Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Two books on Hindu Dharma

This post is about books that are worth reading by anyone interested in sanAtana dharma, whether they are "practicing it" or have been outsiders and want to understand it.

Hindu Dharma by Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi MahaSwamiji: The book Hindu Dharma is a series of lectures by Sri Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi MahaSwamiji, who was the the head of the Shankara Mutt at Kanchi. He was known to be a jIvanmukta (one who is liberated while alive).

This book teaches all the basics about a Hindu life and the corrects the misconceptions that have crept in over times. These misconceptions are more dangerous to a dharma, not the least when it is attacked from other encroaching religions. It is well known that the emphasis on a spiritual orientation, even while doing their nitya and naimittika karmas (duties that are daily and obligatory) distinguishes a Hindu from these others.

In fact, I think that this book should be one of the first introductory books to Hinduism, as it tries to correct the many errors that have crept into the practice of sanAtana dharma. It is these errors, which gradually turn into corruption in the hearts and minds of the people who, which make the dharma weaker from within, thus causing a rot on which other religions can feed upon.

In particular, The key concepts should be understood by parents of raising kids, as clearly puts an onus of responsibility on them. For example, the Sage of Kanchi, never forgets to repeat the maxims (like "do a sandhya vandana regularly") that the parents who practice sanAtana dharma well will beget children who are equally good practitioners themselves.

The philosophy section of the book is very readable and mature at the same time. The Acharya takes the reader through the entire gamut of Indian darshanas (schools of thought), from the non-vaidic schools to the vaidic schools. In this aspect, it as well rivals many books written by purely academicians. Reading these sections of the book enforces the thought that philosophy in Indian schools is not one built in ivory towers, but by practitioners or seers, with the former searching for the meaning behind the Truth, and the latter explaining it. There is no problem of the reader complaining of lack of "no tears approach", as he is taken through it deftly trough the sharp bends. There are difficult sections though, which make the book a worthy for multiple readings.

There is no point putting any excerpts from the book as there are too many gems over there. If you want to learn about Hindu Dharma, first read it and put it into practice.

Radical Universalism: Does Hinduism Teach That All Religions Are The Same? A Philosophical Critique of Radical Universalism The fallacies and mistakes that this book (rather a paper) corrects are numerous. It should be read multiple times by many Hindus to really understand what they truly believe in, especially when they are explaining to their beliefs to a mostly western audience, or just trying to understand for themselves. This book is Radical Universalism subtitled "Does Hinduism Teach That All Religions Are The Same? A Philosophical Critique of Radical Universalism". The author Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D. (Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya)" is, according to the above website a well known speaker with many credentials.

Primarily there are some Philosophical questions that the book raises, which need to dealt with. The questions obviously touch upon the classical and seemingly never ending debates like: traditional vs. modern, conservative vs.liberal, meaning of scriptural statements with respect to modern age and so on. But the questions that are asked are very important and need to be thought about.

The historical section of the book raises very valid points and confirms some of the well known recent alarming trends in people understanding scriptures for themselves. None-the-less, this has been there for some time too.

Here are some excerpts from this book:

In order to fully appreciate the proper purport of the verse ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti, we need to understand the verse in terms its own inherently derived meaning, and not merely in accordance with polemically determined speculative opinion. We can do this by explicating the verse in accordance with the verse’s precise categorical status, followed by an accurate veridical assessment of its philosophical content. In order to more precisely understand the philosophical meaning of the many verses found in the Hindu scriptures, this verse included, I have developed a methodological system of explication that I call Categorical Exegetical Analysis. This interpretive methodology enables its user to more accurately understand the precise meaning of any singular unit of philosophical text from the Hindu scriptures, units ranging from a simple declarative statement to a string of verses to an entire work, and held together by one unitive philosophical or conceptual motif.

