The riddle of Hinduism – Michel Danino

Hindu & Hinduism

Prof Michel DaninoHinduism is not merely Pagan, not merely “polytheistic”, and not monotheistic either, despite its insistence on tad ekam (“that One”) or tat satyam (“that Truth”), a single all-pervasive divinity which later became the Brahman and has nothing in common with the biblical god. – Prof Michel Danino

Previous articles in this series focused on India’s sacred geography, sacred ecology and the rich interactions between “tribal” and “mainstream” cultures. Why bother about all that when so little of it is apparently relevant to our “official” definition of today’s India? The “apparently” can be disputed: the country’s many sacred geographical landmarks, for instance, remain of great cultural importance to a large proportion of Indians, though they may not have the privilege of belonging to our urbanised, Anglicised and secularised elites. But there is a compelling reason to revisit those traditions: They help us to define Hinduism. Again, why bother to do so? Because, whether we like it or not, Hinduism has been a major historical component in the making of India, and its definition remains at the centre of some of today’s hottest controversies.

Bal Gangadhar TilakDefining Hinduism has been an exercise perhaps as unsuccessful as the ancients’ attempt to square the circle. It is reasonably easy to define Judaism, Christianity or Islam: An article of faith in their single book, founder or prophet will do. There is no single book in Hinduism, no founder, no prophet; it has no set of well-defined tenets either. What would then be its anchorage points and boundaries? The nationalist leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak once attempted a definition: “Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and the realisation of the truth that the number of Gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of Hindu religion.” When, in 1995, the Supreme Court rejected the Ramakrishna Mission’s plea to recognise “Sri Ramakrishna-ism” as a religion distinct from Hinduism, it found Tilak’s definition an “adequate and satisfactory formula” and broadened it thus (I abridge): (1) Acceptance of the Vedas as the highest authority; (2) Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand the opponent’s viewpoint, as the truth is many-sided; (3) Acceptance of the great world rhythm of creation, maintenance and dissolution in endless succession; (4) Belief in rebirth and pre-existence; (5) Recognition that the ways to salvation are many; (6) Worship of many gods, but not necessarily in the form of idols; (7) No single definite set of philosophic concepts. Although this definition reads more like a loose compilation, it may satisfy most practising Hindus, provided “Vedas” is taken in an extended sense to include the Upanishads and a few more texts.

The Supreme Court’s definition omitted one feature: A stubborn attempt to sacralise every aspect of life, the environment and indeed the universe. This is closely related to Hinduism’s well-known assimilative and syncretic behaviour, but it is not unique to Hinduism: It is shared with Pagan religions (those of Native Americans, for instance) and stands in stark contrast to our imported, feckless and disembodied concept of secularism. However, Hinduism is not merely Pagan, not merely “polytheistic”, and not monotheistic either, despite its insistence on tad ekam (“that One”) or tat satyam (“that Truth”), a single all-pervasive divinity which later became the Brahman and has nothing in common with the biblical god.

The above is a theological definition. Curiously, there is no legal definition of Hinduism; the Hindu Marriage Act defines a Hindu as anyone born of Hindu parents or converted to Hinduism, which is no definition at all (especially when there is no procedure for “conversion”). The Constitution does not help, providing only an “explanation” (to article 25(2)(b)) that an earlier reference to “Hindus” will extend to “persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion”.

Historical definitions prove tricky: Interpretations fluidly range from locating the roots of Hinduism in the Indus civilisation or in the Gupta Age to arguing that Hinduism did not exist until it was “constructed” or “imagined” by nineteenth-century European Orientalists and Christian missionaries—a view elaborated by several postmodern Western scholars and their Indian followers, who speak of the “myth” or “invention” of Hinduism. But while the European impact on Hinduism’s self-definition is undeniable, it cannot erase a millennia-long historical evolution and the centrality of texts like the Upanishads, the Gita, the two Epics or the Puranas, all of which occupied the public mind some 1,500 years ago.

This leads us to an anthropological definition: Starting from its Vedic roots and growing endless ramifications, an organic Hinduism accepts no Lakshman Rekha as its outer boundary. From that perspective, it may be defined as the result of the meeting ground between central Vedic and Puranic concepts and texts on the one hand, and folk and tribal worldviews and cults on the other. Some of our scholars, activists and politicians will take objection at this point, pursuing the colonial dogma that tribal religions have nothing to do with Hinduism (see “Mainstream and Marginal in Ancient India”), which they usually define as an elitist “Brahminical” religion, at least in its origins. But caste is almost completely absent from the Vedas; the Upanishads extol seekers like Satyakama Jabala, of unknown father and whose mother was a servant; the two Epics pointedly stress Vyasa’s and Valmiki’s non-Brahmin origins and tell stories of proud Brahmins being humbled and taught by outcastes. More importantly, scholars have shown how folk elements have been absorbed right from the Vedas onward: Its core is partly Brahminical and partly not, while its peripheries are delightfully blurred.

