A Yogic view of Mohammed's messages

In response to my post, In pursuance of “Truth & Reconciliation”…, my friend Ketpan says

You seem to believe that the Prophet had actually tried to contemplate God & he had no personal ulterior political ambitions! Why this worries me is because in none of our interactions have I felt you to be naive, nor have I thought you to be politically correct. What I know is that the kind of spiritual/philosophical contemplation of nature of the Universe (Brahman) you’ve talked of & personal ulterior motives met by active scheming, deception & indulging in basest of acts do not go together.

I seem to have been misunderstood.

I believe we must try and get out of the simplistic slotting of Mohammed and his Islam in the semitic terms of pure earthly evil or Allah-ish bliss. Instead, I believe we will be better benefited if we tried to understand the cause of Mohammed’s delusions that led to Islam. A new Mohammed may not rise again, but such knowledge can provide opponents of Islam and Islam-like belief systems the solid positive arguments they need to make their position inherently credible.

Ram Swarup and Koenraad Elst have focused on this aspect of deluded Prophethood and tried to understand it from a Hindu point of view.

I commend Elst’s notes on the subject.

The Yogic View of the Quranic Trance

In discussing Islam, most non-Muslims tend to focus on the negative achievements of Islam, such as Islamic mistreatment of women and unbelievers. However, we should realize that in its essence, Islam is a belief system, a truth claim. The Islamic religion stands or falls with the truth or untruth of two assertions: (1) there is no God but Allah, the Creator of the universe; and (2) Mohammed is the final spokesman of Allah, who through him passed on to mankind a series of messages assembled in the Quran. This is understood to have been a constant process of “revelation” from AD 610, when Mohammed was 40, until his death in AD 632. The first belief is a theological claim which Islam has in common with some other religions, and which could even be reconciled with some schools of Hinduism (“the wise call the One True One by many names”) if subjected to cunning interpretation. The second belief, by contrast, is the truly defining truth claim of Islam, setting it apart from every other religion: the prophethood of Mohammed.

In this series of articles, we will discuss some non-Islamic views of this core assertion of Islam. The present paper will focus on the Hindu view of Mohammed’s prophethood.

Before the colonial age, there was hardly any Hindu evaluation neither of Mohammed’s prophetic claims, nor even of Islamic doctrine in general. The first detailed criticism of Islam, and in particular of the Quran, was written by Swami Dayananda Saraswati, founder of the Vedic reform movement Arya Samaj. He mainly lambasted the contradictions, irrational beliefs and inhumane injunctions in Islamic scripture. Arya Samaj criticism of the Prophet typically focused on his dictatorial and immoral personal behaviour (e.g. Rajpal’s Rangila Rasul, about Mohammed’s sex life), not on the source of his “revelations”.

The basis of Islam is the belief that Mohammed regularly went into a state of trance (wahi) and heard a voice dictating Allah’s own words. As Hindu students of Islam have been pointing out in recent years, many of Mohammed’s contemporaries were skeptical of his recipiency of divine messages: “The Meccans stood firm by their gods; their faith in the gods was not at all shaken by Muhammad’s attacks. Allah reports: ‘When it was said unto them, There is no God save Allah, they were scornful, and said: Shall we forsake our gods for a mad poet?’ (Q.37:36/35) ‘And they marvel that a warner from among themselves had come. They say: This is a wizard, a charlatan.’ (Q.38:4/3) ” (S.R. Goel: Hindu Temples, vol.2, 2nd ed., p.334)

It was probably Swami Vivekananda who first connected the questionable nature of Mohammed’s leadership with the nature of his prophethood. Mohammed had to be ruthless in imposing adherence to his belief in his own divine mission because this belief could not stand on its own, based as it was on a delusion. If your neighbour, whom you have known for years as an ordinary businessman, tells you one day that he is hearing God’s voice and that you have to obey his divine instructions from now on, you would not readily give in to his demand. Instead, you would certainly wonder what had happened to him. So, Vivekananda offered one hypothesis of what had happened to Mohammed to make him believe in his own selection as God’s sole living spokesman.

