A View of Santhigiri Ashram

A View of Santhigiri Ashram
Lotus Parnasala and Sahakarana Mandiram , Santhigiri Ashram, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

Monday, June 23, 2014

Setting the Record Straight About Hinduism

In the present age, we see that the whole humanity is in disharmony owing to religious differences. This means that the present day religious theologies and practices have outlived their spiritual efficacy to bring about peace and spiritual evolvement to humanity. It is for India to take up a leadership role in the spiritual renewal of humanity. Although it may be unconvincing to many, the reality is that India is the mother of spirituality, the inheritor of an ancient most spiritual culture. 

Mark Twain (1835-1910) wrote that India is the "Land of religions, cradle of human race, birthplace of human speech, grandmother of legend, great grandmother of tradition... India had the start of the whole world in the beginning of things. She had the first civilization; she had the first accumulation of material wealth; she was populous with deep thinkers and subtle intellect; she had mines, and woods, and a fruitful soul."

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), the famous American Philosopher, said that ‘The Hindoos are most serenely and thoughtfully religious than the Hebrews. They have perhaps a purer, more independent and impersonal knowledge of God. Their religious books describe the first inquisitive and contemplative access to God… The calmness and gentleness with which the Hindoo philosophers approach and discourse on forbidden themes is admirable.’  

Annie Wood Besant (1847-1933) once said about Hinduism: "After a study of some forty years and more of the great religions of the world, I find none so perfect, none so scientific, none so philosophical and none so spiritual than the great religion known by the name of Hinduism. Make no mistake, without Hinduism, India has no future. Hinduism is the soil in to which India's roots are stuck and torn out of that she will inevitably wither as a tree torn out from its place. And if Hindus do not maintain Hinduism who shall save it?  If India's own children do not cling to her faith, who shall guard it? India alone can save India and India and Hinduism are one.”

What is the base of India’s great spiritual culture that deserves such eulogy from these great teachers, thinkers and philosophers? They were obviously not referring to the superstitious beliefs and practices of the vast sections of ignorant Hindu population, about the snake charmers, about the relentless feuds between hostile castes, clans and regional states, or about the culture of animal and human sacrifices, bride burning etc. that attract the condemnation of Hindus and their religion. 

These famous thinkers found inspiration from the great metaphysical teachings of the rishis and sages of India that form the true Sanatana principles, which have hardly anything to do with the priest mediated temple oriented Hindu religion, often referred by scholars as Brahmanical Hinduism. Very few people, scholarly and otherwise, including the Hindus, seem to realize a great flip-flop occurred in understanding the true basis of Indian spirituality, which can be categorized into two broad heads based on their ideological and ritualistic differences, most importantly on the difference between their cosmologies. 

The first one is the ancient Rishi or Guru-Disciple Ashram tradition and the other is the Trimurti or the Devi-Deva Temple tradition. The temple tradition thrives on the premises of mythology found in the puranas that promote the worship of the Trimurti gods - Brahma, Vishnu and Siva - and their vast family of gods and goddesses, as the ultimate spiritual authorities. In the Rishi tradition, the authority of creation is Manu, known to be the first projection of God. In the Rishi tradition, the medium between man and God is the Preceptors or Gurus who come in every yuga for the spiritual uplift of humanity, reveals Navajyothisree Karunakara Guru. 

As Swami Vivekananda said, Guru is the mask worn by the formless God to come near man. Every human universe (solar system) is born out of the sankalpam or conception of Manu, the Primordial Father of humanity and that is why the age of the universe is calculated in terms of Manvantara after the name of Manu. In a cosmic age known as Kalpa, fourteen Manus appear and project the solar systems with the help of saptarshis, (the seven primal sages or the planetary spirits controlling the solar system). The time of six Manus has already passed and the present age belongs to the seventh Vaivaswata Manu. The sages of India have even mentioned the names of these seven Manus who are going to appear in this Kalpa. The spiritual cataclysm of India is that this universal cosmology based on Manu has been altered subsequently to accommodate and project the Trimurti gods as the authorities of creation. 

The Trimurti tradition is based on Purana Samhita, the mythological treatise known to have been composed by Veda Vyasa (Krishna Dwaipayana) at the end of the Dwapara Yuga. The present puranas are the subsequent redactions by his disciples such as Romaharsha and others during the beginning of Kali Yuga. There are evidences to suggest that the present day puranas and epics were composed during the Buddhist or post-Buddhist period about 2500 years ago or a little later. The puranas and epics, which contain important chronicles of the past cosmic ages, are said to be perennial and existed in every yuga in different forms and were orally handed down age after age. Thus, the myths and legends about Brahma, Vishnu and Siva might be speaking to us the spiritual history of an unimaginable distant past. 

