Who are the (H)indus?

Published: Thursday, Apr 04,2013, 11:12 IST
Who are the Hindus, Indus, Indian historians, Hinduism, François Gautier

If one has to write a new history of India, one has to start with the right foundations and set the record straight. Thus the first task is to demystify the word ‘Hindu’ about which there is so much misunderstanding…

Let’s say it right away: there are no Hindus… This word was invented by European colonizers to designate a people which lived in the valley of the Indus. The exact appellation should be “Indu”, a term which was actually used for centuries by outsiders, to name all India’s inhabitants, be they Muslims, Christians, Buddhists or Hindus. But when Indus became Hindus at the hands of western colonizers, it grew to be a source of confusion and had catastrophic consequences for Indian history: it brought indirectly the terrible partition of the subcontinent and is partly responsible today for the inter-religious strife in India.

Who are the Hindus then – or shall we say Indus? Western (and unfortunately also Indian) historians have often reduced Hinduism to a code of moral conduct and a set of rites and rituals, or have even negated Hinduism by associating it only with the hated system of castes, forgetting that Hinduism was not only a wonderful system of thought, which influenced many of the philosophical systems of our planet, but that it was – and hopefully still is today, even if it has lost some of its early purity – a unique spirituality, which went beyond all religions in the true spirit of “Induity”. It may be necessary then – even for Indians, who often seem to have very little idea of the greatness of their culture – to remind the readers of a few of the lasting principles of Hinduism.

In the beginning for the Hindus, the world was only the Being without duality: Sat. Certain sects of Hinduism even said that before man, before any living organism, there was only Non-Being: a-sat. But how could the Being emerge from Non-Being? In the beginning then, this world must have been Pure Being, unique, without past, present or future:

“It was the hour before the Gods awake.
Across the path of the divine Event
The huge foreboding mind of Night, alone
In her unlit temple of eternity,
Lay stretched immobile upon Silence’s marge…” (Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, page 1)

And then, « something » happened:
“ Then Something in the inscrutable darkness stirred;
A nameless movement, an unthought Idea,
Insistent, dissatisfied, without an aim,
Something that wished but knew not how to be,
Teased the Inconscient to wake Ignorance”… (Idem, page 2)

Human evolution had started; the Non-Manifest had descended into Matter. And all the forms of life as we know them, were going to blossom during the millions of years which followed, until the homo sapiens of today.

And for the Hindus, the symbol, the unalterable proof of this descent of the Non-Manifest on our earth is jiva, the soul, a spark of the Infinite which is hidden in every thing. It is through jiva that the flower finds its infinite exquisiteness; it is because of jiva that the animal moves with such beauty, it is by the grace of jiva that man always aspires higher. “As tiny as an atom, as vast as the universe, jiva is unfathomable and cannot be seized; eternal, jiva cannot be destroyed; without attachments, free, nothing can touch it”, says the Taittirîya Upanishad.

Hinduism has always maintained that jiva reincarnates itself from life to life, thus perfecting itself throughout the ages. Everything is valuable for jiva and there is nothing that it neglects, as each experience enriches the soul: sufferings and joys, honors and disgrace, king in this life, untouchable in the next, criminal yesterday, saint today…. When we die, the physical body goes back to the universal Earth, the intellect dissolves itself in the larger universal Mind, and the vital, or Life Force, which is the mass of the impulsions and desires which we have formed in the course of a lifetime, return to the universal Vital. And then jiva is reborn, again and again, until we become fully conscious of the Supreme Being from which we all emanate: “Old and feeble, he becomes young again and again”, says the Rig Veda.

This concept of reincarnation, without which it is difficult to understand the why of our often painful lives, or accept the inevitability (and immense cruelty) of death, has been lost in the West and most other parts of the world and religions, whereas it was prevalent nearly everywhere during Antiquity. “Which sadist God has decreed that we would have only one life to realize ourselves and through which colossal ignorance Islam and Christianity have decided that we shall go to Heaven, or to Hell, according to the deeds, bad or good, which we have committed in a single life?” asks French writer Satprem.

The ancient Hindus were intensely secular in spirit, as their spirituality was absolutely non- sectarian – and still is today in a lesser measure. Nine thousand years ago, Vedic sages, to define the Universal Law which they had experienced within themselves on an occult and supra-spiritual plane, had invented the word dharma. In a nutshell, dharma is all that which helps you to become more and more aware of jiva inside yourself. In fact, dharma defines good and bad: what helps you on the path of spiritual discovery can be considered good = dharmic; and what impedes, you can be taken it as bad = a-dharmic. And to help the seeker  progress in his sadhana, the sages of ore had codified a series of systems called yogas. There is hatha-yoga, or the yoga of the body, the only Indian spiritual discipline which the West knows about and which has been copied by all the gymnastics and aerobics systems of the world; karma-yoga, or yoga of work; jnana-yoga, that of knowledge; bhakti yoga, the path of devotion… and so on. The Masters had also discovered that the personality of each human being is composed of three main “psychological” elements, or gunas: tamas, which is the principle of inertia, of heaviness and indolence; rajas, the more dynamic energy of our desires and impulsions; and sattwa, the most spiritualized and refined element in us. All yogas have thus attempted to promote sattwa, while taming rajas and uplifting tamas…

To be continued at Who are the (H)indus? - II

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