Thoughts on economics and liberty

Hinduism stands for ABSOLUTE free speech

I’m compiling a few (a very few!) of the many sources/arguments that confirm the commitment of Hinduism to ABSOLUTE free speech. Please send me as many links/sources as you can, to bolster this post.

No culture of book burning in India

It is true that books that people did not agree with were not necessarily preserved through the oral tradition, but there is no record (to the best of my knowledge) of systematic book burning/ destruction in Hinduism.

Open-ness to ideas expressed in Rig Veda

The Rig Vedas state clearly: “Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides.”

Pedants might argue that this applies only to “noble” ideas, not to “ignoble” ones, but a broader analysis of the Indian tradition shows that this applied to ALL ideas, regardless of their pre-judged merit.

Hinduism is not doctrinaire: you get to pick your own path

A long time ago I studied Tantra for an article I wrote. I was amazed at the varieties of beliefs in Hinduism. Hinduism is not a doctrinaire religion and allows all kinds of beliefs. As Jeff Spinner-Halev notes (Hinduism, Christianity, and Liberal Religious Toleration, in Political Theory, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Feb., 2005), pp. 28-57):

Religious affiliation is not a matter of belief-the Hindu can believe whatever she likes-but of social belonging.20 You can decide that you will not give offerings to a particular Hindu god; you can even announce that you do not believe that the Hindu deities exist, and still remain a Hindu. You can celebrate Christmas and remain a Hindu or you can pray with Muslim Sufi saints and remain a Hindu, as many do. Since Hinduism, like many Asian religions, has no doctrine to keep pure, it easily incorporates rituals of other traditions within it (though leaving behind certain practices is another matter).

Full-fledged alternative world views, e.g. religious ‘fictions’ and atheism

This is one of the most interesting aspects of Hinduism. My father often talks about the Mahabharata being a story devised to illustrate key aspects of the Vedas. This idea, that ancient sages of India created religious stories deliberately, with a view to illustrating key spiritual or moral points, is uniquely Indian. The gap between belief, logic and fiction is seamlessly traversed, and all options to analyse or present a message, considered valid.

Salman Rushdie said in a recent talk:

“S. Radhakrishnan would talk about how many of the earliest texts of Hinduism do not contain the idea of the existence of God; and contemporaries of the Buddha, quoted also in this article, would say that there is no other world than this one, and would deny the idea of a divine sphere. So again, in the oldest parts of Indian culture, there is an atheistic tradition in which the ideas of blasphemy and heresy have no meaning because there is no divinity to blaspheme or be heretic against. This is our culture. This is not an imported culture. It's not alien to the Indian tradition. This is the Indian tradition, and those who say it's not are the ones who deform that tradition.

These ancient sages thought, and I think, that God is an idea that men invented to explain things they didn't understand. Or to encapsulate wisdoms that they wanted to capture. That Gods in fact are fictions. So when there's an attack by Gods or their followers on literature it's as if the fans of one work of fiction were to decide to attack another fiction. [Source]

Specific commitment to free speech in Natya Shastra

Here’s Salman Rushdie telling us a nice little story from Natya Shastra:


But the Indian tradition also includes from its very earliest times, very powerful defences of free expression. When Deepa Mehta and I were working on the film of Midnight's Children, one of the things that we often discussed was a text dear to our hearts, the Natya Shastra. In the Natya Shastra we see the Gods being a little bit bored in heaven and deciding they wanted entertainment. And so a play was made, about the war between Indra and the Asuras, telling how Indra used his mighty weapons to defeat the demons. When the play was performed for the Gods, the demons were offended by their portrayal. The demons felt that the work insulted them as demons. That demoness was improperly criticized. And they attacked the actors; whereupon Indra and Brahma came to the actors' defence. Gods were positioned at all four corners of the stage, and Indra declared that the stage would be a space where everything could be said and nothing could be prohibited.

So in one of the most ancient of Indian texts we find as explicit and extreme a defence of freedom of expression as you can find anywhere in the world. This is not alien to India. This is our culture, our history and our tradition which we are in danger of forgetting and we would do well to remember it [Source].

Aṣṭāvakra (in Ramayana and Mahabharata) as example of why not to stop free speech

Ashtavakra was in the time was tretayuga, before Rama’s birth. He refuted his father when he was pronouncing some shlokas in the Vedas wrongly. His father was so angry that he cursed him to become wrongly shaped at eight ocations in the body and hence the name Ashtavakra. But the irony is that the same Ashtavakra had to save his father when he was held captive by Varuna. This was perhaps one of the last cited cases where freedom of speech had been curtailed.  [I've paraphrased from Harsha's blog post: Source]

Note: Such liberty was not available to Sudras and Dalits

The above applied largely to the higher castes. Sudras and Dalits did not always have this freedom.

I won’t go into details of this issue at the moment (that’s a separate topic altogether), but it can be said that in principle, Hinduism is committed firmly to absolute freedom of speech.


