The word Hindu is said to have two origins: –
Hindu (WRONG): As derived from the word Sindhu or the people living to the east of the Indus Valley Civilisation. This concept seems to fit into the rudimentary historical theory of the start of civilization with the Indus Valley cultures of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. With more and more historical evidence pointing against it, it is doubted whether it will stand the test of times to come.
Hindu (CORRECT): This word refers to the people living between the Himalayas (Himavat: the Mountain father) and the Indian Ocean (Bindu-sagar: Bindu refers to the Divine Mother). This definition is that of Maharishi Parāśara in the VISHNU PURANA.
To the westerner Hinduism is an enigma, being as it is a complex mixture of sublime Vedic philosophies, dogmatic Brahmanical rituals, Yogic mysticism, Tantrik occultism, fertility cults, monastic orders, pagan customs and the firm rooted belief in unity of Godhead (i.e. one God who manifests as innumerable divine beings).
The Rig Veda is the oldest text and the root of Hinduism. For at least 2000 years before the final form of the Veda (perhaps 1500 B.C.), a great urban civilization existed in North-West India on the banks of the Indus and its tributaries. This coincides with the worldly sojourn of the Krishna Avatar and the beginning of the Kali Yuga at 3102 B.C. The sacred motifs of this Shaivaite civilization – like the bull, the serpent and the swastika – are still part of Hindu worship. There are many seemingly contradictions within Hinduism that came as it tried to assimilate every belief it came into contact with. However, as the knowledge increases, this vanishes. Hinduism acknowledges that the Ultimate Truth manifests itself in infinite ways which is beyond the capacity of the normal human mind to fathom. Yogi practices, austerities and all forms of Mantra aim at enhancing the mental capability to use more than the mere 5% resources that it normally does. This enhances the chances for a complete and better understanding of God.
In the eyes of the westerner, “Hinduism is a socio-cultural phenomenon that evolved in the Indian sub-continent and spread to South-East Asia. It does not have a clearly defined God or one dominating philosophy or one holy book or one prophet or one church or one religious hierarchy. The secular and the sacred are not separated. Hence, Hinduism is referred to more as a way-of-life than as a religion.” This maybe true for a so called scientific standpoint, but when we realise that some of the mathematical concepts like decimal system or the fact that the earth was circular or that the concept of relativity was ingrained in the concept of the Bha-chakra where the earth is the central focus of a study of the solar system etc, were known to peoples of this subcontinent ages before their rediscovery in the west, then this concept of development of Hinduism suffers a setback.
The historians mind perceives Hinduism as a religion and attempts to try to explain its beliefs and practices until he finally gives up as is seen in the quote given above. This historians “Growth concept in religion” gives way to a “Way of life approach of the socialist”. However they will still fail to understand the way as the definition of Hinduism is in its name itself “Satya Sanatana” or “Sanatana Dharma”. Dharma does not have any English equivalent and has been loosely interpreted as “Way of life or living” at the level of Physical consciousness and visible activities or monuments etc. In reality, Dharma is obedience and self-discipline at four levels (Chatuspada: four footed).
- The first is Vishwa dharma which requires strict following of the laws of Nature… the definition of Bhagavan.
- The second is Desha dharma which requires strict obedience of the laws of the nation in letter and spirit. Tax evaders and all sorts of criminals fall in this category. Desha can also be interpreted as social laws as ordained by one’s personal religion or social practices that are based on the books of tradition like the Veda.
- The third is Kutumba Dharma or duty towards the family. This is the town in large and personal family in the smaller scope. Thus keeping one’s town clean or looking after wife and children falls in this level.
- The fourth is Swa Dharma or duty towards one own self like looking after one’s daily diet, mental health etc. It is unfortunate that with the advance of Kali Yuga the Dharma priorities of most human beings have reversed with the self coming first, family far away in priority and nation / nature hardly finding any place. This fall in the value system is due to the erosion of Satwa (loosely interpreted as Truth force in this context).
Having understood the basic foundation of Hinduism as ‘Sanatana Dharma’, the next step would be to try to examine the common features in the different forms of its actual practice.
Some common features of Hinduism are:
- Reverence of the faithful for the Sruti Literature which includes the Vedas.
- Belief in God (Bhagawan, Ishvar) Who is the cause of this manifested Universe as well as the Universe itself, not distinct from it (i.e. He is the Creator as well as the Created) and Who incarnates as innumerable divine beings called Avatars.
- Worship of the Earth Mother (Devi) in Her various forms (i.e. every physical manifestation of Creation must have a mother and refers to a form of the Divine Mother. Thus, She has innumerable forms (as there are innumerable creatures and forms of creation).
- All negative things in life are accepted as the products of Tamas (ignorance) or Rajas (passion & desire). Thus, there is no Devil or Satan and since this entire Universe is a part of Bhagavan, love of everything and all creation is the first step to God realisation. There is no place for hatred for anybody or anything. Even in battle, this level of non-attachment is to prevail without any place for hatred.
- This love of Bhagavan is expressed through rituals (Yagna, Poojas, Vrata, Samskara), including idol, plant, animal, ancestor and Nature worship
- Sansara & Rebirth: Belief in reincarnation of the soul and acceptance of present situation as a consequence of actions performed in the past life (karma) is the foundation stone of Hinduism. This leads to the study of Jyotish and other occult sciences/subjects in the search for emancipation (Moksha) from this cycle of re-birth. The path is enlightened by those who have tread earlier on it leading to the line of Guru’s & Sisya (Guru-Sisya Parampara).
- Balancing righteous conduct (dharma) with material aspirations (artha), sensual pleasures (kama) and spiritual pursuits (moksha). These form the four Ayana or Goals of life.
- Acceptance that there are many means (marga) to reach God and respect for each of these paths. Like blind people trying to describe the elephant by touching different parts of it, so also these paths to Godhead are like different organs of God. Just like the man who can see evry organ and can easily describe the elephant, so also the enlightened one sees (knows) all the paths and can understand Godhead.
- Caste system (varna, jati) based on Karma Yoga. [Since the Theory of Sansara or transmigration of the soul is also based on Karma, then the birth itself is a product of our own Karma and hence the Caste system was extended to the birth of the individual].
Perceiving the environment, the body and the mind as illusion (maya) and only the soul (atma) as the True Self that can be identified with the Supreme Divine Being (brahman). In Jyotisha, the Lagna and Saptama are the satya Peetha [The truth personified] whereas the other houses reflect Maya. This theory is also extended to (a) the Lagna and its Karaka (significator) Sun which is also the Atma-Karaka or the soul significator on the one hand and the Arudha Lagna and its significator Moon which is also the Mana-Karaka or Mind significator that perceives this unreal world as real. This is the great illusion.