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Hinduism: The Universal Religion

Hinduism's lofty ideals make it a way of life, not just a speculative philosophy, says Y S GOWRAMMA 

What is India News Service

Of all the forces that have worked and are still working to mould the destinies of the human race, certainly none is more potent than religion. The aim of religion is to help humanity to realize its true divine nature. It makes man what he is and will make of this human animal a god. Indian sages consider this human birth valuable beyond measure, and it is for us to make the best use of it. This is the aim of our religion Hinduism.

Hinduism is so ancient that the barbaric invasions of alien faiths and culture spread over centuries have not succeeded in uprooting our religion and culture from their native soil. On the other hand, they were quietly absorbed into the general fabric of our society.  Hinduism survives even after crossing so many difficulties, mainly because of its inner strength: spirituality. It is alive and dynamic because of this uniqueness and its universal outlook.

Hinduism is hard to define. It is a system, which comprises within its force an infinite variety of thoughts. It has the spiritual flights of Vedanta philosophy and the low ideas of idolatry with multifarious mythology, the agnosticism of Buddhism, and the atheism of Jains. Thus whether it is Jainism, Buddhism or Sikhism -- each and all have a place and become different facets of Hinduism. The main aim of religion is to pull the world out of materialism in which it is stuck and not to fight to force any particular dogma on one and all.

Hinduism is not simply a system of ethics or theology but a practical philosophy.  It has an emotional integrity and feeling of oneness towards all. It is a religion which transcends its institutional and theoretical limits acquiring a personal and emotional quality.  It is a religion which sees “God in All” and “All in God.” This god consciousness, all comprehensive divine nature, is the very fundamental basis of our religion.  As it appeals to all men without distinction of class, caste, creed, race or nationality it can be termed a ‘universal religion.’

Hinduism is a universal religion because of its lofty ideals and thoughts.  It is not just a speculation of ideas. It follows what is preaches. Therefore Dr S. Radhakrishnan considers Hinduism as “not only a view of life, but a way of life”.  That means it doesn’t consist in just struggling and attempting to believe in a certain dogma or doctrine but in Realizing i.e. not in Believing but in Being and Becoming.

The vision of Hindu Rishis constitutes the Hindu religion.  It is the vision of not a particular prophet of a particular period of human history, but is based on the super-conscious experiences and spiritual realization of a galaxy of saints, seers and sages.  Hindu tradition has been flowing continuously like the river Ganga for several years.  Hence it is very ancient and is termed ‘Santana Dharma’.

Spiritual truths were revealed to the Rishis in the depths of their intuitive experiences.  Thus Hindus have received their religion through revelation – the Vedas.  Vedas are the basic scriptures of Hinduism, and the term Veda means ‘Knowledge’, or ‘Wisdom’.  They have been described as ‘Apaurusheya’  (not created by any human agency). Ramayana, Mahabharatha, Bhagavadgita, smritis, Agamas, Puranas and Darshanas are the other texts that reveal the concepts of Hindu religion.

Hindus consider idols and temples as the media that support and help humans in spiritual progress.  Hinduism considers the idol worship as a necessary but primary stage of spiritual life.  If a man can realize the divine nature with the help of an image, it is not a sin or a blind superstitious idea.  As the saying goes, “The child is the father of man”, idol worship is the spiritual childhood. As we remember conscious living persons by seeing their photographs, so also through the idols – the insentient images, one may feel the presence of the conscious and sentient God.

The Hindu feels that idol worship helps keep his mind fixed on the Being to whom he prays and provides an easy means of approaching Him.  To him, all the stages of religion, from the lowest form of fetishism to the highest absolute, are nothing but different stages of the human soul trying to grasp and realize the infinite.  So, he is traveling not from error to truth, but from lowest truth to highest truth.  So, Hinduism never condemns the lowest of the low stage ‘idolatry’ as an attempt of undeveloped mind. It feels that it has some psychological and philosophical truth behind it.

