...
 

Analyzing Hindu Fundamentalism

Religious fundamentalism can be defined as strict adherence to certain fundamental theological doctrines as prescribed in the sacred text(s). Originally, fundamentalism[1] applied to the Christian faith and it called for belief in the literal truth of the Bible. When taken at face value, it would amount to converting the whole of humanity to Christianity with total disregard towards all the other faiths.[2] The Qur’an holds a slightly broader view than the Christian Bible: It refers to the Jews and the Christians as people of the Book and others as infidels.[3] But the Qur’an, like the New Testament of the Bible, also believes that it is the final revelation of God and hence everyone including Jews and Christians also should follow it. Thus, Islamic fundamentalism pretty much means the same thing – convert the whole of humanity to Islam.[4] As a result, Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism are not only a threat to each other but also to every other society.

It is no surprise that these two faiths have spread with much vigor and have devastated most religions and cultures. The intolerance they have shown towards even Judaism, which is among the Abrahamic religions (and precursor to these two), is a testimony to their fervor. This is not to say that they do not have the power to heal. But generally, their healing has come only after they have brought down a pre-existing peaceful and a viable situation.

Fundamentalism as applied to Judaism would mean that only the Jews are the chosen people, and their God is exclusively for the Jews. It would also mean that the frontiers of Israel (The Promised Land) as described in the Torah, belong exclusively to them.[5] Since they do not seek converts, Judaic fundamentalism poses no threat to the faiths that are outside their promised land, which is a narrow region comprising only 0.1% of land mass of the earth.

Zoroastrian and Baha’i fundamentalism pertain largely to retaining their identity and customs. They do not seem to pose any threat to other religions. Zoroastrianism is an ancient religion with a strong influence of the Vedic religion. Baha’ism is a milder re-interpretation of the Islamic religion. Zoroastrians are few in number and are mostly in India and Iran. Baha’ism has a small worldwide following and many voluntary follow Baha’i principles.

Buddhist and Jain fundamentalism would mean denying the existence of God (in the sense of the other religions of faith). Due to their difference with the religions of faith, in theory they would appear to be a potential threat to all religions of faith. However, in reality they are not. In fact, their ways of worship has incorporated many elements of the Hinduism and vice versa. Their major difference with Hinduism pertains to negation of the authority of the Vedas, especially the Vedic rituals and social divisions common to Hinduism. The days are gone when a Hindu leader would deliberately debate and negate those religions and actively win their followers to Hindu-fold, as it happened hundreds of years ago. One can also imagine that a fundamentalist Jain state would forbid meat consumption and use of any animal products, just as an Islamic or a Jewish state would prohibit sale of pork. A fundamentalist Buddhist state also will be reluctant to allow animal sacrifice. Emperor Ashoka (2nd Century BCE) banned animal slaughter following his conversion to Buddhism.

Sikhism believes in one God and does not aggressively seek converts. Sikh fundamentalism is largely not a threat to other religions. Their fundamentalism mostly focuses on retaining the Sikh identity and fighting for a Sikh nation. Recent history has shown that this nationalistic zeal has become a threat to the Sikhs as well as to others, specially the Hindus.[6]

The impact of fundamentalism of the various aboriginal faiths pertains to their locale and most of the threat is against all those who may have exploited them. Their fundamentalism takes the form of retaining their identity, regaining their territories and seeking privileges as compensation for past injustices their ancestors were subjected to.

Communism, at least in principle, seeks to annihilate all religious faiths. The way communist China extinguished the Buddhist order in the entire mainland including the autonomous region of Tibet, is a prime example. The Indian brand of Communism is rather cynical, as it appears to be opposed only to Hinduism and on every occasion it joins the bandwagon with fundamentalists of other religions in the Indian context. Communist regimes in other countries, such as Cuba, have been relatively more tolerant of religion.

