Who is a Hindu?
Compiled by Sanjeev Nayyar December 2004
Major world religions like Islam and Christianity are associated with Allah and Christ and seem to have a clear set of rules by which its followers live their lives. On the other hand Hindus do not - claim any one prophet, worship one God, subscribe to any one dogma, believe in more than one philosophical concept and a variety of customs and traditions. Who is a Hindu? Is it a religion? Can it be defined? What are the parameters by which one could be said to be a Hindu? As I move along the path of gyan – knowledge the definition gets only wider. In fact this is the fifth attempt at defining a Hindu!
Next can there be an all-inclusive definition? No because that would be going against one of the basic tenets of Hinduism i.e. open – mindedness. Hinduism has not one school of thought. There are six systems of philosophy along with hundreds of religious teachers each with his own interpretation of scriptures. There is nothing like this is the only way to self-realization. Over thousands of years Hinduism has continuously assimilated ideas and thoughts of people who accepted its Central Idea and came within its fold.
Notwithstanding the sanctity of the Holy Scriptures, Hinduism is for most of us a way of life. The article has four chapters, one to three attempts to define a Hindu & its key beliefs while four tells you how Bharat got the name India. Bharat is the Hindi name for India, meaning, The Land of Knowledge.
1. Hindu – Dharma
- How did the word Hindu come into existence?
- How did Hindu become Hinduism?
- What is Religion? (Sri Aurobindo)
- Darsana or Direct Vision.
- The Indian equivalent of religion is Dharma. Define! (Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Rama, Sri Aurobindo, Munisri Nyayavijayaji and Swami Tattwamayananda).
2. Key Beliefs
- Nine Beliefs
- Universal dimension
- Love for Motherland, Vedic view.
- Vedic Concept of God.
- Idol worship.
- 33 crore Gods! How?
- Ahimsa. (Vedic, Holy Geeta, Yogic, Jaina views and Sri Aurobindo).
- Worship of Animals.
- Worship of Water.
- Worship of Women.
- Worship of Trees.
18. What is it that distinguishes Hinduism from Islam and Christianity?
3. Great Men said!
- Swami Vivekananda
20. Veer Savarkar.
- Sri Aurobindo.
4. Origin of Name India & a few thoughts.
Hindu – Dharma Chapter One
1. How did the word Hindu come into existence?
According to our ex-President and scholar Dr S Radhakrishnan, the term Hindu had originally a territorial and not credal significance. It implies residence in a well-defined geographical area. As a modern term, Hindu has evolved from the Indo-Iranian root Sindhu. This Proto-Indo-Iranian word sindhus literally refers to the "Indus River" and the culture pertaining to its long expansive valley. This is where Hindu culture first developed.
(1) Historically, however, at a very early date, Persian explorers entered the Indian subcontinent from the far Northwest. After they returned, they published chronicles. But due to the phonetics of their native Persian language, the 'S' of Sind became an aspirated 'H.' This is how the people of the Indus Valley came to be known generically as "Hindus" by the Persians. This flawed intonation inevitably stuck.
(2) And was later re-imported when the invading Moguls conquered India. Since they always referred to the locals as "Hindus," the term was adopted by the Indians themselves as a way of distinguishing native culture from that of the foreign Muslims.
(3) But it should be noted that still today there is a region, a people and a language called Sind.
Net net there was no word Hindu till the Muslims came to India. It was called Sanathan Dharam. Hindu is a modified version of Sindhu, was a term to indicate the region round the Sindhu river (modern day Indus) and then the whole of India. The Iranians substituted H for S making it Hindu. When the Muslims came in, there became two sets of people, one the Muslims and two the Hindus.
The 10th Sikh Guru in Dasam Granth in Ugradanti Chhake Chhand Vani under the description of 'Chandi Ki Var' stated, "Let Khalsa be victorious all over the world to awaken Hindu Dharma, so all falsehood or ignorance may be removed". In another verse he has used the word 'Hinduka'. Probably it was the word used in medieval times and the word may have been a prototype of the modern word Hindoo (Hindu) as the British would say.
2. How did Hindu become Hinduism?
The word Hinduism is incorrect nomenclature that was most probably coined by the British. Thereafter, it has stuck due to the ignorance of its followers. The term 'ism' refers to an ideology e.g. Marxism, socialism, communism, imperialism and capitalism but the Hindus have no such 'ism'. Hindus follow the continuum process of evolution; for the Hindus do not have any unidirectional ideology, therefore, in Hindu Dharma there is no place for any 'ism'. Hindus are democratic in approach, for each individual is free to adopt any philosophy or way to self-realization.
3. A more fundamental question, what is Religion?
Quote Sri Aurobindo "There is no word so plastic and uncertain in its meaning as the word is religion. The word is European…. The average Christian believes that the Bible is God's book, but ordinarily he does not consider anything in God's book binding on him in practice except to believe in God and go to Church once a week, the rest is meant only for the exceptionally pious. To believe in God is to believe that he wrote a book; only one in all those ages, and to go to Church is the minimum of religion in Europe".
