Ask any Hindu what Hinduism is all about and you are likely to get a one word reply- "spiritualism". Ask an old Brahmin the same question and you will almost certainly get a more convoluted response. It is too deep, he will begin, for just anyone to fathom its secrets. The great religion's answers, he will go on, are accessible only to those versed in Sanskrit, the language of the gods. The secrets contained within the vast volume of scriptures, the origins of which go back over 3500 years, to which you have to add the evolved (and evolving) philosophy of Vedanta based on the interpretations of thousands of enlightened gurus of those august works, are not relinquished easily. Hinduism, he will add, is not a religion. It is a way of life! Indeed, he will cry with pride, it is the one and only truth! No, my friend, he will conclude, what you need is a Guru to guide you on your way. He will then helpfully point you in the direction of the Vedantic cult of his choice, to his extremely charismatic and very spiritual leader. Thus will begin your foray into Hinduism, where you will wade through the morass of esotericism and sophistry on your self seeking journey towards enlightenment.
What exactly are the origins of Hinduism? Why is it considered peaceful whilst other religions aren't? At the age of forty, just after my father's death in 2001, I felt an urge to discover the answers to these, and other, questions for myself. I was determined to have a go at reading some of the readily available translations of the scriptures. My legal training proved to be invaluable in my quest.
My study took me back 3500 years, from the end of the Indus valley civilization to the invasion of the Indo Aryans, the chanting of the much lauded Vedic prayers and their stories of floods and creation, to Brahmanism and the evolution of the caste system and the graduation of the religion from its primitive rituals of animal (and human) sacrifices to the "spiritual" brand which is now being offered for sale by ashrams worldwide, whether they are based in small garages in London or in opulent mansions all over the world, built by a new breed of industrialists who have identified religion as a sure bet money spinner.
When my son was seventeen years old he asked me, after he had read the works of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, what I thought about our own religion. He told me that he could not find any book which was easily readable and which explored the secrets of Hinduism. I had already noted this dearth myself well before then and informed him that I was carrying out my own research into Hinduism and, if he wished, I would send him notes of my findings to enable him to follow them up with his own study. He later went on to university and I continued with my reading.
To my utter horror I discovered that far from being based on non violence and spiritualism the roots of Hinduism lay in the most barbaric practices of animal sacrifices and violence through conquest by marauding, nomadic and racist Indo Aryan tribes, and in the practice of slavery through the caste system which was said to have been created and sanctioned by god himself. My interest grew at this point and I delved deeper into the literature. The deeper I dug the more horrified I was to uncover that the sacred scriptures, all the way to the Bhagwad Gita and beyond, almost without exception, had only one aim in mind- to keep the Brahmins at the top and the Dalits at the bottom; that the Brahmins first created the caste system and then wrote scripture after scripture, all emphasizing that god had created the caste system and that it was the sacred duty of all humans to blindly follow this system by playing their given caste roles in order to obtain fruits in the future and ultimately liberation Hinduism, or Brahmanism as it was originally, wasn't about spiritualism- it was about seizing and maintaining power through the use of slavery by religion! It is an inconvenient and unpalatable truth that that Hinduism has consigned hundreds of millions of its poorest citizens who are classified as members of the lowest caste (the Dalits) to an existence of utter misery and destitution for over 3500 years.
Two years ago I decided to write this book in the form of a letter to my son. Knowing his sense of humour (which I like to believe he has inherited from me) I was aware that he would be more likely to read the book if it made him laugh. I have therefore tried to pander to his humour. I have attempted to maintain the light hearted and informal tone of a father's letter to his son throughout when telling the real story behind the scriptures like the Puranas, the Ramayana, The Mahabharata, the Gita and others.
My aim in writing this book is to inform the reader where the beliefs of Hinduism, the so called “truth” to which Hinduism lays bold claim, originate and to investigate the veracity of our beliefs and to elucidate the mysticism which shrouds Hinduism as I began to unravel, piece by piece, the jigsaw of deceit and violence which holds the religion together. The book will, I hope, appeal to readers of all faiths or none as it traces the development of the religion narrated in the style of a father's story to his son.
The effects of religion upon modern India are also important. On the one hand India is living in the 21st century and is at the forefront of an emerging world where technology and economic progress are improving the lives of millions. On the other hand, as far as religious beliefs are concerned, we are living in a bygone era. Adherence to caste rules, planetary superstitions, animal worship, mythological character worship and performance of archaic rituals is not only rife but life modelling and controlling.
Religious extremism and intolerance is also on the increase in India. The saffron threat presented by the Hindu right wing zealots is all too real. This saffron menace is creeping into all areas of Indian life as they try to dictate what Indians should or should not be allowed to read and whether Indians should be allowed to celebrate valentines day or couples allowed to hold hands in public. We talk about this in connection with the Islamic nations but find it difficult to imagine that it can happen in India. But it can. And it is.
This is the story of my journey to liberation which I invite you, dear reader, to follow. The story is mine. The belief entirely yours.