The Hindu Traditionalist (III) – Culture, Morality and Reform
PART III | ON REFORM
Part I is available here, and Part II here.
“The Puranic lore and our unnamed Nature Gods and Goddesses did not disappear with the arrival of Veda. Veda did not disappear with the arrival of Vedanta. Vedanta did not disappear with the arrival of the Nāstika schools. The Āstika schools and the two Nāstika schools did not disappear with the arrival of Bhakti. Bhakti did not disappear with the arrival of Western modernity. Till today Indra Deva is called forth. Till today Agni Deva is called forth. Till today Varuna Deva is called forth…as they were over five millennia ago.
“This is not a small matter. This is a matter of profound importance and wonderment. In this sequence lies the clue to our future. We are Hindus, we do not erase the past, we carry it along with the present into the future… as a memory, as a ritual, as a story, as an allegory, as something.
“For too long, our reformists have poured all their energies into dismantling the structures of the past, like some revolutionary Abrahamic cult. That these misguided elites have been allowed to irrevocably damage our relationship to the past is a shame from whose face, we are only now beginning to withdraw the veil.
We are not ashamed… anymore.”
Section I | Excavation
Ok, so parts of Bharat have had a difficult last one thousand years and all of Bharat has had a very difficult last two hundred years. Does that mean we take the offer of “convert or die”, that our rivals make to us? Does that mean we start to believe that we don’t deserve to live anymore as ourselves? The answers to those questions are really a measure of our vitality… “How alive are we?” and couched within that question is a deeper question “Who are ‘we’?” I have attempted, in some way, to answer the second question in Part 1 and Part 2 of this essay series but the answer to the first question is not to be found in any essay but in our hearts, and only time will tell if our answer is factual or imaginary.
So, why is it that we Hindus need to reform ourselves?
There is only one reasonable answer to this question – “Because we are now weak, and we want to be strong like we were before. We want to find and uproot the cause of that weakness.”
From this answer flows all the other self-flagellation that we submit ourselves to till today.
Our ancestors never lacked courage, but they did make mistakes that are visible in hindsight.
Failure No.1 – We failed to go on the offensive when our rivals were down.
Failure No.2 – We failed to properly define in-groups and out-groups at the political level.
Failure No.3 – We failed to understand the true nature of the existential threat we faced.
The first two failures are political in nature. The third failure is cultural in origin, but not, as many imagine, at the level of our social organization. It is a failure of imagination. We literally cannot imagine that people can be so bad.
Unfortunately, our reformists, ignoring this diagnosis, have insisted on locating the root of our failures in our social organization. “We are too diverse,” “We are not united,” “Our community tribalism is our Achilles heel,” and “If only we were culturally homogeneous,” they lament. They insist that we cannot organize ourselves politically until these cultural weaknesses are uprooted. But the fact is, we were capable of political organization during the Battle of Rajasthan (738 CE) when, I would assume, the very same “cultural weaknesses” were just as entrenched, if not more entrenched, than now. Did our diversity lead to debilitating disunity then, or were our ancestors fully capable of coming together to point the Arabs back in the direction of Mecca? We were capable of political organization when Maharana Pratap came together with the Bhils (1580 CE). We were capable of political organization when Peshwa Baji Rao-I came to the aid of Raja Chattrasal (1729 CE). We were also capable of political organization under Mohandas Gandhi (1915 CE) (though by that time we had been deprived of nutrition and weapons for far too long). Isn’t it also true, that from the moment of birth of the idea of Hindavi Swaraj, it took a mere hundred years for it to manifest? All we needed then was a goal and intent, and of course, a leader.
Disunity is a strawman. Locating the root of our weakness in disunity, and further locating the root of disunity in our social organization, are both steps in the wrong direction. For example, the Muslims of West Asia and the Christians of Europe fought amongst themselves all the time just like us, but that didn’t prevent them from thriving. Our solution lies in using this observation to locate, accurately, the root of our weakness.
At the political level, the clear difference between our rivals and us is that –
a) They have a clear appreciation of ‘in-group and out-group’
b) They have a (divine) mandate to expand.
We have neither.
