An idea that defines itself exclusively in negative terminology is bound to turn destructive — sooner or later — not only for itself but also for the larger society. The reactionaries incorrectly calling themselves ‘right-wing’ in today’s India are falling precisely into this pit. It defines itself entirely in opposition to political-cultural far left, namely communists and cultural Marxists (with the Indian National Congress merely the biggest political as well as cultural enabler of them), who already define themselves, in the Indian context, as the opposition to the very idea of a sanatani (eternal) Hindu India. In fact, the left in India is hell-bent in defining, as well as proving, Sanatan India as satanic Hindu India.
Be that may the case, two negatives don’t make a positive — at best, we can arrive at a sanatani monistic India, and how ‘satanic’ that would be is anyone’s guess. We have seen this rule book play itself out in almost perfection in various cases of late — Sabarimala, Jalaikattu, Shani Shingnapur, and even opposition to Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple’s control (in the last case, it didn’t work out as good in the final field at Supreme Court, but that’s an exception than the rule).
If there’s one thing I have realised after watching many conservatives’ interviews from the West, it’s that they know very well how West arrived at their current state — and they are proud of it. They are also equally aware of the spiritual, religious, cultural and moral decadence that is staring at them — and they are ready to fight against it. They have found the core of what they want to love and preserve…
We, on the other hand, have not figured ourselves yet, we don’t know how we made our journey from a group of people groping in dark, to the peak of civilisational achievements, and then back to being people who grope in dark. We don’t know our whereabouts and our ‘whatabouts’. We are a mightily confused lot, heavily invested in the idea that electoral politics would usher in some hitherto unknown renaissance. We hardly realise that much of electoral politics is for the perpetuation of structures that made the electoral victory possible, to begin with, with a bit of tinkering here and there to add to it…
For any major change, a switch in mass’ consciousness, a change in culture always precedes a change in the laws, a change in polity, a change in policy, and a change in those who make the law and enforce the policies.
We haven’t figured out the core that we love, that needs preserving, and nurturing. We are playing catch up for the most part, and imitation, for the remainder of it. Instead of App Deepako Bhava (be a light unto yourself), we have invested in a cult of the saviour — three times over a period of merely 100 years. Our magical, wishful thinking keeps assuring us that they will somehow give the much-needed deliverance, all the while ignoring great men and gods like Patanjali — who asked us to work on ourselves and find that core.
There is no way that the wells of wisdom our ancestors left for us could be figured out in the existing academic setups because the existing set up was made precisely to preclude any such endeavour — either out of malice or pure ignorance, for them, we and our traditions in totality are characterological evil, in perpetual need of being rescued; first by the colonial white sahibs and then their brown-skinned-but-white-minded intellectual heirs and successors.
The practice has to precede scholarship and philosophising in almost all the Indic traditions that I know of. Buddha might have opposed Veda-s and rituals, but his fundamental instinct of practice before applying individual Buddhi (here, meaning intellectual and logical faculties of mind) was spot on! He is supposed to have a rule in his Sangha that only people with minimum two years of practice and experience under their belts are allowed to make any ‘deep’ inquiries of the Shakyamuni — as it turned out, in two years of practice, nearly all the questions were extinguished by answers from the self of sadhakas themselves.
Instead of making any efforts towards the possibility of reviving these and other such valuable traditions, the supposed saviours we invested in have worked in the opposite direction — while we settled for tokenism in the meanwhile.
We are busy proving that the things we love, that we need to conserve- like yoga, or dance forms, or our architectural knowledge — are ‘universal’ (not just in applicability, but even in origin), rather than a unique outcome of a Hindu endeavour that was ongoing for not even just centuries but literally millennia, by a group of people in a very unique, socio-religious-cultural setup. We are afraid to own what is ours.
The Weberian “ideal type” models have been applied to Indian culture in a very reductionist way, picking up the most ‘woke’ of ideas long before they were ‘woke’ even in the West — love, universalism, compassion. etc. According to the adherents of that hypothesis, their perceived ideal is all that is supposed to be Indian culture, and insistence of any diversity, divergence, or dissent gets one pigeon-holed as fascist, bigot, Nazi, brahminical supremacist, gaslighter, or any other insults they could come up with. While universalism, compassion, etc. all are noble ideas, the way they are applied to Hinduism and its aspects is akin to putting the horse before the cart, for, as had been stated above, the philosophy in Hindu traditions follows a certain practice or set of practices, as a result of those specific practices, and attempts of extrapolation outside that ambit are dubious at best. For instance, following the meditative practices of Buddhism would lead someone to arrive at a philosophy similar to Buddhists — that the world is illusory/lower truth, full of duhkha, and the ideal thing to do is to exit it, be free of its constant cycles of birth, death, and whatever transpires between the two poles. However, anyone seeped in ritual-heavy, siddhi (attainment)-centric Shakta Tantra cannot be expected to arrive at any of the above — a successful sojourn into that tradition is more likely to form a philosophy of this universe being pervaded by and the manifestation of Divine Mother herself, and to characterise the world as essentially duhkha would be the last thing in their minds!
Misapplication of Indic philosophies, divorced from the context of the practices that birthed them, is, however, far from being the only problem with the quest for modernist and post-modernist universalism. Another major problem is that it starts to distribute the heritage even before we, who have developed it, have owned it.
You disinvest it into a limited liability endeavour before you invest in it and make it viable enough, and yourself liable enough. It’s an escapist route because you are scared someone might ask a difficult question — so better make it a public property rather than a personal good, which demands that it be contended with, by its civilisational inheritors. Makes it easier to blame the system, if the responsibility is abdicated in the name of redistribution of access.
But that defeats the moral objective that one began with ostensibly began with — the universalisation for the sake of universal access — for we have seen how divorce from the Hindu roots degenerates it at an exponential speed to beer yoga, post-lineage yoga, workout yoga, and many other perversions that actually end up harming the individuals indulging in those, what to say of the hit the credibility of the entire corpus takes when things start to fall apart at seems the way they invariably have to. The jury is still out, and might possibly remain so forever, on whether the mere practice of Yoga can ‘convert’ someone to a Hindu and cause them to lose their Christianity or membership of Islamic community, but there are no two ways about that a ‘non-Hindu’ Yoga does nobody any good. The wider one wants to spread Yoga in humanity, the deeper its roots have to be invested in the Hindu traditions and community — and be recognised as such as well.
With inputs and editorial contribution from Mrinaal Prem Swarroop Srivastava