“You will often hear it said that it was the forms of Hinduism which have given us so much national vitality. I think rather it was its spirit.”
Sri Aurobindo wrote the above in his essay titled, “On Original Thinking” (CWSA, Vol. 12, p. 38).
I am reminded of this as I get ready to write a short commentary on a book I recently finished reading. The book titled, “Musings on Hinduism” is a collection of short essays and commentaries written by Mysore-based author Nithin Sridhar. Nithin is presently the Editor at IndiaFacts and writes on various issues concerning development, politics, social issues, religion, spirituality and ecology.
Written in a simple and reader-friendly manner the book succeeds in presenting for the reader the spirit of Hinduism. As the reader — particularly one who is neither much familiar with nor much keen to intellectually explore the finer distinctions of various philosophical intricacies behind the diverse traditions, practices and approaches that are part of the all-embracing character of Hinduism — reads through each of the short pieces in the book, he or she slowly begins to see or rather get a ‘feel’ for the Oneness of the Spirit which is the heart and soul of all the inherent pluralism and diversity of Hinduism, or Santana Dharma to be more precise.
A more informed reader, one who is even somewhat familiar with the diversity of thought within the different philosophical schools of Hinduism, will definitely see a non-dualistic emphasis to the author’s musings (and the author himself acknowledges this).
But to read this little book only in this light or only as a set of intellectual commentaries or explanations will somehow mean missing out on the deeper spirit which in my view guides the author’s musings. It seems to me that he penned down these musings less to educate but more to express a certain kind of experiential and living recognition of the vastness, the richness and the inner oneness-in-plurality of his chosen path to inner seeking and spiritual quest.
Even though the essays and commentaries are written in an objective voice, the voice of the author-as-sadhak can’t be missed. As in the following passage from the essay titled, “A deity can either be God or god or both“:
“In Indian scenario, we have on one extreme, monotheists claiming presence of one absolute God separate from world and on the other we have polytheists believing in the presence of multiple gods, goddesses and demi-gods. And apart from this, we also have Monists who claim the presence of “Only God” (denying even and existence for world separate from God). But Hindu religion as a whole has always been consistently assimilating all these apparently divergent streams of thought into a coherent and all-embracing philosophy of life. This has been possible because there is an inherently awareness in the society that every person is on the same path seeking the same goal, some ahead and some behind….
This concept of “deity”, especially the “Ista devata” can be considered in many sense as a unique contribution of Hindu religion to the whole world not only in terms of its theological and spiritual value but also in terms of promoting world harmony. In simple words, any person can connect with God/Cosmos in the way he feels inclined to or is comfortable with. This world view will completely remove any cause for troubles and intolerance because the conception of a deity is completely dependent upon the devotee who worships it. And no two people ever conceptualize or approach a deity in an exactly same manner.”
This process of assimilation and an inner approach to outer harmony that the author speaks are also evident in his approach to the essays on Bhakti and devotion. Not only does he clearly speak of the intimate connection between Bheda and Abheda Bhakti, but also presents for the reader how the paths of Bhakti, Love and Surrender and the paths of Jnana, Self-Knowledge, God-Knowledge are in essence deeply interwoven. When you Love God, you Know Him (or Her). And when you Know God, you are already fully immersed in His or Her Love. This is again emphasized in a later essay titled, “Jnana, Bhakti and Karma” where the author writes that “no path is a closed room distinct from the other.”
To illustrate how a path or practice may be a necessary preparatory stage for the next step in one’s inner quest and seeking for the Divine, let me share this passage from the book:
“…a devotee who may at first see Ganesha as just a remover of obstacles, with spiritual growth will come to realize that Ganesha is also the Lord of Physical realm. If the devotee keeps walking on the path of sadhana, he will realize that Ganesha is not a god with limitations and attributes, but Formless Omnipotent God. Deeper if he proceed[s], the devotee will realize that Ganesha is both the God and the god. He will understand that the formless-ness and the form[-ness] both belong to same Brahman.”
This passage, like the one quoted earlier, also illustrates how the author is able to present some of the deeper truths of Hinduism in a clear and simple manner. And at the same time, there is no reductionism or oversimplification of any kind, no attempt to apply a comparative religious study type approach to explain some of the Hindu concepts in intellectual categories of other religious traditions. The following concluding sentence from the essay “The Two Aspects of Creation” serves as a good example of this:
“Maya” answers the question “How the Universe was created” and “Lila” answers the question “Why the Universe was created.”
One has to read the full essay to appreciate the simplicity and beauty of this sentence.