Extracts from an article by Nandakumar Chandran. "A religion in the modern sense is generally understood in the Semitic mould as a faith distinguished by its belief in a historical prophet and a holy book. Thus the combination of Jesus and the Bible or Mohammed and the Quran establish the distinct identity of Christianity and Islam. According to these religions salvation or access to God is possible only if you accept the authority of their prophet and holy book. So each of these religions hold that theirs is the only true path and the claims of all other religions are false and invalid. At a secondary level apart from theological distinctions the adherents of these religions also distinguish themselves by their distinct cultural traits - like naming themselves after the holy men of their religions, dressing in a distinct way or observing cultural practices particular to their own religion. So it is in these factors - primarily the exclusive belief in prophet and holy book and secondarily in theological beliefs and distinct cultural practices - that the individual identity of a religion and its adherents rests. But if we look at India the concept of a prophet is totally lacking - no saint has ever claimed, "His is the only way".
4. Darsana - The Sanskrit word for philosophy is darsana, which means direct vision. The words symbolize the difference between modern Western philosophy, which mainly relies on intellectual pursuit and Indian philosophy that relies on direct vision of truths and pure Buddhi (reasoning). Darsana is divided into two categories namely Astika (believer in the Vedas) and Nastika (non-believer in the Vedas). Astika are Nyaya, Vaisheshik, Sakhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta. Nastika are Carvaka, Jainism and Buddhism. Others are a mixture of the ideas of these systems. Although each school of philosophy is unique some of the Nastika schools are treated as religions today namely Buddhism and Jainism.
However, certain common characteristics unite Astika and Nastika schools namely Direct experience, Acceptance of authority, Harmony amongst schools, Parallel growth and co existence of so many schools, open mindedness, support of logic and reasoning, belief of eternity, law of karma, moral and ethical teachings, acknowledgement of suffering, thoroughness, practicality and being inward looking. Have excluded Sikhism because in the words of Khushwant Singh Sikhism is a product of distilled Vedanta and Bhakti movement. To my mind culture, way of life and characteristics of philosophy are three key parameters that distinguish one religion from another. As a concept religion is alien to India.
5. The Indian equivalent of Religion is Dharma. Define!
Quote Mahabharata Shantiparva – 6-7-8 " Truthfulness, to be free from anger, sharing wealth with others, (samvibhaga) forgiveness, procreation of children from one's own wife only, purity, absence of enmity, straight forwardness & maintaining persons dependent on oneself are the nine rules of the Dharma of persons belonging to all the varnas".
Manusmriti, Manu X-63 "Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (not acquiring illegitimate wealth), Shoucham (purity), and Indriyanigraha (control of senses) are, in brief, the common Dharma for all the varnas".
Swami Rama wrote i.e. explanation to verse 31 and 32 of chapter 2 of the Gita "Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna that one's duty is of paramount importance, for it is the means to fulfill the purpose of life. That which supports the fulfillment of one's duty is called Dharma. Dharma is not comparable to religion; it encompasses all the dimensions of life both within and without. It refers to duties done harmoniously, skillfully, selflessly and lovingly. It supports one in fulfilling the purpose of life and helps one to relate to others and to society in a harmonious way".
Swami Dayanand Saraswati wrote "That which inculcates justice and equity, which teaches truthfulness in thought, speech and deed – in a word, that which is in conformity with the Will of God, as embodied in the Vedas, even that I call Dharma. But that which is intermixed with what is partial, which sanctions injustice, which teaches untruthfulness of thought, speech or deed – in brief that which is in antagonism to the Will of God, as embodied in the Vedas, that I term Adharma".
Sri Aurobindo wrote "Religion is India is a still more plastic term and may mean anything from the heights of Yoga to strangling your fellow man and relieving him of the worldly goods he may happen to be carrying with him. It would be too long to enumerate everything that can be included in Indian religion. Briefly however, it is Dharma or living religiously, whole life being governed by religion. It means in ordinary practice living according to authority. The authority generally accepted in the Shastra. When one studies the Shastra we realize that Indian life and it have little in common, the Indian governs his life by the custom and opinion of the nearest Brahman. In practice this resolves itself into following certain customs and observances of which he neither understands the spiritual meaning nor the practicality. For e.g. to venerate the scriptures without knowing them, to keep Hindu holidays, to worship all Brahmans without knowing whether they are venerable or not. This in India is the minimum of religion glorified as Sanatan Dharam. If a man has emotional or ecstatic piety, he is a Bhakta, if he can talk fluently about the Veda, Upanishads etc he is a Jnani. If he puts on a yellow robe and does nothing he is a tyagi or sannyasin.
The average Hindu is right in his conception of religion as dharma, to live according to holy rule, but the holy rule is not a mass of fugitive customs, but to live for God in oneself and others and not for oneself only, to make the whole life a sadhana the object of which is to realize the Divine in the world by work, love and knowledge".
