Jul 02

British, French, and German scholars asserted again and again as they helped draw India into the Anglo-French imperial formation of the 19th century that because of its radically otherworldly or spiritual orientation, the key to understanding the thinking of that civilization lay in understanding its religious basis. But which of the myriad of religions found that there was to be their guide in this quest? The religion they wanted was the one that they considered integral to caste, India’s essential institution, the religion that was itself  fundamentally concerned both with the maintenance of a natural society which transcended the economic and political and, at the same time, with escape from it.

The symptom of that predominance of the otherworldly over the worldly in the land of caste was the superior position of the Brahmans, the caste of priests, those concerned above all with representing the social and religious in their texts. The essential religion ofIndiamust, therefore, be the religion (and philosophy) in the charge of these priests. One name that men of letters gave to this religion was Brahmanism. More generally, they have designated the religion they have invented by the term (from the Persian, as one is always told) Hinduism. Significantly, it is the only world religion (apart from Judaism) that is named after a place rather than a founder or doctrine. To understand their religion is, therefore, to grasp the mind of the entire civilization, Hinduism, then, is another pillar on the construct ofIndia. There is no apparent order in Hinduism should not be taken to mean that it has no knowable essence.

When Ideologists, historians and anthropologists depict Hindu thought as opposed to a Western, male rationality, they have mostly had in mind as their exemplar of world-ordering rationality the science of the heavens or natural philosophy that their Enlightenment forebears had fashioned. The ordered world produced by that rationality was the mechanical and deist image of the universe and of the human mind itself. Although many natural scientists have abandoned the metaphysical principles involved here, human scientists continue to be the guardians of this dinosaur metaphysics.

The Hinduism does not consist of a system of opposed but interdependent parts, but of a wild tangle of overlapping and merely juxtaposed pieces. It is uncentred (having not one high God, but two), unstable (new sects and castes are constantly sprouting up) and lacking in uniformity (it indiscriminately mixes magic and pantheism, the intellectual and the emotional). If Hinduism has a positive essence, it consists of its feminine imaginativeness, its ability to absorb and include, to move from one extreme to the other, and to tolerate inconsistencies.

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