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Chapter One

INTRODUCTION TO HINDUISM


 

One of the basic problems in discussing Hinduism is that no body knows what it is.  It is different for each person.  It is not a unified system but a collection of systems, which are so different that most of them contradict the other at one level or other.

All systems of Hindu philosophy are based on the experiences of sages of ancient India – my forefathers. Since each had different experiences, each developed a different system. Because of this it is difficult to discuss Hinduism coherently until we define what we mean by the term. For this reason it is easy for the Hindu to slip away from the evil that is hidden within by saying that it is not part of Hinduism as he practice. Dissociating anything that is opposed by the critic, one can distill the religion and isolate an idealistic part. At the same time it can permit and assist errors and evil when it profit the person. Everything can be explained away.  Anything can be justified under Hinduism.  It is anything and everything one wants it to be.

Hence we are going to look at Hinduism at varying levels.

At the intellectual level it is only a philosophy.
It is entirely based on intellectual enquiry and not based on God experience.

On the mystic level - on the other hand - it is based only on subjective spiritual and mystical experience of people.

On the practical level Hinduism is totally different. It is not based on any historically verifiable revelation of God. Thus objective verification of claims is out of place. On the practical level it can be anything from black magic, witchcraft to erotic orgy on one side, to bhakthi and submission and asceticism on the other.

All systems of Indian philosophy have for their ultimate goal, the spiritual freedom or Moksha, which terminates all sorrows and sufferings and endows a state of enduring bliss. But this is only on the ultimate level, which is not always discussed at the mundane level. At this level Hinduism reduces to a means of attaining temporal ends. For this purpose temporal lower gods are created and worshipped. These temporal gains cover up and hide away the ultimate mukthi.

 

The ultimate bliss is defined differently by different system. To some it is ceasing to exist - equivalent to total annihilation. Then we will not have sorrow or sickness, but also we will not have joy or happiness also.  For others it is not really annihilation, but being one with God (if God is a distinct reality - dualism), being really who you really is (if you are really the only reality and God – monism) or never to fall into the trappings of life. It is a conscious inactivity.

 

If you talk to a common Hindu, his visions are different. He is still thinking of life where there are no problems i.e. a continuation of life with joy and happiness. There are six Darsanas viz. Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Vedanta. We do not hear much about any other today other than Vedanta. This is because this is currently the hot export item. The Hindu Maharishies extensively export this with various flavors. If one reads through their brands we will never recognize any similarity. This is not accidental because that is the very essence of Hinduism - whether it is good or bad.

What is Hinduism Really?

Hinduism is often said to be one of the oldest religions of the world. It is definitely the oldest among the living religions. How old is it? How can you say an age for a religion, which cannot be defined? As Buddha said once in his dialogue, "You cannot talk of a way, unless you have a destination? It is like building a stairway to a house, which do not exist."

Is Hinduism a Religion?

Truly speaking, when we talk of Hinduism, we do not know whether we are talking about a religion, or a group of religions, or a group of beliefs and traditions (some of which are diametrically opposed to each other.) This some times give rise to the argument that Hinduism cannot be considered as a religion in the strictest sense of the word. It is only a corporation that incorporates into itself many religious thoughts and worldviews. 

What do we mean by the word "Hindu" and "Hinduism"?

Various origins for the word "Hinduism" have been suggested:

It may be derived from an ancient inscription translated as: "The country lying between the Himalayan mountain and Bindu Sarovara is known as Hindustan by combination of the first letter 'hi' of 'Himalaya' and the last compound letter 'ndu' of the word `Bindu.'" Bindu Sarovara is called the Cape Comorin Sea in modern times

It may be derived from the Persian word for Indian.

It may be a Persian corruption of the word Sindhu (the river Indus)

In all these cases it referred to a geographical region and not to a religion. This is simply because there never had been a single unified religion in India. In spite of all the claims of Sanadhana Dharma and eternal religion, there never existed such a religion. Look what major Hindu organizations state. These are collected from well-known Hindu Religious sites.

Hinduism differs from other organized religions in the following aspects:

·        It is not based upon a particular founder.

·        It is not based upon a particular book.

·        It is not controlled by a central institution or authority such as a church or a sangha or association.

·        It is not averse to examine and assimilate fundamentally diverse thoughts and beliefs into its system.

·        It accepts other religions as various paths to salvation and does not favor organized attempts to proselytize people.

·        It has been evolving continuously, through internal reforms and as a reaction to the threats and challenges from within and without. 

Once this fact is established the rest would be easy to discern.

Since it has no authority in any form of person, documentation, or institution it simply means anything can form part of this religion. In actual fact this has been what was going on in history. Yet persons have been brought in as authority and Vedas and other forms of documentation are always quoted as proof. Like any other religion each group of interpretation form their own niche of institutions and as time goes on they are being multiplied. They quote documents such as Vedas and Upanishads and Puranas as though they are scriptures. A scripture has validity only in so far it has the backing of an absolute authority, which Hinduism on the outset refutes. So it will not be surprising that various proponents give various definitions of Hinduism to suite their thinking pattern.