Secularism, by definition, is something that is outside of religion. It calls for a separation of the state and religion. Though it doesn’t actively seek to antagonize religion, it can be perceived as a threat by religious institutions since it advocates an ethical and a moral code that is independent of all religious considerations or practices. (In India, ‘secularism’ has taken on a funny and distorted meaning; we should remember that the original meaning of the word is different).

However, secularism is perhaps the most reasonable, desirable and rational system for coexistence in a world with many religious faiths. A threat to secularism is a threat to all religions as well as to the basic human freedom and dignity itself.

Now let us examine what amounts to Hindu fundamentalism. As defined earlier, fundamentalism refers to a strict adherence to certain basic theological doctrines prescribed by the sacred text(s), which in the case of Hinduism would include the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad-Gita. The fundamental principles enshrined in these texts are: respect, tolerance, and assimilation of all faiths and philosophies. These concepts are deeply rooted in the Rigveda, which tells us that “God is one and sages call it by different names”[7] and “Let noble thoughts come to us from every direction.”[8]

Assimilation does not mean elimination of uniqueness. It just means drawing on the nectar of wisdom from various sources. Likewise, “God is one” does not mean all religions are same. That would be like saying both Italian food and Mexican food are same, although their purpose is the same. Thus Hindu fundamentalism would let every faith there is, there can be, there may be, and there will be, to prosper, without denying their uniqueness. This is perhaps the reason why India, where the majority follows Hinduism, is the only country where religious holidays pertaining to many world religions are celebrated and several religions have co-existed for ages.

Does this mean that the Hinduism does not pose any threat to other faiths? Perhaps, it does. A major threat, if one would like to call it so, is the threat of assimilation. All other faiths and philosophies may appear to lose their original identity and merge into Hinduism. However, this threat is largely unfounded. In reality, Hinduism, like the English language is ever-growing and ever-assimilating; it is extremely dynamic and generously absorbs noble truths from anything it comes in contact with. At times it appears to misrepresent other religions – for example, Buddha was made an incarnation of Vishnu, but this has not done any harm to Buddhism or affected the teachings of Buddha. Within the body of Hinduism itself many conflicting texts and philosophies have been preserved. And in spite of the conflicting views, Hindus have never discarded any text and have lived in harmony.

Another apparent threat is that Hinduism may be making a subtle and unintended mockery of other faiths for their narrow and rigid focus (for instance, see Bhagavad-Gita 7.21).[9] A rather indirect threat with direct consequences to both Hindus and others is that most Hindus fail to acknowledge the differences that exist between the various religions and say that all religions are same. This by definition is blasphemous to several religions. Basically, in their harmonizing zeal, Hindus generally deny the uniqueness claimed by many religions, and blindly (even fanatically) claim that all religions are same. In doing so, they do grave injustice both to Hinduism and to other religions.  Hindus, blinded by their magnanimity to embrace all religions ignore the obvious – respect and tolerance also must include respecting the uniqueness and intolerance claimed by other religions!

The half-baked partition of British India into India and Pakistan in 1947, is also an outcome of the inability of Hindu leaders to recognize the uniqueness claimed by other religions (Muslims for Islam in this case). This is imposition of Hindu mind-set and continues to be the most expensive burden on the Indian sub-continent. It has caused loss of millions of lives, and huge amount of national resource. Both the nations are at each other’s throat and it appears like the worst is not over yet. India has not forgiven the Muslims for partition and Pakistan has not forgiven Hindus for the half-baked partition. If Islamic fundamentalism founded the holy and pure state of Pakistan, it is the misguided Hindu ideal that contaminated it by leaving a significant non-Muslim population in Pakistan. Likewise it also coerced a large number of Muslims (equivalent to nearly 50% of population of newly formed Pakistan) to stay in India, thus compromising their opportunity to live in a pure Islamic country.  Because it was the Muslim leadership that insisted on partition based on religion, all the Muslims could have been settled in the newly formed Pakistan and India could have remained a country for rest of the Indians.

