Dharma is NOT the same as paganism

April 2014

In this post Rajiv explains how there is a common fallacy among people to equate Dharma with paganism and how it's very dangerous to do this since it becomes a step towards digestion into Western Universalism through first, digestion into paganism. A related topic where the holy spirit is equated to Shakti or Kundalini and how that is a complete misrepresentation can be read here.

Rajiv deals with fundamental differences between Dharma and Western Universalism in his seminal work Being Different. The book site can be accessed here and to join the discussion exclusively on the ideas contained in Being Different, please join this group.

A conversation with a fellow traveller on a flight to Delhi prompted Rajiv to clarify things through this post. He says:

The 10-hour brainstorm with someone sitting next to me in the flight to Delhi was interesting. This was a well-informed individual, yet not closed minded or fixated. So I became interested in explaining many things that he was keen on understanding. It became clear to me that too many Indian postcolonialists as well as Hindu thinkers are mixed up on the relationship between dharma and paganism.
Just because two entities each differ from something X, it does not follow that both entities are the same
​. An orange and mango each differ from a banana but it does not mean that mango = orange. This is the simple error with huge consequences that many thinkers make when they assume that since paganism and dharma each share the following characteristics of difference with christianity:
  1. They got colonized and harmed by Christianity
  2. They differ from christianity because they allow pluralism of deities, no central institutional authority
  3. They differ from christianity because they did not seek to expand through evangelism.etc
  4. They differ from christianity because they did not limit God to male form.
  5. etc.
That therefore dharma = paganism.
This is devastating for dharma as it has the effect of digesting dharma into paganism.
Indeed many western digesters make the argument that same/similar ideas to dharma already existed in the Greco-Roman pre-christian faiths. This trick makes them digest dharma into the pre-Christian phase of Europe, which got later superseded by Christianity. So whatever dharma teaches them can be repackaged as part of early Europe before christianity.
In other words, many good cop western scholars equate dharma = pre-Christian Greco-Roman paganism and praise it profusely. Hindus foolishly celebrate this and thank them with rewards.
A good example of this error by a Hindu thinker is made by S.N. Balagangadhara, a  postcolonialist, whose main research has been on how "religio" (traditions of Greco-Roman pagans) got digested into "religion" (Christianity), and the former got wiped out. So far so good. (This is well known to historians of Christianity anyway.)
But the blunder comes when he assumes dharma =  paganism without even bothering to argue this. It is unconsciously applied. The result is that his decolonizing thesis is from a pagan perspective and not a dharma one. (All postcolonialists are not the same as they argue against western colonialism from different vantage points; for instance there are many Muslim postcolonialsits, Marxist postcolonialists, etc.)
He does not establish a dharma-specific framework, one that differs from both paganism and christianity.
Some key ingredients of dharma not found in paganism or at least not as developed in an integral manner are:
  1. Rishis: The notion that rishis achieved the unity consciousness potential available to all of us and this was the empirical method of attaining ultimate knowledge. There are no pagan rishis in this proper sense, not just the term but the meaning.
  2. Yoga: 1 is the result of a lack of yoga as systematic technologies for humans to attain higher states of consciousness.
  3. Tantra: In paganism there is a lack of cohesive, comprehensive techniques married to theories of antah-karan/adhyatma-vidya, etc
Paganism never had a fully worked out metaphysics with the sweeping scope of dharma. In fact dharma has several such systems each far more sophisticated than anything paganism offers.
What is common among all "native faiths" including paganism, dharma, etc. needs to be celebrated; and there are important alliances needed to contain Christian and Islamic expansionism.
But be clear on whats different in dharma, what I have called non-negotiable. Do not slip into becoming digested into paganism. That is just another stomach leading to Western Universalism - in BD I point out the unresolved inner schisms in WU and hence why it is synthetic


  1. I would add Bhasha/Vyaakaran to this list. Our core platform languages, Sanskrit & Tamil, very similar in nature, have a core linguistic architecture that lets us experience the Anubhava of mental constructs. not just abstract entities in the head.

  2. Anubhavam (Tamil) = experience
    Anu bhavam ~~ subtle creation
    Advaita is deeply encoded!