Why doesn’t Hinduism unite Hindus?
Many years ago, I spent an evening chatting with a young IPS officer, who was probably on his first posting. As we got talking, he asked me upfront, “Swamiji, why doesn’t Hinduism have any answers to the rampant conversions that are happening in eastern India? Or, to those conversions that happened in the past? Why is it so easy to entice a Hindu? Why are Hindus perceived to have such weak roots that every other religion comes to India only to gain a foothold, stays around, and expands its following by gradual conversions?”
I don’t remember to have given that officer an appropriate reply. His question set me thinking though. For, the way I lived, Hinduism provided profound insights into life; increasingly drew me inside, introduced me to the best of seers, and I was left wondering whether there was an end to its richness, or its depth of insight into life and truth. This being my background, I never perceived it weak, as having no stuff, or that it didn’t exercise its stuff enough not to fall easy prey to the machinations of other religions.
There is a problem with the Hindu himself; I had always averred. Vivekananda or Chinmayananda themselves said the same. They spent more time educating Hindus to rediscover Hinduism, rather than convincing westerners about the glory of being a Hindu.
They spent less time defending or protecting Hinduism, and more time living as a true Hindu.
Nevertheless, the Officer’s observations had factual merit; he didn’t, for a moment, doubt Hinduism’s intrinsic merit. He only seemed to ask, “I sense that Hinduism has intrinsic merit; yet, why can’t that merit or stuff itself hold us together and ward off these aggressor forces? Why can’t Hinduism hold its flock in one tight embrace, and, like a true mother, make every Hindu belong naturally? Why is the umbilical connection so weak that Hindus easily fall prey to temptations of money or better lifestyle; or worse, convert for the silliest of triggers like tiding over a current exigency?”
Valid questions, they all are. But, I must take a slight detour, before seeking direct answers to that question.
Consider the life of a home-maker—completed her studies, married in her early twenties, had two children, and now at around 35, when the kids have grown up, she experiences a mid-life crisis. She got into marriage as though it was the be-all and end-all of life, sincerely took to motherhood, worried about and fretted over every mistake she did with the children, worked hard to improve, and in about 10-12 years, she feels jobless! The exigency, anxiety, burden of responsibility, all have more or less vanished. She can manage things at home easily now, and what used to hold her mind’s attention captive right through the day, has now settled into a rhythmic routine. Of course, the children have grown, and she has become adept and comfortable with what she does. At 35, she has time, and is indeed bustling with spare energy!
Now, when you have time and energy to spare, you could deploy them in hobbies, in long-lost pursuits like reading, music, writing etc. Or, you could volunteer at a local temple or NGO, join a group that learns and does something. Various channels are available for one to become useful, to learn, to meet good people, to enrich life—to use that energy constructively, in essence.
Or, a true mid-life crisis could attack you, when you stumble upon disturbing questions about yourself and life in general. Like, ‘What am I up to with my life? Is this my life, or does it belong to others too? Just because I have excess energy and time, do I spread it across various channels? What is the point of being useful—anywhere, to anyone, or for oneself? Where is my life heading? What does it mean to be a woman? What do I seek? What am I trying to prove, and to whom? Why am I trying to appease everyone, and for what? Why do I seek attention from the very people who I think have no stuff in them?’
Questions like why marriage, why become a mother, why children, why family, why good lifestyle—to what avail all these?
You get the nature of the crisis, don’t you? As you would have noticed, these questions are not about ability but more fundamental to the way you exist here.
I call this the ‘I-disturbance’! You could stumble upon this in love, in career, in the family, in work, while in higher echelons of power, when shouldering responsibility, while being in a conservative set up, or with friends, over a drink. Where the break happens doesn’t matter; what matters is that the ‘I’ experiences this break from the stream of life. Not out of distaste, carelessness, or escape, not because you were thwarted or victimised, not even because you are suffocated by excessive pampering. None of these. No one knows why or when the ‘I’ experiences this unique disturbance. The same family, which seemed so likeable, feels slightly distant now. People are the same, everything is normal; things seem to be moving into better shape than before, and yet, the ‘I’ seems to have stepped out—just that bit.
And, when the ‘I’ steps out this way, it is neither fatalistic nor disdainful; it tends to question—objectively find out—the point of life.
Let me pause here and continue with our issue of Hinduism. The best of Hindus in the past—Brahmin, Vaishya, or the farmer—pursued something of the ‘I’, when they experienced this slight distance from life. Some continued with family responsibilities but reduced their commitment with respect to the collective. Some reduced the scale of responsibilities, whether collective or personal. Some continued with the current responsibilities but stopped further expansion. Because, the larger looming question about oneself and life in general, and the ramifications of that discovery, seemed more important to answer, than piling up something here.
