‘The ignorant, self-anointed evangelists of Hinduism can’t write a one-page essay on the essential tenets of Hinduism’

While the BJP and RSS monetise a mutant, even militant, form of Hinduism under Narendra Modi, it has fallen upon non-sangh politicians, intellectuals and scholars (schooled properly in the Jawaharlal Nehru era, in Nehruvian institutions) to explicate the core tenets of the great religion.

First, the IFS officer turned Trivandrum MP Shashi Tharoor of the Congress put together a collection of essays on ‘Why I am a Hindu‘.

Now, his former South Block colleague Pavan K. Varma of the JD(U) has written a book on Hinduism’s greatest thinker, Adi Shankaracharya.

In an excellent interview with Vir Sanghvi on CNN News18, Varma answered a couple of key questions even as an angry, abrasive, aggressive, muscular, even thuggish streak of Hinduism, courses through the body republic.

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Vir Sanghvi: If thousands of years ago, ancient Hinduism operated at this intellectual level, how do you explain some of today’s Hinduism?

Pavan K. Varma: I think this can happen to a religion like Hinduism which has no fixed scripture, no Pope, no prescribed rituals, no mandatory congregation.

It’s a way of life, and Hindus live a way of life, believe they are good Hindus, but the one danger often here is that they become adrift from the great philosophy that animates that religion.

They practice Hinduism but they forget the philosophy that underpins it.

And when that happens, there is always the danger that in the hands of evangelical but ignorant self-anointed protectors of Hinduism, you will take it down to the lowest common denominator.

In other words, between the loftiness of thought and dialogue that has been the backdrop of the grand edifice of thought of Hinduism, you will take it down to a level where you will prescribe arbitrary dos and don’ts and reduce it to a level of superficiality which is brittle because it is entirely based on ritual rather than on thought. That is a great tragedy for any religion, especially Hinduism because Hinduism essentially is the celebration of cerebral energy.

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Sanghvi: And the whole Hindu tradition of shastrartha of debate, of discussion that is sought to be distilled by imposing a certain kind of iron will and iron discipline.

Varma: Indeed. The tradition of Hinduism is, and that is why we accommodate so many different strands of thought, is shastrartha, of debate and discussion. Of the ability to accept the fact that even if I disagree with you, you have the right to express your point of view.

And I am afraid today when you have a shrill form of evangelical Hinduism, underpinned by ignorance rather than knowledge of the great traditions of Hinduism, you are nurturing somewhere an intolerance for another person’s opinion, which I believe does great damage to Hinduism, because that’s not the tradition of Hinduism…. 

What has replaced it is this feeling that unless you agree with what I am saying, I must not only stop listening to you but you have no right to express your point of view. I believe, after being a devoted student of Hindu philosophy, that this is diametrically opposite to the actual legacy and tradition of my religion.

I am proud to be a Hindu because I have the ability to listen to those who disagree with me and argue with them in a civilised way while having the ability to listen even as I retain my right to assert myself. That element of shastrarth is gradually being replaced by a certain brittle intolerance which does great damage to the credentials of Hinduism. And all Hindus have to be vigilant about it because it is being propounded by people whose evangelism is in direct correspondence with their ignorance about their own religion.

If I were to ask them to write a one-page essay on the essential tenets of Hindu philosophy, I guarantee you most of these ignorant evangelists will fail. In other words, Hinduism is a cerebral, exceptionally cerebral, legacy of thought.

Also read: ‘Reverting India to HIndu medievalism’