Today, I’m talking about a book, Musings on Hinduism, written by Nithin Sridhar.
About the Author
Nithin Sridhar is a civil engineer by qualification, having a special interest in Vedanta and Dharma. He said in preface that he was always attracted to Vedanta, even when he was an atheist during his high school days.
He admitted that his journey from being an atheist who rejected Hinduism to being a practicing Hindu has been a journey of self-discovery and spiritual contentment, as if the true journey of his life has only begun after embracing all aspects of Hinduism.
He writes at indiafacts.org and nithinsridhar.wordpress.com. In fact, this book is a collection of his independent articles and blog-posts between 2007 and 2013. Since the book is musings on Hinduism, so before going further, let’s understand what Hinduism is from author’s point of view.
What is Hinduism?
Author quoted Dr. S. Radhakrishnan’s definition of Hinduism. According to Dr. Radhakrishnan, Hinduism is not just a faith. It is the union of reason and intuition that cannot be defined but is only to be experienced.
Author said, “Hinduism lays stress on the individual’s journey towards the truth. It is a way of life in the sense that it’s not confined to one thought, one ideology to which all must adhere to, but instead it speaks about the all-pervading truth (Satya/Dharma) and how it is important for every individual to realize this truth first hand on his own. Every individual must create his own niche and pursue truth in his own way is the essence of Hindu philosophy”
He further said, “Hinduism is a living tradition that has produced various unbroken lineages of Gurus who live and guide people through variety of paths towards the highest truth. Hence, here there is no unity in the means, but unity is present in the ultimate goal to be attained – i.e. Moksha.”
He also compared Hinduism with the inverted banyan tree mentioned in Katha Upanishad and Gita.
A point could be presented through a story or through statements of facts. The author’s choice is of statements. He stated his points in simple statements with lots of references from various scriptures. The writing is theoretical and involves many technical terms. The author’s writing style is dry, academic, argumentative, and more like a thesis.
Since the book is a collection of independent articles and blog-posts, written over different periods of time, it’s obvious that the chapters in sections are not written in systemic progression but are compiled in such a way that their central theme would be the same.
Segmentation of the Book
The book is divided into 5 sections:
Section 1 deals with basic concepts of Hinduism, such as Vritti, Satya, Mithya, Purushartha, Leela, Maya, Sacchidananda, Bhedabheda, Nishkaama Karma, Tantric Notion of Sex, Mumukshutva, Moksha, etc.
Section 2 focuses on the nitty-gritty of Vedanta, especially of Advaita Vedanta.
Section 3 talks about the problems and their solutions that are prevailing in present society from the perspectives of Hindu scriptures.
Section 4 contains the translation of some Sanskrit hymns, such as Nirvana Shatkam, Saraswati Ashtottara Shatanama Stotra, etc.
Section 5 doesn’t have a specific theme but states on random topics, such as symbolism and meaning of Shiva Linga, Ardhanarishwara, Gayatri Mantra, etc.
Areas Covered in the Book
The book touches almost all aspects of Hinduism but superficially, and it’s understandable because to explain each term mentioned in the book in detail, it’d take millions of pages though some topics are explained in considerable amount, like the concept of Sadhna, Tantra, Bhakti, and Vedanta.
The Hinduism presented in the book is seen through the glasses of Vedanta.
The Hinduism that we are familiar with today is mostly Vedanta though other schools of philosophy also existed in Hinduism. Its foundation was laid by Veda Vyasa, who was the compiler of Vedas and hence got the name Veda Vyasa, which literally means compiler of Vedas. His original name was Krishna Dwaipayana.
Vedanta literally means end of Vedas and could be better understood as essence of Vedas. There are many schools of Vedanta but the most popular one is Advaita Vedanta because of Adi Shankaracharya and Vivekananda.
Vedanta is also called Uttara Mimansa. There’s a beautiful story behind it. As the book only deals with technical aspects, let me share the story with you in brief.
There was a time when Vedic religion was on decline due to its high indulgence of rituals and influence of Buddhism. At that time, Shankaracharya took the burden of restoring faith of masses in wisdom of Vedas not in its rituals, upon himself.
He wandered throughout India and challenged many scholars for a spiritual duel with the condition that the losers had to follow the winner’s faith. In this way, he had defeated many Buddhists and Mimansikas.
Mimansikas were the followers of the school of Mimansa, which gave more importance to ritual part of Vedas than its wisdom part.
Mandana Misra was one of the great scholars of Mimansa. So, Shankaracharya challenged him also for a spiritual duel. The discussion continued for six months but resulted in the defeat of Mandana.
Ubhaya Bharati, wife of Mandana Misra, was also a great scholar. After the defeat of her husband, she argued that Shankaracharya had only defeated half of Mandana Misra; to defeat him fully, he had to defeat her also as she is another half of Mandana Misra according to scriptures.