The puranic authors have incorporated the metaphysical teachings of the rishis in their compositions in such a way that one would be unable to distinguish between the very divergent schools of thought in them. In reality, the philosophy of the rishis envisioned God independent of the mythical tradition and even the polytheism of the Vedas.

In the Upanishadic, Sankhyan, Vedantic and Yoga philosophies, the Creation is not attributed to the Trimurti but to Brahman, the Absolute Principle, from which emerges the creation through the medium of Manu, the astral projection of Brahman. The reference to Brahma, Vishnu and Siva as the authorities of creation appeared at a later stage through the mythology in the puranas. The Upanishadic rishis under the Manu Parampara pay obeisance only to the Supreme Brahman, the Absolute Truth. For them the gods and demigods are only the denizens of the vast universe like the humans. Also, the caste, class and gender differences did not stand in the way of the sublime teachings of the Upanishadic rishis. The transcendental knowledge and experience (jnana) is transferred to any truthful disciple through a Guru-Disciple relationship. We can find that the backbone of India’s spiritual culture is in the Upanishads, Bhagavat Gita, Guru Gita and other philosophical sciences (sastras) such as Sankhya sastra, Yoga sastra, Nyaya sastra, Vedanta etc. that speak about the Absolute Truth and Creation differently in a metaphysical perspective. It is this path of knowledge or jnana marga of the ancient Indian rishis that has inspired and continues to inspire great philosophers and thinkers around the world and earns India the Guru status.

Thoreau once said that “One sentence of the Gita, is worth the State of Massachusetts many times over… In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavat Gita, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial….” 

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), the German philosopher and writer, was one of the greatest philosophers of the 19th century. Sigmund Freud adopted a large part of his psychological theory from the writings of Schopenhauer.  Nietzsche and Wittgenstein are counted among his disciples. Schopenhauer spoke about the Upanishads in the following words: 

"From every sentence (of the Upanishads) deep, original and sublime thoughts arise, and the whole is pervaded by a high and holy and earnest spirit....In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. They are destined sooner or later to become the faith of the people’. 

Similarly several other Western thinkers and philosophers have been inspired by the spiritual lore of India. Emerson (1803-1882) paid homage to Indian spirituality thus:  "It is sublime as night and a breathless ocean. It contains every religious sentiment, all the grand ethics which visit in turn each noble poetic mind....” In 1859 he wrote: "When India was explored and the wonderful riches of Indian theological literature found, that dispelled once and for all the dream about Christianity being the sole revelation."

Wilhelm Humboldt (1767- 1835), Prussian minister of education, said about the Bhagavad Gita that it was "The most beautiful, perhaps the only true philosophical song existing in any known tongue ....perhaps the deepest and loftiest thing the world has to show." 

Such a glorious spiritual tradition was lost to India when the jnana path was shadowed by the ritualistic devi-deva tradition, which promotes the veneration of sectarian gods and demigods as well as other innumerable natural and supernatural forces including animals, birds and trees as the manifestation of the Supreme Being. Many obnoxious customs and superstitious beliefs such as human and animal sacrifices, sati and devadasi tradition, description of caste Brahmin as equal to god (brahmana devo bhava) and practices such as the performance of miracles (siddhi) and exorcism through mantric and tantric rituals also came to be identified with Hinduism.

 V. Venkatachalla Iyer once remarked about the spiritual malignancy of India through the interpolated puranic literature: “Some of the major Puranas appear to  have been re-written with the set purpose of promoting ignorance and superstition; of enslaving the minds of the people; of preventing them from thinking for themselves; and of giving currency to a religion which, while pretending in theory  to maintain within itself the principles of emancipation, is calculated in practice to sink one deeper and deeper in the quagmire…’ (V. Venkatachalla Iyer, The Puranas, QJMS 13, 1922-23).

