Text and Context in Dialogue

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Book Review
An Introduction to Hinduism
by Gavin Flood
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996.

Reviewed by Dayanand Bharati

A self-understanding based on ideologies shaped by long traditions, which give real meaning, is essential for one's identity in this life. Such an identity in an individual's life, as well that of a nation, is not only useful for his growth but, considering the "modern world in which everyone is, in some sense, a 'global citizen'" (p. 4), may contribute to others' efforts to understand and uphold their own identity also. Keeping this in mind, Gavin Flood in his first and last chapters attempts to draw a picture of Hinduism based on Hindu self-understanding and identity. The remaining chapters offer factual information which he presents according to his Western understanding of Hinduism as a religion, at times still referring to contributions to national identity.

A person who lives within a system may find it difficult to express several ideologies of his system in clear-cut technical terms, though he very well understands them in a subjective way. And any scientific study of such a system by an outsider may help him to learn the required technical terms to express his ideology. But such a study will surely cause disappointment when he finds that it fails to express his inner experience and the spirit of his system in the right way. The only consolation that he can derive is that such studies may communicate to the others what he himself finds difficult to do. This is the impression a Hindu will have after reading this book.

Most points discussed in this book are based on the Western viewpoint, referring to studies done by other westerners. Such a study may help them to understand South Asia but will also indirectly impose their own ideology in the minds of the reader. But one who lives within a system understanding it subjectively will feel the contrasts from the objective studies done by others who stand outside the system. Take one example: 'As we have seen there is a fundamental distinction in Hinduism between worldly life and soteriology, the former being the concern of the householder, the later being the concern of the renouncer' (p. 201). But it is one thing to say that rites of passages may not be concerned directly with liberation, yet it is oversimplified to say that worldly life belongs to the householder and salvation to the sanyasi. Even rites of passage constitute in one sense a process for salvation. Above all, Hinduism keeps moksha as the climax of the four purushartas.

It must also be pointed out that numerous factual errors mar the value of Flood's study. For instance, there are numerous language-related problems, especially concerning Tamil, and some rather basic geographical errors will shock those who know India (see p. 24, 25, 145, & 172). Having noted these limitations, it is granted that Flood has presented a valuable study on the Hindu traditions in chapters 2 to 10.

Hinduism is such a vast subject that numerous introductions as well as technical studies are needed and are welcome. But one fears that Flood wanders from objectivity in pressing home his own perspective. The introductions by Klostermaier and Lipner [see review VOB 2:2, May 2003] are more even handed and sensitive to Hindu self perceptions and so must be favoured above Flood, which is still not to say that Flood's work is without merit and insight, and no doubt many can profit from reading it.

Reprinted with permission from To All Men All Things 7:2, August 1997.

bhakti. bhakti, nom. devotion, love, loyalty