Types of Hindus in the 21st century
This blog is a reflection of my personal opinion based on my reading of the types of Hindus that we see in modern India and the world. Ancient India had classified Hindus into various categories from time to time. If one uses दर्शन as the basis for categorization, classification will take the form of अद्वैत, विशिष्टाद्वैत, etc. Or we had families or even geographies aligned to specific देवता like विष्णु, शिव, शक्ति, etc with people within these zones living their lives as per the specific texts where such देवता expressions are dominant. Are such erstwhile categories valid in the 21st century too? At a personal level, in families that are passing on traditions to children, one can argue that such ancient categories remain valid today too.
However, with the break-up of family structure, movement across geographies, etc., it is reasonable to state that many Hindus have become disconnected with their earlier traditions. And with modern Indian education completely leaving out ancient Hindu ideas from education, we do have a situation where Hindus have become disconnected with their ancient ways of life. However, despite this disconnect, they do carry some of the cultural practices (food, festivals, etc) that keep their external identity as Hindus. Having said that, one cannot deny that old categorizations are no longer as relevant and one does witness new categories emerging in recent times. So what are these identities?
In mainstream media, we often see portrayal of today’s Hindus in a binary manner – one side expressing a modern scientific view based on rationality and reason (with claims that religion is a private domain activity) and the other expressing a religious world-view based on ancient Hindu practices and texts. Media often portrays the former as atheists or agnostics or rationalists and the latter as religious. This silly binary view does not, however, play itself out when you watch Hindus across the world. I see five categories of people who call themselves Hindus in terms of how it plays out in society. A pictorial representation of these five categories is given below:
Each category given in the picture represents a thought-view, a दृष्टि that often plays itself out as a dominant view expressed by each category of people. And this has been portrayed in the form of a hierarchy with one key idea- those who profess to be Hindus are those who practice नित्य कर्म and undertake उपासना कर्म as per the ज्ञान expressed in the Hindu texts. And those others who do not practice such कर्म may be seen as farther away from the zone of the centre. Let us understand each of them better.
The word stands for self-tormentors. They associate the words Hindu only with Sati, caste abuses, untouchability and multiple gods. They are self-hating Hindus who are tormented with their Hindu identity. Their दृष्टि is based primarily on cut and paste versions of Hinduism as they may have understood from their history books, media and their parents. तमस् guides their conduct owing to which they neither make any attempt to study Hindu texts nor do they possess sufficient intellect to study the affairs of the world or science or religion. Life is seen as merely eating and entertainment and exploration in a deeper sense is never a need – but despite knowing so little about Hinduism (or anything for that matter), they do have an opinion on the topic. They tend to hide their Hindu identity or some extreme cases may even be open to conversion into other religions owing to the self-hating aspect of their persona. They would not like to be associated either with the words “Spiritual” or “Religious”.
The word stands for people who tend to be deluded or confused. रजस् drives their persona and life is primarily for pursuit of अर्थ and काम and this is also their parameter for a successful life. Such people tend to be well-read and suitably informed. If one asks them to list books that they have read over the past five years, one will find a wide collection of books ranging from Politics to History to Science to Economics written by the best of global authors – and they can quote them very well. However, if one asks them if their voracious reading has ever taken them to ancient Hindu writings ब्रह्म सूत्र or writings of Vachaspati Mishra or Appayya Dikshitar or Abhinavagupta or Vidyaranya, they will draw a blank – they would have either never heard of these names or even if they have, the need to read such texts never appealed to them. Or even if they may not be well-read, they are too enamoured by technological developments are driven by modern Science which makes them take to a position that all ancient books, though having sensible words here and there, are necessarily outdated. Their world view is more geared towards aspects of व्यवहार like history, politics, power, etc – the urge to delve into परमार्थ behind the व्यवहार does not appeal to them and therefore, while they may seem informed on various matters, such breadth is not backed by depth to assimilate this vast information effectively – this is because रजस् is dominant within them which keeps them glued to व्यवहार only.
