Hinduism literally speaking is the religion of Hindus. Hindu is one who is a believer in any form of Brahmanism (one of the religions of India). In his lecture, delivered at the Parliament of Religions, at Chicago in Sept. 1893 Swami Vivekananda said, “Three religions stand in the world, which have come down to us from prehistoric times, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism. They have all received tremendous shocks, and all of them can be proven by their survival, their inner strength.
Sects after sects arose in India and unwillingly tried to shake and shatter the religion of the Vedas to its very foundation but like the waters of the seashore in a tremendous earthquake it receded only for a while, only to return in an all-absorbing flood – a thousand times more vigorous and when the tumult rush was over these sects were all sucked in, absorbed and assimilated into the immense body of the mother faith.”
Essence of true religion consists of nothing but the eternal truths and laws of the spiritual world. These principles have been discovered by the sages of ancient India. The degradation of Hindus took place because the life-giving principles of religion or Hinduism were applied in the practical life to solve social and national problems. Caste tyranny, loss of faith in their inherent powers and social neglect, reduced poor masses to mere cogs in the wheels of the exploitative machine, which was run by a few, powerful people. In reality if religion of the Vedas i.e. Hinduism was spread among the poor masses, it would awaken the dormant powers in them and they would be able to solve their own problems without any assistance.
Hindus were a philosophical race, whose conflicts were intellectual conflicts. Fortunately, India then was a country where the people had no lack of wealth, food and security. Having the Himalayas in the north and ocean on three sides, the country was free from the danger of foreign invasion. Nature was also favorable in such a place, in the Ashrams and Tapovans, the Indian rishis absorbed themselves in deeper truths of life which gave birth to the Indian philosophy.
Dr. Radhakrishnan writes “The native utterances of the Vedic poets, the wondrous suggestiveness of the Upanishads, the marvelous psychological analysis of the Buddhists and the stupendous system of Shankara are quite as interesting and instinctive from the cultural point of view of the system of Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Hegel, if only we study them in true scientific frame of mind, without disrespect for the past or contempt for the alien” which is interesting and instructive from a cultural point of view
Philosophy had a great impact and importance in India especially to Hinduism from the earliest times. “Darshan” as philosophy is called, etymologically means, “Seeing”. This seeing is possible by perceptual observation direct experience, inference or self-realization. Indian philosophy recognizes that truth can never be self-contradictory.
Therefore, in order to realize the distinction and relation of philosophy and religion i.e. Hinduism in the present context, we must first know what religion is. The word religion includes two Latin terms “Religio and Onis”. Re-means again, ligio means to bind. Literally speaking religion binds a man to his source. Philosophers have emphasized one or the other aspect of it. Some important approaches in this connection are as follows:
- Intellectual Approach: Religion is clearly a state of mind.
- Moral Approach: Religion is nothing but morality touched with emotion
- Axiological Approach: God cannot be called the highest value because there is no un-valued phenomenon with which God can be contrasted.
Various definitions of Hinduism as a religion.
Hinduism is a complex phenomenon in which one finds attitudes and feelings towards ultimate reality or God. From the definition of religion given by Sri Aurobindo, Hinduism appears to be highly comprehensive. To quote him “in most, essence of religion… is the search for God and finding of God. Its work is sincere giving out of the true and ultimate relation between man and God, relation of unity, relation of difference, relation of an illuminated knowledge and ecstatic love and delight, and absolute surrender and service, casting of every part of our existence of its normal status into up rush of man towards the Divine and descent of divine into man”. This is true even today when we talk of Modern Hinduism.
Our age is known as the atomic age. By controlling atomic energy man has achieved things which were formerly beyond his imagination. In the form of atom bombs he has developed an instrument of destruction whose after effects can be seen years after its use. Many nations, developed or even underdeveloped, of the world are busy in piling up such destructive weapons and many other nations are trying to copy them.
This has made the thinkers of the world to worry about the future of man because an atomic war will not only lead to destruction and death but also deformities of crores of people and poisoning of the atmosphere and water to the extent of making human life practically impossible on this planet. But international peace and cooperation cannot be achieved through science alone because science is unable to do anything in this situation. This on the other hand is a moral and spiritual problem. For example, the philosophy of the Gita and the Upanishads may be found to be the most useful to a man at the present juncture. Hence it can be said that in this atomic age, science is more in need of philosophy than it has ever been.
Ancient Indian thinkers of Hinduism have suggested different paths for reaching God or Truth, which is relevant in modern times also. These are classified into three chief paths of action, knowledge and devotion. In fact, these are the phases or the three different layers of every human mind.
Here we shall take the path of action. This is just like the choice between what is right and what is wrong, the good and the evil. One has to follow the right way and give up the wrong way. Gradually the evil will be eliminated and the good will be established which will ultimately lead one to godliness/ divinity.
The question that now arises is, how to ascertain which action is good and which is evil Mahavir’s advice is to walk carefully so that we do not tread over, even an ant. On the other hand, Lord Krishna advises Arjuna to fight the evil forces because no one dies, as the soul is immortal
In ancient times Sri Rama accepted and abided by all limitations and restrictions of the society, and that is why he is called “Maryada Purshotam” while Shri Krishna who disregarded all social limitations and restrictions is still called “Yogeshwara Krishna”. On the one hand Sita is adored as she never even saw the face of another man except her husband Rama but on the other hand Draupadi who was the wife of five Pandavas is regarded as a virtuous lady.
Yudhisthira had staked his wife in a game of dice and yet he is called Dharam Raj. Bhishma was a witness to the disrobing of Draupadi and did nothing to avoid that incident, yet he is called an apostle of morality and righteousness. Parashurama killed his mother at the behest of his father and is yet called a great rishi. Therefore, no universal standard can be set for deciding what is good and what is evil. It deals with doing, not with being. As long as one does not know his inner self all his actions are cravings of the mind for the fulfillment of desires. That is why Indra says “in the very first instance try and realize what the Atman is so that all your doubts are answered. Socrates has said, “know thy self”.
Modern vision of Hinduism warrants us to rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of knowing the Self, because we possess spiritual wealth that can end all our woes. Secondly, we must inculcate a sense of unity and identity. Self-realization is the real definition of Hinduism.
Taittiriya Upanishad declares in Tantra III-1
यतो वा इमानि भूतानि जायन्ते येन जातानि जीवन्ति ।
यं प्रयन्ति अभिसंविशान्ति तज्जिज्ञासस्व तदेव ब्रह्म ॥
“That from which all those beings come into existence, that by which they live, that into which they are finally absorbed, know that be the eternal verity – the Absolute”
Once in the Ashram of Ramana Maharshi a visitor made display of his knowledge by enumerating the various paths described by various masters along with quoting the western philosophers. He inquired “one says one thing and the other says something else, which way should I go?” Ramana Maharshi rose to leave the hall, he replied curtly “Go back the way you came”.
Speaking about the intellectual persons, Shri Ramana Maharshi has said, “They have made themselves like a gramophone. What else are they, Oh Arunachala? It is the unlearned who are saved, rather those whose ego has not subsided despite their learning. It is sincerity that is required and not brilliance or understanding of theory, humility, and not mental pride”.