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Thread: Neo-Hinduism and Traditional Hinduism

  1. #1

    Neo-Hinduism and Traditional Hinduism

    This series of postings will focus on understanding the entity known as "Neo-Hinduism," and highlight its distinctions from Traditional Hinduism. Scholars in academia have come to appreciate and recognize the differences between the two, and the differences are no less important to the faithful. Although neither is a homogeneous entity, one can offer working definitions of each to facilitate understanding. Most Hindus can probably accept that "traditional Hinduism" refers to those doctrines, schools, and traditions whose ideas or practices are at least theoretically based on the veda-s, purANa-s, itihAsa-s (mahAbhArata & rAmAyaNa), and/or other smRiti texts, and having origins prior to colonial period in India. In this case, "Neo-Hinduism" refers to a newer version of Hinduism inaugurated by thinkers within and following the colonial period, who have mixed traditional ideas and practices with newer ideas borrowed from Western belief systems. While a traditional Hindu scholar will try to establish his school's interpretations as representing the intended meaning of the scripture using logic and polemics, a Neo-Hindu thinker accepts the subjectivity of his interpretation, and indeed of all other interpretations, placing a greater premium on the subjective impressions of the interpreter than on the objective intentions (if any) on the scripture.

    Forums like this are often a stopping point for spiritual seekers as well as Hindus looking to explore their own culture. Unfortunately, much of what is taught to them in the name of "Hinduism" is in fact "Neo-Hinduism," and the differences between the two are like day and night. It may be that for many seekers, what they were seeking in the name of "Hinduism" is only to be found in Neo-Hinduism. Then again, it might be possible for them to appreciate the beauty of traditional Hinduism on its own merits, independent of the Westernized accoutrements added by Neo-Hindu thinkers for mass appeal. What are some of these adulterations? Here is a brief list:

    • Hinduism supposedly accepts the validity of all religions. This of course is formulated in many different ways, from brazenly stating that all religions are the same, to saying that all religions are valid approaches to the same goal, to saying that all religions are stepping stones or rungs on the ladder to the same goal. In this worldview, it is often asserted that prophets from other religions (like Jesus, Mohammed, Moses) are really avatars of a Hindu deity, or "pure devotees" of said deities acting on that deity's instructions.

    • "Idol-worship" is meant only for spiritually undeveloped minds. More "advanced" spiritualists dispense with "idol-worship" in favor of other meditative practices. Note how this view is rarely if ever articulated by Hindu thinkers prior to the onslaught of Christian missionary activity in India.

    • All interpretations of scripture are valid. This of course, obviates the need to participate in inter-sampradAya polemics or even be concerned with their conclusions. The conclusion of this view is that those who hold any objective validity in one set of interpretations, even when arrived at by careful analysis and diligent study of the scripture, are by the very fact of their convictions, "exclusivist," "fundamentalist," etc.

    • Hinduism has no rules or regulations. Everyone can decide for himself/herself what rules or regulations to follow. According to this point of view, it does not matter whether you are a vegetarian or not, whether you go to temple or not, whether you read scriptures or not, etc (though Neos will frequently argue that the former practices are still "better," they will never argue that they are "right," and that the failure to carry them out is "wrong," since they don't want to offend anyone).

    • Hinduism considers all deities to be different forms of the same God, and disavows any hierarchy amongst them. Hinduism is therefore paraded as a "progressive" belief system since it can theoretically be reconciled even with non-Vedic god concepts.

    • In Hinduism, men and women were always equal. Also, there were no birth-based differences between Hindus. One could aspire to whatever caste he or she wanted, just like choosing a profession.

    These and many other ideas have been consciously or unconsciously added in to the Neo-Hindu formula to make its version of "Hinduism" more palatable to a Western-educated audience. It is in keeping with the Neo-Hindu view which, like Western Humanism, places greater emphasis on individual beliefs than on acquiescence to an objective reality delivered from an authority or authorities.

    "Wise men speak because they have something to say. Fools speak because they have to say something." - Plato

  2. #2

    Re: Neo-Hinduism and Traditional Hinduism

    An article by Frank Morales from

    Full disclosure: I am not a follower of Frank Morales, whom I understand to be some kind of convert to Hinduism. But his points are worth considering coming from the perspective of a Hindu convert.

    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 Dilemma
    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.

    "Wise men speak because they have something to say. Fools speak because they have to say something." - Plato

  3. #3

    Re: Neo-Hinduism and Traditional Hinduism

    The following is an excerpt from an entry on Hinduism written for the peer-reviewed Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Shyam Ranganathan

    4. Stage Three: Neo-Hinduism

    The term “Neo-Hinduism” refers to a conception of the Hindu religion formed by recent authors who were learned in traditional Indian philosophy, and English. Famous Neo-Hindus include Swami Vivekānanda (1863-1902) the famous disciple of the traditional Hindu saint Rāma-Kṛṣṇa, and India’s first president, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888-1975) a professional philosopher who held academic posts at various universities in India and Oxford, in the UK.