Though Hinduism concedes the existence of several Gods, it accepts only one God – the supreme.  It considers several deities as different modes and aspects of Paramatman, the supreme self-God.  Since it is difficult for common people like us to worship God as He is, the ancient Rishies have given different names and forms. Hindus consider God all powerful, pure, formless, and all merciful. They say it is He “by whose command the wind blows, the fire burns, the rain showers, and the death stalks upon the earth.”

Bhayat Tasya Agnihi Tapati, Bhayattapati Suryaha
Bhayat Indrashcha Vayushcha Mrutyur dhavati panchamaha

From Him is the world manifest, in Him it exists and unto Him it returns at the time of dissolution.

Hinduism gives importance not to this material body, but to the soul – which is eternal, free, unbounded, holy, pure, perfect, immortal, infinite and Sachchidananda.  Hence our Vedic Seers proclaim, “‘O’, children of Immortality” “Amrutasya Putraaha” – What a sweet hopeful name!  We are all the children of God, shareholders of immortal bliss.  Hinduism considers it a sin to call a man sinner, as we are all immortal spirits, free, blessed and eternal. Therefore, Swami Vivekananda sayas, ‘Each soul is potentially Divine.  The goal is to manifest this divinity within by controlling nature – External and Internal…”

Hinduism considers each one of us divine in our real nature.  Hence the goal of life is to realize this truth and nothing else.  It even gives the choice of four paths – Jnana Marga, Karma Marga, Raja Marga and Bhakti Marga to select any one which suits us best.  Hinduism considers salvation for all men without any barriers of caste, creed, class or nationality.  It is open to all.  For them, religion means re-union of two entities – Atman and Brahman, which are separated by time, i.e. Moksha.  Moksha means freedom from bondage, misery, suffering, death and imperfection.  In other words, Moksha is a total annihilation of all sorrows and sufferings. That is ‘Atma Jnana’ or ‘Brahma Jnana’.

According to Hindus, it is ignorance that covers our knowledge of Atman and as a result, we suffer. We can get rid of this bondage by Vairagya  and Viveka.  It is the Guru who dispels the darkness of ignorance and bestows the light of knowledge. Therefore, it says it is impossible to attain spiritual life without the guidance of a Guru.

As it emphasizes ethical and moral aspects like compassion, forgiveness, brotherhood, love, righteous conduct, we can say Hinduism is a universal religion.  It considers morality as a phase of spiritual life and demands that a religious man should also be a morally good man.

Hinduism is known for its religious tolerance. It considers different religions as different ways of understanding the nature of God. As Ramakrishna Paramahamsa says, “As many people, so many paths” – thus indicating that every human being has his own religion.  He considers that, as one’s path is best suited to him; the other religious paths are best suited to the votaries of those religions. “Yours for You and Mine for Me” is his belief. 

As water takes the shape of the vessel in which it is poured, so is God filling these different vessels – the various religions.  Yet, He is one and in each case, we get a vision of God.  Hinduism is of the opinion that everyone must have a religion that suits his temperament and then alone he can grow spiritually. It is with this view that it gave shelter even to the Zorastrian religion, which was driven out of its motherland.

Hinduism believes that all religions lead to the same goal.  It is the same light coming through glasses of different colors and in the heart of everything, the same truth reigns. “Truth is one, though the sages may call it differently”.  “Ekam Sat Vipra bahudha Vadanti.” 

If one understands one’s religion properly and practices it sincerely, the kingdom of God will be established here and now. So Hinduism wishes for the early dawn of such a day in the history of mankind.  Hence the prayer, “Sarve Janaaha Sukhino Bhavantu” – a universal outlook of our religion.

Y S Gowramma is Professor of Philosophy, University Maharaja’s College, Mysore.  Her papers have appeared in the Indian Philosophical Congress journal and Artha, the International Journal of Social Sciences.

Published on 15 Feb '05  

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