Monday, July 29, 2013

Academic Theory: Hinduism

Last week we introduced the religions of our next unit into Eastern Philosophies. That considered I will preface that in the following lesson my objective is to cover the philosophical impact of Hinduism in literature, and not it's core doctrines, which are incredibly nuanced and varied. My hope is to take the basic concepts of Hinduism and show how they recycle themselves back into literature. This lesson is not meant to be comprehensive by any means.

Hinduism is regarded widely as the oldest religion in the world by scholars on the basis that it's corpus of holy scriptures predate most modern civilizations. Given that evidenced belief throughout the ages is more a problem of archaeology and history, this understanding of Hinduism is fundamentally flawed. I concede that the roots of Hinduism predate western civilization, but is it the oldest? Hardly. This leads to my second point, however: Hinduism is by far one of the most complicated and nuanced belief structures in the world.

There are no set rules, or "theologies" of Hinduism. Some Hindus are atheists, others polytheists, and some monotheists, but there are some core traditions that universally intersperse themselves through Hinduism. These are the subjects of Dharma, Samsara, Karma, and Moksha. Each subject concerns itself with the progression of the life through the divine. Dharma is the right doctrine one must pursue throughout the continued cycle of rebirth, Samsara. Karma follows as cause and effect, and how one lives out their life brings them further away from or closer to Moksha. Moksha, that is the freedom from the continuing cycle of life, death, and rebirth, is achieved through the different yogas (Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, Raja) each representing different paths to the divine. At this point, most of Hindu thought then diverges in all directions. What the principal yogas bring the practitioner of Hinduism towards is the matter of debate, some believing a theistic afterlife, a destruction of individualism leading to a collective universal consciousness, or complete annihilation. The means by which these themes enter into literature is another question altogether.

Much of how Hinduism is expressed in western literature is unfortunately stereotyped. Many westerners will turn to Hinduism for a nebulous need for oneness, without realizing that they are only gratifying their egotism, which the eradication of the ego is the foundation of Hinduism. Grant Morrison's Invisibles is one of the few modern works that introduces an honorable portrayal of Hinduism, which can be observed in scenes such as when King Mob communicates with the spiritual essence of John Lennon in an effort to locate Dane McGowan. But there are ways to incorporate elements of Hinduism into a written work, or be able to distinguish it without compromising it's core essence. Below is an example of what I mean:

"What does the drum mean?" Chestwick said, taking a long drag on a rolled cigarette. "Jesus... Where do I start?" 
"Beats me," Rodney replied, "That's why I play the bass. I am the soul of the band, man. I am the cosmic rhythm that lays it all down." 
"But I'm supposed to hit the drum right? With these sticks, yeah? How do I do that though? Is there a right way to do something? I could'a spent my entire life, hitting something and never get it right. Fucking mad, man." 
"Maybe that's your problem." The voice was low, gruff. Donald stood up from his corner and walked over, reaching down to grab the cigarette from Chestwick. "Maybe you are just kidding yourself, dig? You're livin' your whole life performing to a standard that is all about you. Maybe you need to get away."
"Can I get that back?"  
Rodney took a drag and tossed it back to Chestwick. He let it fall to the ground. Last time he was fucked up he burned himself.  
"Achieve action selflessly, mate. Detach yourself. Hit that bloody drum in dedication to rock, not yourself. How you gonna play music when you are doing it with the wrong motivation?" 
That is a simple conceptualization, but I hope it emphasizes my point. Hinduism is not about self gratification as it is conceived of in the West. It's about disassociation if anything.


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