The Two Faces of Hinduism – Mukundan P.R.


The Two Faces of Hinduism

In the Upanishadic, Sankhyan, Vedantic and Yoga philosophies, the Creation is not attributed to the Trimurti but to Brahman, the Absolute Principle, from which emerges the creation through the medium of Manu, the astral projection of Brahman. The reference to Brahma, Vishnu and Siva as the authorities of creation appeared at a later stage through the mythology in the puranas. The Upanishadic rishis under the Manu Parampara pay obeisance only to the Supreme Brahman, the Absolute Truth. For them the gods and demigods are only the denizens of the vast universe like the humans. Also, the caste, class and gender differences did not stand in the way of the sublime teachings of the Upanishadic rishis. The transcendental knowledge and experience (jnana) is transferred to any truthful disciple through a Guru-Disciple relationship.

We can find that the backbone of India’s spiritual culture is in the Upanishads, Bhagavat Gita, Guru Gita and other philosophical sciences (sastras) such as Sankhya sastra, Yoga sastra, Nyaya sastra, Vedanta etc. that speak about the Absolute Truth and Creation differently in a metaphysical perspective. It is this path of knowledge or jnana marga of the ancient Indian rishis that has inspired and continues to inspire great philosophers and thinkers around the world and earns India the Guru status.

Thoreau once said that “One sentence of the Gita, is worth the State of Massachusetts many times over… In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavat Gita, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial….”

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), the German philosopher and writer, was one of the greatest philosophers of the 19th century. Sigmund Freud adopted a large part of his psychological theory from the writings of Schopenhauer. Nietzsche and Wittgenstein are counted among his disciples. Schopenhauer spoke about the Upanishads in the following words:

“From every sentence (of the Upanishads) deep, original and sublime thoughts arise, and the whole is pervaded by a high and holy and earnest spirit….In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. They are destined sooner or later to become the faith of the people’.

Similarly several other Western thinkers and philosophers have been inspired by the spiritual lore of India. Emerson (1803-1882) paid homage to Indian spirituality thus: “It is sublime as night and a breathless ocean. It contains every religious sentiment, all the grand ethics which visit in turn each noble poetic mind….” In 1859 he wrote: “When India was explored and the wonderful riches of Indian theological literature found, that dispelled once and for all the dream about Christianity being the sole revelation.”

Wilhelm Humboldt (1767- 1835), Prussian minister of education, said about the Bhagavad Gita that it was “The most beautiful, perhaps the only true philosophical song existing in any known tongue ….perhaps the deepest and loftiest thing the world has to show.”

Such a glorious spiritual tradition was lost to India when the jnana path was shadowed by the ritualistic devi-deva tradition, which promotes the veneration of sectarian gods and demigods as well as other innumerable natural and supernatural forces including animals, birds and trees as the manifestation of the Supreme Being. Many obnoxious customs and superstitious beliefs such as human and animal sacrifices, sati and devadasi tradition, description of caste Brahmin as equal to god (brahmana devo bhava) and practices such as the performance of miracles (siddhi) and exorcism through mantric and tantric rituals also came to be identified with Hinduism.

V. Venkatachalla Iyer once remarked about the spiritual malignancy of India through the interpolated puranic literature: “Some of the major Puranas appear to have been re-written with the set purpose of promoting ignorance and superstition; of enslaving the minds of the people; of preventing them from thinking for themselves; and of giving currency to a religion which, while pretending in theory to maintain within itself the principles of emancipation, is calculated in practice to sink one deeper and deeper in the quagmire…’ (V. Venkatachalla Iyer, The Puranas, QJMS 13, 1922-23).

Late Professor Theodore Goldstücker held similar views on the Puranas:

“When by priest craft and ignorance, a nation has lost itself so far as to look upon writings like these as divinely inspired, there is but one conclusion to be drawn; it has arrived at the turning point of its destinies. Hinduism stands at this point, and we anxiously pause to see which way it will direct its steps. For several centuries, it is true, its position has seemed stationery; but the power of present circumstances, social and political is such that it can no longer continue so…All barriers to religious imposition having broken down since the modern Puranas were received by the masses as the source of their faith, sects have sprung up, which not merely endanger religion, but society itself, tenets have been propounded which are an insult to the human mind; practices have been introduced which must fill every true Hindu with confusion and shame.. There is no necessity for examining them in detail. It requires no evidence of the gulf which separates the present state from its past…” (Literary Remains, 2 Vols., London, Allen, 1879)

Theodore believed that the real faith of the Hindus is neither founded on the Brahmana portion of the Vedas nor on the Puranas, but on the esoteric teachings found in the Vedas and Upanishads.