While we carry colonial legacies of imagined adivasis with “non-Hindu” cultures, we will do well to remember that Hinduism is a continuum in time, in space and in belief systems. Once again, categories emerging from post-Pagan Western religions and societies do not apply, yet remain the dominant criteria in the academic world and in our public debates. – The New Indian Express, 8 March 2017

» Prof Danino teaches at IIT Gandhinagar and is a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research. Email: micheldanino@gmail.com

Water and drop of water are a symbolic of Atma and Paramatma in Hinduism

Advertisements

Mainstream and marginal tribes in ancient India – Michel Danino

Gond Women Madhya Pradesh
Prof Michel DaninoWas there … a “mainstream vs. marginal” duality in ancient India? The caste system … built its own categories, but tribals were not regarded as sharply separate from “mainstream” society. Interestingly, there is no word for “tribe” in Sanskrit or, so far as I know, in any Indian language; there are terms equivalent to “forest dwellers” or “mountain dwellers”, but not “tribe”. – Prof Michel Danino

The previous article (“India’s Own Sacred Ecology”) in this series made a passing mention of Bishnois, Bhils, Warlis, Santhals or Todas, in whom the reader will have recognized some of India’s better-known tribes. This land has the privilege—it is one, although few Indians realize that—of having hundreds of tribal communities, most of them struggling with modernity and “civilization” in a losing battle to preserve a semblance of their identity.

But what is a tribe? It used to be defined as a group of families or clans sharing a tradition of common descent, a culture and a language, living as a close-knit community under a chief and holding no private property. In the 20th century, however, anthropologists increasingly preferred the more neutral and elastic term of “ethnic group”. Indeed, “tribe” is tainted by 19th-century racist ethnology, which generally described those groups as primitive, barbarous and belonging to inferior races—a stereotype that has proved tenacious, especially when coupled with “animism”, a derogatory term that does little justice to tribal religions. In any case, the notion remains that such groups are marginal to mainstream society, whatever “mainstream” may mean.

Was there such a “mainstream vs. marginal” duality in ancient India? The caste system, of course, built its own categories, but tribals were not regarded as sharply separate from “mainstream” society. Interestingly, there is no word for “tribe” in Sanskrit or, so far as I know, in any Indian language; there are terms equivalent to “forest dwellers” or “mountain dwellers”, but not “tribe”. “Adivasi” was coined early in the twentieth century in the context of race-obsessed colonial ethnology which labelled every Indian community either as “Aryan” or “non-Aryan”—but India had no concept of “original inhabitant”, and as the sociologist G. S. Ghurye put it long ago, “It is utterly unscientific to regard some tribe or the other as the original owner of the soil.” I mentioned in “Decoding the Idea of India” how the Mahabharata lists 363 communities (janas or jatis) across the map, defined in geographical, political or ecological terms; some of them remain recognizable as “tribes”, such as “Mundas, Savaras, Kokuratas or Korkus, Karushas or Kurukhs, Kollagirs or Kolis, and Nishadas or Bhils,” according to the anthropologist K. S. Singh, who pointed out that the Epic does not seem to distinguish between caste and “tribe”, except that some of the janas happen to live in the mountains or forests: “There is hardly any evidence to show that in the collective consciousness of India there is any difference between the two sets of janas.”

The list of janas rises to nearly 700 if we include all ancient literature. In his Arthashastra (8.4.43), Kautilya states, “Forest tribes live in their own territory, are numerous, brave, fight in daylight and, with their ability to seize and ruin countries, behave like kings.” The word for “tribe” here is atavika, that is, “forest dweller”. Kautilya’s fear of their conquering impulse reflects a historical fact: many tribes took to warfare, expanded their territories and became as many Kshatriya clans. H. H. Risley, who conducted the 1901 Census of India, noted a decade earlier how some tribal groups moved straight towards Brahminhood by claiming descent from a legendary king or rishi, imitating Brahmin rituals and even adopting the gotra system. That illustrates the well-known upward social migration which the sociologist M. N. Srinivas called “Sanskritization” (not an ideal term, as the process has little to do with Sanskrit). In fact, recent genetic studies have failed to find radical differences between today’s scheduled tribes and caste groups, and some geneticists now speak of a “caste-tribe continuum”.

