Friday, November 21, 2014

True Hindu Greatness


Hindus make bold to be the inheritors of a great and exceptional civilization. And they are.

Indeed, a wider recognition of this ancestral greatness would solve a number of contemporary problems Hinduism faces. Separatism, the phenomenon that Hindu sects declare that they are non-Hindu and back-project that they never have been Hindus, is largely due to the bad reputation of Hinduism. Nobody wants to stay on a sinking ship (especially not the rats, the true nature of most defectors). Hinduism is slandered as “caste, wholly caste and nothing but caste”, and when at all it is admitted to be something else on top, it must be widow self-immolation, child marriage, dowry murders, nowadays the rapes that make headlines, and other human rights violations. Moreover, it is seen as superstitious, incoherent, flaky, and worst of all, weak. Hinduism has an intensely bad image, and that is why the Jains, Buddhists, Lingayats, Sikhs, Arya Samajis, Ramakrishna Mission and others insist that they are not Hindus, while another category of malcontents defect by converting to Christianity or Islam.

Yet, Hindu civilization has everything to make its scions proud. If this greatness were highlighted rather than its real and imagined shortcomings, the defecting sects would eagerly come back. Those Sikhs who militated for Khalistan only yesterday, will turn around and shout: “Sikhs are Hindus”, or rather: “We Sikhs are more Hindu than you!”

Consider for instance the Vedic seers. Mind you, historically, “Hindu” is every Indian Pagan, i.e. every non-Christian and non-Muslim Indian. This implies that it includes many more people and more traditions than the strictly Vedic lineage, to which a certain hostile discourse tries to narrow “Hinduism” down. But even this much-maligned Vedic lineage has given the world enough to make all Hindus proud.

First of all, we have their praiseworthy choice of what things not to do.  The Vedic seers did not invent fairy-tales about their tradition being eternal and God-given. Whereas the Quran and the Biblical Ten Commandments are in the form of God addressing man, the Vedic hymns are more truthfully in the form of men addressing the gods. I am aware that some Hindus try to understand the Vedas as a kind of Quran, eternal and revealed. They like to crawl under the heavy weight of scriptures ascribed to a divine author, showing the lack of self-understanding common in this age of degeneracy of Hinduism. Fortunately, the Vedic seers knew better: they walked upright and composed those scriptures themselves. The Vedas were not created by a superhuman source and then memorized by dumb and uncreative human beings; they were created by skilful and understanding human beings, the ancestors of contemporary Hindu civilization.

And then there are the things they did do. First of all, they created great poetry using elaborate metaphors, crafty verse forms and a unique system of memorization. Hindu society set apart a class whose job it was to memorize and pass on the tradition, genealogies and literature. Vedic recitations today are deemed, even by hostile Indologists, as undeniably a kind of tape-recording of the original recitation thousands of years ago. It is this class of reciters that nowadays comes in for the harshest criticism. All the separatist sects invariably flaunt an anti-Brahmin hate discourse. They thereby prove they don’t value the transmission of knowledge. In their rants that “the Brahmins monopolized knowledge”, they seem not to care about the “knowledge” part, nor do they busy themselves with acquiring or transmitting this knowledge.  To be sure, inertia and the psychological effect of being honoured by society caused some pride and smugness among the less meritorious members of the Brahmin class, a human phenomenon known in societies the world over. But the merits of this class, and especially of the society that set it apart, are unique.

Next, consider the insights captured in the literature they transmitted. Many great ideas that were to come in full bloom in later philosophies of India, East Asia, and more recently the West, already existed in germ in the Vedic hymns thousands of years ago. Thus, the correspondence between microcosmos and macrocosmos, between man and universe; the identity of man with the intelligence of the sun (so’ham); or the vibratory nature of reality (aum), still central also in Buddhism (om namo amituo fu, om mani padme hum) and in Sikhism (omkar), are already themes in Vedic poetry. Such elementary concepts as the division of the year in 12 and 360, and such profundities as the monistic unity underlying the plurality of gods, or the distinction between the ordinary self acting and the real Self merely observing, are all present in a single Vedic hymn – ideas to which entire schools of philosophy are mere commentaries. Later, the doctrine of the Self was explicitated by seers like Yajnavalkya, who is up there with Plato as an ideas man next to whom a whole philosophical tradition is but a series of footnotes. Even the Buddhist no-Self doctrine, which spread around Asia, can only be comprehended by presupposing the concept of the Self.

