Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The 'avial' of darshanas and the state of the common Hindu

Sri gurubhyo namaha.

I am quite often amazed to see the many misconceptions (to put it mildly) regarding the Hindu philosophy/thought both within the Indian community and the International community. An attempt to trace the root of many such misconceptions leads me to a point in history a couple of thousand or so years back. Perhaps it is coincidence that it goes back to the period of SrimadAcharya (Adi shankara) or perhaps there is no such thing as a coincidence!

One of the most dazzling gems in the crown of Indian thought is (or was) its ability to accommodate as many points of view as there are viewers! I am convinced that the intensity of collective thought increases in subtlety in direct proportion to the level of general and individual acceptance prevalent at anytime in any society. The early Hindu, I am sure did not perceive his/her practise to be a 'religion'. It was Sanatana Dharma - the eternal and always true dharma or cosmic law. There were different sects (many many to mention separately) with completely different sets of cosmologies, philosophies, methods to put them into practise, rituals etc. Not only were they different, they were often totally contradictory. Yet they flourished both in terms of fine tuning their own philosophical pursuits and also in terms of churning out amazing individuals, siddhas and masters of their respective disciplines. Much like the modern day India - a large and quite varied continent, where each state has its own language,script, festivals, dress code,moral code, calender, new year etc and still under the same tricolour banner.

In those days, the most important sects which commanded a huge following were Shaiva (shiva worshippers), Vaishnava (vishnu worshippers), Shakta (shakti worshippers), Ganapatya (ganesha worshippers), Saura (sun worshippers) and the worshippers of Agni or fire. As mentioned above, they followed different paths and percieved the world around them through different sets of philosophies. Their texts contradicted each other superficially (and perhaps technically), but were at the same time aimed as paths to more or less the same objective/goal, with difference only in the terminology. Even though there were the same 33 million gods and goddesses even then, on a personal level the puja room of an individual was not as cluttered as today (with images/relics/figures/etc of all the 33 million and a few more!). Similarly, the upasana or sadhana paths that an individual followed most often depended on family,geographical location and to some extent the individuals inner level. And most importantly the society in general accepted people as they were, without an unspoken expectation for everyone to turn out to be another super conscious babaji. They realised that jnyana or 'knowledge' will eventually dawn in the heart of each and every jiva at the appropriate time. It is like the gradual (and definite) ripening of a fruit with the tides of the seasons, the sun and moon all exerting their unbiased influence on the fruit. It was universal and did not depend on the caste or sub caste of the mango or apple.

On the other hand, the advent of the different thought systems from the middle east and early Christianity and more importantly (closer to home) the rise of the Buddhist and Jain thought systems became the catalyst for a Hindu resurgence, albeit in a thoroughly modified version. This period is often termed as the Golden era or the Bhakti era by historians and is generally held to be the most important period of sustained growth and evolution of Hindu'ism. I don't know if that's true - but I know for sure that it is the time when the mild confusion (as a result of the contradictory philosophies among the different Hindu systems) in the Sanatana dharma was magnified out of proportion as a result of the various slants/modifications of the original thought to aid the resurgence of Hinduism. Almost all the different systems had a thorough overhaul of their various facets to make them fit (more comfortably) under the unified banner of Hindu thought. Stories of the puranas, crucial texts, the original darshanas and their commentaries, ritual practises etc were all doctored to suit the common end - to deal ruthlessly with the threat of Buddhism (and to a certain extent Jainism). Thus, suddenly great texts and sutras were interpreted not with the evolution of the individual from the realms of Maya in mind, but with the intention of gaining the upper hand in an argument.

SrimadAcharya toured the length and breadth of the nation and many other notable sages and saints too - defeating great many scholars of various schools of thought in debates and arguments and overpowering them with the school of thought called adwaitha (non duality) and Mayavada (the argument that everything in the world and this life is in fact a gross illusion). I am not a genius nor a great scholar to explain to you the various technical arguments in terms of the different philosophical systems - its hard enough trying to understand them for myself! But the point I am trying to bring your attention to is the fact that almost all Hindu doctrine was changed in retrospect to suit the reactionary counter arguments that had to be made. It is as if the main intention of the philosophy was to counter argue anything but itself (even though a reading of the texts of the Sankhya philosophy shows many places where the arguments often lead to nowhere concrete). This reinterpretation of the texts then became the fundamental block to the real and concrete spirituality of the Hindu - as suddenly, the universality and the mind blowing subtlety of the words of the Vedas became bound by the shackles of playing the devils advocate.

To illustrate an example, the Buddha himself is presented as an avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu and the purpose of his incarnation is shown to be the deluding of the unfaithful into wrong paths leading to the worst of hells! In the one stone, a great many birds are felled. Buddha becomes a Hindu manifestation to begin with, then his philosophies are derided by assigning to them the virtue of delusion, and it reinforces the concept that those converting to Buddhism were on a fast track to hell! Many such things, a tweak here and a tweak there, which is hardly capable of being noticed as most people do not question anything more than a couple of levels. They have other distractions and their own inner demons to fight and thus do not have the time, inclination nor the dedicated self discipline needed to try and understand any of this deeply. But eventually, when we pan to an overview of things, almost everything is different since that time. And over time, there is so much misrepresentation that it has just become the norm. Leaving us in a position where double the amount of work is now needed to just come to an even and clear start point.