It appears now that if at all there is a cultural failure, it lies in our inability to understand the true nature of the existential threat that we face from our rivals. Our ancestors believed that all that our rivals wanted was land and money, when in fact what they really wanted was to eat our hearts. Once this is understood and internalized, it becomes much easier to define in-group and out-group and politically organize ourselves accordingly. Unfortunately, even today, Hindus find it extremely difficult to believe that our rivals actually want to eat our hearts, and as a consequence, all our politics in centered around convincing ourselves that –
a) they do not actually want our hearts,
b) that we can win their hearts,
c) that we are all actually divided, and
d) that we can only unite under the banner of foreign memes.
All of these understandings are bogus.
Eyes Wide Shut
We have lost territory, both physical (land) and mental (culture). The physical loss continues to haunt and is the primary impulse for reform. It is a valid impulse because this is our punyabhoomi and we do not like to see it defiled. But reformists, ever since the 18th Century, had the idea that if we were to give up mental space and adopt the ideas and cultural traits of our rivals, we could stop the loss of physical space. To be completely fair, it was a strategy that was partially successful. It lost us 30% of our landmass but bought us some time with political independence in 1947. Unfortunately, by then, our elites had given up so much of their mental space that ‘they’ were not ‘us’ anymore. With our elites becoming so much like our rivals, authentic Hindus were left with the illusion of recovered physical space when, in reality, it was still occupied by our rivals who ruled by proxy. This remarkable situation continues till today. We see that the non-elites who took power in 2014 have also lost so much mental space that they cannot help but continue on the course that their illustrious predecessors have set.
This phenomenon is put in its correct historical context by Dharampal:
“In retrospect, the period from about 1919 (or perhaps from 1916 itself when Gandhiji’s speech at the inaugural of the Benares Hindu University made the great Maharajas, the ruling elite, and Mrs. Annie Besant walk out of the meeting-place as a protest against what he had said) to about 1945, or perhaps even till 1947, may possibly be treated in today’s environment as a period of the great illusion. For, during this period of Indian innocence, large sections of the Indian people began to believe that they could at least build a world of their own; a world constructed according to their own concepts and ideas; and that perhaps they may then even be able to help the rest of the world to return to sanity. Even sceptics like Jawaharlal Nehru at certain moments seem to have fallen under such an illusion. And it is possible that many in the West, especially of the more reflective and imaginative type, also at times felt that India may have a relevant message, and may perhaps serve as a world model.
A similar belief about the possibility of an altogether new beginning, in continuity with the 1919 to 1945 period, seemed to have opened up, though only during a brief few days, at the end of March 1977, after the defeat of Shrimati Indira Gandhi, and the victory of the Janata combine under the inspiration of Shri Jayaprakash Narayan. But the habits and the assumptions of the past, built over several generations (during 1800 to 1919, and again during 1947 to 1977) asserted themselves and India reverted to its unthinking imitative role. This role benefits not even half percent of the Indian people, in European idiom, the officer class of India. It maintains their privileges, but is certainly ruinous to the social as well as private lives of at least 80% of India’s people. The initiative which seems to have reverted to the majority of India’s people, during 1919 to 1945 when as early as 1928, 1929, 1930 the people of India are said to have become virtually free, was again largely snatched away from them after 1947, and what remained was allowed to erode in the flow of time.”
–– Dharampal, The Self-Awakening of India, 1987
It is obvious now that the ‘giving up mental space model’ reached its logical conclusion in 1947 and ever since then it has been working against us.
Sociologist A.K. Saran calls it the Nilakantha Syndrome –
“The synthesis ideology, or the Nilkantha Syndrome which has continued to possess the Hindu consciousness from the days of Muslim and British domination down to the present time, is the Hindu way not only of paying the fatal price for some kind of survival, but also of masking the fact that such a tremendous price is being paid.”
We Arrive at a Crossroad
This really brings us to the crux of the matter.
- What reforms will help reclaim our physical territory, because all that we’ve been trying so far has failed?
- How much mental space are we willing to go on giving up in the belief that one day the tide will turn? Already many, many of us are no longer ourselves. With every passing year, secular school takes in millions of Hindu first generation learners and churns out deracinated non-Hindus at the other end of the pipeline. Of what use is the Hindu punyabhoomi if there are no Hindus left?
