Suggestion: If you find the article long, please study portions of it at a time. I have tried to present a snapshot of the prominent excuses in one place and hence could not convince myself to break this into parts.
The march of time relentlessly brings upon changes. Some changes are good, whilst others are not so. The everchanging time has altered the wholesomeness behind the Hindu thought. Often quoted for its charitable and venerable idea “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu”, today even many Hindus wrongly disparage Hinduism as an oppressive idea, as we believe more in subaltern studies by motivated scholars than the Rishis. Rajiv Malhotra calls it a colonized mindset.
The picture of Hinduism in each person’s mind is as diverse as the people themselves. We explored the different faces of the modern Hindu. But now we will analyze how the different Hindus hide behind excuses when it comes to taking personal responsibility. Thus analyzing we may perhaps be able to arrive at some solutions to counter this grim prognosis. They will be in no particular order and this is definitely not as exhaustive as the list appears. I hope this should trigger a conversation and serious debate within the Hindu community and more importantly within every reader as to how we can overcome excusitis and be more dharmabadha – bound by dharma.
Most Hindus are neither aware of the basic ideas or scriptures that support such a stance. There seems to be a sense of pride for such an ignorance claiming that Hinduism does not demand any specific understanding. But this ignorance is at the epicenter of the knowledge erosion, digestion, loss of ecosystem, conversion and in short loss of the values Sanatana Dharma represents.
It appears most of our lack of interest in understanding stems from our ignorance and tamas, though we decorate it with a plethora of reasoning. The solution to overcome it is also very simple, take personal responsibility. We will take time to study each of the excuses. These and other excuses are given why we Hindus are the way we are and why we have a lackadaisical, apathetic attitude that is the epitome of hypocrisy when we see our behavior from our scriptures point of view.
Ignorance / Lack of Knowledge: Do we even have a responsibility towards Sanatana Dharma? Isn’t Hinduism just a way of life? Will the same person not agree even Hitler and the street mongrel also have a way of life? Are there not enough Gurus doing their job and what can a simple person who has no shastra jnana like me do? The best is to leave it to the great pundits, sages and saints
Besides Hinduism is so vast, has so much variance in not just the interpretation of any given book, but also has a huge corpus of material which will take many life times to even catalog. Have you not heard there are more than 300 Ramayanas? (Never mind the fact that I didn’t even crack open Valmiki Ramayana, the source of all)
Dharmic Prescription: If I jump from a skyscraper, will the ignorance of the laws of gravity save me? If Ratnakar, a hunter can become a Valmiki; a royal prince Siddhartha can morph into Buddha, what is this excuse even worth? Shouldn’t our lack of knowledge or the fact that we are ignorant be a motivating factor. Even if we are raised on the pseudo liberal and subaltern studies like many are, we do have many influential dynamic intellectuals who are raising the awareness. All we need is an open mind. Lots of free resources are available thanks to internet, Google and the willingness of many to share.
Too technical, do not know Sanskrit: They say even the great Rishis do not know the complete knowledge. Plus we have so many schools of thought (darshanas). Within each type there are too many variations like bhakti, karma, jnana etc. Within even one system like Vedanta, we have so many flavors like Advaita, Dvaita, Visishtadvaita. Just one book Bhagavad Gita, has so many different commentaries and interpretations.
Also to complicate, we have Sanskrit which not only has same word like dharma or karma with numerous meanings. Add to these the esoteric meanings which differ so much from the literal interpretations.
Dharmic Prescription: The fact that there are concepts and ideas that are way beyond our current intellectual capacity that existed in the past should be enough to pique our interest. Forget the pseudo science that gets floated by the extremes like the existence of vimanas or nuclear weapons. Shouldn’t the fact that there is a wholesome richness in our past, especially handed through literary documentation of scriptures be a great starting point for a hungry intellect?
If Sheldon Pollock can overcome his western roots to learn Sanskrit, to say I don’t know Sanskrit is a very cheap baseless excuse any Indian can give. All Indian languages are heavily influenced by Sanskrit, if not originated from it. Even the so called Dravidian languages have a large percentage of vocabulary and grammar akin to it. When an IT professional can learn entirely new software for mere survival, why not learn Sanskrit or read the scriptures with good commentaries? How many of us are forced by the economy to change careers? This is our dharma to protect our heritage. If we already agree it was a great rich one, how can we be the link that breaks our legacy instead of handing it over to posterity?