The essay titled “Understanding Sadhana” is another delightful read, like most of this book. As a student of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother I was constantly recalling some of Their words on the role of Aspiration, Personal Effort, Rejection, Grace and Surrender when it comes to Sadhana. I found the following passage from the book remarkably clear in its message:
“…this grace of God is not randomly given; instead it dawns on only those who are Adhikari (competent) to receive it. The absolute dedication and surrendering towards God does not come spontaneously to everyone. Sadhana helps an individual to develop this surrender and dedication and achieve the required competencies.”
When I came across the above passage, I was particularly reminded of two passages from Sri Aurobindo, which I had recently used as part of my personal meditation exercises. The first passage relates closely to the author’s emphasis on the need for sincere sadhana as the only way to experience the truth of Hinduism. In one of his “Evening Talks” Sri Aurobindo said:
“Surrender is not easy. If one can surrender “unconditionally” and “sarva bhavena” – in all the parts of the becoming, as the Gita says – then there is nothing more to be done. But can a man do it? You can’t do it by merely saying, “I surrender.” It must become real; that is sadhana.”
As I was reading and silently meditating on the author’s musings where he speaks of the kind of Bhakti which leads to Oneness with the Divine, Complete Surrender to the Divine, and the Adhikara which alone makes one fit to receive the Divine Grace, I recalled a beautiful passage from one of the letters of Sri Aurobindo where he speaks about the Love of the Gopis for Sri Krishna. He writes:
“It is not the heart of the devotee but the mind of the observer that questions how it is that the Gopis were called or responded at once and others…were not called or did not respond at once. Once the mind puts the question, there are two possible answers, the mere will of Krishna without any reason, what the mind would call his absolute divine choice or his arbitrary divine caprice or else the readiness of the heart that is called, and that amounts to adhikāri-bheda.
“A third reply would be—circumstances, as for instance, the parking off of the spiritual ground into closed preserves. But how can circumstances prevent the Grace from acting? In spite of the parking off, it works—Christians, Mahomedans do answer to the Grace of Krishna. Tigers, ghouls must love if they see him, hear his flute? Yes, but why do some hear it and see him, others not?
“We are thrown back on the two alternatives, Krishna’s Grace calls whom it wills to call without any determining reason for the choice or rejection, his mercy or his withholding or at least delaying of his mercy, or else he calls the hearts that are ready to vibrate and leap up at his call—and even there he waits till the moment has come. To say that it does not depend on outward merit or appearance of fitness is no doubt true; the something that was ready to wake in spite, it may be, of many hard layers in which it was enclosed, may be something visible to Krishna and not to us. It was there perhaps long before the flute began to play, but he was busy melting the hard layers so that the heart in its leap might not be pressed back by them when the awakening notes came. The Gopis heard and rushed out into the forest—the others did not—or did they think it was only some rustic music or some rude cowherd lover fluting to his sweetheart, not a call that learned and cultured or virtuous ears could recognise as the call of the Divine?
“There is something to be said for the adhikāri-bheda. But of course it must be understood in a large sense,—some may have the adhikāra for recognising Krishna’s flute, some for the call of Christ, some for the dance of Shiva—to each his own way and his nature’s answer to the Divine Call. Adhikāra cannot be stated in rigid mental terms, it is something spiritual and subtle, something mystic and secret between the called and the Caller.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA Vol. 29, pp. 491-2)
A lot more can be written about this highly readable and enjoyable book, “Musings on Hinduism.” For example, what makes this little book even more relevant for our times is the inclusion of the last few essays in which the author speaks of some of the ‘crisis’ Indian society is facing at present and the need for a rejuvenation or reformulation of a society founded in Dharma. The section on Vedanta has some wonderful gems where the author effectively describes deep ideas in a very simple manner. A couple of examples should suffice:
“For something to be existing all the time it must be Self-Existing – Svayambhu.”
“The statement “Jagat is Mithya” does not mean it does not exist, it only means that its real nature is not what it appears as.”
At the same time it must be emphasized that throughout the book, the author has incorporated relevant references from various Hindu scriptures which makes his presentation deeply rooted in the tradition and illuminating.
As I am about to close my brief musings on Nithin Sridhar’s “Musings on Hinduism,” I am reminded of a beautiful aphorism of Sri Aurobindo. Somehow today that aphorism seems to indicate to me the kind of reader who will gain tremendously from this book. Who is this ideal reader for “Musings on Hinduism”? Certainly, not the one who is a “dead soul” or is a “formularist of religion”, to use Sri Aurobindo’s words.
“There are two for whom there is hope, the man who has felt God’s touch & been drawn to it and the sceptical seeker & self-convinced atheist; but for the formularists of all the religions & the parrots of free thought, they are dead souls who follow a death that they call living.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 12, p.p. 441)
“Musings on Hinduism” is available in print and e-book.
For buying in India: Amazon.in
For elsewhere: Amazon.com
To read more of Nithin Sridhar’s writings, visit his author page at IndiaFacts.