Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hijacking the Hindu Identity


I have seen more intense debate on the definition of a Hindu’s identity over the last few months than at any other time. To say the least, I feel disappointed the way most of the discourse is forming.

Mostly I find that the basic attitude in such debates is very exclusive while people keep referring to the inclusive nature of Hinduism in the same breath. Here is what I think on some of those issues.

What I think is Hinduism?

Its just a misnomer for Sanatan Dharm. The word Hindu in no way represents the learning/teaching of Sanatan Dharm, the actual spiritual quest of the people of this land of Hind. However, the name given by the Arabs, according to most traditions, stuck on. Everything that belonged to the land of Hind became Hindu, most of all, the spiritual quest.

But the word Hindu has become a brand name for the Sanatan Dharmis and, therefore, has become part of our daily usage.

Sanatan Dharm on the other hand is really the true representative of the objective of our spiritual quest. Sanatan Dharm, meaning, Eternal Law (of Nature) is what we try to understand and that is what we try to follow and live by.

Sanatan Dharm – Theory and Practice

A superficial look at the practice will give us an impression that both co-exist(ed). That, however, may not be true. We need to understand the fact that the Theory in Spirituality exists for the purpose of teaching/passing instructions. The instructions are passed on from the learned to the learner.

The learned passes on only those instructions to the learner that have been proven true in their own personal experience or in the experience of the Truly awakened one.

The Truly Awakened Ones first attain this learning from practice, through error and correction. These learning were most probably put in the form of Suktas or Shlokas and passed on verbally, which was later typified into a Script.

This knowledge over a period of time turned into organized books like Vedas.

But the nature of Spiritual Awakening is such that the wisdom and the method to attain the wisdom, while remains stated in the books, just reading them doesn’t make you Awakened. It only makes us knowledgeable. Spiritual Awakening comes from the practice of the method which in a Sanatan Dharmi universe is primarily though meditation.

Even Srimad Bhaagwat Purana attests to this teaching. The entire reason for formation of Bhaagwat Purana seems to be, in fact, just that. Bhakti without Gyan and Vairagya is considered incomplete. Gyan in this context is not the Shrut Gyan (Wisdom that comes from listening to someone or reading a book), nor is it Chintan Gyan (Wisdom from Contemplation) it is Bhavanamayi Gyan (Wisdom through personal experience). It is only the wisdom gained through personal experiences that affects our subconscious mind enough to make it change its habits and accept Vairagya (Detachment or Veet Raagta).

This is clearly evident as the essence of spiritual learning has been available to all Sanatan Dharmis. Everybody knows the Geeta ka Saar “Parivartan hi sansaar ka niyam hai” (Constant change is the law of this universe). People also know from the same Bhagwat Geeta that Atma (Soul/Self/Consciousness) is indestructible and it is different from the mind/body it occupies. However, knowing this alone has not changed the level of man’s awakening. Has it? Wouldn’t even Dawood Ibrahim or Sonia Gandhi know this? Wouldn’t A Raja or Sheila Dikshit know this? Why aren’t they detached? Why do they commit crimes and corruption?

This is because merely hearing or reading it or after that contemplating over it doesn’t change the habits of subconscious mind. This knowledge remains at the level of intellect but doesn’t penetrate any further.

Meditation, on the other hand, helps you experience the law of constant change within us. It also helps us understand the selflessness of this body/mind. And after having experienced it within self, it makes us learn the art of staying aware of the state of our subconscious mind for longer periods, thereby, ensuring that the subconscious mind changes from deep attachment to material things to a detached state which takes one towards liberation.

But Meditation is no more the preferred method for our spiritual quest. The path, today, starts and stops at Bhakti and then people prefer to reason it out by quoting the texts that have given credence to the six different schools of Sanatan Dharm. They are happy to quote that Liberation can supposedly come from any of these six routes, without actually realizing what that means. They refuse to actually read the very texts they like to quote or swear by.

Anyway, at least this is what I have personally come to understand about the Spiritual Quest.

But I have heard strange statements from people.

Hindu Vs. Hindu

This is usually the first school. “I know more than you” that’s the attitude. The typical question we might face here is “have you read the Vedas?” “have you read Upanishads?” “have you read smritis and Puranas?”.