If Hinduism is a religion of no scripture, no authority, and no institution! What then is it?

  It has even been suggested that the word Hinduism was invented by the British administration in India during colonial times. But the description of Hindava Samskara (Indian Civilization) had been in existence long before the British. But then it did not refer to a religion. It referred to the Civilization or mode of living.  Hinduism as a name of the religion was actually invented by the British to refer to all Indian religions with all its diversities. In their ignorance or for convenience they simply dumped all Indian religions together as Hinduism. As you will notice from what we discuss below, there is no such religion called Hinduism. However because the British treated all Indian religions as Hinduism, it created a common front in spite of their opposing theologies. As the British rule proceeded even Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism were considered part of Hinduism.  They were in fact the result of intense opposition to the Brahminic and Aryan Religions. It was the 250 years of British rule that produce the amorphous religion of Hinduism. The resultant education even brainwashed the Indians. 250 years saw eight generations go by who were totally brainwashed into thinking they were part of a religion called Hinduism (which really meant ‘of India’).  This was given acceleration under theosophy, which was an attempt to form a syncretic universal religious form. In the Indian Independence Movement this unification of religion became very important. Annie Besant and Gandhi used this as a powerful tool to integrate all India under a psuedo-religion. Gandhi even tried to incorporate Islam and Christianity into it. (This is what embittered the rest of the Aryan religions and eventually ended in his assassination.) The assimilation of Dravidian (Some people do think that Dravidians are Semitic in origin) and other religions into Aryan Religion was a worthwhile move. But Islam and Christianity posed a threat to the conquest. Thus what is known today, as Hinduism is a product of the twentieth centaury. (Christianity is Semitic in origin.  But it was totally uprooted from its native atmosphere into the Aryan atmosphere.  But this took place in a different country in a different cultural context.  This is what produced the anti-Semitic branches in Christianity.  I am told that there is a group who hold that Christ himself was an Aryan - white man!!

"Hinduism as a faith is vague, amorphous, many sided, all things to all men. It is hardly possible to define it, or indeed to say definitely whether it is a religion or not, in the usual sense of the word, in its present form, and even in the past, it embraces many beliefs and practices, from the highest to the lowest, often opposed to or contradicting each other."
Jawaharlal Nehru, `The Discovery of India', John Day, 1946, p.66.

"Hinduism as defined in contemporary parlance is a collation of beliefs, rites and practices consciously selected from those of the past, interpreted in contemporary idiom in last couple of centuries and the selection conditioned by historical circumstances ... in a strict sense, a reference to `Hinduism' would require a more precise definition of the particular variety referred to Brahminism, Brahmo-Samaj, Arya Samaj, Shaiva Siddhanta, Bhakti, Tantricism or whatever."

Today’s Hinduism is continuation of contradicting traditions:

" May noble thoughts come to us from every direction. " Rg Veda

Ability to absorb noble thoughts as well as ignoble thoughts - ideas that make sense and some that do not make sense - and produce a web of intricacy was one of the greatest strengths of Hinduism of this centaury. Syncretism is its strength. Ability to use these to the benefit of the few in the dominant class was its curse. This is inevitable in a fallen society where an eternal class war is ever present. Where "Self" is all there is, and where "I am God" there cannot be another way. This embedded class war is expressed in their concrete form in war between families, tribes and nations. It has a double edge that cuts both ways. So Bhagawat Gita with its sublime teachings of ways of salvation is placed in a context which essentially teaches that "Killing is OK if the opponent is usurping what you think is yours" While Ahimsa is the catchword of modern Hinduism, killing ones own brothers is made sacred in Bhagawat Gita. Only the most exquisite religion like Hinduism alone can achieve that. How one can be blinded by the lofty philosophy to hoodwink at this abject fallacy I still cannot fathom. Even if the whole Mahabaharatha is an Aryan Tale, its teaching cannot be read otherwise.

Hinduism is not a monolithic Asvaththa Tree but a forest.

We cannot therefore define Hinduism in any structured way. It is not one monolithic tree whose roots are above and whose branches are spread throughout below. It is rather a forest filled with a million trees each having its own branches and roots and is still growing - both in number of trees and in their branches! The branches are the various new schools of thought and practices that were incorporated into it during the subsequent periods in history. It would be presumptuous to define that the trunk is belief in the eternal nature of soul and of supreme God because there are other trees in that forest, which are atheistic and deny even the existence of any God. But in defining Hinduism, most theistic Hindus assume God or gods in some way, but none agreeing with each other. But it is important to understand that the great ninth avatar of the Hindu God - Buddha (or was he?) - himself denied the existence of God. Was this avatar ignorant of what he really was? Hinduism became more or less like an ocean that would absorb every thing that flowed into it from all directions. These numerous streams brought in a rich variety of minerals.

