On Hinduism and Hinduisms: The way of the banyan
The purpose of this chapter is not to attempt some comprehensive account of whatHinduism is. The remaining chapters of this book will give a clearer picture of that. My task is one of orientation: to attempt a constructive critique of what various commentators have considered Hinduism to be, and to suggest what I believe to be a fruitful approach to the totality we call “Hinduism.” I cannot, of course, claim that the approach outlined in this chapter is the only fruitful way of understanding Hinduism. Such a vast, multifaceted record of the way in which many millions of human beings, over many centuries, have shaped their lives, both as individuals and as groups, demands for its understanding an open-ended methodology that accommodates a variety of disciplines and points of view. What we call Hinduism today has always included, under its broad canopy, features of life that may be described not only as religious but also as social, political, economic, rational, aesthetic, environmental, and so on. And just as there is not only one way culturally of expressing what it is to be human, so also the sheer complexity, the multilayeredness of the Hindu phenomenon allows one to be Hindu in a variety of ways.