Good, bad, confusing - Hinduism, under the lens Part 01

Published: Sunday, Jan 29,2012, 23:54 IST
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Hinduism, confused hindu, dedanta, sikhism, jainism, sikhs, views from hindus, IBTL

To define what is now known as Hinduism in a couple of sentences would be an impossible task. The term was first coined by the British to divide those who followed Indian religions at the time. In other words, anyone following the path of Vedanta, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism etc. would have been ‘classified’ as a follower of Hinduism.

Similarly, the word “Hindu” has also been a subject of speculation and debate to whether it is our own word or a word given by Arab invaders. Some people claim it is a mispronunciation of the river ‘Sindhu’. However, according to the ‘Brihaspati Agama’, the word ‘Hindu’ is formed with the suffix ‘Hi’ from the Himalayas and ‘Indu’ from the Indu Sarovar (Indian Ocean). Therefore, the word ‘Hindu’, according to the ‘Brihaspati Agama’ and even the mispronunciation, Sindhu, has attempted to coin a geographical, non-religious and arguably a cultural denotation.

Thus, I feel that the word Hindu should not be defined as a religious but instead a geographic and cultural description connected to a value system, our cultural, spiritual and philosophical heritage. If your motherland is what is today known as India, then you are Hindu or a Bharati. If you follow the beliefs and customs of Aghori, Vaishnavism or Buddhism then that is your spiritual path, but not necessarily your national identity. You might be a devout Buddhist in Paraguay, but your nationality will still remain Paraguayan. Nonetheless, whether you want to describe this specific heritage and profound philosophy as Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma should not be the focal point but I prefer to use the latter.

In order to get a basic understanding of Sanatan Dharma, one must spend several hours reading. After spending these hours researching about this age old philosophy, one will quickly understand that there are several paths one can follow in life. However, probably the two single concepts that occur in nearly all of these paths are ‘dharma’ and ‘karma’. Now, most people who are ignorant of Sanatan Dharma often translate the word ‘dharma’ to religion. This is obviously wrong and anyone who has read the ‘Bhagvad Gita’ will testify to this as dharma has a much deeper and profound meaning than religion. The reason for this is that the religion of an individual may change from Muslim to Jain, Christian to Buddhist etc. but dharma cannot be changed. It is the nature of every individual to provide service either to himself, his family, his community, his nation or to humanity in general. The purpose of dharma is to strip away illusionary (‘Maya’) tags such as Muslim, French etc. and realize that we are living entities and offer service and protection to humanity and not be confined to our own religion, race or even nationality. Therefore, a fair translation, among many potential, of dharma would be law. Hence, Sanatan Dharma translates to the eternal law.

The concept of karma is more familiar to most people. Karma translates to ‘action’ and the basic principle behind this concept is that our actions, either in our past or present lives, will define our future. However, we cannot control when to reap the rewards of our actions. Obviously, this is a very vague description but the concept of karma is a cornerstone in Sanatan Dharma and Indian ethos. To get a deeper understanding it is advised that the Bhagvad Gita is read as an introduction. The concept of ‘ahimsa’ (non-violence) is also said to have developed from the concept or law of karma.

As I mentioned earlier, there are numerous paths that exist within Sanatan Dharma. The Vedanta path, which is probably seen as conventional “Hinduism” of today, is only one of many paths. Vaishnavism, Aghori, Brahma Kumari, Saivism, Jainism, Shaktism, Buddhism, Sikhism etc. are all paths that blossom from the roots of Sanatan Dharma. Some of these paths are in total contradiction to each other but still due to the value-system prevalent in Sanatan Dharma, they co-exist in relative harmony and peace as they have done for several millenniums in the history of our motherland, Bharat.

I am sure I will have upset many Sikhs with declaring Sikhism as a path within Sanatan Dharma. However, do not be mistaken as Sikhism is in its own right a different way of thought and perspective of viewing life but the fact remains that the concepts of dharma, karma among other common concepts within Sanatan Dharma remain rooted in this glorious philosophy of the 10 gurus that arose in a period of time when India was in grave difficulty.

If we leave the paths which are more orientated towards the acceptance and acknowledgment of a supreme and supernatural entity, many people reading this will be further puzzled to learn that the first ideas of atheism and agnosticism ever recorded in human history have their roots in Sanatan Dharma. This path or perspective is known as ‘nastika’ and followers of this path denounce any concept of an afterlife, God or Gods and even the authority of the Vedas! Therefore, for those of you who choose to describe your religious path as Hindu, what do you really mean? Are you an Aghori, a Nastika (atheist/agnostic), Vaishnav or do you mean celebrating ‘Deepawali’ and doing some ‘murti puja’ couple of times a year?

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The Confused Hindu : Victim of Macaulayism by Sita Ram Goel
Hindutva is not a communal slogan, it’s about the nation by Ram Jethmalani
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Regarding the mythological aspect within Sanatan Dharma, personally, I look at the idols, paintings and statues with awe – perhaps not fully and sincerely appreciating the idea that the mythological deity has once upon a time existed. However, what is culture? Is it not art, paintings, philosophy, music and dance? So, do I have to believe that these mythological deities once roamed the face of this Earth in order to appreciate them and accept them as my culture? I don’t think so but with this said, I would do my best to extract the symbolism and science of the deities and of course, with honour, defend anyone else’s right to believe in them. However, if we, for example take ‘Surya Dev’ or ‘Lord Surya’, God of the Sun and look at common paintings and sculptures of Surya Dev one will very swiftly notice that he is often depicted with seven horses.

If we try to remember a bit of the knowledge showered upon us during elementary science classes, we will come to remember that when light bends through a prism, it gives us seven rays of light. Thus, Surya Dev represents light and his seven horses represent the lights of the optical spectrum. The ‘Trimurti’, which consists of Brahma (creation), Vishnu (preservation) and Shiva (destruction), perhaps represent the cycle of life or matter? Perhaps the different fragments of Ganesh, the God of Success, symbolize guidance on how to achieve success itself?

In my personal view, when people start seeing the symbolism and the hidden scientific or even moral message behind the mythology, it enhances the charm and the artistic craftsmanship behind it. However, if the believer takes it literally, the latter will be set on a track towards ignorance and blind faith – which is deadly for society and culture. The best example of this is the story of Sri Krishna, a legend of Indian history, falsely, according to me, being projected as the God head. The reason for my ‘radical’ belief is that Krishna’s message which he shares with Arjun in the Bhagvad Gita is far more significant than the ‘fact’ that he is the Supreme Being.

Continued at Good, bad, confusing - Hinduism, under the lens Part 02

Author : Arjun aka Salkia | Follow the writer on twitter.com/asethi87
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Disclaimer: The author is a commentator on issues of national interest. These are his personal views and do not necessarily reflect IBTL's opinion.
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