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Is belief in God essential for a Hindu?

Recently two questions were asked: Does Hinduism require that one believe
in God? 
Does Hinduism require one to be vegetarian? In this article I will address
the first - I will address the second later. 
Hinduism and God?
"I asked many people this question, but not got a clear answer?" First -
Nobody is going to provide a clear answer unless you are willing to receive
it.  If you have already made a conclusion as your statement, "It appears
to me not, because ......" implies, then none can give you any clearer

Some one went to Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi and said "Bhagavan, one question
has been bugging me for a long time and I have asked many Mahatmas before,
but no one has given me a satisfactory answer.  I have come here today to
seek an answer from you.  Could you please answer me .. ," saying that he
was about to pose the question. Ramana Maharshi with a smile stopped him
right there, and told him that there is no point for him to ask the
question, since his answer will also be not satisfactory to the questioner.
 Bhagavan knew that the questioner loves his question so much that he is
not going to give it up whatever be the answer.

But here are some thoughts for you to ponder about. You don't have to
accept them but you should have an open mind to receive and to analyze
before you accept or reject.  

Does Hinduism require one to believe that there is God?  Answer to this
question requires an understanding of the terms Hinduism, God and belief. 
First, Hinduism is not a ism - it is truly called Sanatana Dharma. 
Sanatana stands for ancient or time immemorial and Dharma has different
degrees of meaning.  In its barest sense, it is because of which the thing
is what it is and without it the thing is not. (In mathematical terms that
which fulfills at least a necessary but not necessarily a sufficient
condition is its essential Dharma). Sweetness is the essential Dharma of
sugar, it is a necessary condition but not necessarily a sufficient
condition. If it is sugar it has to be sweet (necessary condition), but if
it is sweet it need not be sugar (it can be Equal!).
 What is Sanatana Dharma - Of the four pursuits in life - Dharma (in this
context Dharma stands for righteousness as in Dharmam chara -follow a
righteous path) Artha, Kama and Moksha. The two inner ones, Artha and Kama,
are to be bounded by the two outer ones Dharma and Moksha.  That is,
pursuits in acquiring wealth and fulfilling the desires are to be within
the limits of Dharma and with a goal in mind on Moksha. But of the four the
first three; Dharma, Artha and Kama are in general are place (dEsa) and
time (kAla) specific.  What is right in India then may not be right
elsewhere, now. (this statement is made in a general sense recognizing that
there are universal values irrespective of time and space such as one
should not lie or one should not steel - even a notorious liar or thief
beliefs these values to be followed to the extent that he does not want
others to lie or steel his(stolen) property - these are in a sense
universal - but situations can arise that there can be conflicts between
the values - for example can one lie to protect a life etc. That is why the
greatest psychologist Lord Krishna does not give these values in Ch. 13 of
Bhagawad Geeta as commandments - He only says wise man follows these
values; if you want to be otherwise then don't.  In Hindu scripture the
values are not tought as doos and don'ts but through stories - how mahatmas
solved the situations when conflict between two or three values arose - I
am getting into a different topic). Coming back to our discussion only
pursuit that is universal in terms of time and space (from time immemorial)
is the pursuit for Moksha.  That is the goal of Sanatanadharma. In India
life was centered around this.  From music to dance to all education was in
India tuned towards this higher goal. (This is the reason why Hinduism is
called a way of life - it is not any way of life, it is a way of life tuned
towards Moksha!)   Now what is Moksha has been interpreted differently by
different Acharyas.  You can choose your pick that suits your upbringing,
values and intellectual conviction.  But bottom line that is common to
everyone is longing for permanent absolute uninterrupted happiness.  Bogi,
who is indulged in fulfilling desires is also seeking for long lasting
happiness - but he is searching for it in the wrong place.  Yogi,
recognizes that absolute happiness can only obtained (from where it is
available!) by self realization (for advaitins) or reaching the abode of
God (Dwaitins and Visishtadvaita).  For the later ones, complete
surrenderence at feet of the Lord is the only means for salvation.  In all,
Bhakti, Karma or Gyana are means for purification of the mind. These yogas
help the mind to develop viaragya -detachment from the external dissipative
pursuits, and conserve the energy to channel towards higher goal -Moksha. 
Ultimately all Acharyas teach that it is not by effort you reach Him.  All
you can do is to prepare the mind (either by surrendering the ego at the
alter of your love -that is Bhakti or by transcending the ego through
viveka, vichara and Nidhidyasana). All this requires complete faith
(Sradda) (it is not belief) that God will embrace you and take you there. 
How do I get this Sradda - only through the teacher or guru in whom you
have complete trust -  Otherwise there is always a doubting Thomas in every
one of us.  Krishna's final declaration in Bhagawad geeta is Sarvadharman
Paridyascha MAmekam Saranamvraja .... Moksha isyAmi mAsrujah.. Leave
everything and surrender to me I will give you Moksha.  In order for me to
do that I should have complete unconditional trust or faith in Him.   Since
I don't see or I cannot see Him in person, for me to develop that faith I
need a teacher who can give me that faith. 

