Śāstra Jñāna

Thousands of autumns have come to pass since the time the praṇava was first uttered, and in those many years, many volumes have been written exploring even the most subtle aspects of Ṛta and Dharma. Previously I had written about how our thoughts have been corrupted by indigestible memes.

There, I had made an observation that the unifying busybodies required an overt dependence on textual evidence to justify praxis. This is however not an argument to disregard the textual traditions that we have within our corpus. Why? Textual traditions have been the recordings of ancestral opinion, on how they viewed the propagation of Dharma, also these very same texts have been active in giving systemic support to rituals and celebrations resonating within the Indic traditions.

वेदोऽखिलो धर्ममूलं स्मृतिशीले च तद्विदाम्।
आचारश्चैव साधूनामात्मनस्तुष्टिरेव च ॥६॥ (मनुस्मृति २.६)

vedokhilo dharmamūlaṃ smṛtiśīle ca tadvidām
ācāraścaiva sādhūnāmātmanastuṣṭireva ca (Manusmṛti 2.6)

(The entire Veda is the root-source of Dharma; also the Conscientious Recollection of righteous persons versed in the Veda, the Practice of Good (and learned) Men, and their self-satisfaction.)

वेदः स्मृतिः सदाचारः स्वस्य च प्रियमात्मनः।
एतच्चतुर्विधं प्राहुः साक्षाद् धर्मस्य लक्षणम् ॥१२॥ (मनुस्मृति २.१२)

vedaḥ smṛtiḥ sadācāraḥ svasya ca priyamātmanaḥ
etaccaturvidhaṃ prāhuḥ sākṣād dharmasya lakṣaṇam (Manusmṛti 2.12)

(The Veda, the Smṛti, the Practice of cultured Men, and what is agreeable to oneself—these directly constitute the fourfold means of knowing Dharma.)

Provided that praxis conforms to Vedic injunctions, the practice of noble people, and whatever acts that are conducive to the inner conscience are valid, and cannot be considered unacceptable. I do not labour under the delusion that the unnamed people I am about to critique would accept the words of Manu, however it is merely a reminder that tradition owes a lot to the makers of tradition, the defenders of society. It would be wise to heed their words.

Upon observing certain self-righteous elements masquerading as experiential proponents of Hinduism who shun the apparently mundane texts, they who take upon themselves an undeserved mantle of dispensers of wisdom, I decided to key in my analysis.

The source of their criticism is two-fold

  1. Misplaced sense of superiority
  2. Envy

The first can be explained away as mere condescension for people who have been taking large amounts of effort to preserve the very foundations of our system, documenting, pouring through ancient treatises, fitting them into historic context; but how do we explain the fact that these critics themselves in their own way fight for tradition? Logic would lead us to the conclusion that like all arrogance, this too sprouts from ignorance. Ignorance, and a handicapped point-of-view.

In their limited view they see all concepts of Dharma as a negation of Abrahamisms, in their zeal they want to distance themselves from everything that might appear to an unworthy neutral observer as Abrahamic. Haste, blinds them to historic and logical realities, as not only does our path far predate Abrahamism, but also that one cannot remove all similarities as even with misplaced priors, Abrahamics too had systems in place to protect their civilisation. If the only way was to differentiate in all aspects, then the critic has thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

This condescension emerges in various forms such as, “They know the words, but not the essence.”, “These were written by Great Men whose words cannot be faithfully interpreted today.” or the rather childish “Hinduism transcends the written word, and is not bound by mere words.”

The first proclamation is a strawman, the critic can in no way be sure whether textual scholars know the words along with the meaning or not. It is also rather amusing that one who is not acquainted with the words in the first place can pass such a judgement on a person who actually does. A hilarious extension of this argument would be, “They only have a degree in Mathematics, but they don’t know maths.”

The second proclamation is completely inaccurate. If we were to say that we can never know what these words meant, why even bother having them, or considering them sacred? It is unwise to insult our ancestors as people who composed works which can never be comprehended. Again, this too is ignorance, because there has always been a rich commentarial tradition so much so that individual words have been explained exhaustively. Words are nothing if they cannot be comprehended, which is why apart from the Veda-s there were the vedāṅga-s especially the nirūkta. One can remedy this by picking up a book now and then, if only…

The third proclamation is new-age nonsense. The adherence to the Veda-s which forms the bedrock of our Dharma has been emphatically stressed not only by the so called Brahminical elite, but by everyone who fell within the fold of our tradition, be it the Sangam era poems, the songs of the Nāyanār-s and Āḻvār-s, or the bhajana-s of the Sant-s of the Bhakti Sampradāya. Their overpowering love is still reinterpreted as breaking away from the shackles, when in fact they remind us always about adherence to Dharma and the Vaidīka mārga. It is because of this spiritual paucity that we see a rush to godmen who spout incomprehensible gibberish. Our texts are not as esoteric as one imagines, it is our misfortune that in our laziness we label everything as mysterious.

The other source is rather a depressing one. Ignorance has a cure, envy is incurable. Existence will yield experiences where we encounter our betters, our lessers, and those who match our abilities. Our focus should be to learn, where we are deficient; to teach, where we are proficient; and to engage with our peers. Pursuit of knowledge cannot be clouded by irrational emotions of jealousy, especially when matters larger than our egos are at stake. This is of course unsolicited advice, and those comfortable squirming within their own dark pits can continue with their entitlements.

A last note to people who think that the defence of Veda-s and other written texts come from a place of superiority, or notions of sacrilege/blasphemy. You are misguided. Vedic scholars have stilled preserved traditions that have critiqued the Veda-s, by no means are you the first or most original in your criticism. Greater minds have ripped apart passages and found great contradictions, and even greater minds have given demolishing arguments to refute them. These criticisms and rebuttals came from a place of scholarship, as in, they actually picked up the Veda-s and read them. It is not for people who cannot differentiate between a mantra and a śubhāṣita.

It is my request that, you keep your sly taunts to yourself, or if controlling your tongue is so difficult, to avoid people of our persuasion. Your contribution to society is acknowledged, but some things are beyond your ken.

Note: The author tweets @pinakasena. The article was first published on his blog.