And god forbid, if your answer is No, then all hell will break lose. You might even lose your religion. The least of the damage will be that you know nothing, and therefore your “spiritual hierarchy” will change. Obviously that change will only take you down the ladder.

In case our answer is Yes, then there will be a great debate and discussion that will follow. It will start with pleasantry, agreement and appreciation, then slowly it will turn ugly and then the divisions will set in. “You belong to different school, I belong to different school. In Hinduism, have an inclusive approach, all thoughts have a space. You are also right, I am also right.”

And I wonder if the primary idea was the last few words, “…I am also right.” Because the mind says, “I am always right.” But the stalemate has to be broken, at least in perception. If we argue in the same group, a monkey will win in the fight between the two cats. So the best option is, divide the learning into schools and call it an “inclusive” approach.

What is worse? Both may actually be unaware of anything they have quoted to each other from these great sanatan dharmi texts. What they actually know is what is written in those texts. Actually, they only believe what they have read, under the broader header of “faith”. They are believers in the unknown. They have never experienced what those great saints have left behind for us in those great texts.

In fact, for some, the knowing part is a Big-Ban theory. They’ll almost tell you, such experiences do not happen to common man. End of the Chapter, book closed.

The other category is even fiercer; you cannot question what they believe in. You try asking a question to make sense of the typical cryptic Sukta, and pat you’ll get a reply, “you should not question the issues related to faith.”

Well, obviously, when they do not know it, and in majority cases do not know that they do not know it, we must expect such reactions.

But for this group of good hearted, well-intentioned, pious minded voracious readers, if a fellow Hindu hasn’t read the books, he is not much of a Hindu yet.

I am sorry to say, but this “I know what’s in the text” attitude is very Brahmanical. Faster we get rid of this attitude, the better it will be for the whole society.

And of course there is also a set of this never read, never practice group of Hindus too. But they are a different matter altogether.

Hindus Vs. Buddhists/Jains/Sikhs

All three were essentially reformed schools of Hinduism formed at different periods or simultaneously against generally the same misguided culture of rites and rituals. But essentially, all three have a quest for the Sanatan Dharm.

But in discussions other than political, these are non-Hindu groups, so to speak. But the moment there is a question of showing solidarity, we would proclaim, we are all Hindus.

Get into a discussion on teachings of Buddha, Mahavira or Guru Nanak and immediately the lines of division start showing up. The traditional Hindu Brigade will tell you how Buddha had converted “Hindus” to “Buddhism” while he was around. This when neither “Hinduism” nor “Buddhism” existed 2500years back. It was Sanatan Dharm and that’s that. Different teachers taught higher forms of meditation, in addition to householders indulging in Rites and Rituals.

And almost as if there was some battles that raged on for 1200 years, they will rejoice in the stories of how Adi Shankaracharya “defeated” Buddhists. Oh! What joy…what a defining moment…the moment of Ultimate Truth. Almost as if these friends have attained Nirvan now.

Now, in this moment of Niravnic bliss, disturb our friends with a question, “Wasn’t Gautam Buddha declared to be the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu? Why do we treats Baudha as non-Hindus then?”

Their response will be “Huh! Who’s saying we are different? Oh! Brother, what we mean is that Buddha taught the same things and in Hinduism we have different schools and Buddha’s teaching fall in the Sankhya category. It’s just that Adi Shankaracharya defeated some Buddhists in a debate.”

Good Lord! You were just rejoicing the great victory of an even greater Adi Shankaracharya and now you are giving me another answer?

Go ahead and ask similar questions about Jains and Sikhs and that there too there is no importance given to Rites and Rituals and that focus was only on finding the ultimate truth, the eternal law of nature and you’ll find the whole routine repeated.

Here again some sort of a Brahmanical thought prevailing. These teachers cannot have their own schools. They have to be categorized within existing schools. In the mind they are a different people because they probably do not chant the same mantras or refer to same deities or do not follow rites and rituals but when reminded of “inclusiveness” we become one peoples again.

It is truly sad that Hindu Identity is being Hijacked like this. May the awakening grow.