Defending Hinduism

The problem with upholding Hindu values in an organized fashion, as many voices are calling for today, is that no one is sure as to which values are to be upheld. The religion is incapable of organizing itself into one voice because it is an anathema to do so, if the principle codes of the religion are to be followed. 

It is hard to define Hinduism, let alone defend it. This is the reason when someone asks the question, 'Who is a Hindu or what is Hinduism?' a variety of answers are given. The most appropriate answer perhaps is a long pause and then silence. The confusion that has been propagated in the religion over many centuries has made it prohibitive even to define the word Hinduism. 

The religion is an assimilation of disparate beliefs and ideas somehow glued together but the bonding is surprisingly strong. If not for the forethought of some ancient sages and philosophers (especially Sankara), there certainly would have been many religions in India today that vaguely resembled Hinduism. It is perceivable that today there could have been many different religious groups like ShivitesVaishnavites and Shaktites battling for supremacy. Unlike Islam where Ulema sets the rules and Christianity with their structured religious heads (e.g. Pope for the Catholics), Hinduism lacks a central leadership or religious head. While this has kept Hinduism from a central organizing capacity, it also has left the religion as it was meant to be a private, personal religion.

A Hindu visits a temple when and where he feels like doing so. He is not compelled to do so. He may or may not take his family along with him. In the temple, he meditates, prays and leaves. He may or may not partake in a puja ceremony, sometimes paying a fee. Unlike Christians or Muslims, a Hindu is not compelled (as ordained by God), to donate a percentage of his earnings to the institution. However, the 20th century saw changes in the exploitation of puja rituals in certain well-known temples. The highest bidder had a better chance of attaining an audience with God! The puja rituals also became exorbitant both in price and form in order to extort money from the richer devotees. Anyone who has visited Varanasi or Thirupathi knows how tasteless the temple business has turned into.

In the 19th century an attempt was made by some to bring back the focus of Hindus to the teachings of the Upanishads. Some reforms were set in place with long lasting effects. A Hindu renaissance took place and the world took notice of this mystical religion of the East. Many intellectual Hindus (who are now blamed for abandoning Hindu principles and imitating the West), today do not see progress made in the tradition of the Hindu renaissance. Much more prominence is given to ritualism and temple building than propagation of Vedic and Vedantic ideals. See the number of elaborate temples built in comparison to ashrams where meditation or yoga can be taught. Little progress has been made since 19th century and we are mired in infighting and back stabbing. In order to gain political power, the caste card is played to incite and pitch one Hindu against another. At a national level the religion card is played to maintain power. 

When we are called to defend the religion against a foreign threat, what Hindu values are we defending? Defense of our country and values are important. This has to be done in a secular way without bringing religion into it. There is an attempt at excluding part of the population from their rights as its citizens. Then will the minorities be asked to defend the country from another external threat, say one that is non-religious, like China? If the war with Pakistan is purely a religious war, as some would like us to believe, the soldiers who are not Hindus should not be asked to fight in Kashmir, should they? 

A Hindu is understandably irate when his religion is misrepresented and misinterpreted. But a Hindu is as confused as an outsider about his own religion and its covenants. Defense of religion has to start with an internal reform of the religion itself. We tend to blame the proselytizing religions, when they use the media to gain converts in large numbers. Should we not wonder why masses of people are changing their religions and abandoning Hinduism? What is enticing them to do so? The converted are generally poor and desperate people, who have been abandoned by Hinduism. They have been abused and discriminated against, with no hope of uplifting themselves or their families because they happen to be born as lower class Hindus. In Hinduism, they will remain as lower castes for generations to come. Their only hope to be treated with more respect and as equals is to convert to another religion. How about starting a media campaign in India that reassures these poor people that they do have hopes in their own religion? A media campaign to educate the upper classes as to the essence of Hinduism that preaches tolerance and equality to all also might help. It is the ignorance and blind beliefs that lead to tragedy like the ones we have seen in Gujarat recently.

There definitely is a need for another Hindu renaissance. A third form of practice of religion (the first two were sacrificial Vedic and Bhakti forms) that is more attuned to meditation and introspective reflection may be the answer. The temple worship is important for a Hindu, which need not be abandoned. But there perhaps should be more emphasis on speculation and quiet meditative spirituality in the temples and the current noisy ritualism should be phased out. The serene atmosphere in a temple is conducive to such practices and they were originally built with that intent. Temples as mega businesses should cease to exist. If one does not know what values one is defending, all this call to unite and defend Hinduism is an empty drumbeat. First it is a matter of educating Hindus of the true values of Hinduism and then the rest of the world can be enlightened. With this unity within Hinduism, it will be a cinch to defend it. 

Internal reform of Hinduism is intricately and inexorably connected to defending it from external infiltration.


More by :  Dr. Neria H. Hebbar

Top | Hinduism

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