Hinduism is not a doctrine but an eternal philosophy of life in perpetuity empowering individual to spiritual realization.
Terms such as guru and avatar, ideas as karma and reincarnation, Self-realization and God-realization, such practices as Ayurveda, yoga, meditation, vegetarianism and non-violence, all arise from the spiritual matrix of Hinduism in India. The Western world is experiencing the spiritual side of the culture preserved better in the East, particularly in India, the ancient land of Vedic Sciences. Sanskrit is the language of the Vedas. It originates from the rishis, seers of the Vedas, who were said to have envisioned it originally through the power of the Divine Word “OM”. The Sanskrit language is said to put forth into human sounds, the language of the Gods, the great creative cosmic vibration. It manifests from the Divine word OM, which contains within itself all sounds. All the primary roots and forms of the Sanskrit language are present in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas or books of knowledge. From Vedic Sanskrit evolved classical Sanskrit which was the basis for Hindu, Buddhist and Jain literature. Sanskrit is thus primarily a language of spiritual knowledge, a revelation of the truth patterns of the cosmic mind (I have studied this in school but had forgotten most of it). More spiritual teachings and a greater diversity of spiritual concepts and experiences can be found in Sanskrit than in any other language. Hence it is a good foundation for a global language of consciousness, the language of the spiritual science of the future, as it was the basis for that of the past. It has several important and unique values.
Emerson and Thoreau, America’s own great early teachers, first brought attention to the teachings of India in the middle of the nineteenth century. H.P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement followed in the later part of the century; many of their teachings were based on Hindu and Buddhist sources from the great masters of the Himalayas. The first important teacher to arrive in USA from India was young Swami Vivekananda in the eighteen nineties bringing over the teachings of his great master, regarded by many as an avatar or incarnation of God, Ramakrishna. A few years later came Swami Rama Tirtha for a brief but inspiring stay.
Two fundamental questions to start with are: what is Hinduism and who is a Hindu? Of course as one explores what is Hinduism one would go back in time when Vedas were whispered in the ears of sages and seers by the Supreme Being, the omnipresent energy in the Universe! Hindu philosophy from the Vedas explains GOD as an energy that binds all of creation. This “energy” pervades everything in the cosmos. One gets a glimpse of this whenever one carries any form of experience to its farthest limit. We recognize this experience as “Divine,” yet, we are unable to grasp or understand it, because it is beyond the limitations that condition our thinking, our powers of reasoning and logic. It begins where understanding fails. Yet, even if we cannot understand its nature, we intuitively know that some form of “being” beyond the sphere of our perception exists. The sages from the Vedic times reasoned that if GOD exists in everything then all of nature’s forms could be used to understand and approach him. “Tat – Tvam – Asi”. Thus, many images of God in India, many forms of God in all forms of living things. God exists in everything, including your self! The Sanskrit symbol AUM was thus designed as the visible symbol of God. Hinduism is a spiritual path that has existed since the beginning of time. It is a path that is both ancient in origin, and profound in its understanding of the nature of reality. Hinduism is completely unlike any other religious tradition in existence. Rather than reflecting the dogmatically inclined expressions of denominationalism, sectarianism, and divisive religious doctrines that are of more recent origin as in Islam, Judaism and Christanity, Hinduism is a spiritual expression of the divine intelligence that naturally underlies the more empirical aspects of our cosmos. Hinduism is the Eternal Natural Way. As such, this path represents the pre-religious, primordial essence of all true spirituality, philosophy, and yearning to know the higher Reality, as well as the very foundation of any and all attempts to establish a civilization based upon eternal ideals.
Sanatana Dharma, which means the eternal or universal tradition, is the ancient name for what we today call the Hindu religion. It refers to a dharma, a teaching, law or truth that exists in perpetuity, that is all-encompassing, embracing the full spectrum of human spiritual experience, culminating in the direct realization of the Divine as one’s own true Self.
So who is a Hindu? This is where the push to change direction in Hinduism thinking is coming in today’s global Hinduism trend towards UNIVERSALISTIC HINDUISM. As Hinduism leaves India as the focal point of Hinduism Universe, more diversion in thinking propagates! So, have we moved away from that influential, but not inclusive (1924, Hindutva book) definition by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (my former neighbor in Mumbai India) that: “A Hindu means a person who regards this land of Bharatavarsha, from the Indus to the Seas, as his Fatherland as well as his Holy-land, that is the cradle-land of his religion.” Not very palatable to those living outside of India and adopting to Hinduism as way of living and who may believe himself as a “Hindu” without accepting India precisely as Fatherland. Or we should ascribe better to Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s definition: “Belief in the Vedas, variety in the means and infiniteness of the objects of worship.” However, what about all those Hindu beliefs that are not anchored in the Vedas? (I continue to research this question!) What about all those Hindu beliefs that have arisen from the land of India (Bharatavarsh)?