India’s tribal communities adopted the Mahabharata and Ramayana with gusto, often relocating the events in their territories, the better to own them. They welcomed Hindu gods and goddesses into their pantheons, sometimes fusing them with their own. This has led to some intriguing situations, such as tribal communities of western India worshipping the Vedic god Indra (under the name of “Babo Ind”), long after he had faded from “mainstream” Hinduism. Interaction is never a one-way affair: the same Hinduism imported Jagannath, Ayyappa, Narasimha, aspects of the Shakti, possibly too Ganesha and Venkateshwara; fusion and assimilation were the rule with varying degrees. The sociologist André Béteille summed up the process thus: “The thousands of castes and tribes on the Indian subcontinent have influenced each other in their religious beliefs and practices since the beginning of history and before. That the tribal religions have been influenced by Hinduism is widely accepted, but it is equally true that Hinduism, not only in its formative phase but throughout its evolution, has been influenced by tribal religions.” There are of course exceptions, mostly because of geographical isolation. The Todas of the Nilgiris are one such; but even if their god-inhabited geography and eco-sacred rituals are distinct, they remain in tune with “Pagan” Hinduism.

Mainstream India’s perception of her tribes remains blinkered by the colonial approach, on which the missionary agenda rode piggyback, seeking to “detach the considerable masses of non-Aryans from the general body of Hindus,” as Risley approvingly put it. Or a few years before him, Richard Temple, a high officer of the colonial administration: “Hinduism, although it is dying, yet has force … and tribes, if not converted to Christianity, may be perverted to Hinduism. If they are attached, as they rapidly may be, to Christianity, they will form a nucleus round which British power and influence may gather.” A glamorous politico-religious agenda that was diligently carried out, partly by demonizing Hinduism’s organic, syncretic and assimilative—but “pervert”—nature and processes. Those very processes will enable us to attempt an empirical definition of Hinduism. – The New Indian Express, 3 January 2017

» Prof Michel Danino teaches at IIT Gandhinagar and is a member of ICHR. Email : micheldanino@gmail.com.

Koya tribe drummers of Odisha

Hindu Temples: Demand for ritual change misplaced – Unnikrishna Panicker

Hindu Temple

Unnikrishna Panicker“The demand for change in some practices, like the ban on women’s entry in Sabarimala, is politically motivated. Can practices rooted in Sanatana Dharma be altered? At a time when a few demand a ‘timely change’ in rituals and the very philosophy of Hinduism, this question is of prime importance.” – Parappanangadi Unnikrishna Panicker

Most of the Hindu practices have changed with time. We have corrected many wrong practices of the past century. Those, who were not allowed to enter temples once, enter and worship now. Bloody and gory rituals once widely practised have ceased in the last century. It must be this history that inspires a few to demand more changes, which is not a bad idea in itself. Some current practices indeed go against tradition and rituals. For example, using elephants for processions is not what the rituals demand.

But the demand for change in some practices, like the ban on women’s entry in Sabarimala, is politically motivated. Can practices rooted in Sanatana Dharma be altered? At a time when a few demand a “timely change” in rituals and the very philosophy of Hinduism, this question is of prime importance. The temple culture practised in Kerala today is not very old. Historians say they are not older than 10th century CE. In other words, Sanatana Dharma and a proper Hindu form of temple worship started gaining popularity in Kerala after Judaism and Christianity reached here. This, however, does not mean that the rituals themselves originated in that period. The scriptures that Kerala temples follow when it comes to rituals Kodungallur Bhagavathy Deviand rules originated in Kerala and quote some of the ancient Hindu texts. They have taken into consideration regional beliefs and practices and tried to accommodate them while prescribing rituals. The rituals are not as inflexible as they are made out to be.

It was the great Kalidasa who wrote that all that is old need not be good, and all that is new need not be bad. Only a moodah (fool) will follow what others say without thinking about it. Unfortunately, when it comes to rituals, we follow what others say without putting any thought into it. In the case of Hindu rituals, what makes a practice customary is not its age but whether it is in line with the method of worship and rituals mentioned in authoritative texts.

Many customs in Kerala temples have no scriptural authority. For example, there is no textual basis for the ban on women’s entry into Sabarimala. Though texts like Tantrasamuchaya discuss what makes a temple impure in detail, the fact is there is no clear rule that bans women’s entry. But it will not be wise to conclude that such practices should be stopped because there is no textual rule. Another example is the use of elephants in temples. There is no textual rule that supports this cruel practice. One of the most authoritative texts on elephants, Matangaleela, says elephants won’t be comfortable if they are taken away from their natural habitat. Yet, we keep using elephants.

