The Knowledge and Practice of Hinduism

Teaching and Learning

From The Editor's Desk

(Hinduwebsite Editorial - Exploring Truth Amidst Illusions and Distortions)

Your faith is as good as your knowledge of it. So is your practice of it. Jayaram V

Dispassionate words that are truthful, pleasant and beneficial and also used in the recitation of the Vedic scriptures, this is said to be austerity of speech. Bhagavadgita 17.15

You and your faith are as good as your knowledge. Your life and worldview are shaped by it. The less you know about anything, the higher are the chances that you will inappropriately and emotionally react to it and to any situation that may arise from it. You see it happening almost every day in some part of the world.

In today's world, ignorance is still a major, social and educational problem. In the information age, where thousands of books are published every day, no one can be free from ignorance. However, knowing that you are ignorant and accepting that with humility is not seen in case of many.

Your knowledge also determines the quality of your thinking and decision making. Limited knowledge is exceedingly dangerous in many situations especially in religious matters. Limited knowledge can hurt you in spiritual practice and delude you in religious worship. In social and worldly matters, it can incite in you wrong passions and lead you in the wrong direction.

Fanaticism is one of the direct outcomes of ignorance, irrational exuberance, selective thinking, limited knowledge and narrow focus. It arises chiefly due to tamas, which as the Bhagavadgita states, clouds discrimination and discernment and makes people focus upon what they should ignore and ignore that to which they should pay attention. Hence it is self-destructive and does more harm than good.

Fanatics are highly intolerant and narrow-minded. They prefer to suppress dissenting voices by force or violence rather than debate and discuss. It is because they do not know much about their own religion or belief system, which they want to protect and defend. For them unconditional loyalty to their own ignorance is more important than individual freedom or commitment to explore truth.

It is where fanaticism poses a major challenge to Hinduism which is a complex religion and difficult to understand, and where scholars with a deeper understanding of Hinduism may find themselves at crossroads with fanatics and populist opinions. In the long run, if fanatics succeed in imposing their will upon the beliefs and practices of Hinduism, one can imagine the damage it will do its richness and diversity, which it has acquired over the millenniums.

Hinduism is an assortment of diverse beliefs and practices. You cannot easily define it. You cannot comprehend its breadth and depth. You may understand it better by knowing what it is not, rather than by what it is. It is so complex that even after years of study you may know but a little fraction of it. You may find experts in particular aspects of it but not in every aspect of it.

It is because you cannot simultaneously practice all forms of Hinduism, and grasp their subtle nuances and local traditions and customs that are associated with them. There are thousands of scriptures, hundreds of deities, numerous philosophies and schools thought, commentaries, aphorisms, ritual and spiritual practices, beliefs, and social and historical aspects, which cannot be covered by anyone in a lifetime.

Just as Hinduism is diverse and complex, Hindus are also diverse in their beliefs and practices. There is no such person as a typical Hindu, who embodies its comprehensive vision and stands for its diverse beliefs and practices. Even the most ardent, well studied, and well-trained Hindus embody only certain aspects of it, with which they are familiar.

Even the spiritual gurus, can speak to you about their tradition but not about every sect and religious practice. Since the earliest times, Hinduism has accommodated numerous approaches to explore truth and spirituality. It allowed both theistic and atheistic schools, and rational and irrational philosophies.

The diversity that is inherent in Hinduism should make Hindus more tolerant towards those who may not practice the same kind of Hinduism which they practice. If you study the history of Hinduism, you will realize that Hinduism thrived all these centuries because it facilitated self-cleansing introspection and revolutionary reforms from within. The Upanishadic philosophies that opposed empty ritualism, the rise of Shaivism and Vaishnavism in response to the challenges within Vedic religion, the semi-atheistic Samkhya and Yoga, the rationalistic Nyaya and Vaisheshikas, the extreme monism of Advaita, the dualistic Dvaita, the emotional, theism of Bhakti, the reform movements against caste distinctions and gender discrimination, the adaptations that facilitated regional and local diversity in beliefs and practices, the effort to assimilate tribal and folk traditions, and the modern reform movements of the past few centuries, are a few examples of how Hinduism coped with numerous challenges and emerged stronger in the end.

It allowed the tradition to absorb the shocks and remove the redundancies. It also helped it to respond to the growing awareness of people about the world, and offer a wider range of choices and opportunities to practice their faith and resolve their doubts and conflicts. Hindus of today should understand the historical processes that shaped the tradition and allow its positive trends to continue.

There should be no place for bigotry, fanaticism, and extremism in Hinduism. Those who indulge in them may justify it out of anger or frustration, but they do not know the consequences that may arise from them and the damage they may do to their souls and their salvation. There are inherent dangers in transforming Hinduism into a doctrinal religion, because in that eventuality someone may take control of its leadership with selfish motives and destroy its very foundation.

However, Hinduism allows debate and discussion to counter ideas and philosophies that are inimical to its core beliefs, and that should continue. There is a need to preserve the sattvic aspects of Hinduism and keep clear of the tamasic and rajasic attachment one forms with it and the passions they may incite.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Image Attribution: The topic image, Namaste, for this essay was created from the images at Wikimedia under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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