According to Swami Vivekananda, "The Hindus have received their religion through revelation, the Vedas. They hold that the Vedas are without beginning and end. It may sound ludicrous to this audience, how a book can be without a beginning or an end. But by the Vedas no book are meant. They mean the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons at different times. Just as the law of gravitation existed before its discovery and would exist if all humanity forgot it, so is it with laws that govern the spiritual world."
So, what is Hinduism? Is it the celebration of vibrant festivals like Deepawali, Holi, Dusshera, Durga puja or its karm-kand, rituals like doing sandhya, chanting gayatri mantra, is it considering Vedas as basic explanation of almighty or is it considering teachings of Lord Krishna in the Bhagwad Gita as ultimate path finder or is it universal tolerance.
In the modern world, Sanatana Dharma or Vedic Dharma is also understood as a religion called Hinduism or Hindu Dharma. Basically Dharma is a Vedic term which means laws of truth, cosmic law or natural law. It’s actually nature of things or their appropriate action. Like Dharma of fire is to burn, the same way Dharma of soul is to seek God. This Dharma of soul (Atma) to seek God (Parmatma) forms the under structure of Hindu Dharma.
Sanatana can be explained as eternal, natural and ancient beyond human origin. Therefore Hinduism is the oldest and most widely practiced religion and an evolved tradition which believes in Karma and soul enlightenment. Unlike other religions it is not confined to a prescribed doctrine or a dogma, neither does it force itself on others through proselytization.
Hinduism gives reverence to individual spiritual experience over any formal religious doctrine, it comprises of spiritual laws or subtle laws of nature not open to any communal debate. If there is one outstanding feature that places Hinduism at an exalted level from its other counterparts it is ‘Pluralism’. Hinduism is a democratic society and there is no specific way to practice it or no particular person. All roads are valid to explore spirituality and varying opinions are accommodated within its folds. This is the reason it includes various concepts.
God in Hinduism is something that anyone can feel through one's own effort and disposition. It is not confined in the barbed wires of certain dogmas that an external agent enforces in the name of one God. This is the reason it includes the concept of Pantheism (Universe in totality as a god), Polytheism (concept of worshiping many God), Monotheism (worshiping one God), Idolatry (worshiping idols). Not only these beliefs but an Atheist (non believer) and Agnostic (doubtful about existence of God) are as much Hindus as any other believer. This makes Hinduism a comprehensive and pluralistic society, which is God centric not Prophet centric or an individual centric.
To make it simple, any wisdom or insight that gracefully accepts spiritual freedom and gives reverence to individual spiritual odyssey over any formal religious doctrine is Hinduism. Only emphasis or doctrine that upholds Hinduism is self realization of soul through cosmic energy that surrounds us. Thus, embracing reason and philosophy that comes from sensory experience with help of yoga and meditation.
Sanatana Dharma is the great tradition behind multifarious teachings of Yoga, Ayurveda, Jyotish (Vedic Astrology), Vedanta and much more. Hindu religious literature, in its pristine form, is concerned mainly with knowledge and method needed to know the truth about God. Thus a Hindu can take this path of spiritual journey through Vedantic philosophy, like the Upanishads or going through our great epics Mahabharata or Ramayana, Puranas or the most reverential book which contain teachings of lord Krishna, The Bhagvad Gita.
Apart from this, Hinduism is enriched with the great practice called Yoga, a discipline of mind and body for health, tranquility and spiritual insight which gives different ways to the practitioner; Bhakti Yoga which is a path of love and devotion, Karma Yoga, a path of right action,Raja Yoga a path of meditation and Jnana Yoga, a path of wisdom. Along with this there are various other ways in Yoga that eventually lead to self realization. Basically there are four realities in our life viz. ‘body, mind, emotion and energy’; the process of spiritual journey to self-realization must be based on these four concepts.
It’s a blunder to compare these works, insight, practices with scriptures of revealed religions. The vision and wordbook of any other religion are fundamentally unfit to describe spirit of Hinduism. Any belief system that suppresses one’s freedom of choice cannot comprehend the subtleness and fathom the depth of Hinduism. Anyone who claims to be the sole messenger or ultimate possessor of spiritual wisdom and the only path to reach God finds no place in Hinduism. Whole emphasis is on experiencing divinity through personal efforts. Hinduism stresses on internal growth of an individual. There is no external God who bestowed His preaching's and powers to a prophet or a messiah, who becomes the ultimate authority on everything pertaining to God.
Hinduism is a precursor to religions like Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and many other religious beliefs born in the subcontinent. Buddhism is the second great religion that originated in India only. This world conquering religion owes its origin to Hinduism. Buddha was born in the Shakya Clan that belonged to the warrior (Kshatriya) caste. During Maurya dynasty Buddhism dominated major part of the country. Later Islamic invasion resulted in the spread of Islam, it was established mainly through forced conversions but nothing could supersede Hinduism and its spirits.
Hinduism is the only religion in the world that ardently worships the female energy in the form of Shakti or Prakriti (Mother Nature). That's why phrases like ‘Vande Matram’ and/or ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ come naturally to a Hindu. We believe that Mother Nature is a very strict mother, which cares and is a great provider. She detests any kind of vices in her child, she makes us stand in front of our greatest fears and apprehensions to face them, conquer them and become a Karm yogi eventually. Hinduism is governed by these subtle laws of nature as mentioned above. I would say all human beings be it Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian are governed by these laws of nature. Finally this concept reiterates the biggest belief of Hinduism that whole world is an extended family (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam). A philosophy emanating from a spiritual understanding that whole of humanity is made of one life energy.
Hinduism has embraced reason and philosophy that comes primarily from sensory experience by Yoga and meditation. It’s a junction where science and spirituality meet. Hindu scholastic activities and ancient Indian scientific developments were so intertwined that many Hindu scriptures are also ancient scientific manuals. For instance, Rishi Vatsa held the view that the Earth was held in space by the sun. Twenty four centuries before Issac Newton, the Rig Veda asserted that the gravitation held the universe together. We are blessed to be born in a country where saints like Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Madhavacharya, Vallabhacharya, Adi guru Shankaracharya, Ramanada, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Mirabai, Tulsidas, Kabir and many enlightened souls gave their valuable discourse and wrote many sacred texts.
Varna and Jati always existed in Hinduism. Varna was initially four different qualities present in a human being and not as four societal classes and Jati was occupation based social units with which people were identified. A Brahmin was someone who realizes Brahm (GOD) but religion was sadly used as a tool to subjugate poor in the name of caste. Thus caste system, untouchability, resulted in key reasons for people rejecting Hinduism and switching to other beliefs. Buddhism, Christianity became more accessible and more acceptable.
Islam dominance resulted in spread of Islam, followed by Christianity but nothing could over throw Hinduism, till date it’s very much reverential, momentous and dominant. Hindu culture is identified exclusively and distinctly with India. Hinduism is a gift of God to India, it is our prized possession. Infact Indian and Hindu could very much be synonyms. Hinduism is the very soul of India without which India may seize to be alive and kicking.
Views expressed here are of the author.