Hinduism in a nutshell ( The concept of One God )
To: firstname.lastname@example.org (digest editor)
Subject: Hinduism in a nutshell ( The concept of One God )
From: email@example.com (Bhaskar Iyer)
Date: Fri, 29 Apr 1994 11:37:29 +1000 (EST)
In-Reply-To: <9404282026.AA24836@rbhatnagar.ececs.uc.edu> from "digest editor" at Apr 28, 94 04:26:45 pm
Thanks for your prompt reply. The first article explains the basic
tenets of Hinduism. A lot of people (in West particularly) , still think that
Hinduism is a form of cow worship. This article will explain some of the
contemporary issues like idol worship, caste system etc.
The article is a bit lengthy, you can convert it into multiples posts, if
You like. I read the newsgroup with great interest. you guys are doing
a fantastic job. keep it up. Also I would like to suggest that if you
can form a sort of FAQ explaing the basic principles of Hinduism, a lot
of people who are not aware about the religion, may be interested.
PS : let me know if I can be of any further help
a) The Religion :=
Sanatana Dharma, "The Law Eternal", is the more appropriate or rather the
accurate name for the religion which is now known as "Hinduism". The word
Hinduism is not the original name for the religion. It is a name aquired
in later historic times, while the religion has been in existence since
timeless beginning. This religion has its roots in the Vedas which are
scriptures of the highest wisdom and which originated with creation
itself. It was not a founded religion, it was based on revelations directly
from God himself to the seers during their transcendental and intuitive
communion with the Divine. It was the Dharma and code of life for men of
Bharat or Aryavarta from times immemorial, i.e., from even the pre-
historic and most antique ages.
The religion was used to be known as Vaidika Dharma or Vedanta, as it has
the Vedas for its authority and source (Vedokhilo Dharma Mulam); it is
also called Sanatana Dharma as it delineates and embodies values and
doctrines which are of eternal validity. Sanatana Dharma stands for 'Rita'
- the majesty of moral and spirtual law. It looks upon the whole universe
as being under the purview of a moral law and subserving to the supremacy
of God, its creator. Times may change, ages may roll by, continents may
rise and disappear, but values of life like truth, love, compassion, one's
duty to mother, father, preceptor and to fellow beings, and the eternal
reality of the spirit and unity of all life, are truths and values that
subsist and will subsist for ever. These are the eternal values and truths
which are embedded in the Vedas and are embodied in the religion that had
evolved out of Vedas. These values being of eternal validity and
universality, are the justification for the religion that embody them, for
being called as Sanatana Dharma, the eternal Dharma, law/religion.
The word 'Hindu' was of a far, far later origin; during the Greek period
of history, Greeks and West Asians used the term Indu/Hindu with reference
to the people living beyond the banks of the River Indus, and later the name
began to be ascribed to the religion of the land also. 'Hindu' thus has
only a geographical connotation and derivation; but, nevertheless, it has
come to stay.
Hinduism exhorts people to abstain from all violence by thought, word and
deed to any being or creature. Ahimsa Paramo Dharmaha- "Veneration of all
life (because everything is enveloped by God); Isavasyamidam Sarvam- "God
inheres in all beings"; these are the basic, primary and fundamental
tenets of Hinduism.
To sum up the whole essence of the Hindu religion and philosophy: "Love
for all beings and love for God"- this is the essence of Hinduism, and as
a matter of fact, it is the essence of all religions too. Anyway Hinduism
can be said to be the most primeval and, so to say, as the mother of all
Dharma sustains the harmony in the cosmos
Dharma means that which links man with God. The Indian name for religion
is Dharma. Dharma is described as:
Dharanat Dharma ityahuhu, or Dharayati sa Dharmah.
Dharma is that which upholds the creation together, which sustains all
the creation-that means which helps to keep up the harmony in creation.