- The question that we are left with now is one of an authentic Hindu evolution that will lead to both our survival and our renaissance. What course will lead to wealth? What course will lead to strength? How do we walk these roads and continue to be ourselves (conservation)? How do we fashion a new self that carries all our old selves with us (the essence of dharmic evolution)?
Unfortunately, with every reform that was informed by the loss of mental space, we lost still more mental space and gained absolutely no physical space. Many reformists, even today, proclaim that if we give up even more mental space, we will eventually win. There is no evidence for this claim whatsoever. If the history of the past 200 years has taught us one thing, it is that giving up mental space and acquiring foreign memes has not helped us regain physical space. In fact, we continue to bleed physical space. The growth of the Abrahamic cults post-independence, when the giving up of mental space became our national credo, is a case in point.
When new external forces are applied on an internally balanced system, the system has to find a new point of balance. This much is a given. What that new point of balance is, depends a lot on the nature of the external forces. We have a number of options in front of us, each requires from us a different combination of strength, will, intelligence and love for our ancestors and Gods. We’ve tried many of them at different times, to different extents, with varying degrees of failure…
- The Multan Solution — We submit to the new forces.
- The Maharana Solution — We expend all our energies in repelling the forces.
- The Mother-India Solution — We absorb the shock of the forces by allowing penetration and eventually slowing the forces down to a halt through sheer bulk.
- The Secular-India Solution — We recognize that our rivals have won and give in substantially so they will leave us alone and maybe throw us a few crumbs.
- The Still-Wondering-How Solution — We evolve in a totally original new direction that acts as a counterbalance to the new forces.
- The Never-Been-Tried Solution — We attack the source of the external forces.
- The ISCKON Solution — We transform the external forces through alchemy.
- The Chattrapathi Solution – We lay low while we grow in strength and eventually reclaim our minds and our land.
1, 2, 3 and 4 have failed. We must focus on 5, 6, 7 and 8.
Section II | To Be or Not To Be
“Survival is the primary imperative. Yes, but not unconditionally so. What use is survival if, in order to survive, we have to change so much, that we are no longer ourselves? How is that any different from conversion? How far is too far?
Each of us has to draw that line ourselves. Many feel that we have already crossed that line. Many feel that line is still ahead of us. Many feel we can draw a new line at our convenience. But it would do us good to remember that our heroic ancestors chose death instead of enslavement to foreign memes…they held that uncrossable line very, very close to themselves indeed. We, on the other hand, are today so convinced that we need to survive at all costs that we are willing to sacrifice everything, even whatever little remains of our customs, at the altar of mere survival.
Such a strategy is not Dharmic, it is merely Darwinian.”
Bringing Nuance to our Self-Perception
Hindu civilization extends from the earth to the sky. That is to say, it is a meeting of the bottom-up (community) and the top-down (civilization) in a fertile consummation. There are those among us who believe that the sky will stand without the earth, that the lofty philosophies of Hinduism will outlive the destruction of the earthy communities that hold up those philosophies with their rituals. To them, I can only say “Time will tell, but by then, it will be too late.”
Hindu philosophy without Hindu tribalism is dead on arrival. For sure, one part of our tribalism can indeed be a pan-Hindu political consciousness as long as we understand that it is just one part of a very complex thing that we call Hindu identity. Trying to replace the entirety of that complex thing with a common tribalism for 1 billion people is a farce. The terms of such an endeavor cannot but fail to be so dilute that it would be meaningless as an identity marker. What we need is a pan-Hindu political consciousness for coalition-building between dharmic communities. We do not need it for deep identity building. We already have our deep identities.
It is imperative then that this grand unity project be overtly political in nature and not cultural. Political unity will automatically have cultural implications but that is not our goal. The overt management of the cultural sphere must be left to our communities and their cultural and spiritual leaders. The grand unity project, if it is serious, should have two major aims. One, to rid us of two ancient weaknesses – our inability to define in-group and out-group and our lack of an expansionist goal. Two, to consciously develop the terms for a long-lasting and binding coalition of all Dharmic peoples. In other words, developing the mechanisms for ‘bridge building’.