Unfortunately, many Hindus fail to see that imposition of Hindu mindset in understanding other religions, even when they explicitly claim exclusivity is also sort of Hindu fundamentalism. This patronizing nature is an irritant even to other religions that took birth in India (Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism). Apart from this, there is a ‘misguided’ Hindu fundamentalism, practiced by relatively small yet vocal number of Hindus. It was these who were responsible for bringing down Babri Masjid and killing some missionaries. They make all the wrong provocative calls for Hinduism. They also claim that all Indians are Hindus and call for shutting of Western influence entirely. They claim that all the modern scientific and technological advancement was already made by the ancient Hindus. They also attack night clubs and harass people who celebrate Valentine’s Day and public display of love. It is this brand of Hindus that are labeled as Hindu fundamentalists in the news media, because in some ways, they behave like the fundamentalists from other religions such as Christianity and Islam. Ironically, these are the Hindus who have deviated from following ‘fundamental’ Hindu principles. Next time when we encounter the term “Hindu fundamentalists” in the popular media, we should remind ourselves that it is a misnomer and what it actually means is that some Hindus have deviated from the fundamental tenets of the Hinduism, pretending to safeguard it.

One of the essential features of Hinduism is the recognition that all practices and customs are dictated by time, place, and context (for instance, see Bhagavad-Gita 3.28).[10] It is only the fundamental spiritual concepts like rta, satya, and dharma that remain unchanged. Unlike the Qur’an, no Hindu scripture says that it is the final edition. Hinduism is not opposed to reformation but in fact, welcomes freshness in thought. The Semitic religions don’t have an internal framework that promotes doubt, debate, and dissent. Hinduism does. And though it is an ancient faith, this feature makes it an ever-renewing faith. However, many Hindus resist this and think of it as a threat to their religion and/or culture.

Now comes the great dilemma: How to prevent Hinduism from the onslaught from within or by other religions? Perhaps this is done best by not imposing Hindu mind-set on others (including other Hindus) but by understanding others from their perspective and work on settlement devoid of violence or appeasement of the contending parties.

Footnotes

1fun•da•men•tal•ism ˌfəndəˈmen(t)lˌizəm / noun
a form of a religion, especially Islam or Protestant Christianity, that upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture.
strict adherence to the basic principles of any subject or discipline.
Also see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalism

2New Testament, John 14:6. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (New International Version)

3Qur’an 42:13. “The same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah …and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.” (Omar, Amatul Rahman and Omar, Abdul Mannan. The Holy Qur’an (as explained by Allamah Nooruddin). Hockessin: Noor Foundation International Inc., 2000)
In the Qur’an there are many references to the Jewish and Christian Holy Books. In fact the Qur’an (5:68) addresses Christians and Jews in terms of the Book: “O People of the Book!” (http://www.answering-islam.org/Green/onbible.htm)

4Qur’an, 3:19. “The only religion approved by God is Islam (Submission).”

5See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Promised_Land

6See http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khalistan_movement

7Rigveda Samhita 1.64.46. They call him (the Sun) Indra, Mitra, Varuna, and Agni. / He is also the divine Garutman with fine wings. / The one Supreme is hailed by the wise by many names, / including Agni, Yama, and Matarishvan.

8Rigveda Samhita 1.89.1. May noble thoughts come to us from every side, / unchanged, unhindered, undefeated in every way; / May the gods always be with us for our gain and / our protectors caring for us, ceaseless, every day.

9Bhagavad-Gita 7.21. “But, in whatever form one chooses to worship god in good faith, I strengthen his faith further.” (Sreekrishna, Koti and Ravikumar, Hari. The New Bhagavad-Gita. Mason: W.I.S.E. Words, 2011)

10Bhagavad-Gita 3.28. “One who has true insight into the interplay of guna and karma, and how they are influenced by the collective nature of society, does not get entangled.”
The world is always in motion and thus, always changing. Most of us are a part of the society and are influenced by it. Our customs, mannerisms, and practices adjust themselves to our surroundings if we let them follow a natural course. But if we are perturbed by changing times and cling on to practices that are not applicable today, then we are bound to be confused.