Thus the modern Hinduism is never static. It evolved continuously from stage to stage; society to society; and went on transforming itself continuously. This was due to the contribution by many scholars, seers, sages, institutions, kings and emperors, priests, prophets, rebels, interpreters, and commoners over a vast period of time. Evidently reason or sanctity did not always lead it (because sanctity cannot be defined independent of an unchanging God). Mostly it was evolved by the dominant class of each period. By interpreting, deviating, changing, correcting, molding, manipulating, modifying, and integrating various aspects -of religion and even god - to suit the social, political, material, intellectual context of the time. These men - great, some saintly, but often scheming and cunning Chanakyas - built up a formidable system. This conclusion is unavoidable. History bears witness to this conclusion.

Very ordinary people living in remote villages, the working classes, the illiterate peasants and laborers also contributed to the development of Hinduism as much as elite and intellectual upper castes. They developed elaborate myths demi-gods, spirits, plants, snakes, lakes and rivers and introduced rituals and festivals which some times included blood thirsty gods who demanded animal and human sacrifices. They too formed part of the society and heritage and they also slowly became integrated into Hinduism. In fact even today in every village they have their own village gods, which are unfamiliar to those outside. Hindu elite used these myths and legends also to their advantage and built over it an elegant imposing structure.

In all these evolutionary process there is no doubt about who triggers and guide the process. It has always been guided by the dominant class in order to subjugate the others. It is the Aryans - the Noble Ones - that always win. Now they can even claim the ancient Indus valley civilizations even as their own!! The British ignorance suited the dominant class and they evolved a religion out of it.

Please. Let us not forget that in a forest there are lot more beautiful trees than the tallest ones.

How old is Hinduism?

If we accept this truth, - and there seems to be no reason why we should not - the question is irrelevant. How can you ask the age of a religion that does not exist? If we are talking about any religion as Hindu religion it started in the prehistoric days, when the aboriginal men were slowly trying to understand the mysteries of their own existence and the mysteries of the world around them and were trying to build a stable society. It was founded on the survival of the fittest. When a Hindu talks about Sanadhana Dharma (Eternal Religion) he actually means this:  How old is the religion, which is so amorphous and undefined without form and consistent content. And it is true. A religion of Self - started with the beginning of man.  Probably even long before – before the creation of man among other created fallen beings.

Theistic Hinduism

It is therefore important that we make sure to categorize the Hindu religious groups. We will talk hence forth about the "Theistic Hindu Forest" avoiding the clutter of other traditions, though it is often mixed up and impossible to isolate. One problem talking to my Hindu brothers was their ability to jump from one tree to another as occasion demanded. So we need to concentrate and address those groups who has authority, who has a well defined scripture and who has norms and fixed traditions to get anywhere. The normal Hindu will hold on to it only so far it can be held without problem. Once challenged they will leave it and embrace another. So it will be a futile attempt of chasing after the shadows. In the other articles I have tried to interpret and understand the special interpretations of Hinduism by various intellectuals giants. But there are many which goes deeper into Abhichara witchcraft and god manipulation by mantras and tantras, which are not commonly dealt with. These are based on the realism that spirits are not divine beings but are like humans essentially fallen. By suitable means they too can be subjected to serve the priesthood of man. Once subjugated they too will become slaves to the person and can be exploited. But they need to be kept constantly in chains. There is a whole realm of spirits in existence in the created universe. Among them are fallen races like man.

Defining Hinduism

Because of these difficulties, the Supreme Court has to define Hinduism in its theistic terms.  Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s definition was therefore taken as a satisfactory definition of Hinduism.  It defines Hinduism as follows:

The Indian Supreme Court, in 1966, formalized a judicial definition of Hindu beliefs to legally distinguish Hindu denominations from other religions in India. The Court affirmed this list as recently as 1995 in judging cases regarding religious identity.

1) Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and philosophic matters and acceptance with reverence of Vedas by Hindu thinkers and philosophers as the sole foundation of Hindu philosophy.

2) Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent's point of view based on the realization that truth is many-sided.

3) Acceptance of great world rhythm-vast periods of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession-by all six systems of Hindu philosophy.

4) Acceptance by all systems of Hindu philosophy of the belief in rebirth and pre-existence.

5) Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are many.

6) Realization of the truth that numbers of Gods to be worshiped may be large, yet there being Hindus who do not believe in the worshiping of idols.
7) Unlike other religions, or religious creeds, Hindu religion's not being tied down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such.
"Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence;
recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and the realization of the truth that the number of gods to be worshiped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of the Hindu religion."

 

Supreme Court of India on July 2, 1995, referred to this as an "adequate and satisfactory formula."