A true Hindu Nation needs to recognize all four pillars that hold up our superstructure, and work respectfully towards their strengthening with the full participation of all stake-holders.
Pillar #1: The Roots of the Dharmic Tree
Tribe –– Jaati Vyavastha, Kula Devatas, Occupational Guilds, Ancestral Knowledge
Pillar #2: The Trunk of the Dharmic Tree
Coalition –– Mutual respect, Varna Vyavastha, Sampradayas, MaṬthas, Gurus, institutions that would work towards building mutual respect, conflict resolution, the national grand narrative, and dharma expansion
Pillar #3: The Branches of the Dharmic Tree
Religion –– Veda, Dharmic Law, Civilizational Hinduism, Temples, Nationwide Festivals, Bhakti
Pillar #4: The Flowers, Fruits and Seeds of the Dharmic Tree
Philosophy –– Yoga, Vedanta, Enquiry, all other philosophical schools
With that complex image in mind, we can move ahead knowing that reform of any kind cannot be acceptable if it brings an axe to any part of this tree.
Our Form of Reform
Sati, Untouchability, Caste, Widow Remarriage, et al., have nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with our predicament. These are all strawmen erected by the white man to divert our attention. Whether these customs were widespread, localized, contextual, in need of abandonment, etc., are all our internal matters. They have nothing whatsoever to do with the white man. But the white man and his lackeys insist on using their hold over the means of broadcast to constantly erect these strawmen. Why? For the simple reason that they need these strawmen to bring their idealist-morality to bear upon us. These strawmen serve as entry points (what are called ‘fault lines’ these days). These entry points are those contours of our culture where the spike proteins of the white man’s viral ideals are able to find matching footholds. From these entry points the virus of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity enters our body politic as a Trojan horse.
The Hindu notices that something seems not quite right with some of his customs, they seem to be attracting a ton of this unpleasant virus (along with a lot of uncomfortable accompanying noise). So, what does the Hindu do? Instead of attacking the virus or the source of the virus, he begins to get rid of these entry points. We see now that the desire to get rid of entry points is reactionary and not self-determined. He is now under the sway of the virus (that is, he is now acting under the demands of the foreign ideals that the virus represents). He starts to think that once he gets rid of all entry points (reforms himself), he will be strong, and the western virus will no longer attack him (he would have earned the respect of the source of the virus).
Alas for the naïve Hindu, newer and newer entry points will be found, and moral goal posts will be constantly shifted – community, family, temples, education, gender, marriage, etc., etc., until he understands and internalizes that the end goal of the viral Western ideals is not to help him become a better person but to control and eventually destroy him. The West does this in stealth by calling its ideals “universal”. That is why I use the analogy of the Trojan horse.
“By closing the entry points of the virus rather than attempting to eradicate the virus, what we have allowed in post-independence India, is the spread of the virus through our body-politic. Today, the ideal of equality, for instance, has such widespread acceptance in the populace that ordinary Hindus believe fervently that it is a self-evident truth. Our state and our intellectuals, instead of pushing back against this ideal and supplanting it with compassionate, reasonable dharmic values, have allowed it free reign. This error of judgement has cost us dearly. Today, there is not a single dharmic institution that is not subject to poisonous judgement by this ideal, causing them all to shrivel and hide upon contact.”
By all means, let us “reform,” let us “evolve,” let us change, let us do whatever we want to ourselves BUT as ourselves and not under the flag of foreign ideals and the spell of self-hate that they have cast upon us. Is there a dharmic reason to abandon Sati? Put it on the table. Are there dharmic reasons to abandon our ancient taboos? Put them on the table. Let the dharmic stakeholders thrash out a way forward. But let us not walk into battle with ourselves, waving the banners of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity,” because this virus, let me tell you, is of a particularly virulent strain that has been home cooked in the kitchen of European supremacy.
Its true nature needs to be called out –
Liberty leads inevitably, inexorably, to irreverence.
Equality leads, with equal bullheadedness, to disharmony.
And we know only too well that Fraternity leads to ethnocide when it doesn’t lead to genocide.
Do we want this stuff? NO. Then why do we insist on judging ourselves with these viral ideals? Abandon all Ideals, but bring back Values. Hindu Values. Judge our community relations and our place in the world using our values and adapt accordingly.
