Photograph of Anil Chawla

Author - Anil Chawla

A critique of 'Explaining Hindu Dharma - A Guide for Teachers', published by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (UK)

Once upon a time there was a king in a distant land. Two persons from his court were travelling to India. Before leaving for the long journey, they sought the blessings of the king and asked if the king wanted anything from India. The King had heard a lot of praise about an Indian fruit called mango. So, he told both the courtiers to find out all that they could about mango. Both the courtiers reached India during winter so they could not get any mangoes but they saw many mango trees and visited many orchards. One of the courtiers bought an orchard, got all trees cut, hired one hundred carts to carry all the wood, leaves, and branches to his homeland. The other one went to the gardener of one of the orchards and learnt the essentials of growing mango trees, bought some mango seeds and returned to his homeland. In the King's court on one side was this fellow standing with just a bag in his hand and on the other side were lined up the hundred carts full of mango "orchard". The courtier who had brought the "orchard' was honoured and the one with woody seeds was dismissed from the court. The King ordered a magnificent hall of worship to be built for the "orchard". On the other hand, the dismissed courtier left the city and planted the seeds at his farm. In a few years time the seeds grew into an orchard and started yielding nice sweet mangoes. People from far and wide started coming to the orchard to taste the sweet fruits. Soon, the King heard about the mangoes and realized his folly.

The above story needs to be told to Vishwa Hindu Parishad (UK) who have published a book "Explaining Hindu Dharma - A Guide for Teachers". The book, priced at Fifteen Pounds, is beautifully printed on glossy art paper and has 204 pages. The book's preface makes its purpose clear - "This book has been prepared by British Hindus with the main objective of presenting an accurate picture of Hinduism both for teachers of Religious Education and for students studying Hinduism as part of their Religious Education Course". It is further explained that the teaching material in the book includes material for children aged 5 to 18 years.

Before doing a critical analysis of the book, credit must be given to the educational authorities of UK for including Hinduism as part of Religious Education curriculum. This is something that is unimaginable in India. Credit must also be given to Vishwa Hindu Parishad for taking up the onerous task of preparing a comprehensive book on Hinduism.

The book has been prepared by an Editorial Board consisting of four editors, has contributions from seventeen contributing authors, and has had the benefit of advice from fourteen advisors including six from Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education. The collective effort of this galaxy of authors, editors and advisors has turned out a version of Hinduism which seems to have the following distinctive features:

Needless to say that each of the above points is highly objectionable and runs contrary to the essentials of Hindu philosophy *, about which the authors are completely ignorant. But then one should not expect "people practising in the faith" to know even rudimentary philosophy. The galaxy of authors and editors seems to be confused from the outset whether to treat Hinduism as a faith or as a way of life or as a religion or as a Dharma (which is most convenient since nobody seems to be knowing its meaning. For the authors "It comprises a medium, an instrument or an integrated scheme of life by which one is prevented from falling down and is uplifted spiritually.").

The confusion is obvious even in matters as fundamental as the belief in one God. The Preface of the book says "the statement that Hindus worship many gods is factually wrong: Hindus believe in one and only one God who is worshipped in many different ways and is given a variety of different names." The Introduction contradicts the Preface by quoting from a Supreme Court Judgment, "it (Hindu religion) does not worship any one God;",

The authors have made many alterations in the traditional beliefs of Hindus to make Hinduism more palatable to Anglo-Saxon mindset. For example, Shivalinga is no longer a symbol of coitus but is "a flame of fire" ; Radha is not a beloved of Krishna but is just a devotee. These views clearly do not reflect the majority Hindu views. The authors do not even claim to be reformists propounding changes consistent with the basics of Hindu philosophy. They are acting stealthily making changes in the accepted beliefs and declaring their version to be "authoritative". One even wonders whether the authors were trying to please the Vatican (or Church of England) by writing "human sexuality has a clear purpose. Sexual union is intended to express and foster love's beautiful intimacy between husband and wife with the prime objective of procreation."

The book claims that "Most Hindus are vegetarian ". This is factually wrong and if LK Advani is to be believed, Rama and Krishna were also meat-eaters. The book lays great emphasis on vegetarianism and non-violence, which is mentioned as one of the values common to all Hindus and "is considered as an essential part of the Dharma of individuals, society and nations". It seems that the authors, in their attempt to please the wealthy Jains and Vaishnavs, have never noticed the fact that Hinduism is the only religion in the world where the gods carry arms.

The book attempts to propound a modern Brahmanism. In Hindu tradition there has never been a Brahmin avatar. Brahmins are respected but not worshipped. Only Kshatriyas (example Ram) and Shudras (example Hanuman) are worshipped. Hanuman acted as a servant throughout his life and is extensively worshipped. Yet, the book calls Hanuman ""a celibate Brahmin" .

"A person of Sattvic tendencies is 'Brahmin', one with combined Sattvic and Rajasic qualities is 'Kshatriya', those with Rajasic and Tamasic trends are 'Vaishya' and the ones with only Tamasic trends are 'Shudra'". There may be or may not be any objection to that. However, Hindu philosophy never uses the three qualities of Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic as value judgments. All three are essential for life. There can be no life without tamas. In a human being the portion below the belt represents tamas. Can one even imagine life without this portion. The book has its own definitions of the three essential qualities, "Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic, which can be roughly translated as positive, neutral and negative". A table on page 41 says "Sattvic uplifts; Rajasic levels; Tamasic pulls down (gravity)" . On page 179 these get changed to "Rajas (activity), Tamas (inertia) and Satva (purity - the balance of the others)". Obviously, the book is laying down its own meanings and is ascribing value judgments to the three qualities. In the process the Brahmin has become positive and Shudra has become negative, while Kshatriya is slightly less than neutral. The authors seem to forget that almost all Hindu Gods are either Kshatriyas or Shudras. Every time Shiva takes human form, he prefers to become only a Shudra.

All the above might have been pardonable as mistakes that are likely to creep in a first attempt by persons who are far removed from the land of their origin and who have got commendable intentions. But the arrogance of the authors and editors is something that makes the whole book not just unacceptable but also un-hindu. Humility is an essential feature of Hindu mind. Acquiring "authoritative" status and calling one's own work a "Smruti" is against the basics of Hindu Dharma. Vishwa Hindu Parishad can not (and possibly does not even intend to) write a Bible for Hindus. It is hence unfortunate that the authors have let their own arrogance creep into their work and ruin it.

The book is intended to be a text book and a guide for teachers. Yet, the book is everything that a text book should not be. It tries to be encyclopedic, trying to serve children across all age groups from 5 to 18 and simultaneously act as a guide for teachers. The book is heavy, academic and fails to make the subject interesting. In Indian schools great damage has been caused by poor design of Sanskrit curriculum and teaching methods. Most north Indian children learn Sanskrit for three years. Yet, almost all of them (author of this article included) acquire no proficiency in the language and only learn to dislike a language which is indeed beautiful. It will be most unfortunate if the sad story of Sanskrit teaching in India is repeated in UK in the matter of teaching Hinduism.

One is reminded of the time when just two persons travelled to Japan and converted the whole of the country to Buddhism without use of any swords or money. Let us learn from them and carry the seed that will yield the fruit rather than carry branches, leaves and wood.


20 December 2000

*To find the author's view about the definition and philosophical basis of Hindu Dharm, please download HINDU DHARM - GLOBAL RELIGION OF THE MODERN WORLD (MS WORD format)

Please write to me your comments about the above article.

ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.

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