The confusing traditions of India
I am a blind man with the elephant as to India, its politics, and can’t distinguish Hindutva from Hindu from…
But I have generated a number of insights into Indian history which need to be grounded in something more specific.
In any case this drift to the right needs to be challenged with some real insight into Indian religion and history.
The controversy over Doniger’s book on Hinduism brought home the way that outside critics of India frequently get the whole story wrong. Distinguishing between Buddhist and Hindu spiritual traditions is tricky, and most of the outside perspectives can’t get it straight. Hinduism is almost beyond the pale for many such, but the issue is not so simple. Hinduism has been corrupted by a number of confusions, and now is generating a fundamentalist brand. But the larger tradition is a puzzle to be solved on the way to some kind of Hindu Reformation. The great spiritual tradition is cluttered with a host of confusions and the whole tradition could have a better future if they were sorted out. Grafting the legacy onto monotheism seemed a no-brainer at many points, but isn’t the answer. The political critiques of rightwing Hindutva are par for the course and the corruption of Hinduism by misplaced history (e.g. the AIT/OIT debate) has further confused the tradition. But there is a hidden vitality in the overall constellation of Indian religion and finding some way to the future is essential. As the Buddhist battery runs low and then fades out, a wistful look at prime Hindu nonsense, from sacred monkeys to elephant gurus, begins to suggest something is missing from our take on rationalist Buddhism. The future was once pegged to the revolution of Buddhism, but that failed, and we barely see Buddhism as a factor in Indian religion. The whole universe of discourse is hopelessly confusing in its vastness, and the corrupted elements from the Aryan phase are threatening to poison the whole spectrum. Hinduism can’t continue in the confusion of the caste system. But this kind of thinking from outsiders fails to grasp that no such thing really exists anymore, save in fragmented pieces. So it is not even clear what one is talking about. The secularist fingerwaggers can’t figure out what they are wagging at. But some solution to these kinds of issues is essential to a renewed future.
In any case the Axial Age shows the way an ancient tradition could regenerate itself for a new cycle. That’s the puzzle that confuses: Buddhism was the renewal, and the source refused to renew, and simply floated onward into modernity, to confront Buddhism again as a journey taken, and finished. But the modern world has done something different. Ironically the late Enlightenment (period of Schopenhauer, Herder) spawned an immense first phase of the New Age movement, and the rediscovery of Buddhism has exploded in the modern world. But the outstanding elements of this type are not exactly poised to easily produce a similar kind of succession that we see in the Axial period. It is no accident we see figures such as Osho/Rajneesh reset the clock with a transparent traditional and at the same time futuristic version of the ancient legacy. But the larger system needs to reckon with the issue of its historical transformations, and the challenge of Buddhism to produce a transformed Santana Dharma. But that initiative failed in the middle of its huge global success and is problematical. But it is significant to consider the things that Buddhism got right: it emerges streamlined with none of the complications of the Vedic graft onto the original strain. It echoes the primordial source of Jainism and yogic sadhana which we now suspect predate the Vedic grafting. Out of blue in the Axial framework and timeperiod we see the Upanishads appearing to show a confusing transformation of the legacy into proto_Hindu format, but signaling the core of the primordial tradition. Next to this we see the Jain sequence climax in Mahavir and stop and then pass into Buddhism, with a Jain succession as a popular religion, without its teertankers. This dynamics is the kind of thing my historical model exposes to light, without really understanding what it is seeing.
Our metahistorical study exposes a clear and really spectacular design, one pegged to the ‘eonic’ timing we see in the overall pattern of world history. It is all quite amazing, but the outcome has proven less successful in realizing what we suspect was the original design.
But the point here is to see, without getting into a prejudice against Hinduism, that the ‘stream’ of Indian religion was able to spawn a sidewinder lineage in its first born, Buddhism, now sadly alienated in the minds of many Indians. Whatever the case the unity of the overall design seems lost to everyone. The key issue here is that the larger dynamic, complex beyond our easy grasp, is forced to replace tradition with ‘modernization’ and the tricky recycling of older religions in secular situations. The results, unfortunately, are tinned meat, and don’t match the prodigious cosmic energy behind buddhism. So the solution must require understanding the limits of the possible in the flood of globalization which can only commercialize the ancient tradition. There are solutions here, but I wouldn’t be able to find them. My main contact with India is via Youtube, and what I see is fantastic, lover the elephant gurus, but so not sufficient to offer free advice. The key to the future remains to be found. Osho found one bridge form past to future. But that is already sliding into the past as a neo-buddhist publicity stunt. It contains many of the needed keys, but the overall situation is complex.
What we can forget in all this is that the Hindu core has a mysterious vitality and is still carries a kind of hidden fire. But the overall legacy is at risk at this point. Unless it is the innovations of Osho, completely detached from the Hindu problematic, and promoting a revamped neo-buddhism none the less observant of the vaster field of Hinduism.
But original field of Hinduism, so castigated by modern secularists, is a kind of superrich mulch heap and contains the fertile seeds that seem lost now in its various derivations.
This is really a question: does Buddhism contain the seeds of its future successor. We can see that it probably doesn’t. It will transpose just as Jainism did into a popular religion of nostalgia as we seen in Jainism after Mahavir. The successor will restart with new coordinates. It is a puzzling phenomenon, exposed at once by my ‘eonic’ timing analysis. Buddhism seems to be following that path as a religion of householders. Its extra-social world renouncers and wandering mendicants has been left behind and we see a kind of samsaric cult of ancient buddhas, a nostalgia club, now buttressed by the obscure sidewinder in Tibetan Buddhism.
This beautiful puzzle is also an ominous labyrinth in which one can lose one’s way. In the nonce neoliberalism, globalization, and Hindu fundamentalism/nationalism we see a nexus that won’t drive the future. But that’s just the problem. It might well drive the future and drive out the real live core. At one and the same time there is a mysterious broader core that can provide the yeast for a new cycle of religious continuity. Osho’s prophetic trial shows one way to that future, but we can’t easily see the way to proceed. The reason, to me, in my study of historical dynamics, is obvious: the core modern transformation was displaced to Western Eurasia, and everything ended up being jumpstarted to a Westernized format which cannot process the Indian complexity. So the guardians of this legacy are in trouble, because the large-scale slingshot that sent Buddhism out of the staring gate is absent in the modern case. But let me point out that the modern transition almost instantly produced or reproduced the core tradition: consider the transcendental idealism of Schopenhauer, instantly reccyling the core psychology. So it is not true that the modern rational Enlightenment is hostile to the Upanishadic psychology.
But the next best thing shows the way that Hinduism/Buddhism have shown a remarkable expansion in the context of modernity. So this secondary effect offers the promise and the opportunity of a second coming. But the dynamic perceived here offers no guarantee of success, especially in such a complex and confusion universe of religions. We are tempted to recycle the Buddhist model, but this sidewinder is not going to spawn a successor, unless, as with Osho’s work, the result breaks old habits and allows creative regeneration.
So we stop here, with a challenge to core ‘Hindus’ to survive the secularist destroyers, the economic havoc, and the reactionary trend as in Hindutva. This would require something ten times smarter than what Gautama produced. But whatever the case, the basic format of Buddhism shows the stripping away of endocentric religion in the expansion of gaze to a universal group.
So this hopeless confusion of Hinduism remains the core vital hearth for a new root stock. The solution requires the genius of a buddha, and yet with an insight into the core Santana Dharma carried by Hinduism, too often beyond the grasp of the endocentric religionists who are still thinking in terms of what must have been the Neolithic sendoff of primordial ‘Shaivism’, from which the traditions springs.