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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Vatican has held talks with Hindu leaders with the goal of building a "new humanism" by drawing together Pope Francis' encyclical Fratelli Tutti (All Brothers) with the contested Hindu concept of "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" (the whole cosmos is one family).
On Wednesday, the Vatican's Dicastery for Interfaith Dialogue joined with representatives from the Hindu Forum of Europe and the Italian Hindu Union for a meeting on the theme of "Hindus and Christians in Europe: Building together a 'fraternity-based new humanism.'"
Participants from the World Council of Churches — the world's largest organization of non-Catholic churches — also addressed the conference, a press statement from the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue announced.
"It was acknowledged that the Hindu concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and Pope Francis' encyclical Fratelli Tutti serve as compasses to guide Hindus and Christians towards a 'new humanism' in an increasingly intercultural and interreligious Europe," the statement said.
"Participants reflected on the changing dynamics of the Hindu–Christian relationship in Europe and envisaged ways of enhancing cooperation on issues that would foster human flourishing through interreligious dialogue, solidarity and hospitality," the dicastery added.
Organizers did not release details of papers presented or respond to queries from journalists about the Rome gathering, which was attended by some 55 participants and hailed by the Vatican as "the first of its kind."
Speaking to Church Militant, Fr. Victor Borde, an eminent scholar of Hinduism and the author of The Purusha Suktam: An A-Religious Inquiry Into a Sacred Text, debunked the flawed premises on which the Hindu–Christian dialogue was based.
"The concepts of the human family or human rights do not exist in Vedic Hinduism," Dr. Borde noted, explaining how the so-called Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam concept is a contradiction in terms, given Hinduism's rigid caste system, which is intrinsic to the religion.
"Rather, each caste has its own rights and duties. Accordingly, one cannot establish equal relationships with the people of other castes (jati). There are set rules for each caste and sub-caste that should not be breached," Borde elaborated.
"There are severe punishments laid down in the Vedic Hindu scriptures (including pouring molten metal into the ears or cutting off the tongues of lower caste Hindus) for such breaches. These are still believed in and practiced in India," the priest-scholar pointed out.
Other scholars of Hinduism, including Hindus, have underscored the contested nature of the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and how the concept is being used as a propaganda tool by Hindu extremists who are ruthlessly persecuting Christians in India under a Hindu fundamentalist regime — a problem Vatican–Hindu dialogue has failed to substantively address.
"The notion that the Indian civilization has always been inclusive and embracing is false. Conceptually, 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam' — meaning 'the world is one family' — presents a warped narrative," writes Shrenik Rao. "This inaccurate, rose-tinted view of history conveniently airbrushes centuries of caste discrimination."
Questioning the canonical status of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam in the Hindu scriptures, Dwarka Bharti lambasts the "intellectual dishonesty" with which such "mythological texts are being hailed as repositories of Indian culture."
Bharti cited Dr. Surendra Agyat, who argues that "this maxim is nowhere to be found in the four Vedas and the 11 Upanishads. The word 'Kutumbakam' does not figure in the commentaries on the 11 Upanishads."
Other scholars note that the maxim is found in the Maha Upanishad, a minor text of Hinduism. It also occurs in the Hitopadesa, a collection of fables.
"That is because 'Kutumbakam' is not a Sanskrit word originally but has been borrowed from Tamil. Dr. Agyat explains that the word is made up of two Tamil words 'Kudi' (house or home) and 'Inbam' (happiness)," Bharti writes. "This word did not exist in the Vedic era."
In a peer-reviewed article titled "'The Cosmos Is One Family': Problematic Mantra of Hindu Humanism," Brian Hatcher explains how the pronouncement has been taken by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad "to be one of the guiding principles of the Hindu worldview."
The VHP is one of the Hindu supremacist organizations in the vanguard perpetrating the persecution of Christians.
"Not only does such a strategy suit the largely transnational character of the VHP by playing upon a broad sense of national allegiance in the Indian diaspora, it also supports the calculus of vote-banks within India," Hatcher writes.
Explaining how the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is contradictory to world-negating Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, Hatcher notes that "for the Hindu, the world is ultimately a fetter. One perfects oneself out of the world; one does not cultivate oneself into it."
Others have also pointed out how the concept fundamentally contradicts Christianity: "The Upanishadic philosophy, of which Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is a representation, emphasizes the divinity of every living being," explains Arvind Gupta in the National Security journal.
"It believes that every human being is divine, thus there is no cause for conflict," Gupta concludes.
Pope Francis' Fratelli Tutti has also come under fire for promoting an understanding of "universal fraternity," that goes beyond the traditional understanding of "Christian brotherhood."
In his book on Christian brotherhood, Die Christliche Brüderlichkeit, Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger concluded that, according to the Bible, "only the limited application of the idea of brotherhood is Christian."
According to the New Testament, brothers (and sisters) are those who belong in the unity of God's chosen people. Believers only become brothers by virtue of their common participation in Christ's sonship, Ratzinger stresses.
The Grand Orient of Italy, a Masonic lodge, earlier eulogized Fratelli Tutti as "close to the ideals that have constituted the very foundations of Freemasonry from the very beginning," Church Militant reported.
The commendation from Italy's biggest lodge for the encyclical follows close on the heels of an endorsement from Spain's main lodge, the Gran Logia de España, which claimed that the encyclical "demonstrates how far away the present Catholic Church is from its former positions."
"In Fratelli Tutti, the pope embraces universal fraternity — the great principle of modern Freemasonry," the lodge's official statement declared.
Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, prefect for the Dicastery for Interfaith Dialogue, gave the inaugural address at the Vatican–Hindu conference after participants lit a traditional Indian oil lamp and prayed together in silence.