Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A primer on Hinduism and Hindu way of life

Tuesday, 08 April, 2008 , 01:42 PM
I have just finished reading an outstanding introductory book on Hinduism and Hindu way of life titled `THE HINDU MIND, Fundamentals of Hindu Religion and Philosophy for All Ages' by Shri Bansi Pandit and published by New Age Books, New Delhi. Hinduism, the religion of Hindus (Originally known as Sanatana Dharma) is the oldest surviving religion in the world. The religious and philosophical literature of Hinduism is vast, diverse and covers thousands of years of accumulated spiritual experiences of Hindu Saints, Sages and Seers. This book explains Hinduism in a nutshell. It presents the fundamentals of Hindu Religious and Philosophical thought in a logical and straight forward manner. In his brilliant Primer, Shri Bansi Pandit has more than succeeded in creating a wonderful story book for further study of Sanatana Dharma, Hinduism and Hindu way of life. This handy volume provides answers to a number of questions on wide-ranging issues relating to the ceremonial, ritualistic, religious, philosophical, mythological and literary aspects and dimensions of Hinduism.
At the outset, one is confronted by the difficulty of defining what Hinduism is. To many it seems to be a name without any content. Is it a museum of beliefs, a medley of rites, or a mere map, a geographical expression? Its content, if it has any, has altered from age to age, from community to community. It meant one thing in the Vedic Period, another in the Brahminical, and a third in the Buddhistic. It means one thing to the Saivite, another to the Vaishnavite, a third to the Sakta. The ease with which Hinduism has steadily absorbed the customs and ideas of peoples with whom it has come into contact is as great as the difficulty we feel in finding a common feature binding together its different forms and aspects. At the same time, no one can fail to notice the obvious fact that the differences among the Sects of the Hindus are more or less on the surface only and the Hindus as such remain a distinct cultural unit with a common history, a common literature and a common civilization. India beyond all doubt possesses a deep underlying fundamental unity, far more profound than that produced either by geographical isolation or by political superiority. Vincent Smith, the great English Historian, in his famous work `The Oxford History of India" described Hindustan "as a land of great underlying cultural unity amidst apparent diversity'. Indeed, that unity transcends the innumerable diversities of blood, colour, language, dress, manners and Sect. In this task of welding together heterogeneous elements and enabling them to live in peace and order, Hinduism has had to adopt/fashion her own measures founded on inherited collective cultural and spiritual wisdom to guide and support her through the ages.

Sample Image

The Euro-centric dictum that, if we leave aside the blind forces of nature, nothing moves in this world which is not Greek or Roman in its origin (a by-product of Western imperialism and colonialism!), is gradually losing its ground today. Half the world today moves on independent foundations which Hinduism supplied from times immemorial. China and Japan, Tibet and Siam, Burma and Ceylon look to India as their spiritual home. Hindu civilization dates back to the dawn of history. Its historic records date back over four thousand years, and even then it had reached a stage of highly evolved civilization which has continued its unbroken, though at times slow and almost static course, until the present day. It has stood the stress and strain of more than four or five millenniums of spiritual thought and experience. Though peoples of different races and cultures have been pouring into India from very ancient times, yet Hinduism has been able to maintain its identity/supremacy, and even the proselytizing creeds like Islam and Christianity, backed by political power have not been able to coerce the large majority of Hindus to their views or way of life. The Hindu culture possesses some unique and vibrant vitality which seems to have been denied to some other more forceful currents. It is no more necessary to dissect Hinduism than to open a tree to see whether the sap still runs. Even a cursory perusal of Bansi Pandit's book would graphically bring out this fact. The world is now full of racial, cultural and religious misunderstandings. We are groping hopelessly in a timid and tentative way for some device which would save us from our suicidal conflicts. Perhaps the Hindu way of approach to the problem of religious conflicts may not be without its lessons for us. While fixed intellectual beliefs mark off one religion from another, Hinduism sets itself no such limits. In Hinduism intellect is subordinated to intuition, dogma to experience, outward expression to inward realization. Religion is not the acceptance or otherwise of academic abstractions or the celebration of ceremonies but a kind of life or experience. It is insight into the nature of reality (darshan) or experience of reality (anubhava). This experience is not an emotional thrill or a subjective fancy, but is the response of the whole personality, the integrated self to the central reality. Religion is a specific attitude of the self, itself and no other, though it is mixed up generally with intellectual views, aesthetic forms and moral valuations. In the Hindu way of life, religious experience is of a self-certifying character. In Sanskrit it is known as `svatassiddha'. It carries its own credentials.