With increasing choices like Sanskrit Bharati, the excuse falls flat. On the excuse that it is too technical, the solution is simple. Begin where you are. Start with small steps. Our vasana baggage will not be hindrance as we are willing to work on our attitude. It will guide us to proper translations that appeal to our mental makeup. I am extremely proud of my friend in Australia, who turned himself around just by taking baby steps. From extreme agnostic or atheistic materialistic outlook to sincerely doing Japa along with his family in few short months is nothing short of his sincere efforts and the blessings of Krishna he prays to.
Tamas (Laziness) / lack of time / Too busy with daily lives: We feel very proud to give this excuse that we are too busy. Sometimes we give it as a privilege we have earned to be lazy. Either case it is a mere expression of Tamas. We are mostly tied up with our daily lives, many times struggling with our existence, making our desires a reality. It is definitely true that our hectic lives are becoming busier as easy year passes. This is despite all the modern gadgets we have for our convenience.
Dharmic Prescription: The antidote for all these stems from taking time to understand the value of Sanatana Dharma and how it has extremely benefited humanity. Take time to see the solutions offered to the mess of modern life, where we are running around like headless automatons with no sense of direction
Once we value the small practical things we can benefit from our past, then we can kick it up a notch. For instance, yoga can be a good starting point. Once we understand how it helps combat our stress, we can turn our gaze deeper. Many of my friends have started practicing Ekadasi fasting, they not only have realized some health benefits, but it has opened their minds to receive more wisdom from our sages. Begin where you are and plod ahead.
Mayavada (Everything is an illusion): Indian thought process is largely influenced by Adi Shankara and his Advaita philosophy. Even the majority of the influential Gurus found today have serious influences from his school of thought. This has lead to spurious interpretations of his ideas. Add to this confusion, Buddhism, New Age and twisted mythmaking sepoys who all pile up on this misery. The average Hindu gets these snippets of misinterpreted misquoted ideas. Already suffering from extreme disinterest in scriptures and laziness, Mayavada provides the perfect escape to the masses.
This horror reaches its climax when a large number of monks, disciples of great ashrams start using this excuse for not discharging their responsibilities to educate the masses on their responsibilities. When requested to rebut characters like Sheldon Pollock, Wendy Doniger, Devdutt Pattnaik’s malevolent words or actions, even great ashrams with legacy of past Hindu luminaries like Swami Vivekananda or Swami Sivananda, turn to this great pretense.
Dharmic Prescription: First of all these great swamijis are making the biggest flaw. (Read more on Why many Gurus are wrong?) Dharmo rakshati rakshitah, says our scriptures. If they truly even follow the scriptures they prescribe, the solution is right there. It is our responsibility. Secondly, the same gurus do not give up eating, nor do they give up medication if sick. We have seen how Ramana Maharishi did not even take anesthesia for his surgery as he was above body consciousness, as also Bhagwan Ramakrishna who did not complain about his throat cancer. But we do not see such a behavior from these modern swamijis. Many even have wonderful ashrams which are involved in various activities. Are they not also Maya? Then why do them.
To the common man invoking this argument - There is a clear distinction between Vyavaharika (common daily life) and Paramarthika (related to Paramathma or Brahman). For most daily lives Newtonian physics is more than adequate, but for special situations dealing with cosmic or subatomic scales, we need Einstenian or modern physics. In a similar way we mix up these two levels of understanding.
Despite this mix up, be it by the spiritually advanced or the ones following, we cannot use this lousy excuse. Just because we understand that we are all different forms of energy, can we stop eating and just jump into fire when hungry? Fire is also an energy form. Or touch a live wire to recharge our body’s sagging energy?
There is a great responsibility for every swamiji or person who has benefited from this great legacy and civilization. Is there not a sense of gratitude just because one has managed to go to a level where one can insulate from the oddities in the society? Have they not come from the same origins? Is there no compassion?
