Sunday, May 01, 2016

Hindu Fundamentalism or the Fundamentals of Hinduism

There's been a lot of press about Hindu fundamentalism - so this post is an attempt to understand  the fundamentals of Hinduism.

I started with Swami Vivekananda, who made the Indians aware of their vast spiritual and cultural heritage. Swami Vivekananda's second lecture in India, after his return from the West provided a succinct summary of the essential principles of Hinduism.

"I will ...present before you the salient points of our religion in as simple language as I can.  I shall take up the common grounds, the essential principles ... which every Hindu must believe

The first is the question of creation, that this nature, Prakriti, Mâyâ is infinite, without beginning. It is not that this world was created the other day, not that a God came and created the world and since that time has been sleeping; for that cannot be. The creative energy is still going on. God is eternally creating — is never at rest. The whole of this nature exists, it becomes finer, subsides; and then after a period of rest, as it were, the whole thing is again projected forward, and the same combination, the same evolution, the same manifestations appear and remain playing, as it were, for a certain time, only again to break into pieces, to become finer and finer, until the whole thing subsides, and again comes out. Thus it goes on backwards and forwards with a wave-like motion throughout eternity. Time, space, and causation are all within this nature. 

What makes this creation? Brahman. He is the general cause of all these manifestations. What is this Brahman? He is eternal, eternally pure, eternally awake, the almighty, the all-knowing, the all-merciful, the omnipresent, the formless, the partless.

We now come to the second principle on which we all agree, not only all Hindus, but all Buddhists and all Jains. We all agree that life is eternal. You know it already that each one of us is the effect of the infinite past; the child is ushered into the world not as something flashing from the hands of nature, as poets delight so much to depict, but he has the burden of an infinite past; for good or evil he comes to work out his own past deeds. That makes the differentiation. This is the law of Karma. Each one of us is the maker of his own fate. We, we, and none else, are responsible for what we suffer. We are the effects, and we are the causes. We are free therefore. If I am unhappy, it has been of my own making, and that very thing shows that I can be happy if I will. If I am impure, that is also of my own making, and that very thing shows that I can be pure if I will. The human will stands beyond all circumstance. Before it — the strong, gigantic, infinite will and freedom in man — all the powers, even of nature, must bow down, succumb, and become its servants. This is the result of the law of Karma.

The next question, of course, naturally would be: What is the soul? We all agree that souls are without beginning and without end, and immortal by their very nature; also that all powers, blessing, purity, omnipresence, omniscience are buried in each soul. That is a grand idea we ought to remember. In every man and in every animal, however weak or wicked, great or small, resides the same omnipresent, omniscient soul. The difference is not in the soul, but in the manifestation. Between me and the smallest animal, the difference is only in manifestation, but as a principle he is the same as I am, he is my brother, he has the same soul as I have. This is the greatest principle that India has preached. The talk of the brotherhood of man becomes in India the brotherhood of universal life, of animals, and of all life down to the little ants — all these are our bodies. 

 The goal of the soul is freedom. That is one peculiarity of our religion. We also have heavens and hells too; but these are not infinite, for in the very nature of things they cannot be. If there were any heavens, they would be only repetitions of this world of ours on a bigger scale, with a little more happiness and a little more enjoyment, but that is all the worse for the soul.his earth, therefore, is the Karma Bhumi; it is this earth from which we attain to liberation. So even these heavens are not worth attaining to. The soul is also sexless; we cannot say of the Atman that it is a man or a woman. Sex belongs to the body alone. All such ideas, therefore, as man or woman, are a delusion when spoken with regard to the Self, and are only proper when spoken of the body. So are the ideas of age. It never ages; the ancient One is always the same. How did It come down to earth? There is but one answer to that in our scriptures. Ignorance is the cause of all this bondage. It is through ignorance that we have become bound; knowledge will cure it by taking us to the other side. How will that knowledge come? Through love, Bhakti; by the worship of God, by loving all beings as the temples of God. He resides within them. Thus, with that intense love will come knowledge, and ignorance will disappear, the bonds will break, and the soul will be free.

