9:11 am - Tuesday January 23, 2018

Hinduism as Post Modernism

Post modernism signals the death of neatly defined binaries. The western traditional linear thought process is replaced by a unified field where multiplicity of realities can exist in tandem.

We can, to some degree, identify postmodern music, architecture, or literature because of some structural irregularity. This shift in emphasis from binaries to dualities finds resonance in science too where the old Newtonian theories are updated by quantum mechanics which gives a more nuanced understanding of the actual processes of the universe.

Thus the traditional the Caucasian-Male defined universe where a single world outlook is relevant to everyone is broken into parallel universes where different realities of co-exist. Hinduism by its very nature defies binaries. Its stated position is duality – the concepts in theory and practice catering different forms of individual experiences rather than any ossified concept captured in a single book. It is not surprising that many see post modernist concepts in Hinduism.

This idea is eruditely explained in work by Dr. Ramesh N Rao, which I shall reproduce/ explain here.

The exact definition of post modernism itself is diverse. Intellectuals like Baumann define it as the acceptance of plurality of the world – and thus seek freedom from monosemic clarity of sameness.  The consequences of plurality or multiple realities are many: first and foremost, it means that there is no particular path to happiness, God, development, progress, or emancipation or love. This condition would automatically led Baumann to close down all possibility of human redemption.  However this by itself is a faulty assumption and a product of linear logic which is in direct opposition to post modernism. A more accurate postmodernist prognosis, according to Doctor Ramesh is the speculation that the condition of ambivalence will turn to an ever more universal experience. Isn’t this the universality which Hinduism leads to ?

Rorty ( 1991) says that postmodernist is someone who distrusts metanarratives. These metanarratives ( like Capitalism and communism )  are stories which purport to justify loyalty to, or breaks with, certain contemporary communities. Rorty claims that the postmodernist identifies with a number of different communities and is “equally reluctant to marginalize” him/herself in relation to any of them. Rorty also believes that this diversity of identifications increases with education. While Bauman’s postmodern man lives/despairs in existential ambivalence, Rorty’s goes on to become more and more “educated” and “civilized”. Then again, there is no data to support Rorty’s claim that educated and “civilized” beings identify with more and more communities. Osama Bin Laden, civilised by education and empowered by technology went on to murder peoples cutting across metanarratives.

So, what would be a correct rendering of the nature and effects of postmodernism? I think both Bauman and Rorty, despite their thoughtful enterprise, fail to “grasp” postmodernism. Bauman is right in stating that “What the… idea of postmodernity… refers to… is first and foremost an acceptance of ineradicable plurality of the world…”; but he makes the mistake of seeing the sensory world as the only world. And Rorty, while correct in being suspicious of some metanarratives, makes the mistake of rejecting all metanarratives. This happens because, like Bauman, he succumbs to a logic that allows for improper classification. Thus a metanarrative like capitalism or socialism is grouped along with a metanarrative on the self which is exclusively an object of a purely intellectual intuition ( noumenal self ) . Why is this wrong classification? Simply because, while there is empirical evidence that capitalism and socialism have “failed” to live up to their claims, there is little experiment on or experience with the pursuit of the noumenal self. Also, while political philosophies deal with solutions/approaches to societal issues, the “noumenal self” could very well be a pursuit by individuals for individual happiness or realization.

Hinduism, according to Klostermaier (1989), is “the oldest living major tradition on earth, with roots reaching back into the prehistory of humankind” (p.1) and is “also a vibrant living tradition” (p.1). Being both very old and still practiced by hundreds of millions, Hinduism has acquired a protean quality. Klostermaier aptly says that asking the question, “What are the essentials of Hinduism?” will receive as many different answers as one asks people. Many Hindus believe that whatever their thoughts on God, the world and humankind are must be Hinduism. This is because there is no one church, no one book, no one prophet that disseminate/d the precepts of this “religion” which Hindus claim to be “Sanatana Dharma” (eternal religion or philosophy). “Synthetic unity” has never existed in Hinduism. Hinduism is a moving form of life whose predicament is to be incomplete to its own logics.

To sum up, Hinduism is postmodern in at least three ways: 1) It provides a theoretical basis for seeing any view of God as a personal construct. Shankara, the seventh century (?) commentator on the Upanishads said that the world of thought and matter is not real — that it is maya. God as a personal construct is also thus maya. When Shankara said that the world is maya, he did not mean that it is non-existent. It is and it is not. It is existent only in our state of ignorance (our everyday consciousness) and it is experienced and it exists as it appears. Ignorance as the cause and world-appearance as the effect have always existed and will always exist, according to Shankara (VivekaChudamani, translated by Prabhavananda and Isherwood, 1947). 2) Hinduism provides a theoretical basis for seeing goals and projects as unproductive and unredemptive. It does not mean that one should renounce action. But action with the expectation of results is unproductive. Only when one acts without concern for the consequences, or fruits, of one’s action can one escape bondage to this world of maya(The Bhagavad Gita, chapter 18, translated by Miller, 1986). 3) Finally, because of the proliferation of competing schools and sects in Hinduism outsiders see only chaos when they try to understand it. We can say the same about postmodernism!

Courtesy: Dr. Ramesh N. Rao ; and Smt. Babitha Marina Justin who introduced me to this subject.

  • Girish P

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