That is the Vedic 'Rita'. It lays the codes of discipline, temporal as
well as spiritual for man to conduct himself during his life's journey
so as to live in tune with and blend himself into the divine harmony
of the Cosmos. Without religion, Cosmos will turn into chaos. Religion
implies realisation of the Reality, i.e., realisation of God who
pervades the entire creation, who inheres in all the beings and who holds
all the creations together; it also charts out the pathway towards this
Prastanatraya-- The triple texts: the source scriptures for the religious
philosophy ( Vedanta ) of the Hindus :-
(i) Upanishads ( the end portion of Vedas- the essence of Vedas): Vedas
are, of course, the basic source of Indian religious philosophy. But they
are said to be originally countless- Anantavaivedah, though they have been
later collated by sage Vyasa into four principal texts, namely, Rigveda,
Samveda, Yajurveda and Adharvaveda.
The Upanishads, i.e, the culminating portions of these Vedas (Srutis-
divine revelations or revealed scriptures) form the primary scriptural
authority for the Indian religious philosophy)
(ii) Brahma Sutra ( the Vedantic aphorisms, as given out by sage Vyasa):
these are a systematic grouping together and enunciation of the essential
doctrines of the Upanishads.
(iii) Bhagavad Gita ( the song celestial): the gospel given by Lord
Krishna ( God Himself )
Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita come under the category of Smritis.
Smritis are secondary scriptures based on Srutis but they are human
compositions whereas Srutis are of divine origin. These triple texts
form the authority for Indian religious philosophy.
Hinduism is predominantly mono-theistic
While the Indian Philosophy in its higher and ultimate reaches is
absolutist, i.e, believes in the ultimate Reality as being impersonal,
the popular religion is predominantly theistic, i.e., it believes in
a personal God. The impersonal Brahman (Absolute Spirit) manifests
itself as Iswara, a perosnal God, and besides as various Avatars from
age to age. The concept of Avatar is explained later under "the
principle doctrines of Hinduism". God manifests Himself on earth among
humans, in a human form, to guide the erring humanity into the right
path and to shower His infinite love and grace. God thus assumes
various names. One is free to choose any name and any form for his
adoration and worship. All names and forms ultimately belong to the one
Supreme Being only. This is spelled out in the Upanishads and re-echoed
in the Gita:
"Ekam Satyam, Bahuda Chintayanti"'
"Truth is one, but it is conceived differently"
"Ye yathamaam prapadyante Taamstathaiva bhajamyaham" - "Oh Arjuna!
whichever path men may choose,, howsoever they may approach, I do
accept them all, as all the paths in their ultimate reaches lead upto
me only, who am the Supreme Godhead."
The infinite is conceived in different ways, as per the various and
different levels of understanding and capacity of men. The
multiplicity of names of deities and forms of worship practised by
Hindus are like scaffoldings of different designs to suit the needs of
men and women of varying temperaments, aptitudes and stages of
psychological development prevailing amongst people. The Hindu seers
are conscious of the amazing variety of ways in which we may approach
the Supreme and they have provided for diverse ways of worship
according, to suit the needs of anyone and as per his choosing and
However, all worship is said to reach the only one and the
supreme Godhead - Sarva Deva namaskaram Kesavam prati gacchati!
Hari roopo Mahadevaha, Lingaroopo Janardhanaha,
Yo vai Vishnuhu, sa vai Rudrah, sa pitamaha,
Yam Saivah samupasate Siva iti, Brahmeti Vedantinah!
The same applies also to the various Vedic deities like Indra, Varuna,
Agni and various aspects, facets and manifestations of the supreme
divinity. The different deities and god-concepts are, as it were, so
many doorways through which men can enter into the sanctum sanctorum
of the One and Final Existence. To a Hindu Worshipper, the "Ishta
Devta" , his chosen form of deity, is both the Supreme being as well as
in whom all the other gods also reside. Thus, Hinduism is essentially
monotheistic but with the belief and dictum--"Infinite is God and
infinite are his expressions"
Man's imperative need for religious life
God is the mother and father of all the creation. He is the basis of
all life. Can a son disclaim his mother? Just as the mother, so also is
the religion for man. Actually, God's love for man exceeds that of
thousands of mothers. He is the Sustainer, the Provider and the
Redeemer. One cannot afford to remain a run-away and a 'prodigal son'
for long. He has to get back "home" to his mother and father, i.e.,
God, sooner or later. God is Truth, God is Reality. A ceaseless quest
for God is the purpose of human life. Hinduism accepts the theme of
evolution of consciousness. Effort, i.e, Sadhana ( moral and spiritual
practices ), accelerates this evolution; man is a ceaseless pilgrim on
the path of perfection.
