Book Review: Musings on Hinduism

Book review of: Musings on Hinduism by Nithin Sridhar. Publishers: Rare Publications 2016

Given the sheer vastness of the subject, Hinduism, no quill or canvas can ever do justice in capturing its multitudinal hues. It has through the ages, challenged the best minds yielding a plethora of the most fascinating philosophical discourse. Resonating with the subject, there are layers upon layers of interpretative thought and commentary each as compelling and brilliant in their uniqueness as the next.  And each seeks to address the sadhak, the seeker, at stratified levels of complexity. Just as each seeker seeks answers at his own level of comprehension.

Ironically therefore, to attempt writing commentaries on the multifarious aspects of Hinduism can be extremely restrictive. Restrictive in terms of the choice of aspects, levels of complexity and the audience it addresses. There is unfortunately no one-size-fits-all. Nithin Sridhar seeks to circumvent these challenges in a very competent and comprehensive collection of essays on an impressive array of Hindu thought.

The book is a collection of articles, essays and blog posts penned over a period of time (from 2007 to 2013). It is not clear whether the chapters have been arranged in chronological order as that would have yielded a fascinating insight into the development of the author’s personal search. His transformation from being an atheist in his formative school going years,  to  a practicing Hindu in the after years holds out as much fascination for the readers as does his transition from being a trained engineer to a spiritualist. After all, till the very end, we will all remain seekers. Probably another book on this journey of the author may be in the offing.

Being an assorted collection on the various aspects of Hinduism, the book does not lend itself to any structured narration. At one level, this works to the advantage of the book.  It can be picked up and read over an extended period of time without the reader loosing the thread of any previous line of thought. Thus the reader is in a position to savour every chapter on its own merit. The preface however, helpfully breaks up the book into five parts. Part 1 deals with Hindu religion and philosophy and includes topics on general Hindu philosophy like Karma, Bhakti, Sadhana and Tantra. Part 2 deals with the important issues in Vedanta, such as the path of action and the path of contemplation, the transactional and absolute realities, the desire-driven Karma and the desire-free Karma etc. Part 3 of the book deals with contemporary challenges and the response of Hindu society to those challenges. This section contemporizes the dilemma facing the adherents to Hinduism in a rapidly changing world order where faith comes into conflict with competing religions and clinical scrutiny of a world driven by scientific temper. Part 4 outlines translation of Sanskrit hymns including among other things, a complete translation of Saraswati Ashtottara Shantanama Stotram and a commentary on Adi Shankracharya’s Nirvana Shatkam. Part 5 deals with miscellaneous issues on Hinduism including a chapter on symbolism of Shiva Lingam and an explanation of the Gayatri Mantra.

The book’s basic premise rests on the non-duality of approach and its manifestation as the core of Hindu thought and philosophy. Throughout the book the “two stages” approach underlines the transition from lower level of truth to a higher level of truth. The book starts on the hopeful premise of the eternal human pursuit of happiness and delves into the dual Pravritti Marg and the Navritti Marg and the Ahamkara and Mamahkara being the key differentiators. It then goes on to discuss  Vyavaharika and  Paramartika  as the two states of existence. The author next discusses Karma or action towards the attainment of Moksha. Bhakti as a path to salvation is discussed in subsequent chapter as are Maya and lila as the two aspects of creation. His interpretation of the relevance of God in the Hindu pantheon is thought provoking and brings into context the deity devotee relationship as does his treatise on the relevance of Hindu rituals in modern society.

The author makes a powerful case against the limitations of historical analysis in the understanding of Hinduism and as if to compensate for lacunae makes an insightful exposition on the evolution of Tantra,  demystifying much of the mystique that shrouds the practice. He artfully places the role of sex in Hinduism in its proper perspective and is a refreshing departure from the traditional approach on treating the subject as taboo in religious discourse. The discussions on Vedanta and its various aspects is insightful and traverses the journey with consummate ease.

The chapter on Advaita probably underlines the central theme of the book and encapsulates its core philosophy. The discourse on Brahman is very cogently argued and makes the subtle distinction between the Vyavaharika state and the Paramartika state as the two standpoints from which God can be understood. The portion on contemporary Hindu thought is hard hitting and is designed to shake up the complacency into which Hinduism has descended and brings into sharp focus the Dharmic crisis confronting its future. The final section on the interpretation of various hymns including the Gayatri Mantra is sublime in its presentation.

As mentioned earlier, some insight into the author’s personal spiritual journey and experiences would have been a nice addition to make the book connect more personally with the reader. However, notwithstanding this,  the book is, all in all a very engrossing journey through the multifaceted aspects of the Hindu way of life.

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Ranjan Bakshi
Ranjan Bakshi is an ex investment banker and fund manager who spent his early and formative years in Jabalpur. He enjoys writing and the arts - his travel writing on the LivingWise Project has been particularly popular.

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