Hinduism has an indigestion problem, and it is time we get about to treating it effectively.
As one of the last surviving major pagan cultures, Hinduism has much in common with what was a prevalent reality two millennia ago. A complex pantheon, specific deities for natural and supernatural components encountered in the macrocosm, set rituals which involved memorisation of complex patterns, chants and diagrams. This is of course a very simplistic list of a much complex matrix consisting of many aspects, some lost or modified.
Apart from the original crux which forms the bedrock upon which further ideas can be built (since it is a living tradition with no finality of Prophet, Book, or Word); it also has the perfectly natural tendency of assimilating new ideas it encounters. Casual observers of this tradition have witnessed throughout history the diversity and variations in tradition, iconography, and rituals; based on time, geography, and inter-cultural interactions. There is nothing wrong with it, it is a part of nature and makes evolutionary sense to incorporate ideas that help in propagation and survival. However, there is an inherent flaw which previously under check has now gone out of control.
I need not reiterate the story of Vātāpi and Ilvala, and their subjugation by Agastya. However the modern Hindu is no Agastya, and the simplistic thought processes the Hindu “Intellectuals” seek to imbibe are far worse than Vātāpi.
Ingrained in the modern Hindu psyche is the feeling of pride at their open acceptance and tolerance of all faiths. Pride coupled with ignorance leads to irrational conclusions. That Hinduism is an individualistic personal faith that allows one to cherry pick the good (read cool) points from various places into a doctrine is an imbecilic assumption. What is even more foolish is the unjustified authority such delusionals claim in order to thrust this vague ideology on traditional practitioners.
Even this can be forgiven as a misplaced idealism, however in their zeal to politicise and buttress the religion against the Abrahamic onslaught many ideas have been hastily consumed and now causes pain.
Let’s enumerate a few (note: this is not a definitive list, but a few major ones that are depressingly common):
- Single Doctrine: Staight out of the Monotheistic playbook of ‘One God, One Book’ is the paranoid notion that for unity, all Hindus need to adopt a single doctrine. The most popular contender for this is Advaita Vedānta (my own tradition), since it is not sectarian, can also be suitably sold to the atheistic types (a notion not backed by the actual tradition, however clinical analysis is not their focus), and it is also extraordinarily irreconcilable to the monotheist. The single book is of course the Bhagavad Gīta, which apart from having large breadth and scope, is also a concise book which can be easily mass produced. This suffers on multiple counts because of the fact that Vedānta itself has divergent views and interpretations, and it in turn is just one of the 6 orthodox schools of Hinduism. This notwithstanding, there are also Paurāṇika schools, folk traditions, tribal traditions, and other syncretic faiths which can never reconcile with it, and in one fell swoop a huge chunk of practitioners have been forcefully denied legitimacy despite having a corpus of texts which support them. This measure will weaken more than it can strengthen and it is the reason why a Unified Hindu body is viewed with suspicion by apolitical Hindus.
- Textual Validity: This is the logical succession of a Single Doctrine faith. Whatever is accepted is Hinduism, whatever cannot be fleshed out from a properly commentated Sanskrit aphorism is an automatic aberration. This pain was acutely felt when solidarity was needed for Jallikaṭṭu and prominent voices questioned whether it was mentioned in any Hindu religious texts mentioned such a practice. This is no more than an intellectual bullying of common people to validate their traditions according to the whims of an intellectual class. The rituals and sports of Bhārata have a long history and are recorded in their own proper place, whether it is mentioned in a text (it is, refer Śrīmad Bhāgavata 3.3.4 in this case) or not does not have any relevance. The validity of a practice is inherent in what it promotes; if it promotes Dharma, Vīrya, and Śaurya; nobody has any business questioning it over mere textual quibbles. Aitīhya or traditional instruction is an acceptable source and a sufficient proof.
- Prophetic Statements: No, Bhaviṣyottara Purāṇa is not the reason Hinduism is great, nor are obscure predictions from Nostradamus. The siddha of an enlightened sage is not established by their prediction of you winning a lottery next week. Jyotiṣa is not for everyone, wasting money on frauds is your prerogative, not Hinduism’s requirement.
- Historical Validity: If none of the figures of our epics existed, it wouldn’t matter in the least to a Hindu. This need to establish every facet into a historic chronology has given rise to absurdities like: ancient India had planes, nuclear bombs, and time travel. Far from being a natural religion which realises the harmony between man and his environment, this has made it subject to mockery and ridicule. While there are real historic leaders and thinkers to consider, the concentration has shifted from them to what the ancient commentators referred to as a Sky Lotus.
- Hagiography: The works of ācāryans are of far more importance than their lives. We do not have gospels or Hadiths. Let’s not start a practice which adds minimal value. The context of whatever actions an ācāryan had taken must be read along with their statements and assertions. Many Hindus justify their misplaced actions based on stories and legends. One wonders if they are willing to undergo all of those aspects or only those which are comfortable to them. Also, they were not revolutionaries. They never identified with any upheaval. They state in no uncertain terms that they came to fix Dharma as it was meant to be practiced. Appropriating them to further one’s own agenda betrays their followers, and what they stood for.
- Unity of Practice: Kerala doesn’t celebrate Dīpāvali, Tamil Nadu doesn’t celebrate Rakṣābandhan, Uttar Pradesh doesn’t celebrate Oṇam. Everyone doesn’t have to have the same rituals and practices as the Hindu “Intellectual.” Hinduism isn’t a monolithic religion, it is about time people recognised and honoured it.
I’ll leave it to the more discerning reader to analyse what other restricting memes Hinduism is slowly beginning to consume. Bad food leads to bad health, and the solution is to not eat more bad food.
Here’s a rather well known statement, which everyone knows but seldom apply:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
Let’s stop consuming incompatible views in the name of creating an all encompassing cultural fabric, the logical absurdity of it will come back to bite us. Also let’s take some medicine to resolve this stomach pain.