An Epistemology of the Hindu World View

via Dr. TS Girishkumar published on March 28, 2006

An Epistemology of the Hindu World View


Dr. TS Girishkumar.

The term Hindu is often used in varying senses, at times it stands for culture, at times for religion, at times for a given way of life, but mostly it could be used for anything which is Indian. Among the varying uses of the term Hindu, the most estranged use of the term Hindu must be, when it is used to mean “religion”, religion in the western sense of the term. The term Hindu never can be called religion in the Semitic sense, though it could be definitely called “dharma”, which indeed is an Indian category. Indeed every one knows the etymology of Hindu, which originated from the river Sindhu, also called Indus and Hind in Persian language. From Hind comes Hindustan and Hindu, to mean the people, place and the Philosophy of the vast land that lay beyond the river Sindhu. Europeans wrongly believed that Indian culture is Indus Valley culture, and in actuality, it is the Saraswata Culture. Sapta Sindhu shall refer to rivers in between the river Saraswati and the river Sindhu, and the settlements of civilisations lay on either sides of the river Saraswati, from the Sindhu River in the north to the Indian Ocean in the south. And indeed the finding of Saraswati River makes sense that why only to the south of river Sindhu we find settlements, Harappa, Mohanjadaro and all. And it is with this background that I use the term Hindu here to mean everything that is Indian, Philosophy, Spirituality, Transcendence, Epistemology etc.


Of Plurality and Multiplicity


It is indeed the case with nature that nature is filled with pluralities and multiplicities. Each blade of grass is unique, and there is nothing one with the other, of past, of present and of future. It is this plurality and multiplicity that makes nature dynamic and unique. How can one conceptualise a rainbow without it’s multiple colours? Homogeneity is not the way with the world, it is heterogeneous. Now comes the main thing, how does one look at this plurality and multiplicity? And it is here that we find the uniqueness with Indian Epistemology.


Epistemology: Indian


India had always been a land of pluralities and multiplicities. We have many languages, different geographical situations, different dress patterns, different food habits, and many different ways of living. Even the Hindu religion is filled with pluralities and multiplicities, different rituals and rites, at times even contradicting one another! For an outsider, this could very well look like a Pandora’s box, and no wonder why the British thought that they ‘united’ India, and this ‘union’ will fall apart the day when they leave this country. Many British Pundits predicted this falling apart of India time and again, and some people like John Bright etc. wanted to divide India into many autonomous provinces so that they all will be self sufficient and shall not engage in quarrels once the British leave this country. But nothing of that sort happened, this is the year 2006, and the British left in the year 1947 after dividing India into Hindu and Muslim states. Indian Union is still one. Hinduism as religion is still one with all it’s pluralities and multiplicities and multiple rites as well as rituals. Perhaps all otherworld religions have the story of divisions and separations and splits into many, but Hinduism alone has the story of amalgamation. It had amalgamated Saivism, Vaishnavism, Saktaism and many other practices into a single fold, where as Christianity, Islam etc. went splitting like amoeba time and again. They have different Churches and Mosques for each sect, but for the Hindu, a temple is for all, there is nothing like sectarianism.


Isn’t this more amazing than interesting?  Well, this is one among many such case with this spiritual and ancient land you know as India, and the more we come to know of this land, the more we become compelled to put down our head in ardent ‘pranams’ to our ancestors who made all these possible, our Acharyas, and our Rishis. All these are precisely due to the Hindu Philosophy and Epistemology. The Indian mind had long succeeded in transcending the plural, the multiple, treating them as mere peripheries, and going into a unity and a unifying principle beyond. They understood the unifying principle beyond these apparent differences. To the Indian mind, they are not at all differences, but only varieties. And this varieties do make us rich, as they co exist in an unusual harmony. With this epistemological bearing on everything that is Indian, India becomes a land of unity in diversity, Hinduism becomes one religion, all Indians becomes brothers and sisters, and that tea shop man in Surajmal Vihar in Delhi heartily acknowledges that from Kashmir to Kanyakumari India is one and Indians are one.


Epistemology: Western


On the contrary, the western mind gets into all kinds of difficulties with their epistemological positions. For them, the plurality amounts to differences, and not varieties. The moment one perceives plurality and multiplicity in terms of differences, there occurs contradictions, and quarrels. It is quite possible for one to think in terms of differences and go about quarrelling. In fact, our two hands are different from one another, two eyes are different, and the personality of an individual is also filled with different persons. Isn’t it true that I am a different man when I am with my students from the situation when I am with my friends, and with my wife, and with my children and with my mother and with my colleagues, and in the seminar hall, and in the class room and now, when I am typing this out to my computer?  Yes, indeed this is true. Thus, if one starts maintaining differences ad infinitum then he shall surely go to his ruin. Such persons shall have ‘existential’ problems and they can very well find themselves in many post-modern situations of anachronisms.


Western Epistemology sees the nature through differences, and thus comes their theories such as Marxism, which is essentially a theory of difference and contradiction. Marx divides society into two classes and tries to weave out his theory of contradiction and then tries to mutilate poor Hegel’s dialectics. From Kuhn to Foucault through Lev Strauss this story of differences and antagonism flourishes in manifoldness. An Irish man may not find a place in England’s football team. Societies in the West experience disintegration. None is to be blamed, except their theories of knowledge, their epistemologies.


Differences in Perspectives


Nature is the same in both east and the west. There is nothing special to India. All these differences are differences in perspectives, differences in how things are looked at. One can look at pluralities through the eyes of differences as well as through the eyes of unity. One can analyse, break a complex whole into many parts for comprehension. But if one stops short at analysis then it is unfortunate; one must also know how to synthesise after his analytical endeavor. Indeed it takes greater minds and finer wisdom to transcend apparent differences by treating them as diversities to a synthesisng unity. India had been fortunate in giving birth to many such minds, un sung heroes, who were never celebrities, never won Nobel prizes, never were popular. No one even knows their names barring a very few ones who happened to write some things. This becomes our unknown ancestry that makes us unique and great in this small world.  


Dr. TS Girishkumar.
[email protected]

Welcome to Haindava Keralam! Register for Free or Login as a privileged HK member to enjoy auto-approval of your comments and to receive periodic updates.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

five − 3 =


Latest Articles from Dharma Smriti

Did You Know?