Lately, Contradictions in Popular Hinduism

by | 7 Comments | Tags: , , , , , , | on Jun26 2012

 

If Hinduism is to distinguish itself from other religions (or, more aptly, just religions) then it has to be critical of itself. Hinduism as it is popularly practiced and interpreted fails this. The reasons are many – its marriage to politics, its hot and cold relationship with social stratification systems, its pride and short-temperedness. These things, items in Hinduism’s proverbial suitcase, as George Clooney’s character from Up In the Air might put it, must be relieved, because their weight causes contradictions that diminish and obscure Hinduism’s more important qualities.

Let’s start with a tangible example, one of the lesser mentioned of pop Hinduism’s inconsistencies: the undecided opinion towards animals.  Many vegetarians who are Hindu avoid meat because of a professed respect for the animal, its life, its dignity, and its well-being. When the same individuals gather to discuss how to behave, however, exploring the dynamics of karma and the paths our souls take through different life forms, they agree that all measures must be taken to avoid being born as anything but human, the apex species, the alternative to which is brought about by sinful action. If all life is equal, and if we respect animals in service to that, then why do we cling so tightly to the human form? Bounding forth from this, what are the things we do and avoid doing in order to sustain our tenure as humans?

This leads us to the issue of God’s preferred vacation spots: Is he omnipresent and omnipotent and omniscient? On paper, yes. But we still build temples in our towns and puja (prayer) rooms in our homes and still take pilgrimages and still believe that the destinations of some of these pilgrimages are the physical abodes of certain dieties. We still give certain ideas more moral credit than others, citing allegiance with the Divine, even though this “Divine” has been identified as omniscient – occupying all thoughts (not your “thou shalt not” more than his 4th pillar or dharmashastra (Hindu law code), or any permutation thereof) with equal consistency.  It’s my estimation that the cause for these errors, as well as, more generally, Hinduism’s inclusion in the cohort of religions, is its acknowledgement of God. Hinduism doesn’t need God, point blank. Once there is a personified God, a gendered God (I’m going to call him “It” henceforth), there is also an emoting God, an excitable and irritable God. I’m not saying that God doesn’t care if you wear sandals with prints of Ganesh on them, or if you use Saraswati in burger advertisements, if you spit on an idol, or think lustfully or vengefully. I’m saying It isn’t even in the realm of caring. If omniscience / presence / potence is Its first quality, impersonality is Its second. Any of the above traditional breaches, as well as ones less specific to Hinduism, like murder, theft, etc. are no worse absolutely than are their righteous complements (like charity or chastity) good absolutely. To say so would be rather like saying “gravity prefers” or “heat insists”. There is no alternative to their effects, no will that needs to be applied in order to produce those effects, and thus, no opinion that would need to found or animate that will. It simply doesn’t – cannot – care whether you are here or there or near this or that thing or take this or that action. If you are still having trouble with this, observe the further contradiction of the whole universe of space and time being replete with It, but some places and things and ideas (the good ones) being more replete than others. Replete, of course, means full. Once you have a God that is a static set of governing physical principles but morally impartial and unflinchingly so, then you might as well call Him science.

A final exploration: in a conversation I had with a very kind and patient swamiji (spiritual master)from Chinmaya Mission (a religious foundation) , I asked him, essentially, how the universe works. He conveyed that existence simply is, and that there isn’t a moral or emotional valence than can be ascribed to it; i.e. nothing can be more replete with God than another. But why then, I asked, does the Mission do charity for the poor or hungry? If suffering can’t be bad, then deliverance from that suffering can’t be good. The same conflict persisted in my mind when he said that a woman anguishing through a crumbling marriage and perhaps even an abusive husband ought to be left alone to brave her circumstances with her dharma (divine mission)in mind, rather than inspire an intervention on our part. I might understand the sentiment, especially as it could relate to the emotional health of the children, or perhaps to the end of eventually healing the husband, but how is this situation different in kind from giving charity? Does the wife need deliverance any less than the hungry family? Does the father of the hungry family not have a dharma to make ends meet on his own, like the battered wife supposedly does?

I’m not against charity, and I’m not against rescuing battered women, or rainbows or sparkles. But if we’re going to do anything, let it not be for fear or for reverence to the oxymoronic formulation: a preferential God. We do good things because they make us happy and that’s all that we really need to justify ourselves — no contradictions. There are differences in what people find conducive to happiness. That’s fine, or more properly, affirmative of the evolutionary model. We fight for what we believe if we really believe it, and if enough other people believe as we do then we’ll have demonstrated natural selection, maybe the way democracy did a few times this century, and the way socialism might the next. Things that seem intuitively bad (like theft or unprovoked murder) are bad because they’ve been selected out of the population. Don’t forget that in 1776 even the smartest men on the planet found nothing wrong in slave ownership.