Not all rituals have a textual basis. In fact, some rituals go against the text too. To make rituals and customs similar across the temples would be to go against the very essence of Hinduism, as such an attempt would undermine the multicultural practices that exist in the Hindu compendium. Some historians argue that the Shiva and Vishnu temples of Kerala were once abodes of Devi. Legendary stories about the origin of most Devi temples in Kerala have many similarities.

Something common for most of these temples existed, even before Sanatana Dharma and Hindu practices became common in Kerala. Something that is as old as the language connects these temples. Even though temple culture did not exist in those times, there would have been a similarity in religious practices and beliefs. Most rituals and customs can be directly or indirectly linked to this ancient belief system that existed here, before Shaiva/Vaishnava/Devi belief systems and a structured kshethraachaara became prevalent in South India. It is not possible to find a basis to these practices in texts and scriptures, or to bring uniformity in existing practices.

If the practices that exist today cannot be made uniform, and if scriptural authority is not the criteria to decide whether a practice is ritualistic or not, on what basis should we try to redesign them? We need to redesign the practices. This, however, does not mean we can be judgmental. Most of the rituals, even Kerala Temple Elephantsthose that are seemingly outdated, started at a different time, under a different value system. We cannot judge them using today’s value system.

A research on Kerala temples, published seven decades ago, writes about the “indecent practices” of animal sacrifice and bawdy language. Both these practices do exist today. The difference is that we have become more mature and know the historical reasons behind these practices. There was a time when elephants were ritually killed, as a sacrifice, in Kerala. We have stopped such practices. If stopping such practices is not seen as a compromise on rituals, we can surely stop using elephants in temples altogether; that will not be a compromise on rituals either.

The case of ban on women’s entry in certain temples is different. We saw that the Hindu temple culture accommodated regional beliefs while structuring temple worship. The practice of ban on women’s entry, I believe, is a remnant of those regional beliefs. So, the argument that a ban on women’s entry goes against the broadness and openness of Hinduism is misplaced. We need to think about the criteria by which the rituals are redesigned. It is difficult to answer what these criteria should be. But answering a few related questions would help us get there.

Who needs a change in rituals? Whose demand is it? If it is the demand of practising Hindus and priests, there is a further question. Why do we need a change? It should not be politically motivated. One of the fundamental characteristics of Hinduism is its openness. We should not downgrade that by bringing rituals, traditions and practices into a common framework. – The New Indian Express, 19 May 2016

» Unnikrishna Panicker of Parappanangadi in Kerala is said to be Jayalalithaa’s most trusted astrologer.

Pilgrims at Sabarimala

Rajiv Malhotra heckled by US academics at Columbia University lecture (with video) – The Chakra

Prof Tyler Williams

Rajiv MalhotraDuring the lecture, Rajiv Malhotra was constantly heckled by a small group of adults in the audience and even faced a verbal attack by a professor who asked to be anonymous. This professor … was later identified by online viewers as Professor Tyler Williams from the University of Chicago. – The Chakra

Indologist and renowned US-based author Rajiv Malhotra was recently invited to give a guest lecture at Columbia University in New York on the topic  of “Hinduism in Academia”. In light of his forthcoming new book, titled, Academic Hinduism, this was a key topic for him and one that has acquired a growing interest among many intellectuals lately. There is currently a significant gap of scholarly papers and studies on Hinduism and Hinduphobia in western academia, especially vs. studies on other faiths.

During the lecture, Rajiv Malhotra was constantly heckled by a small group of adults in the audience and even faced a verbal attack by a professor who asked to be anonymous. This professor constantly tried to change the topic of the lecture by asking irrelevant questions—criticized as bigoted and Hinduphobic—towards the speaker and was later identified by online viewers as Professor Tyler Williams from the University of Chicago.

Tyler Williams at JNUAfter a look at Tyler Williams’ Twitter feed, we came across many tweets with an anti-Hindu tone. Archived issues of the Times of India also state Tyler Walker Williams (a JNU grad) as being the first American student to be elected as the VP of AISA—the ultra-left student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation. AISA and the Communist Party of India are often criticized for their strong public anti-Hinduism stance and have called for the banning of the celebration of many Hindu festivals at various Indian universities. The irony is that the lecture by Rajiv Malhotra included Hinduphobia in academia and the need for a fair non-biased debate with inclusion of all perspectives.

After the video of the lecture was seen trending, many viewers were alarmed of how hateful and Hinduphobic some professors are in American universities are, and continued to write comments suggesting the University of Chicago should call for Professor Tyler Williams to resign.

