The Colonisation of Religion

This blog is a collaboration between Ashish Kundi and myself. As the whole system of Hinduism is based around a collection of beliefs. There will is discrepancies between individual and cultural points.

Baroness Floella Benjamin receives her damehood from Prince Charles and is greeted with the Hindu greeting of Namaste; This is due to the ongoing pandemic of COVID 19. Some may argue I’ve made a tenuous link to current affairs, however, I believe this demonstrates a ‘By George, they’ve got it’ moment. Something that 200 years of Indian occupation couldn’t achieve, a global pandemic produced within days. An understanding of foreign and exotic methods.

History has shown that there has been a mixed bag of perspectives on Hindu philosophy. Examples include Ella Wheeler Wilcox, who acknowledge that many modern say scientific theories can be credited to the Vedas. Albert Einstein had great respect for the Bhagawad Gita. At the same time, we have the likes of Sir Winston Churchill, who described Indians as ‘a beastly people, with a beastly religion.’

There are frequent misunderstandings that many have about the philosophy. An anecdote that springs to mind is an occasion my wife had told me about her education whereby a RE teacher asked students to bring in something that represents their Identity. My wife, being a Hindu, took in The Sauwastika. A Hindu symbol for divinity, prosperity and the four Yugas (time-periods). Unfortunately, the teacher mistook this for the Nazi symbol, The Swastika. As a result, she was told to take it back home as it wasn’t appropriate. Ignorance is quite a regular occurrence for ‘Hindus’. It is essential that when teaching about Hinduism within our schools, we do so through the right lens.

The colloquial name of Hinduism is Sanathan Dharma. The word Hindu was attributed to a group of individuals living near the river Sindhu in the Indus Valley, by invading imperial empires. A rough translation of Sanathan Dharma is ‘eternal law’. In the UK the Sanathan Dharma is often taught through the lens of Abrahamic thought. Through this ubiquitous lens, religion suggests a system of beliefs and a joint faith. Hinduism doesnt really exist as a religion in this construct; Even in co-writing this blog there have differences in beliefs and practices. Religion, when viewed like this, is a wholly colonised concept. When people talk about Hindu faith that doesnt really exist either. Faith in anything is a non-obligatory it has absolutely no part in our belief system.

Abrahamic thought would perhaps claim absolute truth from start to finish within its scripture. Sanathan Dharma rejects this as a concept and rather than a religion; it is probably more accurate to refer to Sanathan Dharma as a philosophy. God is also used when transposing an Abrahamic lens on Sanathan Dharma. God does not fit with Paramatma; it is an entirely different concept; the conflation is merely not authentic.

What is Paramatma, if Atma is described as the soul, then Paramata is the source of all souls the ultimate soul. Everything that lives has an atma, all living beings from bacteria, grass and blue whales all the Atmas are of equal value as they are the same.

The often culturally appropriated concept of karma is the idea that an Atma sin and deeds are essential as the consequences are wrought to the bearer. 

I am not this body but this body in mine.

The atma picked up bodies like we put on clothes the destination of the soul is dependent of the deeds. The aim of the human existence is to equalise one’s karma and through spiritual enlightenment achieve Moksha where the Atma returns to the Paramatma, and the cycle of birth and rebirth is broken.

If we were to break down the word philosophy to the Greek words, Philo and Sophy, Philo means ‘to love’ and Sophy meaning ‘knowledge’. Philosophy translates to a love of ‘knowledge’. As we know, this is fluid and is ever adapting with time and to love ‘knowledge’, we must respect this quality. If life is to be Sanathan (eternal), then naturally aspects of Dharma (law) evolve through time. This can be seen through various scripture within Sanathan Dharma. 

If you were to ask followers of Sanathan Dharma what the Manu Smriti (one of the first scriptures of the philosophy) is, you will often see a perplexed look on their faces. If you were to mention the Ramayana and Mahabharatha to them, the overwhelming majority would be able to outline at least the story to you. This is because followers of Sanathan Dharma will happily discard wisdom which is outdated and apply relevant philosophies to their lives. Scripture is a discourse, not an instruction.

Due to this ethos, the philosophy is pluralist in nature. This can be seen through the quotes in the Upanishads, such as ‘Ekam Sath Vipraha Bahuda Vedanti’ meaning ‘Truth is one and wise people have called in different names’. Also, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam translating to ‘The world is one family’ because of truth being one and everyone being one family a belief in a god is not essential, but a belief in each other is.

God is a value system to aid you in achieving self-realisation. The realisation that you are the Aatma. Some basic values:

  1. You are a part of Paramatma
  2. The atma eventually achieve Moksha (release from the cycle of birth and rebirth) through many lives. 
  3. Life is often misled by Maya (illusion) which disturbs our karma and understanding of all our oneness. 

The focus to achieve moksha needs to be on karma rather than pure belief in God.

An analogy to clarify this could be if we were to look at the sun (Brahman) through the cracks of a cave (Maya). The light shining through the cracks would give the illusion of separateness. When we remove the cave of Maya through our karma, we see the oneness of the sun, all of our ultimate source, Brahman. So, therefore, an exclusivist way of thinking does not fit with the logic of a follower of Sanathan Dharma, as you are limiting the Atma with Maya. As a result, a follower of Sanathan Dharma should encourage a follower of any religion/philosophy to be the best follower of their chosen path they can be. We are all regardless of background from and going back to the same source of, Paramatma. If ‘God is on top of a hill, all paths lead to that destination.’

This is the lens that should be utilised when teaching Sanathan Dharma in schools. I believe that Swami Vivekananda summed it up best when speaking to the world parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 when he said;

“I am a Hindu; I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but accept all religions as true.”

Practices and ‘Rules’: 

As karma dictates the consequences of daily life, there are no such ‘rules’ your actions will direct the outcomes. Hindu’s live in a no religious rule philosphy, this being said it is worth mentioning that many people will attempt to reduce the pap (sin) their atma carries. Reducing sin is achieved means through seva (selfless giving) and minimising the sin we commit to other souls – This leads to the concept of vegetarianism as plants feel no pain and so the sin not as high. Yes, even in eating sin incurred as we have to kill a living being to do so. 

Please do ask question in the comments, although bear in mind neither Ashish or I are the authority on anything other than our own minds.

3 thoughts on “The Colonisation of Religion

  1. Thank you Pranav Bhai. I wonder how you might approach the concept of caste, how it relates to Sanathan Dharma and how it structures social relations in contemporary Indian disaporas?

    1. In my opinion, caste was solely to do with socio-economic specialisms and not worth. Multiple narratives talk about the equality of souls. I’d suggest that caste is more about social power than enlightenment.

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