origin of Hinduism is unknown,
but most experts agree that it dates back to pre-history. As a
religion, it has no common creed, no special doctrine, and no
binding rules. A Hindu can believe in several gods, one god, or
no god at all. But Hinduism is unique as a social system because
each Hindu believes that he or she has been born into a specific
social caste. Hinduism's religious tenants date back to the sacred
Vedic books, believed to have been written about 1000 BC, which
describe the creation of the universe. Central to Hindu belief
is the idea of reincarnation, which holds that all living things-trees,
plants, animals, even gods - are caught in an everlasting cycle.
All life is determined, in the Hindu view, by karma, through which
one's next life is determined by one's moral behavior in preceding
ones. The ultimate goal of a Hindu is release from the cycle and
the attainment of a state of peace marked by a complete absence
The life of humankind is believed by the Hindus to be a
pilgrimage, not only from the cradle to the grave, but also through
that vast period of time, covering millions upon millions of years,
stretching from the beginning to the end of evolution, and we
are held to be spiritual beings, the continuity of our existence
is unbroken. Nations and civilizations rise, grow old, decline
and disappear; but the being lives on, a spectator of all the
countless changes in the world.
Hinduism is a way of life, a Dharma. Contrary to popular perception, it is not a religion: It does not have any one
founder, and it does not have a Bible or a Koran to which controversies can be referred for resolution.
Consequently, it does not require its adherents to accept any one idea. It is thus cultural, not creedal, with a history
contemporaneous with the peoples with which it is associated.Since Hindu scriptures include not just books relating
to spirituality but also secular pursuits like science, medicine and engineering, it defies classification as a religion.
Further, it cannot be claimed to be " essentially a school of metaphysics " as D.S.Sarma [The Religion of the Hindus,
Edited by Kenneth Morgan] does. Nor can it be described as " other worldly" , as will become evident later. Infact
one can almost identify Hinduism with a civilization that is flourishing even now.
The Aryan Invasion Theory having been completely discredited, it cannot be assumed that Hinduism was the pagan
faith of invaders belonging to a race called Aryans. Rather it was the common metafaith, (if you will) of people of
various races, including Harappans. The sanskrit word aryan is a word of honorable address, not the racial reference
invented by european scholars and put to perverse use by the nazis. Unless otherwise specified, aryan will be used in
this document as a word of honorable address.
Many believe that multiplicity of deities makes Hinduism polytheistic. Such a belief is nothing short of mistaking the
wood for the tree. The bewildering diversity of Hindu belief - theistic, atheistic and agnostic - rests on a solid unity.
Ekam sat.h, Vipraah bahudhaa vadanti, says the R^igveda: The Truth (God, Brahman.h, etc) is one, scholars call
it by various names. What the multipicity of deities does indicate is Hinduism's spiritual hospitality as evidenced by
two characteristically Hindu doctrines: The Doctrine of Spiritual Competence (Adhikaara) and The Doctrine of The
Chosen Deity (Ishhta Devata). The doctrine of spiritual competence requires that the spiritual practices prescribed
to a person should correspond to his (or her) spiritual competence. It is counter-productive to teach abstract
philosophical concepts to a person whose heart hungers for faith in a higher power and vice versa. The doctrine of the
chosen deity gives a person the freedom to choose (or invent) a form of Brahman.h that satisfies his spiritual cravings
and to make it the object of his worship. Notice that both doctrines are consistent with Hinduism's assertion that the
unchanging reality is present in everything, even the transient.
Evidence that Hinduism must have existed even circa 10000 B.C. is available: The importance attached to the river
Saraswati and the numerous references to it in the R^igveda (interestingly, Ganga appears only twice) indicates that
the R^igveda was being composed well before 6500 B.C. The first vernal equinox recorded in the R^igveda is that of
the star Ashwini, which is now known to have occurred around 10000 B.C. Subhash Kak, a Computer Engineer
and a reputed Indologist, 'decoded' the R^igveda and found many advanced astronomical concepts therein. The
technological sophistication required to even anticipate such concepts is unlikely to have been acquired by a nomadic
people, as the Invasionists would like us to believe. In his book Gods, Sages and Kings, David Frawley provides
compelling evidence to substantiate this claim.
UNITY WITHIN DIVERSITY
There are five elements which contribute to the essential unity of Hinduism: common ideals, common scriptures,
common deities, common beliefs, and common practices.
All the sects and offshoots of Hinduism share the same moral ideals:
The BR^ihadaaraNyaka Upanishhat expresses these moral ideas in three words:
Daamyata: Exercise self-control,
The higher phase of self-control is detachment. Not only do we have to overcome what is evil in life, we must also
become independent of what is good. For instance, our love of home and friends is good in itself, but unless we
expand it to include everything in the universe, it will be a shackle, what if it is golden. Detachment does not imply
disinterest in the changing world: it merely shifts a person's frame of reference to the Reality that endures forever,
making his perception more objective, making him better equipped for life.
