By Vishal V Kale
There is a rather disturbing trend, though minute, of identifying the rise of a doctrinaire in Hinduism. I find this observation surprising at worst, and a sweeping generalisation at best. Mainly, as the word ‘Hinduism’ has no historical or religious basis. The religion has no name. To the best of my knowledge, it was a name popularly used by the colonial rulers. Its usage beyond the colonial era has many connotations – most of us accept it as the name of our religion. So be it.
Sanatan: The Aboriginal Term
There is no mention of any name anywhere in all our religious texts. The closest that one finds is the repeatedly referenced “Sanatan”. Thus, over time, the term evolved as ‘Sanatan Dharm’ or ‘The Eternal Path’. The religious connotation of the term Hindu is of colonial origin. Earlier, the term referred to a people from a particular geographical tract, south-east of the river Sindhu, wrongly known as Indus.
It is a non-proselytising faith. The books are explicit. This is not to be revealed to anyone unless asked, and that too by a true devotee, or learner, to a true Guru or Guide. Further, the description of the term devotee or learner is also explicit – and contains references to a lifestyle, path, deeds, duties, ethics, truth, etc. That is why I find the entire concept of Hindu fundamentalism laughable, current events notwithstanding. It won’t happen, the path does not allow for it – explicitly so.
The Other Side of the Coin
It is becoming a fashionable statement to look at current events and describe Sanatan Dharma as a doctrinal faith – or rather, to be specific – identify a rise of doctrinaire trends. I don’t deny the recent events and the upsurge along a particular tangent; but, seen in the light of a full analysis, there is no cause to label an entire faith as doctrinal, as some people are beginning to call it.
These people, I respectfully submit, are seeing only one side of the coin. I think I can see another side, and prefer to dwell on it. Even within these so-called doctrinal times, one can spot a revival of the old, the Sanatani path. The Sanatani throws off the colonial yoke and revives what was once a golden path. This is a strong backlash that is rising fast, with the spread of education and awareness.
Secondly, a strong trend of basics, in terms of Sanatani thoughts, identify themselves as one of the Eternal Path. Since it’s a broad faith, to each his own. Although, the fringe may be there: doctrinaire, hardline, it’s a softer hardline when compared to other variables. Add to that, the targeting of the ‘Hindu’ identity, and you get the current status.
Roots v/s External Forces
I have previously stated that the term Hinduism is of relatively recent origin, and was a term that evolved out of interaction with external forces and stimuli. These stimuli also set in motion other changes, which are also quite relevant – like the hardline niche segment, or the doctrinal aspects that some people see. This distinction is important. For, anything that occurs as a result of external forces, is by definition ephemeral by nature. It is transient. Unless it causes a fundamental change in the roots of our faith, it is not likely to last very long.
And the roots are still where they were: the Eternal Path, as told in the scriptures. The recent media focus on the Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta is bound to create a list of people who will actually read it. Anyone who reads it by his own volition is highly unlikely to stray from the Eternal Path for a very long time indeed. The rising interest in Sanskrit, though politicized, is bound to rise in some people who will truly read and understand the vast body of knowledge that it contains, and reach the same conclusions as the others have.
If you scratch away the surface, it reveals a rock-hard foundation of the tenets of The Eternal Path. It includes the basics of our faith – body and spirit and not talking of externalities, but rather of deep-seated beliefs, up to and including rebirth.
I agree that the present has some tenets of doctrinal faiths in a small niche, but I respectfully submit that it is only skin deep. If you scratch away the surface, it reveals a rock-hard foundation of the tenets of The Eternal Path. It includes the basics of our faith – body and spirit and not talking of externalities, but rather of deep-seated beliefs, up to and including rebirth. Adherence to the basics of Sanatan Dharma enables people to see it as so-called Hinduism. Belief in Karma / Dharma, focus on family, adherence to the mantras and methods of prayer etc., they may not know the reason for these. For that, you have to perforce study the scriptures.
The scriptures are worded so beautifully and in such a sublime fashion, that no one will understand unless he or she has a basic desire to understand. Further, the faith does not allow for preaching in any form – which is why you can see that while the Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta is sold in book form, but rarely does it feature as a holy play or as a Leela. The reason, in my honest opinion, is that it is impossible to portray the complete wisdom of that blueprint of life in any form except the written word.
Are They Really Doctrinaire?
The focus is still on the individual and not on the community as a whole. That is precisely what Sanatan Dharma is. In fact, it is the founding stone of Sanatan Dharma: the hunt for self, which continues till you find yourself, understand yourself. That is something modern day Hinduism will instantly recognise. There is no community-level activism on a religious scale whatsoever, and a continued tradition of individuality continues as a strong foundation stone. The Sanaatan Dharma follower is still individualistic and self-oriented. There is no presence of a community force, totally unlike the Abrahamic Religions, which are by definition, doctrinaire.
Externalities have changed but then there is a reason. Scriptures are handed down from Parmatma and are the word of God. That means – Satyug. This is Kalyug, a different era and in between the oldest scriptures and now, Parmatma has had to come at least in eighteen different avatars, to give light and direction.
Two forces are important. First, these were avatars who came to help mankind, and two – the lack of, or the erosion of the reading of scriptures. These two, taken together, meant a change in the visible externalities of The Eternal Path, which was branded as Hinduism by the White Man.
But at its core, the basic tenets were retained. There is still no universally accepted central body, or sect-wise body that differentiate people, again unlike the Abrahamic faiths. You can pray to Lord Ganesh, Sai Baba, or to Lord Shiv, or to Lord Vishnu, or Shri Ram, or Shri Krishna – you are still a Hindu, or as the real name goes – Sanatan Dharmi. Many pray to different avatars, without differentiation and as per the occasion.
Documents, studies and treatises of the Mathematics are read by all; they are the Gurus and the scriptures clearly lay out the need for an enlightened Guru unequivocally. The more knowledgeable among them have written lengthy analyses that still hold relevance. Shankaracharya comes to mind immediately.
Thus, we can see that while externalities have altered it, the basics of Sanaatan Dharm are present. The rest is part politics, part historical misunderstanding, and part inferiority complex present in some among us who like to ape the West.
I don’t understand why we should call ourselves ‘Hindus’. It is an accepted name, agreed. I have no issues with it, and we can continue to do so. It is a legal requirement to name your religion in the modern day, and we need a name to give to the documents. But why can’t we call ourselves by the original name, or rather the closest to a name the scriptures state: Sanatan Dharma?
For the first time this month, I wrote Sanatan Dharma as my religion while checking into the hotel. It felt more natural to do so.
Vishal V Kale has an MBA in Marketing with 16 years of experience in Sales, Marketing & Operations across various industries, with end-to-end specialisation in telecom sales and marketing.
Featured Image Credits: Pixabay