- Posted August 26, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The written word: Your personal essays
A Case for Hinduism (from a non-believer)
A Case for Hinduism
Recently, I was watching an interesting documentary on the decoding of the human genome and genetic testing to cure diseases. A patient in the program was dying of Cystic Fibrosis. This dreaded genetic disease is caused by a simple misspelling of just a few letters of the genome. Apparently, Cystic Fibrosis can be transferred to offspring only if both parents carry the defective gene. Of course, if his parents had the opportunity to get genetically tested back in the day, they would have had the opportunity to make better life decisions, like avoiding procreation or even marriage, altogether, with their carrier partner, however calculated that may sound.
Today, genetic testing is no longer science fiction. We are at the door-step of having the ability to sequence our entire genome within a grand, and be able to make life decisions based on it. But what does any of this have to do with religion you may be wondering, or Hinduism?
Firstly, let me speak a bit about my religious beliefs, or lack of. I was born into a semi-traditional Hindu family. On my mother’s side was a staunch legacy of rationalism; on my father’s side, agnosticism. Genetically and environmentally, I was predisposed to atheism, or some form of it. And surely enough, although I was very religious as a child and did my daily prayers and chants, I grew out of religion by the time I was fifteen.
Does that mean I’m an atheist? No. I do believe in a creator. The universe, our planet, our bodies and our own genome, itself, is of such complexity, an outcome of obvious planning, that it would seem futile for something so complex to be conceived without a creator or a cause.
What I am, though, is a skeptic of religion. I believe all religions are man-made babble. A lot of it is myth. Some of it is brain-washing. But certainly not the word of god as most religious people would have me believe. With that, I hope I’ve proved the thin line between an atheist and what I am. I’m basically a believer in a creator, but anti-religion. Let’s call me “areligious” for lack of a better word.
So if religion is just mind-controlling babble, then why do so many people follow it, I wondered. There have to be at least a few benefits of religious thought, besides just the simplistic “peace of mind” perk.
Well, I decided to first understand what Hinduism was all about. Not many in the western world, or even in India, would be successful giving a succinct tagline for Hinduism. It’s just too vast and too spread out to be able to clubbed under one umbrella, or be summarized under a paragraph. It does not have a central founder, does not have a central holy book, does not even have a central solitary god (yes, there are three million and more) and it does not have a central organization. It’s not a religion that can be approached from a western or Abrahamic focal point. To understand Hinduism, you have to forget all you ever learned in your own religious thought process.
As one western scholar who had been studying Hinduism recently surmised, out of pure despair that anything else: Hinduism is an open source religion. Other mainstream religions are closed-sourced. In other words, the other religions are like Apple software. Apple makes the software and gives you the binary. Hinduism is like Android or Linux. Everyone contributes to their own understanding of the end-product. I have to credit this scholar for finally decoding the crux of Hinduism, for even I would not be able come up with a better interpretation.
Well, to me it sounded as if there was a distinct advantage to this open-source method of thought. Firstly, it means Hinduism is not based on the fantasy of a single man (or a few men) – but a collaborative effort of thousands of thinkers over the ages whose beliefs and ethics have become codified under the common umbrella called Hinduism, and whose belief systems are still going through an un-ending process of comprehension and revision.
The outcome of this open-source Hindu thought process has given rise to a few key benefits, and that brings back the original argument of an anti-religion mind like mine: does religion, despite all its fallacies, have any real benefit. And I was beginning to believe, after understanding a bit about Hinduism that it does.
The first major benefit of Hinduism to its followers is genetic immunity. Diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis are virtually unheard of in India, and the key to that may lay in a simple rule set within the heart of Hinduism. The religion has a history of strictly codifying who can marry whom with the goal of preventing genetic diseases in offspring. The system is called the “Gotra” system, which has been strictly followed down the ages and may have a role in explaining why a much smaller percentage of Indians suffer from rare genetic disorders seen in the west.
Here is just one example of such codification, a stanza from the Hindu Sanskrit manuscript The Manusmriti:
AsapiMDAchayA mAtur sagOtrAchayA pituH |
sA praShasthA dvijAtInAM dArakarmaNi maithune ||
This means: “when the man and woman do not belong to six generations from the maternal side and also do not come from the father’s lineage, marriage between the two is good.”
Health wise, the second major benefit of Hinduism is Vegetarianism. Recently, my doctor advised me to convert to veganism to trim my cholesterol and borderline sugars.
“But don’t Indians have an equally high incidence of heart diseases despite being largely vegetarian?” I asked him, out of curiosity.
“Well, until a few decades ago, diabetes and cancer were relatively rare in India, until we started following the western diet. And Indian disease trends are now tracking the western trend upwards,” he said.
Hindus are vegetarians because they hold vegetarianism as an ideal. They believe that their god of preservation, Vishnu, takes at least nine earthly forms, three of which are animals. This bars them from consuming animal foods. Non-vegetarian foods are also seen as detrimental to mind and spiritual development.
There are many other beneficial systems that have emerged through Hinduism, or the Hindu line of questioning. Yoga, the ancient art of meditation and exercise. Ayurveda, the ancient science of medicine. Kama sutra, the art of sex. Indian mathematics and the invention of the zero. These are just a few. I’m sure that as I keep digging into the quagmire that is Hinduism, I’ll find many more. In the end, I do feel that Hinduism is, like all religions, a man-made mind-controlling mechanism. But there do seem to be some benefits that the system has produced that may outweigh the negatives, although not enough to make me a believer in religion, again. But I believe, as an open-source religion, it is the most likely to keep questioning human truths and our understanding of them.