The modern mind has cultivated a hypocritical reluctance to deal with religion in all honesty. On the one side is the conditioning wrought by the education system and the external environs that seemingly stress on rational inquiry and material pursuits. On the other is the undeniable pull of the metaphysical mystery, an inner urge to understand something we know is there but fail to perceive. Of course, one can choose to lead a life to the diktats of the senses, giving the soul search a slip. It is also easy to languish in contemplation of the inscrutable, completely oblivious to the world around. A saner option, however, would be to straddle both which is possible by shedding the aforesaid hypocrisy.
From Bharath’s perspective, Hindu festivals like Deepavali are an opportunity to reflect on religion from a material plane. More so with a tight festival calendar that has perpetuated this timeless Sanatana Dharma in all its splendour! The foremost point of intersection between the material and the meta has been politics. While historically, religion has always driven western imperialists and medieval marauders, India’s religious instincts have very rarely manifested politically. The appeal of Bharath’s dharmic faiths has never relied on the sword. Ever since Independence, however, we hear noises here that religion, meaning Hinduism, should not be mixed with politics, a typical pseudo-secular ploy to prevent consolidation of Hindu votes. But really it is politics that has polluted religion here and not vice-versa. Caste and communal politics played by politicos of every hue have caused irreparable damage to the Hindu ethos of the nation. And thanks to distortion by the political prism, Hinduism, which is the only religion that allows an individual to choose his own path and pace in spiritual evolution, is given the label of being regressive. The flippancy and frequency with which the word ‘communal’ has come to be used in the political lexicon with reference to Hindu assertion even as bomb laden ‘secular’ terrorists get away is another perversion. Indeed, every Hindu has to reckon with the basic question: Should his political identity be divorced from his core cultural identity … a trap that other religionists have smartly side-stepped? Reflect!
Is Hinduism opposed to reason? This is a classical conflict that has dogged all faiths down the ages but let’s confine ourselves to H. All streams of Hinduism trace their origin to Vedanta. The streams not only chart their own courses but also cut across frequently. Each stream generally has three categories: 1) Philosophy that enunciates the core principles and explanations vis-à-vis meta physical aspects like the Supreme Reality, creation, cosmology etc. 2) Theology that talks of the personal god-head, its attributes etc and 3) Religious practices that encompass the rituals, methods of worship, guru lineage etc. Theology and religious practices, that involve numerous deities and incoherent rituals, not only invite sectarian and secular onslaught but also generate the criticism that Hinduism is all about symbolism. Of course, even rationalists who swear by reason are slaves to their own pet deities in black attire, subject to political rituals that can put their ‘superstitious’ opponents to shame and invoke rhetoric that are more evocative than shlokas! That said, Hinduism’s symbolisms are not stand-alone superstitions but sensory aids to access a strong spiritual super-structure, somewhat akin to simple icons that lead to a subtle but sophisticated software. The onus is on the seeker. So reflect!
But Hindu philosophy does not have even that vulnerability and can in fact take the fight into the rational camp by using the latter’s own methods like logic and polemic. For instance, the philosophical content, shorn of the gods and rituals, of the two key streams, namely, Vaishnavism and Saivism, is so intricate, incisive and intellectually rich that a modern mind with all its so called scientific approach will find it difficult to comprehend. From atoms to atmosphere to atman, the physical and the abstract are so meticulously dissected that even Einsteins, Edisons and Hardon Colliders are put in the shade. This is not idle rhetoric but an obvious fact that any Hindu with some sense of self-worth and self-belief can access. The only requisite is that the focus should turn inward, to one’s own self as well as one’s own time honoured traditions and texts, whatever the stream. Hindu tenets have stood the test of time and will retain their vitality and validity for posterity. Now, does not an intelligent, rational approach demand that what is our own and very much within reach is examined first and foremost? Reflect!
Now to the flip side. Are Hindus unworthy of Hinduism? Have they not subverted their dharmic religion which perceives the pervasion of divinity in everything from a blade of grass to a grasshopper on it, into an instrument of social discrimination with scant regard for the same atma residing in the other? Have they not reduced their faith that stresses soul elevation as the sole goal of life to a bunch of take-away recipes for instant results? Is not Hindu society, by courting ignorance of and indifference to their own vast, varied and virile cultural legacy, guilty of rendering the same vulnerable to attack by all and sundry over the centuries? After all, missionaries, mullahs, Marxist historians and miscellaneous miscreants could not have succeeded without tacit aid from the mute Hindu masses. Again, are all the festivals about soul-realisation, surrender and salvation or just self-gratification, splurging and celebration? Is Deepavali already less about Krishna and consort overwhelming the evil Narakasura and more to do with a matinee idol’s dawn to dusk movies shows? Well, religions of the sword and the material west can ignore such searing scrutiny but not the ‘wise and spiritual’ Sanatanis! Reflect!
Is Hinduism incompatible with modernity? Not if one is to gauge by the speed and efficacy with which Hindus including their gurus and mutts turned tech savvy, converting gadgets too into modes of worship and prayer. But if modernity is to be judged by the physical environs, Hindu India readily lends itself to criticism for its sheer squalour. While political failure is the prime culprit, a marked absence of civic sense and discipline in Hindu society is much to blame. The practice of the religion somehow precludes even elementary cleanliness, something that goes against the teachings of the shastras that equate hygiene with God. Indeed, most temples and temple towns are where heavenly beings descend to civic hell. Our Gods and their earthly abodes deserve better. Reflect!
One can go on. But Deepavali beckons. So let the reflection spread. And for that, let’s all light the inner lamp in order to dispel the darkness within. Happy Deepavali!
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