Naturally, we come to the idea of God.There are two ideas of God in our scriptures — the one, the personal; and the other, the impersonal. The idea of the Personal God is that He is the omnipresent creator, preserver, and destroyer of everything, the eternal Father and Mother of the universe, but One who is eternally separate from us and from all souls; and liberation consists in coming near to Him and living in Him. Then there is the other idea of the Impersonal, where all those adjectives are taken away as superfluous, as illogical and there remains an impersonal, omnipresent Being who cannot be called a knowing being, because knowledge only belongs to the human mind. He cannot be called a thinking being, because that is a process of the weak only. He cannot be called a reasoning being, because reasoning is a sign of weakness. He cannot be called a creating being, because none creates except in bondage. What bondage has He? None works except for the fulfilment of desires; what desires has He? None works except it be to supply some wants; what wants has He? In the Vedas it is not the word "He" that is used, but "It", for "He" would make an invidious distinction, as if God were a man. "It", the impersonal, is used, and this impersonal "It" is preached. This system is called the Advaita.

And what are our relations with this Impersonal Being? — that we are He. We and He are one. Every one is but a manifestation of that Impersonal, the basis of all being, and misery consists in thinking of ourselves as different from this Infinite, Impersonal Being; and liberation consists in knowing our unity with this wonderful Impersonality. These, in short, are the two ideas of God that we find in our scriptures."

Given that there is no single authority (like the Pope or the Muslim clerics) who decides what Hindus should, traditional Hinduism has three basic scriptures as the foundational texts - the Prasthana Thraya - the Bhagavad Gita, the Brahma Sutras and the Upanishads.

The Gita contains radical statements such as  "For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me." (Gita 6:30) and "Enlightened men are those who see the same (i.e. the Atman) in a Brahmana with learning and humility, in a cow, in an elephant, and even in a dog or in an eater of dog-meat (outcaste)" (Gita 5:18) which makes Karl Marx look pedestrian and the French Revolution appear to be a party game by comparison. This is egalitarianism at it's supreme level - and the rationale behind it is the presence of Krishna behind all conscious (and non-conscious) objects.

The Gita talks about mutual interdependence: Those persons who eat what is left after sacrifice, are released from all sin. But those who cook food for the self alone (without sharing it with others), such degraded men eat sin.

Vain is the life "of that sinful and sense-indulgent person who fails to fulfill his obligations in this cycle of mutual inter-dependence and service.

The Gita requires us to do our duty without caring for the results but this does not mean that we do a shoddy job, for, the Gita exhorts us to be Yogis and defines Yoga as equanimity (Saamatvam) and skill in action (Yogah karmasu koushalam).

Krishna urges us to be heroes instead of wallowing in self-pity - "O Partha! Yield not to unmanliness! It befits thee not. Abandoning this base faint-heartedness, rise up, O dreaded hero!"

Krishna is not "a jealous God",for he says, "  O son of Kunti! Those devotees who worship even other deities with deep faith, they also are worshiping Me alone, though contrary to injunctions." and "Whoever in whichever form or method wishes to worship Me with devotion, I accept the worship through those forms and methods, and strengthen the faith of the worshiper."

He even derides the value of the Vedas, telling Arjuna that "O Arjuna! The Vedas deal with material ends. But you be established in the Spirit, in the immutable purity of it, having abandoned all material values, attachment to possessions, and concern with the contraries of life like pleasure and pain, heat and cold.What use a pond has got when a whole country is flooded, that much of use only the Veda has got to a Brahmana who is full of wisdom"

Krishna tells us the value of his teachings:"Whoever follow this teaching of mine, with their minds full of faith and free from disparagement, they also are released from the bondage of Karma" and what befalls those who ignore it "But those who disparage this doctrine of Mine and discard it, know such senseless men, blind to all wisdom, as lost"

Nobody is condemned to eternal damnation - "Even if you happen to be the worst of sinners, you will surely go across all sin by the raft of divine knowledge."