Munisri Nyayavijayaji wrote in the book Jaina Darsana translated into English as Jaina Philosophy & Dharma by Shri Nagin Shah "This verse states that which saves living beings from falling into lower condition is Dharma. Again, it says that which lifts their life from the lower state to the higher one is Dharma. Dharma is the natural quality of the soul, which is experienced by all. On account of the removal of the traces of the past evil acts, the passions of attachment and aversion become mild, and consequently mental purity is attained, this purity is the real dharma. This is the luster of life. Compassion, friendliness, doing good to others, truthfulness, self-control, renunciation – all these good qualities constitute the auspicious light of the internal pure life. Life permeated with such light is called Dharmic life". Interestingly Shri Shah who translated the Gujarati version into English has used the word Religion in place of Dharma although the Sanskrit verses use the word Dharma.
Swami Tattwamayananda of the Ramakrishna Order wrote "Dharma has two broad divisions, namely pravrtti and nivrtti dharma. Pravrtti dharma is dealt with in the sacrificial portion (karma kanda) of the Vedas and is a pursuit of life, which enables the individual to live a happy life in this world while performing actions, and caring for duties and responsibilities in his domestic, social and national life. Nivrtti dharma, dealt with in the Upanisadic portion of the Vedic literature, is a pursuit to make us understand the unity of the Spirit, which transcends the conventions of laws of social and domestic life. Pravrtti dharma is divided into two, special (visesa) dharma and ordinary (samanya) dharma. Special dharma denotes the performance of duties by people relevant to their particular position in life, whereas general dharma includes the virtues of character and good conduct such as non-injury, truthfulness, non-stealing, charity, cleanliness, compassion, simplicity, absence of greed etc".
Sri Aurobindo on Dharma vs Democracy wrote "It has been said that democracy is based on the rights of man; it has been replied that it should rather take its stand on the duties of man; but both rights and duties are European ideas. Dharma is the Indian conception in which rights and duties lose the artificial antagonism created by a view of the world, which makes selfishness the root of action, and regain their deep and eternal unity. Dharma is the basis of democracy which Asia must recognize, for in this lies the distinction between the soul of Asia and the soul of Europe".
You see Dharma encompassed every aspect of our lives. Every action was either Dharmic or adharmic. An act of killing like that of Arjun's was considered Dharmic because it was meant to destroy evil from this world. Dharma is unique to Bharat.
Other Parameters Chapter 2
6. Nine Beliefs for all Hindus (quote the Himalayan Academy) – Here are nine beliefs or shraddha which summaries the Hindu view.
1. Hindus believe in divinity of the Vedas, the world's most ancient scripture and venerate the agamas as equally revealed. These primordial hymns are God's word and form the bedrock of Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion that has neither a beginning nor an end.
2. Hindus believe in a one, all-pervasive Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.
3. Hindus believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.
4. Hindus believe in karma, the law of cause & effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.
5. Hindus believe that the soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha, spiritual knowledge and liberation from the cycle of rebirth is attained. Not a single soul will be eternally deprived of this destiny.
6. Hindus believe that divine beings exist in unseen worlds and that temple worship, rituals, sacraments as well as personal devotionals create a communion with these devas and Gods.
7. Hindus believe that a spiritually awakened master, or satguru, is essential to know the Transcendent Absolute, as are personal discipline, good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry and meditation.
8. Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, non-injury.
9. Hindus believe that no particular religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine religious paths are facets of God's Pure Love and Light, deserving tolerance and understanding.
7. Universal dimension – Swami Tattwamayananda of the Ramakrishna Order wrote " The Vedantic concepts of the spiritual oneness of existence, the whole world being one spiritual family (vasudhava kuttumbakam), individuals being essentially the very embodiments of purity and morality, and the concepts of dharma and karma, all provide a solid foundation for a great ethical philosophy, which is universal in dimension. This is all the more relevant today when a global approach is becoming more and more popular and acceptable in all spheres of life".
When we talk of spiritual oneness, one spiritual family it is only dharmic faiths or Indian religions using modern connotations that talk about it. It is only a Hindu who can teach millions of Americans Yoga without insisting that the student becomes a Hindu.
8. Love for Motherland, Vedic view - There is a full chapter in the Rig Veda on the subject of love for motherland (1-80). Atharva 12.1.62 "O Mother Land! If need be, we thy sons are ready to sacrifice our lives to protect your honor. May we remain united and defeat all our adversaries". There is a full-fledged Sukta in Vedas on the issue. Arth 12 Sukta.
So love for motherland, Bharat, is always associated with followers of Indian religions. During the partition of Bengal in 1905, the song Vande Mataram by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee became very important. It was a hymn for the love of motherland sublimated into a devotion to the Divine Mother Bharat. In that vision was manifest the trinity of Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge), Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and beauty) and Durga (the goddess of strength and energy).
9. Vedic Concept of God (briefly)
His Names - His best name is Om, comprised of three letters, a, u, m. A signifies Virat, the ruler of the Universe being omnipresent. U implied Hiranya-garbha, the upholder of all planers and M expresses his qualities as Ishwara, the universal intellect. He is also invoked by various names to indicate his qualities.