Deepak Sharma's analysis

"Hinduism" is much more resilient and tolerant than the behavior of the censors would lead one to believe. In fact there is a "Hindu" tradition that embraces texts that conflict with its fundamental doctrine. The Mādhva school of Vedānta, founded in the 13th century by Madhvācārya, thus considers mohaśāstras (confusing texts), which conflicted with Mādhva doctrine, to be canonical and an integral component of its system. In hisMahābhāratatātparyanirṇaya, a commentary on the Mahābhārata, Madhvācārya, states:

The śāstras [texts] whose meaning is confusing are made by the servants of Hari [i.e. Viṣṇu]. Because these [śāstras] have been described as unacceptable [they] guide theasuras(demons) to hell. As these texts are composed by Śiva etc. by the order of Viṣṇu…[1]

In a subsequent passage Madhvācārya again states that Viṣṇu is responsible for these texts:

I [Viṣṇu] emit this confusion that will confuse people. You, Oh Rudra, Oh Strong Armed One, cause the confused śāstra to be composed. Show those false [śāstra], Oh Powerful One. Make [your] Self renowned and conceal me." This is stated in the words of the Vārāha Purāṇa and similarly in the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa.[2]

Madhvācārya thus includes texts that conflict with his doctrine as vital components of his system. They are texts that serve a purpose for those who are easily deluded and who are not destined for mokṣa (release from the cycle of birth and rebirth). They also place any text that conflicts with Mādhva theology within the Mādhva narrative, thereby explaining away their danger. The texts, then, when contextualized, are thus neither prohibited nor harmful. If a person were to read them and were to be convinced by them then it would prove that the person is destined to hell and will not achieve mokṣa.

From this it would follow that texts like Ramanujan's essay exist by the grace of God (i.e. Viṣṇu). Such texts, moreover, delude those who are meant to be deluded. For that matter Ramanujan's existence itself is at the pleasure of Viṣṇu himself.


[From Wikipedia, 23 February 2014]

Purva paksha, sometimes also transliterated as pūrvapakṣa or poorva paksha, is a tradition in dharma discourse. It involves building a deep familiarity with the opponent's point of view before criticizing it. The purva paksha approach was used by Adi Shankaracharya in his work to re-establish Sanatana Dharma in India.[citation needed]

In ancient Indian jurisprudence, purva paksha referred to the complaint, with other parts of a trial consisting of uttar (the reply), kriyaa (trial or investigation by the court), and nirnayaya (verdict or decision).[1]:13

In his book Being Different (2011), Rajiv Malhotra sought to use the purva paksha approach.[2] Malhotra states that purva paksha

is the traditional dharmic approach to rival schools. It is a dialectical approach, taking a thesis by an opponent ('purva pakshin') and then providing its rebuttal ('khandana') so as to establish the protagonist's views ('siddhanta'). The purva paksha tradition required any debater first to argue from the perspective of his opponent in order to test the validity of his understanding of the opposing position, and from there to realize his own shortcomings. Only after perfecting his understanding of opposing views would he be qualified to refute them. Such debates encourage individuals to maintain flexibility of perspective and honesty rather than seek victory egotistically.In this way, the dialectical process ensures a genuine and far-reaching shift in the individual.[2]:48

According to Shrinivas Tilak, Malhotra's use of purva paksha in Being Different may be regarded as a kind of "reverse anthropology."[3]:288[4] Tilak states that

By "reversing" the gaze on contemporary Western and Indological constructions of the dharmic worldview and ways of life, Malhotra seeks to expose how "exotic," "ethnic," and "provincial" such constructions have really been notwithstanding the West’s allegedly "universalistic" claims (2011: 67, 176, 334). His other objective is to draw attention to the Christian-centric focus of the West’s archive of knowledge and its historical involvement in the systematic suppression of the dharmic worldview and ways of life to be found in the works of Indologists. By problematizing the way in which Dharma has been represented by Western scholarship, he exposes the asymmetrical nature of the relationship that obtains between the powerful discipline of Indology and its disempowered subjects, the Indians (334).[3]:288


On FB: Arvind Iyer stated: In a section of around 6 minutes starting 1h42m35s, a famous preacher makes an argument for freedom of conscience, which includes the freedom to disagree with authority figures. If only the 'defenders of the faith' intent on pulping books listen to these voices they claim to hold in esteem!

Thinkers who fearlessly challenge authority and follow their conscience are in distinguished company.

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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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One thought on “Hinduism stands for ABSOLUTE free speech
  1. sandeep bhagwat

    There is no single doctrine in Hinduism. Hinduism in essence is following contemporary wisdom. Hinduism is not a fixed religion. It is like language or culture which flows with time, changes its flavor. It has tolerated, more than 300 versions of Ramayana, it has tolerated Saint poets like Kabirdas, It has absorbed in itself ethos of Jainism,Buddhism, Islam, Sikkhism and all other faiths which suited its contemporary environment. It has tolerated Charvak &Tantra. Hindus can celebrate Christmas, and go to Sufi Shrines without being out casted. So nothing can be proved or disproved by quoting various texts or sources. Let Hinduism flow. I am sure Hinduism would not be enslaved by few intolerant minds.


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