Hinduism allows free thought; it is not necessary to straitjacket it

There have always been Hindus, trying to redraw the form of this expansive religion, limiting it to followers of a narrow channel of worship.

ByK M Chandrasekhar

Published Mar 28, 2024 | 2:00 PMUpdatedMar 28, 2024 | 2:00 PM

Representational image. (iStock)

Like Shashi Tharoor, I, too, am a Hindu. I am a devout Hindu. And I am proud of my religion, Hinduism. Proud of its free, eclectic nature, proud of its ability to absorb and assimilate other cultures.

Proud of the fact that, despite the forcible entry of different religions and ways of thinking into the country, it resurfaced, again and again, reinventing itself, becoming more robust, more vital.

Every day, I meditate, endeavouring to seek the inner Self. I perform Agnihotra homa every evening, and I pray to my deities. I have no living Guru, but before I start my meditation or prayer, I place Sai Baba of Shirdi in my heart and seek his help.

Then, I allow all body parts to relax entirely and focus on my breath without trying to do gymnastics with it. Then, I visualise myself as a corpse.

I have the same mouth, ears, nose, eyes, skin, and brain, but I cannot see, hear, smell, or feel; my sensory organs are dead matter. My brain’s circulatory system, digestive system and electric signals would have stopped.

I would not be generating new thoughts, as my mind has stopped. I have no feelings, perceptions, or ideas.

My body is completely dead, but am I dead? Am I the body, the brain, the mind, but something else?

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I am the force

I am the force that activates the body, the mind and the intellect. And this force activates not only me but every object in the world, animate or inanimate.

In animate objects, it manifests in the form of life. In inanimate objects, it manifests in the form of growth and decay. It makes the planets spin, the galaxies race, and space itself grow at an accelerating pace.

It permeates everything and everywhere and is characterised by peace, love, and joy. The masters transcending the limitations of the body and the mind have access to this feeling.

We, too, have access to it occasionally when we experience deep joy. But what we experience as living entities is only a microcosm of its supreme manifestation.

We keep searching for little joys because we are yearning for supreme bliss. I am nowhere near accessing the state of SatChitAnanda, but when I get up after the meditation, I feel peaceful, stable, and confident.

This is the reason why I get deeply disturbed by the attempts made by some people to limit my Hinduism.

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Transcends narrow thought

My Hinduism embraces all, whatever they call themselves: Sikhs, Christians, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, whatever.

There have always been people, Hindus themselves, who endeavour to redraw the contours of this expansive religion, to limit it to some people who follow a narrow channel of worship, but my Hinduism had transcended all.

Over the centuries, it became a political device to gain dominance over the people.

Then, the Buddha emerged. His philosophy was not materially different from Vedic and Upanishadic thought; his nirvana was not different from the Hindu moksha, but his thought was devoid of distinctions based on caste and gender.

Buddhism swept the country and beyond, reaching South East Asia, China and Japan. For many centuries, Buddhism reigned supreme across the country.

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Complexity of Buddhism

As it grew, it became increasingly complex. The Nalanda school, in particular, became highly esoteric, with the likes of Nagarjuna and Chandrakeerti.

A hierarchical structure developed within Buddhist monasteries, and the evils of Brahminical Hinduism touched the Buddhist faith.

The time was ripe for another revolution, inspired by a young man of remarkable spiritual and physical qualities from Kalady in Kerala.

He found within himself immense reserves to travel across the country and restore the tenets of pure Hinduism.

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Advent of Sankara

Sankaracharya is often described as a prachhanna bauddha, a Buddhist in disguise, not an inapt description, as Buddhism and Hinduism, in their purest forms, are based on the same thought processes.

Muslim invaders came and tried to impose Islam, yet Hinduism held its own.

Christian missionaries came; they did not use coercion but chose education and health services to preach their faith while the British governed the country, yet Hinduism continued in its pristine form.

What has made Hinduism survive through the ages? The most important factor is that, unlike organized religions, it allows free thought.

Dr S. Radhakrishnan wrote, “In the history of the world, Hinduism is the only religion that exhibits a complete independence and freedom of the human mind, its full confidence in its own powers. Hinduism is freedom, especially the freedom to think about God.”

Hinduism can embrace all schools of thinking. The Charvakas were nihilists, complete materialists who would not go beyond the bounds of materialist reductionism.

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Advaita, Dvaita, Kriya

Advaita Vedanta of Sankaracharya, the school that most appeals to me, believes that only one absolute reality encompasses all there is and is beyond time and space; it has no form and no attributes.

Madhvacharya’s Dvaita Vedanta believes that the universe, too, has reality. The Brahmakumaris advise visualising an intensely bright light in space into which our souls ascend.

Kriya Yoga of Paramahamsa Yogananda includes Jesus in their pantheon of Masters. Shirdi Sai Baba kept his antecedents unknown and never claimed to be Hindu or Muslim.

Hinduism has taken multiple gods from all over the country and beyond within its fold. It is up to each Hindu to adopt any form of worship as his Ishta Devata.

Kabir chose Rama, Meera loved Krishna, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa ecstasised over the mother goddess. Hindus can select their path, whether of pure worship and surrender, knowledge, action, or meditation.

As Adi Shankaracharya said, “As the waters falling from the heavens reach the ocean, worship of all gods reaches the same Keshava.”

It is not necessary to straitjacket Hinduism, establish its supremacy over any stream of thought, or consider Hindus as being superior or inferior to others.

Hinduism, with its vast expanse, can overcome all efforts to belittle it.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “My position is that all the great religions are fundamentally equal. We must have innate respect for other religions as we have for our own. Mind you, not mutual tolerance, but equal respect.”

(The writer is a retired IAS officer and former Union Cabinet Secretary. Views are personal.)