Koti Sreekrishna religions Analyzing Hindu Fundamentalism koti

Koti Sreekrishna

Dr. Koti Sreekrishna is a senior scientist in the Global Biotechnology division at the Procter & Gamble Company. His interests include philosophy, inter-religious dialogue, and studying the Hindu scriptures. He has previously co-authored three books and several articles on the Bhagavad-Gita. He currently serves as the Religious Counselor in the Hindu Society of Greater Cincinnati (HSGC).
Koti Sreekrishna religions Analyzing Hindu Fundamentalism koti

Latest posts by Koti Sreekrishna (see all)

  • Badi19

    Bahaism do not seem to pose any threat to other religions.
    False

    Baha’ism is a milder re-interpretation of the Islamic religion.
    True

    Baha’ism has a small worldwide following
    True

    Baha’is believe in establishing a New World Order based on Baha’i principles and ‘Ruled’ by them.
    See this video, this is by their own Counselor

    Here is a good article by an ex-Baha’i scholar / historian who compares Baha’ism to Al-Qaeda. So it is not proper to call it Milder in anyway.

    http://ruhibooks.blogspot.com/2011/12/bahai-faith-and-al-qaida.html

    In India there are 4572 Baha’is according to the census of 2011.

  • SuchindranathAiyer

    The fact of the matter is that the eradication of the traditional hereditary priesthood and law givers, (Brahmins) by the British since 1857 and their stooges since 1921; and the confiscation of the Temples, Treasure, Lands, Water Bodies, Forests, Commonwealth, Religious Freedoms, and Traditional Schools of those who adhered to Aryan (Brahmin) Law throughout British India in 1923, turned the “People of Dharma” into a a persecuted minority that was rolled into an artificial “Hindu” lumpen leading to a religious vacuum.

    British efforts to distort the Vedas and the Smrithis through the William Hunter Commission and their many Native stooges continued relentlessly and pushed pieces of literature such as the Gita (an excerpt from the Mahabharatha which contains far more sagacious passages such as Vidura Neethi and Sanath Sujatheeyam) as canonical to substitute Brahmin wisdom and law that was a strictly unwritten and oral tradition.

    This was followed through by the Cambridge, Columbia, Elphinstone, Presidency, St Stephen’s, Loyola, Madras Christian, Oxford and otherwise brain washed WOGs of the Indian Republic who turned the People of Dharma into third class citizens with their 1949 Constitution and confiscated their temples, treasure, water bodies, lands, forests, commonwealth and educational facilities in what was left of India, including former princely states in 1959,

    Because of all this, we have a “Hindooism” today that comprises a thousand cults driven by alien ideologies, from Supreme Courtism and High Courtism to Dalitism and Feminism. The ladder of spiritual progress and human evolution established by the Prathamo Upanishad, that lays down the notions of Karma and Dharma, received from Brahma by the Saptha Rishis and passed down father to son since then and which formed the fulcrum of Brahmanism around which Bharatha Varsha and the People of Dharma rallied, is now forgotten in deference to the British promoted instant coffee of the Gita and Gandhian “tolerance” or Sai Baba “inclusion”!

  • koti sreekrishna

    Thanks for your detailed response. While you have made valid observations, I don’t see any connection to subject matter. Gandhi was a Hindu Fundamentalist who gave us half baked partition by imposing his ideals on Jinnah. That was discussed. Can you think of a more universal and better book than Gita for Hindus. It was valued high by Shankara and other Acharyas as well. Why do you think it is British who did that?

