Classification problems regarding Hinduism
Hinduism can be used to refer quite a variety of things but the current classification as a religion has created very serious problems. Prof S. N. Balagangadhara explains in his book ‘The Heathen in his Blindness’ various problems regarding this subject. Religio in traditional roman sense would mean traditions whereas Christianity and Islam have ‘uprooting traditions’ as their basic feature. Putting them together with Hinduism or Buddhism would be a classic classification problem. Which is probably the reason why many attempts are made to accommodate Hinduism such as (a) ‘way of life’, (b) broader term ‘Sanatana Dharma’ including other dharmic schools, (c) ‘Hindutva’, (d) ‘Indic’ and so on. Let us assume for now Hinduism refers to some or all of them. Fortunately for Hinduism the need to define the original Hindus is not a central problem.
Many a times Hindu ideas have been a compilation of existing traditions over long periods such as Panini’s Sanskrit standardization or Kautilya’s Arthashastra or Vedas. Hindutva or Indic are currently most commonly understood to be civilizational terms for geographical India whereas Hinduism is seen representing religion without Indian geography. India is seen as the origin of Dharmic schools which later spread to outside India, but this type of classification creates problems such as who owns Buddha India or Nepal. Even Aryan Invasion Theory is about questioning who are original Hindus. It would be better to have a Hindu classification of Hinduism (or whatever term to represent Global Hinduism). Hinduism can be seen as compilation of various domains (spiritual, political, economic among others) by various peoples like Hindu kingdoms in India, Majapahits, Khmer Empire as well as Buddhists in China, Japan and so on. But this method would dilute current classification of India as nation-state or even a civilization-state. It would be suicidal to dilute our civilizational identity in the age of clash of civilizations. But Hinduism has in fact strengthened any sub identities, and massively large and diverse subcontinent backed by overarching binding idea of Hinduism is a major reason why India still survives the onslaughts of Abrahamic religions and others. Indians are inheritors of Hinduism not owners of it. Dharma draws upon the ‘preexisting unity manifested in diversity’ leading to creation of Hinduism. Hinduism is created upon the local traditions binding them using its philosophy.
But why such a classification is needed. Why cannot we be satisfied with nationalistic Hinduism. Again, for the same reason Hinduism came into existence. Homo sapiens existed with similar physical features for very long time but it is very recent that concept of Humanity came into existence. Time for global identity was 2500 years back when political and cultural expansions and unifications started taking place on large scales. Advent of Christianity created a new type of global identity creation unrooting people from all over the world from their traditions. Christianity, Islam, Communism and Western liberalism and any of their offshoots are trying to create a unified identity for at least the whole humanity and at most the whole universe. Hinduism must fight them globally through manifesting its global identity. The least it should try is to create supra-national institution like EU within dharmic nations. Within Abrahamic nations such as those in Europe ideas after ideas are appearing killing more traditional (and syncretic to Hindu). Christianity destroyed spirituality, socialism is destroying family units and liberalism is destroying social ethics (greed is the best quality in ideal capitalism). Social disruptions in Europe with alliance of socialist left and Islamism is forcing Christian right to portray itself as traditional, whereas in the midst of all new and old power battles old pagan ideas are nowhere close to foreground. As Ram Swarup says (in ‘Hindu view of Christianity and Islam’) it would be better for Hinduism to support return of pagan in Europe, native traditions in Americas and Africa. Judeo-Christian West has far less claims on the civilizations they destroyed like Greece and Rome and the same for Islam for Persia and Egypt, which should be called out. Hinduism providing framework, we should declare we are the inheritors of all old gods provided they fit dharmic nature, where we should represent not just Indians but the followers of old gods.
