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Saturday, November 3, 2007


Shiva, the Cosmic Dancer

Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.

Who is a Hindu?
"Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and the realization of the truth that the number of gods to be worshiped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of the Hindu religion." B.G. Tilak's definition of what makes one a basic Hindu, as quoted by India's Supreme Court. On July 2, 1995, the Court referred to it as an "adequate and satisfactory formula." (

Because Western religion is defined through history, a confession of faith, and monotheism, the Hindu religion seems formless and impossible to describe adequately. One might say, “The religion of the sub-continent of India, considered as a whole, is Hinduism.”

India is important to modern history for many reasons. The British slowly began to dominate India over a period of centuries through the British East India Company. The sub-continent was at first an exotic place to make a fortune while leaving the natives alone in their religion. The missionary impulse came to India especially during the 19th century (once dubbed The Christian Century, with a magazine named after it). Some saw the expansion of the British Empire an ideal opportunity to spread the Gospel.

Missionaries and the English-sponsored schools tried to remove the influence of Hinduism from Indian society. The British had reason to be disgusted with certain Hindu religious practices. The society of Thugs existed to strangle people along the highways and steal their goods. They worshiped the goddess Kali, who was said to live on blood.

William Sleeman broke up the secret Thug society, and no one grieved for its loss. To this day we call the worst criminals “thugs” without thinking of them as Indian criminals.

Another vile Indian practice was “suttee.” When a man died, his wife was supposed to throw herself on the funeral pyre. This was considered the only genuine way to show piety and devotion to the husband. However, he was not expected to do the same if his wife died first. This practice continues in a limited fashion in some areas. (I asked on the Internet. A native of India said it continues but only among the most backward.)

Ruyard Kipling, a cheerleader for the British Empire, wrote a poem about suttee:

Although it is popular to denounce the British for their absorption of India, for making Queen Victoria the Empress of India, and for dominating Indian culture, we should also consider the positive benefits of English rule. India remains an economic powerhouse today, a democracy in a region where tyrants normally hold sway.

India seems to be conquering the West at the moment. First of all, the technological skills of the Indians and their lower wages are drawing vast numbers of computer contracts from America to their land. Some attribute the free-form Hindu religion to the ability of Indians to master complex and ever-changing computer technologies. People expect database managers to be Indian.

Secondly, the central focus of the Hindu religion – yoga or meditation – is having a major impact upon Western society. The elevators of the University of Phoenix advertise yoga classes. Some see this as a harmless way to relax, exercise, and gain focus on work. Others see yoga as a subtle introduction of religion in the guise of a beneficial program.

Yoga has spawned Buddhism and lately Transcendental Meditation. The Maharishi Yogi has had enough influence in America to establish several colleges, one in Iowa ( my best friend from grade school is a famous tennis coach touted in Sports Illustrated. Although we came from the same Lutheran congregation and attended Yale Divinity School, Larry Eyre became a TM teacher and tennis coach.

A third area of importance is the growing acceptance of the guru. Just as Maharishi Yogi was guru to many disciples, so are many people today fashioning themselves as spiritual or practical gurus. Tony Robbins is more like an Eastern guru than a Western personal coach. He attributes many of his insights to Eastern religion. If he did not, it would be a clear case of plagiarism.

Discussion Questions

1. When the British tried to eliminate Hinduism in India, were they advancing a society or destroying a culture?
2. Based on your reading of the textbook, which Indian god is the most intriguing to you? Which Indian god is the most repulsive or horrifying?

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