Rig V 1.164.46 – He is one but the wise call Him by different names. He is addressed as Indra, Varuna and Agni. He is shining Garutman. He is named Agni, Yama and Matarishva. Yajur V 32-1 – He is Agni. He is Aditya. He is Vayu. He is Chandrama (moon). He is Shankar, He is Brahma, He is Apah, He is Prajapati.
He is one and Only One of His Kind - Rig V 8.1.1. – One God alone is to be worshipped. O, ye friends! Do not glorify any other being than God so that sorrows and sufferings may not trouble you. Eulogize God of supreme power alone, as He is the shower of all blessings. Repeatedly pronounce the sacred hyms together in congregations.
God's attributes in the words of Swami Dayanand Saraswati are "God is Truth and Happiness itself, Formless, Almighty, Just, Merciful, Unbegotten, Infinite, Immutable, Without Beginning, Incomparable, All supporting, the Lord of All, All Pervading, Omnipresent, Imperishable, Immortable, Fearless, Eternal, Holy and Efficient Cause of the Universe".
10. Idol worship – Regarding Idol worship, while Vedas certainly do not have worship of Gods in human form, yet idol worship is not merely about worshipping gods in human form. The essence of idol worship is worshipping gods in some perceptible forms, which was very much there in Vedas. The symbols, which were instrumental to worship the almighty, were the 'powers of nature' - like sun, fire, wind etc. Moreover, Kenopanishad also provides for the first time manifestation of Almighty in human form - as a Yaksha. So the seeds are very much there in Vedas themselves, however, it was the Puranas written by Veda Vyasa which initiated the present day systems of Idol worship. Idol worship was first started in India by the Buddhists and probably the Jains.
Idol worship is only a means to an end and not the end by itself. When we look at an idol of say Sri Krishna it helps us improve our power of concentration by focusing on the idol - overcome distractions of the mind. Further by worshipping the idol we are trying to imbibe within ourselves the qualities represented by the idol, in this case Sri Krishna. As we move along the spiritual path the power of concentration helps us focus on the God within, the Atma or soul. However, there are some sects like the Arya Samajis or the Veersaivites (followers of Basavanna) who do not believe in idol worship. It does not make them any less Hindu.
Munisri Nyayavijayaji wrote in the book Jaina Darsana translated into English as Jaina Philosophy & Dharma by Shri Nagin Shah "An image is a symbol of the Supreme Soul, the highest ideal of non-attachment. It reflects perfect non-attachment. Dronacharya refused Ekalavya to teach archery. So Ekalavya made an idol of Dronacharya as he could and superimposed on it Dronacharya as his teacher. With great devotion to Dronacharya he started learning archery. As a result, he learnt archery and surpassed even Arjuna, the most favorite pupil of Dronacharya. How suggestive the illustration is!"
11. 33 crore Gods!
The Rishis were highly intelligent & observant people. Following the scientific premise that 'every effect has a cause', they inferred that even for this beautiful creation there has to be a creator, who naturally has to have not only the knowledge but also the power to create. Thus we have to have a causeless cause - who has to be omniscient, omnipotent & omnipresent. He being the creator has to as though stand apart from the creation, and is thus free from the all the limitations of time, space & objectivity, which characterize the creation. This transcendental, infinite embodiment of knowledge & power is what the scriptures call GOD. Infinite by its very definition has to be one, so we have the Vedas talking about one God.
Just as various ornaments are created out of one material, viz.gold; so also one basic TRUTH manifests in various forms. That one reality is called as Brahman in Upanishads (from the word 'Brahat' meaning the largest thing conceivable by man), while it's various glorious manifestations are worshipped as various Devatas - the so-called 33 crore Gods. Here also the 33 crore stands for infinite. It is noteworthy here to indicate that in Hinduism we use two words as Ishwara & Devatas. The former is 'the thing', and the latter its manifestations. The problem comes because in English when we use the word 'God' for both Ishwara & Devatas. Devatas are also that one reality but manifested in a particular conditioning, while the word God represents the unconditioned truth.
12. AHIMSA – Thanks to Gandhi Ahimsa is a much-misunderstood term. To some it means that as a nation India must not fight wars and pursue the path of non-violence to achieve its objectives.
a) Vedic View "When a nation is well protected through arms only then can all forms of knowledge and science flourish". For the defence of a country there are abundant references in the Vedas, to maintain a regular-armed force.
War when to be fought - According to the Vedas, war with the enemy is to be started when the enemy attacks or intends to attack. It is not to be fought simply to acquire territory of any other country.
Rig 5.54.14 - Atharva 11.10.1 – 'O brave warriors, rise with your banners and prepare yourself for (battle) to protect the territorial boundaries of the country. O snake like swift warriors, O demons like men and other people, chase the enemy who attempts to attack. Rig 5.54.7 – O warriors, you cannot be conquered by anyone, but you do not trouble any one or plunder any area. You are assigned to protect the kingdom.'
From a reading of the above it is clear that the role of the army was to defend when attacked and not run away from war. So violence as an act of protection was not abhorred.
b) Holy Geeta view Pujya Swami Chinamayanandji beautifully spells it out in his commentary on the Geeta.
