Hinduism is Without Boundaries – Because this Universe is Without Boundaries!

By: Surya K

Sanatan Dharma – or Hinduism – deals with infinity of this mysterious universe and, as this universe is infinity or without well defined boundaries, Sanatan Dharma is without well defined boundaries. And, there is nothing wrong in this.

We have to understand and accept that there is nothing wrong nor unnatural about a concept not having well-defined boundaries.

In fact, firm boundaries  means close-minded and hence intolerant of what is outside boundaries. Hindu pluralism springs from its refusal to be bounded.  Christianity, Islam, and … Socialism are well-bounded, insular, intolerant philosophies.

Most of us educated in the Western educational system have an incessant need to classify, discriminate, and draw boundaries on concepts. Are we wrong in expecting Hinduism to have similarly well-defined, well-demarcated boundaries?

Answer is: we are (wrong in expecting so).

Best to expand on the answer through two western paradigms.

First, is the separation between physics and metaphysics.  Philosophers tried hard to separate these two fields.  Problem is that we cannot draw a firm boundary around physics and exclude all metaphysics from it. This is well known in philosophy of science as the Demarcation Problem.

Second, is the concept of Family Resemblance by Wittgenstein.  It argues that  many things that we think of as a family – as having a well-defined essence – with a common core feature – may in fact be connected by a series of overlapping similarities, where no one feature is common to all of the things.  The very concept of “games” that we use in our language defies a boundary because one cannot essentialize a single concept to define all of them while eliminating everything else.

Dharmic traditions are best defined in this sense as a family resemblance.  Does this mean anything can be brought under one Dharmic family?  Can we include Abrahamic religions into it?  Clearly not.  (Please read BD for how Dharmic traditions differ from Abrahamic religions, including the concept of open architecture). However, boundaries get hazy when it comes to Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.  They do not have the same common core as Hinduism but there is quite a bit of overlap.  Thus, whether Buddha should be a Hindu Avatar should not be an issue to Hindus, just as whether playing cards and cricket can both be games is not an issue for us.

Going by the notion of family resemblance, we know that there need not be a common core feature. Thus, coherence here is not defined in terms of having a common core or essential feature.  Similarly, that there is not a common core feature with a well-defined boundary would mean that there is no pressure to make things homogeneous.  Therefore, let us get over this obsession with  well-defined boundaries.

Efforts should be to clearly understand how Dharmic traditions have family resemblance, how Abrahamic religions have family resemblance and how these two families differ.

However, family resemblance of Dharmic traditions cannot degenerate into “Sameness” with Abrahamic religions.

Prof. Harbans Mukhia @ JNU is well known for his very positive portrayal of Mughals.

He has something interesting to say on this topic:

“While the ancient societies everywhere were marked by multiplicity of beliefs as well as unbeliefs, hosting polytheistic, pantheistic, animist, anthropomorphic, naturalist forms of deities and beliefs as well as denial of beliefs, thus creating a wide spectrum with ample space for all, the assertion of a single truth in the monotheistic representation of god completely changed the scenario.”

“As a proselytising religion, Christianity laid claims to monopoly of the singularity of truth revealed to humanity through Jesus, son of god. Implicit in it was also the falsity of all other faiths, an inevitable and irreconcilable conflict with them and its own ultimate universal triumph. This premise was later inherited by Islam with the same characteristics. Interestingly, these are also integral to the inveterate adversary of all religions, i.e. Marxism. Conflict with others and victory over them is inescapable in the claims over the monopoly of the single truth. It is thus that the whole of humanity must turn Christian, Muslim or socialist, depending on one’s partiality.”

By: Surya K

What are the defining features of Hinduism?

Once there is eternal atma, there is the cycle of karma and rebirth. 

Without belief in atma (whether ultimately distinguishable from paramatma or not), how can one be a Hindu? All six Vedic traditions accept atma, karma, and rebirth.

Jains (do not accept Vedas) who believe in Jiva (atma), also believe in karma and rebirth. Sikhs believe atma, karma and reincarnation. To my knowledge, even Buddhism (do not accept Vedas) accepts karma and rebirth. Karma forms the foundation of its ethics.

Carvaka and Ajivika nastika traditions do not believe in atma, karma, or rebirth. They reject Vedas. What is nothing Hindu about them!


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