It has been brought to my attention that its been about 45 days since I’ve written anything. And my ego tries to tell me this is bad because it wants that “I” define myself as a writer. And that is not possible if I do not write. Timely as it is that I am now writing, I am not submitting to it’s will. The wish to do so has returned, and so I do.
Mostly the juices began to flow because in the past few days two news items have popped up that have been of great import in the Hindu world. 1) the book “The Hindus” by Wendy Doniger has been under critical scrutiny pretty much since its publication in 2010. Recently the decision has been made to shred every copy of this book in its Indian publishing house. 2) a study has been published which links the inhalation of incense to lung cancer.
I literally heard about these two news items within a matter of 24 hours. The thing that caught my attention though is that both stories points to or refers to something directly related to our dharma. To wit:
1) I have always been under the impression that there is no such concept as blasphemy in Hinduism. But there are conservative elements of every religion including Hinduism, and some have said that the push that lead to the decision about this book was lead by a very conservative sect. One of the main reasons for what is essentially akin to the mass book-burning of “The Hindus” is that it is “blasphemous” to Hinduism. In defense of her book, Doniger cited a law that makes it criminal to offend a Hindu’s beliefs. This seems like a gross exaggeration, because the publisher, Penguin India, has stood by its decision to originally publish the book “even though it may offend some segments of the population.”
Doesn’t matter. It is unfortunate if this book is able to offend anyone. That is the nature of “belief” though, that it is fragile enough to be offended. Knowledge and experience is different. That is precisely why I thought that “blasphemy” was not within the scope of our dharma. I thought that the book was being mulched because its controversial nature was subjecting the publisher to threats of violence. Which of course is unfortunate but still no reason to subject a document to censorship on such a sweeping scale.
I never became enthused about this book based on the excerpts of it that I’d read. But I am not a fan of censorship either. I know this is a legal issue not an issue of Hindu sensibilities, nor does it truly reflect upon the openness that is inherent to what has become my beloved dharma. But whatever drove this censorship is a system of procedure in place in a country that is largely Hindu, and as Hindus we try to let our dharma guide our daily decisions. As such I tend to shake my head as I read about such a ruling, just as I shook my head at the apparent lack of research, scholarship and understanding that guided Doninger’s book in the first place.
I am sure I am not reaching to the root of the issue and I hope that readers might help me to understand further.
2. Regarding incense and cancer, any paraphernalia implemented during a puja in the temple is sacred. The food, the ghee, the water, the incense smoke are all offerings to God. When they are in turn ingested by devotees they are to our spiritual benefit. Were this not true then I should think that the temple Pandits, performing sometimes multiple pujas daily should be amongst the most highly afflicted with lung cancer associated with incense smoke. With the limited data on the subject that does not appear to be the case.
Some have likened it to the water of the Holy River Ganges. On the surface, it is a polluted, dirty, fetid concoction of various waste products, chemicals, garbage and decaying bodies. That is true. But to the devotee it is something more. Many claim to bathe in Her waters every day and do not get sick. Others do. What is the deciding factor? Perhaps it is because what the truest devotee is bathing in is not the polluted and fetid waters but Maa Ganga Herself.
Does this mean that just because we attend a temple or light incense during home pujas we are above its damaging affects? Not necessarily. Incense, in and of itself in its ordinary mundane state produces smoke. Smoke inhalation is never a good thing when done so repetitively. And sure, state of mind and spiritual sincerity can be a protective barrier to some degree from the world at large. But to go into a situation with the presumption that one’s spirituality is one’s shield is pure ego. It is the subtle line between belief as opposed to knowledge, again I suppose.
Anyway, a big week in Hindu-related news got my mind churning.
Jai Hari Aum.