The seers’ pluralistic outlook is not equally exceptional, at least not when compared with Chinese or ancient Greek worldviews,-- but nowadays the majority of mankind is in thrall to two religions (the Religion of Love and the Religion of Peace) that believe in suppressing pluralism and claiming the sole truth for themselves. Against their narrow-minded exclusivism, the Hindu tradition offers the solution. Inside and outside the Vedas, almost everywhere in India, we find a religiosity that makes no truth claims about God. The devotional rituals practised in all temples, before sacred trees or in sacred groves, simply express awe for the sacred, the most fundamental and universal layer of all religions.

Secularists advocate superficiality and philosophical illiteracy, which is now having its effects on India’s population. A rediscovery of the real treasures of Hindu tradition will gladden the hearts of all those who can call themselves its inheritors. Say with pride: we are Hindus!

(published in Prabodhan, the book edited by Prof. Saradindu Mukherji and made public at the World Hindu Congress, Delhi, 21-23 November 2014)

(its introduction also contains this paragraph summarizing my views:)

The borders of "Hinduism"

 The Hindu territory has constantly been shrinking for more than a thousand years: Kabul, most of Southeast Asia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, de facto also Kashmir and parts of the Northeast, these have all been lost. But the conceptual domainof "Hindu" has also been shrinking. Originally, Muslim invaders introduced the term as meaning: all Indian Pagans (non-Abrahamics), whether Buddhists, Jains,tribals, low-castes, high-castes, and by implication also younger sects like Virashaivism, Sikhism, the Arya Samaj or the Ramakrishna Mission. The insistence by many castes that they are "not Hindus" stems from two circumstances: the very negative reputation of Hinduism, contrasting with its fair name in de 19th century; and the fogginess around the definition of "Hinduism", only aggravated in recent decades by a deliberate manipulation of the word's meaning. After sketching some details of this phenomenon, we proceed to show that a correct assessment of the basic texts and the history of Hinduism would largely remedy both the bad name of Hinduism and the shifting sands of the term's meaning. It may sometimes be diplomatically wise to speak of "Buddhists and Hindus" or "Hindus and Sikhs", but the scholarly fact to be clearly realized and kept in mind is that the sect founders Shakyamuni Buddha and Guru Nanak never meant to break away from Hinduism, anymore than Shankara did when he founded his Dashanami monastic order, Hindu par excellence.



American said...


This one is among of your "best 20" blogs.

It is a human tragedy that most Hindus know so little about the beauty and depth of Hinduism. They do not read or learn directly from their Upanishads, Puranas, Itihasas and Subhashitas, even though decent translations are available for some key texts in various Indian languages, German and English. Instead, they read so-called "experts" who distort, mock and push propaganda of their own or their sponsors.

Thus "caste" and "cultural problems" becomes 90% of Hindu-serving publications and discussion obsession, when the fact is that non-Hindus have had a stronger sense of "caste" [1], committed 1000 fold bigger genocide from "racism", beheaded more men and women, burnt more women at stake in their history, than Hindus ever did. Two wrongs do not make a right, of course. Yet, obsessing about what went wrong centuries ago, and overlooking the strengths and achievements, is a prescription for inferiority complex and dysfunctional personality. Relentless introspection combined with zero extrospection is a disease.

Hindus need to learn their history, not by reading the books written by non-Hindus, but by reading the books written by ancient Hindus. From virtues to vices to ethics to morals to freedom to ahimsa to "Know Your Self" to karma to dharma to kama to artha to moksha to sutras to suktis to music to math to trade to shilpas to innovation to epistemology - pagan Hindus have had an immensely rich foundation paralleling those of pagan Greeks. And Hindus can only discover this by self discovery, by exploring their heritage's immense literature with scholarship. Neither the writers of British colonial heritage nor the modern era non-Hindu writers can do that for them.

Yet, we must also not forget last 1000 years and the trauma Hindus have suffered for centuries. The genocide, cultural destruction and slavery of Hindus under Islamic colonialism had a lasting, cross generational effect. Then came the Christian saviors, who stopped the Islamic colonial abuse and its episodes of genocide, but replaced it with 'grow opium for our profit', segregation by skin color, racist supremacy, the continued cultural destruction of pagan Hindus, and the indentured version of slavery for another 200 years. Hindus are still emerging from the long shadow of those 1000 years.

Ultimately, the best hope for Hindus is economic prosperity wherever they are, and creation of surplus wealth/time - it is this that will, most likely, help them feel freedom, ignore the non-Hindus, directly re-discover the truth of their rich, deep and beautiful heritage of several millennium, then raise their head, and welcome the world to their ancestral ideas of ahimsa, peace and spirituality.

[note 1] sharia bans Muslim girls from marrying non-Muslims, mandates strict endogamy; sharia also is strict on ritual purity within and with non-Muslims.

Gururaj BN said...

