Hinduism is among the oldest of the world's faiths. It is a total way of life. It is a dharma or way of life evolved by the great sages and seers of ancient India. Its traditions extend back before recorded history. The early phase of the Vedic tradition in India is dated between 10,000 - 7,000 BCE. Yet, in spite of the fact that it first evolved more than 5,000 years ago, Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma) is also very much a living tradition. And as such, Hindus are arguably the most intensely religious people on the earth.
For thousands of years India has been a veritable laboratory of religion: everything imaginable has been tried out, and nothing ever has completely been rejected. In spite of many attacks on Hinduism by varied invaders, in spite of rumors of decay and disarray, Hinduism has outlived all announcements of its impending demise.
The first fundamental principle of Hindu Dharma is that "The reality is one without a second." This reality is beyond description by human mind. Hence it is indicated by a single world, "Brahman". "Infinite, eternal, changeless existence is the All; from that All, All comes forth; to that All, all returns," that is what the Candogya Upanishad (vi.2.1) tells us.
Hinduism has no founder. When religion becomes organized, man ceases to be free. It is not God that is worshipped but the group or the authority that claims to speak in his name. It is not faith, but just social idolatry. Hinduism's greatest feature has been its positive ideas and those who do not belong to it are not infidels or heretics. Hinduism does not believe in bringing about a mechanical uniformity of belief and worship by a forcible elimination of all that is not in agreement with a particular creed. At a more samsaric level, a Hindu also understands more than any other religionist in the world, the concept of a harmonious global society that should unite, prosper and live in peace. ‘lokasamasta sukhinO bhavantu’ and ‘vasudhaiva kuTumbakaM’ are not mere empty words spoken by Rishis a long long while ago. Hinduism encompasses all, finds a place for all, and establishes the functional relations between diverse traditions. Hinduism has not approved proselytism as a means of increasing the number of its adherents. A Hindu does not believe that salvation is to be had only through any one particular religion. God does not refuse his truth, his love and his grace to any who, in sincerity, seek him, wherever they may be and whatever creeds they may profess. All missionary religions profess that they have the highest truth. But in Hinduism, religious propaganda is discouraged and frowned upon, for Truth (God) needs no trumpeting. Hinduism is wholly free from the strange obsession of some faiths that the acceptance of a particular religious metaphysics is necessary for salvation, and non-acceptance thereof is heinous sin meriting eternal punishment in hell.
The word Hindu is a geographic rather than a religious term. Hindus call their religion Sanatana Dharma - 'Eternal law'. It is based on the practice of Dharma, the code of life. Since Hinduism has no founder, anyone who practices Dharma can call himself a Hindu. Hinduism lays emphasis on direct Experience rather than on authority. Hindu people have been powerfully and continuously affected from ancient times by the idea of religion as direct experience of the Divine.
An important concept is the search or quest for Truth. Hinduism is a relentless pursuit of Truth. "Truth is God." Knowledge, vision, wisdom, is the goal of the Upanishads. It is a new kind of thinking in which the whole man in implicated. The aim is not intellectual conformity to inherited doctrine, but one of attainment of knowledge. He can question the authority of any scripture, or even the existence of the Divine. Despite being the oldest religion, the truth realized by the seers prove that the Truth and path provided by Hinduism is beyond time. Its concern is with the absolute Truth, not with systems of belief. The absolute Truth is universal, and forever impersonal. No one has a proprietary claim to it. Hinduism is a religion that bears a great intellectual heritage with six schools of classical philosophy. Hinduism extends into every aspect of the believer's life.
The most sacred of Hindu texts - The Vedas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, and the Upanishads - are all 'sruti' meaning 'what is heard' from the original Vedic Rishis, whose inspired utterances were passed down. While sruti works are considered to be divine revelations, the 'smriti', thought still sacred, are acknowledged to have been crafted by men. They include the epics - The Ramayana, The Mahabharata - the Dharma Sutras (of which the most famous are the Manusmriti, Laws of Manu) and the Puranas.
Hindus have represented God in innumerable forms. Each is but a symbol that points to something beyond; and as none exhausts God's actual nature, the entire array is needed to complete the picture of God's aspects and manifestations. Nowhere else in the world do we find such a profusion of gods and goddesses, divine beings and demons, ramifications of genealogies of gods, and manifestations of the divinity in human and animal forms. But that is only the surface of Hinduism, the colorful appearance of a tradition that has enormous depths.
Yet the reason why the Hindu deities are represented in this way is simple: it is to show that they are gods, that they differ from human beings and have more and greater powers that they. A symbol such as a multi-armed image, graphically portraying God's astounding versatility and superhuman might. The use of symbolism extends to every detail of the image of a deity.
Behind the lush tangle of religious imagery, is a clear structure of thought. Hinduism, in its plethora of symbols and images, is endlessly complex and therefore endlessly misunderstood, but its true mission is both simple and universal: soul-enlightenment. Hinduism is goal-oriented, not way-oriented. In other words, its focus is the ultimate attainment, Self-realization, in God. Symbolism helps the seeker to concentrate his mind on the worship and meditation of god.
Puja is the daily ritual by which devotees seek communion with the divine. Puja symbolizes a devotee's desire to offer love and devotion to the Lord, thereby surrendering his or her individuality to Him. Hinduism recognizes self-surrender as a supreme path to salvation. The entire puja (worship) is a progressive identification of man and god, culminating in the meeting of eyes and the passing of the flame, the arati, that ends the ritual. The god sees the face of the individual in the flame, and his power is transmitted through the flame into the person's eyes. Even a blind person goes to the temple for darshan. It is not the physical eye, as much as the inner eye, or the third eye that receives the darshan of the lord. The meeting happens in the intuitive, supersensible realm.
Encyclopedia Britannica defines Hinduism as: "In principle, Hinduism incorporates all forms of belief and worship without necessitating the selection or elimination of any. The Hindu is inclined to revere the divine in every manifestation, whatever it may be, and is doctrinally tolerant.... A Hindu may embrace a non-Hindu religion without ceasing to be a Hindu...he tends to believe that the highest divine powers complement each other for the well being of the world and the mankind."
Om Asato maa sad-gamaya;
tamaso maa jyotir-ga-maya;
mrtyor-maa amrutam gamaya.
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih.
- a Sanskrit invocation from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishads 1.3.28).
O Lord Lead me from the unreal to the real.
Lead me from the darkness to light.
Lead me from death to immortality.
May there be peace, peace, and perfect peace.
Hinduism is a religion that is doctrinally less clear cut. It offers something for everyone, including the atheist. It has delighted its followers, with its richness, its antiquity and its depth. Hinduism is a philosophy that appeals to reason, love, tolerance, harmony, unity and truth. It motivates us to live life to the fullest, to achieve and realize our goals, keeping in mind that all things are connected in this universe and respecting them thereof. It is the attainment of spiritual freedom. The Hindu mind sees the divine as about improving his being, or inner self. Hinduism traditionally does not recognize the borderlines -politics, social structures, hygiene, science - everything is assimilated and considered part of the divine reality. Hinduism is alive and vigorous and has withstood attacks from within and without. It seems to be possessed of unlimited powers of renewal. Its historic vitality, the abounding energy which it reveals, would alone be evidence of its spiritual genius.
!! Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi !!
Hara hara Sankara!
Jaya jaya Sankara!