Mutual Respect or Tolerance?

I have been thinking about this for a while now (at least since “The Rift between Advaita and Vaishnavism” article). But the question (which also happens to be the title of this article) became clear when a friend wrote about the dynamics of interaction between Dvaitic and Advaitic sampradays within the Hindu traditions (in a private discussion).

He suggested that the two are mutually exclusive and that there is only a very broad sense in which they can align themselves into a united front. The alignment can happen on  the fronts of social and ethical concepts, and not on the spiritual level. His assertion was that Vaishnavs can never accept Advaita as a valid spiritual path, since that would mean it negates their spiritual framework.

I don’t deny that assertion. However, I would like to point out that this is only a Vaishnav perspective. Since, the Advaitin (at least to my understanding) would say, “Yes…at the Vyavaharika or relative level Vaishnavism and Advaita seem mutually contradictory, but at the absolute (paramarthika) level, they are not”.

It has been suggested to me that my defense of the Advaitic stand is based on a “wanting” understanding of Advaita and a lack of knowledge of Vishistadvaita (of Ramanuja), which is the bulwark of Vaishnavism.  I don’t deny that my knowledge of either tradition is “wanting”, since I definitely “want” to learn more…perhaps my way of learning is to challenge and debate — thus these discussions with Vaishnavites, Buddhists, etc.

But I dare say that I have a reasonable understanding of the Advaita tradition and while I might have not memorized reams of Scriptures, the essence of what it stands for is very clear in my mind.  People can call me a “Neo-Vedantist” or a” New-Age Advaitin”,  but that doesn’t change the fact that there are certain concepts and theories that I have experientially and intuitively understood, and they are irrefutable to me as a logical, thinking human being.  I am believer of Karma and accept that due to Karmic conditioning, people have very specific tendencies, and no two person is alike, exactly in the way they think, or do anything.

In light of certain insights of Non-dualism, all barriers, all boundaries and rules simply dissolve and cease to exist. These insights are maxims that boggle the rational mind and force an individual (who has contemplated this long enough) to finally discard reason, and accept the “un-rational” nature of being.  These insights can be written about, but then they lose their value. These insights come automatically in course of contemplation and mind-body practices.

The irony of Non-duality is that it uses reason as a tool of inquiry and then discards the tool once the goal has been reached (in the form of whatever miniscule revelation, realization or intuitive understanding, that might be). Non-duality raises what is un-rational, not irrational. It   exposes that which is not there, yet there always. It brings forth emptiness which is completely full, the intelligence that is completely devoid of reason. Non-duality is the unification of paradox (which is of course Duality in all its various shapes, sizes and forms).

I picked up on this concept of “Tolerance” vs “Mutual respect” from Rajiv Malhotra. It is a brilliant insight in the state of ‘inter-faith’ dialog.  Should we strive for tolerance or mutual respect in that arena? Is it enough if a Christian tolerates a muslim tolerates a Hindu? Are we not settling for mediocrity in such a case? 

Should we not be striving for Mutual Respect instead? In that, all faiths respect each other as being paths that lead to union with the Divine and irrespective of what form, shape, size etc they each consider the divine to be, they each understand that the Divine is infact infinite and cannot be bound by words or definitions or concepts. When this realization happens, all faiths will respect each other, since the existence of one will not then automatically negate the other!

When coming to the topic of “intra-Hindu” dialog and association – Should it be mutual respect or tolerance?

Should an Advaitin tolerate a Vaishnava? Should a Vaishnava tolerate an Advaitin? Should A Saiva tolerate a Vaishnava? Draw the various permutations and combinations of this equation

 Should not the same conditions as in Inter-faith dialog be valid here as well?  Hindus can present a united front, only when this mutual respect happens.

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