1. Chapter 2, slokha 31 "Further, looking at thine own duty thou oughtest not to waiver,
for there is nothing higher for a Kshatriya than a righteous war.
Arjuna's personal call-of-character (Swadharma) is that of a leader of his generation (Kshatriya) and as such, when his generation is called upon to answer a challenge of an organized un-Aryan force (Adharma), it his duty not to waver but to fight and defend his sacred national culture.
To the leaders of people, there can be nothing nobler than to get a glorious chance to fight for a righteous cause. That a king must fight on such a occasion is vividly brought out in the Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva –72-18 says "The sin that is committed by killing one who does not deserve to be killed is as great as the sin of NOT killing one who deserves to be killed". It's like saying that the man who pays a bribe as much in the wrong as the man who accepts one.
2. Chapter 2, slokha 32, "Happy indeed are the Kshatriyas, O Partha, who are called to fight in such a battle, that comes of itself as an open door to heaven.
As used here, Kshatriya is not the name of a caste. It merely indicates a certain quality of the mental vasanas in the individual. Those who have ever-bubbling enthusiasm to defend the weak and poor, besides their own national culture from all threats of aggression are called Kshatriyas. Such leaders of men are not allowed to be tyrants or aggressors according to the code of morality of the Hindus. But, at the same time, a cold, feminine and cowardly non-resistance is not the spirit of the Hindu tradition. In all cases where the Hindu nation is forced to wage a war on the principles of righteousness the leaders of India are ordered to fight in the defense of their culture. Such battle-fields are the wide-open gates to Heaven for the defending heroes who fight diligently on the side of Dharma".
3. Chapter 2, slokha 33, "But, if you will not fight this righteous war, then, having abandoned your own duty and fame, you shall incur sin".
4. Chapter 2, slokha 34, "People too will recount your everlasting dishonor, and to one who has been honored, dishonor is more than death". We are yet to recover from the debacle of the Indo-China War of 1962.
5. Chapter 3, slokha 21, "Whatever a great man does, that other men also do, whatever he sets up as standard, that the world follows.
The moral rejuvenation of a society in any period can take place only because of the example set up by leaders of the nation. The very creed of Krishna is active resistance to evil. His non-violence is not the instinctive incapacity of the day-dreaming coward who cannot stand up against injustice and fight for the accepted principles of national culture".
Buddhists and Jain sects have become strong propagators of Ahimsa today but history is replete with instances of Buddhist / Jain kings who took to violence to gain political superiority. An act of violence can be a Dharmic or adharmic act that is indeed what matters.
c) Yogic View - David Frawley wrote "There are two main types of ahimsa in the Yoga tradition. The first is ahimsa as a spiritual principle that is followed by the monks, sadhus, yogis which involves non-violence on all levels. The second is ahimsa as a political principle, the ahimsa of the warrior or the Kshatriya that is followed by those who govern and protect society, which allows the use of violence to counter evil forces in the world, including to protect spiritual people, who often cannot defend themselves and become easy targets for the worldly people. Krishna taught this Kshatriya ahimsa to Arjuna for the benefit of future generations. Sages before Krishna also taught this, like Vishvamitra who taught Ram and Lakshman to destroy the evil forces that were persecuting spiritual people, so it is a very old tradition of India".
d) Sri Aurobindo wrote in India's Rebirth. "A few months earlier, Gandhi sent his son Devdas to Pondicherry to see Aurobindo. He asked my views about non-violence. I told him, "Suppose there is an invasion of India by the Afghans, how are you going to meet it with non-violence?" That is all I remember. I do not think he put me any other question".
e) Jaina View (in brief) - Munisri Nyayavijayaji wrote in the book Jaina Darsana translated into English as Jaina Philosophy & Dharma by Shri Nagin Shah "Non-violence is a spiritual power. Noble bravery demands self-sacrifice. To sacrifice one's self-interest and even one's life – if the need be – while resisting violence and supporting and fostering non-violence is the bravery of high order. To oppose violence only verbally and to run away out of fear when one is required to face physical sufferings is really not the practice of non-violence. Inspite of his having courage & strength to fight, the person who controls his passion & excitement on such occasions and does not yield to violence is the true practicer of non-violence. Coward & weak men's claim to the practice of non-violence is wrong.
It is the Kshatriyas who have taught non-violence, and those who follow their teachings are the brave men of heroic character. Prosperity and all round development choose and accompany the heroic character. Where there is weakness and feeling of fear, the practice of non-violence is impossible.
If one who knows swimming does not rescue a drowning man and simply watches him drown, it is an act of violence. Not to give food to the hungry inspite of one's ability to give food is also an act of violence. To remain indifferent to other's happiness, comforts and benefits for the sake of one's own is also an act of violence".
From the very beginning the followers of Hinduism realized that truth was many-sided and different views contained different aspects of truth, which no one could fully express. Further Direct Experience is an important characteristic of Indian philosophy meaning that each individual must have spiritual experiences himself. Since each one of us comes into this world with different experiences in our previous births our way of thinking differs. As we spiritually evolve we choose our own way of attaining self-realization. This knowledge inevitably bred a spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the other's points of view. This is how the several views set forth in India are considered to be the branches of the self-same tree.
