Is There a Hindu Fundamentalism?
On an inner level Hindus suffer from lack of creativity, initiative, and original thinking. They want to imitate either their own older thinkers, whose teachings may not be entirely relevant today, or, if modern, they imitate the trends of Western culture, which are unspiritual.
As a group Hindus mainly suffer from passivity, disunity, and a lack of organization, and they are very poor at communicating. Their main problem is that they fail to study, practice, or support it, or to defend it if Hindu teachings are misrepresented or if Hindus are oppressed. These are not the problems of an aggressive or militant fundamentalism but the opposite, that of people who lack faith and dedication to themselves and their traditions.
Hindus are not in danger of being overly active and militant but of remaining so passive, resigned, and apologetic that they are unable to function as a coherent group or speak with a common voice about any issue. They have been very slow even to defend themselves against unwarranted attack, much less to assert themselves or attack others. There is no danger of a monolithic or dictatorial fundamentalism in India, like in Iran or Saudi Arabia.
The danger is of a divided and passive religion that leaves itself prey to external forces and thereby gradually disintegrates. A little more activity among Hindus, almost whatever it might be, would be a good sign as it shows that they are not entirely asleep! To brand such activity, which is bound to be agitated at first, as fundamentalist because it causes this sleep to be questioned is a mistake.
In this regard Sri Aurobindo's insight may be helpful (Indian's Rebirth, p. 177). He said, "The Christians brought darkness rather than light. That has always been the case with aggressive religions -- they tend to overrun the Earth. Hinduism on the other hand is passive, and therein lies its danger. It is time Hindus stopped accepting wrong designations and negative stereotypes of their wonderful religion."
Certainly aspects of Hinduism need to be reformed, but there is very little in this beautiful religion that warrants such debasing terms as fundamentalism and chauvinism. If we look at the aspects that are commonly ascribed to religious fundamentalism we find little of them even among so-called Hindu fundamentalists.
Hindus who accuse other Hindus of being fundamentalists should really question what they are saying. What is the fundamentalism they see, or is it merely a reaction to the oppression that Hindus have passively suffered for so long?
Are the people making the charge of fundamentalism themselves following any religious or spiritual path, or is it a political statement of nonreligious people against religion? If Hindus are becoming intolerant and narrow-minded they should be criticized for being poor Hindus, not for being fundamentalist Hindus, as true Hinduism has a universal spirit.
As long as Hinduism is devalued and misrepresented we must expect some Hindus to take a stand against this in one way or another. Other Hindus should not simply criticize them if the stand they take may be one-sided. Hindus must try to defend Hinduism in a real way, not simply condemn those who may not be defending it in a way that they think is not correct.
This requires projecting a positive Hindu spirit, the yogic spirit, that can attract all Hindus and turn their support of the tradition in a spiritual direction. It requires not condemning other Hindus who are struggling to uphold the tradition as they understand it to be, but arousing them to the true spirit of the religion.
To routinely raise such negative stereotypes as fundamentalist or even fascist relative to Hindu groups, who may only be trying to bring some sense of unity or common cause among them to wake up and unite, is to fail to recognize their common spiritual heritage and work together to manifest it in the world today. Modern teachers did not speak of Hindu fundamentalism. They recognized Hindu backwardness but sought to remedy it by going to the core of Hindu spirituality, the spirit of unity in recognition of the Divine in all, not by trying to cast a shadow on Hinduism as a whole.
This article is an excerpt from Dr. Frawley's book, Arise Arjuna: Hinduism and the Modern World and is reprinted with permission.