Rajiv Malhotra in his book ‘Being Different’ talks about collective identity in Christianity, which is much more significant (which is true for Islam and Communism as well). The individual is judged not based on his personal karma but on his adherence to the collective identity. Whatever institutions created within this system have to constantly prove their collective identity, be it the church or Christian family units or a Christian individual. To maintain the collective identity, they had to become Universalist in approach, even if a facet of that idea is Individualism it has to be Universalist in approach. Universalism went in hand with global expansionism and global identity creation became the primary wars. Territorial expansions, colonial expansions, demographic replacements (e.g. Americas & Australia), cultural appropriations, regime changes, proxy wars and many more became the instruments rather than ends in themselves. These collective identities are always in a civil war. Islam has managed to do very well with ‘othering’ of wherever it went. It has differentiated itself against existing gods through iconoclasm, differentiated itself from Christianity by becoming the true religion. Eating beef may not be primary belief but it becomes one of its core beliefs when it comes to India. As such, these types of Universalist ideas continuously evolved, they may be rooted in history and seem highly inflexible but in practice they have highly localized solutions.
Arabization such as large increase in wearing the veils in the past few decades is seen as Islamic fundamentalism but it is only a modern manifestation of othering the Westernization of clothing. Before the Arabs took over, Turks played the central role in global Islam and breakup of Ottoman caliphate had a direct consequence of creating a new Medina in Indian subcontinent. Ambedkar in his book ‘Thoughts on Pakistan’ talks of two warring nations Hindus and Muslims, and he mentions Islam existed as a separate nation in the subcontinent for at-least two centuries since British arrival and had a national awakening after Khilafat movement. Ambedkar also said forcing the Hindus and Muslims together with extensive appeasement of Muslims, which Congress is following will eventually breakup the union not just along religious lines but also along other existing fault lines. He also says whatever the common features existing between Hindus and Muslims in the subcontinent (that congress and others propagating a syncretic Hindu-Muslim unity) is only representative of a process of Islamization that has been going on for centuries. In this sense, it can also be understood that Indian Islam is itself a civil war among Hindus that has been going on for centuries. Islam is another revolution like the Naxalite and other separatist movements; the difference is many separatist movements are strongly rooted in territory whereas Islam is not.
Hindutva presented a strong counter argument to Islam with reclassifying cultural Hinduism to accept anyone in the national territory who accepts deep-rooted Hindutva cultural/civilizational identity even while following different personal gods. Indian Muslims are stuck between pulling from both sides complete Ghar-wapsi and the continuous othering of non-believers. Islam has successfully institutionalized the othering process that even in Islamic states with nearly 100% Muslims the ‘othering’ continues towards some unknown ideal pure Islam. Existence of Pakistan kept in check steep sliding away from the nation of the Muslims on the Indian side of border. War with China in 1962 has significantly weakened separatist movements especially the Dravidian movement. Nationalism has kept check on many separatist and globalist forces to large extent and kept India from exploding like many other post-colonial states. From the times of Shivaji, Hindus also evolved quite a lot. It was no longer a resistance movement. First major task was political reunification of Hindu Rashtra. Creating collective political Hindu identity seen many ups and downs, having many warring Hindu kingdoms fighting each other allying with Islamic kingdoms or European East India companies was the state of affairs when Marathas started the political unification. By the time Sardar Patel, Hindu princely states have not much voice to become independent states. Despite many differences between Hindu organizations and Congress policies at the time of independence, it did not lead to civil wars within Hindu fold. Political reunification was a resounding success despite loss of Pakistan. In fact, Pakistan as a medina is a testing ground not just to the Islamic global cause but also to the Hindu global cause. Territorial gains made by Islam reached peak in Mughal times and has been receding since. Islam is not the only force in this story, other forces Christianity and communists made territorial gains but they have also been receding (but they are still making huge gains in demographics and economic holdings). Second major task was social and cultural unification of Hinduism. Social unification has focused on reforming the stagnant Hinduism within the existing Hindu fold and has made huge gains and still ongoing, despite a huge loss to Hinduism by the attacks from outside based on its social problems such as caste. Cultural unification seems to focus not just on existing Hindus but the lost family members to Islam, Christianity, Liberalism and various others. It may not seem obvious but the Hinduism is trying to reclaim what was lost sphere-by-sphere (political, economic, cultural, social …) which is very long-term process.
