Lopsided View of Hinduism

Once being a member of the MG family, I could not but wish that the Editor had abstained from entertaining such superficial trash as the one on Hinduism by Dr Sumit S. Paul (MG, 1-15 Oct. 2011). No amount of name dropping by the author would justify his immature and incorrect ideas. It appears that the author is equating Hinduism with that brand of faith propounded by Golwalkar, Bal Thakeray and their ilk who only malign it to serve their vested interests. There is another, the real Hinduism, unknown to such charlatans.

Einstein wrote about his religion: “That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensive Universe, forms my idea of God.”

That is the essence of religion, the superior reasoning power that reveals itself every moment. Call it God or Nature, which has brought humanity to the present stage of evolution. Instead of wisely employing the reasoning power, we have fallen back on faiths and revelations. Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism are philosophic religions based on logic and reasoning. Misinterpretation by the ignorant and the uninitiated led to the inclusion of a plethora of myths and legends in ancient Indian religious thinking, which are dismissed by Western scholars as fanciful creations of a pastoral people. Our tragedy is that we learn about our heritage through the fantasies of Western scholars.

The Vedic literature is a treasury of views on Nature and of the Universe itself. Ancient myths and legends woven around Vedic images are largely true in their primitive sense. They contain the collective experience and wisdom of several generations, often expressed in personified form to make it easy for oral transmission. At a time when writing method was not known, pictorial depiction was the only means to convey information. Human genius resorted to pictorial representation of qualities like the ability to play musical instruments, wield weapons, hunt animals, etc., and that can account for the abominable-looking Hindu gods with more heads and hands. The uninitiated Pundits who became the custodians of knowledge mistook the symbol for the real and missed the main message. The central idea was lost, while the pictures were mistaken for the real. As time passed, the superficial tapestry was taken for the main image. That is how the Hindu pantheon came to be known as the Harem of Gods and Goddesses of abominable sizes and shapes, some with three, four or six heads, some with three eyes and some with elephantine heads. If Ravana is represented with ten heads and twenty hands it only indicates his superior physical and mental power. It does not mean that such a being ever existed. The legend shows the antiquity of the Ravana myth gleaned from collective social memory from the time when alphabets and written language were not invented.

Vedas are not divine creations. They existed in oral tradition for many centuries, imbibing results and observations of hundreds of generations. They were the result of free thinking. The Rig Veda, the oldest, describes the Universe as limitless and without beginning or end, born out of the void, a view endorsed by scientists even today. The Rig Vedic poet goes a step further and states that even gods were born after the Universe came into being:
Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced? Whence is this Creation?
The Gods came afterwards, with the Creation of the Universe
Who then knows whence it has arisen?

Here begins the profound doubt. Doubt led to enquiry; enquiry led to freedom, which in turn led to diversity and richness of our civilization. And civilization led to tolerance. It is this freedom that produced the atheist Charvaka, much before Buddha and Mahavira. It is this freedom of thought that produced the materialist philosophy of Sankhyavada  propounded by Kapila. Freedom of the mind gave Hinduism a galaxy of philosophers while freedom of the senses gave birth to music, dances, paintings and sculptures. India has never divided humanity into believers and heretics. Philosophers like Charvaka who denied the existence of God, thinkers like Sankara who argue that the world itself is an illusion arising out of ignorance, and thinkers like Kanada who propounded that the entire Universe is composed of atoms-all these are part of Indian culture. This Hinduiam is alien to Thackerays and Golwakars. What they propagate is a vulgarized version of it to mislead the uninitiated.

If Dr. Sumit Paul wants to know about Hinduism, forget about the works of gutter inspectors. Read authorities like Dr. Radhakrishnan, Aurobindo Ghose, Vivekannda, Aldous Huxley, K.M. Panicker, Romila Thapper, Dr. Debiprasad, D D Kosambi etc.

K.P. Prakasam, New Delhi

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 October 2011 on page no. 2

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