The West is an idealist culture. It will sacrifice all in the service of ideals but for us Hindus in a traditional culture, the acceptance of these ideals and their poisonous outcomes is nothing short of suicide.
In a traditional society, traditions are put in the service of culture. In an idealist society, it is culture itself that is put in service of ideals. We must resist walking into this trap. For example, if we are to adopt material Progress with a capital ‘P’ as something absolutely vital at this point in history, let us adopt it as a value and not as an ideal. Let us roll out this value when it is needed in concert with the hundreds of other values that we hold dear and roll it back when it is not needed. It must not stand alone like the Abrahamic God demanding submission of all our other values. It must be made to work with us and for us.
And for the sake of all our Gods, let us disassociate the viral western ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity from our understanding of material progress. Look at Japan, look at China, look at Singapore. Let us make the political and economic changes needed to grow strong so we can better serve Dharma. Let us create a political climate and an incentive structure for the exaltation of Hindu values and not for our enslavement to viral Western ideals in the mistaken belief that it is they that lead to strength. They do not.
Section III | The Fog that Obscures. The Chain the Binds.
“If you love something, you cannot also fail to support the conditions that make that thing possible.”
That Thing We Love
While threats from our older rivals still remain, a new threat in the form of a third order religion that goes by the name of Liberalism, has today gained wide-spread traction in a relatively short time. This new religion deals entirely in abstractions and has further deepened our inability to tell in-group from out-group. In our blindness, many of us embrace this new religion while continuing to call ourselves Hindu. It is against this backdrop that we need to examine the current trajectory of reformist thinking.
We have seen, in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, that Hindu Ethics are encoded in Ritual. Ritual therefore is the life blood of Hindu Morality.
It is Ritual that takes the Hindu worldview and encodes it in the minds and hearts of real flesh and blood people.
Every neo-Hindu out there who loves Vedanta, Yoga, Rishikesh, the Thanjavur Big Temple, “Seeking,” Self-Discovery, Ashram-Hopping, Chanting, Meditation, that Om Tee-shirt, should know that none of this would exist today without the rituals that kept the Hindu darshanas alive for millennia encoded in the lives of communities that gave their sweat, blood, time, energy and faith to the maintenance and protection of those rituals and the honor of their ancestors.
It’s time for payback.
Europeans needed continuity in Ideas and Law (manifest today in the curious idea of judicial precedence) to create the mental structures that defined their identity. That is why, when they created the myth of their origin in Ancient Greece, it wasn’t the culture of Ancient Greece that interested them, but the philosophical ideas that were convenient for them to stick on as a prequel to themselves.
Hindus, on the other hand, being an ancient people, need continuity in Tradition to create the mental structures that define their identity. We need to feel that we are still home, and home is that long line of people that stretches back in time till the very beginning. That is why Shri Aurobindo struggled, that is why Swami Vivekananda struggled, that is why we ordinary Hindus struggle. We cannot simply accept something new if it refuses to converse with the past. We need a hook, a cognitive and practical means to hitch this wagon on to all the others that came before.
Dr. Balagangadhara describes this essential (but now damaged) need and process –
“The process of transmitting our culture through these ‘learnt’ ways to other members in our culture also initiates a reinvention of the “Indian way”. But it takes time (it has taken us centuries) to discover that, to make our past or present intelligible to us, western way(s) of transmitting traditions are not very ‘effective’. Discovering that ‘something’ has gone wrong and is also going wrong in transmission (because our children are increasingly unable to relate to their own culture and society), we are forced to interrogate how we are accessing our traditions. Doing so does two things: (a) it forces and compels us to look critically at how we currently access our traditions; (b) the same movement also enables us to look at how we access our experiences. In some senses, that is our attempt now: by looking at how we access our experiences, we will discover that we can regain access (in some fashion) to the accumulated “Indian ways”. That is, we begin to invent ways to access our traditions differently. On the one hand, it is an invention. On the other, it is a rediscovery as well because we do not begin this process ab novo, out of nothing. Our point of departure is that we are Indians; even if damaged in transmission, we are recipients of what our parents, grandparents, families, etc. have transmitted. Thus, the process of rediscovery begins on these foundations and using the frameworks gifted to us from our past (however damaged the gift is). What we gain today through invention and discovery (both elements are present here) is our culture. Our relationship to the past is defined by how the reinvention and rediscovery is taking place today: we use the language of the present and are driven by our current exigencies to access our past and our traditions.”