Selfishness; why should I get involved?; Ego : I am already busy with my daily existence. Who has time to study scriptures or try following it? The pressures of modern life are already stressful, why add to this misery.
My parents gave me a good upbringing and I will give my kids a good one too. I think that is the best I can do. I limit myself to my family. Gone are the times when society used to live as one. Today it is a dog eat dog world.
A variance to the selfishness is Ego. Why should I follow some other pattern? I can do whatever I want.
Dharmic Prescription: The selfish person is forgetting one massive contribution. We are today standing on the shoulders of the giants of the past. Even if we limit our vision to the mundane existence, we find the fabric of our lives is intricately interwoven with others. The human mind has to step beyond the I-Me-Myself circle of limitations.
This is perhaps the reverse of the precepts of Hinduism and the examples of great mahatmas. Ramanujacharya made 18 trips to his Guru Thirukoshtiyur Nambi to learn the meaning of “Om Namo Narayana” and the explicit instruction that he cannot reveal it to anyone without scruple. Within minutes, Ramanuja climbed the temple tower to announce to the masses that others can access this knowledge, even if he may be punished.
A sense of reverence is bound to happen when we look at the ephemeral existence of what we call as life and the beauty of how dependant we are on each other, even if we build and bury ourselves in an imaginary silo.
On the egotistic stance, only one thing can be told. So far such individuals have made no actual independent contributions. Did they come with their own Vedas or Upanishads or even a mundane invention? This class of individuals will continue to exist at all times and only they can help themselves.
Kali yuga / Waiting for some great Mahatma to come and fix it: It is told that in Kali Yuga this is the way of the masses. So I am following the trend.
Even worse is the excuse, I think Kalki avatar is due. Hasn’t Krishna told in Bhagavad Gita that HE will come to reestablish Dharma? So when HE comes things will happen. Maybe it is high time that some great Mahatma like Swami Vivekananda will come and fix our society. That will make it easy to follow.
Another common variation of this excuse is, even Bhagwan cannot make lasting changes, what can I the lesser mortal do?
Another common variation of this excuse is, even Bhagwan cannot make lasting changes, what can I the lesser mortal do?
Dharmic Prescription: Why will Krishna or Kalki come to our rescue? Are we even worth rescuing, as we do not even follow the most minimal basics? Secondly even if we sanctimoniously assume ourselves as great beings, just like Draupadi’s vastraharana episode, she did everything in her disposal before surrendering to Krishna’s refuge. Are we even doing a millionth of what we should be doing?
Will the same person use the same excuse for their material pursuits or things that matter to them the most? So they stand exposed.
Hinduism has only outdated ideas / Caste centric / Nothing modern: Such believers brand Hinduism as limited, casteist in outlook. They believe it is out of tune with the modern times. Why follow ancient customs which we cannot explain? What is the point of puja or yoga or dhyana and it is not even mandated in our scriptures?
Dharmic Prescription: This perhaps is the most puerile reductionistic excuse. To confine Hinduism to a very narrow prism of the western indologist or a heartless sold out sepoy and claim it to be only related to ideas like caste is very unjust. This means the person has definitely lost their reasoning or their intention to be open.
Many of the fault lines in our society have been engineered and deepened by our colonial masters. Till Lord Risley introduced a Caste Census including registering gothra compulsorily in the late 19th century, such fault lines were not as deep as it appears today. Today’s politicians instead of uniting the rashtra are busy deepening these fissures and converting them as vote banks.
If one claims to be very modern and scholarly, have the honesty to dig deeper than the façade you are dealing, the common doctored narratives with a spin. This may challenge the very foundation of all what you believe, but have the audacity and integrity to question even the claims you are making.
Ask simple questions like if inter varna marriage didn’t exist, how come genetics is telling a different story? If Varna has always been like it is understood today, how come we get an entirely different picture while reading scriptures? If Varna is as you claim, how come Dr APJ Kalam shares a different story in his autobiography?
Cultural Hindu: This is very fashionable in Tamil Nadu, where the influence of the broken British idea of Aryan-Dravidian divide is at its nadir. The argument is to reduce Sanatana Dharma to a set of secular atheistic ideas.
