(a) Which evidence (what kind of evidence) could prove the existence of Hinduism?
(b) Idem. for the non-existence of Hinduism.
I think these issues are far too important to allow for their dissipation as debating points. If we could arrive at something approximating a consensus, we will have made a substantial headway. At the least, we can critically read the material on Hinduism with our answers to these questions.
I suggest we begin with (a). To start the ball rolling, I will mention some possible kinds of evidence and formulate my problems with each of these possibilities. Anyone who feels inclined is welcome to join the building of the list at any point in time and add or delete depending on the arguments.
1. Many (most, majority of the) Hindus believe in the existence of such an entity.
Problem: We have known any number of instances where people have entertained false beliefs. Also, the existence of some phenomenon does not require that people believe in its existence. The conjunction of these two makes the beliefs (at best) weak evidence for the existence claim.
2. The above argument does not apply to social reality. The existence of a social or cultural phenomenon requires that we believe in its existence. For instance, if none believed in untouchability, it would cease to exist.
Problem: one will have to show that the existence of Hinduism is something like untouchability and not, say, something like inflation or economic crises.
3. Many people from other times and places have registered the use of the word ‘Hinduism’ among Indians.
Problem: Apart from a similar objection to (1), there is a weightier matter. None could have registered such a use because it is an English word and of recent origin.
4. If not ‘Hinduism’, its equivalent has been registered.
Problem: one has to demonstrate the equivalence first.
5. ‘Hindu’ (Yin Du for instance) is used by the Indians from a very early period.
Problem: It is not clear whether the word refers to a people, a region or something else. However, using the word ‘Hindu’ is not sufficient: one must derive this word from ‘Hinduism’. That is, the usage must say that one is a Hindu because one belongs to Hinduism. Only then will the use become evidence. Then problems (1), (3) and (4) return with a vengeance.
6. People have been studying it, talking about it.
Problem: So did people talk about witches, their alleged intercourse with the Devil and Phlogiston. This is a variant of problem (1).
7. It unifies the Indian culture (or at least some part of it).
Problem: while that could be the case, what evidence is there to accept that Hinduism is responsible for it? This answer presupposes as true what it tries to prove.
8. Most of us can make a list of things we intuitively associate with the phenomenon of Hinduism.
Problem: what happens when intuitions conflict? The first problem also recurs.
9. Both we, our grandmothers and, say, Shankaracharya would agree with a minimal list.
Problem: this shows that there is ‘something’ we all agree upon. How does this provide evidence for Hinduism? Problems (8) and (1) recur.
10. There are university courses, PhD programs and writers of repute writing on it.
Problem: Similar things can be said of proof for the existence of God, parapsychology, and creationism.
11. American Hindus passionately believe in Hinduism.
Problem: This could be traced to the impact of the Semitic religions on the American culture and the impact of the latter upon the Indians in America.
12. Hindutva would not be possible without Hinduism.
Problem: Presupposes as true what requires proving. The burden of proof is the other way: one has to show that Hindutva comes into being because of Hinduism.
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