Man is of the same essence as that of his Creator. Tat Twam Asi (That
thou art)-proclaims the scripture. The core of his personality is an
"amsa" of God himself. In addition to his body (deha), man has a mind
(manas),intellect (buddhi) and a soul (atma) which is the aspect (amsa)
of God himself. The Atma links man with God (Brahman).
Kathopanishad gives the beautiful chariot analogy explaining this.
"The senses (indriyas) are the horses, the objects sought by the senses
are the roads, the body is the chariot, buddhi is the charioteer and
mind is the reins that control the unruly horses. Lord of the chariot
is Atman, and senses are to be regulated by the reins of mind, mind by
the intellect and intellect should be subservient to the Spirit, who is
the lord of the chariot of the human body".
This is what is meant by "yoga", i.e, union of individual consciousness
with the Supreme Consciousness by restraint of senses and mind and treading
on the Godward path. This is the main theme of religion.
Religion implies realisation
Religion does not end with man's mere intellectual belief and faith in
scriptural teaching; but it demands his intuitive experiencing of the
Reality, the nature of which is suggestively pointed out in the scriptures.
Religion finds its fulfillment and fructification in realisation of the
Truth which is the sole purpose and goal of religion.
For this realisation, Vedic religion advocates all the three paths, viz,
Karma, Bhakti and Jnana. They are complementary to one another. All these
paths duly integrated and harmonised are described in the Gita; Meditation
on self is simultaneously stressed on for the Realisation. "Atmavare
srotavyo, mantavyo, nidhidhyasitavyo Maitreyo"--says Yanjnyavalkya Rishi.
"Sravana- listening to the scriptural Truth, i.e, any of the Maha Vakyas
Manana- reflection on the truth heard and
Nidhidhyasana- deep contemplation on the Truth, this is the discipline
for the realisation of the Truth(self)".
The Vedantic Maha Vakyas are :-
1. Pragnanam Brahma- " The Supreme Consciousness is Brahman. "
2. Tatwamasi- " That thou art. "
3. Ayamatma Brahma- " The self within me is Brahman. "
4. Aham Brahmasmi- " I am Brahman. "
The first two Maha Vakyas are the Proclamations by the Guru, the preceptor,
to the disciple by way of instruction (Adesa Vakya); the third Maha Vakya
is the premise for contemplation by the disciple and fourth is his
(disciples's) exclamation after his experiencing his identity with
God-Head (Anubhava Vakya).
Before we take to the quest of Truth, we should have our hearts purified;
this is the four fold preparatory discipline called Sadhana Chatushtaya
enjoined on all aspirants.
The four fold disciplines are:
(i) VIVEKA - " Nityanitya Vastu Viveka Jnana " ( discrimination between
impermanent and the permanent, the unreal and the Real and non-self and
(ii) VAIRAGYA - " Ihamutraphalabhoga Vairaga " ( desirelessness for the
joys of this world or the joys of the other world, i.e, of Heaven).
(iii) SHAT SAMPATTI- (the sixfold treasures).
Sama (mind control), Dama (control of senses), Uparati (contentment),
Titiksha (forbearance), Sraddha (abiding faith) and Samadhana
(steadfastness and equanimity of mind).
(iv) MUMUKSHATVA - (yearning for liberation)
A moral, ethical and virtuous life is insisted upon and one should
eschew and overcome the six inner enemies in our nature, viz., Kama (lust),
Krodha (anger), Lobha (greed), Moha (attachment), Mada (pride) and
Matsarya (hatred). Elimination of these is essential otherwise spritual
effort will not fructify. In a purified heart only the light of the Spirit
can dawn and shine.
Some of the principal doctrines of Hinduism
(i) The law of Karma (causation) and theory of rebirth:-
Creation is governed by an unalterable law-- the 'Rita' of the Rig Veda.
