Philosophy of religion

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A Hindu devotee lights an oil lamp at a temple on Wednesday. LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP

The distinguished ideologue, Karl Marx, wrote that Communism is from each according to his ability to each according to his need. Human needs are about equal, he presumed.

Evidently, he focused on physical needs. But what about intellectual, emotional, and above all, motivational needs? Surely, human beings differ so much from one another.

The Marxian fixation was so intense on the material that he overlooked most other facets of life.

After all, he became famous for his thesis on the materialistic interpretation of history which along with his masterly critique on capitalism form the substance of his magnum opus Das Kapital.

The ideology and practice of Communism had a short life, less than a century, largely because of Marx’s inadequate understanding of human nature – he forgot the old adage that man does not live by bread alone. In sharp contrast, Prophet Mohammad was a genius when it came to psychology.

In a man’s world, he gave him all the basics he could have wanted. As a result, Islam was expanding in numbers even 14 centuries after its birth.

Now that the man’s world is ending and women are rising, Islamic bigwigs would have to discover new responses to the challenges of modernity. To Karl Marx, capitalism would have been “from each according to his ability to each according to his wealth”.

The Bible had clarified by stating give unto God what is His and unto Caesar what is his. It logically followed that the leaders of Christianity meant to let the trader pursue his vocation. This original distribution of functions gave the religion of Jesus Christ the versatility civilisation requires to keep growing and flourishing.

Unlike Islam, which retained a stranglehold on its followers (for example, apostasy is punishable by death), Christianity gave freedom to its believers and therefore could scatter into many denominations. Nevertheless, Christians have respected their faith that God made Man equal but the vagaries of society makes him unequal.

To make up, Christians promote more charities, hospitals, schools, universities et al than any other community. Socialism, a favourite ideology of many a political party, was defined by Marx as ‘from each according to his ability to each according to his opportunity’. There is justice personified in this ideology. Ability is god-given but the society must give every member an equal chance to flower and blossom; not keep anyone down or at a disadvantage. The question is how consistently has socialism been practised in how many places?

Any ideology that emanates from Hinduism must have at its core the actions and their reactions of every or micro soul whether in the current life or an earlier one. Karl Marx could have defined it as “from each according to his karma to each according to his bhagya”.

The destiny of each micro soul would be determined by the deeds of that soul whether in this life or a previous one. Conceptually, it is similar to a foundational principle of physics that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

It embodies unquestionable justice as well as science at its precise best. Perhaps, the only imponderable is the Hindu theory of sanskara or the transmigration of souls from one birth to another.

It is ultimately a challenge of faith. The writer’s own experience has been that approximately three-quarters of his life has been an equation of karma and bhagya. The remaining quarter is a matter of faith in the karmas of his previous lives or births.

He hopes that if three-fourths is true, why not the remaining quarter? Even the most dedicated scientist lives on some faith at least.

For example, maternity is usually a known fact, but how many can vouch for the same about one’s paternity? The question of faith leads us to the fact that Abrahamic religions are far more demanding than Hinduism. The latter relies on karma or one’s own deeds and the resulting reward or punishment. Whereas the former insists on the follower accepting that Jehovah, Jesus or Allah as the only god of that religion.

The slight difference is that Jesus Christ is looked upon the son of God rather than God himself. There is no variation permissible in adherence to these godheads. The theology of Judaism is not known to have varied since its beginning. Islam disapproves of variations; reinterpretation was prohibited about a thousand years ago, after which orthodoxy has been the way of Islam. Christianity has permitted differences from as early as the 4th Century AD, when the Orthodox Church was founded in Constantinople, as distinct from the Vatican.

The Reformation began in the 16th century, since when the Church split into dozens of denominations. Essentially, these three Abrahamic religions would be categorised by the discipline of logic as deductive. The basic premise is enunciated in the Torah, the Bible and the Koran. The rest of what is right or wrong flows from the premise like the corollaries of deductive logic. They are consistent and make life easy to lead for the follower, if he is faithful. The discipline is like: “Yours is to do or die but not to question why.”

The premise is given, the corollaries are logical and an undue violation would be treated as apostasy. The Abrahamic religions, we have seen, are deductive in their logic. They begin with a premise and work downwards.

On the other hand, the Hindu view is inductive in its logic, which moves from facts on the ground upwards until it reaches a conclusion.

To illustrate this difference, let us suppose that four Hindus happen to meet and each one of them is from a different corner of the country.

The person from the Punjab happens to declare roses to be red. The man from Tamil Nadu says he has seen only white roses, while the one from Bengal disagrees, for he has seen only yellow roses, the Maharashtrian knows of only pink roses.

They might argue for a while and unable to conclude unanimously, they agree to disagree saying: “Maybe roses are so in your part of the country.” They do not fight or quarrel. On the other hand, an Abrahamic may declare the rose alien to him as a weed or perhaps a flower other than a rose. That is a deductive attitude based on the premise that the colour of a rose is only red.

The inductive approach of the Hindu would accept that the ground reality elsewhere could be different and hence agree to disagree. One of the four could say that he has seen only yellow roses, but maybe in the other areas of the country there are other colours.

On the other hand, Hinduism does not have a book as its fountain of belief, there is no premise and therefore no corollaries which a follower can refer to, or a commandment or guidance.

Nor do Hindus have an ecclesiology or a network of clergy or bureaucracy, either for worship or for administration.

There are a few groups of temples, but mostly, each is an independent entity with its own priests connected with no other. As is well known, there are numerous deities and avatars which Hindus worship. In other words, other than karma, Hinduism has no uniformity nor a unity of worship. In fact, Hinduism is a paradise of diversity.

That is why it is not a religion but a way of life merely anchored on karma and of course, a few broad groups like the Shaivites, Vaishnavas, Shaktas et al.

Half the time, the worshippers are not even aware which group they belong to.

One outstanding feature of the faith is its reverence for female deities, whether Durga, Kali, Lakshmi or Saraswati and many others.

Prafull Goradia is an author, thinker and a former Member of the Indian Parliament.