Stated briefly, this philo-exegetical method involves three sequential steps. First, we must determine whether the verse in question is making an actual philosophical statement or some other form of statement (poetic, descriptive, historical, narrative, etc.). In the case of the verse ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti, the philosophically propositional makeup of the statement, the obviously philosophical nature of the subject (sat, "Truth/God"), and the clearly unitive conceptual pattern of the verse, undoubtedly makes this a philosophical statement. Second, we need to see what category of philosophical subject matter the statement falls under by determining the precise philosophical nature of the textual unit under analysis. Is the verse saying something about ethics, about knowledge, about liberation, or about some other aspect of philosophy?

The following are the various categories of philosophical statements that the verse under analysis could potentially fall under.

a) Ontological - statements outlining the nature of the Absolute.

b) Ethical - statements concerning proper/improper behavior.

c) Soteriological - statements about the means and/or nature of liberation.

d) Social - political, economic and sociological statements.

e) Aesthetic - poetic description and/or theory.

f) Cosmological - statements on the nature of the universe and physics.

g) Cosmogonical - statements about the origin/creation of the universe.

h) Epistemological - statements concerning means of knowing.

Every propositional statement containing significant philosophical content found in the scriptures of Hinduism falls within one or more of these philosophical categories. It is impossible to determine the full scope of the intent of any statement without first discerning which category a statement falls under. This is so because of the commonsensical fact that before we can determine what a verse is saying philosophically, we first need to know what aspect of philosophy the verse is addressing. Third, after completing steps one and two, a proper philosophical explication of the verse can be done.

We will now use Categorical Exegetical Analysis to examine the famous verse from the Rig Veda: ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti. An exact transliteration of the verse is:

"Truth/God (sad) [is] One (ekam), [despite] seers (vipra) call (vadanti) [it] variously (bahudha)."

The typical Radical Universalist attempt at interpreting this verse is to view it, incorrectly, as either an epistemological or a soteriological claim. That is, this verse is usually misinterpreted as either saying that a) God can be known in a myriad of ways (thus seeing this as an epistemological statement), or that b) there are many ways or paths of achieving God (thus misinterpreting this as a soteriological verse).

It is my contention that both interpretations are incorrect. An interpretive error is committed by Radical Universalists due to not understanding the proper categorical context, and thus the proper philosophical meaning, of the statement. The mantra ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti is neither an epistemological nor a soteriological statement; but it is rather an ontological one. It is not talking about the proper derivation of authoritative knowledge (pramana), nor about the means of attaining liberation (mokshopaya, or mokshamarga). Rather, the verse is making a clear attributive statement about the essential ontological nature of the Absolute. The ontological nature of this verse is clearly known due to the fact that sat ("Truth, reality, being, God") is the singular nominative subject, which is then qualified by the accusative ekam ("one, unity"). "God is One…". Thus the primary clausal emphasis of this propositional verse is clearly placed upon explaining the ontological nature of sat (before consonant-initial endings, the t becomes d; thus sat becomes sad in this verse) being a metaphysically unified substance (ekam = "one"). The emphasis is not on the secondary supportive clause vipra bahudha vadanti. The point of this verse is the ontological unity and integrity of the Absolute, that God is one…despite the fact that this Absolute may have multiple names. The statement ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti is an ontological statement with God as subject, not an epistemological statement with wise-ones as subjects, or a soteriological statement with the means of liberation as the subject. Indeed, multiple paths of liberation are not even mentioned in the original Sanskrit of this verse at all, leaving even less reason for anyone to misinterpret this as a verse somehow supporting Radical Universalism from a soteriological perspective. In summation, this verse is not talking about multiple paths for achieving liberation (since it does not even mention "paths"). It is not talking about various means of knowing God. Rather, it is a straightforward ontological statement commenting upon the unitive nature of the Absolute, that God is one. Thus, "God is one, despite sages calling it by various names".

One interesting aspect of this book is that the book asks RSS, the uncomfortable question: "How is is that you are saying all religions are the same and still supposedly fighting for Hinduism?"

It is a great luck that we are in an age when knowledge is just a click away. But is not true that the same is statement is applicable to the all pervasive truth that is closest to one's Self (in fact, it is one's own self!). But, how many can drop the weight of one's vaasanaas to truly know it?

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