Hinduism has traditionally been regarded as a religio-social system with complicated rules collected in such compilations as the Laws of Manu. Within the system were to be found patterns of thought and religious disciplines of great variety, but it was the system itself which was characteristic and fundamental. In the nineteenth century research revealed that Hindu society was a complex of systems rather than a single construction; the word Brahminism was used to distinguish the system of the priestly hierarchy from other and older modes. At the same time European criticism of some traditional features of Hinduism made its friends anxious to find some other criterion of judgment. The search for "essential Hinduism" began. Ram Mohan Roy thought it was essentially a system of thought, to be found in the philosophical treatises called the Upanishads. The sage Dayananda, like a Puritan pointing to the Bible and primitive Christianity, taught that the four Vedas were the essential Hinduism, containing all knowledge and all guidance. More recently, as the corroding effect of Western skepticism has been felt more strongly, the tendency has been to emphasize the absorptive and syncretistic features of Hinduism, thus making it possible to declare that all the characteristic social features are later accretions which can be discarded without injury to the genius of the cult. Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the philosophic vice-president of the Republic,1 for example, considers that Hinduism consists of an early deposit with a talent for absorption from elsewhere. Sardar K. M. Panikkar, diplomatist, historian, and publicist of the Indian Union,2 goes further and turns Hinduism into an assimilative magic. Its skill is to absorb ideas and customs from all quarters, to assimilate them into a harmonious whole, and to clothe them with local color. Hinduism is not like a sponge, to hold foreign matter for a time and then disgorge; like the Hindu cow it absorbs and assimilates foreign matter to produce the precious nectars of milk and cream.


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India: A Modern History
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