By Ayathuray Rajasingam –
The origin of Hinduism is shrouded with mystery. Hinduism was in existence from time immemorial and is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, which has been a breeding ground for spirituality from all directions of the country. While other religions have founders (Jesus Christ for Christianity, Abraham for Judaism, Mohammed for Islam, Guru Nanak for Sikhism, Confucius for Confucianism, Siddartha Gautama for Buddhism), Hinduism is the only religion that has no founder, no central authority, no prescribed text book. Hinduism is referred to as Sanatana Dharma. ‘Sanatana’ means eternal or timeless and ‘Dharma’ is human’s code of conduct. The concept of Dharma has been the key to social and individual ethics of Hinduism. Hinduism is a collection of revelations by the ancient sages at intermittent periods. Hinduism is an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena originating and based on the Vedic traditions. Hence the sages were considered as the revered pioneers of Hinduism. Hinduism has become a religion of revelations. Hinduism is unique because it is based on Righteousness. According to Dr.S.Radhakrishnan, Hinduism is not just a faith, but is related to the union of reason and intuition. Hinduism includes Shaivaism, Vaishnavaism, Sakthism, Smartism, etc. and also includes a wide spectrum of doctrines based on the notion of Karma, Dharma and societal norms.
Sanatana Dharma teaches that life is a Gift given by God to live on earth in compliance with the concept of righteousness. The nucleus of every religion is to practice tolerance and show love and kindness and respect human rights. However, extremist politicians, religious fanatics, drug dealers and terrorists do not heed to the concept of righteousness.
Hinduism is a collection of revelations by the ancient sages. The Revelations are said to be the Vedas. These Vedas are direct intuitional revelations and are considered super human. The Vedas are the eternal truths revealed by God to the ancient great Rishis. The Vedas are utterances of the Almighty and not the composition of any human being. The spiritual experiences of the sages are reflected in the Vedas. The sages transmitted their intuitional experiences to the people. The revelations are the Truths of the Vedas. In Sanskrit, Veda means knowledge. The Vedas are an embodiment of divine knowledge. Knowledge is eternal and cannot be destroyed. Since it was in a scripture, the Vedas signifies a book of knowledge. Briefly the Vedas are the basic scriptures of Hinduism (through Upanishads, Puranas and Epics) and brought glory to Hinduism.
Mention should be made that there are two schools of thought regarding the two epics Ramayana and Maha Bharatha. The followers of fact-based school are of the view that the epics are mere fictions. But the faith-based Hindus believe that time is cyclical. There are four Yugas in each cycle. The end of fourth Yuga (Kali Yuga) is the end of the world known as Pralayam, and the only memory that survives is the Vedas. The last age is said to be known as the Ice Age which ended about 10,000 years ago. The faith-based school believes the Ice Age as the last Pralayam which is based on astronomical (such as the position of constellations and time of eclipses). Sage Valmiki had concluded that events, in Ramayana, took place prior to 7,000 years or earlier to reveal how his protagonists Ram and Sita used in Vedic wisdom, to engage in society.
Science is the struggle of man in the outer world, whereas Religion is the struggle of man in the inner world. Science makes man struggle for Truth in the outside world and Religion makes man struggle for Truth in the inner universe. Both struggles are great, but one ends in success while the other ends up with failure. Religion begins where science ends. The whole scientific method is based upon observation and experiments, but the moment the man realizes that there is something beyond the observation and experiment, he will give up the material science behind. Science will always have to deal with finite bodies. But God is infinite. This is what Hinduism is about.
Since eternal truths revolve round Hinduism, it is natural for anyone to pose the question as to who is behind the eternal truths and makes them work or activate its functions. It is the ‘Cosmic Power’ which is known as Divine Power or God, which is behind the eternal truths and activate its functions.
The Vedas describe that everything is God. That divinity is One without a Second, beyond all forms, names, and qualities. That divinity is an existence that is eternally imperishable and indivisible. Everything is One with God in its essential nature. There is only one field of Absolute Being where all divisions and separations merge into one existence.
In Hinduism, it is important to have a general idea of God (the Supreme Divine existence), Soul (One’s true self), and Maya (the material energy that produced the Universe and one’s body, sense, mind and intellect). God is supreme and the Souls and Maya are his subordinate powers.
It is also important to know the difference between the Veda and the Vedanta. The Vedas are considered as divine revelations. They are the sacred Sanskrit scriptures of Hinduism. Vedas are immortal and infinite, because they are without the beginning and without the end. But Vedanta is a specific Hindu philosophy. The two main propositions of Vedanta are (a) Humanity is divine, and (b) the purpose of human life is to realize that human nature is divine. Vedanta teaches the main theme of Veda. Vedanta means the essence of the Vedas.
Vedanta teaches that all religions lead to the same ultimate goal – the experience and realization of God. Hinduism teaches that God has come to earth to answer the needs of the people at intermittent periods in the past and will be present in the future many times. Vedanta is impersonal and universal and gives priority to principles.
Since Vedanta teaches principles and not persons, Swami Vivekananda was of the view that Vedanta is the only universal religion which is already in existence. The eternal principles are found in the Vedanta.
Hinduism is open to interpretation based on reasoning which has the force of divinity. Moreover, Swami Vivekananda analyses two kinds of truths in determining the nature of Hinduism.
(1) That which is cognizable by the Five ordinary senses of man and by reasons based on them. The knowledge acquired by this means is called Science.
(2) That which is cognizable by the subtle, super-sensuous power of Yoga. The knowledge acquired by this means is called the Veda.
