by Alastair Seaman
|Text and Context in Dialogue|
A Survey of Hinduism
Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 1990
Reviewed by H.L. Richard
One turns to this Klostermaier volume with high expectations and comes away more than satisfied. This book stands alone as an introduction to classical Hinduism for serious students. At points the material becomes rather heavy reading, but never for long and only to an extent that must be considered necessary to do justice to the intricacies of various aspects of Hindu faith and culture.
Klostermaier lays before us the grandeur and complexity of classical Hinduism in its multiform manifestations, not ignoring some of the blemishes that have also appeared. The book is in three sections, the first seeking to describe the essence of Hinduism while tracing its historical development.
The second section presents the three ways of salvation and the major deities. Finally comes what Klostermaier calls 'the structural supports of Hinduism'. Here idols, pilgrimages, sannyasa, caste, and the philosophical schools are analysed. This section closes with a look at the reform movements of the past two centuries and at the politicisation of Hinduism which is obviously an important ongoing development at the present time. A fascinating prognostication for the future is included before a closing chapter outlining the chronology of Hinduism.
Throughout the book Klostermaier empathetically summarizes whatever aspect of Hinduism is under consideration, yet consistently brings to notice contemporary situations, so that the presentation remains fresh and attuned to present realities. He never forgets the broader perspective while focusing on some particular feature, giving an admirably balanced picture of the multiplicity of phenomena that make up Hinduism.
Klostermaier introduces his work by suggesting that Hinduism cannot be compared with any of the other great world religions. At various points throughout he points out how a seeming parallel with other faiths, particularly Christianity since the book assumes a largely western readership, would only lead away from a true understanding of Hinduism. "Considering the growth of Hinduism and the great variety of its expressions, one is tempted to see not so much a parallel between Hinduism and other religions but between Hinduism and what one could call, for the moment, Europeanism or Americanism" (p. 1).
Klostermaier is rightly critical of the writings presently available on Hinduism, while availing himself of and referring to all that is best in present day Indological scholarship. "Much of it," he points out, "is devoted to some kind of orchid collecting, not to a description of the real landscape" (p. 4). What the real landscape is like according to Klostermaier is impossible to bring out in a brief review.
Copious notes directing to sources for deeper study and a large bibliography enhance the value of the book. Only two complaints can be brought against this significant work; firstly that its size is such that few will read it. But none who do read it will regard this as a worthy complaint. Secondly, some who might otherwise have read it will find the price prohibitive.
Reprinted with permission from To All Men All Things 2:3, December 1992. (Note that a revised edition has been out in the West for some years.)