One comment even read, “If this prof has so much hate & bigotry against 1 billion Hindus, then what does he teach his Hindu-American students, I mean 2nd class backwards sub-human Hindu-American students.

Some interesting tidbits of information that can be seen in the video are:

  • Hinduphobia 101: What it is, the history of how the term was coined and why it matters a great deal today.
  • A live example of a Hinduphobic scholar, how they are driven by agendas and not by an open-minded spirit of inquiry.
  • Live example of how Indian students are being brain-washed into sepoys that undermine fair discussions on ancient and current Indian civilization with a public agenda being to exploit India’s internal fault lines.

The entire lecture on “Hinduism in Academia” by Rajiv Malhotra at Columbia University can be viewed in this video below. If you are short on time to watch the entire video, we recommend you watch from 30m onwards. – The Chakra, 28 April 2016

 

Ambedkar erred, Buddha was Hindu – Sandhya Jain

Sandhya Jain is the editor of Vijayvaani.“Shakya Muni was clearly a Vedic Hindu; Buddhist tradition asserts that following his enlightenment, he preached his wisdom to mankind only at the urging of the Vedic Gods, Indra and Brahma. … Nor did Buddha reject the caste system per se; as an enlightened being, a person of prestige, he called himself a ‘Brahmin’. Most of his followers were upper caste and all later Buddhist thinkers were Brahmins. The future Buddha, Maitreya, is predicted to be a Brahmin, according to Buddhist tradition.” – Sandhya Jain

B. R. Ambedkar“Though, I was born a Hindu, I solemnly assure you that I will not die as a Hindu.” So said Dr B. R. Ambedkar, independent India’s first Law Minister, who is credited with reviving Buddhism centuries after its decimation by iconoclasts. As Ambedkar renounced his Hindu roots in despair over repeated indignities heaped upon him, and led his followers into the Buddhist fold, he inadvertently cemented an erroneous belief that Buddhism was a separate faith that arose out of a revolt from Hindu dharma. This West-sponsored view has since found many adherents.

So entrenched is this belief that even the recognition of Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu is often dismissed as a fraudulent manoeuvre to soften criticism of the Hindu creed. The truth is that it was Buddha who proclaimed this lineage. In the Dasaratha Jataka, he narrates the story of Rama and says: “At that time the king Suddhodana (Buddha’s father) was the king Dasaratha, Mahamayi (Buddha’s mother) was the mother, Rahula’s (Buddha’s son) mother was Sita, Ananda was Bharat, and I myself was Rama-pandita”.

This was well-known to Buddhists. A third century AD Prakrit inscription of the 14th regal year of king Virapurushardatta of the Ikshvaku house of Vijayapuri in Nagarjunakonda valley, hails Buddha as “born in the family that produced hundreds of great royal sages such as Ikshvaku” (Iksvaku-raja-pravararsi-sata-prabhava-vamsa-sambhava).

Moreover, Shakya Muni was clearly a Vedic Hindu; Buddhist tradition asserts that following his enlightenment, he preached his wisdom to mankind only at the urging of the Vedic gods, Indra and Brahma. It is pertinent that Indra’s weapon, the vajra (thunderbolt), is the principal symbol of Tibetan Buddhism.

Nor did Buddha reject the caste system per se; as an enlightened being, a person of prestige, he called himself a “Brahmin”. Most of his followers were upper caste and all later Buddhist thinkers were Brahmins. The future Buddha, Maitreya, is predicted to be a Brahmin, according to Buddhist tradition.

Scholars recognise that Buddhist ideas are consistent with the philosophy of the Upanishads. Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, scholar, president of India, and father of Nehruvian academics, S. Gopal, said Buddha was not untouched by the intellectual ferment of his time regarding the struggles and experiences of the soul, which were part of “that supreme work of the Indian genius, the Upanishads”. Buddha diverged from the prevalent conventional ritualistic religion, but did not abandon the living spirit behind it. He himself admitted that the dharma which he had discovered through strenuous efforts is the ancient way, the Aryan path, the eternal dharma, which he adapted to meet the needs of the age.

Dr Rhys Davids too, asserts that: “Gautama was born and brought up and lived and died a Hindu”. There is not much in Buddhist metaphysics, morality and teachings which cannot be found in one or other of the orthodox systems. Buddha’s originality lay in the manner in which he adopted, enlarged, and carried out to their logical conclusion principles of equity and justice admitted by important Hindu thinkers.

