The Western mind and Hindu religion by Sri Aurobindo

 

It is only if we have a just and
right appreciation of this sense and spirit of Indian religion that
we can come to an understanding of the true sense and spirit of
Indian culture.
Now just here is the first baffling difficulty over which the
European mind stumbles; for it finds itself unable to make out
what Hindu religion is. Where, it asks, is its soul? where is its
mind and fixed thought? where is the form of its body? How can
there be a religion which has no rigid dogmas demanding belief
on pain of eternal damnation, no theological postulates, even
no fixed theology, no credo distinguishing it from antagonistic
or rival religions? How can there be a religion which has no
papal head, no governing ecclesiastic body, no church, chapel
180 A Defence of Indian Culture
or congregational system, no binding religious form of any kind
obligatory on all its adherents, no one administration and discipline?
For the Hindu priests are mere ceremonial officiants
without any ecclesiastical authority or disciplinary powers and
the Pundits aremere interpreters of the Shastra, not the lawgivers
of the religion or its rulers. How again can Hinduism be called
a religion when it admits all beliefs, allowing even a kind of
high-reaching atheism and agnosticism and permits all possible
spiritual experiences, all kinds of religious adventures? The only
thing fixed, rigid, positive, clear is the social law, and even that
varies in different castes, regions, communities. The caste rules
and not the Church; but even the caste cannot punish a man for
his beliefs, ban heterodoxy or prevent his following a new revolutionary
doctrine or a new spiritual leader. If it excommunicates
Christian or Muslim, it is not for religious belief or practice, but
because they break with the social rule and order. It has been
asserted in consequence that there is no such thing as a Hindu
religion, but only a Hindu social system with a bundle of the
most disparate religious beliefs and institutions. The precious
dictum that Hinduism is a mass of folk-lore with an ineffective
coat of metaphysical daubing is perhaps the final judgment of
the superficial occidental mind on this matter.
This misunderstanding springs from the total difference of
outlook on religion that divides the Indian mind and the normal
Western intelligence. The difference is so great that it could
only be bridged by a supple philosophical training or a wide
spiritual culture; but the established forms of religion and the
rigid methods of philosophical thought practised in the West
make no provision and even allow no opportunity for either.
To the Indian mind the least important part of religion is its
dogma; the religious spirit matters, not the theological credo.
On the contrary to theWestern mind a fixed intellectual belief is
the most important part of a cult; it is its core of meaning, it is
the thing that distinguishes it from others. For it is its formulated
beliefs that make it either a true or a false religion, according
as it agrees or does not agree with the credo of its critic. This
notion, however foolish and shallow, is a necessary consequence
Indian Spirituality and Life – 1 181
of theWestern idea which falsely supposes that intellectual truth
is the highest verity and, even, that there is no other. The Indian
religious thinker knows that all the highest eternal verities are
truths of the spirit. The supreme truths are neither the rigid
conclusions of logical reasoning nor the affirmations of credal
statement, but fruits of the soul’s inner experience. Intellectual
truth is only one of the doors to the outer precincts of the
temple. And since intellectual truth turned towards the Infinite
must be in its very nature many-sided and not narrowly one,
the most varying intellectual beliefs can be equally true because
they mirror different facets of the Infinite. However separated
by intellectual distance, they still form so many side-entrances
which admit the mind to some faint ray from a supreme Light.
There are no true and false religions, but rather all religions are
true in their own way and degree. Each is one of the thousand
paths to the One Eternal.
CWSA Vol 20 p 179-181

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