The phrase Orthodox Hindu is today possibly one of the more controversial phrases in the English language. It is instructional to note the origins of this phrase and how it has been used as a weapon for more than a century to denigrate the indigenous denizens of a 5000-year old ancient civilisation. A simple search for the phrase “orthodox hindu” on news portals such as The Hindu or The New York Times results in innumerable Hinduphobic articles about the usual topics such as sati or cows.
Take the Latin-origin word orthodox: it refers to the “correct opinion or belief. It was first used in the late middle ages by Christian theologians. The history of Christianity is replete with innumerable wars and bloody massacres all fought because a certain set of people were determined to not have the “correct” set of beliefs. The European Wars against the Pagans, the Crusades, the Wars of Religion etc. all stand as examples to this.
However, in the context of the historical Hindu society continuing until today, having the right set of beliefs was never a matter of such life-or-death importance. Sure, a few scholars do conduct polite debates and a few sectarians occasionally write some nasty things against people of other Hindu astika or nastika sects. But that is it. Hindu society mostly does not care what beliefs one holds.
After briefly examining the history of the prejudice against Hindu tradition, it is then shown that the phrase “Orthodox Hindu” is mostly incongruous and has little relation to any sort of social or historical reality. Finally, we can explore possible ways to reassert the duty each of us has towards dharma and towards the aspirations of human civilisation.
Christian prejudices begin to jolt the Hindus
The European colonial rule in India lasted for more than 200 years. During this period, European civilisation itself went through various convulsions as the 18th century Enlightenment gave way to the 19th century Industrial Revolution. It is interesting to note that much of the Renaissance of the late middle ages and the Enlightenment was made possible thanks to several broad-minded people who questioned the dogmas of Christianity which had kept most of Europe in the Dark Ages for almost a thousand years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. However, as the excitement and fervour of the Enlightenment began to wane, the old prejudices of Christian dogma clawed their way back as a resurgent Europe began to devour the rest of the world through colonialism. Christian missionaries were essential parts of the carnage which the colonialists sought to bring about in rest of the world in the name of their self-professed “civilising mission”. In building up to this historical moment, Europeans had been ingrained with a hatred of Jews thanks to a thousand plus years of Christian indoctrination. During the middle ages, the Protestant reformation, led by the virulently antisemitic Martin Luther, gave rise to another form of hatred: this time against the clergy. Thus, imbued with the dual antipathy towards the Jews and the clergy, the Christian colonialist intellectuals naturally identified the Hindu Brahmin class of India as their next target of scorn.
The Christian missionary prejudice against Brahmins and all things polytheistic and Hindu easily found its way into the education system which was created by the colonial masters for the sake of educating their cowering Indian subjects. This pernicious education system inspired “enlightened” people like Raja Ram Mohun Roy, who created a society known as the Brahmo Samaj. The Brahmo motives were evident from their vows which included:
“I will worship no created object as the Creator”
Curiously, their formulae of worship also included:
“God is Omnipresent, Pure, Bodiless…”
Naturally, the question arises: if God is omnipresent as claimed by their formula of worship, why does their vow prohibit the worship of this omnipresent God via the worship of the so-called created objects? It is evident that such a self-contradicting, forced system of beliefs arose from the Christian missionary system of education which imbued a bias against the worship of icons. Similar Christian prejudices carried over into the European mischaracterization of the Jati and Varna systems of Hindu society as the oppressive “caste system”. As the colonial education system has continued until today without disruption and more detritus has been piled on by the Marxist academicians of the 20th century, most of today’s educated urban Hindus continue to suffer from inferiority complexes when it comes to talking about their own traditions.
When actions spoke louder than words
Throughout history, orthopraxy or how one conducts oneself in society has always been much more valued in Hindu society. This is evident from the importance placed upon shistachara (refined conduct) in Hindu tradition. The Vedas exhort the pupil with the words: satyaṃ vada, dharmaṃ cara (Speak the Truth. Practice the Dharma!). Instead of foisting an assorted set of beliefs on society, Hindu tradition places much greater importance on the practice of dharma. The household worship of the devatas (deities), the performance of rituals, the participation in festivals and various activities connected with temples are the core characteristics of being a Hindu. Naturally, this practice readily comes about when one possesses the right amount of shraddha (faith). Faith is auxiliary to dharma.
Hindu tradition thus focuses on practicality and what works in the real world. In theory, the truly orthodox Muslim or Christian can shut himself in an ivory tower and be in possession of just the perfect set of beliefs (in spite of those beliefs contradicting the experience of the real world). To such a caricature of a person is guaranteed the avoidance of damnation and attainment of salvation in the view of the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths. In contrast, the traditional Hindu would place much, much more importance on the practice of dharma both at the individual and the social levels: actions speak louder than words to most people. In the Bhagavad Gita, Bhagavan Sri Krishna highlights the importance of practicing one’s duties:
“karmaṇy-evādhikāras te mā phaleṣhu
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te saṅgo ’stvakarmaṇi || 2.47 ||
You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction. “
Also, in examining the darshanas (philosophy), all schools of Hindu philosophy such as Vedanta, Samkhya, Mimamsa, Vaisheshika etc. begin by declaring their pramanas (accepted sources of knowledge and truth). Almost all schools of thought accept the pratyaksha (sensory perception) as a source of truth. Any conclusions drawn by any school of thought must be in line with the pratyaksha pramana alongside the other chosen sources of truth. So, the notion of a rigid, unchanging orthodoxy in Hindu philosophy is also a non-sequitur as many, if not most, Hindu philosophical conclusions can be empirically validated.