 Some of the recent definitions of Hinduism by Scholars are given below:

   

  

 

  

 Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, president of India from 1962 to 1967

"The Hindu recognizes one Supreme Spirit, though different names are given to it. God is in the world, though not as the world. He does not merely intervene to create life or consciousness, but is working continuously. There is no dualism of the natural and the supernatural. Evil, error and ugliness are not ultimate.

No view is so utterly erroneous; no man is so absolutely evil as to deserve complete castigation.

There is no Hell, for that means there is a place where God is not, and there are sins that exceed His love.  The law of karma tells us that the individual life is not a term, but a series.

Heaven and Hell are higher and lower stages in one continuous movement. Every type has its own nature, which should be followed. We should do our duty in that state of life to which we happen to be called. Hinduism affirms that the theological expressions of religious experience are bound to be varied, accepts all forms of belief and guides each along his path to the common goal. These are some of the central principles of Hinduism.

                                                            

 If Hinduism lives today, it is due to them."

 

 

Sri K. Navaratnam,  Sri Lankan religious scholar of Southern Saiva Agamic tradition.

 

1) A belief in the existence of God.

2) A belief in the existence of a soul separate from the body.

3) A belief in the existence of the finitizing principle known as avidya or maya.

4) A belief in the principle of matter-prakriti or maya.

5) A belief in the theory of karma and reincarnation.

6) A belief in the indispensable guidance of a guru to guide the spiritual aspirant towards God Realization.

7) A belief in moksha, or liberation, as the goal of human existence.

8) A belief in the indispensable necessity of temple worship in religious life.

9) A belief in graded forms of religious practices, both internal and external, until one realizes God.

10) A belief in ahimsa as the greatest dharma or virtue.

11) A belief in mental and physical purity as indispensable factors for spiritual progress

 

 

 

Mahatma Gandhi:

 

"I call myself a Sanatani Hindu because

I believe in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas and all that goes by the name of Hindu scriptures, and therefore in avatars and rebirth.

Above all, I call myself a Sanatani Hindu, so long as the Hindu society in general accepts me as such.

In a concrete manner he is a Hindu who believes in God, immortality of the soul, transmigration, the law of karma and moksha, and who tries to practice truth and ahimsa in daily life, and therefore practices cow protection in its widest sense and understands and tries to act according to the law of varnashrama."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pramukh Swami Maharaj

 

Sri Pramukh Swami Maharaj of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Sanstha (Swaminarayan Faith)

 

1) Parabrahman, one supreme all-powerful God: He is the Creator, has a divine form, is immanent, transcendent and the giver of moksha.

2) Avatarvad, manifestation of God on Earth: God Himself incarnates on Earth in various forms to revive dharma and grant liberation.

3) Karmavad, law of action: the soul reaps fruits, good or bad, according to its past and present actions, which are experienced either in this life or future lives.

4) Punarjanma, reincarnation: the mortal soul is continuously born and reborn in one of the 8,400,000 species until it attains liberation.

5) Moksha, ultimate liberation: the goal of human life. It is the liberation of the soul from the cycle of births and deaths to remain eternally in the service of God.

6) Guru-shishya sambandh, master-disciple relationship: guidance and grace of a spiritually perfect master, revered as the embodiment of God, is essential for an aspirant seeking liberation.

7) Dharma, that which sustains the universe: an all-encompassing term representing divine law, law of being, path of righteousness, religion, duty, responsibility, virtue, justice, goodness and truth.

8)  Ved pramana, scriptural authority of the Vedas: all Hindu faiths are based on the teachings of the Vedas.

9) Murti-puja, sacred image worship: consecrated images represent the presence of God, which is worshiped. The sacred image is a medium to help devotees offer their devotion to God.

 

 

Sri Swami Vivekananda

 

"All Vedantists believe in God.

Vedantists also believe the Vedas to be the revealed word of God-an expression of the knowledge of God-and as God is eternal, so are the Vedas eternal.

Another common ground of belief is that of creation in cycles that the whole of creation appears and disappears.
They postulate the existence of a material, which they call akasha, which is something like the ether of the scientists, and a power which they call prana."

 

Sri Jayendra Sarasvati:

69th Shankaracharya of the Kamakoti Peetham,

Kanchipuram.

 

1) The concept of idol worship and the worship of God in His nirguna as well as saguna form.

2) The wearing of sacred marks on the forehead.

3) Belief in the theory of past and future births in accordance with the theory of karma.

4) Cremation of ordinary men and burial of great men.

 

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The Vishva Hindu Parishad declared its definition in a Memorandum of

Association, Rules and Regulations in 1966:

 

"Hindu means a person believing in, following or respecting the eternal values of life, ethical and spiritual, which have sprung up in Bharatkhand [India] and includes any person calling himself a Hindu."