Part 2: Essay donated by Chintamani Rath
Religions in India.
The essential nature of Hinduism
Religions in India:
Of course, both Islam and Christianity look upon the presence
of these religions (Islam and Christianity) in the ancient land of India as a
philosophic conquest, a specially important conquest where they have, as they
profess, been able to break an evil system full of countless social injustices
and replace it with their own and better philosophies (as if the societies
that have embraced Christianity and Islam are free from injustices!).
It does not require much effort to see the inherent fallacies
in this viewpoint. Neither Islam nor Christianity (nor for that matter the
so-called "atheistic" Marxism which really is also a religion in itself, too!)
has "replaced" Hinduism in India, which is still predominantly Hindu. True,
there have been and continue to be a good deal of conversion into Christianity
(and also Islam in some cases) in many places in India (among the backward
classes of society which are lured into embracing these religions by
inducements of material gain and psychological concerns like "belongingness"
-- an interesting area of inquiry but beyond the scope of the present
article), but the fact remains that these conversions are confined to the poor
and needy and not do not succeed with those who are able to survive with even
a bare minimum of economic decency.
This fact in itself speaks volumes, the more so when it is
contrasted by the disillusionment with Christianity among large sections of
the economically prosperous western world. How else does one account for the
many mushrooming and thriving centers that propagate Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and
similar philosophies (or the western perception of these philosophies -- not
quite the same thing as the philosophies as they really are!) in the
materially advanced countries of the first world? It is worthy of note that
unlike conversions to Christianity in India, where the converts are the poor
and "downtrodden", the converts to Hinduism (take converts to the
movement, for example) in the western world are mostly people who have
converted on the strength of their convictions and not for the odd dollar
thrown their way.
The essential nature of Hinduism:
So what is the essential nature of that which we call "Hinduism"? A more
descriptive name of this religion is "Sanatana Dharma". Sanatana means
"eternal" and Dharma means "the property of being". For example, it is the
property (or nature) of an electric bulb to give light; so we say that the
Dharma of the electric bulb is to give light. What should be the property of
an apple tree? It should be to bear apples. That is, its Dharma is to bear
apples. And so on. In this sense, Hinduism is but a humanistic code of right
behavior (right property) for human beings. And, because these fundamental
human values hold good across both time and space (they are true all the time
and everywhere) the argument that Hinduism is archaic, irrelevant or less
"scientific" than "newer" religions does not hold water.
The point is, "Hinduism" is a religion without a religion -- a religionless
religion. We Hindus merely believe in reincarnation and the law of karma on
the one hand and a few basic human values on the other, and that is all. Any
person who believes in these values is a Hindu, whether or not he practices
its outward rituals. Thus a Hindu may or may not believe in the existence of a
God: he is free to be
agnostic if he likes. Our "Sankhya" philosophy is considered to be
agnostic by many.
A Hindu may or may not go to a temple to worship. In
Christianity and Islam, going to the church/mosque is an important part of the
religion. If a Christian does not go to mass or if a Muslim does not join in
communal prayer in the mosque or do his required Namaz, he is frowned upon.
But this is not the case in Hinduism. As a Hindu, I may go to the temple or I
may not. I may pray at home, I may not. I may participate in community Pujas,
I may not. I may meditate, I may not. These are not at all factors or acts
that Hinduism enjoins under pain of punishment or some horrifying retribution.
As long as I believe in some simple, basic principles and values, described
below, I am a Hindu.
Similarly in the way I eat. I do not have to fast. I may be a vegetarian or a
vegan, I may not be one. I may eat anything I like and still be a Hindu. After
all, there are few things that humans eat that do not have life, at least
before they are cooked. This includes everything from the plant world. There
is a story in the Hindu Scriptures to the effect that when Bramha created the
world, he did not create anything to eat. So all the living creatures went to
Him and said. "O Lord, what shall we eat?" Bramha realised their difficulty
and replied, "Let life eat life".
At an ISKCON midday discourse in their
Soho Street temple in London, I once asked the speaker (an ISKCON initiate of
African descent), "Prabhu, I am all for vegetarianism on account of a variety
of reasons; however, please show me the exact authority in our Scriptures
where it is categorically stated with cogent reason that we should be
vegetarians only". The learned speaker could not answer me straightaway and
said, "Please meet me after this lecture and I will show you the citations you
seek from the Scriptures". But immediately after the lecture (about 10 minutes
after his statement) when I edged my way forward towards him he appeared to
take advantage of the crowd and in fact niftily escaped! The point is,
vegetarianism, though highly laudable in its own place and worthy of
acceptance as a philosophy and practice, is neither a necessary nor a
sufficient condition of Hinduism. It is merely what many Hindus choose to be,
not because they are Hindus, but because they belong to those sects of
Hinduism that embrace vegetarianism, on the principle "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam"
("the world is indeed a family"). There are indeed non-vegetarian sects of
Hinduism, too - the Shaakta sect, for example, is non-vegetarian.
And so again in the way I dress. I do not have to make any outward display in
dress or appearance to be a Hindu. I do not have to abstain from the ordinary
and reasonable pleasures of life, so long as I do not cause anyone trouble. As
a Hindu, I am not bound to observe any particular religious practice. Whether
I do or not is entirely my personal choice. I do not impose this on anyone
else, nor desire to do so, however mildly or persuasively. I do not have to
convert anyone to my way of thinking, either. This is unlike Christianity or
Islam where the "missionary" program of bringing as many others "into the
fold" as possible by any means whatsoever is a very big and "righteous"
agenda. In the olden days such conversions took place by violent means, today
they take place through a variety of material and psychological allurements.
But the intention and the effect are similar.
This essay continues with a discussion
human values in Hinduism.
Copyright © Chintamani Rath. Contact Dr Rath for
permission to use.
Initial posting: 2009-SEP-30
Latest update: 2009-SEP-30
Author: Chintamani Rath