In other words, authentic Hindus strive to make that connection between the past and the future. We do not simply rush forward in a flood of self-hate inspired by the application of foreign ideals on the lives of our ancestors.
One cannot love Hindu handloom and continue to destroy the communities that produce handloom. One cannot love Hindu temples and continue to destroy the communities that build those temples. One cannot love Hindu ceremonies and continue to destroy the very communities who keep those ceremonies alive. One cannot love having grown up in a caring Hindu family and continue to support a set of western ideals that were born to destroy its very foundation. One cannot, if one has integrity, love Hindu philosophy, and deride the very Hindu customs and communities that kept and continue to keep these philosophies alive. Without the support and sacrifice of living communities, Hindu philosophy too becomes just another accessory that one wears to virtue signal and hide one’s inner Liberal behind a fig leaf of Hindu sounding words. If our darshanas are not ritualized, they are no longer alive within us. It is imperative then, that the neo-Hindu understands this connection so that he can build a non-contradictory sense of self within his mind and heart.
Understand that rituals (including behavioral patterns that our grandmas beat into our heads) encode a worldview that would be lost within one generation without those rituals. Understand that a worldview cannot be passed on through the ages by philosophical discussions at mealtime with one’s children. It can only be done by the enforcement of ritual from a young age. It is these rituals that ensured that the Hindu worldview remained embodied within us generation after generation.
Imagine our civilization as a giant sari woven over millennia. Every individual in every community adding a thread to the civilizational weave, every community adding a special pattern.
“By the worship of the Kula Devatas, the re-membering of our purana through dance and drama in moonlit village squares, by the daily puja in every home, the drawing of the kolam on cow dung washed porches in the half-light of dawn, the tilak on the neem tree, the marigold on the termite hill, the panchayat meetings under the banyan tree, the constant and circular exchange of gifts within the community, the touching of the feet of our elders, the honouring of our ancestors, the pilgrimages to the holy sites, the daily following of the dictates of the stars and planets, the ceremonies of birth, marriage and death, the training of children in patience, hospitability, kindness and courage …by the maintenance of all of this, we live today as us and not as someone else.”
By rejecting these Hindu rituals, we do not enter a “neutral”, “progressive” space as many of us are lulled into believing. Instead, we enter a new civilizational framework and engage in a new set of rituals. This new ritual framework goes by the name of “Global Culture” (English-Speaking, Hollywood, Netflix, UEFA Cup, Jobs in New Zealand, Hip-Hop, Pub-Hopping, Free Love, Holidays in Italy). It is only that we are unconscious of its deep structure. This globalized world is not a happy family where everyone from everywhere is loved and cherished (though the brand managers want us to think that). It is in fact the fully formed structure of a civilizational metaphysics, that of Western Universalism. One cannot enter the doors of that foreign metaphysics and still continue to call one-self Hindu (though one can certainly participate in and negotiate with it as long as one is deeply rooted in one’s own cultural ethos).
Wendell Berry, American conservative, nails the true nature of the “Global Culture” in this searing paragraph –
“The social and cultural pluralism that some now see as a goal is a public of destroyed communities. Wherever it exists, it is the result of centuries of imperialism. The modern industrial urban centres are pluralistic because they are full of refugees from destroyed communities, destroyed community economies, disintegrated local cultures, and ruined local ecosystems. The pluralists who see this state of affairs as some sort of improvement or beginning of a new global culture are being historically perverse as well as politically naïve. They affirm the pluralism of a society formed by the uprooting of cultures at the same time that they regard the fierce self-defense of still rooted cultures as “fundamentalism” for which they have no tolerance at all. They look with wistful indulgence and envy at our ruined and damaged traditional cultures so long as those cultures remain passively a part of our “plurality”, forgetting that those cultures too were once fundamentalist in their self-defense. And when these cultures again attempt self-defense, when they assert inseparability of culture and place – they are opposed by this pluralistic society as self- righteously as ever. The tolerance of this sort of pluralism extends always to the uprooted and passive never to the rooted and active.”