    A famous formulation of the doctrine of Neo-Hinduism is the simile that likens religions to rivers, and the oceans to God: as all rivers lead to the ocean so do all religions lead to God. Similarly, Swami Nirvenananda in his book Hinduism at a Glance writes:

    All true religions of the world lead us alike to the same goal, namely, to perfection if, of course, they are followed faithfully. Each of them is a correct path to Divinity. The Hindus have been taught to regard religion in this light. (Nivernananda, p.20.)

    Frequently, Neo-Hindu authors identify Hinduism with Vedānta in their elaboration of Neo-Hindu doctrine, and in this formulation we find another tenet of Neo-Hinduism: Hinduism is not simply another religion, but a meta-religion, or the philosophy of religion. Hence, we find Vivekānanda writes:

    Ours is the universal religion. It is inclusive enough, it is broad enough to include all the ideals. All the ideals of religion that already exist in the world can be immediately included, and we can patiently wait for all the ideals that are to come in the future to be taken in the same fashion, embraced in the infinite arms of the religion of Vedānta. (Vivekānanda, vol. III p.251-2.)

    Similarly, Radhakrishnan holds “[t]he Vedānta is not a religion, but religion itself in its most universal and deepest significance” (Radhakrishnan, 35).

    The view identified as Neo-Hinduism here might be understood as a form of Universalism or liberal theology that attempts to ground religion itself in Hindu philosophy. Neo-Hinduism must be distinguished from another theological view that has a long history in India, which we might call Inclusivist Theology. According to Inclusivist Theology, there are elements in any number of religious practices that are consonant with the one true religion, and if a practitioner of a contrary religion holds fast to those elements in their religion that are correct, they will eventually attain the Ultimate. Often, this view finds expression in the widespread Hindu view that all the various deities are really lower manifestations of one true deity (for example, a Vaiṣṇava who held an Inclusivist theology might interpret all deities, in so far as they are consonant with the qualities attributed to Viṣṇu, to be lower manifestations of Viṣṇu, and thus good first steps to conceptualizing the Ultimate). Neo-Hinduism, in contrast, makes no distinction between deities, religions, or elements within religions, for all religions operate at the level of the practical, while the Ultimate, ex hypothesi, is transcendent. There is no religion, or no portion of any religion, which is incorrect, on this view, for all are equally human efforts to strive for the Divine. Neo-Hindus do not typically regard themselves as forming a new philosophy or religion, though the doctrine expressed by Neo-Hinduism is characterized by theses and concerns not clearly expressed in classical Hindu philosophy. As a rule, Neo-Hinduism is a reformulation of Advaita Vedānta, which emphasizes the implicit liberal theological tendencies that follow from the two-fold account of Brahman.

    Recall that on Śaṅkara’s account a distinction is to be drawn between a lower and higher Brahman. Higher Brahman (nirguṇa Brahman) is impersonal and lacks much of what is normally attributed to God. In contrast, lower Brahman (saguṇa Brahman) has personal characteristics attributed to deities. While the higher Brahman is the eternally existing reality, lower Brahman is a result of the same creative error that results in the construction of normal integrated egos in bodies: superimposition. Neo-Hinduism takes note of the fact that this account of lower Brahman’s nature implies that the deities normally worshiped in a religious context are really natural artefacts, or projections of aesthetic concerns on the Ultimate: they are images of the Ultimate formulated for the sake of religious progress. Neo-Hinduism thus reasons that no one’s personal God is any more the real God than another religion’s personal God: rather, all are equally approximations of the one real, impersonal Brahman that transcends the domestic qualities attributed to it. While personal deities are considerably devalued on this account, the result is a liberal theology that is closed to no religious tradition, in principle, for any religion that personalizes God will be approaching the highest Brahman through the lens of superimposed characteristics of object-qualities on Brahman.

    Critics of Neo-Hinduism have noted that while Neo-Hinduism aspires to shun the sectarianism that characterises the history of religion in the West through a spirit of Universalism, Neo-Hinduism itself engages in a sectarianism, in so far as it identifies Hinduism with the true perspective that understands the quality-less nature of the Ultimate (cf. Halbfass, Tradition and Reflection pp. 51-86). In defense of Neo-Hinduism, it could be argued that it is a genuine, modern attempt to re-understand the philosophical implications of earlier Hindu thought, and not an attempt to reconcile the various religions of the world.

