Silent adorations to Satchidananda Para-Brahman, Who is the silent Witness of all minds, Who is the Indwellers in all beings, Who has projected this world for His own Lilaor sport, Who is the support for this world, body and mind and all movements, and Who is the foundation for all societies and their activities.
Purpose Of Religion
The word Religion comes from the Latin word religio which consists of two words, viz., re (back) and ligare (to bring or bind). That which binds the soul back to God is religion. Religion shows the way for the attainment of God-realisation.
Religion satisfies the deep inward craving in man who is not always content with leading merely an animal existence and wants spiritual consolation, solace and peace. Man cannot live by bread alone. A time comes in the life of many of us when mere worldly prosperity does not satisfy us and we hanker after something more. In the case of many more, trials and tribulations of life turn their attention to spiritual solace.
Distinguishing Features Of Hinduism
A Revealed Religion
Hinduism is the religion of the Hindus, a name given to the Universal Religion which hailed supreme in India. It is the oldest of all living religions. This is not founded by any prophet. Buddhism, Christianity and Mohammedanism owe their origin to the prophets. Their dates are fixed. But no such date can be fixed for Hinduism. Hinduism is not born of the teachings of particular prophets. It is not based on a set of dogmas preached by a particular set of teachers. It is free from religious fanaticism.
Hinduism is also known by the names Sanatana-Dharma and Vaidika-Dharma.
Sanatana-Dharma means eternal religion. Hinduism is as old as the world itself. Hinduism is the mother of all religions. Hindu scriptures are the oldest in the world, Sanatana-Dharma is so called, not only because it is eternal, but also because it is protected by God and because it can make us eternal.
Vaidika-Dharma means the religion of the Vedas. The Vedas are the foundational scriptures of Hinduism. The ancient Rishis and sages of India have expressed their intuitive spiritual experiences (Aparoksha-Anubhuti) in the Upanishads. These experiences are direct and infallible. Hinduism regards the spiritual experiences of the Rishis of yore as its authority. The priceless truths that have been discovered by the Hindu Rishis and sages through millennia constitute the glory of Hinduism. Therefore, Hinduism is a revealed religion.
A Religion Of Freedom
Hinduism, unlike other religions, does not dogmatically assert that the final emancipation is possible only through its means and not through any other. It is only a means to an end and all means which will ultimately lead to the end are equally approved.
Hinduism allows absolute freedom to the rational mind of man. Hinduism never demands any undue restraint upon the freedom of human reason, the freedom of thought, feeling and will of man. It allows the widest freedom in matters of faith and worship. Hinduism is a religion of freedom. It allows absolute freedom to the human reason and heart with regard to questions such as nature of God, soul, creation, form of worship and the goal of life. Hinduism does not lie in the acceptance of any particular doctrine, nor in the observance of some particular rituals or form of worship. It does not force anybody to accept particular dogmas or forms of worship. It allows everybody to reflect, investigate, enquire and cogitate. Hence, all sorts of religious faiths, various forms of worship or Sadhana, and diverse kinds of rituals and customs, have found their honourable places side by side within Hinduism and are cultured and developed in harmonious relationship with one another.
Hinduism does not condemn those who deny God as the creator and ruler of the world, who do not accept the existence of an eternal soul and the state of Moksha or state of liberation. Hinduism does not render the upholders of such views unfit to be recognised as pious and honourable members of the Hindu religious society.
The religious hospitality of Hinduism is proverbial. Hinduism is extremely catholic and liberal. This is the fundamental feature of Hinduism. Hinduism pays respects to all religions. It does not revile any other religion. It accepts and honours truth—wherever it may come from and whatever garb it may put on.
There are considerable numbers of the followers of other religions in India. And yet, the Hindus live in perfect harmony, peace and friendship with all of them. Their tolerance and fellow-feeling towards the followers of other religions is remarkable.
Despite all the differences of metaphysical doctrines, modes of religious discipline and forms of ritualistic practices and social habits prevalent in the Hindu society, there is an essential uniformity in the conception of religion and in the outlook on life and the world, among all sections of Hindus.
The Glory Of Vedanta And Yoga
Vedanta, or the philosophy of the Upanishads, is lofty, sublime and unique. The Western philosophers have paid their tribute to the ancient seers of the Upanishads. They have been amazed at the lofty heights scaled by them. Schopenhauer studied the Upanishads and meditated on the thoughts of the Upanishads just before going to bed. He said: “The Upanishads are the solace of my life and they will be solace to me after my death also.”
The Raja-Yoga system of Hinduism is also splendid and unique. The lessons are immensely practical and highly instructive. No system of physical exercise on the surface of the earth can compete with Hatha-Yoga. Kundalini-Yoga is wonderful. Hence the Americans and Europeans are in search of Hindu Sannyasins and Yogins. They visit the Himalayas frequently in quest of Yoga teachers. Some are living under Hindu Yogins as disciples and are practising Yoga. Many Europeans and Americans are even now Hindus by faith and practice, though they are born Christians. They practise Raja-Yoga and Vedanta.
