Foundation of Hindu Systems, it Contradictions & Confusions

The foundation of Sanatana Dharma, its Complications & Contradictions. How does one defend & explain its Sanctity

Author: Rami Sivan (Hindu priest and teacher of Indian Philosophy)

ALL Scriptures contain contradictions – but the problem for those texts is they are allegedly the product of one omniscient author — God. Any contradictions would cast doubt on their validity and demolish their status as Divine Revelation. The adherents of those texts are thus compelled to deny that contradictions exist or to deploy interpretive gymnastics to explain them away.

The Hindu scriptures constitute a whole LIBRARY with thousands of human authors — even a text written by a single author is likely to carry contradictions what to say of a huge number of different authors addressing different topics.

Hindu scriptures – apart from the Vedas – have been heavily interpolated by different scribes and transcribers. So hence a single text has many contradictions which are not necessarily by the original author.

The target audience of the texts determines the content of the text addressed to them – the aims and objectives differ and therefore may appear contradictory. For example the teaching to householders will contradict the teaching given to renunciates. Instructions given to children will contradict that given to adults. Students will be given contradictory instructions and guidance and rules to those given to graduates.

When reading Hindu scriptures one has to taken into account the Filters of Comprehension.

  1. Svabhāva — the personality and character of the person reading and the type of person to whom the text is addressed.
  2. Bhūmika — the level of development of the reader and the target audience of the text.
  3. Adhikāra — the capacity of the reader to understand and apply the teaching as will as the capability of the person being addressed in the text.

And then one must consider:–

  1. deśa — place where the teaching is being delivered
  2. kāla — time in which the teaching was given – times change and so does the teaching. What was valid 2000 years ago is not necessarily valid in 2019.
  3. paristhiti — conditions in which the teaching is being delivered.

Because of the multiple contradictions found in the Scriptures the ancients have developed a comprehensive set of rules and regulations for interpreting them — these rules are found in the corpus of the Mīmāṁsa.

According to Mīmāṁsa when you encounter a contradiction you have three options.

  1. bādhaka – they both cancelled each other out.
  2. vikalpa – choose one option and go with that.
  3. samucchaya – merge them together in a compromise.

So for example. In the Veda there are three kinds of philosophical statements – dvaita – texts declaring duality and those affirming advaita – non-duality. Madhvacharya and Shankaracharya went with the second option – vikalpa – and chose only those texts which supported their philosophy and rejected the others.

Rāmānujacharya on the other hand went with option three – samucchaya and chose those texts (ghaṭaka śruti) which reconciled the two extremes and propagated the philosophical system known as qualified non-dualism.

Confusions about Sanatana Dharma

Sāmapriya Basu has given an excellent answer.

There are two major divisions of religions in the world today.

  1. The Jerusalem based Abrahamics:– Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
  2. The Benares based Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism

These two polarities are completely different and there is very little similarity in essence. So what the Abrahamic folks get wrong is to erroneous equate their stuff with ours and then judge it according to their dogmas and values.

Hinduism is a complex and interwoven confederation of different sects who hold certain doctrines in common. So whatever you say about Hinduism is correct in some form or the other. Hindus range from being agnostic to animist. The homogeneity of Hinduism is like the homogeneity of Protestantism.

Hinduism is a philosophy of life not a theology. Hindus are perennial seekers not believers. God is not central to Dharma and belief in him, her or It is optional not central to the Dharma. Unlike the Abrahamic trio in which belief in God is central and compulsory.

It has no founder and no management structure, or Central Command and Control syndicate. Gurus are all independent and their authority derives from those devotees who trust in them and support them financially.

We have a library not a single book and they cover every aspect of life.

We have no dogmas – each sect has some doctrines which slightly differ or some variety in interpretations.

And we have complete freedom of choice to believe or not to believe and to worship what, when and how we like. We have complete freedom of speech to analyze, criticize and to reject whatever we disagree with. We can even poke fun at the gods, compose comical poetry and sing songs of abuse to them (ninda-stuti).

And yet we all get along fine and can all attend a Kumbha Mela in our millions without a single untoward event of sectarian conflict. The Kumbha Mela illustrates how Hinduism works. The Army goes in and sets up the basic infrastructure and then withdraws. Millions of people start arriving and setting up camp, restaurants appear, first-aid stations go up, shops and markets are set up. A hundred languages can be heard and a thousand different sects all living side by side – interacting, transacting, cooperating, coordinating and arguing (Indians love nothing more than to argue all night long at the top of their voices – they prefer to argue than to sleep!!) – all free from hostility or conflict while professing radically different doctrines and practices.

