Recalibrating and Understanding Hindu Philosophy: God Does Not Play Dice
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Editor’s Note: Through the ages, Hindus, or whatever we have called ourselves, have been reformists. Some have compared Hinduism to an “open source” and “free” software, and have labeled those faiths that call themselves “religions” as “closed source” software. At this time, when the attacks against Hindus have become furious, global, and coordinated, some have been asking and urging that we reconsider what ails us, or whether there is anything we can do to mitigate any harm in our “system,” “practices,” “beliefs,” and the smriti texts in which we see interpolations across centuries, many of them leading to the calcification of some practices that have harmed society. This article is in the first of the series we hope to publish on this issue. We welcome your contributions. Please submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org
I did some serious thinking, and I also got the opinions of some friends before attempting to write this article. For a long time, I have been intrigued as to why we Hindus do not practice our religion religiously or are staunch believers (kattar). Are Hindus, especially the modern ones, withering away? Are they losing faith in their faith? Looks like it; but why? I am seeking an answer to this question. Neither am I a religious scholar nor an authority on spirituality. I am at best a techno manager, and I am viewing this question in that context. I am a seeker, and I am naïve, therefore pardon some of my child-like simple ideas and queries.
This is a common man’s perspective and not that of a learned scholar or Gyani Dhyani Pundit. I don’t claim to be perfect in terms of facts and figures about a subject as complex as Hindu philosophy, and therefore want to put forth the ideas which are figuratively and allegorically correct. I offer them in simple words without hair-splitting. As long as the essence is understood, we can move on.
Old is Gold
We are proud to say that we are the oldest religion in the world, which is the most inclusive, and in the same breath we say, “Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life”. Yet, on all official documents in the column for religion, all Hindus write – Hindu. Every religion teaches good things to its followers, and these are teachings based on the basic principles of life and nature. Hinduism is a little beyond this simple definition, and many may argue there is no single definition for such a grand and diverse idea of life. I don’t think there is any conflict here but the statement itself is a bit mystic, seemingly paradoxical, especially in today’s age where people want things in binary and matters are crystal clear. Why must a common Hindu need someone highly qualified, a saint or a pundit to understand the basics of good living as a Hindu?
Multilateral, Multifaceted, and Multifunctional Approach
Hindus can choose to be polytheistic, pantheistic, henotheistic, monotheistic, monistic, agnostic, atheistic, or humanist. In India, which has the largest number of Hindus in the world, the term dharma is also interchangeably used with religion, which is broader than the Western term “religion”. When we say Raja Dharma we mean the duties that a ruler should perform. Paramo Dharma means ultimate or supreme duty. Therefore, Dharma implies being duty-bound. Though we say Dharma is your choice we still perceive that as an obligation — obligation to your assigned duty or even the way you live. These are high and lofty ideas that may not make sense to the generation gasping for breath as if on a treadmill constantly running on a day-to-day basis with little time for household chores, time for family, reading, contemplating, reflecting.
Looking at Hinduism another way, we find that in its entirety it is too big and too liberal. It is like looking into a kaleidoscope, or an open clear sky with billions of stars and some clouds, where things are constantly changing. It thrills but still does not preach, offer direction, in the literal sense. It is too democratic in its very essence and that could be its strength. It is omni- interpretable or multi-interpretable – all in a positive way for the good of every living being and therefore no one can ever be afraid of us.
Another way to look at it is that its open and liberal nature could be its weakness too. If you have no strict rules, you have no binding. It is freedom of speech, action, and life. Then what?! Could freedom turn into license, licentiousness?
Art of Communication is Changing – Religion, Philosophy, or an Idea?
People learn or absorb information from the head as well as heart, and at present, with compressed timing, things have changed drastically. To communicate faster Email was invented. People are now using mobile phones to communicate verbally and SMS for messaging. Today, in a matter of a few years, WhatsApp has replaced email, and Twitter an adjunct between SMS and WhatsApp with a limited number of characters which forces you to communicate your idea in a very crisp, to the point, way to millions. At the same time, from KBPS we moved to MBPS to GBPS and now TBPS. The world we learned a few centuries ago is round has turned flat now!
Religion is for the masses. The term “propaganda” first came into common use in Europe as a result of the missionary activities of the Catholic Church. Pope Gregory XV in1622 created a congregation for the propagation of the Catholic faith! A college of propaganda was created to train priests for the missions. It was an honorable word; it was much later that the word “propaganda” acquired a pejorative connotation — more pronounced during the Nazi regime of Hitler.
It may not be appropriate to compare religion with governance, but both affect and are supposed to affect our lives and make it worth living. Many methods of governance have been used since human beings got organized as tribes, regions, nations, and then nation-states. There were several political/ideological isms like communism, capitalism, socialism, liberalism, fascism, totalitarianism, and nationalism. There were methods of governance like democracy, dictatorship, monarchy, etc. Out of all the forms, democracy has been the most successful one – though it has its many flaws too, and which should be tasted with more than a pinch of salt. Still, there is no perfect, one-size-fits-all method of governance.