Krishna offers no magic tricks or short cuts. When Arjuna says, "Owing to the fickleness of the mind, I find no way of firm establishment in spiritual communion through equanimity as instructed by you. Verily, the mind is fickle, turbulent, powerful and unyielding. To control it, I think, is as difficult as controlling the wind itself", Krishna offers no short cuts. "Undoubtedly the mind is fickle and difficult to be checked. Yet it can be brought under control by dispassion and spiritual practice.My view is that Yoga is difficult of attainment by men of uncontrolled mind. But for those who have their minds under control, it is possible to attain, if they strive with the proper means."

To end with Swami Vivekananda's words again, "Thus I have tried to bring before you the salient points of our religion — the principles. I have only to say a few words about the practice and the application. Variety is the very soul of life. When it dies out entirely, creation will die. When this variation in thought is kept up, we must exist; and we need not quarrel because of that variety. Your way is very good for you, but not for me. My way is good for me, but not for you My way is called in Sanskrit, my "Ishta". Mind you, we have no quarrel with any religion in the world. We have each our Ishta. But when we see men coming and saying, "This is the only way", and trying to force it on us in India, we have a word to say; we laugh at them. For such people who want to destroy their brothers because they seem to follow a different path towards God — for them to talk of love is absurd. Their love does not count for much. How can they preach of love who cannot bean another man to follow a different path from their own? If that is love, what is hatred? We have no quarrel with any religion in the world, whether it teaches men to worship Christ, Buddha, or Mohammed, or any other prophet. 

These are a few ideas in our religion. It is one of inclusion of every one, exclusion of none. Though our castes and our institutions are apparently linked with our religion, they are not so.
I have finished what I had to say about our religion. I will end by reminding you of the one pressing necessity of the day. What is needed in this Yuga is giving, helping others. What is meant by Dana? The highest of gifts is the giving of spiritual knowledge, the next is the giving of secular knowledge, and the next is the saving of life, the last is giving food and drink. He who gives spiritual knowledge, saves the soul from many end many a birth. He who gives secular knowledge opens the eyes of human beings towards spiritual knowledge, and far below these rank all other gifts, even the saving of life. The highest and greatest help is that given in the dissemination of spiritual knowledge."

1 comment:

Subhash Almel said...

Hi Girish, Congrats on writing this wonderful blog!!! While I agree with you, there are a few things that I would like to add. There is no doubt on Hindu as a religion; or our the fundamentals. However, the so called Hindu gurus (most of them) don't understand the fundamentals of Hinduism. While the definition of Brahmana is correct, but the so called Brahmanas in our society are only name sake. Narrating scriptures does not make one learned. However, the fact that each one of us is a Brahmana is true, provided we learn. We are definitely part of the Parabrahma and soul cannot be destroyed but only transformed. It is unique about Hinduism and the so called other religions (Jainism/Buddhism; for me there are subset of Hinduism and its interpretation), that we see God in everything. While Islam and Christianity talk about formless God, Hinduism spoke about it centuries before them. It is very difficult for non-Hindus understand the concept of aakar and niraakar bhagawan; I feel even those following Hinduism do not understand the meaning of it. It is unfortunate that our society is so corrupt and deep rooted that we are unable to explain Hinduism to our own people. This is the reason we have people like B. R Ambedkar who convert to Buddhism (whereas Buddhism is only a subset of Hinduism). I hope and pray that someday we will be able to understand Hinduism. To understand the fundamentals of Hinduism, we will have to be fundamentalist. Being fundamentalist does not mean no respecting other religions, as this would be against the fundamentals of Hinduism. Fundamentalist would be a person who understands the fundamentals of Hinduism and follows it accordingly. Unfortunately we a section of society that thinks Hindu fundamentalist mean hate other religions.