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Hinduism, the use of names, freedom of information and mistrust of systems.


I was thinking about the use of names for religions and the idea that structural authority is just not as important as it used to be. Now that isn’t to say that structural authority has lost all of it’s power but plenty of people are now aware of how horrid their governments, religious institutions and people above them in the power structure really are. Information is also more free than it used to be and it’s pretty easy to learn a lot about pretty much anything you might want to. It’s helped me tremendously in that I love learning about religion, history and sociology and don’t have to spent thousands of dollars in education to learn about those fields.

However this also causes something interesting to happen within the wider consciousness of mankind. You can now read and learn about just about anything without needing to be a specialist. You can for instance read all of Thomas Aquinas translated by multiple people in multiple different ways and form your own opinions on the man and his thoughts. No priest is required for you to do this you can just do so in your free time.

You might say you need experiments to know the truth from the falsehoods. After all how are you going to be able to say what some ancient Mesopotamian text actually says without an expert? I would argue that like most things people are just going to accept the versions they like the most or they will just have a little bit of faith in this or that without really worrying about it too much. Most people aren’t going to study a subject very closely unless they actually care about it after all.

For example we could take the name Hinduism and see whether or not it’s useful to describe anything. On a surface level this is a fine enough name and denotes a group of religious traditions and practices that we could describe as differing enough from other surrounding practices to merit it’s own title. For anyone just looking for a surface level explanation that works well enough but if we look more closely even that broad definition falls apart.

People and traditions who are included under the name Hindus/Hinduism have such a wide range of beliefs, practices, cultures, diets that you would never really be able to categorize them as one thing without some of them being against the label. Does someone who adheres strictly to the Vedas have all that much in common with someone who is an Aghori? Well no not really.

If you look closely at something like Christianity you’ll fine the same thing. With sects as diverse as Latter Day Saints, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, JWs ect it’s hard to say these religions are all the same. They might have some common elements and even claim common origins but their practices are so very different that you have a similar problem to that of using the name Hinduism.

Most of this actually stems back to a few different things in my opinion. The biggest being categorization of groups. Humans love creating in groups and out groups more than anything. WE love dividing ourselves up into tribes and designating power structures within those tribes. We find things we define as making us part of one group or another and find ways to exclude people from those newly defined parameters.

So what happens if you reject those parameters? I think in the modern age where any of us can pick up any book we want and apply any label we want parameters become even less useful. The ancient institutions which defined A Christian as this or that just don’t have the same hold anymore. These days if you want to you can be a Christian who reads the Greek myths and sets up an altar to Apollo next to your altar of Christ. You can be like me and take philosophies and ideas from just about every religion on the planet. You can include rituals from one of the most dualist religions ( Zoroastrianism) and the most non-dualist (Advaita Vedanta) and do whatever you want with it or whatever works. There is no priest to scream at me for defiling the temple because I walked in with my dog or no one to get upset because I married someone from the wrong caste.

The freedom of information and the destruction of the legitimacy of structures of power have opened up a doorway to completely individual spirituality. Plenty of us still love our structures but now those who don’t can easily get the information they want without having to bend knee to someone they profoundly disagree with. There are things I love learning about Catholicism but until more recent times I would have had to go to the priests and get their own version of the story rather than being able to learn multiple doctrines from multiple people.

I think more than ever we see the wickedness of mankind and the danger of power while also seeing the good of people from every walk of life. We can experience talking with people from across the world, get their experiences and find something profound without needing to leave the comfort of our own homes. We can see the development of culture and religion in real time without having to accept some nonsensical narrative.

We can see the faulty notion of there only being one all pervading narrative more clearly than any other time in history. The issue that might come about with this though is that we can see what humans are really after and it isn’t truth. It’s narrative.

We construct our own truths daily. We look at the world and interpret it through extremely faulty lenses then project that narrative onto everything. The Dhamapada says that “ All that we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.” And I think we can see the truth of that. What this tells us in some way is that many people choose the narrative they see but don’t seem to realize it.

I find this is akin to the understanding that we are all Brahman without realizing we are all Brahman. We can choose in some sense how we see the world and modify our perspectives on it. How often have we told little white lies to save ourselves from trouble for instance when the truth is we have done something we thing is wrong but justify it to ourselves?

How often do we play the victim and rearrange facts to make it more suitable to us in the after math?

I’m not a relativist, I do think that some actions are wrong in the sense that they bring about more harm than good. I think that much of the harm we do to the world is actually being done to ourselves without us realizing it. Understanding this we see that often when people have done wrong to us and other they had lenses on that justified it on some level.

So this begs the question what we do about this? Well the truth is there is no utopia and we cannot completely be rid of the lenses. We are defined by our experiences in ways that will often be illusive to understand even to those who have gone through the same thing. There is no utopia, we can’t just fix people and make everything okay. People are going to hold different values, believe different things and justify different wrongs to themselves just as people have always done.

However we can do the best with what we have. It’s important to understand we don’t live in an idealized world. This is part of the reason I still use words like Hinduism, yeah it’s not 100% accurate and might mean something different depending on who you are talking about but it works well enough as a placeholder for a much more complex abstraction.

Life is an infinitely complex abstraction. There is no perfect solution and you often have to weigh the pros and the cons of doing something without really having a “right” answer. This is part of the reason why I have always liked Taoism because it acknowledges this truth without getting too worried about it.

This is just some stuff I had been considering. I think we should all find as much truth and prosperity as we can. Find the peace in ourselves and those around us and remember that humanity is a broken thing. Sometimes broken things have that much more charm and character to them though. Revel in the freedom of information and be willing to carve your own way whether that is by yourself or within a wider tradition. You don’t have to reject structure almost entirely like I do just find yourself a fixer upper home and get to work.