Hinduism is the culmination of the cultural evolution of mankind. As a universal movement, it has always tried to unite the people of the world into one international family, believing as it does in the dictum, ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ – ‘The whole world is one family’ propounded in Vedas and Upanishads.
Hinduism stands for unity in diversity. It also stands for the co-existence and peaceful evolution of all religious, political, social and economic systems of the world, because it is the mother of all religions and cultures. Hinduism never tried to spread hatred towards any religion. Its philosophy of ‘Sarva dharma samabhava’ (Equal respect for all religions) alone can hold together a great country like India as well as the world with its diverse faiths and customs. It should be noted that unlike Europe, India remained one nation in spite of different languages, way of life and faiths. Hinduism teaches that all Gods are one; they differ only in name. Hence Hindus have never insulted other religions in any manner whatsoever. The search of those who really want to believe in any almighty, all-pervading and universal religion ends when they discover Hinduism.
One of the guiding principles of Hinduism is improving the lot of the human society. The Sanskrit word ‘Dharma’ means that which sustains human society. Hence Hindu Dharma embraces all the factors responsible for human welfare and growth.
HINDUISM : SYNONYMOUS WITH HUMANISM
If Hinduism has a defining message, it is humanism. There is space in its philosophy for every one, which is one reason why India is a home to every single religion in the world. Anyone who has been persecuted anywhere else, whether Parsee in Muslim Iran or Jew in Christian Europe, has found an undisturbed haven in India. The attitude of Hinduism to other faiths continued to be liberal. Hinduism is synonymous with humanism. That is its essence and its great liberating quality.
ESSENCE OF HINDUISM
The core of Hindu thoughts and practices has an underlying message for all – unity in diversity of man, nature and his beliefs. Besides Hinduism itself recognises that change and dynamism are parts of life and of cosmic reality. Hindu thought recognises the universe as continuously changing. One dynamic equilibrium is continuously giving way to another dynamic equilibrium. It has been rightly observed by Sir Monier Williams : “Hindus were Spinozates 2000 years before the existence of Spinoza, Darwinians many centuries before Darwin and Evolutionists before the doctrine of Evolution had been accepted by the scientists of our times”.
It is time we restored the long lost dynamic equilibrium of Hinduism, reform it in the light of new insights, perceptions, knowledge, a new sharpening of the mind’s eye and use it to carve out a new way of life, and a new design of politics and economics. One of the strongest thrusts of a reformed Hinduism would be to arouse awareness about the need for a reasoned faith. Most Hindu myths and rituals, parables and legends have deep meaning. Their inner rationality must be explored and laid bare. A reasoned faith takes man to higher stages of spirituality.
In its highest and purest form Hinduism means belief in the cosmic spirit that pervades every part of life. As the Atharve Veda says: “He is Aryama; He is Varuna; He is Rudra; He is Great God; He is Agni; He is Surya; He is great Yama”. The cognition here is of divine existence and not of a particular divine individual. This “He”, this spirit, this divinity, is within every man. He has only to awaken his mind and search for it within. The more his mind is awakened, the greater is the realisation of divinity and the nearer he is to the Ultimate Reality. It is only through continuous awakening of the mind, that a true vision of reality can be attained. And one can do this without following any rigid creed or fixed path.
A reformed Hinduism could provide spiritual underpinning to our national objectives and bridge the gap between what is said and what is done in public life. It could become a silent but potent force for the successful implementation of many of our important schemes and programmes. Take, for instance, the goal of preservation of our environment. No single factor can arouse as much public awareness in this regard as the Hindu value of living in harmony with nature. “The earth is our Mother, we are its children”, - say the scriptures. If the sacred values of treating the earth as Mother are fully imbibed by the nation, a strong national commitment would emerge, which would be the best guarantee for our material and spiritual success.
The concept of patriotism - the grand vision of motherland and the glorious ideal of spiritual nationalism of the Vedic Aryans is elaborately expounded in 63 shlokas of Bhoomisukta of Atharva Veda. The Rishi says, "Mata Bhoomih Putro Aham Prithviyaah" (this land is my mother and I am her child). According to the Rishis, India is not merely the land of birth. She is the Punya Bhoomi, Karma Bhoomi, Dharma Bhoomi, Moksha Bhoomi and Pitru Bhoomi.
The concept of one nation called Bharatvarsha is very old.
The concept of one nation called Bharatvarsha is very old.
