In the role of organized religion, I argued that religion
- gives us hope about problems we cannot solve ourselves.
- provides some social mores to stop society for degrading
- Provides a set of common cultural values, rituals and expected conduct.
Initially I argued a reasonably intelligent man can form his own beliefs but I realized that it is not everyone's interest and not everyone has the patience to think through all the beliefs and understand them and religion provides some sensible defaults which people can follow.
In Why I prefer to be an atheist, I argued against the beliefs that we are born with some karma and we need to work towards attaining moksha and stuff like that.
In my evolving understanding of it, it seems that whatever is being said in Hindu philosophy has two layers to it.
On the outer layer it just lays down some cultural values, rituals and expected conduct so that people can live their lives without much confrontation. Historically when these communication methods were not available, religion was one of the way in which law and order was maintained in the society. So some of the customs and rituals were created and used which were suited to that time. Even the karma philosophy was created to create the feeling that being good will bring outcomes and being bad (sins) will create negative outcomes and exaggerated it saying if you do something bad, it will haunt you for multiple incarnations.
But for a discerning mind, there is an inner layer of the philosophy which was always available to the learned. I particularly like the 'Tat twam asi' principle which says 'You are that' where that refers to God or divine. It doesn't constrain us with the Karma philosophy or anything else. It says that you have divinity in you. You have all that is needed at this time. It is upto you to recognize this and live accordingly. This is the central tenet of the 'Advaita' philosophy expounded by Sri Shankaracharya.
So previously I was looking at the different philosophies literally and was only looking at the outer layer and now I also see the inner layer about the truth that was already known and evident but only available to the discerning mind.
So a lot of customs and rituals we follow were mostly created for the times they were created for. It is for us to examine those rituals and decide what to keep and what to ignore.
It would have been great to know why a custom was created and how it has morphed into. But unfortunately most of our history is not written as we didn't good means of writing and storing info. The writings on leaves didn't survive our tropical climate. Lacking good means of communication and writing all they could do was to create poems for people to remember and spread it orally and that is what is available today. Sure someone who created something might have known why he created it, but not everyone has the patience to understand why it was created and the creator might not have had the patience/time to explain it to everyone, so it might have been reduced finally to just a rule to follow.
Now the customs we follow have become like puzzles for us to figure out the reason for that and thats really interesting to me..
Thanks to Balaji Viswanathan on Quora for sharing his excellent thoughts on Hinduism
He writes more eloquently than me and trust me, you wont be disappointed.
Start with this.
Start with this.