Bansi Pandit's book is divided into five parts. Part I to IV discusses all essential aspects of the Hindu Religious tradition. In Part I wide ranging topics like Hindu Scriptures, Hindu view of God and Individual, Worship of God in the Form of Mother, Different Schools of Hindu Philosophy, Vedanta Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy, Philosophy of Bhagavad Gita, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Karma and Reincarnation, Deity Worship and Ritualism and Hindu Ethics have been dealt with in an arresting manner. Beautiful figures/drawings of Lord Ganesha, Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, Goddess Lakshmi, Goddess Saraswati, Sri Rama and Sri Krishna have been presented in Part II under the heading titled `Symbolism of Hindu Deities'. The essence of Ramayana and the essence of Mahabaratha—the two great Indian epics _ have been beautifully summarized in Part III.

Commonly asked questions with answers pertaining to various aspects of Hindu Religion have been included at the ends of Part I through to Part IV. In order to broaden the reader's understanding of the material presented, in Part V of the book,

the author of this book has presented tables, appendices, details about works cited together with suggested readings for higher studies, a glossary and an appendix.

In Chapter 14 of Part I titled `Deity Worship and Ritualism', Bansi Pandit brilliantly sums up the position: `A human being cannot conceptualize anything without some sort of a mental image. A Hindu associates his mental image of the infinite attributes of the supreme Lord with sacred images, called Deities, and uses such images, as symbols to concentrate his mind on the worship of the Lord. Just as we associate the idea of infinity with the image of the blue sky, or the idea of holiness with a cross or a place of worship, a Hindu associates the ideas of the attributes of the SUPREME LORD, such as omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence, with various sacred images and forms. Therefore, when a Hindu worships an image, he does not worship the inanimateness of the image, but rather the holiness, sacredness, purity, omnipresence, and omnipotence that are symbolized by such a sacred image.'

Ritualism in Hindu religion has often been criticized by non-Hindus and sometimes by pseudo-secular Hindus themselves. Regarding the purpose or the scope of ritualism, it should not be forgotten that its practice is meant as a tool for a beginner in his (or her) religious life. In the predominant Hindu view, ritualism creates a sacred environment, generates devotion for worship and thereby helps a beginner to concentrate his mind on worship, prayer and meditation. A ritual is completely useless if performed mechanically without understanding its meaning. For a ritual to be an effective tool in worship and meditation, one must concentrate on the meaning of the ritual while performing it. However, everyone may not need this tool of ritualism. In the advanced stages of one's religious life, there is absolutely no need for religious rites or ceremonies. This position is beautifully stated in the following words of the `Bhagvad Gita': `To the knower of truth, all Vedas are of as little use as a small water-tank is during the time of a flood, when water is everywhere.' This very cardinal truth was also reiterated by Swamy Vivekananda during the course of a lecture in 1893 `It is good to be born in a Church but not to die there'

What India badly requires today is the reintegration of the ancient Hindu (Indian) culture in the light of modern knowledge in order to suit our present-day needs and the resuscitation of its fundamental values in their pristine vigour. Viewed in this light, `The Hindu Mind' by Bansi Pandit is a remarkable book which graphically brings out into bold relief the fact that the Hindu Mind is not just a temple, it is a power station, a storage warehouse, a library, a theatre, a museum, a hall of archives and above all a seat of self-government. In my view this Guide-Book ought to be prescribed as a compulsory text book at the graduate level in all the colleges of India and the world. The world we feel, is too much with us. Nothing would uplift or inspire us so much as the beauty and aspiration which such books can teach.

(The writer is a retired IAS officer)

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