“Uttaram yat samudrasya himatres chiva dakshinamvarsham tat bhartam nama bharati yatra santati” (Vishnu Purana)(The country north of samudra and south of Himalayas is called Bharatam her people are called Bharateeya)
The Mahabharat also contains very patriotic reference to the country, "Bharat is the greatest land on the earth and it alone is the land of noble actions while the rest are lands of pleasure".
THE HINDU WAY OF LIFE
The three fundamental principles that govern the behaviour of a Hindu are: -
Fearlessness (Abhay) - This is derived from the concept of Oneness of the Reality. Fear is of another; but when there is no other, fear cannot exist. Therefore all activity should follow the Truth without any distraction caused either by persons or circumstances.
Detachment (Asanga) - This implies continuous analysis of that which is transitory in the world and to keep oneself detached from it. This does not mean running away from life. One should live in the world but let one do so as a lotus flower, which is born in water, subsists in water, but lives above it.
Non-injury (Ahimsa) - This is not to be taken in the physical sense. It means that one's actions should not cause emotional distress to another.
The three directions in which a Hindu should canalise his work: -
Sacrifice (Yagna) - This is continuous effort in life to sacrifice the negativity of the mind and substitute it with positive values.
Charity (Dana) - This is not giving of alms. It is the act of creating the plenty from which others can partake.
Austerity (Tapas) - This is persistent effort to sublimate the physical senses in order to eliminate the animal in man.
While acting in this manner, it must be remembered that the approach to life should be intelligent. It is because of the intellect that man is a rational being, and this faculty must be continuously exercised in our worldly activity as well as for subjective advancement. Intellect should be trained to respond promptly to the impulses received by it from outside. It should develop the faculty of "decision-taking" and to that extent accept responsibility for its judgement and consequent direction to the physical body to act in a particular manner. This is what "Karma-Yoga" is. It is a dynamic approach to life, where man is producing his own destiny for "as he sows, so shall he reap."
In order to get the maximum efficiency, intellect should be maintained in a state of equanimity. Nothing could disturb this condition more than the incidence of the individual ego. Therefore the advice is to surrender the ego at the feet of the Lord. Refrain from association with the reaction of any action, and consider every act as an act of prayer. Keep tuned to the "Source of Energy".
So as to be able to live in the aforesaid manner, the physical form also needs appropriate care. "A sound mind in a healthy body" and therefore it is necessary to regulate the food, exercise, work and leisure habits of each person, by himself, to suit the needs of his body. This is the way to eliminate misery and lead a full and happy life.
The first verse of Isavasya Upanishad embodies the essence of Hinduism. It says:
"All this, whatsoever moves in this universe including the universe, itself moving, is indwelt or pervaded or enveloped or globed by the Lord. That (the multiplicity of names, forms, composition and activity) renounced, thou shouldest enjoy. Covet not anybody's wealth (worldly possessions)."
It is the achievement of this stage of worldly existence that leads to Collective Consciousness, wherein you are one with the entire cosmic energy that is manifesting itself in different worldly forms - in their totality named Creation. This is Hinduism - not only a view but a positive way of life that experiences the entire creation as the projection of the same and the one Unmanifest Creator.
In this context, Hinduism views all religions to be uniform in their approach to the Unmanifest. The differences in ritualism are inconsequential. All methods of prayer are good and lead to the same junction from where the common path of identification with the Creative Energy begins.
HINDUISM: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO PERCEPTIVE SCHOLARS?
Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world and although many western thinkers have defined and interpreted it in a narrow way for decades, it is rather the religion of the people of India. ‘Hindu’ word might have meant at one time as people belonging to the Indus but in effect covered all those who were born in India and shared its values. Not long ago in the last century even Karl Marx and other scholars were also fond of referring to Indian population in general as ‘Hindoos of India’.
Hinduism has always been regarded in the western eyes as comprehensive and enormously complex. It emphasises ‘the right way to live’ and it certainly emphasised a life style and not merely a faith meant for after-life. It never had any rigid commandments on its adherents and that was its beauty. That is why it could spread over half of the globe thousands of years back. Largely embracing vegetarianism but still there has not been any stigma to non-vegetarianism. It believes as much in asceticism as in the finer aspects of enjoyment expressed in various forms of art. Its cults express themselves in all the richness of external observance and the devotion of internal meditation, in the simplest beliefs and at the same time obtuse reasoning of philosophers. The greatness of Hinduism has been in the fact that it is not in any real sense a missionary religion, yet it could spread far and wide. Even today other semitic religions perceive it as a threat as in its wider spectrum of beliefs it could be world religion in the future decades again.
