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Hinduism

by T.N. Dhar ‘Kundan’

The nomenclature ‘Hinduism’ is a misnomer because there is no religion as Hindu religion. Since, however, people who have visited India or read about it call our faith as Hinduism, we are obliged to use this term. It appears that when the foreign travelers, tradesmen and invaders came to India they reached the shores of the mighty Indus called by us ‘Sindhu’. They called us by this name, which corrupted from Sindhu to Hindu and they called our faith and religious practices as Hinduism.  The correct nomenclature for our faith is ‘Sanatana Dharma’ or the set of beliefs that are eternal in character. The foundation of our faith is the Vedas, which we call ‘Apaurusheya’ or the doctrine not formulated by any human being. This is obvious because every principle, every doctrine, every canon and every law emanates from the Divine. These laws are perceived by enlightened people referred to as ‘Rishis’ or sages, who were both men and women.

These laws were revealed to these sages from time to time, mostly in the form of ‘Mantras’. It is because of this that the sages were called ‘Matra-drashta’ or seers of these laws and canons. A stage came, when it was found necessary to arrange these laws in a proper order and compile them on the basis of their purport. This job was done by a sage who came to be known as Vyasa or the one who arranged these revelations in an order. He put them in three volumes and named them as ‘Rig Veda Samhita’, ‘Yajur Veda Samhita’ and ‘Sama Veda samhita’. The three together are called ‘Veda Trayi’. Another sage by the name ‘Atharvana’ compiled the canons and principles relating to the mundane aspect of human life and this became the fourth Veda named as ‘Atharva Veda’.

Now what is this religion (if we may call it so) all about? Since it is without a beginning and without an end, it has evolved over many millennia. Naturally, therefore, it comprises many view-points, many shades of opinions and a variety of prescriptions of ways and means to attain the Supreme Truth. Even so there are certain fundamental principles of this faith and some interesting features, which are noteworthy. It is not confined to one revealed or holy book. There is no human being who may be said to have originated this faith. It respects all opinions and holds them as valid and relevant. It does not consider one path of seeking the truth as superior to another nor does it consider only one way as correct and the rest as false. It believes in only one God but worships Him in different forms and with different names.

There are four important routes to attain the Supreme. The first is through knowledge or ‘Jnana-marga’. When we take this route we have to acquire knowledge of the self and everything around us, determine the relationship between the two and thereby attain the Supreme Truth, which some identify as God realization. The second route is through action or ‘Karma-marga’. While taking this route a seeker has to execute all his actions and deeds with a detached mind, without an eye on the fruits. The seeker has not to get attached and has not to worry about the fruit of the actions. He has to have a balanced attitude to success and failure, gain and loss, pleasure and grief and other opposites. This attitude leaves him unscathed like a lotus in a pond and helps him reach the pinnacle of spirituality. The third route is perhaps the most popular route of all, that of devotion or ‘Bhakti-marga’. Here the devotee is madly in love with his deity and, therefore, surrenders unto him completely. He leaves the boat of his life in his charge and has no worries. The Almighty according to His own promise, takes care of such seekers, He provides them with what they do not possess and also protects all that they do possess. The fourth route is more sophisticated, complex and consequently practiced by a chosen few. It is called ‘Raja- Yoga’. This route involves contemplation of the highest order that leads to God realization or Self realization, depending on whichever way one looks at it. For, ultimately the seeker and the sought do get merged into one and the principle of non-dualism is experienced. 

This religion is vast and varied. The Divine is viewed, perceived and worshipped in different forms as also formless, ‘Saakaara/Niraakaara’, with attributes and without attributes, ‘Saguna/Nirguna’ and in absolute form as Shiva as also His Energy aspect as Shakti. Different aspects of the Divine are conceived as different deities and worshipped as such in different forms and propitiated for the grant of different boons. Saraswati is worshipped as goddess of knowledge. Laxmi is regarded as the goddess of wealth. Kali is the goddess of eternal time. Brahma is regarded as the creator, Vishnu as sustainer and Rudra as the destroyer. They are not different gods but different aspects of the one and only Supreme Divine. Those who consider Him as formless perceive Him in a variety of ways, as Truth, Universal Consciousness, Infinite Existence, boundless Bliss or dazzling Beauty and the like. Those who see Him with form give Him a form of their liking and then worship Him and his ‘Murti’. They sometimes put a bow and arrow in His hands, sometimes a mighty mace or a trident and some other times a loving flute.

Apart from the basic beliefs in one God, virtue and righteousness, purity and piety a Hindu believes in spirituality, transmigration of soul and detached actions. Transmigration of soul and rebirth is universally accepted except by the religions that have emanated from the Middle-east. Even philosophers like Pythagorus (whose name incidentally means ‘a person who knows his previous birth) have conceded that there is this phenomenon in this world wherein a soul is embodied time and again. The other important tenet of Hindus is their belief in ‘Karma’ or action. They believe that the actions of the previous births shape our destiny in this birth but one can reshape one’s destiny for good or for bad by the actions of the present birth. And it is further believed that detached actions can liberate a person and he will attain emancipation.     

Hindus believe in one God but multiple ways to reach Him. The seekers are likened to small rivulets and God to an ocean. These rivulets take different routes, straight or zigzag but ultimately find their way to the mighty ocean. Likewise the seekers adopt different routes, indirect or direct according to their respective tastes, but attain the same Divine, who pervades everything in this universe. So far as Hindu’s relationship to other human beings and other species is concerned, they believe the whole universe to be one family, ‘Vasudaiva kutumbakam’. This is further clear by their daily prayers like, ‘Sarve Bhavantu sukhinah – Let everyone be happy’, ‘Ma vidvishavahaiy – Let us not hate anyone’, ‘Tan-me manah shiva sankalpam-astu – Let my mind be full of noble resolve’ and ‘Yatra vishvam bhavati eka needam – The whole world should become a nest to give shelter equally to everyone’.

Truth, righteousness and respect for elders are the corner stone of this religion so far as the mundane aspect is concerned. It is clear from these vows taken by a student at the time of the convocation called ‘Dikshanta samaroha’ or celebrations at the culmination of the studies. ‘Satyam vada’, ‘Dharmam chara’, Matri devo bhava’, ‘Pitri devo bhava’, ‘aacharya devo bhava’ and ‘Atithi devo bhava’ meaning, ‘Speak the truth’, ‘Be righteous and do your duty’ and ‘treat your mother, father, teacher and the guests with reverence.’ There is thus no coercion and no conversion in this religion. It is believed that apart from humans and animal world even the vegetable world has life. This religion is all embracing and believes in plurality. No wonder Hindus include all shades of thinking, materialists (Chaarvaaks), atheists (Jains), agnostics (Buddhists), Shaivaites (worshipping Siva), Vaishnavaites (worshipping Vishnu and His incarnations), dualists, non-dualists and qualified monists, et al.

 

T. N. Dhar Kundan's Articles

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