Sampradaya Software


Hinduism is a vast and unlimited landscape of philosophies, theologies, practices and culture. To answer the question 'what is hinduism?' remains a most difficult and almost impossible task. Both scholars and devotees alike have endeavored for decades if not centuries to reduce the vast phenomenom to a single definition, however to date none have been satisfactory. Neither has any one interpretation of the Hindus themselves, no matter how elaborate, been adequate enough to satisfy all Hindus. Hinduism is a phenomenon which requires to be seen and perceived through the eyes of a tradition (sampradaya) in order to be understood. Otherwise there is just too much information on Hinduism out there.

Structuralist thinkers from Strauss to Foucault have theorised about our requirement to perceive and understand the world which exists outside of us. To just look upon the world without any sense of subjectivity and a created structure of the mind and thought would result in information overload and chaos of meaning. Thus communities and cultures through their historical development of language and behaviour have worked to name and categorise the unlimited objects all around us. In growing up within a community we therefore inherit a system of values and a way a of seeing and making sense of our world. We see some objects as food or shelter and as friend or enemy, and so on. We, the constructed subject, then begin to grow our 'world view' built upon or in opposition to all the information we have internalised; much of which we may even be unaware of. Thus we exist within a world that makes some sort of sense to us, within which we can engage and hope to survive. However, a small malfunction in our program can create a complete confusion of information and result in madness.

Hinduism has developed over thousands of years and has resulted in masses of information not necessarily related other that the fact that it is indigenous to India. As many traditions grew according to developments in knowledge and beliefs, and as new ones were born, outsiders required some term to refer to these 'peoples' who differed from them. Thus their region 'Hapta Hindu', the place of seven (sapta) rivers (sindhu) was a good place to start an so they were called Hindus. The earliest records of travellers to India make the point of how these people were known as Hindus by outsiders, but not by the referred to people themselves. The rubric Hindu stuck and by the sixteenth century Hindus themselves began to use the term to distinguish themselves from the 'other', their foreign invaders who were different in the beliefs (perhaps intolerant) and ways. In due course British colonisers and India nationalists made good use of the term to further there interests. Hinduism gradually became everything and nothing, with no satisfactory overarching definition.

In recent years, taking their point of departure from the Neo-Hindu Nationalist reformers of the 18th to early 20th century, some Hindus have come up with an attempted interpretation of Hinduism as a singular 'pluralistic' religion. That means that all that comes under the rubric is true and part of the religion. This then infers that everything from orthodox practices to village superstitions; the views of all philosophically opposed schools including atheism , theism, polytheism, the worshiping of and the rejection of the worship of idols; are all included regardless of their own opinions. When ask to explain what the object of pluralism is, its adherents inevitably have to say 'everyone and everything is god' and there is no god with a capital 'G', a conclusion which most Hindus themselves would not approve of.

When Freud, Durkheim, Strauss and Einstein looked at and interpreted the world, they did so from their specific disciplines whether psychology, sociology, anthropology or science. Thus they were able to share bits of interesting information, which was of great interest to their proteges and of general interest to others. However, none were able to have a complete picture of the inner and outer world through a universal lens and from a point of transcendence. Clearly none of them could offer us an all encompassing and universally accepted explanation. Everything they shared was partial and specific to their field of interest, method of observation and interpretation. If one were to accept all of their conclusions and methodical practices as well as all others which existed outside of them, within a reasonable geographic area, as a whole and as a truth, and in opposition to what they themselves thought: perhaps we would call the outcome a religion of pluralism much akin to Hinduism. Unfortunately that is exactly what such pluralists are doing to Hinduism, a phenomenon of vast and varied beliefs and practices, which have differences and similarities, and exist within a culture of tolerance. The pluralist is undermining and thus ignoring the individual concerns, beliefs and practices of the disciplines and traditions, which exist under the rubric of Hinduism. Instead each tradition is being forced into an incoherent oneness, which is no more than an act of intolerance and can only conclude in confusing explanations and an undifferentiated indescribable truth.

To comprehend Hinduism requires an approach which has as a priori an education and training in one of the many disciplines known as sampradayas. These are theological schools or religions which interpret the entirety of Hinduism from the inside in their own way. Indeed it is their own ways and interpretations that make up the totality of Hinduism. As an outsider looking in or as a pluralists, the endeavor to make sense of the totality is futile and results in a false interpretation of something which actually began as a geographical referent and indicative of different beliefs. This is much akin to saying that Europeans practice a singular religion called European-ism, which is in its totality is true.

Understanding Hinduism for a practitioner requires the internalisation of a tradition's or Sampradaya's software. This will provide a view of the totality which can then be understood and progressed. In due course one may change one's discipline or develop a synthesised model. At least, for a non-practitioner, looking at individual traditions and how they relate to and differ from others will assist a richer understanding of the great rubric Hinduism. Whilst simply viewing the mass and chaos of information that makes up the great Hinduism, will result in an interpretation or practices that seem akin to 'madness' for those viewing Hinduism from the inside.

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