  • SuchindranathAiyer

    The Gita has no canonical significance whatsoever. The Gita is one fragment of a magnificent literary work (Mahabharatha) that includes far more perspicacious, perspicuous and sagacious passages of guidance for personal, political and spiritual mastery such as the Vidura Neethi and Sanath Sujatheeyam.

    Gita achieved prominence and popularity in the Indian Republic because it was espoused by political figures such as Khilafart Gandhi. It has been vested with canonical significance by “pop” spiritualists and India’s peculiar courts The Bhagavad Gita as a “Hindu Granth” would be unacceptable to India’s pre 1921 “Hindus” (The People of Dharma bound by Arya-Brahmana Law) who were all bound by Aryan Law: Shaivites, Jains, Budhists, Sikhs and even that almost exterminated minority of Shroutha Smartha Brahmins whose sole canon (if they are genuine Shroutha -heard, Smartha-remembered Brahmins) is the Prathamo Upanishad received by their patrilineal ancestors, the Saptha Rishis, from Brahma and which gave birth to the notions of Karma and Dharma which is the sole double helix of that unlikely potpourri of religions, “Hinduism” thaumaturged by the British and followed through by the Indian Republic.

    The Gita was a practical joke foisted on the Hindus by the British after they eradicated traditional “Hindoo” law giving and jurisprudence together with Brahmanism. It is like “Ajax defying the lightning” from Homer’s Iliad being given canonical significance in European Courts or “Polonius’ advise to his son” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet being proffered for oath taking in a British Court. The British piggy backed on the strength of the Gita being blessed with commentaries by the founder of Sanathana Dharma, Shankaracharya to foist it.

    A distinction must be drawn between characters, historical events and the embroidery of romance. Shakespeare’s “Julius Ceasar” is a play. It draws on Plutarch for facts of History which cannot themselves be truly verified. But the characters are real and the principal events are drawn from History. Yet, Antony’s peroration flows entirely from the genius of Shakespeare. As does Polonius’ advise to his son in Hamlet which is as sagacious as bits of Vidura Neethis. Vidura Neethi and Sanath Sujatheeyam by the way are far more worthy of study than the Kitsch Bhagavad Geeta that was popularized to fill the vacuum that was created when the British began to exterminate Brahmins in 1857 and thereafter, put their stooges of the “Justice Party” (the so called “Dravid” movement and parties) on the job in 1921.

    The Ramayana and the Mahabharatha are masterly pieces of literature that make Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey look somewhat amateur and the Old Testament or the Quran seem crude and barbaric.. They revolve around real characters and portray the culture and ambience of the times very well. And many incidents are pivotal aberrations that created horrific wars or ruptures of harmony by violating Dharma. BUT, History they are not. .But then, is there any History?

    The Shroutha Smartha (Oral tradtional) History has been maliciously discredited together with Brahmanism. History like “Hindooism” is now a mythology of political convenience. Nowhere is this so true as in the India of Ashoka’s edicts, Indira Gandhi’s time capsules and where the Parliament stood up, in one accord in 2012, to remove cartoons published in 1948 from Government approved School History text books.. The Prathamo Upanishad from which the notions and laws of Karma and Dharma originate are passed down, father to son, by Shroutha Smartha Brahmins at the time of Upanayana since their ancestors, the Saptha Rishis, received it from Brahma. It is not to be divulged, but may only be interpreted as advice to the laity as per time, context and predicament. Before the British, began the eradication of Brahmanism in 1857 that was followed through by their Native PANGOLIN stooges since 1921 and with complete viciousness by the Indian Republic after 1947, Shroutha Smartha Brahmins used to advise the people of Dharma individually and personally from the Nyaya Mantapas of the temples (that were confiscated along with the rest of their commonwealth by the British in 1923 and definitively by the Indian Republic in 1959) much like the Gita portrays Krishna doing for Arjuna and also dispense Aryan Justice in cases brought before them by the community.

