There are two Hinduisms; one which takes its stand on the kitchen and seeks its Paradise by cleaning the body; another which seeks God, not through the cooking pot and the social convention, but in the soul. The latter is also Hinduism and it is a good deal older and more enduring than the other; it is the Hinduism of Bhishma and Sri Krishna, of Shankara and Chaitanya, the Hinduism which exceeds Hindustan, was from old and will be forever, because it grows eternally through the aeons — Sri Aurobindo
It was in a time of calamity, of contraction, under external pressure that Hinduism fled from the inner temple and hid itself in the kitchen. Do we want to revive the Hinduism of the kitchen or the Hinduism of the soul? That is the question we have to answer today.
But at the same time, I have a word for those in the majority community in the country who hesitate even to describe themselves as Hindu for whatever reason. We have seen that Hinduism is not a religion in the Semitic sense but a term descriptive of a spiritual civilization. Those who were Hindu in their spirit and traditions made this land, built this civilization which has been wide enough to welcome in terms of equality the Muslim and the Christian, the persecuted Zoroastrian and, in more recent times, the persecuted Bahai’s and the Dalai Lama and his followers. As Sethna once pointed out, a great truth is enshrined in the statement that India is the land of Hinduism. If we forget this truth and seek to create a country with all psychological and metaphysical color of Hinduism wiped off, we shall seriously thwart India’s growth and make the nation either a mediocrity or a monstrosity instead of a light to the whole world.
Sri Aurobindo not only made this distinction between Hinduism of the kitchen and of the soul, he went even one step beyond this. He said that what we call the truer and higher Hinduism is also of two kinds, sectarian and non-sectarian, disruptive and synthetic, that which seeks one aspect and that which seeks the All. The first is born out of a rajasic or tamasic attachment to an idea, an experience, an opinion, or a set of opinions, a temperament, an attitude, a particular Guru, a chosen Avatar. This attachment is intolerant, arrogant, proud of little knowledge, scornful of knowledge that is not its own. The higher Hinduism is the spiritual core of Hinduism which rises beyond theology and scriptures, metaphysical certainties, and cultural determinisms.
The Truth that India has sought to serve through Hinduism is the truth of the presence of the Divine in the human. This it regards as the master-key to human progress and fulfillment. It is unfortunately true, as I have already mentioned above, that there are grave provocations that surround us which are manifestations of religious fundamentalism in our own country and in some of the neighboring countries. Many may feel that the path indicated by Sri Aurobindo, the path of higher Hinduism which rises beyond theology, scriptures and temples, is too idealistic, too steep a climb for most of us to manage it. The ruthless persecution of the Hindus for several centuries during the Islamic rule has traumatized the Hindu psyche. This hurt cannot be healed by suppressing facts. The English language press and certain political parties have not only suppressed Islamic history, but they have also exploited Islamic religious identity and this has had well-known social and political reverberations.
The Hindu community feels that on the one hand it is being asked to forget completely the atrocities committed against it by the Islamic regime for nearly a thousand years, which the historian Will Durant has described as the “bloodiest story in human history”, and that on the other, events like the recent bomb blasts in Mumbai are sought to be explained away as acts of revenge for what happened in Gujarat in the aftermath of the Godhra train-burning. The trauma that the Hindu civilization suffered for nearly a thousand years cannot be easily wished away. It is simply unimaginable what would happen if the majority community too sought its own share of revenge for almost a millennium of persecution. It must be realized that ‘revenge’ is a dangerously ugly motive and journalists must be careful in using it to bail out acts of certain communities only. To say the least, this is not the way to heal old civilizational wounds.