Emphasis On Practice
Hinduism provides spiritual food and Yoga Sadhana for all sorts of people to suit their temperaments, capacities, tastes, stages of spiritual development and conditions of life. It prescribes Yoga Sadhana even for a scavenger or a cobbler to attain God-realisation, while doing his ordinary avocation in the world. Hindu Yoga and Vedanta teachers lay great stress on self-restraint, Tapas, renunciation and practical Sadhana which is best calculated to control the mind and the senses and unfold the divinity or attain Self-realisation. Hinduism is not a religion of mere theories. It is eminently practical. In no religion you will find such a variety of practical Yoga practised and such sublime unique philosophy expounded. That is the reason why India is the only glorious land of sages, Rishis, Yogins and saints.
Religion is practical aspect of philosophy. Philosophy is rational aspect of religion. The philosophy of Hinduism is not arm-chair philosophy. It is not meant for intellectual curiosity and vain discussion. Hindu philosophy is a way of life. The philosopher of Hinduism seriously reflects after hearing the Srutis, does Atma-Vichara, constantly meditates, and then attains Self-realisation or Atma-Sakshatkara. Moksha is his goal. He attempts to attain Jivanmukti now and here.
Religion is spiritualisation of human life for a Hindu. Religious culture is really the culture of freedom for him. Religion governs all the departments of Hindu life. He must realise the freedom of the soul in every department of life. Religion affords the greatest scope for him for the culture of true freedom. Religion is the only way to him for the realisation of perfect freedom in life.
It is in India alone that every man knows something of philosophy. The cowherd who tends the cattle, the peasant who ploughs the fields, the boat-man who pulls at his oar, sing songs replete with philosophical truths. Even the barber repeats OM NAMAH SIVAYA, SIVOHAM before he takes up the razor. The Paramahamsa Sannyasins, the itinerant monks of Hinduism, have disseminated the highest of Vedanta from door to door. In exchange for a handful of rice, they have distributed from door to door, through religious songs, the priceless gems of Hindu religion and philosophy.
Who Is A Hindu
In a meeting of the Sanatana Dharma Sabha, Lokamanya Tilak said: “A Hindu is he who believes that the Vedas contain self-evident and axiomatic truths.”
The Hindu Maha Sabha has given another definition: “A Hindu is one who believes in a religion which has originated in India.”
“Those who burn the dead are Hindus.” This is another definition given by some.
“He who protects the cows and the Brahmins is a Hindu.” This is another definition given by some.
Some define: “A Hindu is one who regards India as his motherland and the most sacred spot on earth.”
Some others define: “He who calls and considers himself a Hindu is a Hindu.”
Some define: “He who accepts the Vedas, the Smritis, the Puranas and the Tantras as the basis of religion and of the rule of conduct, and believes in one Supreme God (Brahman), in the Law of Karma or retributive justice, and in reincarnation (Punarjanma), is a Hindu.”
“He who follows the Vedic or Sanatana-Dharma is a Hindu.” This is the definition by some.
“He who is a follower of the Vedanta is a Hindu.” This is another definition given by some others.
“He who has perfect faith in the Law of Karma, the law of reincarnation Avatara, ancestor worship, Varnashrama Dharma, Vedas and existence of God, he who practises the instructions given in the Vedas with faith and earnestness, he who does Sandhya, Sraaddha, Pitri-Tarpana and the Pancha-Maha-Yajnas, he who follows the Varnashrama Dharmas, he who worships the Avataras and studies the Vedas, is a Hindu.” This is the definition given by some highly cultured men. This is the only correct and complete definition.
Origin And Significance Of The Term
That part of the great Aryan race which migrated from Central Asia, through the mountain passes into India, settled first in the districts near the river Sindhu, now called the Indus, on the other side of the river. The Persians pronounced the word Sindhu as Hindu, and named their Aryan brethren Hindus. Hindu is only a corrupt form of Sindhu.
The Hindu Aryans spread themselves over the plains of the Ganga. Then the Persians gave the name Hindusthan, or abode of the Hindus, to the whole of those districts between Punjab and Benaras.(Latest historical researches have now proved that the Aryans did not come from outside India, but were the original inhabitants of India.)
The classical name for India which is used in Sanskrit literature is Bharata-Varsha or Bharata-Khanda, after the name of Bharata who ruled over a large extent of territory in days of yore. Manu’s name for the whole central region between the Himalayas and the Vindhya mountains is Aryavarta, Abode of the Aryans. Another name for the whole of India is Jambu-Dvipa. The Greeks gave the name Indu to the whole of this country. It was on account of this India became popular as the name of this country throughout Europe.
Hindu is not a mere name. This name Hindu is not only of geographical, but also of national and racial importance. The whole history of our nation from the very beginning is bound up with it. All our ideas and ideals are so intimately connected with it that it is difficult to give a simple definition of it. Poets, prophets and Avataras came to sing the praises and glory of this name. Rishis, sages and saints took their birth to compile the Sastras and Darsanas for this nation. Heroes and warriors have fought for its honour and laid down their very lives for it. Piety, nobility, generosity, philosophy, religious bent of mind, Yoga, religious tolerance, wisdom, devotion, renunciation, Self-realisation. Ahimsa, Satya and purity are associated with the name ‘Hindu’.
