WHY IS NAVYA SHASTRA FOCUSING ON THE ORTHODOX HINDU LEADERSHIP?

Although Navya Shastra believes in interaction with all Hindu leaders (dharmacharyas), orthodox and reformist, at present we are focusing mainly on the orthodox dharmacharyas. There are many reasons why Navya Shastra hopes to work with the leaders of the orthodox Hindu sects (sampradayas) first. The orthodox dharmacharyas are often in the national and international spotlight and well respected by many common Hindus, even among the Hindu Diaspora. They are the most influential over the traditional sections of Hindu society and command respect, regardless of sectarian affiliation, from Hindu society, in general. Despite the fact that orthodox dharmacharyas follow purana shastric protocols, many Hindus consider these orthodox dharmacharyas as guardians of dharma and accept them as their gurus. It is not unusual for people to approach the dharmacharyas for advice and inspiration on matters of a dharmic nature. Because of their long-standing relationship with Hindu society and maintenance of Hindu tradition, the dharmacharyas are in many respects more influential than are the monks of the neo-Hindu traditions.

A second reason for Navya Shastra's focus on orthodox dharmacharyas is that many of these dharmacharyas also run traditional Vedic and/or Agamic schools, known as gurukulas, for training of priests and scholars. Their organizations are some of the most authoritarian and rigid Hindu institutions. Currently these gurukulas are following purana shastric protocols and admitting only young boys who belong to certain birth-based castes. Non-availability of Vedic instruction (in the traditional sense) to all Hindus under the traditional system is both a spiritual and social problem and one that can be addressed directly by dharmacharyas. As part of the Navya Shastra's mission, we hope to have such schools open to all members of the Hindu religion, regardless of gender, birth or background, so long as they are willing and able. Since these gurukulas are headed by the orthodox dharmacharyas, it becomes essential for Navya Shastra to engage in a respectful dialog with them. A significant number of orthodox Hindu leaders do visit foreign countries and are already aware of the growing sentiment

True reform of Hinduism has to begin with charismatic Hindu leaders, who can speak and act the will of the people, as Sanatana Dharma is not a centralized religion. We are hopeful that some members of the orthodoxy now envision it wise to rid of casteism in their sampradayas. Furthermore, we are aware that a number of charismatic Hindu gurus and organizations that have abolished even the idea of caste from their dharmic framework, yet have remained characteristically Hindu. Our sincere hope is that through our views and experiences the orthodoxy will also change. We are of the opinion that unless the orthodoxy is involved, Navya Shastra's efforts will lead only to a fringe movement. Navya Shastra does not wish to cause any splintering of Sanatana Dharma, and by engaging the dharmacharyas in our movement, we decrease this possibility. On the other hand, we do realize that Navya Shastra cannot expect all the religious leaders to unanimously agree to reforms. Invariably, there will be religious leaders, now and in the future, who will eventually bless the new awakening: about this we feel confident. So long as we get at least some orthodox dharmacharyas to support our movement initially, we believe our dharmic movement will continue to grow and spread.

In summary, although until now we have mainly been concentrating on orthodox dharmacharyas and their sampradayas, Navya Shastra also intends to work with neo-Hindu sects and leadership from these sects. The neo-Hindu sects, which were formed mostly as part of the Hindu reform movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, have already defocused from or given up purana shastric procedures. The neo-Hindu sects, therefore, tend to be more open toward a new vision of Sanatana Dharma than the older orthodox sects of Hinduism. Help and cooperation from these sects and their leadership toward the eventual goal of reform all of Hinduism is vital. The Navya Shastra movement is led by people from both from the scholarly and common realms and we believe that our movement will not be complete without the aid and blessings of the orthodox leaders who have carried on our traditional values for generations. Therefore, we deem it very important for our mission to be accepted and acknowledged by dharmacharyas, both orthodox and reformist.

We are very hopeful that the dharmacharyas will support us in our endeavors to usher in a new renaissance in Sanatana Dharma. We find inspiration from the ancient Sanskrit saying that in the end 'truth alone triumphs' (satyameva jayate).

WHY DOESN'T NAVYA SHASTRA JUST START ITS OWN SECT?

Navya Shastra is NOT a new sect of Hinduism and does not intend to start its own sect or temples. Navya Shastra is a Hindu organization, which unites members from various Hindu sects, various walks of life, and various parts of the world under the banner of Sanatana Dharma to bring about a genuine reform of the social structure in the Hindu religious tradition. All Hindus who believe in bringing a true reform in Hindu religious tradition, ending caste and gender distinctions based on the purana shastras, and opening Vedic/Agamic instruction to all already subscribe to the Navya Shastric ideals, whether they are members of Navya Shastra or not. People who subscribe to the Navya Shastric ideals may belong to any Hindu sectarian or religious tradition, may be Hindu by birth or conversion, or anyone who is a friend of Sanatana Dharma and supports the idea of a genuine Hindu renaissance. Navya Shastra fully appreciates and respects other Hindu organizations, which are working toward the same goal of ending casteism in Hinduism, but we do not believe in founding new sects to propagate our ideals.