Democracy works because there are rules of law along with the freedom that are fairly applied according to a constitution drafted by a nation’s leaders. The Constitution can be amended from time to time.
“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…” — Winston Churchill
Hinduism as an all-encompassing philosophy includes a diversity of ideas on spirituality and traditions but has no ecclesiastical order (an established Institute), no unquestionable religious authorities, no governing body, no prophet, nor any binding holy book. It is as awesome and accommodating as the World Wide Web!
Every major religion has one holy book. For example, Christianity has the Bible, Muslims have the Quran, and Sikhs have the Guru Granth Sahib.
In contrast, Hinduism, also referred to as Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Way) is an ancient religion (at least 5,000 years old) with diverse traditions resulting in a huge collection of knowledge spread over several scriptures. We have the two big epics – the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana. Then we have the Puranas, Vedas, Upanishads, the Smritis and other texts. A religion tends to merge with culture, rituals, and tradition with porous boundaries and it is a well-accepted fact. Therefore, one can say that Hinduism does not have one single book which a Hindu believer can follow. Though the Bhagavad Geeta has become a de facto holy book it may not be covering Hinduism in its entirety. Certainly, other works are important too.
For Christians the Bible is a holy manual. That is why people call any wholesome, all-encompassing guide for a topic or concept a “bible”. We say, for example, “This book on Information Systems is like a bible or a book authored by XYZ author is the Bible for Marketing”. This implies that there is nothing more to it; one book is all that you need. If it is the Bible for marketing, then that is the ultimate and final authority on marketing. That is how it is perceived.
There are certain expressions derived out of faith, religion, belief, or whatever we may like to call it as, which are self-explanatory. For instance, we say “I go for a morning walk religiously” or “I read this magazine religiously”. The word “religion” itself implies regimentation, regularity, and a sense of responsibility and above all a sense of commitment. In a democracy, you are free to drive on the road, but you need to still follow the traffic rules.
Putting the two together and deriving a logical inference I would assume that a religion needs to be presented within a well-defined boundary through one book carrying all major tenets of that religion’s philosophy as an essence and needs to be practiced religiously with certain regularity. However, in contrast, Hinduism is a democratic religion where you have hundreds of deities to choose from.
Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Ganesha, Shiva Durga, Laxmi and then there are other forms like avatars, Ram and Krishna also called Bhagwan Ram and Bhagwan Krishan. Then you also have Hanuman and Kali and there are separate temples for them too. You can worship a snake, a river, the sun, a tree, or a plant (tulsi). Is this too liberal? That is the question that needs to be answered.
Where Reason Fails Faith Begins
Why do people believe in God, and why do they have faith in a faith? For a normal human being life is an enigma. We don’t know where we have come from and when and where we will go after death. Therefore, we don’t have any control either over our birth or our death. In addition, we have little or almost no control on our life too. That is why it is often said “Karam kaar phaal ki ashaa maat kar” which roughly translates to “Do your duty but don’t crave for the result”: this implies that we leave the results and the outcome to God. You plan something and something totally different happens. Amitabh Bachchan says that his father used to say “Jo maan ka wo achcha, aur jo maan ka nahi wo aur bhi achcha”. This means if you get what you want it is good, but if you don’t get what you want then it is even better. Again, this implies that God has something better in store for you.
Our God does not tell us to go kill those who do not believe in me or go convert everyone into believing in me — even if you must bribe the other guy. Our God is so liberal, so how can anyone be afraid of him/her or his/her followers?
The birth of our universe is still the biggest mystery. We Hindus call the universe Srishti. Great scientists like Jayant Narlikar, Albert Einstein, and Stephen Hawking and hundreds more have tried to determine the age of the universe. For example, the Big Bang hypothesis, in short, states that all of the existing and past matter in the universe came into existence at the same time, around 13.8 billion years ago. At that time, all matter existed in the form of a very small, compact ball with infinite density and very intense heat, which is now called the “Singularity”. Suddenly, this “Singularity” began expanding rapidly, and the universe as we know began to be formed.
Then what was before the Big Bang? Most scientists, including Hawking, have no idea of time or the nature of existence before the Big Bang. They take the origin of the universe 13.8 billion years ago as the starting point of time.
Before this, God’s hand prevailed is what the scientists say. If you have no control on your birth, your death, your life is controlled by destiny, and you don’t know when the universe was created and when will it end then there is something much more powerful than you and you need to submit it to that power. That is when faith begins.
How Einstein Looked at God
“The more I study science, the more I believe in God” — Albert Einstein
The basic premise of our belief in the Almighty is our inability to predict or control our lives and control what is happening around us.
Many thinkers and philosophers have argued against and for the existence of God. Different religions defined the Supreme Being in their own ways so that people are led on to a path of spirituality to connect to the Almighty. Different religions gave different names to God — making God more perceivable, more imaginable, and more acceptable to the common man. This led to the idea of a personal faith and a personal God. We are asked to pray and acknowledge that power. Without seeing or understanding God, we pray. Prayer and our faith have a placebo effect on our wellbeing. Prayer becomes a great support system, especially during difficult times.