The specifically Hindu contribution to our understanding of the Quranic revelation is to bring in the yogic experience. As an example of how yogic practice can go wrong, warning against the dangers of experimenting with yoga without competent guidance, Swami Vivekananda mentioned none other than Mohammed: “The yogi says there is a great danger in stumbling upon this state. In a good many cases, there is the danger of the brain being deranged, and, as a rule, you will find that all those men, however great they were, who had stumbled upon this super-conscious state without understanding it, groped in the dark, and generally had, along with their knowledge, some quaint superstition. They opened themselves to hallucinations. Mohammed claimed that the Angel Gabriel came to him in a cave one day and took him on the heavenly horse, Burak, and he visited the heavens.

“But with all that, Mohammed spoke some wonderful truths. If you read the Koran, you find the most wonderful truths mixed with superstitions. How will you explain it? That man was inspired, no doubt, but that inspiration was, as it were, stumbled upon. He was not a trained Yogi, and did not know the reason of what he was doing. Think of the good Mohammed did to the world, and think of the great evil that has been done through his fanaticism! Think of the millions massacred through his teachings, mothers bereft of their children, children made orphans, whole countries destroyed, and millions upon millions of people killed! (…) So we see this danger by studying the lives of great teachers like Mohammad and others. Yet we find, at the same time, that they were all inspired. Whenever a prophet got into the super-conscious state by heightening his emotional nature, he brought away from it not only some truths, but some fanaticism also, some superstition which injured the world as much as the greatness of the teaching helped.” (Vivekananda: Complete Works, vol.1, p.184, from the book Raja Yoga, Ch.7: “Dhyana and Samadhi”)

Mental disturbance as a consequence of meditative experiments had already been named as the cause of the Quranic revelations by Gisbertus Voetius, a 17th-century Dutch Calvinist theologian who trained missionaries for conversion work in Indonesia (discussed in Karel Steenbrink: Dutch Colonialism and Indonesian Islam). Protestants who had abolished monastic institutions and were scornful of the ascetic practices of Catholic and Orthodox monks, liked to point out such dangers, and the warning seemed to apply to the case of Mohammed as well.

Most yoga manuals emphatically warn against wrongly practising the techniques of Hatha Yoga, which are very powerful whether used properly or in disregard of the concomitant rules. Yogic masters can relate anecdotes of pupils or colleagues who spurned the precautions and practiced dangerous forms of prânâyâma (“breath control” or “control of the vital energies”) till they impaired their nerve systems. One well-known written testimony of the painful and lasting effects of erratic yogic practice is given by Gopi Krishna in his book Kundalini. Arya Samaj leader Vandematharam Ramachandra Rao told me of one case involving a friend of his who inflicted brain damage on himself and died of a stroke as a consequence of improper prânâyâma practice. Likewise, Taoist Qigong comes with the same warning and anecdotes. Many mystic phenomena the world over come about as cases of stumbling upon certain states of consciousness, which may lead to some kind of “enlightenment” but also to serious delusions, most typically megalomania, witness the self-importance of the assorted gurus and messiahs in the modern cult scene.

Hindu yogis claim to have left these dangerous mind games behind because their forebears have developed a safe and sound method laid down in such classics as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Ram Swarup (Hindu View of Christianity and Islam, p.45-46) argues that the methodical and systematic “science of yoga” has a substantial qualitative edge over other forms of mysticism or mediumism. From this angle, it is unfair (even if fashionably in tune with the “equal truth of all religions” doctrine) to put yoga in one class with the experiments of Shamans taking hallucinogenic plants, or with the uninvited voice-hearing experiences of Mohammed.