The goal of Navya Shastra is not to form a new sect, but to reform Hinduism without further splintering it. Furthermore, Navya Shastra hopes that through our efforts all Hindus will be transformed in their hearts and minds. Formation of a new sect will not bring such change to all Hindus, but to a select few who subscribe to the sectarian definitions. Navya Shastra, therefore, opts not to become an independent sect since such an endeavor would serve only to narrow the definition of Hinduism for some and leave the rest of Hinduism unaffected. We are sincere in our belief that the impending reform in Sanatana Dharma should have lasting impressions, much like the bhakti movement of the last millennium.

Instead of founding a new sect, it is far more important for Navya Shastra to identify charismatic Hindu religious leaders who are able to lead the reform movement by setting an example of the new structures and practices for other leaders to follow. There is nothing within Sanatana Dharma that discourages new thought and reform. If one is to critically examine Sanatana Dharma, one will find that it has undergone a continuous series of changes to contextualize the framework for a given time and place. Despite all the changes, the perennial truths of Sanatana Dharma (the core beliefs) have remained unchanged. At this time, the change that is necessary is one that will reform all of Hinduism and forming independent sects will not be able to accomplish this goal.

DIDN'T THE ARYA SAMAJ ALREADY ADDRESS THESE ISSUES?

The Arya Samaj was founded by Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati in the mid-nineteenth century and has since made significant contributions to reform Hindu society. Among other things, it has uplifted many communities and given them equal rights to the Vedas. Also, the Arya Samaj has actively promoted a shuddhi ceremony to allow anyone to enter into the Hindu fold. Many of the issues that Navya Shastra addresses were also addressed by the Arya Samaj in the past. However, since the Arya Samaj's influence over Hindu society, in general, is small in comparison to other orthodox Hindu organizations, a large majority of Hindu society has remained unchanged. At present, only a small section of Hindus, particularly in Northwest India, belong to the Arya Samaj. Moreover, since the Arya Samaj is an organization that exclusively promotes Vedic Hinduism, it has become more of a sect of Hinduism than a Hindu reform movement. Another factor that has further marginalized the Arya Samaj is the fact it does not subscribe to the traditional Hindu practice of image worship or popular Hinduism based on the Agamas, Puranas and Itihasas. Therefore, among many Sanatani Hindus the Arya Samaj is considered to be a "protestant" form of Hinduism. Many traditionalists and orthodox Hindus, even today, do not accept the Arya Samaj. Hence, its influence on Hindu society has not been considerable.

Part of Navya Shastra's overall goal is to be able to maintain the sects of Hinduism as they are, while changing the hierarchical and casteist attitudes toward initiation and Vedic/Agamic study in orthodox Hindu organizations. Although we fully support Arya Samaj's efforts, we believe a generalized Hindu movement is necessary to bring genuine reform to all Hindu sects to change their social and shastric outlooks, without changing the theistic elements of any sect. It must be emphasized that Navya Shastra draws inspiration from all reform and neo-Hindu organizations, including the Arya Samaj, that have successfully eliminated purana shastric attitudes toward ritual purity based on birth or gender, and we hope to be able to work with them in the future.

AREN'T THE VEDAS ALREADY AVAILABLE TO ALL?

Today, we are quite fortunate to be living in the information age. All scriptures of Hinduism including the Vedas are available to all who wish to read them. Navya Shastra is well aware that Vedas are readily available in bookstores, on the internet and are available through a variety of Hindu organizations such as the Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, Chinmaya Mission and Sivananda Ashram. The question, however, is not the availability of the Vedas. Rather, the point is that orthodox Hindu organizations are still holding on to the purana shastric notion that Vedic education should be available only to certain sections of Hindu society, which we believe is wrong morally and dharmically. There is a big difference between the availability of the Vedas for reading to anyone from the general Hindu public being eligible to receive the Vedas in a sacrament. Navya Shastra believes that all Hindu scriptures, Vedic or otherwise should be available to every Hindu, through traditional "old school" Hindu institutions, which Navya Shastra hopes to change by means of respectful dialog and gentle persuasion.

WHAT HAS NAVYA SHASTRA ACCOMPLISHED SO FAR

2003

2004