Thursday, October 03, 2019

India has no native religions - a summary

From Dr Pingali Gopal's book summary of Europe, India and the Limits of Secularism by Jakob de Roover.

The two important properties of religion are: first, it must make a claim about the origin and purpose of the world (the how and why of the Cosmos); and secondly, this message must be true This is the ‘metaphysical’ position of any religion.

Based on the metaphysical conditions, Indian traditions are not possibly religions. They do not properly raise the issue of origin of the Cosmos. Vedas, Upanishads, Brahmanas, Puranas, Itihaasas have multiple stories of creation and purposes of Cosmos. The ideas in the multiple stories say just about everything and everything. Depending on the context, an individual in the multiple narratives may call the question of Cosmos origin illegitimate; or consider it pure speculation lacking any truth value; or say that all claims are true; or even suggest that Cosmos has no origin and is always present. The Buddhists and the Jains have no conception of a God in the first place! Strangely, in Indian tradition and culture, a person can equally believe all the stories and may equally reject all of them. Finally, it looks almost as if the ‘origin’ question and the place of God are irrelevant.

Religion is thus impossible in a culture where the questions of origins can be an illegitimate one. The Western world is always in a grip of historicity trying to find the truth value of its scriptures. The Biblical history is right in the center of investigation with advocates and opponents on either side of the battle line trying to prove or disprove. This attitude hardly excites or disturbs their counterparts in India. It is the attitude of a culture towards the holy books that generates questions or fails to do so. Literature investigating the truth claims made by ‘religious texts’ is absent in India. To ask whether they are true or false is to exhibit a profound ignorance of the culture whose stories they are.
As another component, there must be certain sociological conditions absolutely required for guaranteeing the identity of religions. These are:
  • a world-view codified in a textual source called a ‘holy-book’ and must be widely known
  •  a standard world-view with clear boundaries and which cannot undergo changes across generations
  • an authority to settle disputes in transmission and interpretation of stories and legends (thus having a hierarchy of texts)
  • a source of excommunication when two interpretations collide (say Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Buddhism)
  • an organization to transmit and propagate its world-views.
These five sociological conditions are necessary to allow the transmission of the world-views across space and time so that they may preserve their identity over generations. None of these conditions fulfil in India with respect to Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, and so on. Hence, in metaphysical and sociological terms, it is an impossibility that Indian culture knows of religions or its secularized version-a world view.