I would like to begin by sharing a story :
I was once at a junior debating competition in Bangkok, representing my school (which is based in Dubai). After the main event, I had the opportunity to converse with hundreds of speakers from over 80 different countries over dinner. On my dinner table aside from myself, were speakers from Slovenia, Vietnam, Canada and India. Incidentally (as a part of the conversation), I was digging my bag for some book, when a copy of the Ramayana happened to be in there. One of the students on my table caught a glance of this. Till date, I cannot forget her response. In these exact words, she said:
“Oh my God, how do you read this bullshit?”
“Why would you say that?”, I asked.
She said, “You’re a logical person and you understand science. How can you believe in all this superstitious nonsense?”
The remarks bothered me.
It was truly bothering, that in a debating competition, where the most rational, logical and judicious students of different countries meet, a student said something as insensitive as that. However, what is most unsettling is the fact that the person who said that wasn’t a student from some other country who was unaware of Hindu beliefs. It was an Indian student, who came from a Hindu family in Delhi and thought it was ‘cool’ to downgrade her own belief system in front of the apparently “modern” foreigners. While this may have been her naïve attempt to score brownie points in front of the western students, I argue that there is more to it. Without any outsiders being around, we must consider that a lot of youngsters in India view their own belief structure as nothing but “superstitious nonsense” and I, unfortunately, bear witness to the transformation in mindsets and the trend of ridiculing your own methodologies with half-baked knowledge.
And so, we come to the first question: Why has this happened?
I believe that there are multiple reasons for why this has happened. One reason behind this trend (as I have expressed in the past), is the distorted education system that only refers to Hinduism when it comes to the misinterpreted ‘caste system’ and the radically altered Sati. They deliberately avoid the scientific, mathematical, spiritual, architectural and philosophical advancements made in India through Hindu traditions and belief systems. What this does, is it makes people attribute all the “social evils” (which came from misinterpretations of scriptures) to Hinduism and forget all the brilliance that did stem from Vedic principles. Therefore, all youngsters (including myself at one point in time) think of our religion as nothing but a primitive, unsound belief system. And so, one reason to blame the cultural erosion is the Indian education system.
Another reason is a lack of understanding among parents. As much as I hate to blame parents per-se, one cannot deny that often, parents themselves are unable to communicate their belief system effectively, either because they themselves do not understand their belief system, or because they find it difficult to appeal to their young/teenage children. Either way, they struggle to get the message across.
Whatever, the reason behind the rejection of Hindu principles is, I believe that there is a systematic approach that can help us override the barrier under the Indian status quo. Being a teenager who both understands a typical youngster’s mindset, and the basis for my own religious principles, let me tell you that the current generation is not one that will accept beliefs imposed on to them. They only trust what they find to be logical. However, since changing the education system will take time, how can rational people be made to realise the reasoning behind religious beliefs? How do students or elders communicate this to the logical Indian?
In order to answer this question, I would like to make you understand how I went about studying Hinduism, through a simple categorisation. What I did was simply draw a line between three things:
- Spiritual/Philosophical principles
- Applied principles/duties
- Unfounded practices
I would like to briefly explain these and then tell you about how important it is for us to ensure that we do not put them in the same bowl.
The first area is spiritual/philosophical principles. Here is where we need to understand what Hinduism fundamentally stands for. That involves, the concept of Karma, where you pay for your own thoughts, words and deeds, Vasudaiva Kutumbakam, where you fundamentally believe that the entire world is your family, principles like Advaita, where every being is the same and so forth. This category of philosophical principles, I believe is the most vital ground on which Hinduism stands. And if we make it absolutely clear that these are the core principles, it should do us the best.
The second area is applied principles. This involves the prescribed manner of living and the structure of life. Beliefs like the way in which a life should be lead, stages of lives, prayer, etc. All these come into consideration when you talk of applied principles. The idea of Yoga, Ayurveda and many such scientific, mathematical, architectural and other areas all stemmed from the application of Hindu beliefs. However, the same Hindu beliefs too make it absolutely clear that your duty/way of life can change drastically based on you Desha (country), Kaala (the time when you practice) and Paatra (the subject of your deed). Therefore, the duty of a person can very much change over time.
So far, both the areas seem quite approachable to the logical mind. However, we now come to the third area where we discuss the “superstitious nonsense” that the Indian girl was telling me about: Unfounded practices.
Now, it is extremely important for us to focus on the word unfounded. Because, the idea of Nazar, ‘Nails not being cut in the night’ and even many discriminatory superstitions are all very much cultural and have no Hindu basis. By this, I mean that no scriptures endorse these beliefs. It is simply people who happened to associate one thing with another. Many people have a “lucky pen” or “lucky shirt” even today. However, we do not associate that with a specific belief system or religion. While many practices that are cultural in nature have become essential to the practice of Hinduism and must be retained, practices which add no value to Dharma and have no mention in the scriptures can be done away with.
I once again stress the importance of not mixing these three up together. Because the moment we do that, many youngsters will tend to falsely believe that these baseless superstitions stem from Hinduism and that some primitive practices are made a compulsion. In fact, many missionaries have constantly capitalised on us mixing these up. They convert people by letting them keep a few elements of applied principles and all their unfounded superstitions the same and they completely change the spiritual belief system. Therefore, those who get converted believe that they aren’t losing much of their own religion, but in actual fact, they are.
I say that the main priority for us (while talking to rationalists) is to uphold the main principles of the religion. By upholding these fundamental principles, we enable them to understand the most important segments of Hinduism. These also happen to be the most logical ones and thus, will easily appeal to well-reasoned people. Upon establishing this we can then shift focus to the applied principles, which are not a compulsion but still have sound reasoning behind them. Practices like Ekadashi fasting, for example, Yoga, the kinds of food to eat, etc. can be introduced, yet not enforced. With this, we give people a choice: something Hinduism does as a matter of principle. And finally, when the rational mind understands this, you can optionally introduce the third category of superstitions, so long as you dissociate it with the religion.
In conclusion, the moment we keep these three categories separate and insist on the importance of getting the spiritual/philosophical significance of Sanatana Dharma right, my fellow mates who always downplay our culture, will stay by us and Hinduism will stand on its highest ground with a bright future ahead of it.