Dharmic Prescription: This again is a matter of ignorance, where people do not understand Sanatana Dharma as an open framework, a coin termed by Shri Rajiv Malhotra. The open architecture nature of Hinduism allows mapping of different belief systems be it a village deity model (For the arguing ignorant, many mantras invoke grama devata. Please ask any priest to do a simple puja and most will involve invoking grama devata, ishta devata etc) or the highly classified Vedantic ideas. It allows for a Brahman with a form or without. It even allows the acceptance of the intolerant monotheistic models which claim only their idea is correct. That is how Jews lived in India and also the Zorastrians when they were persecuted elsewhere.
How does culture alone exist without a foundation and framework of theology and philosophy? This excuse is very lame as such an approach is for splitting hair.
I am spiritual, not ritual: This is the other extreme of the above. They are an extension of not Mayavada alone. They like to be left to their own silos.
Dharmic Prescription: Few such individuals do exist. We have seen many mahatmas like Ramana Maharishi who lived in seclusion out of their extreme inner evolution. The ones aping such an approach usually fall flat as they continue to involve with the society in all other aspects. When it comes to protecting or defending Sanatana Dharma, they tuck their tail. Please be true to whatever scriptures you read. It is not our responsibility to reform others, but it is our duty to contribute our strengths to the society. We may be blessed in one area of life and it becomes our mission to share it with others.
Too young or old / no pedigree / no support: There are many I encounter who claim their age or lack of family interests or absence of support around as a reason why they cannot aspire to live a Hindu way of living. This does not mean we start going back a few centuries and live simpler lives.
Dharmic Prescription: This excuse only reveals the lack of real interest in the person. In today’s world we have so many resources available in our finger tips.
Will I alone following Hinduism make a difference: This is interesting escapism.
Dharmic Prescription: This is a very westernized way of thinking. In Abrahamism which believes in numbers and conversion, such a practice is mass oriented. In Hinduism it is always the individual that is at the center. Only I can make a difference for myself. I cannot shirk my responsibility and expect all the benefits. Also one person does make a difference. One Swami Vivekananda went to West and shook its roots. One half naked fakir, Gandhi moved the masses against the mighty British empire.
Every person has the same divinity is the central message of Sanatana Dharma. So why can’t that single individual flame begin a huge conflagration? Look within, but also play an active role outside.
Artha and Kama I can understand, but why we need dharma and moksha: Another classic western limitation is viewing life only through the prism of material and emotional needs.
Dharmic Prescription: In Sanatana Dharma we have identified that there are two other levels besides materialistic and emotional/mental needs. There are clear responsibilities to be performed in society/relationships and also transcending all the three. This needs more subtler and deeper study within to understand.
This Kurukshetra is very big and scary / The values expected have very high standards: The standards expected are Satyam, Ahimsa, Brahmacharya, compassion, love, acceptance and service to all. The list keeps growing with every book I read or Guru I listen. Working on multiple goals of Dharma-Artha-Kama-Moksha seems daunting. Can’t it be easy like believe my God of other religions and you are assured heaven?
Also look at the battlegrounds – internal and external. If the internal kurukshetra is towering and unscalable, then the external looks infested with too many dangerous players. Why not take the easy path of just focusing on my limited mundane life? Why go defend Hinduism from such characters?
Dharmic Prescription: Exactly the point. To take on these external forces it is impossible unless one achieves a higher degree of inner perfection. So while we are constantly working on ourselves, we must fulfill our responsibilities of protecting this ecosystem.
- Start reading some scriptures on a periodic basis. If you are inclined to Bhakti, begin with itihasas and puranas. If you are more Jnana oriented begin with Bhagavad Gita and some simpler Upanishads.
- Satsanga is very crucial for all Hindus. Depending on your vasana baggage, make a choice of association that is conducive to your spiritual growth.
- Apply whatever little that we have learnt in real life.
- Focus more on Seva - nishkamya seva.
- Share what knowledge you have gained to others. It can be your family, friends or even larger community. Only by sharing, learning goes to the next level.
- Do not lower your standards to fit an easy lifestyle.
- Do not cow down to intellectual bullies who are not grounded in dharma. If you are rooted in dharma, it will give you the strength to challenge them. If you do not defend dharma, the fall is imminent.
Om Tat Sat