The Spiritual Soil Of India
India is the sacred land which has given birth to countless sages, Rishis, Yogins, saints and prophets. India is the land that has produced many Acharyas or spiritual preceptors like Sri Sankara and Sri Ramanuja; many saints like Kabir, Ramdas, Tukaram and Gauranga Mahaprabhu; many Yogins like Jnana Dev, Dattatreya andSadasiva Brahman; and many prophets like Buddha and Nanak. Buddha is our flesh and blood.
India is proud of Guru Govind Singh and Sivaji. India is proud of king Bhoja and Vikramaditya. India is proud of Sankara and Kabir. India is proud of Valmiki and Kalidasa. Krishna, Rama and all Avataras were born in India. How sacred is India! How sublime is India! The dust of Brindavan and Ayodhya, the land trodden by the sacred feet of Krishna and Rama, still purifies the heart of countless people. Even Jesus, during the missing period of His life, lived in Kashmir and learnt Yoga from the Indian Yogins. Glory to Mother India!
India is a spiritual country. India never conquered territories or annexed dominions. Military conquest is not her ambition. She wants her children to have Atma-Svarajya or Absolute Independence. She does not call upon them to rule over others. She wants them to have conquest over internal and external nature. She wants them to possess brilliant divine virtues, moral stamina and inner spiritual strength born of wisdom of the soul. Ahimsa is her weapon to have the spiritual conquest and the conquest of the minds of others.
People of India have Self-realisation as their goal. They do not, generally, bestow too much attention on material prosperity and advancement. They want Yoga or communion with the Supreme Being. They practise Ahimsa, Satya and Brahmacharya. They wish to enjoy the eternal bliss of the Absolute. They are always ready to renounce worldly possessions in order to possess or realise the inner Atman or Brahman. They will sacrifice anything and everything in order to attain the immortal Atman. They are always spiritual-minded.
India is the sacred land with several holy rivers and powerful spiritual vibrations. The hoary Himalayas attract the people of the whole world. It is a land peculiarly suitable for divine contemplation and Yogic practices. Every country has its own special attractive features. India is the land of Yogins and sages. This is the special attractive feature of India. This is the reason why people from America, England and all parts of the world come to India for the practice of Yoga.
The Facts Of History
India is the most tolerant country in the world. She has a very expansive heart. She includes all nations in the embrace of her love.
The Western nations are the descendents of the original Hindus or Aryans. They might have forgotten their old connections with the Aryans and Hindu culture. They might have forgotten all about their ancestors. But this cannot be effaced from the annals of history. Mother India, the repository of Hindu culture, cannot forget her children beyond the seas. They are always dear to her.
Hindu culture and Hindu civilisation were at their zenith in the days of yore. Greeks and Romans imitated the Hindus and absorbed Hindu thoughts. Even now Hindu culture and Hindu civilisation stand foremost in the world. No religion has produced so many great saints, sages, Yogins, Rishis, Maharshis, prophets, Acharyas, benefactors, heroes, poets, statesmen and kings as Hinduism. Each and every province of the country has produced intellectual giants, poets and saints. Even now India abounds in Rishis, philosophers, saints and high intellectuals. Even now she abounds in sages and great souls.
The Hindus had to undergo severe hardships and tortures. They had to face fierce battles and cruelties and yet they live today. Some mysterious power has preserved them. Some invisible force has protected them. That power will protect them for ever.
Reasons For Survival Of The Hindu Religion
Hinduism is neither asceticism nor illusionism, neither polytheism nor pantheism. It is the synthesis of all types of religious experiences. It is a whole and complete view of life. It is characterised by wide toleration, deep humanity and high spiritual purpose. It is free from fanaticism. That is the reason why it has survived the attacks of the followers of some of the other great religions of the world.
No religion is so very elastic and tolerant like Hinduism. Hinduism is very stern and rigid regarding the fundamentals. It is very elastic in readjusting to the externals and non-essentials. That is the reason why it has succeeded in living through millennia.
The foundation of Hinduism has been laid on the bedrock of spiritual truths. The entire structure of Hindu life is built on eternal truths, the findings of the Hindu Rishis or seers. That is the reason why this structure has lasted through scores of centuries.
The glory of Hinduism is ineffable. It has within it all the features of a universal religion. Its Dharmas are universal. Its doctrines are sublime. Its philosophy is grand. Its ethics is soul-elevating. Its scriptures are wonderful. Its Sadhanas or Yoga-Vedantic practices are unique. Glorious has been the past of this religion; still more glorious is its future. It has a message to give to a world rent asunder by hatred, dissension and war—the message of cosmic love, truth and non-violence, the gospel of unity of Self or Upanishadic oneness. The more you know of India and Hinduism, the more will you come to regard and love it and the more grateful to the Lord will you be in that you have got a taste for practising Yoga and that you are imbibing the teachings and spirit of Hinduism. Glory to India! Glory to Hinduism! Glory, glory to the Rishis and the seers who have kept burning the flame of Hinduism with its extreme effulgence and splendour!