Dr.Koenraad Elst, you are our Guru. You open our eyes to what is right with Hinduism.

Raman Sehgal said...

My respects, Sir.

Trailer of Dharma said...

Addressed the reasons for the "Image Problem" of Hinduism, namely "superstitious, incoherent, flaky, and worst of all, weak" on BRF

Sree Charan R said...

In this occasion, I think it would be good to remember that Vedas also contain mathematical and astronomical knowledge(No, this is not vedic mathematics!) as shown by Prof.Subash Kak, B.G.Siddhartha.
And also that much of the Purana is in a form of allegory, metaphor describing deeper truths(at least, as for as I know). As it is well known, India is the first country, historically speaking , to develop a systematic, highly philosophical logical system-different from other great civilizations,yet profound and practical.
I was watching Ramayana serial yesterday, only to understand how much of the wisdom is there in it;even the description of yoga goes back to Ramayan era( that means, is it 8000 years old?[1]).
It would be highly beneficial if learned and genuine scholars like Dr.Elst is writing about the kind of mistranslations(deliberate?) that various Smritis, Puranas received.
Thank you.Long live HINDU DHARMA!
[1]Historicity of Vedic and Ramayan: Scientific Evidences from the Depths of Oceans to the Heights of Skies-Ms. Saroj Bala

Anveshana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anveshana said...

Wanted to know, is there any verse in Vedas which asks people to compulsorily worship some x, y or z ? Yes; It praises Brahman, it praises Devas, it praises Om. But which are the lines which would say "everyone must do"? One line I can think of is, anushasanam part of Taithiriya Upanishad (Shikshavalli). "देव पितृ कार्याभ्याम् न प्रमदितव्यम् " (Prayer to Devas (which could be any Gods) and ancestors should not be a abandoned). Is that it?

In the instructions given to the student by a teacher, there is more emphasis on studying and teaching, personal conduct and treating others with respect, but not much about worshipping gods. I find this aspect different from other religious books of the world, which primarily focus on worshipping "the true God (whatever name) ".

Sumana Ghosh Roy said...

The Ramkrishna mission stated that "We are not Hindu" just to get a minority status so that the government did not interfere with the schools run by the mission. Swami Vivekananda would have been ashamed .

I am sure if special privileges given to minorities are removed, we will have many more who would say with pride "We are Hindus".

jay said...

why vedas are considered the oldest document on history ? isn't it puranas ? whereas vedas are oldest religious texts (as some christians use latin) aren't puranas oldest historical document?
shouldn't people take into account indian circumstances? remember in india knowledge was trasfered orally before being written down. vedas are the source of oldest religious knowledge(since they are to be recited in rituals they are kept in original form -like latin- though written down later ),whereas puranas are more of historical -& ofcourse large part mythological-they must have upgraded to existing language variant so that it can be understood by ordinary people of the time,not just priest.therefore puranas could be created in earlier language varient before being trasfered into later sanskrit or other language & eventually upto 16th century written down.

Arun said...

Shri Elst,

Why do the Hindutvavaadis produce few significant intellectuals? Why are they trying to find thermo-nuclear weapons in the Brahmastra? Why do they turn Itihaas into history, so that eventually we will value Rama if and only if He can be found in the archaeological record?

I would really appreciate your thoughts on this.

Karthikrajan said...

Wonderful article. I believe the true greatness lies in the fact that those who created theology for hindhuism took extreme care not to attack those who refused to agree with them, and to put truth above everything else. You yourself had mentioned earlier that hindhuism stands for truth, and it is this idea that caught the imagination of every indian. We find hindhuism ridden with plenty of stories extolling truth. The numero uno contribution coming from tamil hindhus in the form of the story of nakkeeran – a scholar poet in the pandya kingdom, who dares to take on the gods for the sake of truth. If sathyakaama jabaalaa decides to speak the truth in spite of embarrassment it can cause, nakkeeran goes one step ahead to quarrel with lord siva for trying to push thro a false theory that a women’s tress can have a natural fragrance more aromatic than the best jasmine flower. This has been immortalised in the tamil film ‘thiruvilaiyaadal’ where thespian sivaji ganesan plays the role of siva. I don’t know if other cultures have such similar stories where humans take on the gods for the sake of truth.
Sadly , the abrahamics blindly indulge in truth claims and plenty of abuse against those who disagree. Every muslim i encounter on social media indulge in misdirection by pointing out that quran has plenty of rosy verses. To them i only say this: “ What is important in a religion is not what it has said, but what it should not have said “. A single drop/particle of foreign material can spoil the broth. One can find dogmatic or abusive verses in hindhu scriptures, but one has to search for it with a microscope.