Nothing is arbitrary. God is not a capricious tyrant. The law of Karma,
which is fundamental to Hinduism lays down that we reap the harvest, we
have previously sown. The action is the seed, its consequences are the
harvest we have to reap. As we sow, so we reap.
A corollary of the above is the law of rebirth. We go through many births
before we are able to reach back to our source, i.e, God, and get released
from the vicious circle of birth and death. That stage is called Moksha,
the final redemption.
Hinduism lays down how this state is to be reached. The word 'Moksha'
itself gives the clue 'Moha -Kshaya' i.e, desirelessness. To be
desireless is to be free from the fruits of our actions. The Gita calls
it Nishkama Karma. Action or Karma is essential for the world's progress
and human welfare; it forms a major factor for human sustenance. But
action with an eye on its reward or fruit binds us more strongly to the
wheel of birth and death. Action carried out as duty, in a spirit of
submission to God, indeed liberates. The Gita calls it 'Karma phala
tyaga'. Such a doer is a free man; he carries out God's will and is
not enslaved by any motive or selfish desires.
(ii) Varnasrama Dharmas :-
Hinduism takes cognisance of the overall welfare of society and all
aspects and needs of life. It sets down four purposes for man's life.
These are called the four Purusharthas- Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha.
Artha and Kama should subserve Dharma and all should be oriented towards
attainment of Moksha. It also sets down the codes of duties pertaining to
each stage of life viz. Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa
(Asramadharmas) and so also to one's station and vocation in life
(Varna-dharmas or caste duties).
Here caste (Varna) is not to be determined by birth. It is determined by
one's guna and karma (quality/qualifications and profession). Gita clearly
says Guna Karma Vibhagasah. Guna is one's nature,aptitude and capacity.
Karma is the profession which one has chosen 'commensurate with his
qualifications and capacities'. All this duties are to be performed, as
said above, as Nishkama Karma.
'Na idam mama', and 'Iswararpanam' are to be the attitude in all activities.
Then Karma gets transformed into Yoga which redeems and liberates.
(iii) The concept of Avatar :-
One of the wonderful and unique doctrines of Hinduism is the concept of
'Avatar'. This word is derived from the word 'avatarana' which means
'descent'. It is descent of God to earth in human or any other form. Its
purpose is to preserve Dharma, the Supreme Law of righteousness in the
world. God incarnates again and again, from age to age, whenever Dharma
is on the decline.
Man, though divine in origin, is still apt to do evil
and contribute to filling the world with misery. 'To err is human' it is
said. When men are almost on the threshold of disaster, God incarnates
Himself and continues his mission of redemption and revitalisation of
righteousness, Dharma. Hinduism usually refers to 10 Avatars. But indians
have never been so rigid to believe that these will incarnate in India
The Hindu regards every great prophet, no matter where he may
manifest himself, as a God's Messenger, or as God incarnated Himself as
man. This shows the great spirit of tolerance which has been the country's
tradition, its unique catholicity in matters of religion and its veneration
to other faiths. India has always extended generous hospitality to
followers of other religion who have sought shelter in the country from
time to time. In fact, secularism, i.e, respect and positive goodwill for
different faiths, is the very basis of Hinduism.
"The paths may be different but the goal is same" ;
"cows may be of different colours, but they all yield the same milk"
-- such is the attitude of the Hindu to the other faiths.
Hindu social conventions unfortunately have changed with passage of time.
In the Vedic period, women were respected and enjoyed equality with men,
and religious and spiritual activities were open to all men and women
alike. Satyakama, Gargi and Maitreyi are examples of this equality. Some
of the social denials and stigmas seen today are all subsequent accreations.
These evils are social ethos and degeneration which crept in later,in the
course of history, due to various conditions and reasons, but they never
had any religious origin.
Ritualism is an essential feature of any religion. They are, of course,
disciplines primarily intended to cleanse the heart adn spiritualise the
whole attitude, vision and life of man. The daily life and conduct of
people of India even today are to a large extent guided by injuctions of
the Vedas. This is particularly true of the ceremonies connected with
birth, marriage and death. These are called Samskaras or purifactory and
solemnising rites. Rituals, a large number of them, are thus meaningful,
though sometimes the spirit underlying the ritual is forgotten or missed,
there-by making the ritual appear as blind superstition. Hinduism is no
exception to this general trend; but it must be kept in mind that rituals
and extranuous ceremonials are not essentially the same as religion. All
the same, the deeper significance of ritualism should not be lost sight of.