Maharshi Devendranath Tagore said the Puranas were divisive and advised Hindus to turn away from it toward the Upanishads, in order to unite Hindus into one religion:

“Idolatry with all its pomp and circumstance was to be found chiefly in the tantras and Puranas and had no place in the Vedanta. If every one were to turn from the Tantras and Puranas to the Upanishads, if they sought to acquire the knowledge of Brahman as taught in the Upanishads and devoted themselves to His worship, then it would result in the utmost good of India…”(The Autobiography of Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, Macmillan, London, 1914).

While most of the Puranas generally describe Brahma as the god of creation, the different sects have different views about the Creator. The Puranas according to the sects to which they belonged have tried to show their deity, such as Vishnu, Siva or Devi as the Supreme Lord or Creator, sometimes relegating Brahma to the background.

In Saivism, Siva is described as the Supreme. According to Lingapuranam, ‘Siva is the inner ruler of all beings. He is called Supreme for He is superior to all. Siva, Sambhu and Sankara are different names of the great Ruler, the Universal Soul. .. The sages know that there exists no other God than Siva.’

In Vaishnavism one can find the description of Vishnu as the Supreme. Vishnupuranam mentions thus:‘May Lord Vishnu be pleased with us, from whom matter and soul emanate, who has created this universe consisting of moving and stationery things, and who is the prime cause of all this. Vishnu is that Brahman, from which this creation has emanated, with which it stays identified, in which it ever remains, and in which it eventually merges’.

In Shakteyism, the Devi is described as the Supreme. According to Markandeya Puranam, ‘Devi has created this universe by Her power. She includes in Herself potencies of all deities. With devotion, we bow to her, the Mother, who is adored by the gods and the sages alike. May She work out what is good for us!’

In Brahmavaivartta puranam one can also find the description of Ganesha as the Supreme: ‘Sri Ganesa is the source of this creation and the subsequent development thereof. Beyond the ken of all humanity is His form, which is primal in existence, foremost to be worshipped, adored by all, and full of auspicious qualities. He is both nirguna and saguna by His own sweet will…though Lord Ganesh is eternal, yet He appears and disappears at will by dint of His power.’

Similarly, Brahmapranam describes that ‘Surya (Divakara) is the cause of all beings. It is by His desire that the universe consisting of all objects whether moving or stationery came into existence. Surya is the source of the three worlds. He is the great deity. The cosmos springs out of Him and again goes back to Him.’

The blending of mythology, rituals and practices thereon clashes with the esoteric teachings of the Upanishadic seers, who believed in the One Supreme Being, which they defined as ‘Satyam Jnaanamanantham Brahm – i.e., the Supreme Being is Truth, Knowledge and Infinity. It would be evident from the puranic literature that the concept of Swayambhuva Manu, from whom originated the creation in the beginning in association with the saptarshis, been altered in course of long ages giving prominence to Brahma, Vishnu, Siva etc.

The Trimurti worship tradition existed as an authentic path for spiritual realization in the previous yuga cycles. However, its spiritual incumbency in the present age is questionable going by the evolving nature of dharma according to the yuga cycles. The Trimurti tradition promoted the cult of devi-deva worship according to the tastes of different sects. In this process, the inner teachings of Sanatana Dharma were lost to humanity.

India needs the guidance of an all-knowing Sage to evaluate its true spiritual path. This is important. The Hindus can be united only under such a great Guru Parampara, which can lead them to spiritual enlightenment as well as social unity. The life mission of Navajyothisree Karunakara Guru was to reinvigorate this lost jnana path and after Adi Sankaracharya, this is the time for another great spiritual renaissance of India.

Mukundan P.R.

Source: Mukundan P.R.

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