Hinduism is yet to portray its global vision clearly; as the problems are global, the solutions need to be global. At least Hindu polity is able to articulate Islamic terrorism as a global problem with no good terrorists and bad terrorists. US has tried to use containment policy towards communism which only worked partially and it only mutated (like cultural Marxism) and continues to spread worldwide. European reformation and enlightenment created containment of Christianity in the form of secularism but secularism mutated into very dangerous form within India. True or not many of these universalist ideologies tried to provide global solutions to mostly local problems (real or imaginary). Then the question arises which of these ideologies are actually problem solving. If one was trying to solve a critical economic problem (e.g. communism to solve problems of industrial revolution), but in turn causes death of tens of crores of humans then it can surely be classified as a problem of calamity scale despite its intentions. Such a classification need not be limited to well-known multi-dimensional ideologies could be applied to subsections of a larger ideologies which are causing a significant problem (such as consumerism and usage of consumption as a measure of progress, which may be trying to solve scarcities of food/water/others but created irreversible environmental degradations). Hinduism should provide solutions to global problems, but it should also highlight why the current universalist ideologies are either failing or creating much worse problems. Hinduism should fill the spiritual needs across the world for whoever wants it, but it should also highlight how the spiritual vacuum created by the likes of Christianity/Islam/Communism, and also how the lack of it is one of the major reasons for many problems including environmental degradation. It should also support any other good solutions if available locally (such as Shintoism/Taoism). Hinduism should take lead on issues such as global terrorism and it must highlight the hate speech in various scriptures as the primary root cause. Hinduism should take few major global problems (say five to ten), and for each of them try and find the major root causes, and should classify the root causes by how much negative impact they have. In addition to the global problems Hinduism should also attempt to solve the local problems with local approaches if available, such as recurring identity crisis within many of the European nations.
What should Hinduism do on global scale is only part of the discussion, more importantly how should it do it. The question becomes creating narratives and the stories best told are not sophisticated car advertisements or wonderful TED talks but rather heartwarming and gut-wrenching films and books. It’s the Hollywood when it keeps the dreams of space adventure alive or creates mind bending inceptions or tells a good Joker story, that would mirror the American society and project to the whole world (ignoring the rest of 99% propaganda). It’s the Japanese anime without the monopolistic Hollywood style overreach and without any state sponsorship could capture the hearts of millions of people across the world. In fact, there is a very large number of cult following to the Japanese anime but it still flies under the radar everywhere. It’s the storytelling of Tamil film industry (Kollywood) which could even create a very good time travel movie and move far ahead of rest of India while still being relegated as just one of the regional film industry. Yoga created a massive industry all thanks to American industrial spirit with India just trying to get back the IP rights, other that the commercialized Yoga is not telling a great story about Hinduism. The increasingly popular gurus with wonderful YouTube videos are quite inspiring like some TED talks, but they are not telling a moving story that the people still remember the next day they wake up. But why so much emphasis on story telling. Vedas are important but still Ramayana and Mahabharata are the stories for large scale consumption. A very highly intellectual in Hinduism may not be able to imagine it without Vedas but for a commoner story of Hinduism cannot be imagined without Ramayana and Mahabharata. Bahubali is the first modern successful pan Indian story telling (from a film industry obsessed with making numerous Mahabharata stories in the past), and one of the movie review I have read rightly pointed out that ‘If you can imagine it like a Japanese anime, you can enjoy it very well even the fight scenes that seem quite odd in a live action film’. I hope I have created enough emphasis on the story telling, and remember in the cold war the American capitalists told much better stories than the Soviet communists which is a very significant part of the war.
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