There is no one in charge, no organizing body no supervisors, no moderators, no authority figures, no controllers – everything just happens, functions like an organic unit and then overnight dismantles and decamps.

The foundation of Sanatana Dharam and What people get wrong about it?

Date: Nov 6th, 2019

So, hopefully this brief over-view of the foundations of Hindu systems of thought will provide both parties – for and against the motion – with a solid basis on which to mount either an attack or a defense.

The ruling dictum is yathā brahmāṇḍa tathā piṇḍānḍa – as is the individual so is the universe. So we start investigating the subject with our own minds – the tool for comprehension.

The mind has three powers which inform the 3 foundations.

  1. Jñāna-śakti — power of knowledge.
  2. Iccha-śakti – the power of feeling and volition
  3. Kriya-śakti – the power of action.

So all schools of Hinduism share these 3 foundations which I shall describe from a Vedānta point of view.

1. JÑĀNA – knowledge is both exoteric – knowledge of daily life for the common folk and esoteric – spiritual knowledge concerning philosophical and metaphysical matters which is the ambit of the Vedas – specifically the final portion of the Vedas which are known as the Upanishads.

The essence of the Upanishad teaching can be summed up in a few aphorisms known as the mahā-vākyas. These same teachings are also found in the Tantric schools formulated in a slightly different way.

So when detractors attack Hindu mythology and rituals – one needs to refer them back to the core Vedic teachings which are the root of the tree. Request that they address their objections to these mahāvākyas:–

  1. Prajñānam brahma — Brahman (Totality of Being, Godhead) is pure consciousness.
  2. Aham-brahmāsmi — I am Brahman. I am a singularity I am self-referral consciousness. (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 1.4.10)
  3. tattvamasi — Thou art that. Your essential nature is cognate with That Universal consciousness. (Chhandogya Upanishad, 6.11)
  4. Ayam ātmā brahma — This Atman (individual Self) is Brahman (Universal Self).
    This pure, silent, simple singularity of ātman is a mode or singularity of the Totality—Brahman. (Mandukya Upanishad,2)
  5. Sarvam khalvidam brahma — All this is perceived and cognised Universe is Brahman —Totality of being. (Chhandogya Upanishad, 3.14.1)
  6. Neha nānāsti kiñcana — There is nothing else, other than this (Brahman) anywhere (Only Brahman exists). (Chhandogya Upanishad, 3.14.1)

2. ICCHA — feeling

Here we have the analysis of the existential [default] condition which is duḥkha – All beings are striving to find happiness and to avoid suffering. No matter how hard we try, abiding happiness is always elusive. Our lives are characterised by grief, sorrow, discomfort, sadness, loss etc.

All Indian philosophical systems address this deep-seated unhappiness, analyses its causes and prescribes psychological training to deal with it. So the human problem is not “sin” or alienation from God it is about realising happiness here and now.

3. KRIYĀ – action

Kriya refers to all action programs for self-maintenance, self-improvement, self-transformation – living the good life.

Kriya includes ritual activities, social customs, laws, ethics, morals etc. These are all encompassed by the complex and extensive concept of DHARMA.

Hinduism in its most practical application is about DHARMA – right living, hence the proper name for Hinduism is Sanātana Dharma — the Perennial Path. Here are just a few definitions of Dharma:–

Ijyādhyayana dānāni tapaḥ satyam kṣamā damaḥ | Alobha iti mārgo ‘yam dharmasya aṣṭā vidhaḥ smṛtaḥ

Worship, study, charity, austerity, truth, forgiveness and self-restraint, and renunciation of attachment these are said to be the 8 cardinal duties constituting the path of Dharma. Vana parva 2;75

Ahiṃsa satyam akrodho dānam etac caturvidham | Ajātaśatro sevasva eṣa dharma sanātanaḥ ||

O Ajatasatru! Sanatana Dharma consists of four moral virtues; non-injury to any sentient being, truth, absence of anger and generosity — these should you practice.

adrohaḥ sarvabhūteṣu karmaṇā manasā girā | anugrahaśca dānaṃ ca stāṃ dharma sanātanaḥ ||

The Eternal Duty (Sanātana Dharma) towards all creatures is the absence of malevolence towards them in thought, deed or word, and to practice compassion and generosity towards them. (MB Vana Parva 297;35)

So these are the three foundations of Hinduism. When someone makes frivolous attacks, use these roots to mount your defense – all the rest are the leaves, flowers and branches of the great Banyan Tree which is Hinduism.