14. Worship of Animals
Quote from an article Animals in Indian art by Nanditha Krishna. "Ancient India protected animals in the same way it protected all of nature, by creating an aura of sanctity of around them and celebrating their dignity. Such animals were the vehicles of the Gods. Others, such as the elephant-headed Ganesha and Hanuman, the monkey devotee of Lord Ram, became Gods themselves. This is probably no other culture in the world that has been so consistently associated with plant & animal life as the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain traditions of India.
Indian art, which was used to allegorize values and moral beliefs, honored the dignity of animals. Hermits and saints were always depicted to be living in harmony with nature. Probably, as people moved from hunting to food production, the need to kill for food receded, and they could sit back and appreciate the qualities of the animals that were once their antagonists. The Vedas invested gods and animals with divine parentage. In the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu we have divine manifestations that are equally animal and human.
The lion capital of Ashoka, with the majestic Asian lions in Persepolitan stule, proclaimed the might of the king, and is now the emblem of the Govt of India. In contrast, as the base of the same capital, are frolicking animals to represent the Buddha: the elephant symbolized his birth, the lion his clan, the horse his renunciation and the bull his zodiac sign. The lion represented might, a symbolism that continued through Indian art history, as late as the Pallava and Vijayanagara periods. This probably saved the Asian lion from extinction.
Ungulates are prolific in art. The bull represented mobility and stature. It was also the capital of an Asokan pillar from Rampurva (Bihar). The bull accompanies Shiva, standing at the entrance to all Saivite shrines, while depictions of Uma Maheshvara (Shiva & Parvati) are prolific paintings in the Maratha paintings of Tanjore. The cow was of course, gow mata and Kamadhenu, a representative of Goddess Lakshmi. Unfortunately, the buffalo alone, representing the demon Mahisha destroyed by Durga, came to represent ignorance, slothfulness and evil and became a much maligned and sacrificed animal.
Birds were used to express human emotions. The swan represented morality and clean living, being the vehicle of Brahma and Sarasvati, while the crow was a messenger. The eagle hawk (Garuda) and similar large bird's symbolized speed, strength and sun. It was the enemy of the snake, feared yet respected and worshipped in the Naga stones of rural India". Feeding of birds is widely done. There is a roundabout circle in Mumbai called Kabutharkhana where thousands of pigeons are fed throughout the day.
15. Worship of Water.
There is probably no other culture in the world that attaches as much importance to water as we do. Before we start Puja water is sprinkled on select parts of our body to purify it. When a Hindu goes for any Yatra, be it to Mansrovar or Gangotri he invariably carries holy water for others. When fellow passengers at Kathmandu Airport saw me carrying a 20-litre can of Mansrovar water they asked to share the water. When I went to Hemkund Sahib in 2001 I saw Punjabi Sardars carry water from the holy lake there.
According to the Hindu Marriage Ceremony published by Jnana Prabhodini, Pune before the completion of the ceremony, there is a Blessing of the couple by sprinkling holy water. The priest says 'Dear friends, let us sprinkle the holy water from Yajna on the newly wedded couple and bless them'. So also after the wedding ceremony is over there is 'Singing of marriage hymns and removing the Antarpat on the auspicious moment'. The third stanza invites all the holy rivers to bless the couple. The sixth stanza says that so far as the Ganges is flowing through its course, so far as the sun is shining in the sky, so far as the Meru mountain is adorned with blue marble rocks, you enjoy life with sons and grandsons'.
Quote from an article by columnist Rajeev Srinivasan. "Ancient India did recognize the importance of their rivers as literally the lifeblood of the nation. Hence the great honor and respect given to them in Hindu scriptures. For e.g. read this slokha
'Gange cha! Yamuna chiava! Godavri! Saraswati!
Narmade! Sindhu! Kaveri! Jale asmin sannidhim kuru!
In this water, I invoke the presence of holy waters from The rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Sarasvati, Narmada, Sindhu and Cauvery!"
It is the Hindus who worship various elements of nature; water and sun are just a few.
16. Worship of Women.
It is only in Hindu dharma that women are worshipped i.e. the trinity of Sarasvati (the goddess of knowledge), Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and beauty) and Durga (the goddess of strength and energy). During Navaratri three days are dedicated to each of these goddess.
Shri Pankaj Dixit wrote in the Times of India an article titled Invoking blessings of Goddess Lakshmi on Deepavali, "Women are considered to be the human form of Goddess Sri or Lakshmi. The wife's role in domestic prosperity is of prime importance in Hindu religion and she is termed Grihalakshmi. As the spouse of Lord Vishnu, Lakshmi becomes a model wife – loyal, loving, caring and ever ready to fulfill her duties. Deepavali is, therefore, celebrated as a festival of Gayatri, Sri and their beautiful human incarnate, the wife".
