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A tragic occurrence in the very long history of Hinduism was witnessed throughout the 19th century, the destructive magnitude of which Hindu leaders and scholars today are only beginning to adequately assess and address. This development both altered and weakened Hinduism to such a tremendous degree that Hinduism has not yet even begun to recover.
British Attack on Hinduism
The classical, traditional Hinduism …that had been responsible for the continuous development of thousands of years of sophisticated culture, architecture, music, philosophy, ritual and theology came under devastating assault during the 19th century British colonial rule like at no other time in India’s history.
Innovative Cultural Genocide
What the Hindu community experienced under British Christian domination, however, was an ominously innovative form of cultural genocide. What they experienced was not an attempt at the physical annihilation of their culture, but a deceivingly more subtle program of intellectual and spiritual annihilation. It is easy for a people to understand the urgent threat posed by an enemy that seeks to literary kill them. It is much harder, though, to understand the threat of an enemy who, while remaining just as deadly, claims to seek only to serve a subjugated people’s best interests.
Anglicized Hindu Intellectuals
During this short span of time in the 19th century, the ancient grandeur and beauty of a classical Hinduism that had stood the test of thousands of years, came under direct ideological attack. What makes this period in Hindu history most especially tragic is that the main apparatus that the British used in their attempts to destroy traditional Hinduism were the British educated, spiritually co-opted sons and daughters of Hinduism itself. Seeing traditional Hinduism through the eyes of their British masters, a pandemic wave of 19th century Anglicized Hindu intellectuals saw it as their solemn duty to “Westernize” and “modernize” traditional Hinduism to make it more palatable to their new European overlords. One of the phenomena that occurred during this historic period was the fabrication of a new movement known as “neo-Hinduism”.
What is Neo-Hinduism?
Neo-Hinduism was an artificial religious construct used as a paradigmatic juxtaposition to the legitimate traditional Hinduism that had been the religion and culture of the people for thousands of years. Neo-Hinduism was used as an effective weapon to replace authentic Hinduism with a British invented version designed to make a subjugated people easier to manage and control.
The Christian and British inspired neo-Hinduism movement attempted to execute several overlapping goals, and did so with great success:
a) The subtle Christianization of Hindu theology, which included concerted attacks on iconic imagery (archana, or murti), panentheism, and continued belief in the beloved gods and goddesses of traditional Hinduism.
b) The imposition of the Western scientific method, rationalism and skepticism on the study of Hinduism in order to show Hinduism’s supposedly inferior grasp of reality.
c) Ongoing attacks against the ancient Hindu science of ritual in the name of simplification and democratization of worship.
d) The importation of Radical Universalism from liberal, Unitarian / Universalist Christianity as a device designed to severely water down traditional Hindu philosophy.
The Death of Traditional Hinduism
The dignity, strength and beauty of traditional Hinduism was recognized as the foremost threat to Christian European rule in India. The invention of neo-Hinduism was the response. Had this colonialist program been carried out with a British face, it would not have met with as much success as it did. Therefore, an Indian face was used to impose neo-Hinduism upon the Hindu people. The resultant effects of the activities of Indian neo-Hindus were ruinous for traditional Hinduism.
The primary dilemma with Hinduism as we find it today, in a nutshell, is precisely this problem of…
1) Not recognizing that there are really two distinct and conflicting Hinduisms today, Neo-Hindu and Traditionalist Hindu; and
2) With Traditionalists being the guardians of authentic Dharma philosophically and attitudinally, but not yet coming to full grips with the modern world, i.e., not yet having found a way of negotiating authentic Hindu Dharma with an ability to interface with modernity and communicate this unadulterated Hindu Dharma in a way that the modern mind can most appreciate it.
A Confused Existence
Hinduism will continue to be a religion mired in confusion about its own true meaning and value until traditionalist Hindus can assertively, professionally and intelligently communicate the reality of genuine Hinduism to the world.
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"The safest general characterization of the philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato." —Alfred North Whitehead