Friday, September 07, 2007

Rejection of Rationality I: Indian Hindus and the New Age

Have you seen how astrology is becoming popular in certain sections of the western world? How Feng Shui is getting popular. How alternative medicine is being embraced. How creationism is now touted as alternative theory to Darwin’s theories on Evolution. How the feminists of the West discard the tools of Modern Science as tools of the man (and not the Humankind). How holism is lapped up while empiricism is sidelined.

The West is going through a 'post-modern' phenomenon for quite sometime now where certain perceived 'excesses' brought on by the Age of Enlightenment (and Scientific Revolution) are now rejected. However, this phenomenon is not a mainstream one and is still a very fringe movement.

Indian Hindus love this West’s 'post-modern disapproval of science and rationality. This disapproval is lapped up by many Indian Hindus because it seems to rhyme with their own theories of ‘scientific Hinduism’, which posits logic and mysticism as two sides of the same coin. According to these enthusiasts, Hindus didn’t need to go through Age of Enlightenment because Hindus never needed it in the first place. While Abrahamic religions, seeped in orthodoxy, suppression of debate, and coercion, needed that revolutions of reasoning, Hinduism, which has Vedas as its foundations, which has always allowed debate and different interpretations, never needed this age of reasoning. Even the arguments put forth by the likes of Amartya Sen do not help but bolster such theories that we were always open.

West’s rejection of perceived excessiveness of rationality is misconstrued by Indians as rejection of rationality itself.

Indians do not realize where this rejection comes from. West is NOT rejecting the rationality in its entirety. It is only rejecting certain 'excesses' brought about by that rationality – that was brought on by Age of Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, Modern Science, etc. Also, this rejection is not a mainstream activity- it is very much confined to certain small minority populations.

The key message of Age of Enlightenment is establishing superiority of reason over superstition. Indians have not even embraced that rationality and therefore its rejection does not have anything in common with West’s post-modern rejection of 'excessiveness' of rationality.

Hinduism never got rid of superstition in the first place. Superstition is heavily entrenched along with orthodoxy of Hindu religion. Hinduism is a heavy interplay of orthodoxy, superstition, spirituality, philosophy and dialog with heavy doses of mysticism and myth. While dialog and philosophy can be easily touted as liberal and rational arms of Hinduism, it’s NOT the only arm and also it is an arm mostly downplayed and subdued by ritualistic Hinduism.

The ritualistic Hinduism consists of orthodoxy, mysticism, superstition and to some extent spirituality, while the philosophical Hinduism consists of hypothesis on duality of mind and body, debate, agnosticism, atheism, etc. Ritualistic Hinduism is heavily seeped in blind belief and faith. Whereas, the philosophical Hinduism is based in dialog and reason, but still confined to peripatetic investigation and NOT empiricism, much akin to what Greek philosophers were doing two thousand years ago. The advent of Age of Enlightenment is characterized by empiricism deviating from and almost abandoning peripatetic investigation which held Western World in its sway for more than thousands years during the Middle Ages.

In India ritualistic Hinduism is a more prevailing form of Hinduism than the philosophical arm. For most people who are born as Hindus or practice Hinduism, the ritualistic arm completely overwhelms them and dominates them- deciding their lifestyle, their habits, customs, food habits, clothing, traditions, etc. Philosophical arm takes a backseat, relegated to few idiosyncratic philosophers whose interpretations are confined to elite and a selected few, never entering the mainstream. There is another side, the spiritualistic side, which is pushed more towards ritualistic side than the philosophical side, where it is dominated by the interpretations of new age gurus (like Deepak Chopra and Ravi Shankar) and opportunistic sadhus and babas, and is again seeped in blind belief and faith, with some interplay of scientific terminology. For all practical purposes, one can easily say that ritualistic Hinduism has far greater influence and presence than the philosophical Hinduism.

