Monday, April 23, 2007

Hinduism as Peer Production

We have many discussions within Bootstrap about Peer Production and Open Source. In fact, our upcoming Web subgroup meeting is focused on just this topic.

The wiki definition of commons-based peer production says that it is "new." On a recent trip to DC and a visit to the Freer Gallery, I was struck by the realization that Hinduism (unlike most other religions), adopted a peer production/open source approach, thus making it one of oldest examples of the concept.

How does it work this way? Under Hinduism, only a few basic core concepts are articulated, particularly around the form and nature of God (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva as Creator/Preserver/Destroyer), with some core texts such as the Upanishad and Bhagavad Gita. Beyond this, however, adherents are allowed to create and worship any particular manifestations of God that they like. One therefore finds hundreds of gods that are worshipped and venerated all across India, various mythological stories and a wide variety of practices and traditions. Particular temples are dedicated to a specific god and, in effect, adopt a similar structure to many open source organizations that monetize their work by charging for entrance fees, special offerings, etc. Anyone can become a "guru" espousing their particular method or approach simply by declaring themselves as such. The marketplace of adherents determines their validity. Even with regard to the texts, there is no notion that these are "official" in any capacity. Adherents are free to subscribe to any set of mythologies, gods, traditions, gurus, etc, that they deem fit. A Hindu is one simply by virtue of self declaration.

There are also analogies to the the Starfish/Spider concept in that there is no central authority in Hinduism and everyone is free to create and worship whatever aspect they choose. This also in part, explains why Buddhism, though "invented" in India, never took root there. Hindus simply acknowledged it as an aspect of the larger "open source Hindu" concept.

Interestingly, in its early days, Christianity also operated under similar guidelines, with a plethora of gospels all with unique interpretations of Jesus' teachings. It was only 300 years later that it moved away from a peer-production model when Constantine formalized and adopted Christianity as the state religion of Rome. In contrast with Hinduism, subsequent contentions about core ideology resulted violent suppression and subsequent splits from the central church.

What allowed Hinduism to resist the urge towards centralizion and control? Perhaps one reason was the lack of a founder, which alleviates issues of succession that other movements had; and more importantly, no conflicts over what the founder said and meant by his words. Furthermore, there is an intrinsic allowance and encouragement of individual interpretations (to fork the code, as it were). Hindu scholars will no doubt, be able to enlighten us on these topics.

All of these discussions are relevant to all peer production and open source movements including the Bootstrap Network.

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