Home Variety Culture and History Series | Decoding Indian Belief Systems: Circle versus Line

Series | Decoding Indian Belief Systems: Circle versus Line

India is currently in a state of huge flux. There is a widening gap between generations, and every five years now looks like a new generation gap. The cause of this gap is not just technology, which is a mere enabler of communicating thought, but also the change in the collective thought of generations which has undergone dramatic shifts in the past few decades.

Born with a traditional faith-based upbringing but educated in contemporary material and Western scientific values, some of us were constantly at odds trying to make sense of the Universe around us. Is there a God? Rather, how many Gods are there in this Universe? If there are God(s), are they the Hindu or the Muslim or the Christian or the Jain or the Parsi one(s)? If God is omnipresent, is he present in the Devil too? If we are children of this God, why do we need to please him or her? That too with absurd traditions like a plate decorated with flowers, burning camphor or incense sticks and circling the plate around the idol of a God? What is the sense of the poojas and the yagnas, except for the yummy prashad we received at the end? Aren’t these rituals just blind superstitions of the past when man was dependent more on nature than technology?

Why do Indians blindly follow spiritual gurus? Why are women not allowed in temples during menstruation? Why is there such a discriminatory caste system in this country? Why do our Gods have multiple hands – sometimes, 4, sometimes 8, sometimes 100? Why do we worship a monkey-face or an elephant-face God? Are Ramayana and Mahabharata adaptations of true stories, or pure myth? Why is sex such a taboo in the land of the Kamasutra or the Khajuraho temple?

- Advertisement - - article resumes -

Questions like these filled a mind attracted to science and intrigued by tradition. While some people took the easy path of either rejecting tradition altogether calling it superstition, others took the decision of accepting tradition and faith as it appealed to them. There was a third category too: people who were open to knowing more, but didn’t know where to look for answers.

In this series on the Indian tradition, we try and look at some of these questions to figure out what they were probably intended for, and what they mean today. For sake of convenience, we use the term Indian tradition or philosophy to refer to philosophies which originated in India like Hinduism, Buddhism, or Jainism. The idea is not to say that traditions which didn’t originate in this country are not Indian; rather it is the contrary – to understand how being Indian in the philosophical sense enables us to widen our worldview to accept all philosophies in our midst.

In this series on Indian tradition, our attempt is not to judge the traditions as right or wrong, good or bad, scientific or unscientific. It is just to highlight the other side of the coin – looking at traditions from the lens through which they were probably created. In the end, one is free to take a call of their liking, but hopefully this series will open us up to understanding why people do what they do. Hopefully, this will help increase empathy in a society which sees newer acts of intolerance every day.

We begin with one of the most crucial differences in the Indian worldview as compared to the West: our understanding of life. While in India, life has traditionally been viewed as an endless circle, in the West it has been seen as a line with a definite starting and ending point. In his TED video, Devdutt Pattanaik, the Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group, establishes this significant difference between the Indian and the Western perspectives. This difference is key to our understanding of the philosophy and the multiple ideologies of these worldviews, and their underlying assumptions.

In his TED talk, Devdutt, one of the most knowledgeable speakers on Indian mythology who uses his understanding of ancient stories to solve an organization’s contemporary problems, talks about two myths or stories which have shaped a disproportionate amount of Indian and Western thought. This is the metaphysical perspective on life in the two parts of the world.

In the West, the story goes as this: You live a single life, and after dying you cross a river. After you cross the river, you will be valued on the basis of your achievements on earth and thus you will either go to the ‘Land of the Heroes’ or to the ‘Land of the Commons’. In the East however, the story is slightly different: Once your lifetime on earth is complete, you cross a river and then take a new form and come back to earth for another lifetime. This cyclical process goes on and on for lifetimes.

So, both philosophies give very different answers to the one very basic question surrounding human existence: What is the purpose of life? While one says achieving greatness would make life more meaningful, another says realizing the hollowness of it all, and attainment of freedom from the cycle of birth and death is the ultimate raison d’etre.

Thus, the major difference between the Western and the Eastern thought is on how they view life: as a line or as a circle. Though seemingly it is just a philosophical difference, it is incredible how this single point of difference has shaped the cultures, values, beliefs, traditions, ideologies, and social structures of society in these regions. In this series on Indian belief systems, we will start from this very point of origin and over the next few weeks, try to decode why our systems and beliefs evolved the way they did, and why our culture is distinct (neither superior nor inferior to the West) with its unique identity, and how do we come to terms with the seeming contradictions between our ancient roots and the ways of modern life.

written by – @shreyansmehta

Help Us Reach Every Indian, Please Share This Post
We need your support to survive in the media industry. Please consider paying us for the content we produce:

To know more about these payments, please click here.


Advertisement

Big Story

80 doctors at the RG Kar Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata have resigned demanding an apology from the Chief Minister for her remarks.

2019 World Cup Is Here!

Catch the latest on Cricket World Cup as it unfolds, special coverage by Opindia

Bishop Ezra Sargunam

Meet the controversial anti-Hindu evangelist, Bishop Ezra Sargunam, who wanted to punch Hindus in the face

The Bishop urges the group to take up the challenge and spread the word that there is no such thing as Hindu religion. If at all anyone does oppose to this, the Bishop without hesitation asked the group to punch them in the face and make sure they bleed.
Order to demolish and remove cross

Village officer issues order to demolish and remove crosses planted by Church on encroached land near Sabarimala

Crosses have been planted on the sacred lands of Panchalimedu, believed to be a place inhabited by Pandavas during the 12 years of exile.

Kolkata: Mob violently attacks doctors at NRS Hospital after Mohammed Sayeed’s death, police mute spectators, allege students

NRS Medical College and Hospital was attacked by a violent mob on Monday night following the death of Mohammed Sayeed.
Naqvi with Modi

Minority scholarships: Modi government should lend an ear to the ‘outraged’ Hindus

Some are angry over ‘minority appeasement’ by Narendra Modi govt, and they need to be heard.

Even as 700 doctors resign, TMC leader Abu Taher Khan Chaudhury accused of threatening doctors with rape and murder

There are videos circulating on social media which purportedly show the Trinamool MP from Murshidabad, Abu Taher Khan threatening the doctors at the institution. The politician, however, has denied all allegations.

West Bengal: Amidst mass resignations, another attack at Calcutta National Medical College, one student suffers head injury

A student at the Calcutta National Medical College (CNMC) has been injured following mob violence.

Bihar: 55 year old Kalam Ansari caught red-handed while raping a 10 year old girl, VHP calls for a bandh in Sheohar

The VHP today called for a bandh in Sheohar, Bihar after a 55-year-old man, Kalam Ansari was caught raping a 10-year-old minor girl ealier this week

A dystopian future where Hindu nationalists take over: Social media reacts to Netflix’s latest Hinduphobic show ‘Leila’

After Ghoul and Sacred Games, Leila is the third show on Netflix that demonizes Hindus.

Read resignation letter by RG Kar Hospital doctors in a mass protest, demand unconditional apology from Mamata Banerjee

80 doctors at the RG Kar Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata have resigned demanding an apology from the Chief Minister for her remarks.

Mamata didi, we upheld our Hippocratic oath during trying times, you failed the allegiance you swore to the Constitution

The Bengal Health Crisis has escalated to immense proportions. With Doctors across the state submitting their resignations, Mamata Banerjee has a severe crisis on her hands.
Subscribe to Day's Top Stories
- Advertisment -

Latest articles

Connect with us

170,180FansLike
149,066FollowersFollow
69,680SubscribersSubscribe
Help Us Reach Every Indian, Please Share This Post