The Ideals of the Liberal religion are Liberty (sensory/emotional gratification), Equality (uniformity) and Fraternity (universalism). Common Western people who are now cut off from their traditional values have been funneled through these idealistic filters. These broken people do their best to create a sense of home in this idealist desert. They create a new set of rituals to give shape to their new reality. No matter how crude or superficial these rituals seem to us, to the broken people these rituals are indeed home, and they pass them on to their children and create art around them as if they were something precious.
Make no mistake, Western anti-culture too is given life through a set of rituals, we just need to know where to look –
The granting of an insane range of choice to young children, the fanning of desires and addictions to material things… the encouragement of “I” ness in toddlers, media depictions and societal expectations of early sexuality, and by the relentless pursuit of sexual gratification from age 10 to old age, by the great departure into adulthood at age 16, rebellion, the initiation into Liberal adulthood through raves, rock concerts, clubs, drugs, and alcohol from 16 till old age, the experience of loneliness and heartbreak, the hardening of the heart, the acceptance of social relations as utilitarian, the faith that only one person will truly understand us and that the one true love will find each one of us, by divorce, by wearing the badge of honor that is depression, by abandoning one’s parents to loneliness, by the training of children in the false knowledge that everything is possible for everyone, that all problems can be solved through technology, that true difference doesn’t exist and that Western ideals are universal.
These pit-stops of Western life perform the same function that rituals and samskaras do in Hindu life, but they just don’t involve flowers and agarbatthi.
As Hindus, when we turn our backs on Hindu rituals and encourage our children to follow these Western rituals, we are laying the foundations for wholesale conversion. It matters not the Ganesha murthi in our houses or the firecrackers we burst on Deepavali… if the deep values and our morality themselves have changed then we are the converted.
All neo-Hindu philosophy/progress lovers must note that we owe a debt of gratitude to the very rituals and communities that we believe we are today free from. And that debt will be paid for in blood one way or the other. If we fail to ritualize our modern lives, our children will grow up in the Liberal religion, no matter the depth of our love for Hinduism. Unless we embrace and enforce Hindu ritual at home, our children will not grow up Hindu. And the moment we embrace ritual we perforce must embrace a community because traditions do not exist outside of community. And what more natural thing to do than to take on the responsibilities of our ancestral communities? (Taking deeksha in a sampradaya of one’s choice is always a possibility for people particularly allergic to the idea of ancestral community.)
It is the passing on of tradition, in the form of ritual, through the generations, that comes to us as our culture. Individuals don’t have tradition, they have habits. Only communities have tradition. If we understand this chain of inter-dependence, then we are ready to make peace with our collective past.
There would be no Hindu Philosophy with us today without Hindu Culture, there would be no Hindu Culture without Hindu Traditions, there would be no Hindu Traditions without Hindu Rituals and there would be no Hindu Rituals without Hindu Jaatis (or equivalent). And without any of these links in the chain there would be no Hindu morality (living metaphysics).
We cannot have one without the other, we cannot pick and choose and declare one as progressive, and another one as regressive. We cannot squeeze this causal chain through the filter of Liberal Individualist-Morality and embrace only that which make it through to the other side and continue to call ourselves Hindu.
One is a Hindu if one understands this great chain of Hindu being, given shape earlier in my description of the Dharmic Tree. If one can embrace some of it, that’s wonderful, but it is important, as Hindus affected by Western Modernity, that we make peace with all of it. To create the foundation for an alternate Hindu-Modernity we will have to deal with every one of these inter-connected links and either maintain them as they are, absorb them into a new form or create a modern equivalent…all of this done with seriousness and respect for all that has come before us.
Anything less would be a great betrayal of our ancestors.
“We are not here to taste the dessert, we are here to cook the feast,
and so my brothers and sisters, let’s light a fire.”
Maragatham (July 31, 2021). “The Hindu Traditionalist (I): Culture, Morality and Reform,” India Facts, https://www.indiafacts.org.in/archives/commentaries/the-hindu-traditionalist-culture-morality-and-reform/
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