Idea of Hinduism
Satish K. Kapoor

Understanding India Relevance of Hinduism
Ed. Subhash C. Kashyap and Abhaya Kashyap. Vitasta Publishing, New Delhi.
Pages 536. Price not stated.

Hinduism defies definition, for it is as vast and complex as life itself. Definitions constrict and circumscribe and cannot truly project an ever-growing, ever-evolving and non-dogmatic tradition like Hinduism which has multi-dimensional aspects to it.

Hinduism is the embodiment of the total consciousness of the inhabitants of India—the crystallisation of their ideas, beliefs, values, intellectual activities, aesthetic sensibilities, and socio-cultural and economic perceptions through the course of time. Hinduism may be said to have a pentagonal character. It stands for a civilisation as old as mankind, for a mosaic of cultures shaped in different historical milieus, for a way of life based on the concepts of righteousness (dharma) and cosmic order (rta), for a social system and for a wide variety of philosophic and religious schools, each unique in itself and having its own raison d’etre.

In the sense of a faith, Hinduism does not have doctrinal homogeneity but it represents continuity in man’s attempts to unfold the mystery of existence. Far from being a rigid compendium of beliefs and practices, Hinduism is a quest for the timeless Reality through diverse paths leading to the same goal. It is a dynamic faith having the capacity to absorb new ideas, face challenges and revitalise itself from time to time. Hinduism has no historical founder because a tradition cannot be founded. It has evolved through the course of time, and in the process, thrown up prophets, mystics, philosophers, social reformers and others who have guided the destiny of people and set their goals and priorities in terms of the social milieu.

Divided into nine parts having 38 meaningful essays, the book puts together the expatiations of erudite scholars on various aspects of Hinduism—its religious, cultural and scientific heritage, its ethos and eidos, its secular and democratic credentials, its world-view and global ethics, its juristic values, its relevance to modern times, and its depleting demographic profile vis-`E0-vis national security concerns.

In his introductory essay, Subhash C. Kashyap argues that Hinduism, bereft of its purely religious connotation, embodies the quintessential of Indian culture. He laments that Western scholars who are more used to unilinear historical models of homogeneity find it difficult to appreciate the characteristic Indian unity. After drawing attention to Samuel P. Huntington’s work The Clash of Civilisations and his idea about American national identity, he poses a similar question, who are we?

"If American identity is threatened by demographic imbalances and global rise of militant Islam, no alarm bells should ring anywhere if Indians also talk of threat from demographic imbalances and if they also try to rediscover their identity on the basis of the core ethos and culture by which India has been known for thousands of years."

Kashyap’s view has been discussed in detail by Bharat Karnad, B. B. Dutta, Vinod Saighal, R. Hariharan N. Bhaskara Rao, P. N. Vasanti, D. C. Pathak and S. N. Singh. Hariharan explains how population changes caused by illegal immigration from Bangladesh have impacted democratic governance, precipitating national security concerns.

Bharat Karnad points out the dichotomy between the pro-active, and realistic machtpolitic of Vedic India and the later development of the passive, insular and fatalistic mindset. He argues that India needs to begin aggressively and single-mindedly to become a great power. Vinod Saighal suggests a reformulation of religious attitudes in a world that is using religion to further cherished geopolitical goals. He argues that national security must take into account "the over-dimension of the country’s Vedic and post-Vedic heritage".

H. R. Bhardwaj opines that Hindu thought and philosophy contain profound ideas on justice, equality, material well-being, community life, shared identity, rationality, and tolerance, which are indispensable for sustenance in a pluralistic society. Karan Singh describes Hinduism as a pluralistic, multifaceted, multi-polar faith which has been able to re-adapt and re-articulate itself from age to age. The Western challenge gave birth to such spiritual geniuses as Sri Ramakrishna Parmahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Sri Ramana Maharishi. The latest challenge is that of globalisation "and to that also we are trying to respond positively".

Swami Jitatmananda holds that Hinduism with its message of essential divinity of life is the universal religion of tomorrow. Francois Gautier and L. N. Jhunjhunwala explain how the Hindu thought influenced the West in such areas as science, mathematics languages and arts.

The book has many other brilliant and meaningful essays by noted scholars and writers like G. R. S. Rao, Hari Jaisingh, D. R. Kaarthikeyan, Gopal Sharma and T. H. Chowdary on the understanding of Hinduism. Kireet Joshi provides a succinct appraisal of the development of Hinduism and goes on to discuss its evolutionary character, its unique combination of spiritual order and spiritual freedom, and its deeper social and spiritual values which affirm active life. The essays on Hindu philosophy and religion are both insightful and interesting.

In the final analysis, Abhaya Kashyap discusses how is Hinduism necessary for the understanding of India in all its aspects—social, religious, cultural, political, and others. The book makes insightful reading and deserves to be read by students and scholars alike.