In his book “Who Is A Hindu?” Dr. Koenraad Elst concludes that the term Hindu got “divorced from historical meaning, which quite inclusively encompassed all Indian Pagans…” Elst sees this divorce as a result of the British colonizers’ attempt to control the discourse on religion in order to fragment Hindu society. The modern Hindu revivalists, the agents of change in Hinduism direction, are addressing this forced fragmentation by “reaffirming the Hindu character of tribal Animism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. I believe that Sanatana Dharma is inclusive of all traditions indigenous to South Asia, just as Christianity is an umbrella term for literally thousands of sects and cults that have in common some tie to the Gospels. On the issue of the nationality of Hindus, I believe any interpretation of scripture that denies a person born outside of the subcontinent from embracing Sanatana Dharma is invalidated by the basic Universalistic nature of our spiritual heritage. Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya (Dr. Frank Morales) writes, “being a follower of Sanatana Dharma and being Indian have nothing to do with each other. Sanatana Dharma is a philosophy of life, being Indian is an ethnicity. Really the word Hindu never indicates the meaning of religion. Hindu is a culture (near river Indus). It is Nature. One who loves nature, one who follows nature, one who admires nature and one who is ready to become “one with the nature” is a Hindu. Even Advaita, Dvaita or any other schools are also expressing the same. I AGREE WHOLE HEARTEDLY WITH THIS PREMISE!!
In my own view, if Hinduism is to flourish beyond the borders of India as intended in the movement of Universalistic Hinduism, it must be presented as a universally accessible philosophy. To that end, Hinduism as a spiritual philosophy and practice must be divorced from race, nationality or family lineage. Its vast complexity of techniques must be streamlined (not reduced) to a few primary methodologies that are easily understood, practiced and efficacious. The concept of Gurujee must be clarified so as not to imply submission to another human being but accepting yourself as a disciple of one. The notion of Iswara(deva), as the idea of a Supreme Lord, must be put forward firmly, clearly and in a comprehensive context. The model to follow to some extent is already found in Buddhism. Buddhism, as presented in the West, has been streamlined, simplified and universalized sufficiently enabling it to become very popular in North America. Buddhist Yoga is widely practiced (with little or no mention that Yoga belongs to Hinduism). There is a great spiritual hunger in the West and it is growing. The more thoughtful and well educated among Westerners have a hard time swallowing ‘Churchianity’ as a rule. They want ANSWERS that appeal to their intelligence, common sense and pragmatism. Sanatana Dharma has these answers. One can find in Hinduism all the main religious teachings of the world from nature worship, to theism, to the formless Absolute. One can find practices of medicinal cures (Ayurveda), devotion, yoga, mantra and meditation in a great plethora of expressions, including the world’s most sophisticated spiritual philosophies of Self-realization. Hinduism is not anchored to any single prophet, book or historical revelation that can tie down the expanse of its vision. It does not subordinate the individual to an outer religious authority, but encourages everyone to discover the Divine within their own awareness.
Hindus of the modern day must make devout commitment to bring Hinduism to the West in a way that the Western mind can easily digest with clarity and do it with vigor and confidence. Demonstrate the power and beauty of Hinduism through rationality, simple devotion, broad-mindedness, openness and forthrightness. Emotions are not going to help a human beings, Empowerment will help the human being. While other theologies are “emotional” in their approach, which is easy for ordinary human being to appreciate, Hinduism is rooted in the concept of Empowerment which will linearly and progressively help growth of the individual. This is the most fundamentally strong suit of Hinduism which appeals to the thinking, educated Western minds and Universalistic Hinduism movement must make a note of this phenomenon. The movement is also focused on enabling Westerners to understand the concept of Ishvara if they are to appreciate and respect Hinduism. The fundamental difference between the Hindu and Western notion of Ishvara (God), is the difference between Vedantic non-dualism and monotheistic dualism. In Hindu philosophy, Ishvara is a dualist subset of the non-dualistic Brahman. Dualism is contained within non-dualism, however, the reverse is not true. As long as we are in ignorance, we need God. Once we awaken, the Empowerment aspect of Hinduism, we realize that we ‘are not different from God’ and at the same time can still love Him (or Her), just as Rama loved Sita or Vashistha must have loved his wife. The closer to the Ishvara concept in recent Western philosophy is found in the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. Whitehead differentiates between God and the Absolute, which is akin to the Ishvara of the Vedanta. The material world is the body of the Virat as we perceived in time and space. For Whitehead, as for the Vedanta, then God/Ishvara cannot create evil, and here lies the main difficulty for the understanding of a Western mind accustomed to a paternal God that will ultimately judge us. According to Whitehead, this characteristic of God becomes a principle of limitation whereas for the Vedanta this limitation depends upon latent principles of manifestation in the universe. Materialist Bertrand Russell did not differentiate between mind and matter, who he thought different only in arrangement, without recognizing the fundamental substrate of consciousness. The fundamental problem with philosophy in the West is the preeminence given to the intellect. In India, the philosophers also used the intellect, but gave it a secondary position after spiritual intuition and spiritual realization.