A nation or culture usually follows its best men. And, if the best men sought the scriptures and saints—true insights and greater meaning into their own lives—then the rest of the community also tends to follow. Or, at least, considers that as the elite pursuit, the thing to be done ultimately. That becomes the benchmark, doesn’t it?
Hinduism has always put the ‘higher’ as the most vital pursuit. But, the sense of higher itself was so vast, that it didn’t connote renunciation, necessarily. Someone pursued pure music, Hindus of the past revered him as a spark of divinity itself. Someone pursued pure Ayurveda, Hindus elevated him to the status of a Ṛṣi. Someone pursued pure literature, pure grammar; we have regarded them all and placed them on a pedestal. Not because it was a pursuit of excellence, but because it had a sense of purity, a sense of dedication, it had a sense of abandon in it, a sense of ‘no-other’ (ananyatā) about it. We regarded all these as the higher—pure, true, close to God, and finally helpful to the soul (path of Śreyas).
Isn’t that what a true Hindu has learnt right from his childhood? Through all the stories of Gods, of great men, of the Mahābhārata, or the Rāmāyaṇa, that, there is a greater vision to life, and that is what we should be pursuing, rather than losing ourselves in endless relativity?
Every such pursuit of the higher begins from this ‘I’ disturbance. It doesn’t begin from the gene, remember! Just because you are born a Brahmin, even if you naturally took to Vedic studies, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will understand the purport of the Vedas. Hence, Vedic studies by itself can’t be deemed a higher pursuit. It is at best a saṃskāra that distinguishes the Brahmin. Just a biological template! A gene! A trait! That trait makes you avoid violence, and seek peace; that trait makes you slightly intelligent, good with the word, it makes you visit temples naturally, listen to music, so on and so forth. You are just a template; nothing more. It is the same template that could join a ‘Brāhmaṇa saṅgha’, and raise voice against ‘discrimination against Brahmins’ in the modern era of reservations, or collect funds to build a temple or promote Vedic learning, etc.
Nothing more. No different from the son of a Udupi Hotel restaurateur, who can easily drop out of school or college, and settle down behind the cash counter in his father’s restaurant. Probably just what his father did. No different from a young Mārwāri boy, who assists his father and cousins at the retail shop; willing to be inducted into business quickly.
What you are born as, you continue. Whether at work, home, or in the larger world.
Now, you don’t expect a war of language to erupt between Kuvempu and Tagore or Tiruvalluvar, do you? Kuvempu upholding Kannada, Tagore upholding Bānglā, and Tiruvalluvar upholding the chastity of Tamizh? Why? These are men, who have awakened from the template of biological existence, and found themselves through insights into life, albeit in their own language, but knowing where the gaze ought to be.
Similar is the case with every one of us when we define ourselves Hindu. What makes us Hindu? That we were born to Hindu parents? That we were born in India? That we were born into some caste or language here? That’s it? The native biological race born in this country, is that what we call the Hindu?
How can any race or community be great in itself just because of its uniqueness in biological trait? What is so great about a Brahmin chanting Vedamantrās over a farmer tilling land? How can the trait by itself be greater or lesser? Who does the Hindu quote for his pride? Who does he lean on to twirl his moustache? Vyāsā, Pāṇiṇi, Patañjali, Kālidāsā, Āryabhatta, Bhāskara, Kumarila, Vidyāraṇya, Cāṇakya, Vikramāditya, Kṛṣṇadevarāya, Chandragupta Maurya, Caraka, Śuśruta—right? Aren’t these the people whom we quote as our sample, a Hindu sample? And, since the calibre of these Hindu samples is so high, we proclaim to ourselves and the world that the Hindu gene itself is great!
That is a jump in understanding! Just because Swami Chinmayananda or Adi Śaṅkara are Malayalis by birth, it doesn’t make Malayalis great. Such men exert extraordinary pressure on all of us; they inspire us. But, something must move within, for us to join them in their pursuit. It is no longer genetics. It is no longer enough if you are born Malayali. You have to step out of your gene pool.
This is precisely what the Hindu seers taught us. While Rama or Hanuman inspired us, the primary teaching was that you and I must discover ourselves first, before even attempting to become like them. Howsoever vigorous be the biological trait, perpetuation of the same is not self-discovery! Don’t be a biological Hindu template! Find yourself. Find the ‘I’, and discover its passion, its belief, its love, its ideal, its dream, its aspiration.
Isn’t this Kṛṣṇa’s teaching to Arjuna on the battlefield?
‘Should I grieve over the fate of all cousins and relatives who are all going to die in the ensuing war, or should I wake up to the ‘I’? What is to be done now?’—laments Arjuna and collapses on the battlefield.
