Hinduism as I understand
By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Hindu religion is one of the oldest religions of the world. It is famed for its tolerance and liberal views. That is why I feel shocked and saddened when I read or hear about Hindu extremism or fundamentalism. I never imagined that such a stigma could be attached to Hinduism. Apparently the sins of some misguided followers of the Hindu faith have been heaped on the religion they belong to. We surely cannot blame a religion for the misdeeds of some people who claim themselves to be the staunch supporters and defenders of Hinduism, without having even the elementary idea about it. Let us then try to understand some facts about Hinduism, though we cannot claim to have a perfect knowledge or understanding of a religion, which has such a vast field of treasure. We may perhaps discuss some salient features of this great and ancient religion.
According to Dr. Radhakrishn, the Hindu religion is marked by an eminently ratiol character. Through the years the Hindu thinkers have tried to grapple with the ultimate problems of the universe in a spirit of loyalty to truth and feeling for reality. Everything in the world is temporal and it passes away and the Hindu thinkers tried to find out if there is anything which is permanent and they found that there is something in the world which is not superseded, an imperishable Absolute or Brahman. This experience of infinity is given to us all on some occasions, when we catch glimpses of the mighty spirit and feel the brooding presence of the larger self which wraps us in glory.
Even in the tragic moments of life, when we feel sad, the majesty of the God in us makes us feel that the sorrows of the world are some incidents in a greater drama which will end in power, glory and love. The Upanishads say, “If there were no spirit of joy in the universe, who could live and breathe in the world of life?” Philosophically the Real is the self-identical Brahman revealing itself in all things and beings and it is the permanent background of the world process. From the religious point of view the Brahman is the divine self-consciousness, holding within itself the entire world process. Throughout its long career, the oneness of the Ultimate Spirit has been the governing ideal of Hindu religion.
The Rig-Veda tells us of one Supreme Reality, “Ekam”, of which the learned thinkers speak in various ways. The Upanishads assert that the one Brahman is called by many mes, according to the spheres of Reality in which it functions. The conception of ‘Trimurti’ arose in the epic period and was well-established in the age of Puras. The alogy of human consciousness, with its three-fold activity of cognition, emotion and will, suggests the view of the Supreme as Sat, Cit and Anda, which imply reality, wisdom and joy. The three gus of ‘sattva’ or equanimity, ‘rajas’ or energy, and ‘tamas’ or heaviness are aspects of all existence and even God is not an exemption to this law of triplicity of all being.
The three functions of “sristi” or creation, ‘sthiti’ or maintence, ‘laya’ or destruction are traced to the three gus of ‘rajas’, ‘sattva’ and ‘tamas’ Visnu, the preserver of the universe, is the supreme spirit, domited by the quality of ‘sattva’, Brahma, the creator of the universe is the Supreme Spirit, domited by the quality of ‘rajas’, and Siva, the destroyer of the universe is the Supreme Spirit, domited by the quality of ‘tamas’. The three qualities of one Supreme Being are developed into three distinct persolities and each of these persolities is said to function through its own respective ‘sakti’ or energy. So we have Saraswati, Lakshmi and Uma and their saktis, corresponding to Brahma, Visnu and Siva. Strictly speaking, all these qualities are so well-balanced in one Supreme Being that it cannot be said to possess any quality at all. The one incomprehensible God, who is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, appears to different minds in different ways. One ancient text says that forms are ascribed to the formless Absolute for the benefit of the seekers of God.
Philosophical temperament is characteristic of Hinduism. The Hindus believe that the individual beliefs are relative to the general character of the people who profess them. Religion is not a mere theory of the supertural; it is the spiritual experience of the race. That different people should profess different faiths is not untural. It is a question of taste and temperament. It is absurd to dismiss another’s faith. After all aim of all men is the same; they all want to reach the Absolute Reality.
The aim of life is to realize the eterl reality in human existence. The general progress is governed by the law of “karma” or moral causation. The Hindu religion does not believe in a God who administers justice from without. He is in man and so the law of Karma is organic to human ture. Every moment man is on trial and every honest effort will do him good in his eterl endeavour. Our sincere effort will continue until we realize our oneness with God.
The effort of religion is to eble man to realize the divine in him as the central fact of his existence. The Hindu thinkers recognize that the unending variety of life cannot be confined to fixed moulds. God is supremely impartial to His devotees whatever form of address and approach they may adopt. The Hindu religion wants each individual to experience the joy of communion with God and it advocates the law of Ahimsa or non-violence. It also recommends cow-protection, since the law against killing applies to the animal world as well. Its logical implication is that we should abstain from animal food. Animals also are the creations of God and so they should be treated with kindness and respect. Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “Why the cow was selected for apotheosis is obvious to me. The cow was in India man’s best companion. She was the giver of plenty. The cow is a poem of pity ……… the mother to millions of Indian mankind. Protection of the cow means protection of the whole dumb creation of God”. It is obvious from this statement that cow has always been venerated by the Hindus for centuries. But it does not imply that faticism regarding killing of the cows can be condoned.