Manifestation of super-sensuous truths, realization of super-sensuous truths, and sages are inter-woven distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view in the determination of the nature of Hinduism.
Super-sensuous truths are related to the creation of the Universe. Creation and Time are two elements that need a clear analysis. The issue as to who was instrumental for the creation of the Universe and when it was created are matters that are dealt in Hinduism. Creation existed with time. If nothing existed, the issue of time will never arise. If there was time, the question of manifestation of energy arises. If that energy was in God, God becomes potential which would make him mutable. Everything mutable is a compound which in turn undergoes a change, which is called destruction. That means God would die and the description of God becomes meaningless.
It is the ancient sages with their super-sensuous truth discovered the nature of the Supreme Being, the God. According to Hinduism, God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. (Omnipotent – He is all powerful, the world is created by him and everything happens according to his wishes. He can create this world in zero time and also destroy it in a fraction of a second. Omniscient – He is the perceiver of all things. He knows everything. Nothing can be hidden from him. The past, present and future co-exist in him. Hence everything is governed and directed by him. Omnipresent – He is all pervading. He is present everywhere. Nothing can exist without him.).
When God activates his energies, creation begins. Similarly when God withdraws his energies and remain in a state of inactivity, destruction begins. As God performs creation, preservation and destruction, it is evident that the past, the present and the future co-exist in God simultaneously. According to Hinduism, God and the Universe are essentially the same. God manifest himself as the Universe at the time of creation. God is timeless, because it is relative and cease to exist in the Absolute.
Then there is a concept of ‘without beginning’ and ‘without end’ in Hinduism. God is the ever active providence, by whose power systems after systems are being evolved out of chaos made to run for a time and again destroyed. Likewise the material body will perish, but the soul will never die as it is a part and parcel of the Supreme Being. The whole body of super sensuous truths, having no beginning or end, and called by the name of Veda, is ever existent. The Creator Himself is creating, preserving and destroying the universe with the help of these Truths. The person in whom this super- sensuous power is manifested is called a Sage, and the super-sensuous truths, which he realizes by this Power are called the Vedas. This Rishihood, this power of super-sensuous perception of the Vedas, is realization. So long as this does not develop in the life of an initiate, so long is religion a mere empty word to him, and it is to be understood that he has not taken yet first step in religion. The authority of the Vedas extends to all ages, climes and persons. Their application is not confined to any particular place, time and persons.
Accordingly, Hinduism can be described as a mass of separate ideas and practices, collected and formed into one ball of faith. Moreover, Hinduism is characterized by the belief in reincarnation. Hinduism categorically emphasizes God as One Absolute Being of multiple manifestations and always demonstrate non-violence and tolerance. Incarnation means manifestations of divine God by his full presence into human world for specific missions. Lord Krishna mentions in Baghavad Gita ‘Whenever there is a decline in religious practice, O Arjun, I by myself manifest in this world and root out the evil’..
In other religions, revelations derive from some special messenger of God to a specific group of people. These religions maintain that God can be reached through their own specific paths. This amounts to some implication of someone’s will on others who have their own desired paths. But Hinduism considers a person as a part and parcel of the Almighty. In Hinduism, the authority of the Vedas is unknown. The whole fabric of thought of the Hindus centres in God. Swami Vivekananda says that religion is the idea which raises a brute into a man and man unto God. God can be realized through a tangible, exquisite and intimate personal relationship with Him by way of Bakthi Yoga meditation.
Hinduism has developed numerous practices meant to help a person to think of divinity in the midst of everyday life. The most unique aspect of Hinduism is that any person can reach God in the path he or she chooses. The central truth in every religion is to evolve a God out of man. Hinduism is based upon eternal principles. The cosmic view of Hinduism transcends the sectarian principle and paves way for the co-existence of all creatures under the Vedic principle known as ‘the Universe is one family’. It is this principle which guides the humankind towards universal harmony through acceptance and tolerance. Sanatana Dharma recognizes that the Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any concept. The potential for human wholeness is present in every human being. All humans are spiritually united like the drops of water in an ocean. Therefore no race or religion is superior, which is a lesson to every petty-minded politician.
One may pose questions as to the number of deities in Hinduism and therefore it is polytheistic. Rig Veda mentions ‘Ekam sath, Vipraah bahudhaa vadanti’ meaning ‘the Truth is One, but the wise call it by many names’. The multiplicity of deities indicates the spiritual hospitality of Hinduism. There are two doctrines in this aspect, namely the doctrine of spiritual competence and the doctrine of the chosen deity. The doctrine of spiritual competence requires that the spiritual practice prescribed to a person should correspond to a person’s competence. The doctrine of chosen deity gives the person the freedom to choose a form of God that satisfies his spiritual cravings and make it the object of worship. Both doctrines are consistent with the assertion of Hinduism that the unchanging reality is present in everything, even the transient.
The beauty of Hinduism is that it grants absolute and complete freedom of belief and worship. Hinduism conceives the whole world as a single family that worships the One Truth, and therefore it accepts all forms of beliefs and dismisses labels of distinct religions which would imply a division of identity. Despite some criticisms on Hinduism by the Easterners, there were a number of Western philosophers, writers, etc who had great respect for Hinduism and endorsed Hinduism as a harmless and true religion, of which French philosopher Voltaire and Annie Besant were notable. Hence Hinduism is devoid of the concepts of repostacy, heresy and blasphemy. Though ideals and methods may differ, Hinduism endorses that realizing God is the Universal Truth. The real essence of religion is the realization of the truths of the spiritual world. Hence Hinduism appears to be a Universal Religion, besides being a Science and way of living.