Buddha & BhikkhusThe Upanishads share Buddha’s contempt for ritualism. Buddhism shares the fundamental Hindu belief in the law of karma and the soul’s quest for nirvana. Buddha did not feel any disconnect with Hindu society and classed Brahmins along with Buddhist mendicants, bhikkhu being a term of honour. Buddhism became an independent faith when it travelled outside its Hindu milieu in India; within India it was nourished by kings, merchants and lay devotees within the fold of orthodox belief.

Like the Upanishads, Buddha repudiated the authority of the Vedas, in that both resisted the mechanical theory of sacrifices, insisting that there is no release from rebirth by the performance of sacrifice or practice of penance. Rather, liberation comes from the perception of truth, the knowledge of reality at the basis of all existence. Both admit that the absolute reality—described as neither void, nor not void, nor both, nor neither—is incomprehensible by intellect. Buddha accepted the idealism of the Upanishads and made it available to mankind.

Though Buddha was critical of the jati system he neither disowned it completely nor demonized it, but at times seemed to endorse it. S. Radhakrishnan observed that Buddha did not oppose caste, but adopted the Upanishadic view that the Brahmin or leader of society is not so much a Brahmin by birth as by character: “Not by birth is one a Brahmin, not by birth is one an outcast; by deeds is one a Brahmin, by deeds is one an outcast”.

Buddha admitted all castes into the sangha (monastic order) on the premise that all men could attain perfect knowledge through meditation and self-control. He dented caste exclusiveness, but did not abolish it, as only the erudite could fathom his complex philosophy, which is why most of his early disciples were Brahmins. Not once in his lifetime did Buddha claim to be founding a new religion.

Yet this canard of Buddhism at daggers drawn with Hindu dharma is being invoked to instigate caste tensions. Recently, Radhika Vemula and Raja Chaitanya, mother and brother of Hyderabad Central University student Rohith Vemula, travelled to Nagpur to embrace Buddhism on Ambedkar Jayanti. Vemula had committed suicide some months ago, possibly disillusioned with the sterile campus politics he had been lured into. Now, his family has succumbed to political mentors with an agenda and is repudiating its multi-caste identity, viz., OBC father (Vaddera) and Scheduled Caste (Mala) mother.

While children are entitled to claim quota benefits via the parent eligible under reservation norms, sterile politics could compromise Raja’s academic prospects. He has a prestigious Project Fellowship at the National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad. His well-wishers should not instigate him to be political cannon fodder like Jawaharlal Nehru University student’s union president, Kanhaiya Kumar, who maybe stagnating academically and has grabbed the political lifeline thrown by his communist mentors.

India needs a new discourse on caste, given its growing divisiveness. Amidst the Bihar elections last November, Jamui MP, Chirag Paswan, expressed a desire to not be defined by jati identity and limited to being a dalit leader. Recently, he urged well-off SC families to renounce quotas for the benefit of the truly needy. Only such original thinking and initiatives can end the corrosiveness of identity politics. Others should take a leaf from this book and refrain from accusing Buddha, one of India’s greatest sons, of rupturing its civilisation. Reducing Buddha’s universal teaching to a casteist ideological weapon must also be firmly repudiated. – Vijayvaani, 19 April 2016

» Sandhya Jain is a senior journalist with The Pioneer in New Delhi.

Radhika Vemula and Raja Chaitanya, mother and brother of Hyderabad Central University student Rohith Vemula, travelled to Nagpur to embrace Buddhism on Ambedkar Jayanti

See also

Saying ‘I am a Hindu’ should be respected – David Frawley

David Frawley“You will not find a single department of Hindu Studies at any major Indian university, even Banaras Hindu University. You can find a lone Hindu department at Oxford in UK, run largely by non-Hindus, but none elsewhere at any major universities in the West. This is though Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world and has the oldest and most diverse literature of any religion.” – Dr David Frawley

OmSaying “I am a Hindu” is bound to meet with denigration in the West and even in India—more so if someone born in the West states to have formally become a Hindu.

Yet for someone in the West to say that they have become a Buddhist or a Muslim does not meet with the same negative response. Nor does it occur for someone in India, even from a Hindu background, to say that they have become a Christian or a Muslim.

Like a number of Westerners starting in the 1960s, I became immersed in Hindu based practices of Yoga and Vedanta, extending to the worship of Hindu deities like Shiva and Devi.

When people asked me what religion I followed, I realised that I was clearly a Hindu in my way of life from puja and pilgrimage, to mantra and meditation. I decided to formally become a Hindu to affirm this, particularly when I saw Hindus in India remaining under extensive conversion assaults.