Ubhaya Bharti was not only well versed in scriptures but clever too. She knew that Shankaracharya was a celibate, so started asking questions regarding sex and bodily pleasures.
Shankaracharya admitted that he didn’t have the knowledge of Kama-shastras and took the leave of six months from discussion and entered into the body of a dying king to learn the skills.
When Shankaracharya returned, he bowed to Ubhaya Bharati who was incarnation of Saraswati, and Mandana Mishra bowed to him and addressed him as incarnation of Shiva, who had beheaded fifth head of Brahma, father of rituals.
From that day onwards, Mimansa was divided into two schools: the old ritual school of Purva Mimansa and the new intellectual school of Uttara Mimansa. This new school was later evolved into what we call today as Vedanta, which is the epitome of Vedic ideologies.
Need of Rituals
In the contemporary world, Vedic rituals are basically explained through psychological concepts or elements of physics. The author hinted psychological approach through these lines: “Every external activity is deeply connected with internal change and they complement each other. The external rituals will stimulate the internal rituals and eventually leads a practitioner to involve himself wholly in internal sadhana discarding the external ones.”
But his explanation was based on scriptures only, which made it difficult to comprehend by logical-thinking prevailing in present world.
There’s a need to explain the things using modern terminologies. It’s the use of modern words that made Vivekananda popular in India & abroad. He used to explain traditional concepts using modern examples.
Need for Indian Narrative
Author felt a need for Indian Narrative of the scriptures and I agree with him. Explaining things using modern examples doesn’t mean stating things out of context.
Entire western philosophy is divided into good and evil – God and Satan. There isn’t any concept of Satan in Sanatana Dharma.
Gita chapter 2 verse 6 says that evil has no existence and good never ceases to be and the reality of both has been acknowledged by the seers of truth.
This is what reflected in Vivekananda’s saying that author quoted in the book: “We move from a lower level of truth to a higher level of truth and not from untruth to truth.”
In Advaita theory, there’s nothing other than God in the universe. Everything is the manifestation of HIM only. Hence, the presence of evil in HIM is out of question.
Truth is Inexpressible
Truth, Satya, God, Ishwara whatever you call HIM cannot be expressed in words. HE is beyond language. Whatever you say about HIM, something would be left outside the words. When you refer HIM as masculine, the feminine part would remain unsaid.
You can only hint about HIM but cannot express HIM exactly as HE through words. Language has its limitation, and because of this limitation, there are many schools of Hinduism.
Different schools are saying the same thing but differently. Author mentioned Vidyaranya and his famous work Sarva-darshana-sangraha to point out how various schools of philosophies were not exclusive.
Difference of Opinion with Author
I have many differences with the author regarding presentation of facts, interpretation of concepts, and choice of words. For example, the translation of Sarva-darshana-sangraha, which author translated as A Compendium of Speculations.
I do not approve when someone translates Darshan as Philosophy. The word ‘philosophy’ is made up of two Greek words ‘philo’ meaning ‘love’ and ‘sophia’ meaning ‘wisdom.’ There is a difference of opinion in the exact translation of Greek word ‘sophia.’ Its meaning varies from ‘knowledge’ to ‘wisdom.’ A general consensus has been made to interpret it as ‘know thyself.’ So, ‘philosophy’ means ‘love for knowing thyself.’ It is often interpreted as ‘thirst for knowledge or wisdom.’ Note that it is just a thirst for knowledge, not knowledge itself.
In Sanatana Dharma, we have the word ‘Darshan’ which means ‘I see.’ Darshan is not any thirst for knowledge but knowledge itself. Darshan is not some intellectual speculation about Truth but actual seeing of Truth.
Whenever I see Darshan translated as Philosophy, I feel a strong need for Indian narrative but Darshan as Speculation….
Liberty to Choose Own Version of Truth
Despite all the differences, I’d say that the book Musings on Hinduism is indeed food for thoughts. It’s the beauty of Hinduism, as author mentioned in the book that provides freedom to every individual to pursue truth in his own way.
Gita chapter 3 verse 35 says that it’s better to die following own version of Truth than following other’s version of Truth; other’s version is fraught with fear.
Author beautifully illustrated that Truth is one but its paths are many. Formless God is only one and all other gods that have form are manifestation of formless God only. Each form represents a specific aspect of the formless God. Deities are nothing but the personification of the various forces that drive the Cosmos. Names and forms are given in context.
For example, the son of Shiva and Parvati is called Ganesha because he’s the leader of Ganas, who are devoted followers of Shiva. He is also called Vighnavinashak because he’s remover of obstacles. And, he’s also worshipped as the formless God.
Gita chapter 4 verse 11 says, “In whatever way people approach ME, even so do I reward them; people do tread my path from all sides, O Arjuna!”
You can grab a copy of the book from Amazon.