A Hindu is expected to worship even animals, plants, rivers and stones -
the real objective being to spiritualise the whole vision and attitude of
man. He has to see the all pervading God behind superficial forms. Further
he has to step out of limitations of ego and esteblish kinship with all
creation; to be able to apprehend the all pervasive spirit of God inhering
in himself (man), bird, beast and stone alike. By worshiping a cow, he
esteblishes kinship with all animal life; by worshipping a cobra, he
esteblishes kinship with all creatures including reptiles; by worshipping
an Aswatha tree or a Tulsi plant, he esteblishes kinship with all plant
life; by worshipping rivers,mountains and stones, he esteblishes kinship
with all the inanimate world. These rituals represent a discipline to
cultivate an eye and heart to glimpse the divine behind every part and
particle in the creation. Then alone can true love prevail between man
and peace can reign on earth. That is the Rama Rajya or the "Kingdom of
Heaven on earth" envisaged in the scriptures.
Altruistic and catholic spirit of Hinduism
Brotherhood of man and Fatherhood of God is what Sanatana Dharma
emphasises. It envisages, therefore, that each individual should help
his less fortunate 'brother'. This ideology is represented in the saying
"I can never attain perfection in a imperfect society. I must, therefore
work for the welfare of the community too".
Sarvevai sukhinah santu, sarve santu niraamayaah
Sarve bhadrani pasyantu, maakaschit dukhamapnuyat...
"May people of all the lands, everywhere, be happy"
-- Such are the religious prayers of the Hindus.
'Atmano mokshaya, Jagat hitayacha' is the integral ideal of Hinduism.
That is why Hinduism respected and continues to respect all men, whatever
their race or community and as such there have never been any conversions
to Hinduism which is actually a faith, a way of life. It provides within
this framework infinite shades of beliefs, all of which are said to belong
to Hinduism. It is synthetic religion that tolerates and respects others
and their views. Conversions must come, if at all, by conviction and not
by coersion or extra-religious considerations.
Hinduism is a religion that should satisfy every rational individual. To
recapitulate, its fundamental principles are:
(i) it believes in an all-powerful, all-wise and omnipresent superhuman
and spiritual power.
(ii) it lays down one of the most exhaustive moral, ethical and spiritual
codes or laws for the guidance of the conduct of man on this earth.
(iii) it continuously affirms the divine origin of creation.
(iv) it recognises a way of life based on Satya (Truth), Dharma (Right
conduct), Shanti (peace), Prema (love) and Ahimsa (non-voilence).
(v) its tolerance is a unique factor. It refuses to inflict any harm on
one simply because the latter belongs to a different faith.
(vi) it brings the entire life of a man, his professional, social and
religious duties under the guidance of Dharma, which is one of its most
(vii) it has never relegated man or creation to a low level. One of the
most profound statements in the Upanishads is "everything in creation is
sacred, because it is breathed upon by the breath of brahman."
All are an embodiment of the divine spirit.
- Divyatma Swarupas / Amritasya Putraha.
* * * * * * * * *
Om bhur bhuvah swah, tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dhimahe, dhiyo yonah prachodayat.
"May the Supreme Light illumine our intellect and direct the rays
of our intelligence to the path of virtue."
* * * * * * * * *
Sarve Janah Sukhinobhavantu-- " May all beings be happy "
* * * * * * * * *
Asatoma Sadgamaya, Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya, Mrityoma Amrutamgamaya
Om Santi, Santi, Santhihi!
Oh Lord lead us from untruth to Truth, from darkness into Light
and from mortality to immortality.
peace, peace, peace
* * * * * * * * *
Note :- This article has been compiled from Notes of the Lectures
given by Shri S. G. Mudgal, Principal, Ruparel College, at Sri
Satya Sai Pre Sevadal Classes, Bombay