Why tradition ?

A Hindu devotee bathes in the River Ganges.Religious tradition has often been a negative factor in the world. It sets up various authorities and conditioning patterns that stifle individual intelligence and creativity. It establishes vested interests who war with one other to control the minds of people. It appears that we would be better off without it. However, if we look deeply, we see that such criticisms do not apply to tradition itself, which is continuity in a field of knowledge, but to authoritarianism, which is not even beneficial for maintaining a living tradition.

It is not possible to avoid tradition. We must develop teachings that grow and continue with time. This development through time itself becomes tradition. As soon as a teaching endures beyond the lifetime of a teacher it becomes a tradition. Or as soon as it expands beyond the teachings of one person, it becomes a tradition. One person in isolation cannot accomplish much in any field.

Without a tradition of science to work from, what can one person do in the name of science, for example? Just as we need continuity, which is tradition, in other branches of learning, so we must have it in the spiritual realm. Otherwise each person is compelled to start from the beginning.

Culture and intelligence are collectively developed phenomena. They are the product of many people working together over a long period of time. Tradition is important in all that we do. Language, for example, cannot be developed by one person alone. It is part of a great collective effort. A comprehensive and open spiritual tradition is the need of our times. Tradition provides a guideline of experience to help us grow.

Yet a religious or spiritual tradition must be kept open and alive and not become rigid or authoritarian. For this it must base itself not on fixed forms but on living spiritual experience. Tradition should be a field of resources for all to benefit from, not a set of dogmas no one is allowed to question.

Taken from ‘Hinduism: The Eternal Tradition’ by David Frawley


  1. thenoveilst says:

    I am a practitioner of Vedic tradition as you can see from my blog page, but there is no where in Sanskrit of the Vedas, a word called Hindu or Hinduism. It was a term coined by India’s conquerors. Namaste 🙂

  2. Namaste. Technically, what you say is not correct, as the word Hindu to denote inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent existed with people of other countries or civilisations (such as Persia) before the “conquerors” you speak of came to India. Note – “India” equally is a foreign name, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have validity or isn’t an appropriate word to use. As far as “Hindu” or “Hinduism” are concerned, they became terms used to denote practitioners of “religions” or “paths” or “cultures” of the subcontinent, which for all their diversity, do contain a certain character and continuity which is captured by the word Hindu. As far as whether it would be better to use words like “Vedic tradition” or “Sanatana dharma”, it is a worthwhile discussion – but points can be made that Vedic tradition is only one (however important) of the traditions which have enriched the body of knowledge that makes up Hinduism. For example, the Puranas, Tantras, Itihasas and Tantras are not all Vedic, and some may have non-Vedic elements. but they do have certain continuity with Vedic tradition. To me it seems that only Hindu and Hinduism can encapsulate the vastness of experience which makes up this tradition. I except your right to an alternative opinion, and wish you the very best.in all your endeavours. Aum.

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