The Hindus

The Hindus

An Alternative History

eBook - 2009
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A narrative account of history and myth that offers a new way of understanding one of the world's oldest major religions, this book elucidates the relationship between recorded history and imaginary worlds. Hinduism does not lend itself easily to a strictly chronological account: many of its central texts cannot be reliably dated; its central tenets--karma, dharma, to name just two--arise at particular moments in Indian history and differ in each era, between genders, and caste to caste; and what is shared among Hindus is overwhelmingly outnumbered by the things that are unique to one group or another. Yet the greatness of Hinduism--its vitality, its earthiness, its vividness--lies precisely in many of those idiosyncratic qualities that continue to inspire debate today. Wendy Doniger, one of the world's foremost scholars of Hinduism, illuminates those moments within the tradition that resist forces that would standardize or establish a canon.--From publisher description.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, c2009.
ISBN: 9781101025901
Characteristics: 779 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm.


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" There's some pretty hot stuff in the Upanisads: it refers to the act of progeneration as an offering in the fire of man and a birth in the fire of woman and analogizes a woman's genitals to the sacrificial fire. ' Her vulva is the firewood, her pubic hair is the smoke, her vagina is the flame; the acts of penetration and climax are the embers and the sparks. The whips and scorns of Time make life a nightmare from which one longs for Final Release of Freedom (moksha).' " "The Zen diagram of tantra includes worship of the goddess, initiation, group worship, secrecy, and antinomian behavior, particularly sexual rituals and the ingesting of bodily fluids." " ' The rich/ will make temples for Shiva./ What shall I,/ a poor man,/ do?/ My legs are pillars,/ the body the shrine,/ the head a cupola/ of gold./ Listen, O Lord of the meeting rivers,/ things standing shall fall,/ but the moving ever shall stay.' " "Yudhishthira's ability to ease his brothers' torments takes the form of a cool, sweet breeze that counteracts the hot, putrid air of hell, through a kind of transfer of merit. (There is a rough parallel to this idea in the Catholic practice of offering up your suffering to shorten the sentences of souls in purgatory) He therefore wants to stay with his brothers in hell, even though he himself does not belong there, just as he wanted to stay with the dog outside heaven, again where he did not belong." " Shankara argued that only Brahmins could renounce, and some of the more general animus against renunciation was channeled into hostility against him. While there had been renouncers in Hinduism since before the time the Upanishads mapped out the path of flame and Release, they lacked the instututional backing to become a major force---until Shankara. His argument that the phenomenal world of everyday experience and its biological round of birth and death (samsara) was ultimately unreal and is the source of our bondage, was taken as the basis for a monastic or ascetic life of renunciation (samnyasa)....the followers of Madhva argued that Shankara championed monism because he was so stupid that he could only count to one.Nondualism has the disadvantage that you cannot love god or worship god if you are god, or if your god is without any qualities (nirguna), a technicality that Shankara allegedly ignored when he wrote the passionate, beautiful poems to Shiva that are attributed to him." " ' As a young boy of 8, Shankara is said to have vowed to become a renouncer, to the dismay of his mother, who kept postponing the moment when she would give him her permission. One day while he was bathing in a river a crocodile grabbed his leg. He shouted out, and his mother came to the riverbank. As he was presumably going to die right away, and this was his last chance to gain Release, the only hope was for him to become a renouncer there and then. His mother agreed, whereupon the crocodile let him go. He became a renouncer but promised his mother he would be with her during her last days and perform her funeral rites, which he did.' "

kagat Jun 20, 2014

I am a Hindu born in India and this is the best book I have read on Hinduism and one of best books ever on any subject. The author shows her love of India and respect for Hinduism.Well researched, excellently written and historically accurate. I am surprised to learn that Ramayana and Mahabharata were written around the same time though non historians think that Ram was much before Mahabharata.The child Krishna was added centuries later to fill out details of the original Krishna the Charioteer Avatar. Highly recommend.

May 16, 2014

(1) Christianity is mainly about the great teachings of Jesus Christ. (2) Christianity is mainly about the inquisition within the Roman Catholic Church. The first statement is a historical fact while second statement is distorted “alternative history”. This simple example illustrates what Wendy Doniger has done to Hinduism in her book. If one wants to know about Hindus and their ancient philosophy from a western perspective, Heinrich Zimmer, Joseph Campbell, Alain Danielou and R.C. Zaehner are the gold standard. Ms. Doniger describes her book as an “alternative to the narrative of Hindu history that they tell”. However, her book provides no substantive reasoning of why “what she tells” is more accurate than “what they tell”. The attitude that comes through is one of hostility and contempt for Hindus throughout the book. This does not mean that I do not recommend that you read this book. Of course, you should. However, you will get a more balanced perspective on Hinduism by also reading the works of some highly respected scholars on Hinduism and then making up your own mind on what Hinduism means to you. Anyone is free to express his views on anything however cherry-picking to show something in a bad light and presenting heavily distorted views is more like feeling free to express yourself in bad faith. I am not an ‘ill-informed fundamentalist' and have seriously studied many religions in depth. Unfortunately, this is not the only book that deliberately seeks to undermine this ancient religion as I see from:

May 16, 2014

The odd thing about people claiming this book shows Hinduism "in a bad light" is that she sees herself as praising India's very long tradition of diversity and tolerance, as witnessed by its openness to different practices and interpretation within the one religion.

Doniger is bound to offend people who've never seriously studied the history of religions. The recent, politically-inspired controversy in India's far right can be ignored here -- the book even opens with an earlier event when some fanatic threw an egg at her. And she's hardly the first scholar to be attack by ill-informed fundamentalists who have not even read what they attack: The real problem is, while Doniger is a colorful writer and can be at times quite witty, all the asides make for a very long book. Doniger really needed a better editor on this book. Some of her arguments are more rhetoric than logic (for example, by her own reasoning, it would be racist for historians a thousand years from now to theorize that Spaniards must have colonized Latin America at some point). Worth reading, but Doniger herself makes it clear this book is not to be read without already having read on the history of the evolution of Hinduism.

Apr 04, 2014

This author is known to be a Hindu hater. She writes on Hinduism in a very biased and lopsided way presenting Hinduism in a perspective no Hindu ever looks at. Skip this book and author if you have any real interest in learning about Hinduism.

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