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A Reminder Of The True Meaning Of Hinduism

08/06/2016 8:34 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Woman holding candle inside Hindu Sri Srirangam Temple in Trichy (Tiruchirapalli) in Tamil Nadu,South India,Asia,Unesco Heritage

The institution of the Constitution of India has rightly been hailed as a transformative moment in our nation's history, for it marked a radical departure from the inequities and hierarchies of the past. Defining who we are as a people, this visionary charter guarantees socio-economic equality for all ("Right to Equality & Right against Exploitation"), religious tolerance and secularism ("Right to Freedom of Religion") and equally importantly, the "Right to Live with Human Dignity". Our founding fathers and mothers firmly believed that together, these would vouchsafe legal protections for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for all people in India, regardless of their caste, religion, gender or ideological inclination.

[F]or anyone to prescribe one path as the only way to actualize swaraj/moksha is wrong, and deeply antithetical to the very fabric of Hinduism.

Unique as India's Constitution is, it was not the first attempt to institutionalize a roadmap for a harmonious common life. Before this, the State sanctioned rule of law, religion decreed principles to govern societal terms of engagement. It is widely acknowledged that all religions essentially seek to give common form to our individual consciences to forge a universal bond that enjoins humanity. They tap into every person's innate sense of right and wrong to prescribe a set of ethical values. These morals, which we could call our "collective conscience", were codified to ensure that we engage with each other in a spirit of compassion and love.

Taking this forward, Mahatma Gandhi urged us to be vigilant of what we're thinking and feeling, and hence our speech and conduct. He rightly argued that it is only this introspective vigilance that could lead to a moral transformation in both individuals and the nation. The resultant swaraj, he felt, would make India into an ethical and golden civilization.

India is rife with examples of people and institutions consumed with regressive ideas of being, constantly attempting to impose personal/ideological agendas onto Hinduism.

India's sages correctly argued that there are different paths to attain this Swaraj (or alternately nirvana, or moksha) which could be realized through a combination of knowledge (dnyana), devotion (bhakti), action (karma), and psychical control (yoga). Hinduism, which is essentially a synthesis of various cultures and spiritual traditions that existed in the Indian subcontinent, is the perfect example of an organic celebration of diversity. Hinduism allows for people to be polytheistic, monistic, agnostic, pantheistic, monotheistic, atheistic or humanist, only expecting all to engage with each other in loving kindness. It is therefore no coincidence that Hinduism has no ecclesiastical order, absolutist establishment, governing organization, or a binding holy book, all of which would naturally impose one way.

Therefore, for anyone to prescribe one path as the only way to actualize swaraj/moksha is wrong, and deeply antithetical to the very fabric of Hinduism. India is rife with examples of people and institutions consumed with regressive ideas of being, constantly attempting to impose personal/ideological agendas onto Hinduism.

Sadly, some people have reduced Hinduism into a prison of restrictions and violence towards those who are different.

Only recently, bans have been imposed on food, clothing (women can't wear jeans or go out at night) and modes of societal conduct (pray only to this God, speak only in Hindi, say Bharat Mata ki Jai) etc. Abstemiousness from meat and any extravagances undoubtedly aids in the evolution of the spirit, but can never be an end in itself. Sadly, some people have reduced Hinduism into a prison of restrictions and violence towards those who are different.

These people also murder Hinduism when they attack minorities (like in Muzaffarnagar, Dadri etc.), Dalits (like Rohith Vemula, or Shirdi's Sagar Shejwal, who was mercilessly beaten to death merely because his phone's ringtone offended someone) and anyone with a different opinion (be it students from JNU, FTII, Allahabad University) or journalists/academics with different ideological inclinations. In falling so low, these people also ignore a fundamental tenet of Hinduism, the doctrine of karma which attaches itself to them through successive births (what they sow here, they shall reap here and elsewhere).

Numerous verses in the Rigveda and the Samveda urge us to "destroy all malicious inclinations of hatred and enmity towards anyone".

But moving beyond the instrumental concern of karmic baggage, these people conveniently overlook the first verse of the Ishopanishad that Gandhi described as "the whole essence of Hinduism". The relevant part reads thus: "Ishavasyamid sarva yaktichh jagatya jagat" (all that we see in this universe is pervaded by God). If S/He exists in everything, and everyone, are these vile attacks not assaults on God?

These people also disremember the Upanishad which says "Ayam bandhurayam neti gananā laghuchetasām, Udāracharitānām tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam" (only a narrow minded person calls one his brother and not the other. For those who are large hearted, the entire world is a one big family) and the Rigveda (5/9/6) which says "dyveshoyuto na durita turyam matyarnam" (we should all unite to save and serve the whole of human society from sorrow and affliction).

Numerous verses in the Rigveda (9/13/8; 6/47/13; 4/1/4; 2/6/4 etc.), and the Samveda (134) go on to urge us to "destroy all malicious inclinations of hatred and enmity towards anyone". The Atharveda (17/1/7) goes even further to urge us to "cultivate love, affection, empathy and good will for all creatures" ("yanscha paschyami yanscha na teshu ma sumati krudhi"). Given these, isn't lynching and attacking people (verbally and physically) completely antagonistic to Hinduism? Does such conduct not seem repugnant to morality and reason?

These impositions and violence are justified through narrow interpretations of the Smritis which are conveniently distorted to impose a divisive ideology.

These impositions and violence are justified through narrow interpretations of the Smritis which are conveniently distorted to impose a divisive ideology. The truth is that the Smritis were specifically designed to be altered to changed socio-economic and political realities (like the Constituent Assembly did when it codified the Hindu Code bills or abolished untouchability, both of which were vehemently opposed by these very people).

In fact, Hinduism also says that anything that is inconsistent with nonviolence, truth and universal principles of ethics must be summarily rejected. As the Nyaya Prakaranam from Yogavasistha highlighted, "Api paurushmadeyam shastram chedyuktibodhkam, anyatvarshamapi tyajyam bhavyam naiyayiksebinam, yuktiyukt bhupadeyam vachanam balkadapi, anyatrinmiv tyajyampyuktam padyajanmana" (A shastra though man made, should be accepted [only] if it appeals to reason; and the contrary one rejected, though claiming to be inspired. We should be guided by our sense of the just alone). It is this very flexibility that has allowed Hinduism to reinvent itself through the ages.

A true Hindu, like a true Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jain, Buddhist etc. will recognize the oneness of all creation and hence strive for the good of all...

Unfortunately, the bitter reality is that Hinduism has been twisted and deployed for cynical and despicable ends completely at odds with the idea of India. It has been wielded to divide us on the basis of religion, caste, gender and ideological inclination, something that the Constitution specifically prohibits. Like the Nazis, it has been argued that Hinduism does not stomach non-Hindus (who are dismissed as foreigners) and that all Hindus must develop race pride to "combat" these foreigners. Contrary to what's been proselytized, good Hindus will not be determined by how intolerant they are to differences, or by observances of regressive caste and religious norms, or by pilgrimages or blind adherence to rituals or even by tilaks or clothes. A true Hindu, like a true Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jain, Buddhist etc. will recognize the oneness of all creation and hence strive for the good of all (in thought, word and action). For our collective sakes, let us pray we can do that.

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