And what does Kṛṣṇa do? Does he now collect all the dhārmik forces and fight on behalf of Arjuna? No! He doesn’t say, ‘Brother, I will stand by you in this moment of crisis; I will fight your war, and hold fort until you recover’, does he? He realises the nature of the crisis in Arjuna—the ‘I’ disturbance! Kṛṣṇa must have exclaimed to himself: ‘Finally! After living as a talented biological Kṣatriya for so many years, finally, you have woken up to the ‘I’!’
When the ‘I’ steps out from the stream of life, no one knows what it will do. Where it finds solace, where it finds direction, no one knows. Whether it turns to religion, whether it turns to true aesthetics and art, whether to love and genuine relationships, whether towards institution-building, community welfare, or philosophy, no one knows. But, that movement is vital. Only then can it be considered a genuine movement of the ‘I’. Else, you are a Hindu, only because you were born a Hindu. The repetition of the gene template.
Now, we began with this question: Are Hindus weak because they can be easily converted? Hinduism has never held its flock together unlike more recent religions like Christianity or Islam. Isn’t that strange? Why doesn’t the average Hindu feel insecure that his religion, his light, his God, is going to be taken away from him?
Hindus don’t operate around one God or one leader or one ethos. We operate around this genuine shift in perspective to life, which is brought about by the ‘I’ disturbance. Once the ‘I’ wakes up, it no longer matters whether you were born a Brahmin or a Vaishya, or the language of your mother-tongue. What matters is the movement of the true ‘I’; no longer are you a product of your parents, your caste, your religion, what you were born with. You wake up to a different possibility.
How can the movement towards the real ‘I’ be mistaken for weakness? In fact, that is the genuine direction to life. This is what each one of us must do. The first real thing to be done in life, before you take up a profession, before you marry, even before you undertake social responsibilities, isn’t it?
In our case, we went to school out of obedience. We went to college because our friends or cousins went there. We took up a job, for we couldn’t marry without that. We married for pleasure. We had kids for joy. We took to responsibility because it was inevitable. We suddenly woke up to the fact that we spoke a particular language. We suddenly became aware that we belonged to this caste. We suddenly realised we were Hindus. And now, we are collecting stories about great Hindus to feel good about ourselves, to feel proud, to join others who have similar stories.
‘Strength, Strength, Strength, is the message of every page of the Upanishad’, roared Swami Vivekananda. Did he talk of the collective Hindu strength, as a biological community or race? Or did he talk of the strength the ‘I’ discovers, when it discovers itself? When the ‘I’ discovers itself, it can go along with the entire universe, or it could take on the entire universe. That is its strength. Realise that strength; that was his call.
What are we doing in the name of Hinduism today? Succumbing to more weakness, aren’t we? Instead of drawing strength from the lives and words of the great men of the past, and tracing their paths, we seem to draw strength from our gene pool. You and I succumb to this weakness independently, come together, and seek a leader, to stand as a formidable force for other groups to respect and take us seriously. Vivekananda asked us to discover strength in the ‘I’, and here we are, seeking that strength in groupism. Isn’t this exactly what the other religions did, who we now seek to go against? Erect a strong, monolithic identity, and thereby, find the brute strength to hit out against anybody?
The Hindu is in a crisis today. He has the stupid choice of going the Muslim or Christian way, in erecting a monolithic identity of a strong Hindu. Which the Hindu has actively desisted from succumbing to, for thousands of years. In the throes of distress, in the face of calamity, the Hindu has not succumbed to this craving for monolithic external identity. He has found the inner sense and strength to steer clear of such programmes and find true sense to life.
About 1200 years ago, Kumarila and Śaṅkara went against the organised power of Buddhist missionaries. The threat experienced by Hinduism then was far greater than the one perceived now. Despite that, Kumarila and Śaṅkara never proposed to organise Hindus into a monolithic block, remember that!
The moot question that confronts you today is this: Will you disappoint the Upanishadic seer? Will you escape the blessing of Vyāsā, Śaṅkara, Rāmānuja, Madhva, and Patañjali? Will you discard the true blessing of every great Hindu that has lived? Will you not seek strength in the ‘I’?
Don’t collect all Hindus together to form one strong monolithic identity, calling it Hinduism or the real India. Step out of that biological template you were born with, and discover the ‘I’. Therein lies all greatness, goodness, and real strength.
In the end, to answer the question of that Police Officer:
“Hinduism never taught anyone to unite as one group, organise itself as a monolithic identity, defend itself to protect whatever was called its unique ethos. Hinduism refused to be organised as one monolithic identity. Instead, it kept its focus on the individual, and pushed him like a good father and mother, urging him again and again, to step out of all birth-templates, and discover the real ‘I’.”
Won’t you wake up to be a true Hindu?
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