  • koti sreekrishna

    If you say Gita has no canonical significance whatsoever, and it gained prominence in British and post British India, everything else you say is insignificant and insipid. I see your logic and analytical ability are very poor at best. What all you have studied of Sanatana Dharma and world literature did not amount to anything much other than it confused and cluttered you more. However, I feel amused that people like your thinking are there, which reinforces to me important of Gita and also instructs me why Gita was lost on us!

  • SuchindranathAiyer

    Your point of view is worthy of any Indian Judge. It demonstrates a lack of erudition, arithmetic and integrity and reeks of prejudice. You need an education. Best of luck. Meanwhile you could try and reassess your ignorance on this: I received my Brahma Upadesha in 1967, received Deeksha in 1983 and the title of Pandita and Bharathi in 1987

  • koti sreekrishna

    But of what value? You did not grow much other than getting caught in the web of information.

  • SuchindranathAiyer

    Even if you are not accepted into a Patha Shala or higher institution of Vedic Learning, you might benefit from an intensive course in English reading and comprehension.

  • koti sreekrishna

    You have proven me the futility of whatever you have learnt. “Alam visthareNa”. Get back to closet and keep your learning which is a secret and remains so. I am yet to see any proof of it other than verbiage garbage. You did not even understand the article and went on in tangent belittling the best product of Indian heritage- Gita and giving the impression that everything was holy glory until 1857. People like you were and are a bane to Hinduism. Actually I should have had a paragraph addressing your kind of people in the article as part of Hindu Fundamentalists with titles but do not know even the fundamental principles of Hinduism. This is a public forum and many sensible people are reading it. Save your soul and don’t belittle the value of your titles.

  • SuchindranathAiyer

    “Hinduism”? Indeed. A defunct nationality that the British made into a religion of convenience. A mythology for the ignorant masses bereft of a true education and law giving priesthood. Keep it. I have better things to do.

  • koti sreekrishna

    You are incorrigible in this matter anyhow with prejudice and truck loads of misunderstandings. Better do something else!

  • Krishna Kasturi

    I thought you had some salient points though i fundamentally disagreed with your views on Hindu -so called- fundamentalism. But my interest in any sort of discussion waned after I saw how quickly you get abusive with people who put forth their opinions on your article or the subject you seem to have given yourself permission to lecture about. Very sad….you are displaying fundamentalism yourself, methinks.

  • Krishna Kasturi

    good heavens, sir! What a pucca brown sahib you are!

  • HidayatRizvi

    What does bjp have in store for you? Chastity belts, a common practice in BJP ruled Rajasthan. A female passenger in a public bus was found bleeding from her thighs and the fellow passengers took her to hospital. At the hospital, the doctors who examined the lady found that she was wearing a chastity belt. The lady was bleeding from the injuries caused by wearing the belt.

    In many parts of the state, the law enforcement agency, particularly the police, are controlled by the local political party leaders. Most of them, believing and propagating their interpretation of Hinduism, promoted by the Bahratiya Janata Party [BJP] advocate Manu proposition of women being equated to a Dalit. According to Manu law, the Manusmriti, women do not have equal status vis a vis the men. They have no other right other than those that have been granted to them by their husbands.

    The local police are controlled by the political henchmen who are in turn motivated by the interpretation of Hinduism as dictated by the BJP, the ruling party of the state. This is the cause for the blatant refusal of the police to register complaints by women and women groups in the state for crimes committed against them..!.!!..!!

  • Pingback: Poisonous ‘Fundamentalism’ of Religions | Indian People's Congress()

  • taktkal

    Most of the OP seems valid, except for the insistence on the construct of Brahmanism & degenragion of the snaatana dharma (which actually predates the British). Brahmins were just another varna, albeit entrusted with keeping the sruti & writing the smritis and itihasas. Fomenting & exploiting the myth of Brahmanism has been a frequent tactic used to disrupt the underlying dharmic bonds within the Indic culture.