    Critics might also argue that Neo-Hinduism is bad history: many philosophers that we today regard as Hindu (such as Rāmānuja or Madhva) would not accept the idea that all deities are equal, and that God is ultimately an impersonal entity. Moreover, Śaṅkara, the commentator on the Brahma Sūtras did not argue for the type of Universalism characteristic of Neo-Hinduism, which regards all religious observance as equally valid (though this arguably is an implication of his philosophy). Neo-Hinduism, the critic might argue, is historical revisionism. In response, Neo-Hinduism might defend itself by insisting that it is not in the business of providing an account of the history of all of Hindu philosophy, but only a certain strand that it regards as the most important.

    "Wise men speak because they have something to say. Fools speak because they have to say something." - Plato

  4. #4

    Re: Neo-Hinduism and Traditional Hinduism

    I request that the moderators consider placing a sticky on this thread.

    "Wise men speak because they have something to say. Fools speak because they have to say something." - Plato

  5. #5
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    Re: Neo-Hinduism and Traditional Hinduism

    Namaste Philosoraptor

    With all due respect, you often represent youself as the authority on Hinduism, though your are actually expressing your Vaishnava interpretation of what you understand as Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma in your mind or heart or from your Guru, but which often deviates notably from other authorized Gurus and Hindu schools, traditions and authorized scriptures. Using broad and controversial brushes such as hierarchial ranking of Devas or Devi which really is often what one Sampradaya tries to do for example to say Vishnu is higher than Shiva, or using similar universal declarations to box in SD practictioners of the most ancient and authorized traditions as being Neo-Hinduism or other, and which is frankly borrowed Western tactics, seems that you perhaps are acting out a level of self-anoited authority though I have not heard you clarify if you are a Guru or not. If you are, that is wonderful, you will have disciples and give them your important commentaries. But also remember, many come to the forum to enjoy the insights of many Hindu traditions, which is very diverse so that is a consideration .

    I enjoy many of your postings, but for example while I also see different realms for types of Gods if you will, be it Devas, Devi, Suras and even sometimes those who are Asuras, and so on, the fact is there are many totally authorized, the most ancient, and living among us this very moment, schools which do not share what you think is the "ranking" of Vishnu, Siva, Brahma, Surya, Indra, Devi and so on. I understand that you might be saying that whatever some school expresses as a ranking may vary but all have a ranking nevertheless, there is truth in that but even then I have heard that wandering Munis of the very historical events you speak of from Vedas or the hoary past actually do not fully agree with you. I have learned some nsightful aspects of Hinduism from you. I respect you a lot, but in truth you are a nameless member of the forum with a member avatar, and frankly there is no way I can consider you an authority on anything, but do enjoy reading posts. In my opinion, you need to be a little more considerate about that in this Forum environment. I would include within that context you frequent opinion on birth-based caste of which there are authorized, ancient and living Hindu schools which do not explain these matters in your terms at all, nor are they Neo-Hindu because they present a different truth within their schools which have often notable differences regarding Vedas, the Puranas, Ramayana, and so on.

    Regarding Frank Morales (who appears to be the same person as the Dharma website which I posted one introduction post and uses a name and title of Guru, but never received even one responce and appears to be an very inactive forum with very small audience), there are interesting insights from many of such as him, but I am not that impressed with him in my own opinion.

    And speaking of my own opinion, I am certainly not an authority on SD nor Hinduism. I make the mistake sometimes of NOT conditioning what I say in a post with also clarifying what I might say with a productive caveat such as "in my tradition of Saivism" or whatever it might be whether Vaishnava, Gaudiya, Vedanta and so on, or "in my opinion" or IMO. These are helpful in a Forum environment with a diverse membership. It is also nice to open with a greeting such as Namaskar, or if responding to include the member name in the greeting to whom you are responding to so the member knows you are adressing them.

    I do not think there are very many Neo-Hinduism members on this forum. Not very many at all. IMO.

    Om Namah Sivaya
    Last edited by ShivaFan; 03 March 2013 at 05:12 PM.

  6. #6
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    Re: Neo-Hinduism and Traditional Hinduism

    Quote Originally Posted by ShivaFan View Post
    I do not think there are very many Neo-Hinduism members on this forum. Not very many at all. IMO.
    We have to wait a little while for this to be true, 500 years is a good guess IMO. So do not despair, one day you will be right, just be patient.

  7. #7
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    Re: Neo-Hinduism and Traditional Hinduism

    tl;dr for the most part.

    Perhaps the OP'er should clarify briefly what he means by "Traditional Hinduism"?

    AFAIK, within "Traditional Hinduism" there are widely disparate Astika Darshanas themselves! Would the next post on HDF be about which of these Darshanas is the "one true" Darshana?