So what are the measures or variables that drive their lives? They will use the words “liberal”, “compassion”, “equality”, etc as the words that drive them and have fully invested themselves in global literature that has driven them towards such words. Maybe owing to significant inputs that their brains have received from such diverse global experiences, the exact nature of दृष्टि they adopt with regard to Hinduism itself has become muddled. Therefore, they would not like to invest themselves into Hindu rituals nor would they like to visit temples or pilgrimage places (unless forced upon them). Maybe because of this lack of connecting with Hindu variables of thought, they are very vocal in advocating the breaking of ancient social norms as they are seemingly outdated to them. They are comfortable being called as Hindus – there is no self-hate.
In fact, owing to their superficial familiarity with the writings of Swami Vivekananda or mantras like “एकम् सत्…”, etc, they often back ideas espousing world unity but while being comfortable with the ideas of Unity, the idea of diversity unsettles them and they see the expression of diversity as tribalism or nationalism. Their opinions or expressions on Hinduism may be termed as pop-Hinduism, a superficial perspective that is not that of an insider. They will never say that they are “proud Hindus” as they find this parochial but they will, in the same breath, say that they are “proudly liberal”. They like to see themselves as “spiritual”. Modern India has this bunch of people dominant in mainstream media and they are a faithful product of modern Indian education. The ridiculous phrase “Spiritual but not religious” appeals to them significantly.
(A light-hearted comment – an easy way to detect such people will be their visible discomfort with Hindu symbols (like टीका on the forehead or Mangalsutra), preference for anglicised short names (so Saptarishi becomes Satty or Padmasri becomes Paddy) and visible promotion of English at their homes with their kids (as per them, the only value of language is its utility to attain अर्थ & काम – “why fuss over native tongues” is their opinion) 😀😀)
Now we are getting into the zone of practising Hindus. As the word suggests, one may see them as conservatives. From a शरीर and वाक् perspective, such people to take on to the Hindu practices that may have been passed on to them by their ancestors. They thus follow Hindu rituals, they go to temples regularly and take periodic pilgrimages. They will not have a problem going around a cow or praying daily to the Tulasi plant at home. They tend to respect family traditions that have come from their parents and follow them diligently. They are comfortable with the logic given to them that following such rituals will give them पुण्य. And they will happily call themselves Hindus and “religious”. And with रजस् remaining a primary driver for a कर्मी too, this keeps them glued to पुण्य & पाप aspects of Hinduism rather than make efforts to acquire सत्व or go beyond गुण.
And this prevents them from the study of or making attempts to understand their rituals in a deeper manner. They tend to cling to rituals very strongly and are disturbed when someone questions the practices followed by them. Bulk of divide in modern India between the so-called “religious” and the so-called “modern” is the divide between स्वपीडित and भ्रमित on one side and कर्मी on the other. Since the कर्मी is usually unable to argue against people who question their beliefs, they tend to become loud and may even resort to violence when forced to adopt social change. Once they shed their excessive रजस् orientation and invest themselves deeper into Hinduism by taking recourse to सत्व, they will become more comfortable with the pulls and pressures of modern society and will be able to make arguments in a reasoned manner. But for one too invested in पुण्य & पाप orientation, only serious episodes usually act as a trigger to delve deeper into Hinduism or else they tend to remain in their zone all their lives.
Search for Truth or Reality is the driver for this person. Not only शरीर and वाक्, such a person strives to engage his मन and बुद्धि too towards this quest for Truth or Reality. He will read Hindu texts as well as modern Scientific literature to the extent these assist in his mission or quest for knowing the truth about life. Search for Truth therefore is the साधना for this person. He or she spends a significant amount of time learning the wisdom contained in the Hindu texts given their focus on Truth. Reading of the texts is not just for academic curiosity – it is done with the intention of cultivating साधना of an intense kind. Even people who are part of the नास्तिक category can be included here provided that their minds are genuinely oriented towards search for Truth.