In recent years, Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel have further developed Swami Vivekananda’s position on the nature of Quranic revelation. Ram Swarup has elaborated on the yogic theory of samadhi (enstasis) states of different levels of purity, which allows for states of high concentration tainted by delusion (Hindu View of Christianity and Islam, p.107). S.R. Goel has pointed out the similarity between Mohammed’s experiences and that of other men who combined a susceptibility to convulsive trance states with a great charisma and strategic ability, most notably Chengiz Khan (foreword to Goel, ed.: The Calcutta Quran Petition, p.103 ff.; with reference to A. Guillaume: Life of Muhammad, p.104/150-107/154).

They conclude that the Pagan Arabs had every right to reject Mohammed’s claims, born from a deluded consciousness and then propagated on a war footing, but that they made the one mistake which history does not forgive, viz. the mistake of being defeated. However, “the fact that they failed to understand the ways of Mohammed and could not match his mailed fist in the final round should not be held against them. It was neither the first nor the last time that a democratic society succumbed in the face of determined gangsterism. We know how Lenin, Hitler and Mao Tse-tung succeeded in our own times.” (Goel: Hindu Temples, vol.2, 2nd ed., p.272)

As far as I can see, the foregoing constitutes the single most radical criticism of Islam available in the world. Christian critics, no matter how fierce, usually appreciate at least Mohammed’s monotheism, which does not impress these Hindu authors. They are also inhibited in criticizing the deluded nature of Mohammed’s “revelations”, as they profess a belief in the divine revelations to the Old Testament prophets. Though “irreverent” and “demythologizing” are among the most specious words of praise in the review columns of modern newspapers, few people have the stomach for something as irreverent and demythologizing as the Hindu Revivalist analysis of the Prophet’s mission.

– Namaste


10 Responses

  1. Seems like an apology for the actions of Mohmd

  2. Why do you say that?

    It’s not an apology but a method of understanding Prophetic madness. This in no way underestimates the urgency of the Muslim problem; in fact what it does is to provide us with better weapons to take to the front.

  3. ““But with all that, Mohammed spoke some wonderful truths. If you read the Koran, you find the most wonderful truths mixed with superstitions. How will you explain it?…”

    i’ve always been perplexed by this statement from vivekanand,have tried from many sources but never found an answer to what were the wonderful truths that vivekanand found in mhd
    s utterances.the statement seems to imply that these “wonderful truths” were mhd’s original contribuitions to human knowledge.

    the analysis presented here is by sh.s.r.goel/sh.arun shourie,who again have just relied on vivekanand’s ceritfication of mhd as a yogi gone wrong.no facts are available as to what yogic practices mhd was in.the only thing close to a yogic practice recorded for mhd is his cave yatra(solitude).

    this analysis by sh.goel and sh.shourie is probably a rare one in that it is unsupported by factual analysis.

  4. Ashwani, it could be that Vivekananda was impressed by the organization and sense of “equality” Mohammed brought to his new brotherhood. Some others mention his abolition of the practice of female infanticide etc.

    But i’m just thinking aloud.

    Wrt Goel and Swarup’s endorsement of Vivekananda’s position on Mohammed, it does seem restricted to his analysis of Mohammed’s “states of mind”. His experiences of wahi. Here, Vivekananda is on strong ground as shown in the article.

  5. Palahalli,

    wahi has been interpreted by some others on psychological basis as a psychiatric disorder also.i donot know how you find vivekanand on strong grounds,as in the article as all the logic given out here is superficial like samadhi etc.if you have access to the details of mhd’s state and his practices(yogic!)pls. share.if yogi gone wrong could produce mhd. bharat should have had more than it’s fair share of mhd’s by now.

    i think vivekanand gave this statement out of sheer political correctness as he had realised the potential in a “muslim body”

    i find it very strange that sh.goel,sh.shourie and sh.elst have just stated this thesis without applying their renowned rigour of analysis.

