Misguided Malice

Anyone who accepts a position of leadership, who takes a stand, starts an initiative, puts one foot in front of the other, is a person who is not afraid to be wrong. If that person makes occasional missteps along the way, those errors only fuel the impetus to start over and move farther along.

Such persons reject the secure quagmire of blaming, second-guessing and hand-wringing. They are able to catalyze change by appealing to the best in human nature, not by excoriating those who represent the worst.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati is the epitome of such an individual. He began expressing his opposition to the well-funded soul-harvesting operations of the international missionary combine as far back as the 1980s. He recognized that promoting knowledge of one’s faith traditions, taking education and economic self-sufficiency to rural areas, and facilitating the empowerment of women would provide a strong bulwark against homogenizing forces and predatory ideologies.

Among the many courses he taught and inspired over the years, the Vedic Heritage Series for children and young adults was a breakthrough in making knowledge of the Hindu cultural and religious framework accessible. It has given many contemporary teenagers in the west a firm grounding in Hindu narratives and culture unavailable to many in even my generation.

Swami Dayananda inspired Indians on both sides of the Atlantic who grew up thinking of problems as someone else’s job to solve, to harness their resources to an India-wide initiative named AIM for Sewa. The movement is quietly transforming the lives of children in remote rural areas. It provides education and health care without manipulating recipients into changing their views of God and their modes of worship.

Above all, considering the scope of his knowledge, his mastery of the message, and the devotion of innumerable people helped by his compassionate insight, Swami Dayananda has never actively pursued his own personal elevation or sought cult status. He claims no messianic qualities, performs no feats of magic or supraliminal transformation. He simply illuminates a path which leads not to him, but back into a higher goal within oneself.

To accuse such a person of abetting conversions in the name of interfaith dialogue is nothing short of grotesque. To ask for Swami Dayananda’s resignation from HDAS without any substantiated proof of wrongdoing is outrageous. To demand that he be answerable for the actions of Swami Nithyananda is practically unhinged. Pontificators of Hindu Dharma should not have to be reminded that respect for a Guru of Swami Dayananda’s stature is a fundamental Hindu value.

Whether or not Swami Dayananda associated with Swami Nithyananda in the past or continues to do so now is neither of consequence nor relevance. The only person that should be held answerable is Swami Nithyananda. Unlike the Christian model, ours is not a tradition that passes the Karmic buck.

In July 1999, a Seminar titled “Violence to Hindu Heritage” was held in Chennai. Swami Dayananda delivered the keynote address at the Narada Gana Sabha. The talk was titled “Religious Conversion is an Act of Violence.” An appendix to this article features excerpts from that speech. It is left to the reader to judge whether the speaker sounds like a person bent on opening the back door to conversions.

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