Hinduism: is it only sex (and death)?

A critique of Doniger which steers away from the Hindutva-secular fight and asks some pertinent questions, one of which is: does the distinguished professor know (or care) about what is special (or unique) about Hinduism?
Such a shared core may well be close to, among other ideas, the
Upanishadic monism that crystallized in the seventh century CE into the
non-dualistic Vedanta of Shankara who established it both by
interpreting the classical texts and by refuting the competing
philosophical schools of the day. Early evidence of an incipient monism
is mentioned, for example, by Mohanty (2007, p. 24):  While the Vedas contain a myriad of different themes, ranging from
hymns for deities and rules of fire sacrifices to music and magic,
is no doubt that one finds in them an exemplary spirit of inquiry into
“the one being” that underlies the diversity of empirical phenomena, and
into the origin of all things.  

If this core truly pervades popular belief today then it cannot be
easily explained as a late nineteenth and twentieth century product of
colonialism as many on the left try to do.
This is not to deny the
presence of other orthodox and heterodox traditions in this core, only
to say that such a monism’s mass appeal must surely have preceded
colonial times. Doniger and her supporters never acknowledge this wider
humanity in their arguments and so end up attacking a straw man.

For instance, Vamsee Juluri’s essay
articulates an attitude that may be widely shared by modern practicing
Hindus. He clearly differentiates it from militant Hindutva by making
plain the diverse and plural heritage of Hindu thought. But he
simultaneously argues against Doniger by saying her interpretations
flagrantly contradict the lived experience of devout Hindus.
dialectical argument raises many difficulties for both sides, and sets
up a tension between Hinduism seen as an intellectual object and as a
sacred practice. 

Second, however, it may be asked, shouldn’t the lived experience of
religious symbols and myths be part of what is explained by inquiry?
That is, shouldn’t the external, intellectual stance account for the
internal, experiential facts? For example, if one holds that the Shiva
lingam represents Shiva’s erect penis, how does this square with the
interpretive community’s view (e.g. possibly something abstract like
Shiva’s sexual and creative power or just Shiva himself)? In a parallel
situation, is it right to describe the Holy Communion in Christianity as
a cannibalistic rite?
Certainly there is a connection between a penis
and a Shiva lingam as there is between the body and blood of Christ and
the ritual bread and wine, but do these connections involve the literal connotations of “penis” and “cannibalism”? 

Doniger’s book is not about revelatory insights into the Hindus but
generally about completely worldly things like sex, death, and material
While Eros and Thanatos are undoubtedly powerful forces in
human lives and while material pursuits are indispensable to survival,
Doniger succeeds only in clarifying that the Hindus, like other humans,
were and are part of the animal kingdom.

Much of what she says is
probably true—the Brahmins did eat beef early on, for example—
and the
Hindus who have been offended by such facts ought to recognize that
religious values are not eternal but emerge through history. But, for
her part, Doniger fails to make sufficiently salient how unique and
humane the impulse of vegetarianism was as a response to the barbaric
conditions of material life
in all early human civilizations. She passes
up such opportunities over and over again.

For the aims she chose, her cultural history needed to
have been more of an intellectual history. She never explores what the thinkers
of Indian civilization did—whether Brahmins or non-Brahmins, men or
women—when they confronted conceptual problems like the origins of the
world and how we might come to know it.
No logic of inquiry or
argument is described as it would have to be if one wanted to “show the
presence of brilliant and creative thinkers entirely off the track.” 

Indeed, there is hardly any speculation about the metaphysical instincts
of the Hindus at all.
Her materialism, while right in spirit, is
summoned too soon and all one gets is the subterfuges and stratagems of
the ancients. No doubt these existed as they are an inevitable part of
human nature and no doubt they played some role in the worldviews of the
Hindus, but do they constitute what is special and unique about Indian
civilization, or any civilization for that matter?


Brown Pundits