Critical Podium Dewanand Hinduism
Hinduism and the Contest of Religions by Subhash Kak
Sacrificer Subhash Kak
Sacrifice code wfor0362
Sacrifice date Friday, February 11, 2005
Hinduism and the Contest of Religions
Published on Friday, February 11, 2005
Dear Friends, www.stephen-knapp.com
Namaste. One of the reasons why I'm posting this article is to emphasize
the need for the proactive course of action by those of us who feel that
we need to protect, preserve, and also expand the knowledge about and
the glories of Vedic culture. If we do not do it, then who will? It is
up to us to be willing to present the proper information in ways that
others can take advantage of it, in ways similar to what I have tired
to do on my own website and with what we have done in the Vedic Friends
Association. Others need to do this as well and others are in fact doing
many similar projects. We have to have the courage to keep going in this
Hari om and Hari bol,
Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana dasa)
Hinduism and the Contest of Religions
Published on Friday, February 11, 2005
These are extraordinary times, given how technology is transforming
the world and the unprecedented migration of people. Different
cultural and religious groups have come in close contact physically,
some for the first time; and television has brought to the home new
images and possibilities. One would have hoped that people would
simply accept cultural and religious diversity; instead, it has
become a great opportunity for the proselytizing religions to gain
adherents. This is happening in the background of the destructive
gale of modernity, whose fury is pointed at all religious
The efforts of the missionaries have been enormously successful in
many Buddhist countries such as South Korea, where it is estimated
that half the population has embraced Christianity. Missionary
efforts are also stron g in other countries of Asia and in Africa. On
the other hand, many intellectuals in the West are adopting
Buddhism. Islam is also gaining converts. It is expected that with
the falling fertility rates of its women and increasing immigration,
Europe will be slowly assimilated into Islam.
India has become a big battleground for harvesting of souls. For
some evangelical groups conversion of India to Christianity is
essential before Christ returns to earth. The religious clash in
India is playing out most strongly in the tribal areas and amongst
the poor. Hindus are reacting by calling for a ban on money-induced
conversions and trotting out their Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi,
both of whom spoke strongly against changing religion.
Personally, I am for a complete separation between state and
religion, and also the freedom to choose one's religion and the
freedom to proselytize. But if religions must compete as in a
marketplace, the playing field should be more or less level. As
things stand, Hinduism is in this contest with its hands tied behind
Hindus claim that although theirs is an ancient tradition, it is
most suited to modernity, as it is not in conflict with science.
While it is true that Hinduism accepts all outer science, it also
claims to be the science of the inner self or consciousness.
Hinduism's explanation of consciousness in transcendental terms runs
counter to the main current of modernity, in which only machine-like
explanations are accepted as valid, and consciousness is viewed as
an emergent phenomenon that does not negate materialism. Hindu ideas
of reality are popular amongst the educated but they can hardly be
considered to be the mainstream.
Hinduism is very unfavorably placed because it has few institutions
to protect it, and those who claim to speak for it in the
universities are often non-Hindu and antagonistic to it. The Jews
have their yeshivas, the Christians their seminaries, and the
Muslims their madrasas; Hindus have no religious schools or
universities. Hindus in India don't even have control of the most
important of their shrines and temples, which are being administered
by the government. Many temple properties have simply been
expropriated by the government.
The governmental temple management is geared to facilitate the
visits of the pilgrims; there is no thought given to the spiritual
and social needs of the larger Hindu society. Other religions have
their clergy which ministers to the laity; the priests of these
temples serve the murtis, they have no resident acharyas.
As India embraced socialism around 1950, temple priests and
businessmen became part of the official demonology. The economic
reforms of the 1990s rehabilitated businessmen, but the t ainting of
Hinduism and its institutions has continued in the textbooks and the
media. The ordinary citizen in India is so influenced by this
negative stereotyping that the respect for the temple institutions
is very low. This has provided the opportunity to the government to
confiscate temple properties. The absence of a transparent donation-
collection system has helped the critics to tar the temples.
Popular Hinduism works as a sort of spiritual bank account. Doing
bad things are withdrawals; giving donations to temples and other
charity is a deposit. Modern temples are essentially centered on the
activities of the gods and not the community. For ministering,
individual swamis have filled in the vacuum. Hindus run to them with
gifts for counsel and for all sorts of blessings.