Hinduism, stripped of those value judgments, is the statement: If the universe’s complexity is infinite, then our place in it is infinitely small (however big they are, 1/∞ and 1,000,000/∞ both equal zero). This statement is left in George Clooney’s proverbial suitcase after everything else has been removed, because it cannot be disputed by science. Is proper Hinduism then equal to science? No. Hinduism is an attitude towards science. Science exists, and Hinduism is the acknowledgement of that existence. Where we go from there can be neither good nor bad, and should not, for the sake of Hinduism’s consistency, be viewed through the false alembic of a preferential Superpower.

Photo courtesy: williamcromar


About Anand Jayanti :
Anand Jayanti is a senior studying Plan II and premedical science. He is the editor of the Reflections section of Nazar. He enjoys creative work, such as playing and composing music, singing, writing short fiction and poetry, screenplaying, and directing. He maintains a happy, faithful relationship with running. For all of these pursuits he takes inspiration from his friends and family.
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7 comments

  1. Brhamaputtra says:

    Jul 11, 2012

    Reply

    “If all life is equal, and if we respect animals in service to that, then why do we cling so tightly to the human form? Bounding forth from this, what are the things we do and avoid doing in order to sustain our tenure as humans?”

    Message of Jesus is to the humanity, then why there are so many denominations? Why every one interpret Jesus differently in different denomination and be critical of other faith? Did Jesus ever said to put other person down? Stop being hypocritical and think rationally.

    No one cling to human life as you believe. Hindu believes same as Bible says, we are children of God,(Gita says– mamaiv Vaansho Jiv loke- We are part and parcel of God and that applies even to animals and plants).

    Let’s think what is the difference between human and animals?

    food, sleep, reproduction and fear all four things are common in both. Then why we all consider we human are children of God not the animals? One thing unique about human being is intellect and desire. Each animals has intellect up to certain extent and instinct drives that intellect. Animals do not have desires except for their basic necessity. That is why no matter which animals you take, their life style did not change.

    Where as, Human they are driven by desires,never satisfied, always craving for better life. This desire is the serpent of Genesis of Bible, which deviate us by luring thru different temptation. This is the first problem all religions is trying to address by saying that think what you should do being a human being. Vedas, Upanishads and Gita and other Indian culture answers very clearly.

    One needs to read and understand and put these scriptures into practice for their life rather than judging the rituals. Rituals are blind leading blind and that happens in all religions.

  2. Brhamaputtra says:

    Jul 11, 2012

    Reply

    “This leads us to the issue of God’s preferred vacation spots: Is he omnipresent and omnipotent and omniscient? On paper, yes. But we still build temples in our towns and puja (prayer) rooms in our homes and still take pilgrimages and still believe that the destinations of some of these pilgrimages are the physical abodes of certain dieties”

    Why does one need to eat different foods every day? Why can one survive just by eating grass? We can not, because of our mind which is full of temptations. Mind is like a monkey and it can not be fixed even for a split of a second. That is why, no matter which religion you take it, each one has developed different rituals to turn the mind towards the God.

    Coal can not change it black color no matter how much soap is used. It has to put back to where it is produced from and that is fire. Just as the color of mind can not be changed until it is diverted back to God because, God gave us the mind which is full of desires. The desires or outlook need to be turned toward the God and that is why temples, church, puja in the house and so on. They are just like learning the alphabets in elementary school. Alas, no matter how intelligent or learned we are, still at the basic level when it comes to our self, we do not want to sublimate our self or we just analyzing or criticizing or polarizing our self.

    The word “religion”, as Swami Vivekaanand said suppose to bring men closer to each other, but instead of that makes two brothers, born of same mother, enemy. This is the pity of any religion.

    All rituals are instruments of Upasana. Upasana is an attempt to believe which does not exist. It is like a hypothesis which ultimately lead to a theory and that is “bhakti” Bhakti is an attitude rather than action, where one is constantly attached to the God. Devotion means undeterred faith and that faith is bhakti which needs to be developed by using various instruments of rituals. One need to learn how to use these rituals without mechanization in order to make mind more powerful, progressive and dynamic.

  3. brahmputtra says:

    Jul 11, 2012

    Reply

    Last but least, seeds planted and nurtured in good soil can germinate in thousands fold.

    Thoughts are like seeds and needs to nurture instead of analyzing for the betterment of self and society.

    • Author says:

      Jul 11, 2012

      Reply

      I think you’re missing the point of what I said. It wasn’t to distinguish Hinduism as a bad religion relative to other religions. It was to distinguish Hinduism from religions as a whole, since its insights escape encapsulation into rules and certainties. In the process I’m promoting Hinduism to a place that is less susceptible to logical fallacies and more accessible to science, philosophy, and honest moral inquiry.

      • Author says:

        Jul 12, 2012

        Reply

        Accessibility to science, philosophy, and honest moral inquiry can’t be claimed by religion.

      • brahmputtra says:

        Jul 12, 2012

        Reply

        I have noticed that you were trying to raise thinking bar. Same thing could be told in more positive tone. We all got in to ritualistic aspects of the religion, life.

        But, on the contrary, our Vedic Dharma (as Hinduism is a pseudo name given to us by Britishers) has efficeintly integrated three aspects– Way of living, Way of thinking and Way of Worship for developing our sanskirti. It will be good if all of us could affirmatively rejuvenate this philosophy

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