Einstein looked at this Almighty, supreme power in a different way. In a way he defined his own God. He believed in the supreme power because he was humbled by the structure, the expanse, and the unlimited energy he could perceive in the universe — in our very existence. He was humbled because, having analyzed matter, time, space, and motion scientifically he realized how insignificantly small he/we was/were in front of God or the Almighty, who kept track of every event, every bit of matter, and every life that existed in the vast universe and was our creator and keeper in the strictest sense.
While the gurus and spiritual leaders understood and interpreted God through mythology and philosophy, Einstein interpreted God through science. He looked at God scientifically and in terms of our existence. He did not believe in a “Personal God” and as far as religion is concerned, he was religious because he was in awe of God’s creation, the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as science could reveal.
He looked up to God for the harmony that exists in the universe:
‘A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man’ — Albert Einstein
Einstein realized and made others realize through his writings and talks that as human beings we are just a part of this massive universe. We have only an illusion that we are a separate entity but, we are a part of one big whole, what we call the universe. He was philosophical in his thought and interpretation of the relationship between God and man by describing it as an optical or visual delusion of consciousness. Almost a year before his death he said that humans must break away from this delusion and this bondage from what they feel is self and people close to them as their own little universe. This, according to him, becomes like a prison of self and selfishness. “We must free ourselves from this bondage and widen our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty and obtain liberation from self,” he said.
If one examines the above thoughts, one would feel that these are the words of a saint, words of a monk, words of Lord Buddha or Sri Krishna. Many saints have preached and will preach the same thing without understanding the enormity of the universe/cosmos scientifically or mathematically. But Einstein could feel it as well as understand the power of nature scientifically. In the technical sense, Einstein was an atheist and didn’t believe in God, yet he felt and perceived the power of the Almighty. In fact, saints and prophets are also humbled by the Almighty, in a philosophical way, and while many of them preached a fear of God, Einstein preached an awe of God. A simple preacher may say “Bhagwan se dar” while Einstein, if he were to speak in Hindi, would have said, “Bhagwan ko dekh aur nihar.”
“A year spent in artificial intelligence is enough to make one believe in God” – Alan Perlis
A SWOT Analysis of Hindu Dharma
Strength: The oldest religion of the world which has withstood the onslaught of other religions and tests of time.
Weakness: Very vast, very liberal, spread over huge number of scriptures, and hence difficult to interpret for a common man. We need a guru or a priest to understand it — even a fraction of it. This can be a deterrent for people to practice it rigorously. Therefore, most Hindus get into devotional obligation after they have finished their responsibility — almost retired. For a modern-day Hindu youth, it appears too complicated, and we can’t make every living Hindu a monk or a saint.
Opportunity: It is time to condense the entire philosophy of Hinduism into one book, akin to the Christian Bible. This needs to be simplified with certain guidelines to be followed strictly like a ritual — religiously. Can we oversimplify it in terms of commandments? Can we have one religion, one book?
“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t know it yourself” — Albert Einstein
Threat: If this is not done quickly, with a sense of urgency and collectively, we may have more non-practicing Hindus and things may go from bad to worse with more and more poaching by the aggressive “religions of the book”, which has been going on for two millennia now, and has been spurred recently in India. Others are even using it against us, accommodating believers, and we have had to step up to counter this Hinduphobia!
One Religion, One Book
I have tried to establish the need to distill the entire wisdom available in the Hindu pantheon into one book. I assume and imagine that all the wisdom enshrined in the tens of thousands of pages across different volumes is complementary to each other, and there are no disagreements or contradictions.
If we cursorily examine the global religious gyan we could look at the following:
As a ballpark figure, the Bible is around 1000 pages, the Quran approximately 500 pages, and the Guru Granth Sahib 1400 pages.
Hinduism, in contrast, spreads across the land as a massive Himalayan peak. The Bhagavad Gita, in700 verses, the Ramayana in 24,000 verses, and the Mahabharata in 100,000 verses – just a part of the smriti literature – expound Hindu wisdom in elaborate length. We need not bother to count the pages and the number of verses in the sruthi literature – the Vedas, the Aranyakas, the Brahmanas, and the Upanishads. It is said that only a small part of the vast body of Sanskrit sacred texts and commentaries has been translated into English/foreign languages.
It is therefore time to take stock of things. Let us not pretend that all is well, and that we are still living in a world that believes in equality and fairness. All the Hindu gurus, leaders, philosophers need to come together and have a marathon session of “Atma chintan” – self-introspection and come to a consensus. If we are such a democratic religion let us look at our religion’s constitution also democratically. We need to present our philosophy in a much more practicable, easily palatable, and digestible form. I feel that if we are to reinvigorate Hinduism, we need to re-package our ideas. We need to tell the world in simpler terms what we believe in.
With such a mellow faith and belief as ours, having others stoke fear (phobia) about us and our sacred texts is the biggest sin by any God’s definition.
I rest my case.