The typical Hindu intellectual is likely to say: Does it really
matter what happens in the temples? Isn't it true that temple going
is not essential to the Hindu way of life? If Hinduism has lasted a
long, long time facing all kinds of challenges in the past, won't
things sort themselves out this time around as well?
The challenges in the past were not as serious as the present
challenge. Hindu communities were essentially isolated. Prominent
temples may have been razed in the medieval times, but the common
man was generally left alone. Hindus living in Islamic states took
up the Persian language and fashions in their official lives, but
their women remained connected to the tradition, keeping it alive
generation after generation. The force of modernity, in the absence
of countervailing renewal of the tradition, is taking men and women
alike away from Hinduism. Now technology, the nature of the
workplace, and the media are leading to a disruption with the past.
Each tradition must be renewed with deliberation now for it to
survive, and if Hindui sm doesn't have the tools for this renewal
then it is in grave danger.
The thought that Hinduism is imperiled appears nonsensical at first
sight. After all over 80 percent of Indians are Hindus, and they are
a large number, more than 850 million. I am not suggesting that
Hinduism is going to disappear tomorrow or next year, but that if
the current trends are not reversed Hinduism might very well become
fatally enfeebled in the next hundred years. Such extinction has
occurred for dominant religions in the past. The Greek religion in
Greece, Roman religion in Rome, Zoroastrianism in Persia, and the
Tengri religion of Chingiz Khan disappeared fairly quickly. In
India, Buddhism disappeared in the medieval ages, and in Indonesia,
Hinduism disappeared almost equally rapidly about three or four
centuries ago, with its remaining Hindus fleeing to the island of
It is true that many Indians are devout; this is f or all to see at
festivals such as the Kumbha Melas and other festivals, but this
expression of religiosity can always carry over even when people
have traded one religion for another. Ordinary folk carry on with
their pilgrimages, with only a slight change in the symbols of
worship. In Mexico, Pakistan, and Persia, the earlier Aztec, Hindu-
Buddhist, and Zoroastrian shrines are the new centers of pilgrimage.
The forces of modernity and colonization, as explained in my earlier
essays, The Assault on Tradition and Colonizing Body and Mind, are
major challenges facing tradition. The tainting of Hinduism in the
media has led to a hollowing of the tradition, and the Indian
state's discriminatory policies are also weakening it.
The Hinduism of the Indian schoolbooks and the media is in terms of
the 19th century colonial theories about it. Hinduism is projected
in negative stereotypes, as an irrational belief system. O n the
other hand, Hinduism is also presented as radical universalism
according to which all religions are the same.
The individual who is not lucky enough to be connected to living
Hinduism through relatives or teacher (so as to know that
the 'official portrayals' of Hinduism are a caricature) is ground
out by the mill of these twin messages: Hinduism is negativity, and
all religions are the same. This leads to confusion and sloppy
thinking at best, and hate for Hinduism at worst. Although these
people remain socially a part of the Hindu community, this self-hate
is sensed by the children.
As in other religions, Hinduism consists of many different religious
communities, which have their own traditions of validating their way
and criticizing that of other communities. The caricature of
Hinduism that is being presented doesn't tell them that the temple
was not just ritual but also the centre of the cultural li fe as well
as a school and college. Temples not only had purohits but also
The empty talk of equality of all religions, when in one's own heart
one would like to believe that one's tradition is better in some
unique sense, also breeds hypocrisy. But the children take it
seriously, and often they come to the parents saying that if they
have joined another religious group they should not grieve because
of the equality of religions.
Lack of conviction
Hinduism has become a shadow. Most Hindus, if they have not
consciously done sadhana, cannot explain what Hinduism is. Many have
become hostile to not only the ritual but also the entire Indian
culture. Most significantly, the confusion caused by the mixed
messages about their history is responsible for lack of convictions.
In Assault of Tradition, I mentioned the incongruity of the
government of India, a self-declared secular state, running Hindu
temples. Many of my correspondents were unimpressed. This is what
one of America's most prominent Indian activists wrote:
Is this workable knowing full well that this might lead to endless
disputes, inter-caste and within castes, and with the well known
proclivity of Hindus to fight among themselves? You know this
happens even in the US. A dispute within the Board of a New York
City temple went to Court.
