This readable outline of Hinduism, Achuthananda’s debut, touches on the basics of the religion.
Hinduism’s dizzying array of mythologies means a steep learning curve for those new to the religion. With this short overview, Achuthananda attempts to provide a shortcut for readers, offering just enough detail and enticing context to lure readers into seeking out more in-depth works. The book begins with a discussion of the religion’s cultural context, touching historical traditions that played a part in the birth of Hinduism and in its later development, including informative sections on topics such as Zoroastrianism and Indian languages. From there, Achuthananda covers basic concepts of Hinduism, paying special attention to textual traditions, popular gods and cosmogony. Throughout this section, Achuthananda describes many traditions within Hinduism, rarely collapsing the plurality of beliefs into a single model. Additionally, for ideas such as Swarka and Naraka, Achuthananda provides analogues through which practitioners of Western religions might more easily comprehend the concepts; for example, he compares these two to heaven and hell, respectively, while clarifying differences in Hinduism’s characterizations. In a strange contrast to the title, Achuthananda only addresses a few of the Hindu gods and often asserts that the religion is a kind of monotheism. Readers expecting a long list of these many, many gods will only find brief mentions of a fraction here. Occasionally, the tone borders on condescension: Achuthananda claims to have written the book for a world “too busy to learn the lessons of life,” and briefly at the end of the “Controversies” section, his tone swerves into negativity in his disagreements with Wendy Doniger’s ideas about Hinduism. His titling a chapter on Doniger “Holy Queen of Sleaze” feels tasteless in a work that, up to that point, had been highly impartial and fair. Otherwise, Achuthananda’s explanations are helpful without oversimplifying or removing his emotional connection to the ideas, which may spur curious readers on to further study.
Aside from occasional lapses in tone, a positive and edifying introduction to Hinduism that teems with basic facts and love for the faith.