If we look at the ancient world prior to the predominance of western monotheistic traditions, we find much that resembles Hinduism and Sanatana Dharma, whether among the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Celts, Persians, Chinese or Mayas to name but a few. India is the land in which Sanatana Dharma has taken the deepest root and maintained its best continuity. Hinduism is the religion in which Sanatana Dharma has best survived. But Santana Dharma is relevant to all peoples and must be recognized throughout the world for the planet to achieve its real potential for the unfoldment of consciousness. The first thing to realize in this regard is that a universal approach will always seek to create local forms. Sanatana Dharma will always create a great diversity of local forms, and never aim at uniformity. Uniformity is not a sign of universality, but of artificiality. Dharma is not a set of fixed beliefs or practices but a way of adaptation to the living truth that is always changing in form though one in law and principle. Even in India you would see a great deal of local diversity in how Hinduism is presented and expressed in the different parts of the country. This variety that exists within Hinduism is probably greater than the variety found within any other religion. Yet through all of this diversity there remains a clear unity of Hindu thought and culture. Sanatana Dharma is central to the soul of India as a nation. India’s place in human history is to function as the global guru or spiritual guide rooted in Sanatana Dharma. To counter such attempts to limit Hinduism and to bring its teachings out for the benefit of all, we need a vigorous revival of Hinduism as Sanatana Dharma, the eternal or universal tradition, for the entire planet. Such a global projection of Sanatana Dharma does not deny the importance of Hinduism as central to India, its culture, its past and its future. But it emphasizes a global and expansive Hinduism, not one that contracts itself according to geographical or ethnic boundaries. It is not only Yoga, Ayurveda and Vedanta that have universal value, so does the foundation of Hindu Dharma on all levels. This includes Hindu rituals, which are a science of interacting with the cosmic forces, Hindu temples and holy places which are conduits for cosmic energy, Vedic sciences like Ayurveda, Vedic astrology and Vastu Shastra, Hindu music and dance and other Hindu art forms. These outer aspects of Hindu or dharmic living can be developed and adapted in different cultural contexts but their basic principles are as enduring as the great truth of Vedanta that there is only one Self in all beings.
On this foundation of dharmic living, both in terms of our outer culture and our inner spiritual practices, people from all lands and cultures can embrace Sanatana Dharma. They can find in Hindu thought a model for an authentic dharmic culture and spirituality that addresses their own individual, social and environmental needs, which they can use to restructure their lives as way of Self-realization. In that dharmic approach, all divisive religious identities will disappear into a greater unity of consciousness, not only with other human beings, but with the entire universe.
However, many in the West are bewildered by this philosophy known as “Hinduism”. On one hand, they see the various great yogis and sages of India who speak of the highest spiritual knowledge and appear to have attained states of consciousness far beyond what the western religions and philosophies have even imagined. They exhibit a state of consciousness which transcends time, place, person, culture, religion, race and all the biases of the human mind and ego. They appear as cosmic beings that have gone beyond the limitations of human life. These great yogis of India were the first of the eastern teachers to come to the West and to teach meditation. They have also been the first and most prominent to declare movement to thereby move humanity in the direction of a global spiritual path. Unlike the Christian Missionaries, they have not sought converts but rather have offered ways in which we can enhance our spiritual practice whatever our religious belief may be or even if we do not have any at all. Their freedom and openness in the spiritual realm we find unparalleled in our experience of our own tradition and rare in other traditions as well.
Ayurveda, the Nature’s Medicine, is the knowledge or science, Veda, of life or longevity, ayur. It is the medical aspect of Vedic science, (regarded as an Upaveda or secondary Vedic system). Today it is perhaps the most commonly known of the Vedic sciences. In the Vedic and Yogic system health is seen as a basis for creative and spiritual growth, not as an end in itself. The goal of life is not just to live but to find the meaning of life. Hence we should use the time and energy our health provides for developing our higher nature. Thus Ayurveda naturally leads to the other and deeper aspects of Vedic knowledge. Ayurveda is an aspect of Yoga and most allied most with Hatha Yoga, the Yoga of the physical body, with which it can be combined. While Hatha Yoga provides us the exercises for physical health, flexibility and the dissolution of tension, Ayurveda gives the knowledge of how to care for our body in terms of diet and medicine. Both serve as means of harmonizing the physical body so that the powers of our inner consciousness can come into action through it. (My younger sister who also lives in USA, teaches “Ayurveda” in colleges as a visiting lectures and is well regarded for her knowledge!).
So in closing, let me say that the Hinduism is widely regarded as a philosophy of life based upon certain key tenets. Viewed in a casual manner, these concepts seem to be eternal and unchanging. A Hindu today would describe his or her tradition in terms of the concepts of Brahman, Isvara, Maya, Jiva, Samsara, Karma, Dharma, among others, much like his counterpart a thousand years ago would have done. Yet, has nothing changed in Hinduism? Modern Hindu is richly entrenched in the Santana Dharmic values and practices, and modern day Hinduism is on the move to streamlining, not changing, so as to empower an individual for spiritual enrichment!