    I can't wait.

  8. #8
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    Re: Neo-Hinduism and Traditional Hinduism

    Pranam all

    What is neo and what is traditional? that can be very subjective interpretation, based on who you are speaking to. Take for example Vedanta,may be conceived and contrived in medieval time, note the word may be, i am no authority,at least that is the period most debates between great Acharyas we speak of, or try to present as traditional. This period is relatively very young what to speak of the Bhakti movement is even younger.
    So what is traditional is very much a subjective dogma if one is trying to define it.
    Arjun in Bhagvat Gita alludes to his kula dharma. Lord Krishna in chapter 4 verse 15 says thus; kuru karmaiva tasmat tvam
    purvaih purvataram krtam.

    Therefore do as your ancestors did.

    This is how Hindu society is geared up following the family traditions, which varies from guru to guru, village to village town to town. Who is to say what is more traditional or neo, I can think of more neo sect than the ones that are accused off but again that would be mine very subjective view.

    Jai Shree Krishna
    Rig Veda list only 33 devas, they are all propitiated, worthy off our worship, all other names of gods are derivative from this 33 originals,
    Bhagvat Gita; Shree Krishna says Chapter 3.11 devan bhavayatanena te deva bhavayantu vah parasparam bhavayantah sreyah param avapsyatha Chapter 17.4 yajante sattvika devan yaksa-raksamsi rajasah pretan bhuta-ganams canye yajante tamasa janah
    The world disappears in him. He is the peaceful, the good, the one without a second.

  9. #9

    Re: Neo-Hinduism and Traditional Hinduism

    Quote Originally Posted by ShivaFan View Post
    Namaste Philosoraptor

    With all due respect, you often represent youself as the authority on Hinduism, though your are actually expressing your Vaishnava interpretation of what you understand as Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma in your mind or heart or from your Guru, but which often deviates notably from other authorized Gurus and Hindu schools, traditions and authorized scriptures. Using broad and controversial brushes such as hierarchial ranking of Devas or Devi which really is often what one Sampradaya tries to do
    Namaste Shivafan,

    As is obvious from the above comments, it is clear that you have not read the numerous evidences from shruti and smRiti illustrating deva-hierarchy posted by me previously, and which happen to represent traditions other than Vaishnavism. I suggest that before asserting what is and is not in scripture, you first make it a point to read what is in scripture. Another good piece of advice is to expand your understanding of Hinduism by recognizing the many traditional schools who do accept deva-hierarchy. Omkar can give you a list of Shaivite thinkers who accept it. I have also posted earlier the comments of shrI Adi shankarAchArya in which he, too, acknowledges it.

    The recognition of Neo-Hinduism as a distinct entity from traditional Hinduism is not a Vaishnava phenomenon. It was Swami Vivekananda himself who spoke of inaugurating a "new Hinduism," and many following his approach tacitly accept that they are doing just that. Scholars in academia have also recognized this phenomenon, as is obvious from the posting above.

    Denial is not just a river in Egypt. To truly understand a thing, one has to put aside one's preconceived notions of truth, acknowledge facts, and formulate conclusions based on those facts. The whole point of this series of postings is to point out misconceptions attributed to Hinduism by Neo-Hindu thinkers. This is only threatening to those who have a vested interest in misleading people into thinking that Neo-Hinduism is Hinduism. This is not a nursery, and no one is going to protect you from the truth. But when you ignore what is posted above, clearly coming from non-Vaishnava sources, and then assert that recognition of Neo-Hinduism is somehow a Vaishnava phenomenon, you demonstrate your own sectarian bias and worse, you merely decrease the signal-to-noise ratio on this thread.

    Please be prepared to have a discussion on the points raised in these postings, instead of polluting it with personal opinions.


    "Wise men speak because they have something to say. Fools speak because they have to say something." - Plato

  10. #10

    Re: Neo-Hinduism and Traditional Hinduism

    Quote Originally Posted by wundermonk View Post
    tl;dr for the most part.

    Perhaps the OP'er should clarify briefly what he means by "Traditional Hinduism"?

    AFAIK, within "Traditional Hinduism" there are widely disparate Astika Darshanas themselves! Would the next post on HDF be about which of these Darshanas is the "one true" Darshana?

    I can't wait.
    I already gave a working definition in my first posting. This thread is about discussing the differences between Neo-Hinduism and Traditional Hinduism, both being heterogeneous categories but each still having certain defining characteristics which distinguish it from the other. Discussion of "one true darshana" is not within the scope of this thread. Please refrain from derailing this thread with comments based on personal animosity towards me.


    "Wise men speak because they have something to say. Fools speak because they have to say something." - Plato

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