it makes sense and not so much who said it. Yet in Christianity and Islam it only matters WHO said it. What the religious founder said must not be scrutinized but believed.
Hinduism has incredible knowledge, even now, though a huge amount of it has been destroyed. Millions of texts were burned in Nalanda and Vikramshila by people who believed that only ONE book matters. Millions of Hindus were killed, many Brahmins among them, who were seen as the biggest enemy, as they had the knowledge in their heads. The former Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram, Sri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati, said that at the start of Kali Yuga, Veda Vyasa divided the four Vedas into over thousand Shakas, to make it easier for the Brahmins in Kali Yuga to memorize them. Only eight are still preserved in full. Only eight of over one thousand…. What painful loss.
The insights of the Rishis were not ordinary. They shared what they had “seen” in cosmic awareness or in other words, the Vedas were revealed to them. This knowledge is said to be there right at the start of the universe. In contrast, Western historians claim that humans were primitive thousands of years ago. The great sages who handed down the Vedas were definitely more advanced, and i wished Indian historians had the courage to stand by their inherited knowledge.
Just one example that completely stuns me: how could the ancient Indians map the sky so absolutely detailed and correctly? How could they know the distance to the sun and the moon, or discern the planets of our solar system from stars? How could they know that the twin stars of Vashisht and Arundhati, hardly visible, move around each other? And even more astonishing, how could they develop astrology, know the qualities of the planets, their influence? It truly needed an intimate connection with the cosmic awareness. They must have experienced that the whole cosmos with its planets and stars is alive, is a manifestation of Purusha himself, and they could reach out to it or rather see it within the vast space in themselves.
- What were the reasons for you to decide to settle in India and seeking a spiritual path?
I didn’t really decide to settle in India. Rather, I just wanted to stay longer, but didn’t know how long. As I said, I was actually on my way to Australia, when I stopped over in India. But then it so happened that I went on an inner journey and the best place for this is clearly India. If you live in India, you may not realize how different the atmosphere here is compared to the west. I prefer it any time. It is spiritually uplifting. The quality of life is definitely higher in India. The West feels empty.
- What were the reasons for leaving Christianity and becoming a Hindu?
Leaving Christianity and adopting a Hindu way of life was not connected as I distanced myself already as a teenager from Christianity. I could not believe any longer in its vengeful God who would throw me into eternal hellfire if I go against his commands, like not going to Sunday mass, and who, in the same breath, is called very loving. Maybe I got a bit too much of Christianity in a Convent boarding school. It did not bind me closer to it, but made me skeptical.
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Becoming a Hindu was gradual after coming to India. I realized that the Hindu way of life was the most natural and ideal way of life. It means acknowledging a Supreme Intelligence (Brahman/ Ishwar) as the cause and base of everything, including our persons. This made immediately sense to me. Yet on the relative level, there is infinite variety and each person is entitled to his own approach. Hinduism also acknowledges that there are many powers, which are absolutely essential for our existence as humans. Honouring these powers, like the sun, of course also makes sense, because they are alive. And strangely, it made also sense to me that there are different invisible planes of existence, which are as real as this visible manifestation is. Or should I say which are as ‘unreal’ as this visible manifestation? Ultimately, only our essence, Brahman, is true. True in the sense that it is always, in past, present and future, and that it self-evident and self-luminous. Only our consciousness fulfills these conditions. The only thing that we can know for sure is “I am”.