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.
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.
intellectual level it is only a philosophy.
It is entirely based
on intellectual enquiry and not based on God experience.
the mystic level - on the other hand - it is based only on
subjective spiritual and mystical experience of people.
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.
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
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
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."
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
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
It may be derived from the Persian word for
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
Hinduism differs from other organized religions
in the following aspects:
It is not based upon a particular
It is not based upon a particular
It is not controlled by a central institution
or authority such as a church or a sangha or
It is not averse to examine and assimilate
fundamentally diverse thoughts and beliefs into its
It accepts other religions as various paths to
salvation and does not favor organized attempts to proselytize
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.
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
"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
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."
Hinduism is continuation of contradicting traditions:
May noble thoughts come to us from every direction. " Rg
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.
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
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
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
How old is
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
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.
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
2) Spirit of
tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the
opponent's point of view based on the realization that truth
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
Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation
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
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
Some of the recent definitions of
Hinduism by Scholars are given below:
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.
Hinduism lives today, it is due to
Sri Lankan religious scholar of Southern Saiva Agamic
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
6) A belief in the indispensable guidance
of a guru to guide the spiritual aspirant towards God
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
"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
Sri Pramukh Swami
Maharaj of the
Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Sanstha (Swaminarayan
supreme all-powerful God: He is the Creator, has a divine
form, is immanent, transcendent and the giver of moksha.
manifestation of God on Earth: God Himself incarnates on Earth
in various forms to revive dharma and grant liberation.
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.
reincarnation: the mortal soul is continuously born and reborn
in one of the 8,400,000 species until it attains liberation.
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.
master-disciple relationship: guidance and grace of a
spiritually perfect master, revered as the embodiment of God,
is essential for an aspirant seeking liberation.
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.
scriptural authority of the Vedas: all Hindu faiths are based
on the teachings of the Vedas.
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
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
69th Shankaracharya of the Kamakoti
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
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.
The Vishva Hindu
its definition in a Memorandum of
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