Truth as a cardinal virtue in Hinduism is far more than mere truthfulness; it means eternal reality. Hinduism says that
the pursuit of Truth, wherever it may lead or whatever sacrifices it may involve, is indispensable to the progress of
man. Hence no Hindu scripture has ever opposed scientific progress or metaphysical and ethical speculations.
Truth and Non-violence are always associated with each other in the Hindu scriptures, and are considered to be the
highest virtues. Mahaatma Gaandhi describes Hinduism as a quest for Truth through Non-violence. This ideal is
responsible for the pacific character of Hindu civilization. Notice that, in order to pursue non-violence, one must
refrain from inflicting or tolerating violence on oneself. Therefore, non-violence is not passive resistance as many think:
it is not the helplessness of the weak, but the calm strength of the mighty. When Jesus Christ says " the meek shall
inherit the earth ", the Hindu cannot agree more.
The most important common scriptures are the Vedas, the Upanishhats, the Brahma Suutras, the Epics (Itihaasas
: RaamaayaNa and Mahaabhaarata). The Vedas are called Shr^iti, literally that which is heard. Allowing for poetic
license, it can be interpreted as that which is discovered. Smr^iti, on the other hand, is what is remembered,
effectively that which was told. Shr^iti is unalterable because it is a record of observations and experiences. Smr^iti,
on the other hand, is entirely 'artificial', and hence warrants modification with changing times and increasing finesse of
knowledge. Since theory should fit observation, and not vice versa, smr^iti is of secondary authority. If smr^iti
contradicts shr^iti, it is shr^iti that prevails. All matters relating to the Hindu Legal Code fall under the category of
smr^itis. Any Hindu Law is thus designed for change. Those that believe the Vedas to be the supreme authority for
Hinduism are called aastikas, and those that donot are naastikas. (Popular misnotion is that aastikas are believers (in
God) and naastikas are atheists).
Smr^itis are meant to be elaborations of vedic revelations. They include the Epics, the codes of law, the sacred
romances (PuraaNas), philosophical treatises (Darshanas), and the sectarian scriptures (aagamas). The
Bhagavadgita is said to be the essence of the upanishhats for the layman, and is revered by all sects. The epics
RaamaayaNa and Mahaabhaarata and the Bhaagavata PuraaNa are, as it were, part of the mother's milk which every
Hindu child draws (atleast that used to be the case!) in his infancy. Countless generations have been molded by the
ideals set for them in these epics.
Directly ot otherwise, the upanishhats constitute the philosophical framework for Hinduism. Every religious movement
that arose within Hinduism has had to show itself to be in accordance with the Upanishhats.
Thus it is that with the Vedas, the Upanishhats, the RaamaayaNa, the Mahaabhaarata, the Bhagavadgita and other
sacred writings deriving their authority from the Vedas, the scriptures of Hinduism are a strong force making for unity
within all diversity of beliefs and practices.
The common deities are derived form the common scriptures. The idea that every deity whom men worship is the
embodiment of a limited ideal, and that the deity is a symbol of some aspects of the Absolute is one of the most
fundamental characteristics of Hinduism. It is this idea that makes Hinduism the most tolerant of religions and averse
to proselytization through religious propaganda.
The three important functions of the Supreme - Creation, Protection and Destruction - came to be established in
popular imagination as the Hindu Trinity - Brahma (NOT Brahman.h of the Upanishhats), Vishhnu and Shiva. The
power associated with these gods came to be personified as their respective consorts. So Creator Brahma's consort
is Saraswati (the goddess of Speech and Learning), Protector Vishhnu's consort is Lakshhmi (the goddess of wealth
and prosperity), and Shiva's consort is Shakti (the goddess of power). Since Vishhnu is the protector, he is the one
who can take on an avataara, taking human form whenever the world order is disturbed by a colossal form of evil.
The other two of the trinity donot have avataaras.
The gods were then provided with their own heavens, attendants, vehicles and even progeny.The more intelligent among the people understood this symbolism, but to the the masses, the symbols formed an end in themselves. The symbolism is common to all Hindus, but the exclusive emphasis on a particular god or goddess in this scheme at a later time gave rise to various sects like Vaishhnava (worshipers of Vishhnu), Shaiva (worshipers of Shiva) and Shaakteya (worshipers of Shakti). Those that donot belong to these three sects nor go by their sectarian scriptures (aagamaa), but go by the ancient traditions (smr^itis) and worship all gods without any exclusive preference came to be known as Smaartas.
However, all sects teach that the particular name and form of their deities are limitations which we in our weakness
impose on the all-pervading Brahman.h. Even the highest theism is regarded only as a sort of glorified
anthropomorphism. The worship of a personal god is taught to be only a halfway house in a man's journey to the
Ultimate Reality. However, the idea of a personal god is the most important prop for the mind to contemplate upon it.
