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Hindus and The Outsiders

Dr Koenraad Elst September 7, 2012 Analysis/Insights No Comments on Hindus and The Outsiders
Hindus and The Outsiders
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Prof. Vijaya Rajiva thinks that I as an outsider cannot really help the Hindus. So far, so good: if Hindus don’t help themselves, there is indeed no outsider who can save them. However, she also says (indeed it is her chief message) that Hindus don’t need outsiders because the traditional Hindu way is good enough. But is it?

A diagnosis of the Hindu situation

Yes, the traditional Hindu way has some remarkable achievements to its credit, no one should deny that. The very existence of a Hindu civilization after more than a thousand years of Islamic battering and a few centuries of European colonization is indeed not so evident. Hindus have fought, and there was something invincible in the Hindu social structure.

However, the losses were also staggering. A part of the Hindu biomass, i.e. Hindu people, went over to the Islamic enemy. They secured an Islamic territory in 1947 as well as legal, constitutional and de facto privileges in the Indian republic. Christianity tried several strategies to win converts, at first rather unsuccessfully, but now with increasing results. At last, the climate is right, with a defenceless Hindu society offering little resistance against the conversion wave.

Meanwhile, the world has changed. As I have argued in my article about missionary anti-racism, the Christian Churches and the missionary apparatus have adapted admirably, crossing the floor all the way from association with colonial racism to a Dalit-Dravidianist discourse which borrows fromanti-racism. They have many successes to show for it. Though the Indian Churches have cooperated with the governmental goal of reproductive self-restriction, they have still made demographic gains, with the reality being far more impressive than the official figures, which are already impressive enough. Indian Islam too, for all its looking back to a medieval Prophet, has adapted sufficiently to make and consolidate its gains. After winning a separate territory in 1947, it gained a promising foothold in the Indian Republic, secured a partisan anti-Hindu section of the Hindus (“secularism”), made the media and academe toe an anti-Hindu line, and gained enormously in numbers both through a consistently high birthrate and through immigration.

Hinduism, by contrast, is losing constantly. It is fragmented along caste and ethnic lines (worsened by the “secularist” regime) but also along ideological lines, chiefly secular against Hindu activist.  It is divided against itself. There is a Hindu nationalist movement, but it is warped by the “Western” nationalist viewpoint and deliberately unable to wage the ideological struggle against Hindu society’s non-Hindu besiegers. Its recent help to the people from the Northeast is commendable, but proves also how formidable the problems inside India have become. Traditional Hinduism is losing its grip even among nominal Hindus, who learn the government version of culture and history in their schools and watch TV-programmes on stations owned by foreign or Indian (but either way anti-Hindu) magnates. That is why the Hindu historian Sita Ram Goel concluded his diagnosis with the observation that the death of Hinduism is no longer unthinkable.

There is very little sign of Hindu forces adapting themselves to the new realities. A few individuals show a remarkable sense of initiative, like Swami Dayananda Saraswati (who patronized the Jerusalem declaration), Subramaniam Swamy (the convert to Hindu nationalism), Prof. Yashwant Pathak (convenor of the Elders’ conferences) or  Swami Vigyananda (VHP general secretary); but over-all, this seems too little.

The main representative of the Hindus in politics, the BJP, has completely abandoned its Hindu agenda, showing not just the weakness of character of people in the party concerned, but the weakness of the Hindu spirit to which they respond. The Hindu masses haven’t got a clue, though they react healthily whenever they have to deal with hostile subversion or violence. They long for leaders, but most leaders disappoint them. Hindus are mostly stuck in the past, and I interpret Vijaya Rajiva’s article as a defence of this tendency to live in the past.

The good thing about being an outsider is that, while one may not see what goes on inside the black box of Hindu society, one can see the input and output all the better. From the outside, it seems that Hindus are not dead yet, but are losing ground all the time. So, from my vantage point, I can see very clearly that there is no reason for the smugness emanating from Vijaya Rajiva’s article. One can argue about the methods proposed by “alarmists” like N.S. Rajaram or Ashok Chowgule, but their diagnosis that threats to India and to Hindu society are looming large, is only realistic. One does not have to be a foreigner to see what those Indians see, but suffice it to say that in our own way, we can see it too.

Apaurusheya

The Professor thinks that I am not in a position to say that the Vedas are apaurusheya, “impersonal”, often interpreted as “supernatural”, “of divine origin”, because there I would not be talking about my own heartfelt tradition. Well, exactly. That is indeed a point on which I have waged many discussions with internet Hindus. Let me reword my considered opinion a bit differently. I am in a position to say: no, the Vedas are not divinely revealed. This is not the viewpoint of “Western” or “Orientalist” scholarship, it is the Vedas themselves that say so: they are composed by human seers who address the gods.

The Vedic hymns naturally contain in passing many data about the age and region in which they were composed, as well as the genealogy and the circumstances of their composers. The gods figure in them in the second or the third person, the seers in the first. Bhargo devasya dhimahi, “let us meditate on the god’s effulgence”, or Tryambakan yajamahe, “Let us worship the three-eyed one”, or Agnim ile, “I praise the fire”, all have the human seers as their subject, the gods as their object. This is in sharp contrast with the Quran or the 10 commandments, which are deemed to be revealed by God through his conduit, the prophet.

