Ian Mackenzie/Flickr. Some rights reserved. A statue of Ghandi in Nickerie, Suriname.
“True joy and happiness lie in the simple enjoyment of what is good and not in the kind of false pride that enjoys happiness because others are excluded from it. Anyone who thinks that he is happy because his situation is better than other people’s or because he is happier and more fortunate than they, knows nothing of true happiness and joy, and the pleasure he derives from his attitude is either plain silly or spiteful and malicious. For example, a person’s true joy and felicity lie solely in his wisdom and knowledge of truth, not in being wiser than others or in others’ being without knowledge of truth, since this does not increase his own wisdom which is his true felicity. Anyone therefore who takes pleasure in that way is enjoying another’s misfortune, and to that extent is envious and malign, and does not know true wisdom or the peace of the true life.”
–Benedict de Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, p.43
If Hinduism were just another religion packaged with superstitions without any bearing on people living in today’s globalised world then there wouldn’t be a need for people like me—people who actively condemn Hinduism and scream for atheism from the rooftops. But contrary to the ideologically manufactured popular notion, Hinduism is a harmful religion. Like all religions it functions on an economy of hatred. But instead of directing the hatred solely at the outsider like in Islam, or inward, at oneself and all of humanity, like in Christianity, hatred in Hinduism is graded according to a hierarchy defined by birth. Hatred is directed at all caste-members except the Brahmins.
The intricate evolution of Hinduism
If there is one thing that is common to pan-Indian “Hinduism” (the nineteenth century name for the post-Vedic religion Brahmanism), it is the varna-hierarchy. In the varna hierarchy there are two poles: one of purity and one of pollution – which makes people worthy and contemptible. This worthiness and unworthiness is distributed in the hierarchy. The top-most varna is considered the most worthy and the bottom-most the most unworthy. Distribution of worth and non-worth is decided by one’s karma in past lives and supported by the theory of transmigration of souls. No matter how much the Hindus deny the practice of caste discrimination in their faith, the foundation of Hinduism is inherently discriminatory and full of hostilities. Hinduism, or Brahminism, in its essence I would argue, is pure caste-hatred.
Though Brahmins claim the Vedas as their holy texts, the religion that we find in the Vedas themselves has little to do with contemporary Brahminism. In fact, the religion that we find in the oldest of the Vedas, the Rig Veda, which scholars classify as Early Vedism, is the very anti-thesis of Brahminism, what with its celebration of beef-eating, gambling, drinking and sexual orgies. The religion that has clear resemblance to contemporary Brahminism was largely consolidated in the post-Vedic age called the ‘Brahmana period’. In its earliest form, Brahminism was a ritualistic religion with the priestly caste of Brahmins wielding supreme power over the masses by claiming magical and supernatural powers for their rituals. The three gunas of sattva (goodness), rajas (passion) and tamas (darkness), hierarchically distributed among worthy and non-worthy varnas, formed its central tenet. But Brahminism, due to its Brahmin-supremacist and discriminatory practices, lost its appeal among the masses and was replaced with the more egalitarian religions of Buddhism and Jainism sometime in fifth century BCE. By second century BCE, Buddhism, as the state religion of King Ashoka, was influential in a geographical area larger than present-day India. It was quite significant on a pan-Indian level until the seventh century AD, when the religion was violently uprooted and destroyed by Adi Shankara and his followers. Adi Shankara re-instituted Brahminism as a pan-Indian religion by building mutts in four strategic parts of the country. Nonetheless, this ultra Brahmin-supremacist version of Brahminism lost popularity in the eleventh century and was reinvented as Bhagavatism. The new drastically changed Bhagavatism became a popular sect in which the blue God, Krishna, was portrayed as an apocalyptic deity with qualities of a super-God. Brahmanism, never a monotheistic religion, now broke into mutually antagonistic and warring sects like Shaivism and Vaishnavism. And these Brahminical sects began competing with the more heterodox religions like Jainism, Sikhism and Veerashaivism to win over the masses, which craved a more egalitarian and humane society.
Scholars who see Bhagavatism as a unitary religion, forming a phase in the evolution of Brahminism, often overlook the existence of disparate Brahminical sects. But since Bhagavatism was the more dominant, and therefore central, sect, they see it as the reinvention of Brahminism itself. Bhagavatism can be seen as the Brahminical equivalent of the Protestant Christian revolution. It became very popular among the masses by allowing them to reach God directly through the path of Bhakthi marga (the path of devotion). It was this Bhagavatism, which branched into various smaller sects like Sri Vaishnavism and Ramanand-ism. These smaller sects were then brought together, nationalised and reinvented in the nineteenth century as 'Hinduism'.
Although this is an extremely simplified account of the religious sects of India through the ages, I hope it shows that there is little, if anything, that is common about the various sects that go by the name of 'Hinduism'. Yet, Mohandas Gandhi, who became the secular face of Hinduism in the twentieth century, outlined what he called the backbone of 'Hinduism' or Sanatana Dharma. This backbone was the varna system. He believed that the varna system and its concomitant karma theory were the very foundation of ‘Hinduism’. And any attempt to get rid of the varna system would not only dismantle the unity of ‘Hinduism’ but would result in the disintegration of India itself. 'Hinduism' had to be preserved to keep India together. This politicisation of 'Hinduism' by Gandhi (which is perhaps a more secular version of the anti-Islamic, Brahmin-supremacist, nationalist and racist Hinduism, or Hindutva, put forward by V.D. Savarkar) is directly responsible for the rise of communal political parties in India. This also led to the perpetuation of 'Hinduism' as a religion defined solely by caste-hatred. Thus, those of us who are extremely proud and fond of the Indian past, have no way of protesting against caste discrimination, and the systematic apportioning of hatred in the varna system, without totally rejecting 'Hinduism' as it is defined today.
My experience as Hindu
As an atheist it was not difficult for me to continue to call myself a Hindu because rational 'Hinduism' is, in fact, largely atheistic. Five out of the six major schools of orthodox Indian philosophy, which 'Hinduism' calls its own, are atheistic. The sole theistic school is the Vedantist. Nonetheless by calling myself 'Hindu', I realised that I invariably placed myself in a hierarchy in which I was expected to treat people differently based on their caste. Even though I forced myself to overlook this systemic injustice and institutionalised hatred for a long time, I came to a point when I could no longer ignore the obnoxious and sick attitudes engendered in me by an acceptance of the varna hierarchy.
I realised that within this hierarchy, this bureaucracy of religion, I could no longer be myself and function as a just, rational and compassionate human being. It was clear to me (especially after reading Spinoza’s Ethics and Theological-political Treatise) that my happiness is my own, and results from how well and wisely I live. Hinduism defines a person’s worth according to his position in a social hierarchy determined by birth. Hinduism also serves exact portions of social happiness, and misery, by measuring it in a calibrated karma flask – dismantled to an equation that calculates and therefore knows exactly how much each person deserves – this was no longer for me.
Now only one question remains: what will replace Hinduism? Darwinism, of course. Exit Hinduism and enter Darwinism.