Friday, June 27, 2008

If religion was software

Hinduism would be Linux. If religion was the Web, Hinduism would be Web 2.0.

Richard Stallman would be pleased. You can debate what is Mac and Windows till the cows come home but that really is not the point of this post. Bear with me for this post, as I attempt to step into slightly uncharted waters. On Religion. On the religion we know as Hinduism. And my attempt to make a small comparison of the religion with open source and Web 2.0.

The last few years, for a variety of reasons, I have found myself at temples, ashrams and other pilgrimage centers all over India all the way from Puri to Tirukadavur and historical temple sites like Hampi. And if I count my family, we have been to quite a few temples around the world including the Kailas Mansarovar Yatra. Each one of it has been an amazing experience. Sabarimalai and some of the temples on its route perhaps among the most striking as far as experiences go. I have visited at various points of time in my life ISKCON, Raghavendra Swamis Ashram, Ramanasram, Sri Ravishankar ashram - which between them represent ashrams and groups old and new. By no means exhaustive, each of these groups have something common across them, yet may not have anything common across them.

And through these visits to temples, ashrams and related places - each slightly diverse, yet encompassing all others - I marvel at this religion. Hinduism seems to embody - notwithstanding new found guardians of the faith - open source to its truest extent. It encompasses just about all open source, web 2.0 principles. User level participation, creation of communities - look no further.

Pick an avatar for god - any one. You need not choose humans, past or present, though thats your choice. You could pick a lake, a mountain, a spring, a tree, a sand bridge, a river, an animal or a combination. How that for variety? Spore?

Write an epic. Come up with a zillion versions of it. No copyrights, no copylefts either. No paper? Pass down traditions orally. Create your own epic. Build history. Mathura or Madurai. Ayodhya or Ayutthaya. Create your user experience by building a website, I mean temple or city. Fan created content? If those temples were not created by fans of their gods, who did it?

And there are many more examples...

In the long run, open minds and open sources have always proved to be sources of progress. 


ashish said...

Your observation couldn't be more accurate. It is something I'm proud of as a Hindu. However, in moments of contemplation I have tried to find reasons for some of the ills that plague our people or society (whatever is more politically incorrect). I've often wondered if human beings need a uniting force, a battle cry to move them forward. We all know very well the problems that arise out of fanatical approach to religion. However, there might be a middle ground. Going back to your analogy, who owns open source (and isn't that often cited as a problem), who will support open source when the chips are down?

Have you given this a thought? Ask 10 Hindus this question-"which is the seat of highest power for Hindus or who is the flag bearer of the Hindu message". I don't think you will get a uniform answer from all people. Problem? Don't know.

However, it is important to know that every other major religion has a clear and only ONE answer to both those questions. Could this be the reason why it is more difficult to harness the energies of all of us in one direction, we have a fractured political system, a fractured sports system, a South Indian who calls a North Indian names and West Indian who calls an East Indian names? Have you ever heard this from your friends (especially those living overseas)-"Indians don't help other Indians". Could this be bacause of open source religion. It's an extended logic but I believe religion (before corporations took over) has been the biggest uniting force for human beings and we as Hindus don't find common ground across the board.

Ashish Abrol

JK said...

More on the same lines from Sankrant Sanu's review of Invading the Sacred.

Finally, the internet can truly be regarded as a Hindu medium. This is only half in jest—the Indian traditions share many similarities with the internet. Whereas the large publishing houses represent centralized control the internet decentralizes power. There is no church. The Indian traditions have always allowed for this marketplace of ideas with no threat of heresy. There is no central authority to stamp ideas with official sanction or suppress others with the pain of death and torment. New teachers and teachings could thus always arise, and thrive, without persecution, mixing and commingling with the old. Invading the Sacred is in anthology of articles and voices of many individuals with their own points of view and style—who were not commissioned by any one organization or told to write what they did. Nor does the “defense” of Hinduism require a counter-church or centralized organization. The ideas, one seeded, were followed through by different individuals, on their own time and self-leadership just as TCP/IP packets get routed in different ways from origin to destination.

Arpit said...

You are echoing ( albeit, in a different fashion ) what's written here:

Quoting from the above:
Three religions now stand in the world which have come down to us from time prehistoric — Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism. They have all received tremendous shocks and all of them prove by their survival their internal strength. But while Judaism failed to absorb Christianity and was driven out of its place of birth by its all-conquering daughter, and a handful of Parsees is all that remains to tell the tale of their grand religion, sect after sect arose in India and seemed to shake the religion of the Vedas to its very foundations, but like the waters of the seashore in a tremendous earthquake it receded only for a while, only to return in an all-absorbing flood, a thousand times more vigorous, and when the tumult of the rush was over, these sects were all sucked in, absorbed, and assimilated into the immense body of the mother faith.

From the high spiritual flights of the Vedanta philosophy, of which the latest discoveries of science seem like echoes, to the low ideas of idolatry with its multifarious mythology, the agnosticism of the Buddhists, and the atheism of the Jains, each and all have a place in the Hindu's religion.

Where then, the question arises, where is the common centre to which all these widely diverging radii converge? Where is the common basis upon which all these seemingly hopeless contradictions rest? And this is the question I shall attempt to answer.

Kavi said...

Thats Hinduism in essence. But can you imagine a Bill Gates saying open source should follow certain basics amenable to MS ?

He'll fall flat! At some places though, it does flourish !

Charles Frith said...

This is an amazing post. I've thought long and hard about India and its place in the world and despite reading The Age of Kali I believe India represents a more natural state of human affairs than elsewhere in the world.

I think it's time for India to declare that its different and that it doesn't necessarily see swift adoption of empirical metrics as any more valid than its own way. India should embrace its compelixity because frankly the rest of the world prefers to sweep theirs under the carpet.

You wrote this post on my birthday and I"m thieving it as a serendipitous digital birthday present :)

Neelakantan said...

Thanks Ashish, JK, Arpit, Kavi and Charles. Glad that this post was appreciated. Will try to make this into a larger piece sometime...