While empiricism stands as the seed for the burgeoning of Modern Science- as organized methodology- Hinduism has never embraced empiricism, either in its philosophical side nor its ritualistic side. Therefore, the Indian version of rejection of rationality has nothing in common with West’s rejection of excesses of rationality.

Update [12 September 2007]:

Taking cue from Krish, I would like to qualify the excesses of rationality as ‘perceived excesses of rationality’. I agree with Krish that rationality is never excessive.

Related Topics: Rejection of Rationality II: Terms explained, Rejection of Rationality III: Western constructs, Rejection of Rationality IV: Snippets


  1. BIG broad ocean-size generalizations here -

    Who is West? Who is Hindu? There are individuals, everyone is different. Who is Sujai? Does Sujai represent West because he lived in the US during his prime youth? Does he represent philosophical Hindu because he was born in a Hindu family? None of the above - Sujai is just Sujai and so are more than 1 Billion indians - unique in their own self.

    To repeat what you said earlier - why not learn to live with diversity and honor the individualism instead of making huge generalizations about West and East?

    The world is fast moving towards becoming tiny from small and you are still entrenched in the West and East debate.

  2. Very insightful details on trends in Hinduism, Sujai. Keep it coming.

    ~ Vinod

  3. well am sorry at the present state of INDIANS... oh i dont know wat ll happen to india if ppl continue to attack wat has given india its pride, respect and prosperity.....

  4. You really need to study Indian philosphy. I think you got it quite wrong. In a word - its brilliant.

    Spend a few years, understanding a book, lke the Bhagwad Gita. Then comment.

    The big problem is people do a cursory glance and think they know. Would you debunk the E=mc^2 ? Its plain english and doesnt make sense. It takes ages to reach where Einstein has been.

    Same with Indian philosophy/ spirituality. Please spend time and understand for yourself !!!!

  5. @darpan shroff: sujai is just ashamed of his tiny brown indian _____. he gets jealous every time he watches 64y white men in ***the West*** and wants to choke on their throbbing white _____. when he's alone, dreaming about his pals in ***the West*** and starts to _____ his own tiny brown _____, he goes on the internet and cries about how he wishes every indian had a throbbing white _____ but smiles with glee that they too must have tiny brown _____ like his own. for this, he blames politics, religion, superstition, genetics and the government.

    at night, he dreams about being reborn as a white man in ***the West*** with a throbbing white _____ so that he could choke on it all day and night. he must live such a sad and angry life. hahahaha

  6. Sujai, what in your mind is superstition? This article is very misleading. You are doing the same thing that Max Muller did a while ago during translation of vedas. There is nothing called Hinduism... do not be bound by that. There is only Sanatana Dharma and if you do not know enough of dharma, plesae do not write such derogatory articles. As Sanjai suggested, please read Bhagavadgita and try to understand it as it is. You can probably get some of gita from Patanjali yogasutras as well. It is very disappointing to read this article

  7. Nice analysis. I especially agree with the last point.

  8. Its not Hindus who are ritualistic.. Human Beings are ritualistic....superstitions are just a sub set of rituals...nd dese days people put a lot of rituals in the basket of superstition... in that basket u will find rituals with no rational intention, it will also contain rituals of which the intentions are not clear to us or rituals with intentions which we do not understand


  9. hello sir... i get always something new to know from your blog's but i want to tell that the discovery of value of pie , trignometry , zero was founded by us and also in our hanuman chalisa distance from sun to earth is because of a long period of time our ssome practices may have turned into superstition but sir maybe some may be superstition i'm not saying we are only correct but as we were so developed i consider there maybe some reason behind our each religious practice.
    my brother is in IIT and i'm in 9 preparing for my IIT in FITTGEE (year2) and also 3rd topper of my class and most of the hindus (especially brahmins) visit america for becoming architects , engineers , doctors and scientists because even if we do very much hardwork we couldn't achieve that high level in our country because of other castes , religions but its ok beacuse world needs intelligent minds!


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