In his article “Why Indians don’t give back to society”, Aakar Patel asks: “Why don’t we worship Brahma? We know he’s part of the Hindu trinity as the creator, but we worship Vishnu, manager of the cosmos, and Shiva, its eventual destroyer.” Patel then proceed to deconstruct Indian culture and makes a series of logically sequential observations. He observes that Indians are opportunistic in nature and that Indian society is Hobbesian in its low trust outlook. Patel ponders about why this is so and then provides us with a clue:
“The Hindu devotee’s relationship with god is transactional: I give you this, you give me that. God must be petitioned and placated to swing the universe’s blessings towards you. God gives you something not through the miracle, and this is what makes Hinduism different, but by swinging that something away from someone else. This is the primary lesson of the Vedic fire sacrifice.”
This is certainly an interesting observation and one which I discussed in the previous article. The transactional relationship between man and the divine was common throughout the various cultures of antiquity, and this is what characterized the Jewish relationship with Yahveh in the old Testament. Various tribes and groups in the middle/near east would select a patron deity, devote themselves to it via rituals and sacrifices in exchange for divine favours and a chosen people status.
“There is no afterlife in Hinduism and rebirth is always on earth. The goal is to be released entirely and our death rites and beliefs—funeral in Kashi—seek freedom from rebirth. Christianity and Islam are about how to enter heaven; Hinduism is about how not to return to earth, because it’s a rotten place…Hinduism recognizes that the world is irredeemable: It is what it is. Perhaps this is where the Hindu gets his world view—which is zero-sum—from. We might say that he takes the pessimistic view of society and of his fellow man.”
I would also argue that three thousand years of caste segregation has created a low trust culture which doesn’t emphasize consideration for one’s fellow man.
He then concludes by saying that: “Society has no role in your advancement and there is no reason to give back to it (in any way, including leaving the toilets clean behind you) because it hasn’t given you anything in the first place. That is why Indian industrialists are not philanthropists.”
I think Patel is certainly onto something here as even colonial writers like John P Jones commented on the essentially pessimistic nature of Hinduism. In his book “India’s problem: Krisna or Christ” (1903) he stated:
“Hinduism, on the other hand, is essentially pessimistic. It teaches that human life is totally and irremediably evil. Every power of the soul must be exercised in the endeavour to shake off this terrible burden of separate human existence and escape all the conditions of this life. That is the only relief possible. To the Hindu the question so often discussed in Christian lands—“Is life worth living?”—has no interest, since it has but one answer possible.”
If the world is truly ‘irremediably evil’ and if the goal of existence is to seek liberation from it, why bother making it a better place? Why strive for morality and social justice? The Christian worldview states that the world is worth saving and mankind is capable of self betterment by adhering to a universal code of ethics. This code of ethics lies at the heart of western civilization. The term “Gospel” literally means ‘Good news’ and this summarizes Christianity’s worldview in one word: Joy. Islam likewise sees the world as redeemable and stresses order and egalitarianism, but is otherwise an austere and dull religion.
On a separate but related argument, Hinduism (like Taoism) worships nature in its own way. Since nature is outside of human control, it is endowed with divinity and and must be worshipped/appeased. Even the ancient Greeks perceived nature as divine precisely because it was outside the sphere of human control. Nature is inherently amoral. Nature isn’t concerned with fairness, but with survival. This might possibly account for the extreme opportunism that the Indian is infamous for. Small wonder then that Hinduism and Taoism pay scant attention to ethics. Despite Hinduism’s sophisticated and highly developed philosophy, it retains its nature centric character, at least in popular practice. Arthur Danto was essentially correct when he observed that Hinduism (and other eastern philosophies with the exception of Confucianism) stresses a vertical relationship between man and the universe whereas Christianity stresses a horizontal relationship between men; and it is in this space that morality resides.