Yoga in schools in the USAStudents of Yoga and Vedanta

However, most in the West who take up yogic teachings do not formally call themselves Hindus, even if they adopt Sanskrit names relating to Hindu deities. This is owing to deep-seated propaganda against Hinduism as characterised by backward social customs, not enlightened spiritual teachings.

Many yoga students claim to be followers of their particular guru or sect. Others claim to be part of a universal tradition of yoga that includes all religions, of which Hinduism is only one. Yet all follow ideas and practices rooted in the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras—primarily Hindu sources—overlooking the fact that they are benefiting enormously from Hindu teachings.

Some say practising yoga will make a Christian into a better Christian. I had given up my Catholic background because I could not accept the theology, rituals, or conversions efforts behind it. The law of karma, rebirth and the pursuit of liberation in Hinduism made much more sense to me, not the heaven, hell, sin and salvation of Christianity.

If practising Yoga and meditation, with images of Shiva and Devi in my shrine, made me into a better Christian, it was not something any mainstream Christian group would acknowledge or recommend.

There are those in the West who want to become Hindus, but find little support. The most helpful group I discovered was Hinduism Today magazine and some thoughtful, articulate Western Hindu swamis associated with it. In India, most helpful was the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and authors Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel, who wrote extensively on modern challenges to Hindu dharma.

Yoga VasisthaThe situation for Hindus today

To tell Christians or Muslims today that one has become a Hindu is to invite ridicule and charges of idolatry and superstition. Academicians disparage Hinduism as a strange sensational set of cults, ignoring its profound meditation-based philosophies—a negative approach they would not take relative to any of the other great religions of the world.

The success of the Hindu community in the US and UK has muted these criticisms, but not removed them. Hindu-Americans still have to face both religious and racial prejudices for the images of their deities and the color of their skin.

You will not find a single department of Hindu Studies at any major Indian university, even BHU (Banaras Hindu University). You can find a lone Hindu department at Oxford in UK, run largely by non-Hindus, but none elsewhere at any major universities in the West. This is though Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world and has the oldest and most diverse literature of any religion.

Clearly there has been a long history of maligning and suppressing Hindu dharma that continues worldwide today. There has been a deliberate strategy both to discourage people from becoming Hindus and to discourage Hindus from asserting their own identity. The influence of vested interests from missionary, colonial and Marxist groups is easy to discern behind these concerted efforts, often with extensive political and media support.

Today in India when Hindus question this long-standing and well-funded anti-Hindu bias that they continue to face, they find themselves demeaned as “intolerant”.

Fortunately, there is a slow awakening to the value of Hindu dharma and its rishi traditions. To respect Hinduism is to respect our ancient spiritual roots and our potential for higher consciousness. – Daily-O, 10 February 2016

» Dr David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Sastri) is an American Hindu teacher and author who has written more than thirty books on Hinduism. He is the founder and director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Hinduphobia

Remembering Anandamayi Ma – Maria Wirth

Maria Wirth“Behind all the different, perpetually changing names and forms in this universe there is only ‘one thing’—Brahman, Bhagwan, God or however you like to call it. That alone is eternal, ever the same. All appearances are contained in it, like in a mirror. That is the I of our I. Life is meant to realise this—to realise who we really are and drop the wrong identification with our person.” – Maria Wirth

Anandamayi MaNext to the Ramakrishna Mission in Dehradun, there is a small ashram where 33 years ago, on 27th August 1982, Anandamayi Ma left her body. Anandamayi Ma, who was born in 1896 as Nirmala Sundari in what is now Bangladesh, was and still is revered all over India for having being extraordinary saintly and wise right from childhood. Devotees still come to her samadhi in Kankhal, even though many of them have never seen her in person. I was fortunate to meet her and would like to share some of those precious memories.

During the Ardha Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in April 1980, some foreigners asked me to join them to receive their guru, Anandamayi Ma, at the railway station. I was curious, because I had seen a photo of her in Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. The photo was taken in the 1930s and showed a beautiful woman. Almost fifty years had passed since then and I was surprised that she was alive and anyone could meet her.

At dawn we went to the railway station. A group of Indians were conspicuous by their well-groomed appearance. They were devotees of Ma. Then the train from Varanasi pulled in. Four young men in spotless white dhotis entered and carried Ma out on a chair, to which four handles were attached.

Ma looked delicate, was wrapped in white cloth and her black hair fell over her shoulders. She looked at us with calm eyes. There was no reaction on her face, no sign of recognition of her devotees, many of whom she would have known for decades. She simply looked and her eyes moved slowly around the group. It was pleasant, and I had the strange feeling, that nobody was there behind those eyes.