	To recall what has been said so far, Hinduism therefore is Sanatana
Dharma, it involves redirecting the pursuit in life towards Moksha and that
involves complete surrenderence or Bhakti which requires complete faith in
the teacher and in the goal.  Krishna's teaching is universal not limited
to sons of Bharat.  Then who is a Hindu?  The one who pursues Sanatana
Dharma - In fact Krishna uses a universal pronoun "Yah" that means `whoever
he may be he who' (no preference to cast, creed, gender, national origin -
perfect EEO teaching!)... follows this with compete Sradda he reaches ME. 
Now am I a Hindu - I am not unless my pursuit in life is directed towards
the highest, God.  Birth in a family, dress code that is followed or name
tag - does not make me a Hindu - These are neither necessory nor sufficient
to be caled a true Hindu - On the other hand, I can be a christian or
muslim but if my pursuit is towards the Sanatanadharma I am truely a Hindu
whether I want to be categorized that way or not is immeterial. We are not
talking about the superfical names but the fundamental goal in life. .  I
cannot pursue that highest goal, God, unless I have a complete Sraddha or
faith.  From this, answer to your question follows- for me to be a Hindu I
have to have a complete unquestionable faith in the Lord.  In fact Krishna
has put it very bluntly - He wants Ananya Bhakti - unadulterated devotion
towards HIM.  Most of us have commercial Bhakti - we go to the temple and
ask Oh Lord Give me this or that -He is ready to give Himself, but we don't
want Him. So our Bhakti is towards this or that and not for the Lord.  Lord
calls us Artharthis since we go to Him not for His love but for the love of
this and that.  As long as He gives this and that we have faith in HIM.  If
He does not give what I desire then I don't have faith in Him.  - This is
not true faith or true Bhakti.  This is because we have not understood what
God is and what we are.  To have complete unconditional love towards Him, I
need to know who this God is. There are different schools of thought
involving SAGUNA BRAHMA OR NIRGUNA BRAHMA - this is an involved topic and I
will refrain from discussing it here. Perhaps discuss it some other time
since it involves God as creator-sustainer-destroyer and God as
Karmapaladata etc. 

  In this news group posting a discussion is going on between Mani
emphasizing the saguna aspect and Vidyasankar emphasizing the Nirguna
aspect. I have posted couple of articles on the "Reality aspect".  You may
wish to follow these discussions.  Sri Prabhupada's interpretation of
Bhagawad geeta emphasizing personified God in the form of Krishna, is being
discussed in the network (they call their interpretation not an
interpretation but "Bhagawad Geeta as it is"  and everybody's elses that
does not agree with them are "interpretations" or misinterpretations
because Prabhupada says so in his "as it is book" - if you do not get
prejudiced by these zealous missionary statements one finds a wealth of
information exemplifying Bhakti aspect).  

One last point- there is a difference between Faith and Belief. Belief
becomes a faith if it is reinforced with reason and intellectual
understanding.  What Sanatana Dharma emphasizes is the faith not belief. 
All great Hindu scriptures are dialogue between the teacher and the taught.
That is called Samvada (like Krishnaarjuna Samvada)- They are no
commandments to follow blindly.  Questioning is encouraged for
understanding. Belief with understanding is faith. The reason faith is
important is the goal that we are trying to reach is beyond the intellect.
We cannot intellectually comprehend the truth.  But we need some working
hypothesis to start our pursuit and journey.  If I don't know where New
York is, but I have faith in the masters who have traveled on the path and
put the sign boards for me to follow and by following these I have a better
chance to reach my goal. This faith is further reinforced if on my way I
encounter Mahatmas who have been to New York!  
I sincerely hope you think about the ideas presented neither accepting nor
rejecting blindly!  I pray you become a true Hindu. - Sadananda

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