"Hindu mazhab ek deen se kahin zyada ek mukammal zaabta-e-hayaat hai."
—Munshi Premchand in Soz-e-Vatan, confiscated by the British govt.
(Much more than being a faith, Hinduism is a complete way of life)
Ram mandir in Ayodhya may have given an impetus to Hindus in India, giving a sense of new-found religious assertiveness to those who identify with this magnificent faith, the Hindu consciousness is as old as the human civilisation. Chetanasya abhipretam Hindu sangyavalit pranidhanam (it's the blossoming of consciousness that culminated in Hindu belief/s). Having studied Islam and all Semitic religions at world's premier universities viz, Oxford, Cambridge and Al-Azhar, what struck me specifically was the fabulous theo-lingual phrase: Culmination of consciousness (Chetnasya Parakashtha; to quote Kumaril Bhatt from Supradiptam/Sloka Vartika). No (organised) religion in the whole recorded history of human civilisation ever mentioned Chetna or Consciousness even fleetingly. Here lies the loftiness of this religion (having to use the word religion for the want of an apposite word).
It's well-nigh impossible to define Sanatan (nit nootan or ever evolving) Hindu consciousness because it's unadulterated and unalloyed spirituality which is evolving all the time and sloughing off the cumbersome redundancy constantly. It's also apaurusheya (not man-made). This ever-evolving and all-encompassing spirituality of Hindu faith has a scope to accommodate all and sundry. That's why, Samkhya Darshan (it doesn't believe in the concept of a creator or god: Na va parivrajyate nirmiti abhiddasya), Charvaka Darshan (etymologically derived from Charu vakya: nice but misleading and plausible), Nyaya (Yask calls god a non-entity in his epochal work: Nirukta), Jainism, Buddhism, Ajivika, Agyanam and seven other quasi-philosophical schools and sub-schools sit comfortably with Vaisheshika, Yog (Not Yoga, that's exasperatingly anglicised), Mimansa and Vedanta. The nonchalant juxtaposition of Aastik (Believing) and Nastik (Non-believing) in the boundless corpus of Hindu consciousness is something that's so unique and integral to Hinduism because Hindu belief system makes no bone about whether you're a believer or non-believer. To quote Yagyavalakya: Ishastu Ishwaram nastikasya dharinan (God is even the atheism of the atheist!). What a sublimely fabulous and the profoundest thought! The British orientalist and Vendantist Sir Christopher Isherwood aptly said that the very core of Hinduism is perennially ultra-liberal. So theological dissent has always been alien to the idea of Hindu chetna.
I used to shudder and feel a sense of uneasiness in my theology lectures at Oxford where Sir Edmund Blunden (a complete atheist who taught comparative religions!) would unemotionally narrate how Iranian mystic Mansoor Hallaj was excoriated and finally decapitated for proclaiming An-al-Haq (I'm the god/Truth) on March 26, 922 CE and at the same time in India, Vachaspati Mishra, Suketu Sridhar, Ajit Keshkambal among others would descant upon the existence of god or no-god in a completely dispassionate manner sans any animosity and rancour whatsoever.
It was Upanishadic Aham Brahmasmi (I'm the god or truth) that raised no eyebrows in the East. Rather, it was seconded by other evolved souls with a Philosophical Furtherance: Tatvamasi (Yes, you're!). Incredible! Isn't it? It was the Upanishadic munificence of oriental spiritual nous that influenced the Iranian mystics of Islam, esp. Jalaluddin Rumi, Fariduddin Attar (Rumi's putative master), Hakim Sanai, Khaqani, Nizami, Urfi, Anwari, Bedil and Amir Khusro. "The Vedantic spirit and Upanishadic generosity sublimated Hinduism into a Way of Life," opined Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan in his celebrated book Hindu Way of Life. In no other religious system or order can one find the parallel existence of Non-theism, Monotheism and Polytheism. This makes Hinduism a Broadway religion; choose anything of your choice and perception and there's no compulsion. You can be Nirgun, Nirakar, Sagun, Saakaar in the same breath and breadth. Such an all-embracing ambit and attitude has no grudge against apostacy, sacrilege or blasphemy. Because defiance and denial enrich Hinduism. The ontological oxymoron and paradoxical acceptance of Hindu belief system have full respect for Naro Va, Kunjaro Va (this can be right and that could also be right). Mind you, this is not sophistry or misleading logic. This is spiritual abundance and a pluralistic approach to truth. Hinduism believes that the truth is relative and can even be multifaceted! (Satya saapeksha asti). All can be right and there's no one way to truth. In fine, it's not monolithic or lapidary. But there's a flip side to such extreme religio-spiritual liberalism as well.
Here I must quote the analysis of one of the greatest minds and my professor Dr Edward W Said of Columbia University, NY. Dr Said stated in his slim but seminal book Orientalism that, 'The ingrained Eastern munificence seeped into oriental faith/s and when there's so much religious liberty, some anomalies and aberrations are bound to creep in. The same happened in the case of Hinduism. Its extreme pliability and religious flexibility also engendered scores of issues but those were more social and less religious...' (pg 49). The abominable caste system, Brahmanical hegemony, hierarchical priesthood, denominational supremacy and ostensible non-equality got incorporated as well as interpolated into the fabric of Hindu consciousness and sullied its immaculate escutcheon. But right from the 10th century (when social ills began to raise their ugly heads in Hindu consciousness), Hinduism also witnessed great social reformers with a steely resolve.
Here, I hasten to add that Hinduism is different from the Semitic faiths as reformers in Judaism, Christianity and Islam were predominantly religious reformers. In Judaism, Islam and Christianity, the reformers like Thomas Aquinas and Imam Ghazali and their tribe, were actually exegetes. They emended the scriptural texts and expatiated upon them. But the Hindu reformers, extirpated social ills and evils and amended societal superstitions, shibboleths and shenanigans. In other words, they were much more pragmatic and matter-of-fact.
Raja Rammohan Roy, Vivekananda, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Maharshi Debendranath Thakur, Keshab Chandra Sen and many other reformers tried to purge Hinduism of its socio-religious ills and worked relentlessly. But in the long and meandering process, they lost the narrative and got a tad too westernised. Pardon my presumption, but there's no denying the fact, that Raja Rammohan Roy, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Tagore's father and Keshab Chandra Sen hobnobbed more with the missionaries with a missionary zeal and lost the wood for the trees, advocating to throw the child out with the bathwater. Granted, Hinduism developed discrepancies, but those were not so obnoxious as to condemn the whole faith with a pontificating western mindset and call it primitive, nay prehistoric. This slightly condescending attitude of a few 'great' reformers was roundly criticised by V S Naipaul and Nirad C Chaudhury in their telling tomes.
To encapsulate, Hinduism is not a structured or organised faith. It's a federal faith and an amalgamation of social, religious, spiritual and theological concerns and considerations. Its fluidity is still intact, flow is hither-to unhampered, finesse is unspoilt and its fecundity is inexhaustible. It's a conglomerate of thousands of beliefs and a veritable canopy to protect a raft of sects and sub-sects without tinkering and tampering with their identities. It's not grandstanding or grandiose of a religious system, but the grandeur of plurality that's a part and parcel of Hindu consciousness and the supreme legacy of the East. It doesn't threaten to engulf but allows all its offshoots and also other organised faiths to revive, thrive and finally survive in a religiously sardine-crammed world. Lastly, Edwin Arnold aptly said of Hinduism, 'Veil after veil will lift, but there'll be veil after veil behind.'
The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilisations and cultures.