In the context of the article on pashubali in Tantra-s, there have been a lot of comments and email. Some were clearly from individual who were outraged, while others were of support especially from those who are involved in traditional practices, irrespective of sampradaya. A few points need to be clarified rationally for an intersection between the theists – those are inside traditions – and the cultural Hindus, that is people who identify with the Hindu political/social causes but do not necessarily have the requisite faith or interest in following one or more of the paths laid down or being discussed. They are effectively atheists for that path.
I shall discuss some of the key points below.
Rationality of a practice
A believer in a path or a deity is one who not only has a bhakti on the power of that devata, but also on the path laid down for that devata in discussion. This applies to all religions, and especially to different sampradayas within Hinduism. So therefore someone saying that I believe in this or that devata but I do not believe in the core fundamentals of the path laid down by the sampradaya which adheres to the devata cannot be taken as a serious practitioner. Hindus of all people have this peculiar problem. They attribute their own limited understanding based on whatever indoctrination they have had, often of a non-traditional manner, and believe that everything and every logic must be forced into those limited parameters, often getting agitated when those seems to not be the favoured rationale for a practice. To give an example from another religion (since comparative religious logic seems to be the in thing today) if someone says he believes in Allah but does not believe in Muhammed, or the teachings of that path, is he really a Muslim? Nope, he cannot be. He may at best be an individualist with his own ideas, but certainly never a Muslim.
This being clearly defined now let us go into more important territory. Practical traditional Hinduism has two aspects: believe in the specific sampradaya, and practices of that sampradaya. The second is more important than the first and let there is no doubt about it. One can for example say that one has great faith in a Tantrik deity, but yet when engaging in a structured practice one still has to undergo a Shaktabhiseka diksha, perform the sadhanas that are given by the sampradaya, and then attain a purnabhiseka diksha and graduate onto higher levels of upasana. He reason is that belief is a vague word and amount of impurities of the consciousness never allow perfection of bhakti – just as it never allows perfection of jnana – at the initial stages. Hence a step by step process is needed for going higher up in sadhana.
The texts tell the believer that when a specific practice is done, an offering is made it is because the deity likes it, not due to random whims and fancies. So pashubali is needed because certain Tantrokta devata-s love sacrifices and that is what the upasaka must do for propitiating them. Shiva likes bel so bel leaves of a certain configuration are recommended to be offered to the Shivalinga. So on and so forth. Now some of these practices or this logic may make cultural and political Hindus squirm, but does that mean the believer must shun his texts and/or twist the verses and limit its exact meaning and scope to accommodate a non-believer’s logic? Doing so would be absurd and contrary to the core tenets of that path. And if the core itself is gone, what exactly are we fighting for?
There is one basic principle that needs to be adhered to. As long as a practice does not affect the lives of others, or disrupt public morality as enshrined in the Constitution, there is no reason why the core logic and rationality of a practice needs any dilution. It is not designed from the atheists viewpoint and neither should the practitioner care about what the modern day Caravaka thinks about the said practice or ritual. Afterall, even gods are superstition for an atheist, does it mean religions have to forego the concept of god altogether in the name of a clueless reformation?
Are Sati and Narabali Same as Pashubali?
Very often when a discussion on any offbeat practice within Hinduism comes up we get the reference to Sati and Narabali like in the case of balipratha. Both are completely irrelevant to the topic of pashubali, and must be seen as bad-faith arguments and red herrings to derail the discussion. A good dharmika friend pointed out, using the false equivalence of Sati tantamounts to the Godwin’s law of discussions, where Sati is the catchword instead of Hitler.
As already stated so long as a practice is non-harmful to humans, and does not affect public morality, there is no reason to stop it nor temper its rationale to fit any outsider (to the tradition) views.
There was never a time when humans were entirely vegetarian nor will it happen in future. Infact the data from India shows leaving 4 states, all the rest of the states in India have more omnivorous residents than pure vegetarians. And a large majority of these are Hindus themselves.