Gunther Dietz Sontheimer, an Indologist and scholar of Hindu jurisprudence has identified and interpreted Hindu civilisation focusing on living folk cultures and traditions. His views are relevant for academic import.
In Hinduism: The Five Components and their Interaction, Sontheimer’s approach to Hinduism is not to work out another monolithic conceptualisation, like many scholars, but to first distinguish the different layers, forms, strands, currents or ‘components’ and treat them each in their own right and then to view them not as watertight compartments but rather as interacting with each other in a fluctuating process over thousands of years. Sontheimer’s five elements are : the work and teachings of the Brahmans; asceticism and renunciation; tribal religion; folk religion and bhakti. In Sontheimer’s view, the history of Hinduism is the history of a dynamic interaction among the five components identified by him and “the work and teaching of the Brahmans” is just one of them.
Hinduism is a human phenomenon of immense magnitude and is overpowering not only by reason of that, but also owing to its bewildering variety. Despite its all-too-obvious inconsistencies particularly for a lay westerner, Hinduism is one whole. A summary presentation of all its characteristic features is bound to throw the apparent inconsistencies of Hinduism into higher relief. This is, therefore, a religion which has to be met on its own terms.
The worldly orientation of entire religious life of Hindus can be seen in its manifold expressions. Hindu gods could give to their worshippers what the world contained. Help from religion was sought for all purposes, moral and what appears often as questionable. Religion and morality ran along parallel courses.
The worldly character of Hinduism, its liberated spirit in earlier times is often not stressed. Hinduism differs fundamentally from Christianity in this, that for its followers it is not an alternative to the world, but primarily the means of supporting and improving their existence in it.
Apart from being a matter of detached intellectual interest, it remains a great issue for mankind. Though many other faiths are in shambles in the contemporary world, Hinduism, with all its craggy outward manifestations, leads to better understanding of religious urge in the man, which is innate.
As in all other religions, in Hinduism also there is belief in another world and in all the supra-mundane things which form the staple of every religious system. Moksha is a mere talking point verbiage. Salvation is never the object of the religious observances and worship of the Hindus. The main object is worldly prosperity and this absorption in the world has made the doctrine of rebirth in it the most appealing and strongly held belief among all the notions put forward by them about existence after death. They so loved the world that they made the possibility of leaving it for good even after many cycles of birth as remote and difficult as possible.
Albert Schweitzer had the insight to perceive this and said that Hinduism was not a religion of world negation. Actually the religion is for the world and there is no unworldliness in it. At the same time, the world is also for religion and the two cannot be separated. Therefore, in Hindu society every worldly activity is under the control of religion and everything religious is involved in the world.
The inseparability of the secular from the religious is clear in Hinduism. To the Hindu, his whole life is religion. To other peoples, their relations to God and to the spiritual world are things sharply distinguished from their relations to man and to the corporal world. For a Hindu the religion, not confined to commandments, becomes a way of life. To him, his spiritual and temporal life form are compact and harmonious whole and religion never received a name from Him because it never had for him an existence apart from all that had received a name. Nirad Chaudhary, in his inimitable style once commented that a new Hindu intellectual could hoist European rationalism with its own petard. Hindu worldliness is also really religious.
Nirad Chaudhary always maintained that Hinduism has been a victim of both moral and intellectual dishonesty. On the one hand, there have been people who have gone to Hinduism for certain motives, but have never had the courage to avow them. They have camouflaged their motives in rigmarole. This is specially true of the present age. On the other hand, there have been others who have suppressed these very aspects, always refusing to take them for what they are. Both groups have offered explanations for them which, if they are not due to ignorance, can only be set down to hypocrisy.
Ascetics with contempt for worldliness created an impression of greatness by behaviour which was abnormal. The fact is that the more rational a set of men are, the more ready are they to succumb to an assertive irrationality.
The profoundest part of Hinduism is an esoteric religious experience. Hinduism is as peculiar in the emotions it evokes or satisfies as it is in its beliefs and rites.
Some Hindu writers have almost catered to western expectations and demands while writing about Hinduism. Thus one ladles out Vedanta to the intellectually debilitated, another Yoga to the physically degenerate and a third Tantra to the erotic maniac who has not the courage of his lechery. So there is a good deal of deliberate misrepresentation of Hinduism.
The contemporary sensuality in the whole of the west is seeking vicarious satisfaction in the erotic aspect of Hinduism. This is the reason why this aspect is greatly distorted.