Another one, a leading academic in America and an orthodox
Hindu tradition and civilization are dysfunctional. It would not be
terrible to let it all go. It will not be the end of the world. For
a time, there might be chaos, later, a new era will begin and what
is best about the tradition will return automatically. With all this
talk about Hindu tradition, my desire is to let go of all of it all
at once. Destroy everything once, and let a new civilization
flourish in India.
A third, another leading academic, was very fatalistic. He said that
the world resides in the body of Ishvara and, therefore, if Ishvara
wished for Hinduism to disappear that was perfectly fine with him.
When I reminded him of Krishna's exhortation to fight for truth and
against injustice, he changed the subject.
Hindus are tired. They don't want any intellectual fights. They are
job seekers, content to devote their energy for the welfare of their
individual families. In India, political parties have exploited
Hindu grievances to capture power and then done precious little to
address these grievances.
A couple of generations ago, most Hindus knew something of the
philosophy, some Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, or other scriptures.
Now these texts are becoming less known. Most people are absorbed in
Bollywood movies, and their practice of the Hindu ceremonies amounts
principally to the enactment of the wedd ing scenes from the silver
Is the Indian State anti-Hindu?
The India state is controlling the temples in the name of 'justice',
just as totalitarian regimes and empires have used this slogan to
brainwash whole classes of people, to suppress freedom of action and
speech. Two provisions of the Indian Constitution, the
discriminatory Articles 26 and 30, have been used by the government
to appropriate Hindu temples and to prevent Hindus from running
their schools and colleges.
M. Venkataraman suggests that the Indian state is anti-Hindu in his
Times of India column 'Secularism or state oppression', published on
January 27, 2005:
Our Constitution treats all religions as equal. The powers given
under its Article 26 are only for positive intervention or for
intervention regarding financial and welfare aspects. The founding
fathers of the nation could not have visualized that the power
invest ed in the state to intervene in distress situations would
actually translate into a weapon used by the state for its arm-
The government has cleverly used this law to usurp power at many
Hindu religious shrines, be it Tirupati, Shirdi or Vaishno Devi.
The state laws pertaining to government intervention in temples,
even if emanating from Constitutional provisions, need to be debated
and reviewed by the apex court, keeping in view the ways and means
deployed by the state to throw out autonomous management and
The government claims to be acting for the interests of the Hindus,
but the truth is, it is actually acting out of self-interest and
against the interests of those it claims to be protecting.
These temples are being systematically looted by government
functionaries. Here is an illustrative example from the famous
Banashankari temple of Bangalore, being managed by the Karnataka
government, as reported in the Times of India (Wednesday, October 6,
BANGALORE: Lok Ayukta N. Venkatachala and his team found that the
temple had shrunk in the last several years. In Lok Ayukta's own
The 140 acres of temple land is no longer with the temple but had been
encroached upon or given away to various persons. Less than 20 acres
remain with the temple presently.
This means that the temple has lost approximately Rs 250 crore worth
of land at Rs 2 crore per acre. The Lok Ayukta, who had visited the
temple last year, had ordered that a compound wall be built to
prevent further encroachment. One good thing came of that visit.
Several people who had encroached upon two acres had been evicted;
the recovered land is worth about Rs 4 crore. Not just land, the
team found that valuables too vanished. The temple receives
expensive silk sarees, gold jewelry and other valuabl es from
devotees which are supposed to be auctioned. But no auction takes
place and valuables are disposed off for a fraction of their value.
The hollowness of Hindu intellectual response is clear from the fact
that when they do complain about discriminatory laws, their
complaint is to ask why Christians and Muslims are exempt from them.
By doing so, they have alienated other potential partners in this
struggle for liberation. Hindu leaders wish to extend their
servitude to other communities, not liberate everyone from it.
Rather than insisting that the state and religion be completely
separated, Hindu leaders have asked for subsidies to go for
pilgrimage to Lake Mansarovar in Tibet like the subsidies to the
Hajj pilgrims to Arabia.
Hindu intellectuals must find a way to appropriately respond to the
mechanical aspects of modernity, while embracing whatever is
liberating and good about it.
The indiv idual Hindu is in despair. He feels he has no one to turn
to. Lacking vision, Hindu parties in power did nothing, because they
didn't know where to begin. There is much tamas; no attempts to do
the careful analysis which will help define the new legal framework
for the collective ownership of the temples. Neither is there effort
to make Hinduism a vehicle for spirituality and wisdom for all in
these difficult times.
Critical Podium Dewanand Hinduism
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