All quotes are from Sri Aurobindo’s essay – A Rationalistic Critic on Indian Culture. All photographs by Suhas Mehra. Introductory text and selection of passages by Beloo Mehra
A casual look at most of the commentary that appears in the Indian popular social-cultural discourse (print and broadcast media, films etc.) on any matter related to Hindu traditions or rituals is enough proof of the widespread ignorance that prevails regarding some of the basic truths and fundamentals of Hinduism.
If we are asked, “But after all what is Hinduism, what does it teach, what are its fundamentals and what does it practise?” we can answer that it is founded upon a few basic ideas or rather fundamentals of a highest and widest spiritual experience. (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 20, p. 193)
For more on these fundamentals, see this post.
Here we are concerned primarily with the ignorance regarding what may be called as some of the external layers of Hinduism, the outer forms, particularly the need for outward practices, rituals, customs, traditions, etc.
It could be a result of deep indifference, deep-seated inferiority complex, or sheer prejudice against Hinduism that many educated Indians, and especially Hindus don’t even bother to question the ignorance peddled by these so-called modern-secular-rational-educated ‘opinion-makers.’ Worse, many of them end up buying into this pseudo-rationalistic-secularist and ignorant criticism of all things Hindu, and end up believing the whole ‘religion is opium of masses’ kind of dogma without ever questioning even the role of religion itself.
They end up buying into the false idea that just because Abrahamic religions elsewhere have led to much hatred, violence and division, same must be the case with Hinduism and/or other dharmic traditions. Worse, they end up believing that just because religion elsewhere has been opposed to reason, science and inquiry, same must be the case with Hinduism. Such false equivalences are borne out of deep ignorance of the nature of Hinduism and Dharmic traditions in general.
The passages selected for this photo-feature provide a response to such ignorance. This response was written more than 100 years ago to another prejudiced rationalistic critic of earlier times. The nature of this critic’s attack on Hinduism in particular and Indian culture in general, was in Sri Aurobindo’s words “journalistic pugilism…of a peculiar kind…a furious sparring at a lay figure of India which is knocked down at pleasure through a long and exuberant dance of misstatement and exaggeration in the hope of convincing an ignorant audience that the performer has prostrated a living adversary.” (CWSA, Vol. 20, p. 99)
Sadly, the times have changed but the same prejudiced criticism of all things Hindu still remains. This time similar “journalistic pugilism” is peddled mostly by mentally colonized Indians themselves, which is even sadder.
Such ignorant and prejudiced criticism must be challenged.
“Indian religious forms are rhythms of the spirit; but one who misses the spirit must necessarily miss too the connection of the spirit and the rhythm. The gods of this worship are, as every Indian knows, potent names, divine forms, dynamic personalities, living aspects of the one Infinite.”
“Each Godhead is a form or derivation or dependent power of the supreme Trinity, each Goddess a form of the universal Energy, Conscious-Force or Shakti.”
“But to the logical European* mind monotheism, polytheism, pantheism are irreconcilable warring dogmas; oneness, many-ness, all-ness are not and cannot be different but concordant aspects of the eternal Infinite. A belief in one Divine Being superior to cosmos who is all cosmos and who lives in many forms of godhead, is a hotch-potch, mush, confusion of ideas; for synthesis, intuitive vision, inner experience are not the forte of this strongly external, analytic and logical mind.”
(* Replace ‘European’ with ‘Western/Modern-Rationalistic’)
“The image to the Hindu is a physical symbol and support of the supraphysical; it is a basis for the meeting between the embodied mind and sense of man and the supraphysical power, force or presence which he worships and with which he wishes to communicate.”
“But the average European* has small faith in disembodied entities and, if they are at all, he would put them away into a category apart, another unconnected world, a separate existence. A nexus between the physical and supraphysical is to his view a meaningless subtlety admissible only in imaginative poetry and romance.”
“[Hinduism] has always known in its heart that religion, if it is to be a reality for the mass of men and not only for a few saints and thinkers, must address its appeal to the whole of our being, not only to the suprarational and the rational parts, but to all the others. The imagination, the emotions, the aesthetic sense, even the very instincts of the half subconscient parts must be taken into the influence.”
“Religion must lead man towards the suprarational, the spiritual truth and it must take the aid of the illumined reason on the way, but it cannot afford to neglect to call Godwards the rest of our complex nature.”
“And it must take too each man where he stands and spiritualise him through what he can feel and not at once force on him something which he cannot yet grasp as a true and living power. That is the sense and aim of all those parts of Hinduism which are specially stigmatised as irrational or antirational by the positivist intelligence.”
“But the European* mind has failed to understand this plain necessity or has despised it. It insists on “purifying” religion, by the reason and not by the spirit, on “reforming” it, by the reason and not by the spirit. And we have seen what were the results of this kind of purification and reformation in Europe. The infallible outcome of that ignorant doctoring has been first to impoverish and then slowly to kill religion; the patient has fallen a victim to the treatment, while he might well have survived the disease!”
(*Replace ‘European’ with ‘Western/Modern-Rationalistic’)
Linking with ABC Wednesday, N, N is for Nexus
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