Late Professor Theodore Goldstücker held similar views on the Puranas: 

“When by priest craft and ignorance, a nation has lost itself so far as to look upon writings like these as divinely inspired, there is but one conclusion to be drawn; it has arrived at the turning point of its destinies. Hinduism stands at this point, and we anxiously pause to see which way it will direct its steps. For several centuries, it is true, its position has seemed stationery; but the power of present circumstances, social and political is such that it can no longer continue so…All barriers to religious imposition having broken down since the modern Puranas were received by the masses as the source of their faith, sects have sprung up, which not merely endanger religion, but society itself, tenets have been propounded which are an insult to the human mind; practices have been introduced which must fill every true Hindu with confusion and shame.. There is no necessity for examining them in detail. It requires no evidence of the gulf which separates the present state from its past…” (Literary Remains, 2 Vols., London, Allen, 1879) Theodore believed that the real faith of the Hindus is neither founded on the Brahmana portion of the Vedas nor on the Puranas, but on the esoteric teachings found in the Vedas and Upanishads. 

Maharshi Devendranath Tagore said the Puranas were divisive and advised Hindus to turn away from it toward the Upanishads, in order to unite Hindus into one religion:

“Idolatry with all its pomp and circumstance was to be found chiefly in the tantras and Puranas and had no place in the Vedanta. If every one were to turn from the Tantras and Puranas to the Upanishads, if they sought to acquire the knowledge of Brahman as taught in the Upanishads and devoted themselves to His worship, then it would result in the utmost good of India…”(The Autobiography of Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, Macmillan, London, 1914).

While most of the Puranas generally describe Brahma as the god of creation, the different sects have different views about the Creator. The Puranas according to the sects to which they belonged have tried to show their deity, such as Vishnu, Siva or Devi as the Supreme Lord or Creator, sometimes relegating Brahma to the background.

In Saivism, Siva is described as the Supreme. According to Lingapuranam, ‘Siva is the inner ruler of all beings. He is called Supreme for He is superior to all. Siva, Sambhu and Sankara are different names of the great Ruler, the Universal Soul. .. The sages know that there exists no other God than Siva.’ 

In Vaishnavism one can find the description of Vishnu as the Supreme. Vishnupuranam mentions thus: May Lord Vishnu be pleased with us, from whom matter and soul emanate, who has created this universe consisting of moving and stationery things, and who is the prime cause of all this. Vishnu is that Brahman, from which this creation has emanated, with which it stays identified, in which it ever remains, and in which it eventually merges’.

In Shakteyism, the Devi is described as the Supreme. According to Markandeya Puranam, ‘Devi has created this universe by Her power. She includes in Herself potencies of all deities. With devotion, we bow to her, the Mother, who is adored by the gods and the sages alike. May She work out what is good for us!’

In Brahmavaivartta puranam one can also find the description of Ganesha as the Supreme: ‘Sri Ganesa is the source of this creation and the subsequent development thereof. Beyond the ken of all humanity is His form, which is primal in existence, foremost to be worshipped, adored by all, and full of auspicious qualities. He is both nirguna and saguna by His own sweet will…though Lord Ganesh is eternal, yet He appears and disappears at will by dint of His power.’

Similarly, Brahmapuranam describes that ‘Surya (Divakara) is the cause of all beings. It is by His desire that the universe consisting of all objects whether moving or stationery came into existence. Surya is the source of the three worlds. He is the great deity. The cosmos springs out of Him and again goes back to Him.’

The blending of mythology, rituals and practices thereon clashes with the esoteric teachings of the Upanishadic seers, who believed in the One Supreme Being, which they defined as ‘Satyam Jnaanamanantham Brahm – i.e., the Supreme Being is Truth, Knowledge and Infinity. It would be evident from the puranic literature that the concept of Swayambhuva Manu, from whom originated the creation in the beginning in association with the saptarshis has been altered in course of long ages giving prominence to Brahma, Vishnu, Siva etc.  

The Trimurti worship tradition existed as an authentic path for spiritual realization in the previous yuga cycles. However, its spiritual incumbency in the present age is questionable going by the evolving nature of dharma according to the yuga cycles. The Trimurti tradition promoted the cult of devi-deva worship according to the tastes of different sects. In this process, the inner teachings of Sanatana Dharma were lost to humanity. India needs the guidance of an all-knowing Sage to evaluate its true spiritual path. This is important. The Hindus can be united only under such a great Guru Parampara, which can lead them to spiritual enlightenment as well as social unity. The life mission of Navajyothisree Karunakara Guru was to reinvigorate this lost jnana path and after Adi Sankaracharya, this is the time for another great spiritual renaissance of India.

 Mukundan P.R.