Gavin Flood

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:

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If we take secrecy to mean the restriction of information to particular groups of people or individuals that excludes other groups or individuals, then secrecy has always been a part of Hindu traditions both in the sense that certain doctrines, texts, experiences, and practices are restricted to those who are deemed to have the necessary qualification (adhikāra) and in the sense that a higher realization or enlightenment is a secret for those who have not achieved that state. The history of Hinduism can be seen in terms of secrecy understood as the restriction of information, practice, and institution to particular groups of people. In the history of Hinduism we can identify three broad kinds of secrecy: secrecy as social restriction; secrecy as soteriological restriction; and secrecy as metaphysical concealing. Secrecy as social restriction means that the traditions, cultural knowledge, and oral and written texts are restricted to certain social groups, a restriction that is also linked to power. That certain kinds of knowledge or cultural forms are secret gives power to those who have that knowledge. For example, Brahmanical initiation at which a boy is given a sacred thread that he wears over his shoulder, thereby becoming one of the “twice born” (dvija), is secret in the sense that it is restricted to males of the top three classes (varṇa). This idea of social restriction and exclusion is common in Hinduism, although conversely there have been movements from time to time, devotional or bhakti traditions, that have denied and rejected the idea of social hierarchy claiming that the truth of God that gives salvation is available to all. Secrecy as soteriological restriction refers to traditions of esoteric teachings that form a graded hierarchy, with the most spiritually developed having access to higher echelons. Saiva levels of initiation would be a good example of this. This is also linked into cosmology in the sense that in many traditions, particularly tantric traditions, spiritual development is thought to be a rising through the levels of the cosmos to the state or place of liberation located at the top of this hierarchy. Secrecy as metaphysical concealing is the idea that liberation is a secret only in the sense that restricted perception or ignorance prevents humans from realizing its truth. Lift the veil of ignorance, and liberation is the secret open to all. In all of these meanings of secrecy, hierarchy is central.

Article.  6104 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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