The other day, I was deeply disturbed to see on quite a few television channels idols of some Hindu gods and goddesses ?drinking? milk. By showing the clips repeatedly and by allowing a number of ?eyewitnesses? to appear on the screen and affirm genuineness of ?drinking? amounted to nothing short of denigrating Hinduism which, in essence, is one of the most scientific and insightful religions of the world.
A true Hindu believes that statue is a statue, and the moorti pooja is merely a way of focusing mind on the ?Ultimate Reality?. Before entering the temple for worshipping the deity one would inwardly say:
?O Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitation;
Thou are everywhere, but I worship you here;
Thou are without form, but I worship you in these forms;
Thou needest no praise, yet I offer you these prayers and salutations.
Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.?
Clearly, such a devotee is a person whose faith is scientific. He is conscious of the distractions to which human mind is subjected. He knows that God is omnipresent, that He is formless, and that He does not require praises. But to realise Him, to be near Him, and to concentrate on Him, he must give Him a shape, a habitation, and also speak to Him in prayers. It is an attempt at concentration by adjusting the scattered beams of mind. It is not idolatry. It does not amount to worshipping inanimate objects. It is something like approaching a match-maker to secure contact with Divinity?a cosmic force which holds the universe and pervades every element of the organic web of life.
It goes to the credit of the ancient Hindu saints and sages that they understood the existence of the cosmic web and its interconnections. If one draws a table and puts the classical Hindu Vedantic thoughts on one side and the findings of modern science on the other, one would be amazed by the similarity between the two. What the Hindu philosophers realised through their intuitive powers, the modern scientists found after hundreds of years of scientific research. That is why the great French scholar, Amaury de Riencourt remarked: ?The wealth of the psychological insight revealed in Upanishads are based on the most profound study and understanding of human nature ever achieved, one with which we twentieth-century westerners, in spite of our vast present-day knowledge, have not yet fully caught up. No other culture but the Indian has ever probed the depths of the human soul so thoroughly.?
Hinduism, unfortunately, is widely misunderstood. Even some of the scholars consider it a ?jumble of creeds and rituals?, ?a mosaic of contrary beliefs and inconsistent ideologies?. Such a perception, which gives a superficial picture of Hinduism, arises primarily from the failure to view the phenomenon in its historical perspective, and also from the inability to separate the pure from the fake, the profound from the profane, and the lofty from the low. Any old religion, during the course of its long march, gathers a lot of dust. Unfortunate mishaps occur. Limbs get broken. False surgeons and quacks appear. Fractures are not set right. And deformities creep in.
Hinduism is no exception. The vicissitudes of history have created waste lands and ravaged gardens. The fragrance of sublime thoughts has been lost in the stench of decaying matters. A dreary and depressing autumn has set in.
It is because of this long autumn that Hinduism is in a sorry state, its essence subverted and its core hidden by dry and thorny bushes. A Hindu spring has long been awaited, and it is time now that it comes.
I would grade Hindu thought and practices at three levels. Level one would cover the core of Hinduism, its fundamental message of oneness and underlying unities. In level two would fall the beliefs and practices which are not contrary to its basic philosophy and which came into existence in response to the religious needs of the common folk who could not grasp the intellectual content of its core and who had to depend on temples, images of gods and goddesses, and their symbols. In level three would come all the spurious rituals, rites, cults and superstitions and practices which are aided and abetted by fake God-men.
Reform of Hinduism would involve the total elimination of level three, refurbishing and rejuvenation of level two, and chiselling and polishing of level one.
The need for reinvigoration of Hinduism, which has been exposed to ravages over a vast span of history, is obvious. In fact, Hinduism itself recognises that change and dynamism are parts of life and of cosmic reality. It believes that the universe is continuously changing. It has its own creative process, its own self-generating flux. One dynamic equilibrium is continuously giving way to another dynamic equilibrium. As pointed out by the American philosopher, Emerson, ?The Hindu thought suggests that our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another circle can be drawn.? Monier William, too, significantly observed: ?The Hindus were Spinozates 2000 years before the existence of Spinoza, Darwinians many centuries before Darwin and evolutionists before the doctrine of evolution had been accepted by the scientists of our time.?
What Hinduism needs today is a fresh creative and constructive impulse. The challenge before the Hindu intellectuals and philosophers is to convey the true meaning and message of Hinduism and bring about a reformed, reawakened and rejuvenated Hinduism, a Hinduism, which has shed its flabbiness, cleared its clogged arteries and recouped its vigour and buoyancy. It is this Hinduism, which could create a new Hindu?a just, catholic, compassionate, creative and contemplative Hindu with a clean conscience, a Hindu who believes in a cohesive society, a Hindu who is committed not only to the purification of his own soul but also to purification of the souls around him, a Hindu who could provide motivational underpinning to all State institutions and make them vibrant honest and service and result-oriented. Such a Hindu alone could lay the foundation of a mighty nation?mighty in thought, mighty in deed and mighty in service to Mother India and Mother Earth.
Will a well-meaning Hindu leadership arise and accept the aforesaid challenge of reform and reinvigoration? Or will Hinduism be allowed to drift and remain largely an instrument in the hands of obscurantist elements to spread untruth instead of truth, darkness instead of light and death instead of immortality? On answer to these questions would depend the future of great civilisation?a civilisation upon which Arnold Tonybee had pinned his faith for survival of mankind.
(The writer is a former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir and a former Union Minister.)