So how exactly is a comparison between practices like forced Sati and pashubali even remotely valid? Humans kill all the time animals mostly for food (which is the major part) or, as in case of believers, as sacrifice to gods. There is nothing remotely abnormal in any of it.
Same applies for things like Narabali which is illegal and there ends the discussion. Any further comparison with animal sacrifice is clearly way off the mark. All such counterarguments must be taken as dishonest logic, and are to be completely rejected.
The texts are clear what a deity likes but it is not compulsory to give pashubali. It is not even compulsory to offer flowers too, does that mean we ban flowers in temples? However, if a devotees want to do that practice, and since it causes no harm to another human being and neither any disruption to public morality, there is no reason either to ban it, or to squirm at the clear mention of it in texts including the fact that xyz deity loves pashubali. This kind of a practice was there in all ancient religions specially non-christian ones. And if the logic for it is asked, suffice it to say that gods love it so the believer does it – nothing, not more word of explanation is needed. The sampradaya belongs to the practitioners and not the outsider non-believer, the latter’s views need not be given any primacy so long as there is no threat to another human life. It’s time modern Hindu atheist’s learn to live in harmony with what they do not believe in as long as no one is forcing the said atheist to follow the practices.
Is It the Same as Untouchability?
Again what link does these two have, pashubali and untouchability? In the later case there were many stalwarts including those who were internal to the traditions, and who are well versed in the path who engaged in debate. Further one may counter that the lives of people were involved in this, many who suffered untouchability wanted to end that abominable practice. So that makes it a fit case. But how on earth is pashubali anyway similar? Have the non-vegeterian eaters in India suddenly decided to change their food habits and has India been declared a vegetarian country? If not, there is no justification for curbing the balipratha practices in certain temples.
There are parts of Hinduism which are customary and some which are essential to a path. Those which are customary can be subject to change based on desh-kaal-patra but here too such changes are not artificially imposed but done via the route of discussion between stakeholders, and specially those who are insiders to the tradition and learned in the traditions. When introducing widow remarriage Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar actually put up an advertisement in the papers calling for a shastrartha with any pandit who thinks this is against dharma. That is the right approach for any change.
Things like pashubali are however essential practices of certain paths and they will always remain. In 2015 a similar case was filed in SC asking for banning ritual sacrifice of animals to gods and it was thrown out by the SC because the very Act that speaks of preventing animal cruelty makes an exception for the case of sacrifice.
Karmakanda and Jnanakanda
There was also a comment about reformation of ritualistic part of karmakanda. Why? And who has the authority to do it? Only someone who is an acclaimed acharya of that sampradaya, anybody else is an atheist to the path and their views and opinions matter nothing to a follower of the path. The laity neither have the knowledge nor the lived experience on that upasana method to comment on this matter.
Many people also believe naively that quoting a revered saint of another sampradaya is a convincing argument. This stems from a gross ignorance of the evolution of various sampradayas within Dharma. Just like the interpretations of an Adi Sankara hold no value in the Dwaita Sampradaya of Madhva, and vice versa, similarly the opinions of Vedantic saints have no authority in Kaula Tantra. Each sampradaya has its own texts, ritual praxis, their authoritative Gurus and the experience of the lineages who have kept the sampradaya alive. Again, so long as it harms no human, not imposes any obnoxious behavior in public, there is no justification for the traditions to change their views, practices or beliefs.
Many ordinary Hindus have unfortunately a very protestant sense about their religion – the usual way of life thingy – and have imbibed different colonial reformation ideas which were originally meant to demean pagan traditions and gods through a prism of Western universalism. Effectively there is very little to difference between rootless liberals and political Hindus who are otherwise atheistic/agnostic towards the upasana methods of dharma. This is the heart of the problem. What the Mughals and British could not do, the secular state is on the verge of doing exactly that. Dharma does not need another reformer at this stage, it needs actual living practitioners of the various paths who experience the end result at least to some degree and thus gain a more sanguine shraddha on the path shown by the texts and traditions, rather than a superficial political faith. If not then in the long run dharma will face many more cuts from within, rather than without, once the external threats are neutralized via politics and culture.
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