In the name of preserving the identity of the Muslim community, our secular leaders have ghettoised the community and given them a mindset suspicious of the majority community. This has prevented them from joining the mainstream and therefore deprived them of the economic and political benefits of social integration. The Hindus and the Muslims both have to face together the depth of degradation and intolerance of the Islamic times in Indian history. Neither Hindus not Muslims benefit from a censorship of any critique of Islam and Islamic rule in India. Muslims should see how most of their ancestors were forcibly converted from Hinduism. If they understand their history and ancestry, it may be easier for them to assimilate into the mainstream of Indian society. They will then realize that their lot is cast in India, and Mother India has taken them to her bosom as much as it has taken the Hindu and the Christian. They might then find it less glamorous to identify themselves with the barbaric Muslim invaders from outside than with their own countrymen with whom their lot is cast.
The Hindus too at the same time should not lose track of their civilizational goals by giving in to the feelings of vindictiveness and tit for tat. They should face the reality of today. It is true that putting a veil on one’s wounds does not help in healing them. But there is a balm for this hurt and that is to allow themselves to be washed by the purifying waters of their spiritual culture. Hatred is an altogether alien concept for this ancient civilization. Political adjustments and horse-trading will not eradicate the ill-will among the Hindus and Muslims in our country. An attitude of weakness and cowardice will not conciliate our Muslim brethren. Nor is the nationalism appropriate for the times of Shivaji appropriate for today. We should remember, as Sri Aurobindo has pointed out, that Mother India has given a permanent place to our Muslim brother too, in her bosom.
Hinduism must cultivate strength, the strength needed to stop the religious bully and the religious hooligan in his tracks. But it must also acquire the strength needed to reject the temptations of the religious and cultural ego which seeks retaliation as justification for wounds inflicted on us in our history. This is a challenge no other religion or culture so far has met successfully but it is my hope and belief that the Hindu has the inner resources to meet this challenge successfully. Only we the descendants of Vasishtha and Yajnavalkya can attempt this almost impossible feat and may even succeed in it. Vishwamitra, as the Puranic legend goes, was responsible for the death of one hundred sons of Vasishtha, and yet Vasishtha showed the strength not only to forgive him but also to lift him to the rare heights of a Brahmarshi.
Religion is one of the most attractive masks of the collective ego and it may be the last hurdle the human mind has to transcend to rise to the new age of planetary or supramental consciousness promised by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. It is easy to dump religion and with it all its spiritual commitment, and many in the West have done this successfully. But to remain committed to the spiritual goals while discarding the religious packaging in which it has come to us is very difficult. For our own sake, and for the sake of the world, we will have to take up this challenge. We don’t have to wait until others are ready for this great leap forward and upward. This is the only way to save the world from nuclear jihads or crusades. India will have to hearken to this call of her destiny.
Do we have the faith in ourselves and in our destiny that Sri Aurobindo tried to instill into his fellowmen? Let me conclude with these inspiring words of his:
This great and ancient nation was once the fountain of human light, the apex of human civilization., the exemplar of courage and humanity, the perfection of good Government and settled society, the mother of all religions, the teacher of all wisdom and philosophy. It has suffered much at the hands of inferior civilizations and more savage peoples; it has gone down into the shadow of night and tasted often of the bitterness of death. Its pride has been trampled into the dust and its glory has departed. Hunger and misery and despair have become the masters of this fair soil, these noble hills, these ancient rivers, these cities whose life story goes back into prehistoric night. But do you think that therefore God has utterly abandoned us and given us up for ever to be a mere convenience for the West, the helots of its commerce, and the feeders of its luxury and pride? We are still God’s chosen people and all our calamities have been but a discipline of suffering, because for the great mission before us prosperity was not sufficient, adversity had also its training; to taste the glory of power and beneficence and joy was not sufficient, the knowledge of weakness and torture and humiliation was also needed; it was not enough that we should be able to fill the role of the merciful sage and the beneficent king, we had also to experience in our own persons the feelings of the outcaste and the slave. But now that lesson is learnt and the time for our resurgence is come. And no power shall stay that uprising and no opposing interest shall deny us the right to live, to be ourselves, to set our seal once more upon the world.