During post-independence times, a political movement that was characterized as “Orthodox Hindu” was the Ram Rajya Parishad. The party was founded by the scholar-saint, Swami Karpatri, and went on to win several seats in the assembly elections of 1952, 1957 and 1962. It eventually merged into the Jana Sangh, which eventually morphed into the Bharatiya Janata Party of today. Swami Karpatri was an erudite traditional scholar who also participated in political movements including campaigns against cow slaughter. His work, Marxvad aur Ramrajya, remains a monumental classic that shines the light of the Vedic perspective upon the Western Marxist dogmas.
In Indian history, many people belonging to the lower classes and many women have experienced forms of social oppression. Those of a western and liberal mindset have continuously blamed the “Orthodox Hindu society” for such things. However, when seen from a historical context, women and men of lower classes have suffered not only in Hindu society but in all societies throughout history until modern times. As the Bible says: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. Sadly, there is no country who is without such historical sin. For example, slavery was widely practiced in the United States until a mere 150 years ago.
Projecting present day values and ideologies upon historical societies is in any case a fallacious mode of thinking. The act of attributing a custom, event, or object to a period to which it does not belong is known as anachronism. It is a fool’s quest to go looking for the modern, liberal ideals of egalitarianism in historical societies anywhere in the world.
From the Hindu perspective, those parts of our heritage that led to certain sections of society being oppressed have been acknowledged and addressed without hesitation as the message of the Vedas is universal and meant for all. The prayer “sarve bhavantu sukhinah sarve santu niraamayaah” aims at the welfare and happiness of all mankind. In contrast, the Christian and Islamic religions believe in killing or converting all those infidels who do not subscribe to their respective ideologies.
As such, preserving and propagating the Vedic tradition remains a duty of utmost importance as humanity moves into the mid-21st century. For instance, the UNESCO has recognized Vedic chanting as a world heritage tradition. To avoid such traditions becoming confined to museums, some urgent action is needed. Falling fertility rates and the encroaching of Western-oriented education continue to pose a major threat to the survival of a socially cohesive, culturally Hindu society alongside the ever-present threat of external enemies.
Conclusion: demographics is destiny
In relation to the above, it may be worth studying a religious group who is Orthodox in reality: the Orthodox Jews. It is interesting to note that among the Haredi Orthodox Jews, who form around 15% of the Israeli Jewish population, most of the men spend up to 40 years of their lives in the yeshivas (religious schools) and it is the women who are the most common bread-winners for the family. Most of this community lives in poverty having dedicated themselves to observing the laws and traditions of traditional Judaism.
“Ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Haredis, are Israel’s fastest-growing group, but they are also the country’s poorest population, with 45 percent living below the poverty line in insular communities.”
“Birthrates have long been especially high among ultra-Orthodox Jews, a small if highly visible minority in Israel, with the average family having close to seven children, although that number has begun to drop slightly in the past decade.
But even among secular Jews, three children is the norm. Families with one and even two children are often looked upon with pity.”
The tiny country of Israel, realizing the importance of fertility rates, has collectively taken up the duty of having at least 3 children per family. Israel is surrounded by hostile neighbours some of whom seek to end its very existence. Thus, Israelis know the real meaning of being a global minority. Hindus are also in truth a global minority as they make up less than 15% of the world population. Hindus would do well to realise this and understand its implications to avoid future catastrophes. The erasure of the Hindu civilisation from this planet would mean the appalling loss of a nation that produced the Vedas and stopped the plans of world conquest of both Alexander the Greek and the Mohammedans.
In contrast to the vigilance displayed by the Israelis, most Hindus appear to be mostly unaware of this impending crisis as their rate of population growth continues to drop. The secular Indian government tragicomically even bombards its citizens with false propaganda about some misplaced concern over population control!7 Hindu minorities in the Kashmir Valley, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other places can stand testimony to the eventual fate that awaits the Hindu community if current trends continue.
However, to change this course of events does not require
the entire 1 billion Hindu population to suddenly become conscious about the
looming loss of their culture and identity. As Nassim Taleb points out in his
book, Skin In The Game, it is often the most intolerant and intransigent
minority in a society that has the biggest influence. This is known as the
“Minority Rule”. In
a society where the traditions are falling off with each successive generation,
it may be worth imagining what could be done if at least small groups of Hindu families
come together. Such groups could collectively decide to preserve and propagate
the Hindu traditions to the coming generations alongside committing to producing
as many children as possible. This is a sacrifice which, if endured in the
present, will pay off big dividends in the future. After all, it only takes a dedicated
minority to have a major impact on history and society.
 Shah, Prakash et al. (2017) Western Foundations of the Caste System
 In the face of falling Hindu fertility rates, imposing a population control law will surely lead to a catastrophe. See: “Population Control Law: How wrong premises lead to wrong conclusions”
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