(Published as Facebook Post on 19 October 2018.)
“The fundamental element that makes Hinduism a unique religion is that there are no fundamentals. We have no single sacred book, no single religious hierarchy. There is no faith on the planet that allows such diversity of interpretation and practice as Hinduism. And that is its essence and great strength.” – Shashi Tharoor, during an event that was held last week, called “Tharoorism” at the Kasauli Lit Fest.
This pretty much sums up Tharoor’s understanding of Hinduism.
When asked by an audience member on how we can derive strength from the precepts of Hinduism that can help us to face life on a day-to-day basis, Tharoor had no straight answer. Instead, his interviewer, Rajiv Mehrotra, had to chime in with Swami Vivekananda’s philosophy of four paths (i.e. Karma yoga, Jnana yoga, Raja yoga and Bhakti yoga).
So I wonder what qualified Tharoor to write a book about Hinduism, when he cannot even give a simple straight answer to the audience on how he can derive strength from Hinduism as he practices it. Why even name his book, “Why I Am A Hindu” when he doesn’t even know how to be one?!
How can I derive strength from Hinduism? What should I do on a day-to-day basis to be a “good Hindu”?
Tharoor says you should simply ‘do your duty’, as it is what the Bhagavad Gita says. He also expressed a very misleading statement from the Bhagavad Gita. That is, one should do their duty without expecting any rewards. This is an amateur understanding of the Gita. In truth, what Sri Krishna says in the Gita is that you should do your svadharma, which is under your control. The result, on the other hand, is not in your control. Hence, you should simply do your svadharma and leave the results be whatever it turns out to be. Accept the results as Ishwara prasaada and move on. Tharoor couldn’t even explain this in simple English. A man who claims to have read many books in his pursuit of Jnana Yoga is not even able to explain simply the essence of the Bhagavad Gita. He cannot even explain the essence of Hinduism other than using the words “tolerance” and “acceptance”. So let me attempt.
The essence of Hinduism is “Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah”. What we call “duty” is actually your Svadharma, that is your duty as a son/daughter or husband/wife or father/mother. What we call Dharma is the Yamas and Niyamas, which can be found in any Dharmashastras:
Yamas (universal values, compulsory to follow):
1. Ahimsa or Non-injury
2. Satya or Truthfulness
3. Asteya or Nonstealing
4. Brahmacharya or Sexual Purity
5. Kshama or Patience
6. Dhriti or Steadfastness
7. Daya or Compassion
8. Arjava or Honesty
9. Mitahara or Moderate Diet
10. Saucha or Purity
Niyamas (not universal, optional):
1. Hri or Modesty
2. Santosha or Contentment
3. Dana or Charity
4. Astikya or Faith
5. Ishvarapujana or Worship of the Lord
6. Siddhanta Sravana or Scriptural Listening
7. Mati or Cognition
8. Vrata or Sacred Vows
9. Japa or Incantation
10. Tapas or Austerity
Why should I follow all this Dharma? What is in it for me? Well, the phrase “Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah” is sufficient to explain that when you protect Dharma (by following it), it will in turn protect you from misery, suffering and pain.
In Ramayana, Sri Rama beautifully says that Dharma is nothing but repaying of our debts.
-> We owe a huge debt to our parents and ancestors for our current body and existence. Hence, we pay obeisance to them. We seek our parents’ blessings. We offer tarpanam for our ancestors.
-> We owe a huge debt to our Rishis, who gave us knowledge through our shastras. Hence, we study the scriptures and also help to spread this knowledge to others.
-> We owe a huge debt to this Bhoomi, Mother Earth. Hence, we take care of our environment.
-> We owe a huge debt to Ishwara for blessing us with this life, and hence, we offer prayers to Ishwara.
-> We owe a debt to our fellow human beings and other creatures. Hence, we also ensure to take care of them through works of charity.
Doing our Dharma is nothing but repaying our debts. We are simply expressing our gratitude.
Rituals (i.e. puja, tarpanam, yajna) cannot be divorced from knowledge. You will not achieve much when your pursuit of knowledge is devoid of rituals. Many people find themselves to prefer the intellectual pursuit of knowledge about Vedanta, Yoga and Hinduism in general. But they look down on the rituals of Hinduism as something superstitious, bogus or unnecessary. This is because these so-called “liberals” have rarely been taught the value of rituals and the reasons behind them. Rituals, especially yajna, is the most important part of Hinduism. It is from yajna that philosophy is born, not the other way around. When you master the yajna, you can master the knowledge.
But we are quick to jump to the intellectual pursuit, without even glancing at the rituals portion of Hinduism. Rituals are fundamental to Hinduism and they cannot be skipped. This is how you derive strength from Hinduism. Through rituals. They strengthen your body and mind. Knowledge only comes at the end, just like how Upanishads are placed at the end portion of the Vedas. This is something that the Tharoorians and the so-called “liberal” Hindus do not understand!
Simply think about Arjuna and what he went through in life, before facing the battle of the millennium and becoming the recipient of the invaluable knowledge from Sri Krishna, that which we today call the Bhagavad Gita! Arjuna went through hundreds of rituals, penances, and yajnas! All of which made him physically and mentally strong and qualified enough to receive the secret knowledge. Before setting off into our own intellectual pursuits into Vedanta (devoid of rituals in our life), we should ask ourselves “am I qualified like Arjuna?”. 🙏