What Vijaya Rajiva represents, is the Hindu tradition, which over the millennia has come to differ considerably from the Vedic inspiration. Hindu tradition has turned the Vedas from a human composition into a divine revelation, the seers and poets into prophets. In fact, it has turned the Vedas into a kind of Quran. It is unclear whether this is cause or consequence, but the Hindu mentality seems to have evolved since the Vedic period. Whereas an unencumbered outsider sees the greatness of the Vedic poets as creators, Hindu tradition reduces them to conduits of the gods. Or worse even, to conduits of the single monotheist God, who created the timeless Vedas along with the world. If that’s what the Vedas said, we wouldn’t have bothered to give up the Bible, for it says much the same thing.

Post-Vedic Hinduism

In particular, the introduction of the notion of “liberation” or “enlightenment” (absent in the Vedas) created an absolute, a steep inequality between people deemed enlightened and the rest of us. Hence the veneration of gurus, see e.g. the “Vedic” (but in fact Puranic, medieval) mantra in which the guru is equaled to Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshvara. Rama never venerated his guru Vasishtha as a quasi-god.

Another novelty is the belief in reincarnation. It is not in the Vedas, no matter how internet Hindus look for it there. The Upanishadic Brahmins Uddalaka and Shvetaketu came to know about it from a Kshatriya (not coincidentally the caste to which the later Buddha and Mahavira belonged), and explicitly acknowledged it as a novelty, not implicated in the central Upanishadic doctrine of the Self or in the liberation from the false identification of the Self with the non-Self. In recent centuries and today, most Hindus are crypto-Buddhists to whom reincarnation is a central belief and liberation is even defined as the escape through meditation from the cycle of rebirths. That is not the original Upanishadic view. I have seen many internet Hindus get angry for my making these factual observations, but hey, that’s what scripture itself says. It just goes to show how tradition may differ from real history as laid down in the Vedas.

This is not to say that reincarnation is untrue. Post-Christian Westerners with their matter-of-fact approach have investigated testimonies of reincarnation (spontaneous testimonies by children, provoked testimonies by adults in regression trance, and Tibetan tulkus) and are inclined to conclude in favour of reincarnation. Incidentally, they found no proof of the concomitant Hindu-Buddhist doctrine of karma in the sense of reward or punishment for deeds from a past life, a doctrine unknown to other reincarnation believers. But reincarnation may be a fact, and those much-maligned Westerners would not say: “I believe in reincarnation because Lord Buddha or the Shastras tell me so”, but: “I believe in reincarnation because research findings confirm this hypothesis”.

This is also not to deny that the belief in reincarnation is old. It certainly existed in Vedic times, indeed it existed before the Amerindians left Northeast-Asia for America, so that they could take it with them. But those who composed the Vedas did not hold this belief, in fact they had a ritual for the dead in which they pointed to a specific part of the heavens where the deceased went. In the European world, the belief in an afterlife (Valhalla) coexisted with the belief in reincarnation (taught by the Druids, or in Virgil’s Aeneis). Others, who contributed to the non-Vedic part of Hinduism, may have held this belief, and later it was accepted by the successors of the Vedic seers. Hinduism is a confluence of Vedic and non-Vedic traditions, just as the Paurava Vedic tribe coexisted with other tribes, and just as the Vedic Sanskrit language coexisted with other Indo-Aryan, other Indo-European and totally other languages.

Another example of how Westerners may see what Hindus don’t, was given to me by a reviewer of my 1997 book BJP vis-à-vis Hindu Resurgence. Like Vijaya Rajiva, he hoped to be delivered from those non-Hindu busybodies trying to defend Hinduism. Apart from myself, he also directed his ire against David Frawley, namely for writing in his autobiography that he was a self-taught Sanskritist who had read the Vedas all by himself. In the reviewer’s opinion, Frawley should have been initiated into the Vedas by a recognized Vedacharya. Well, then he would have studied the Vedas through the eyes of Hindu tradition, which captures and transforms the message of the Vedic seers, whereas now, he accepted the face-to-face encounter with the Vedic seers themselves. It has not kept him from becoming far more Hindu than myself, but I note that to some Hindus, he has remained an outsider nonetheless.

So, a Westerner, or indeed a globalist, may miss certain things, but conversely, they see things which Hindu nationalists fail to see. That is why I am not apologizing for being an outsider.

Hindu survival

However, I have no quarrel with Hindu tradition. For me, everyone is free to practice religion as he likes (within the usual confines of morality). There may be something to living Hinduism which I cannot feel, and what I do see and feel is already glorious enough. So, by all means, go ahead with it. Only, I am curious to know what those traditional methods of survival are. Among them is certainly the continuation of Hinduism as a living religion. In that sense, I have no quarrel with Hindus forgetting about politics and taking part in religious activities such as rituals and festivals.

It’s just that I think this is not enough to survive. Many people have practiced their religion but turned out to be no match for the “asuric forces”. So, on top of continuing Hindu tradition, I’d like to see what strategies are being deployed to outwit these asuric forces. Don’t tell the details to an outsider like me, but then at least show me the results. Show me how the Hindu percentage in India is increasing again. Show me your victories.

 

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About The Author

Dr. Koenraad Elst : Belgian Author and Orientalist :A Graduate in Philosophy, Chinese Studies and Indo-Iranian Studies at the Catholic University of Leuven. He frequently returns to India to study various aspects of its ethno-religio-political configuration and interview Hindu and other leaders and thinkers. His research on the ideological development of Hindu revivalism earned him his Ph.D. in Leuven in 1998. He has also published about multiculturalism, language policy issues, ancient Chinese history and philosophy, comparative religion, and the Aryan invasion debate.