We live in a time today where the shaddarshanas are all intermingled, a bit of this and a bit of that and a bit of everything in the same pot - an 'avial' of darshanas and paths as it were! The common man practices yoga (hatha to be precise) without first of all acknowledging that the philosophy of yoga does not attribute anything to God. It is aimed at reaching beyond God (in the religious sense of the word). Just like the capitalist thought which brutally introduced common needs to the masses (like the car, house, money etc) irrespective of whether it was necessary in the individual case of not, we live in times where spiritual thought also is whitewashed for the masses. Everyone is subconsciously tuned into expecting to be super conscious, divine, with instant kudalini awakenings and online/phone initiations! The dilution of the systems and philosophies into nothing more than crowd pullers, though seemingly encouraging the masses to all join in at present, will definitely lead to the total collapse of the refinement of thought in the years to come. In isolation, there are species which evolve that challenge the normal perception of things. Similarly, the isolation (both socially and physically) of the adherents of the different systems originally would have definitely helped in shaping the philosophies and in refining them to supra subtle levels, simultaneously helping them to exist side by side even though they opposed each other theoretically. And the modern dilution of all things sacred and mysterious (in the name of free will, globalisation & a unique type of spiritual capitalism) will take us to a point where there is nothing sacred anymore. Nothing mysterious, nothing hidden. Nothing worth searching for. A time when a visa card is the only requisite for Maha medha diksha or immortality or anything else for that matter.

Luckily though, it is obvious from history that this dharma is Sanatana and eternal! Like the sun after setting is not lost to the world forever, but is out of sight merely till the next sunrise, the dharma too will resurface at the right time. The supreme power which choreographs this great appearnce, peak, plateau, the downfall and ruin to the point of total destruction, and the subsequent resurfacing of the dharma - that Devi, that Shakti, is my only refuge. Yours too probably!


Kanna said...

As ever, love the post. I initially perceived it to be about the current saffronization state of affairs, but then realized that you're talking about a time long past, and how the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) changes along the way have brought us to where we are in our understanding and perception of Hinduism. It is a bit sad that people assume the role of protectors of culture, religion and ways of life - I think it is highly presumptuous. It's one thing to want to continue a practice to ensure its continued survival, but another thing entirely to find a need to put a media spin on it to convince the masses. It is also ironic, considering that what these people are fighting to protect, should need no "protection" if it is indeed as strong as the self-proclaimed protectors claim it to be!

I love your sentence - "Thus, suddenly great texts and sutras were interpreted not with the evolution of the individual from the realms of Maya in mind, but with the intention of gaining the upper hand in an argument." - I think that succinctly conveys the intentions of the culture/religion protection brigade.

I also think that around the globe, as humanity "progressed", purveyors of theology deemed it a necessity for beliefs to be free of ambiguity and contradiction, which in itself in my opinion is a sure fire way to kill any sort of self questioning or creative thinking. This becomes especially grotesque when the subject in question is, in essence, self-contradictory and that is indeed the beauty of it, and it is the study of this nature of the beast that leads the inquisitive ones to enlightenment - in my opinion, of course.

That said, regarding the part about the commodization of spirituality and enlightenment, I can see where you're coming from, but the way I see it, it's actually welcome. Of course, that reaction is purely pragmatic and is not profound or rooted in deep thought or anything. It's just that given the various things in which humanity could immerse itself, which could, and often does, span the breadth from war to crime to exploitation to greed to patriarchy and god knows what else, anything that takes up space in this spectrum is denying something else its place, and if that anything is spiritual inquisitiveness, however packaged in sheen it might be, is causing less harm than more. Would I rather be sorrounded by gun-toting war-mongering self-righteous supremacists, or would I rather be sorrounded by goofy new-age mantra-seeking kundalini-raising guru chasers? I know we are talking extremes here, but my point is that the latter is a better (definitely agreed that it is not the best or the ideal, of course) option.

But in all, a great topic for discussion!


mooligai sidhan said...

@ Kanna
Many thanks.As always, yours is a reflection/perspetive I much respect - not because it follows pramanas,but because it is the view from a place which is reached by consciously cutting a bit of undergrowth!
Your perception re the spiritual marketplace is a welcome thought. It might open me up to relax my attitude about the 'dilution' of the paths - God (and my wife!)knows that I need to relax a bit about that!Though the world would be a much better (and more interesting) place if there were more of the kundali raising guru chasers rather than the gun toting self-righteous,there is another aspect to this.
Since the spiritual paths and the deeply subtle truths they embody are at the very root of the individual and collective evolution as a whole, the dilution of such truths and processes lead to an overall disabilty in our collective consciousness eventually. Like the original dilution spoken of in the post (in the 'golden' age)leading to our present state of affairs, this current trend of itemised and mass marketed spirituality will surely take us to a place where we cannot rely on and draw a deep swig from the spiritual cauldron to aid in the 'progress' of humanity in times of need.
The force needed by any individual and any collective society which when exerted will re align their inner compasses to their soul's destination (considering that they are off course)is something that is gathered from the 'actualisation' of these metaphysical concepts and processes. So a watering down of them will be in effect, the blocking of our 'fire exits' at times of collective crisis.

Having said that, I still think that nothing that is not supposed to happen will ever happen and nothing that cannot happen will ever happen!Its all a very big interconnected play and any single party cannot override the system (unless that single party was a mighty siddha). So, like global warming and ice caps melting, the kundalini raising, guru chasing instant enlightenment techniques will not be a permanant issue. The true lineages and paramparas will continue endlessly - not maybe visibly, not maybe marked by the gold srichakra maha merus for $5 in January sales at the ashram. But continue they will. Like they have always done. The Dharma is Sanatana after all!

Every day has a sunset and No night is everlasting!! (thankfully)

amit said...

according to me, what you write is true, and we should move toward the way of soul. and led others too towards it.
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ram said...

Friend.. Jus a small correcion.. Adi Sankara is not SriMadAcharya... Madhwacharya is called SriMadAcharya...