Are Puranas just tales?

Mānavava Dharma śāstra says – yas tarkeṇa anusandhatte sa dharma veda nettera — which means “only one who investigates the Dharma using logic will truly understand.”

So instead of being spoon fed the answer rather ask yourself some simple questions regarding historicity.

  1. Is there any evidence – such as archeological and epigraphical for the disputed narrative? Letters or documents produced by the named persons.
  2. Were there any eye-witnesses to the events?
  3. Are there any other confirmations of the narrative other than the source documents – in other words from sources outside of the tradition?
  4. Are the incidents described plausible? In other words could they have actually happened given the scientific knowledge we have today.
  5. What is their probability – what are the chances of such events haven taken place at all?
  6. Are the stories internally consistent? In the Puranas there are many stores that are told and retold multiple times – are they all consistent or do they have variations?

Seeing you are literate and keyboard savvy I’m sure you could investigate the above and come to your own conclusion. This is how Vedānta works.

Myth as a Vehicle of Philosophy

Date: Jan 24th, 2020

In Indian literature there are legends about great kings and sages, griping narratives to entertain, love stories to delight and myths that convey moral teachings and philosophical tidbits for the common folk.

As an example there is a story about Arjuna and Krishna walking along and Arjuna asks Krishna about the concept of Māyā. Krishna stops and takes a seat under a tree and asks Arjuna to fetch him a drink of water from the nearby village.

Arjuna hops down to the village and at the well he meets this gorgeous girl with whom he is smitten in love, she invites him home to meet her father and he is requested to stay for a few days (he completely forgets who he is, who Krishna is and the reason for coming to the village.) He stays for a few days and then his marriage is arranged with the hot babe, he has kids and lives contentedly in the village.

Then one day out of the blue he remembers who he is and why he came to the village originally – he leaps up and rushes out and finds the tree – and there he sees Krishna resting comfortably and patiently waiting, decades have passed. Arjuna begs his forgiveness and Krishna smilingly says – “now you know about Māyā!”

This is what we mean by MYTH – it is a charming story which teaches a profound philosophical doctrine.

Now some fundamentalist folks would start investigating and arguing about if it really happened, what was the date of the event, in which Yuga did it take place, what was the name of the village and is there any archaeological evidence of either the tree or the house in which Arjuna lived? What the names of his kids were, are there any descendants, was the water sweet or brackish? What were their families doing in their absence since so many decades had passed, what was the economic set up in the village – all of these questions are pointless and in fact ridiculous.

The marxist mob would see a confirmation of socialism – if the two comrades had gone together to the well none of this would have happened. Sexism – why were the women going to the well and not the men? Genderism – why did Arjuna fall in love with the woman and not the transperson or the gay guy or any other bloke. Patriarchy – why did they have go back to the father-in-law’s house and live there? What was the father-in-law even consulted about the matter? Politics – this story is about reaffirming all the evils of a capitalist society!

The story/myth is the VEHICLE of a teaching and its packaging can be discarded once the message is revealed.

Hindu Philosophy on Cynicism & Misanthropy

Jan 22nd, 2020

Cynicism is an attitude characterized by a general distrust of others’ motives. A cynic may have a general lack of faith or hope in the human species or people motivated by ambition, desire, greed etc.

Misanthropy is the general hatred, dislike, distrust or contempt of the human species or human nature. A misanthrope or misanthropist is someone who holds such views or feelings.

Hindu philosophy recognises that there are three major motivators in the human species.

  1. Lokeṣana — the drive for self-esteem, respect, honour, fame, etc.
  2. Vitteṣana — the desire for wealth, power, control, dominion etc.
  3. Putreṣana — the desire for self-perpetuation through companionship, offspring or substitutes.

All these have positive and negative aspects and side-effects and spinoffs but they depend on the individual person and cannot be generalised.