Quote Shri H V Seshadri from a recent article on Hindu Values, "One is often astonished at the continuing stability of the Hindu home inspite of the most trying circumstances over the last one thousand years. But one cannot understand the secret of this immortality unless one realizes the vital role of woman in the entire Hindu social structure. Home is the vital arena in which woman is expected to play the crucial role of not only caring for the health of the child but also molding its character".
Some of you might ask why is it that women in some parts of the country are not treated as well today. To find answers please read A Tribute to the Indian Women that traces her history from the Vedic times to 1947 OR read 'Dowry Murder, the Imperial Origins of this Crime' by Veena Talwar.
17. Worship of Trees
Dr Satish Kapoor wrote in an article 'Sacred Trees of the Hindus' "Trees being nature's major processors of solar energy which is vital for our existence, and yielding flowers, fruit, wood or medicine, have been worshipped by the Hindus as a matter of gratitude. Manu believed that they were conscious like humans and felt pleasure and pain. Indian sages and seers eulogized asvattha or peepal (Ficus religiosa), gular (Ficus glomerata), neem (Azadirachta indica), bel (Aegle marmelos, bargad or banyan (Ficus bengalensis), Asoka (Sereca indica), amala (Phyllanthus emblica), arjuna (Terminalia arjuna) and many other trees which acquired social and religious sanctity with the passage of time.
Bel, rudraksa (seeds of Elaeccarpus) and ber (Zizyphus jujuba) are considered dear to Lord Siva, sala (Shorea robusta) and pipal to Lord Visnu; kadamba (Anthocephalus cadamba) to Lord Krsna; mango (Mangifera indica) to Lord Hanuman, asoka to Kamadeva; silk cotton (Bombax malabaricum) to the goddess Laksmi; and coconut or sriphala (Cocos nucifera) to Varuna or the lord of waters, and to many other gods and goddesses. Tulsi tree is worshipped with great fervor.
So you Hindus or must I say residents of India worshipped various forms of nature namely water, trees, sun etc. We realized the importance of living in peace with nature early on.
18. What is it that distinguishes Hinduism from Islam and Christianity?
I would like to reproduce a letter written by Swami Vivekananda that answers the question briefly. It appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune of 20 September of 1893, "We who come from the East have sat here on the platform day after day and have been told in a patronizing way that we ought to accept Christianity because Christian nations are the most prosperous. We look at history and see that the prosperity of Christian Europe began with Spain. Spain's prosperity began with the invasion of Mexico. Christianity wins its prosperity by cutting the throats of its fellowmen. At such a price Hindus will not have prosperity. I have sat here today and I have heard the height of intolerance. I have heard the creeds of the Muslims applauded, when today the Muslim sword is carrying the destruction into India. Blood and sword are not for the Hindu, whose religion is based on the laws of love".
Words of Great Men Chapter 3
19. Quote Swami Vivekananda
Have quoted excerpts "From the spiritual flights of the Vedanta philosophy, of which the latest discoveries of science seem like echoes, to the low ideas of idolatry with its multi various mythology, the agnosticism of the Buddhists and the atheism of the Jains, each and all have a place in the Hindu's religion.
Address at the World's Parliament of Religions at Chicago on 11/9/1893 – I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation, which has sheltered the persecuted, and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.
Every one of the great religions in the world, excepting our own, is built on historical characters, but ours rests upon principles. There is no man or women who can claim to have created the Vedas. They are the embodiment of eternal principles, sages discovered them.
The Hindu can worship any sage and any saint from any country, go to churches and mosques, and that is good. Why not? Ours, as I have said, is the universal religion. It is inclusive enough; it is broad to include all the ideals.
Ours is the religion of which Buddhism, with all its greatness, is a rebel child, and of which Christianity is a very patchy imitation.
This religion of ours admits of a marvelous variation, an infinite amount of liberty to think and live our own lives.
The religion of the Vedas is the religion of the Hindus, and the foundation of all Oriental religions: that is, all other Oriental religions are offshoots of the Vedas, all Eastern systems of religions have the Vedas as authority".
20. Now let's look at a patriot's definition. I quote Veer Savarkar "A Hindu is a person who regards his land as Bharat-Varsha from the Indus to the Seas as his fatherland as well as his Holyland that is the cradle land of his religion".
For a Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh using modern day connotations he is firmly aligned to only one country Bharat. He could become a citizen of the U.S. but Bharat is where he belongs, his roots are. Now take the Muslims - they protest against the bombings in Afghanistan, are quick to declare Fatwas against Hindus, Christians but when innocent Hindus are massacred in Jammu & Kashmir or elsewhere by Muslim jehadis groups there is silence.
