Introduction to Hinduism:
Hinduism is the religion of the majority of people in India and Nepal. It also exists among significant populations outside of the sub continent and has over 900 million adherents worldwide.
In some ways Hinduism is the oldest living religion in the world, or at least elements within it stretch back many thousands of years. Yet Hinduism resists easy definition partly because of the vast array of practices and beliefs found within it. It is also closely associated conceptually and historically with the other Indian religions Jainism, Buddhismand Sikhism.
Unlike most other religions, Hinduism has no single founder, no single scripture, and no commonly agreed set of teachings. Throughout its extensive history, there have been many key figures teaching different philosophies and writing numerous holy books. For these reasons, writers often refer to Hinduism as 'a way of life' or 'a family of religions' rather than a single religion.
The term 'Hindu' was derived from the river or river complex of the northwest, the Sindhu. Sindhu is a Sanskrit word used by the inhabitants of the region, the Aryans in the second millennium BCE. Later migrants and invaders, the Persians in the sixth century BCE, the Greeks from the 4th century BCE, and the Muslims from the 8th century CE, used the name of this river in their own languages for the land and its people.
The term 'Hindu' itself probably does not go back before the 15th and 16th centuries when it was used by people to differentiate themselves from followers of other traditions, especially the Muslims (Yavannas), in Kashmir and Bengal. At that time the term may have simply indicated groups united by certain cultural practices such as cremation of the dead and styles of cuisine. The 'ism' was added to 'Hindu' only in the 19th century in the context of British colonialism and missionary activity.
Some Hindus define orthodoxy as compliance with the teachings of the Vedic texts (the four Vedas and their supplements). However, still others identify their tradition with 'Sanatana Dharma', the eternal order of conduct that transcends any specific body of sacred literature. Scholars sometimes draw attention to the caste system as a defining feature, but many Hindus view such practices as merely a social phenomenon or an aberration of their original teachings. Nor can we define Hinduism according to belief in concepts such as karma and samsara(reincarnation) because Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists (in a qualified form) accept this teaching too.
Although it is not easy to define Hinduism, we can say that it is rooted in India, most Hindus revere a body of texts as sacred scripture known as the Veda, and most Hindus draw on a common system of values known as dharma.
- Hinduism originated around the Indus Valley near the River Indus in modern day Pakistan.
- About 80% of the Indian population regard themselves as Hindu.
- Most Hindus believe in a Supreme God, whose qualities and forms are represented by the multitude of deities which emanate from him.
- Hindus believe that existence is a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, governed by Karma.
- Hindus believe that the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives and its next incarnation is always dependent on how the previous life was lived.
- The main Hindu texts are the Vedas and their supplements (books based on the Vedas). Veda is a Sanskrit word meaning 'knowledge'. These scriptures do not mention the word 'Hindu' but many scriptures discuss dharma, which can be rendered as 'code of conduct', 'law', or 'duty'
Hinduism is a Universal Religion:
It is a synthesis of approaches. Even the name "Hinduism"came late. The original name is Sanaat’ana Dharma, Eternal Truth. We can pick up and understand "that Truth" in any way we like. In this great religion we leave real freedom of choice in worship, in approaching that One Supreme Entity, that we call God.
In Hindu thought, there is room for everything, not only the nice, refined philosophies. Even the simple, ordinary crude forms of worship are accepted, because that's where some people begin. They believe in that, like a baby playing with a wooden horse, taking it to the water, putting grass into its mouth and saying, "Come on, horsey, come and eat." You don’'t laugh at the child, because that’s the way a child begins.
Hinduism never rejects or denies anything or anybody. It is a big ocean.It could be called Sindhuism ."Sindhu" in some of the Indian languages means "ocean." It never says, "Only Ganga andGodavari may enter; Missouri and Mississippi must stay out." No ,they all flow in. Even the city gutter water goes in. It’s as if the big ocean mamma says, "Come, my child, I know you went around and got dirty. Come in, and I will clean you up." Even atheism is accepted. The Hindus know that the moment you say, "I don'’t believe in God,"you seem to accept a God. If there is not God, why do you want not to believe? You say, that there is a God, but you don’t believe in it. A true Hindu will have no problem in accepting all other faiths. He will never say,"Oh, I am only a Hindu. I am not a Catholic. I’'m not a Buddhist. I’'m not a Muslim." They are all based on devotion, the Bhakti Yoga. The ocean never denies any water; it’s all embracing. That is why sometimes I like to call myself "Undo," because I would like to undo "all limitations".
All of our problems today are based on the attitude that, "My way, my approach is the right one. And if you don’'t follow this, you’ll be condemned."There is no one way, because each mind is different. Each person conceives of God according to his capacity, taste and temperament. You have your way. You have the freedom and the right to follow it; but your following "your way" should not cause problems to others. Just as you have your freedom, others must also have the freedom to find peace and joy,- in their own way.
It's very, painful to see people hurting each other, even killing oneanother, in the name of God and religion. Even in the name of Hinduism, you find religious quarrels. People who see God as S’iva didn’t want to see God as Vishnu. S’aivites and Vaishnavites quarrel. It is our lack of understanding [of our own religion]; we don’'t see the underlying spirituality behind all the diversities in the creation.
Religion has a very important role to play in the world. Unfortunately, it forgets that role, and the different religions fight with one another. We have enough money, enough land, enough food to feed, clothe and house everyone. Poverty and hunger are not due to lack of resources. The reason is that we are not caring and sharing. We have to open and change the hearts of the people. That can be done onlythrough religious understanding;- to help them see that we are all children of that One Absolute God, one global, divine family. There is only one God who is our Lord, who is the life in us. Like rain in the river going back to the ocean, every drop of water that wants to go back to its source is a religious seeker.
God above is like completely distilled water. When it falls down on one side of the river, it is called Heavenly Father. On the other side, they call it Allah. If it falls in the Himalayas, they call it Siva. We may call this One God: Brahma, Father, Mother, Adonai, Cosmic Consciousness, Divine Essence, etc. But we mean the same thing. God is pleased with any name we give Him. He doesn’t care what we call Him, but rather how we feel about Him.
In the Ve’d’aant’ic part of the Hindu scriptures, it says that God has no name or form. So we find it hard to communicate. Due to our limitations, we can never comprehend something without a form. For example, if I say"sweetness", how would you understand sweetness? Immediately, you have to think of sugar or money or candy. Without a form, you cannotunderstand sweetness. That is the reason why we try to understand God throughforms and names. Otherwise God is formless. The Saiva Saint Manikkavasagar said, "You don't have a name; You don't have a form, but we approachYou with thousands of names and thousands of forms. You accept all our approaches."
The beauty and greatness of Hinduism is that it allows real freedom of choice in worship. There is room for the Ve’d’aant’in who approaches God within as his own Self without any form. If you wish to approach God through a form, there is S’iva, or Vishnu, or Kumaara; or as a Goddess Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati and others. If you don'’t believe in a human form of God, you can worship a tree, a snake ora stone. You can see God in any form you want, because God made everything in his own image; everything is His expression.
It is my heartfelt player that we all make this resolution: "From this day onward, my life will be all-embracing and harmonious. Let me learn to accept all the various approaches of people, because everyone is looking for the same happiness and joy in life. Let me not condemn anybody because he or she looks, thinks or, acts a little different. Let me reailize the spiritual unity behind all the diversities in the creation and remember always that we are members of one divine family. This, in my own small, humble way, may contribute to the peace, joy, and harmony of the world."
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 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.
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.
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 thePancha-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.