While रजस् remains the orientation of this person too, he is working to reduce this and instead cultivate सत्व on the lines suggested in the texts. He has come to the conclusion that only academic knowledge about aspects of ultimate reality is mere gathering of information which will not assist in attaining his goal of life. He therefore strives to take up specific साधना in the form of उपासना कर्म prescribed in the texts to attain ज्ञान. He keeps himself well-versed with texts outside Hinduism too but the दृष्टि with which these texts are read are the Hindu variables (like कर्म, गुण, यज्ञ, प्रकृति, पुरुष, etc). He does not make the confusion of judging the validity of अध्यात्म using the tools of modern Science and attempts to learn अध्यात्म based on its own defined variables. A साधक strives to live life as per the four purusharthas and is always working to understand धर्म in the modern day life as per the variables of दृष्टि of ancient Indian texts. He will not hesitate to call himself as spiritual and striving to become religious.
Such people are rare. They represent the people who have fully immersed themselves in the ideas of life expressed in Hindu texts. So it is not just शरीर, वाक्, मन and बुद्धि devoted to pursuit of अध्यात्म, their whole identity is geared towards reaching the goals of the शास्त्र. They are not just focused on धर्म, they are equally conscious of the सञ्चित and प्रारब्ध कर्म that are present in their कारण शरीर and are working to burn up the seeds of such कर्म present within them. We can include enlightened आत्माs like Swami Vivekananda or Ramana महऋषि or Swami Chandrasekhara Saraswathi here. We can also include here the various Swamis who are part of Chinmaya or Ramakrishna Mission or other Ashrams following the numerous संप्रदायs present within India.
And others who may not be part of these Ashrams but align their life fully to the ancient texts may also be included here. Such people form satsangs with like-minded people and discuss the ideas within the texts most of their lives and also help other Hindus to understand the message of Hinduism in a deeper manner. They will love to call themselves “Spiritual and Religious” since they follow traditions aligned to the ideas in the texts. They can confidently provide explanations of difficult ideas contained within ancient texts. They are able to orient the pulls and pressures of modern lifestyle and are successfully capable of blending ideas contained in the ancient texts with modernity.
So why is categorization important?
Categories may not be water-tight and it is quite possible that people straddle across categories in a much more complex manner. What has been given above are dominant categories that one gets to see among Hindu society today. Most people who grow from the kid stage into adults tend to remain in their chosen category all their life. And the same tunes are usually sung by people from the age of 25 to 100. Thereby, whenever people express certain views in various forums – public, private, in media – mainstream or social media, one is able to read them well once we put them into categories at least on a provisional basis.
In media of course, one witnesses two dominant opposing sides – the स्वपीडित and भ्रमित on one side and कर्मी on the other. The former calls the latter as conservative, Hindutva, outdated, loud, ignorant, etc. The latter will call the former by the names McCaulay Putras or anglicized Hindus or confused Hindus. And we are witnessing these tussles over and over again. Interestingly, even if the भ्रमित-kind writes positives on Hinduism, the arguments used by them tend to be superficial of the pop variety. And even when they criticize Hinduism, the arguments used by them reveal their low level of understanding of the subject.
How to convert a Hindu into a Hindu? Quite obviously, this task is best done by an अध्यात्म ज्ञानी. And they need to contribute positively not just for conveying the ideas of Hinduism to modern Hindus, they need to spice up domains like Economics, Psychology, History, Business models, Medicine, etc., too with ideas of Hinduism. However, this has not happened owing to which we see the space taken over by people of the स्वपीडित or भ्रमित types.
For कर्मी and साधकs, the responsibility of parenting has become more difficult as their interest in passing on Hinduism to their next generation cannot be left by them to the society dominated by the स्वपीडित or भ्रमित types. They will therefore need to be very careful in choosing the ecosystems they live in or engage with. If not careful, they can easily lapse into the domain of स्वपीडित or भ्रमित kind of lifestyle themselves. As for a person who is of the स्वपीडित, unless they shed their तमस् orientation, learning will be difficult not just about Hinduism but even about any other aspect of their life. And change for भ्रमित is equally difficult just as it is difficult to fill up a glass that is already full of water.
Above all, the responsibility of a अध्यात्म ज्ञानी is much more higher given the variety of Hindus that he is witnessing in the society but given their insight, they are capable of understanding the uniqueness of each category of Hindus an thereby tailor their message in a form and manner that may eventually turn Hindus into Hindus in the 21st Century. Let us hope to live for the day when we witness this.
ॐ तत् सत्