21. Sri Aurobindo wrote – "But what is the Hindu religion? What is this religion, which we call Sanatan, eternal? It is the Hindu religion only because the Hindu nation has kept it, because in this Peninsula it grew up in the seclusion of the sea and the Himalayas, because in this sacred and ancient land it was given as a charge to the Aryan race to preserve through the ages. But it is not circumscribed by the confines of a single country; it does not belong peculiarly and for ever to a bounded part of the world. That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion, because it is the universal religion, which embraces all others. If a religion is not universal, it cannot be eternal. A narrow religion, a sectarian religion, an exclusive religion can live only for a limited time and a limited purpose. This is the one religion that can triumph over materialism by including and anticipating the discoveries of science and the speculations of philosophy. It is the one religion, which impresses on mankind the closeness of God to us and embraces in its compass all the possible means by which man can approach God. It is the one religion which insists every moment on the truth which all religions acknowledge that He is in all men and all things and that in Him we move and have our being. It is the one religion, which enables us not only to understand and believe this truth but also to realize it with every part of our being. It is the one religion, which shows the world what the world is, that it is the Lila of Vasudeva. It is the one religion which shows us how we can best play our part in that Lila, its subtlest laws and its noblest rules. It is the one religion, which does not separate life in any smallest detail from religion, which knows what immortality is and has utterly removed from us the reality of death…"
Origin of the name India! Chapter 4
The Modern term "India" is simply ancient Greek, though pronounced a little differently than in English, of course. It is an early Hellenism whereby the Persian 'H' was changed to 'I.' this further lends knowledge of the ancient Greek indikos and Latin indicus, equivalent adjectives meaning "Indian, pertaining to India, having to do with India," etc. Similarly, the botanical term for Indian hemp is Cannibis indica.
Sindhu thus evolved into Old Persian 'hinduš' and was consequently borrowed from Persian into Greek as Indos. Greek thereafter formed the name of the country from this stem 'ind-' with the suffix '-ia,' a typical method of forming the names of countries in Greek. Our name for the river, 'Indus,' is the Latin form of the Greek name and isn't original. Hindu, then, simply means "Indian," "Made In India"—"A Product of Hindustan." In Urdu the word Hindusthan is used to indicate the Urdu speaking areas of the Indian sub-continent.
Books referred to are Seven Systems of Indian Philosophy by Pandit Rajmani Tugnait, The Tragedy of Partition by H V Seshadari, India's Rebiirth by Sri Aurobindo, Chips from a Vedic Workshop by Inder Dev Khosla, History, Culture of the Indian People by the Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, Hindu Centum by Pandit Deen B C Sharma and AIR 1995 Supreme Court 2089 in Bramchari Sidheswar Shai vs. State of West Bengal with inputs from Troy Harris and my Email Guru.
Friends can we replace Western words like Religion, God, and Secularism with corresponding Indian ones like Dharma, Ishwar. For example Yagna is understood by the common man to mean sacrifice but actually is something different. According to Sri Aurobindo, "the central idea of yajna is the giving by man, of what he possesses in his being, to the higher or divine nature and its fruit is the further enrichment of his manhood by the lavish bounty of God. The wealth thus acquired constitutes as state of spiritual riches, prosperity, felicity which is itself a power for the journey and force or battle".
Today we have allowed Muslims & Greeks / Christians to define our identity. The former gave us the name Hindu & made Bharat Hindusthan while the latter made it India. Even our national language Hindi is not national in the true sense. Dr Ernest Trump wrote in the book The Adi Granth written in 1877 "By Hindui we mean the modern idiom since the beginning of our century and as spoken as present. There is of course no essential difference between Hindui & Hindi as regards the significance of the two adjectives, hindui being derived from Hindu, a Hindu and Hindi from the Arab noun hind". India's national language Hindi is of recent origin and is actually Khariboli form of Hindi. As such it did not come into use before 1800 a.d. & its effective literary development started only after 1850. Prior to 1850 when we said Hindi literature it meant Brajbhasa the most important form of Western Hindi. What I am saying is that some of our national symbols are a product of foreign influence.
So our national language was spoken in a very small area. Now suppose the mother of all Indian languages, Sanskrit, was made the national language we would have never had anti Hindi agitations in Tamil Nadu. Sanskrit influences every South Indian language particularly Kannada, Malayalam and Telegu. There would never have been any North South divide of the type that our country has witnessed if only Sanskrit (a simpler version) was made our national language after independence.
Friends let me draw an analogy. The atma or soul of India – Bharat is Sanatan Dharam. The conquest of Bharat by Islam and Christianity had left impressions or samskaras on its soul. These impressions are like dust covering a piece of glass, have led to maya, delusion, confusion and led to the degeneration of India. So if India has to discover its soul it needs to rediscover Sanatan Dharam and remove the impressions caused by past conquests. What India has been witnessing over the last twelve plus years is an attempt by the Hindu mind to break away from the past and redefine itself based on Dharma.
What existed in Bharat then & now, what unites us is a Central Idea called Sanatana Dharma, "the Eternal or Universal Dharma. Dharma means universal law, the fundamental principles behind this marvelous universe like the Law of Karma. Sanatana means perennial, referring to eternal truths that manifests in ever-new names and forms. Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world because it is based on the eternal origins of creation. But it is also the newest religion in the world because it adjusts to new names and forms to every generation and looks to living teachers not old books, as its final authority". Quoted from Hinduism and the Clash of Civilizations by David Frawley.
No wonder said Sri Aurobindo on 30/5/1909 "When it is said that India shall be great, it is Sanatan Dharma that shall be great".
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