Today’s word ‘dynamic syncretism’ is a tendency in Hindu belief. It is not a principle of the religion or even something that happens consciously among its adherents. ‘Syncretism’ is the process by which elements of one religion are assimilated into another. The reason that ‘dynamic’ is added to the term when discussing Hinduism is that unlike other syncretic religions: Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam which have each borrowed from no more than two religions directly, Hinduism has assimilated principles from many different systems of belief.
Hinduism is a polytheistic religion. That is they allow for the belief and worship of many gods. Hindu philosophy, however, is far more complex. Many Hindus adhere to a belief that “truth is one, its paths are many” allowing them to easily adapt or adopt various cults¹ into their own personal practice which over generations are adopted into common practice. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says to one of his disciples, “All paths, Arjuna, lead to me” (4.11).
Today there is a divide between the Hindu laity and their yogis in regards to the meaning of these verses from the sacred books. The yogis argue that those verses only apply to the cults of the various hindu deities (rik) in relation to the Brahman. The laity, on the other hand, hold that these verses put all religions on the same par – that all religions are the same – many paths, one truth. Whatever the case may be, the way it plays out in the real world is that Hinduism is very tolerant and accepting of different systems of belief and this makes it apt to dynamically syncretize – adapt to new cultures. Anyone who has read or watched Life of Pi will be well acquainted with this behavior.
¹Cult as used in this blog is not to be confused with the occult, but by its standard definition – the worship of a given deity in the context of a particular culture.
²The image of Hindu Jesus is not meant to offend. It is there merely to demonstrate syncretic behavior and cult.