Hinduism accepts the Vedas as the highest religious authority. They embody the principles of life and of the universe. The subsequent history of the Hindu faith has been a steady construction on the foundations laid in the Upanisads. The term “Dharma” or religion stands for all those ideals and purposes, influences and institutions that shape the character of man. “Moksha” or spiritual freedom is the aim of human life according to Hinduism. It is a combition of ethics and religion. The life of a Hindu is regulated by the law of “Dharma”. All his actions are conditioned by it.
While spiritual perfection of man is the aim of all endeavour, the Hindu dharma does not insist on any religious belief or form of worship. The Hindu thinkers were good exponents of philosophy and sociology and they never felt any necessity to enforce their religious belief.
For a Hindu religion as a human institution is a living organism. It insists on the reality of spiritual experience. Reality is grasped by us in the inner depth of our soul. This insistence on the inwardness of religion and its subjective character is maintained throughout the history of Hinduism. The truths announced by the Rishis in the Vedic age emerged not as the result of logical reasoning or systematic philosophy, but as the products of spiritual intuition or vision. God is not the ideal we cherish, but the Real we apprehend. Spiritual experience is not a product of imagitive thinking; it is the closest communion with Reality.
The saint who knows God by acquaintance and not by hearsay does not want a definition of God. Doubt and disbelief are impossible for him. Nothing can disturb his sense of certainty. For the ordiry people like us, our highest knowledge of God is only partial. There always remains something which is unknown. The religious devotee visualizes the Supreme Reality in the form of a persol God, who is the source, guide and the destiny of the world. The difference between the Supreme as the Absolute Spirit and the Supreme as Persol God is one of standpoint and not of essence. It is a difference between God as He is and God as He seems to us. Persolity is a symbol and if we ignore the symbolic character of the Reality, we miss the truth.
Hinduism is the symbol of India’s spiritual vision. It is based on the oneness and wholeness of the Supreme Spirit. It believes that human life is everywhere and always a part of the Divine Being. It recognizes the fact that the spiritual experience of the Supreme Reality may be interpreted in diverse ways. If some of us watch the sunset in the summer, our experience in the world of thought and feeling may not be identical and our expressions about the event are bound to vary. We may come out with variety of expressions.
For Mahatma Gandhi religion is not just a theoretical concept that seeks to satisfy intellectual curiosity and urges; it is for him a way of life, a practical necessity. In fact he feels that a religion which takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them is no religion. He believes that true religion has to be practical. Therefore he says that religion should pervade every aspect of our life. Religion is of the belief that there is an ordered moral government of the universe, and as such, this belief must have practical bearings for all aspects of life.
According to Gandhi religion is more or less a way of life and as such is the persol concern of the individual, who has to choose his way of life. But if an individual has the freedom to choose the religious ways of his own liking, he must also have tolerance and respect for the point of view that others might have chosen for themselves. Therefore he recommends that attitude towards different religious must be one of tolerance and respect. In case of Gandhi, although sometimes an impression is created that he has a special liking for Hinduism, his attitude towards other religions is one of reverence. He was born in a Hindu family and so the way and the atmosphere in which he grew and developed instilled in his mind the elements and tenets of Hinduism. turally the Gita and the Ramaya became his two invariable companions. He also studied some texts of other religions and works of some great religious leaders. All these led him to believe that different religions are the different ways of apprehending the Truth, which he believed to be God.
Gandhi believed that every religion contains good percepts and noble teachings. But he thinks that some of the interpretations and commentaries have degraded religion and distorted it. He also finds that every religion has given rise to some fatical and unreasoble practices. Therefore his conviction is that all religions are good as well as bad. They are of course basically good. Each religion is good in conceiving its ideal, but bad in giving rise to hatred, crusades and faticism. The experience of commul riots in India strengthened his belief. Therefore he said that religions must not be allowed to cross the limit of reason. He was sure that this element of ratiolity will be able to bring about, what can be called a ‘fellowship; of all religions’ or the ‘Kingdom of God’, a Christian expression which he used in various occasions.
His attitude towards all historical religions can be summed up in his own words. Describing his attitude on the matter as early as in 1921, he said, “After long study and experience I have come to the conclusion that (1) all religions are true, (2) all religions must have error in them, (3) all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism, in as much as all human beings should be as dear to one as one’s own close relatives. My own veneration for other faiths is the same as that for my own faith; therefore no thought of conversion is possible. The aim of fellowship should be to help a Hindu to become a better Hindu, a Mussalman to become a better Mussalman, and a Christian a better Christian”.
It is relevant to mention Gandhi’s attitude towards Hinduism. He said, “I can no more describe my feeling for Hinduism than for my wife. She moves me as no other woman in the world can. Not that she has no faults. I dare say she has many more than I see myself. But the feeling of an indissoluble bond is there. Even so I feel about Hinduism with all its faults and limitations. Nothing elates me so much as the music of the Gita or the Ramaya of Tulasidasa, the only two books in Hinduism I may be said to know.”
Gandhi said that every individual is born in a cultural environment, the traditions of which become important and significant for him. Birth may be an accident, but the traditions and heritage that birth brings with it are very significant. It is unnecessary and perhaps futile to try to negate or ignore them according to Gandhi. He said that his initial education and the manner of his upbringing along with the religious traditions of his birth created such conditions that Hinduism suited him best. He thought that everybody is free to cling to the religion of his choice and his choice was Hinduism.