  6. Ashwani and Palahalli :

    Sorry for any intrusion. I too have often wondered at that statement by Swamiji, since most Islamic/Koranic quotes I have come across seemed like such duds. However, it has often seemed that the Fellow in charge of Sthiti is favorable to Islam. Unlike Christianity or Hinduism I can’t recall an instance of Islam waning in any country. Even today Muslims get away with what people of no other religions can. More Muslim men marry women of other religions than the other way round (please don’t get offended; I am only viewing it as an unfortunate indicator of “power” in society). Most intellectuals and elites give free pass to Islam and fling dirt on Hinduism and Christianity.

    Can’t we conclude by indirect influence that this is some consequence of a yogic power?

  7. froginthewell,

    welcome.your observation regarding the power wielded by these thugs is right on dot.if you want to attribute this to some magical power i’ll agree but to attribute it to yog which is uplifting,and muslim presence is anything but that,is where i disagree.i have always wondered how a philosophy of rape,murder and loot could hold sway over such a large population and for so long.the only answer probably inadequate is that rape,loot and murder act as honey for the sick portions of their brains and the stability of existence provided by terror tactics within and without force/satisfy the people to continue in their present state.

    ofcourse stockholm syndrome is not a falsehood,else the number of our ancestors uprooted from their environment to be sold as slaves in arabia would have preffered death instead of that suffocating existence for whatever it may have been.

  8. Ashwani : Thanks for the response. Is yOga necessarily only uplifting? Aren’t our purANas full of stories where some asura does extreme tapas, acquires power and conquers all the worlds? Yoga-related works also talk about aShTa-siddhis such as aNimA that might be acquired as a result of yOgic practice, and which can be dangerous if not used in the right spirit.

    There is that awesome story narrated by Totapuri that Sri Ramakrishna recalls : once a yOgic practitioner who acquired various powers was sitting on the bank of a river. Suddenly there arose a storm, causing great discomfort to the practitioner. He said “Let this storm cease”. Due to his powers these words could not fail, and the storm ceased abruptly. As a result a boat that had been going full mast capsized, the travelers drowned, and the practioner lost all this powers and went to hell.

    I am not claiming that this kind of thing is necessarily what happened with Islam. But isn’t that a possibility? After all, great power comes from concentrating and not dissipating thought. I remember reading that terrorist organizations prefer people who are relatively quiet and do not talk much. Hindus on one hand have been slaves of money for generations, what with gifted people like Tansen converting (most probably) to please Muslim rulers. Muslims view religion more seriously, and pray more often. Won’t these result in some kind of collective benefit?

    BTW, Palahalli – I don’t know – most bloggers would mind statements like the above as they might seem puerile. Please don’t hesitate to ask me to shut up if you feel so.

  9. Froginthewell, Sir, please feel completely at home. All debate and discussion is most welcome.

  10. “i’ve always been perplexed by this statement from vivekanand,have tried from many sources but never found an answer to what were the wonderful truths that vivekanand found in mhd
    s utterances.the statement seems to imply that these “wonderful truths” were mhd’s original contribuitions to human knowledge.”

    Vivekananda had to say some positive things about Islam because at that time in the country nobody dared to take on other religions and he was the only one to do so.

    “re.if yogi gone wrong could produce mhd. bharat should have had more than it’s fair share of mhd’s by now.”

    There are many such yogis gone mad in India, our own version of Prophet Mohammads. But they are locked by the police or admitted into mental asylums. Eight (8%) percent of patients admitted in Bangalore’s NIMHANS, a neurological and psychological treatment centre, are practitioners of Yoga.

    But unfortunately there was nobody to lock up Prophet Mohammad.

    “but to attribute it to yog which is uplifting,and muslim presence is anything but that,is where i disagree.”

    There are difference types of Yogis, the good ones and the bad ones. Our puranas and even the Vedas testify to that. I think the proper word to be used would be tapasya rather than yoga, asura tapasya as opposed to daiva tapasya.

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