Hinduism acheives unity in diversity by cherishing the many ways in which men have represented and worshipped the
various aspects of the Supreme.
The common beliefs underlying all schools of thought in Hinduism are beliefs concerning
the evolution of the physical world
The Prashnopanishhat expounds the Hindu concept of the evolution of the physical world. Expressed concisely, Energy (PraaNa) and Matter (Rayi) are at the two ends of the cosmic scale. The Energy is dormant in pure Matter and vice versa. The transformation of Energy into matter occurs in stages: Energy to Reason to Consciousness to Life to Matter. The transformation of Matter into Energy traces this path backwards. The Universe itself is a result of the interaction of Energy and Matter. In fact Prashnopanishhat goes so far as to declare that the difference between Energy and Matter is only perceptional, not real. In other words, Energy and Matter are fundamentally the same [Prashnopanishhat, Swami Nikhilananda]. (See the Satsanga.h for a discussion on this topic)
The doctrine of Karma emphasizes that God is not a judge who sits in a remote heaven meting out punishments and
rewards, but an indwelling being (the Self) whose will works in us through the moral law here and now. While Karma
Yoga is the highest form of application of this law, according to which one must perform his duties with a sense of
detachment. Cessation of action is what many have understood this to be. In reality however, it is trying to attain
perfection in whatever we do by concentrating on what is to be done rather than the anticipated results.
The four-fold goal of human life is the purushhaarthas - Dharma (Righteousness), Artha (Worldly Prosperity),
Kaama (Enjoyment) and mokshha (Liberation). In the pursuit of the first three one can be helped by others, but in
the pursuit of mokshha, one is essentially alone. That is why the wedding vow reads: Dharme cha, Arthe cha,
Kaame cha, Naaticharaami: " I shall abide by you in dharma, artha and kaama."
The unifying concept underlying these basic beliefs is the law of spiritual progress underlying the creation. But, ofcourse, we see only the intermediate stages of this process. As the Bhagavadgiita says, " Unmanifest is the origin of beings, manifest in their mid-most stage, and unmanifest again their end." We donot know how the HiraNya Garbha divided itself into subject and object and started the process of creation, and how the sundered spirit will be finally restored to its original wholeness in the Absolute. The beginning and the end of the cosmic process are beyond time, which bridges two eternities.
Thus the law of spiritual progression is given as an unerring standard for us. It decrees the following values as of
Spiritual Values: truth, beauty, love, and righteousness.
This, then, is the key to understanding Hinduism. For example, consider the Hindu view of History. Although it does
not attach any importance to chronology, the sages had a correct view of historical progress and decline. Persons and
wars were seen to be of less importance when compared with roles (played by the persons) and the lessons (of the
war). The greatness of a civilization was judged not by the empires they possessed, nor by the wealth they
accumulated, nor by their technological progress, but by the righteousness and justice they cultivated.
The organization of the society was conceived as a corollary of the law of spiritual progress, whereby people were to
be ranked not by wealth, numerical strength, or power, but by their spiritual progress and culture. The earliest
reference to the VarNaashrama Dharma, the caste system, is to be found in the R^igveda, wherein they are
represented as parts of the body of the Creator. This is a poetic image indicating the organic nature of the society of
the time. Caste was not to be determined by heridity: Virtue alone was the yardstick. (VajraSuuchika Upanishhad is
entirely devoted to discussing the Caste System; It will soon be included among the Upanishhadic Philosophy pages)
That this system degenerated to the oppressive stratification which plagued India for a long time is a vehement
testimony to the failings of human nature. The dream of the sages was to organize the society into a cooperative
hierarchy much like the Hindu joint family, where elders had greater freedom and responsibility, and the younger ones
had greater shelter and protection. But, over the time, this idealistic agenda gave way to unforeseen circumstances
under which individual genius had no scope, heridity assumed undeserved importance, and initiative was killed. What
was made for order and progress made for order at the expense of progress. Even in its degenerated form, this
theocratic ideal saved the Hindu society from disruption during the centuries when a strong central government was
either non-existent ot was frequently changing hands. Whatever purpose it may have served in the past, its present
form is perceived by all Indians as abhorrent to human dignity. Independent India can now claim to be on the verge of
achieving independence from this malady. I would like to add a personal note here: To be orthodox is to be
faithful to the spirit, not merely the letter. The R^ishhis have emphasized the need for smr^iti to be constantly
revised to account for changing times and new, unforeseen circumstances. Thus, nothing is more orthodox
(and more desirable) than writing a smr^iti for this time and this age.
Intimately related to the concept of varNa is that of Aashrama, the stages of life. Brahmacharya (being a student), Gaarhastya (being a Householder), Vaanaprastha (being a recluse), and, finally, Sannyaasa (being a religious mendicant) are ideally the four stages of a man's life. These stages indicate the path of progress for the ideally ordered life of the individual.
Drugs: Soma - Food for the Gods