Defining the Enigma of Hinduism
Posted: Saturday, August 10, 2002
By Stephen Kangal
There is a maxim that forbids angels from venturing into areas where fools rush in. I am reminded of this adage from the militant anti-Hindu conduct of some contemporary, T&T exclusionary-prone Hindus who passionately believe that carrying a Hindu name, notably that which reflects the supremacist, Aryan- Brahmin stock, confers on them a historical, exclusive congenital right to establish the criteria defining a Hindu/ Hinduism. Reputable sanatanist publicists world-wide with impeccable credentials have failed to do so satisfactorily.
Contrary to the tenets, time –honoured principles and widely- varying practices which underpin the amorphous conglomerate of religions classified under the composite rubric of Hinduism, certain radical Hindus parade their unbridled penchant for adopting an exclusionary, nationalistic even politically motivated Hindu fundamentalist/ revivalist/ stance on the question of Hinduism.
The term "Hindu" is a 19th Century (1830) invention of the British RJ designed to reward the Aryan- descended Brahmins for collaborating with the British colonisers to enslave and subjugate the indigenous Dravidians who inhabited pre-Aryan India prior to 1500 B.C. In fact the concepts of Sanatan Dharma (Eternal Religion) and Vedic Dharma came to replace Hinduism because the Brahmin protagonists of Hinduism were uncomfortable with using an English invention.
The above-mentioned exclusionary posturing is inconsistent with BG Tilak’s definition of Hinduism as well as the dictat immortalised in the Rig-Veda which proclaims: "Ekam Sat Viprah Bahuda Vadanti" which translated means, "There is only one truth, only men describe it in different ways."
This fundamental Vedic principle which underpins Hindu thought, religion philosophy and civilisation is also pivotal to BG Tilak’s (1856-1920) definition of Hinduism which recognises the fact, inter alia, "… that the means or ways to salvation are diverse (different ways)".
The Holy Gita reinforces this principle: "Call Him by whatever name you like, worship Him in any form you like, it all goes to that one ultimate, Infinite, supreme reality."
The exclusionary school should take due note of the chowpi: Vasudhaiva kutum bakam-(The entire creation is one family).
The Supreme Court of India in its 1995 Judgment asserted that Hinduism is an all-embracing way of life. The Court did not support the view that it constituted a religion in the conventional sense nor was there consensus on a definition of Hinduism.
Hinduism is a commonly used concept that constitutes a conglomeration of very widely varying and often contradictory religious beliefs and cultural practices. It is intensely inclusionary almost global in its scope; not exclusionary T&T-style. The whole world it seems can be assimilated under the scope of Hinduism unbound. The Enclyopedia Britannica states: " Hinduism is both a civilisation and a congregation of religions; it has neither a beginning nor a central authority, hierarchy or organisation. Every attempt at a specific definition of Hinduism has proved to be unsatisfactory." E.B. 20, pp. 519-520.
Hinduism encompasses the totality of life. It is characterised by a wide variety of doctrines such as polytheism, monotheism, pantheism and a multiplicity of others, often contradictory and drawn from across the religious spectrum. Accordingly the criteria set out in the Rig-Veda quotation, the essence of which is incorporated in Tilak’s definition, mean that a Jew or a Christian or a Moslem who is seeking to discover the truth is by definition a Hindu. My own thesis which is certainly not entirely original but sounds simplistic is: Once born a Hindu or of Hindu parents always a Hindu.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s definition of a Hindu is even more global/liberal in its scope. It states that: "A Hindu means a person believing in following or respecting the eternal values of life, ethical and spiritual which have sprung up in Bharatkhand (India) and includes any person calling himself a Hindu."
The most fundamental doctrine that underpins the religions classified under the umbrella of Hinduism is that all faiths are valid and that explains why Hinduism does not seek to convert non-Hindus. Nehru described Hinduism "…as a faith that is vague, amorphous, many-sided, all things to all men. It is hardly possible to define it or indeed to say definitely whether it is a religion or not…"
Hinduism applied in the widest sense of the word as a rubric inclusive of the 6 schools of Brahmanism and other Indian religions ( Shaivism, Shaktism, Tantrism and Sauvism etc) that antedated the 19th Century British occupation, has shaped and coloured the progressive development of an important module of Indian civilisation and philosophy for more than 6,000 years.
In the T&T province of the Indian Diaspora we must desist from erroneously and sometimes conveniently for covert political reasons, from projecting it exclusively as a religion. A multiplicity of religious doctrines constitutes only one important aspect of the multi-dimensionalism of Hindu religions. In fact having regard to the criteria of the afore-mentioned Parishad’s concept of Hindusim, non-Hindus will also qualify as self-declared Hindus because of their beliefs in, inter alia, the concepts of Karma (casteocracy), Dharma (Innate law and Order), Re-Incarnation, see God manifested in all creation (Pantheism), maya, moksha and several deities (polytheism) including animal/plant worship.
Swami Dharma Anand Theerta declared: "Frankly speaking, it is not possible to say definitely who is Hindu and what is Hinduism." Another wrote: " Hinduism is not a religion established by a single person. It is a growth of ideas, rituals and beliefs so comprehensive as to include anything between atheism and pantheism."
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the first Law Minister of Independent India who headed the Committee that drafted the 1947 Indian Constitution has written: " Hinduism is a veritable chamber of horrors. The sanctity and infallibility of the Vedas, Smritis and the Dharmashastras, the iron law of caste, the heartless law of karma and the senseless law of status by birth are to the Untouchables veritable instruments of torture which Hinduism has forged against Untouchables…"
According to the Vedic and Vaishnava religion, Shudras (Untouchables), human beings, yes human beings, are lower in status than animals.
Hinduism is neither based on any one religious text nor on one language, common doctrines or a religious law code, all of which are fundamental to being regarded as a religion.
Perhaps Caribbean Hinduism inspired by Tulsidas’ Ramcharitarmanas and semi-detached from the socio-cultural complexities of the Indian sub-continent may have evolved as an approximation to a new homogenous, regional genre of Hinduism.
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