When I saw her like this, tears were rolling down my cheeks. There was no reason for tears and yet they didn’t want to stop. “That’s normal, when one is touched by a great soul”, someone next to me, who had noticed it, reassured me. And indeed I felt being touched by a very pure soul.

Anandamayi Ma went to her ashram in Kankhal and we followed. At the ashram gate, flower vendors awaited us. Everyone entered the ashram with flowers or fruits in his hands. In the centre of the courtyard, a chair was placed for Ma. She sat down and we, about thirty people, were standing around her.

Now she asked some of her devotees about how they were doing, whether “sab thik hai” and so on. The questions were commonplace, and yet there was a sense of sublime grandeur in the air. I noticed it again: her gaze was different. It touched the heart and widened it. Because of this short, fleeting gaze, I went from then on every evening to Kankhal.

Was Ma enlightened? I did not know, but felt it was possible. Melita, a journalist from Germany, who had been with Ma for many years, explained to me what enlightenment meant.

“Ma sees in everything and everywhere only the one Brahman, that is, her own Self. For her, ‘others’ don’t exist. She herself has said that only because of convention she differentiates between herself and others. In truth, she doesn’t see a difference and there is no difference.”

So basically, an enlightened being and we ordinary mortal differ only in one aspect: an enlightened being feels this oneness of all as real, whereas we think we are separate and even prefer this illusion, though we, of course, are also at home in the oneness. Oddly, we even want to be separate; we are fond of our person, our thoughts, feelings, relationships, memories, hopes. Why should we give up this feeling of being separate? Just because it is not the truth?

Few are ready for it in spite of the assurance that truth is heaven, and illusion compared to it hell. Our suffering originates from our imaginary isolation and is unnecessary, claim the sages. I tried to imagine what Anandamayi Ma perceived, while she looked at us. Did she see our bodies and her own body merely as transitory waves on the one ocean, while feeling blissfully immersed in its depth and vastness?

Concepts like truth and God, which, so far, I had not considered relevant, seemed in the Indian context important, relevant and natural. Ma formulated the essence of Advaita Vedanta in clear terms.

Behind all the different, perpetually changing names and forms in this universe there is only ‘one thing’—Brahman, Bhagwan, God or however you like to call it. That alone is eternal, ever the same. All appearances are contained in it, like in a mirror. That is the I of our I. Life is meant to realise this—to realise who we really are and drop the wrong identification with our person.

When Ma’s mother had died and was laying out in the ashram, Ma had laughed her hearty laugh as usual. Her devotees felt that her behaviour was not appropriate for the occasion. Ma reacted surprised: “Why? Nothing has happened!” For her dying was like changing a dress. Who would be sad over losing an old dress, when one is still fresh and alive?

While waiting for Ma’s darshan in the evenings, we were singing bhajans. Once, a girl of about ten sat next to me. She sang full throatily, yet a little out of tune. Her clapping was also slightly out of rhythm. When I heard her singing like this, my heart suddenly went out to her and was overflowing with love.

Just then Anandamayi Ma appeared, supported by two women. Even before she reached the cot, she briefly stopped, half turned and looked sort of irritated into my direction. When she finally sat down on the cot, her glance settled on me for a long time. In all likelihood Ma’s glance was attracted by the love that I felt for that girl, and she really did not perceive us as separate persons. After all, she often said that it is a mistake to consider oneself as separate from others. But almost certainly all of us, as we were sitting there on the veranda, wished that she appreciated us personally….

Ma didn’t oblige. A genuine guru can see that the ego is the culprit who makes life difficult. Naturally she or he is not interested in flattering the ego—on the contrary.  “The association with an enlightened being consists in getting blows for the ego”, Anandamayi Ma once remarked.

Ma had a cure for all worries:  “Trust in Bhagawan. He certainly will look after you and all your affairs, if you really put full trust in him and if you dedicate all your energy to realise your Self. You then can feel completely light and free”, Ma claimed and it sounded convincing. By ‘Bhagawan’ she meant the formless essence in everything. Yet this essence is not something abstract and cold. It is love and can be experienced as the beloved. “You are always in his loving embrace”, she claimed.

Feel Bhagawan’s presence in you 24 hours a day. Be aware he moves your feet, he makes your eyes see, he makes your mind think’, she advised us.

I wonder whether she, in her elevated state, knew that this is not that easy for us. It may have been so obvious and natural for her. – Maria Wirth Blog, 31 July 2015

» Maria Wirth is a German psychologist and author who lives in Uttarakhand.

Anandamayi Ma's Samadhi Shrine