Misanthropy is severely condemned by all the works on ethics and philanthropy – the opposite is the highest ideal.

adrohaḥ sarvabhūteṣu karmaṇā manasā girā | anugrahaśca dānaṃ ca stāṃ dharma sanātanaḥ ||

The Eternal Duty (Sanātana Dharma) towards all creatures is the absence of malevolence towards them in thought, deed or word, and to practice compassion and generosity towards them. (MB Vana Parva 297;35)

ahiṃsā satya-vacanaṃ dayā bhūtesv anugrahaḥ | yasyaitāni sadā rāma tasya tuṣyati keśavaḥ ||

O Rama! Krishna is pleased with one who is ever endowed with non-violence, truthfulness, kindness and compassion to all creatures. (Viṣṇu-dharmottara 1:58)

And my absolute favourite and winner is………………

gacchatis-tiṣṭhato vāpi jāgrataḥ svapato na cet |

sarva sattva hitārthāya paśor-iva viceṣṭitam ||

If our activities while we are still or moving, conscious or unconscious are not for the benefit of other beings, they are equal to the actions of beasts. (Garuda Purana)

This is the exact message of the Bhagavad Gītā as well:–

loka saṅgraham-evāpi saṁpaśyan kartum arhasi || 3: 20 ||

Indeed, you should act, bearing in mind the welfare of the world.

labhante Brahmā-nirvāṇam ṛṣayaḥ kṣīṇa kalmaṣāḥ | chinna-dvaidhā yatātmanaḥ sarva bhūta hite ratāḥ || 5:25 ||

The sages who are free from the pairs of opposites, whose minds are well directed and who are devoted to the welfare of all beings, become cleansed of all impurities and attain the bliss of the Brahman.

So misanthropy is totally condemned as inhuman.

Unfortunate Aspect about Hinduism

Jan 11th, 2020

The most horrible thing about Hinduism is that most Hindus have no idea about the essential teachings, doctrines and concepts of Sanātana Dharma.

Hinduism was a “mystery” religion for thousands of years. In order to start a spiritual journey one had to seek out a guru and take initiation after being tested. The secret doctrines were then revealed gradually in unfolding stages as the student learned and developed under the watchful eyes of the guru.

So for generations the true teachings were only revealed to initiates and the common people were kept entertained with festivals and food which had the horrible side-effect of dulling the intellect and fostering “custom & tradition” over sensible social and spiritual management and development.

The other horrible thing about Hinduism is the absence of any central teaching authority which leads to the proliferation of sects and heterodox deviations. Each and every charismatic “guru” can gather followers and mislead and exploit them at will without any resistance for scholars.


What Westerners misunderstand about Hinduism

Most people – westerners, easterners, northerners and southerners have the same misunderstanding which even most Hindus have!

What you see – the colourful pageantry, festivals, icons, legends, mythology, dress, caste, curry and cows are only the external window dressing.

The hidden core of Hinduism is a very deep and profound philosophical system grounded in logic, rational thinking, free speech, open questioning and argument. An open system of thought, unfettered by dogma or creed, adapting and transforming according to evidence and proof.

Along with a very sophisticated and universal system of deontology.

If all the window dressing is swept aside, the core of Hinduism i.e. Vedanta stands firm and unshakable.

Whom should Hindus Worship?

Hindus are free to worship whatever or whoever they want because everything in the Universe (particles and fields) is a manifestation of the ONE absolute, undivided, blissful consciousness.

So as Krishna says in the Gita Chapter 10:–

yaccāpi sarva bhūtānāṁ bījaṁ tad aham arjuna | na tadasti vinā yat syān mayā bhūtaṁ carācaram || 39 ||

39. Whatever is the essence of all beings, O Arjuna, I am that. There is nothing mobile or immobile that can exist without Me.

yad yad vibhūtimat sattvaṁ śrīmad ūrjitam eva ca | tat tad evāvagaccha tvaṁ mama tejo’ṁśa saṁbhavam || 41 ||

41. Know for certain that whatever has sovereignty, splendour and brilliance is produced by a mere fraction of My potency.

So Mariamman is known in North India as Shitala Mata – and is the personification of smallpox – which used to be an extremely potent destructive disease. And seeing that destruction and flourishment are both potencies of the Supreme Being – they can be worshiped or venerated as one desires.

A worship or veneration of a part is as good as the worshiping or venerating the Whole.

Can I follow Hinduism without worshiping any Gods?

Jan 5th, 2020

Hinduism is about two things:–

Darśana – which is philosophical enquiry into the nature of Self, and the development of a perspective on life and reality.

Dharma – living an ethical life motivated by the highest common good.

Both these can be practiced without the need for personal devotion.