One’s religion is nothing but the dharma practiced by one’s forefathers.
In our sanatana dharma….there is a weaving together of rites, the good conduct and discipline arising out of them, devotion to Isvara and finally knowledge of the Self.
– Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi
One can practice Hinduism in a few ways – follow its philosophy, pursue devotion or perform rituals. Or one can concoct a personal & convenient mix of all three paths, a widely followed custom over the ages. However, all these three ways have withered drastically in recent times. The key philosophies of Hinduism are largely unknown today. The pursuit of devotion exists, but is largely questionable. The meaning & purpose of rituals are fast getting lost in the mists of time.
Is Hinduism thriving, dying, changing or transforming?
- Hindu philosophy
Some like to argue that Hinduism is not a religion, but a way of life. They look at it as a bundle of wise thoughts & ideas (aka philosophy) handed down over the ages. If we contemplate over and practice even a few of these ideas, our lives would be enriched – so say the few who have bought into the philosophical history & richness of Hinduism, a fast dwindling minority today. Undoubtedly, Hinduism is rich in wisdom. The Bhagavad Gita alone is replete with wise ideas which can be readily incorporated into our daily lives. But Hindu philosophy has few takers today. It is considered archaic or obscure. Most Hindus don’t bother to study it. The few individuals, groups & institutions spreading the practical wisdom of Hindu philosophy are perhaps fighting a losing battle. Ardent practitioners of Hindu philosophical thought may just thrive on the fringes.
2. Hindu devotion
Devotion has thrived, but its modern flavors and customs are questionable. Do devout Hindus pray out of fear or love or to curry favor or for display or to belong or to just pass time or…? It has been a mix of these and many other reasons, for ages. Devotion & prayers perhaps started out with fear & love for ancestors and blossomed into almost pure love for the Gods for some of our ancestors. However, over time, the nature of devotion has changed (some may say decayed). Today, many Hindus offer prayers either out of fear or to seek something. They fear the wrath of the Gods & dead ancestors. They seek material wealth or happiness or moksha or something else. Devotion & prayers are largely ‘give & take’ transactions today, much in sync with the modern business-driven world. Pure devotion is based on pure faith. That kind of devotion is largely dead.
3. Hindu rituals
Traditional rituals are disappearing at an alarming pace. Their original meaning & purpose are largely forgotten. Modern Hindus, brought up on a diet of science and exposed to the larger world, question old rituals. And very few of these questions are being answered convincingly, perhaps because there are very few knowledgeable Hindu scholars around. Rituals at the time of birth, marriage, death etc. have become largely perfunctory. Many perform rituals out of fear or to satisfy others. Social celebrations during weddings & birth have become more important & perhaps more satisfactory than rituals. A keen observer may realize some of these rituals & rites do have meaning & purpose. They enforce discipline and help us think about life & our purpose. However, rituals change with time, and are influenced by people, cultures, customs & traditions. They get distorted easily and their original shape, purpose & meaning can quickly get lost if we don’t have dedicated guardians. Specialist brahmin priests, who were the original guardians of these rituals, are a vanishing breed today. The original Hindu rituals will soon be lost.
…a religion will decline and decay if its spokesmen, however eloquent they are in expounding its concepts, are found to be guilty of lapses in character and conduct.
– Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi
Do we have high-calibre spokesmen for Hinduism today?
We cannot dismiss the original purpose, meaning & logic of Hindu philosophy, devotion & rituals as meaningless & old-fashioned, without studying them. But the modern Hindu does not have the time or inclination to study Hinduism. Some turn to self-styled spokesmen (aka gurus), who may or may not be worthy of being followed.
Traditional (or original) Hinduism is dying. New-age Hinduism, as being practiced today, may not be a good replacement.
We could point out that Hinduism has evolved well in the past and trust it will do so in the future. Successful evolution requires good catalysts. Adi Shankara was one. We may need another.