It is difficult to define Hinduism ; broadly you can say Hinduism is what is contained in its Scriptures .
Hindu scriptures are Vedas , Upanishads , Ramayana , Mahabharata , Gita & Purans . Among Puranas, , Bhagwat Maha Puran is most talked about . Vedas and Upanishads are the roots- source of all other Hindu scriptures .
Vedas and Upanishads were not written by an author , rather they are the recordings of the communication from heavens as received by the thousands of Vedic time rishis over a period of thousands of years during the course of their meditation . That is why they are called Shruti- “Sunana”
The rishis used to meditate in order to find the meaning of life and Creation- Existence.
Entire philosophy of Hinduism is based on Upanishads . The last portion of each Veda is called Upanishad or Vedanta-the end of Vedas .
There are four Vedas and 10 Principal Upanishads
The four Vedas are Rig Veda , Sam Veda , Atharva Veda and Yajur-Veda. Vedas in the present form were compiled by Rishi Vyasa ; that is why he is called Ved Vyasa . He also wrote Mahabharata and Puranas.
You might have heard of Guru Poornima; this festival -Vrat is observed by Hindus on the Pooranmasi of Hindu month Sawana-the birthday of Rishi Vyasa – as a mark of respect for this Brahmgiani for his contribution to promote Hinduism and its philosophy to masses .
In addition to Hindu Philosophy , Vedas contain other ancient wisdom e. g.Hindu Samskaras like Mundan Samaskara which we observe on a new born baby ; Marriage Samaskara being observed in Hindu marriages ; Ayurvedic System of medicine , various mantras for prayers ; rituals performed on various occasions by Hindus etc.
The central philosophy of Hinduism is contained in Vedas / Upanishads . It is summarized below.
God is one and is called Nirgun Brahma . He created this world and exists in all living beings and inert matter i.e. both living & non living . He exists in this universe just like a spider who weaves a web and sits in it. Similarly God has created this universe and resides in it.
There is same Soul in all living beings ; be it humans , animals , birds , acquatic life etc . The Soul which is present in all living beings is identical to the universal Soul – Paramatma .
The ultimate aim of human birth is to seek liberation – Mukti ; free from cycles of birth and death . Of all living beings, man is superior most for he alone has the capacity to achieve Mukti . Therefore mankind should not waste this once in a life time opportunity of taking birth as humans and hence observe the teachings of scriptures and get liberated from ‘Samsara’ (According to Hinduism , birth is always associated with sufferings which we are seeing around us in the form of hunger , deprivation, disease , poverty , misery , struggle.
Mukti can be achieved through many paths . Gita mentions four paths to achieve liberation from Samsara viz
Janan Marg- Path of Knowledge . The aspirant reads the scriptures , contemplates on God and by logic & reasoning , he realizes the Supreme .
Bhakti Marg- Path of Devotion:
The aspirant sings the praise of Lord all the time . He sings , attends satsang, kirtans and remains in the company of God all the time . Meera Bai followed this path .
Karam Marg – Path of Action.
In this path , aspirant does his work and offers it to the Lord . He does not have to think about the results of actions . He does his duty in the service of God ; he works for the pleasures of God . Slowly his mind becomes pure and he attains the Supreme.
Raja Yoga –
This technique was founded by Rishi Patanjali . This path contains 08 stages to reach the highest state called Smadhi – deep concentration . Intermediate stages of Raj Yoga are :
- Yama – to practice Restrain from worldly pleasures
- Niyama –develop good habits
- Asana—techniques to train the body to sit erect
- Pranayama—To learn breathing technique for concentration of mind
- Pratyahara –to practice withdrawing senses from worldly objects
- Dharna- to learn concentration of mind on a chosen object
- Dhyana-to learn concentration of mind on a chosen object for a longer time
- Smadhi –To go deep in concentration on the chosen object i. e. God ; the mind then establishes in God
Vivekananda was follower of Raj Yoga .
Whatever technique one adopts on a spiritual path , he has to strive to remain in a pure state of mind by meditation, attending satsang, reading of scriptures, prayers, pilgrimages , observe Vratas ( Fasts ) etc.
One of the important doctrine of Hinduism is Doctrine of Karma .
The Doctrine of Karma tells us that “as you sow , so shall you reap” . Good karmas bring good fruit leading to joy and happiness and bad karmas, bring bad fruits and the person suffers . Actions or Karmas mean not only deeds but include thoughts and words as well . We do maximum damage to our karmic accounts due to uncontrolled thoughts and bad words .
It is believed that deeds of past life go on accumulating and in each birth , living beings bears the fruit of Karmas.
In general , desires generate actions to fulfill them and hence create Karmic fruit ; therefore control of desires through efforts will help reducing karmic fruits . In fact the central idea of Buddha’s teachings is to eliminate desires to eliminate suffering of life.
Four Ashrams :
In Vedic times , life of humans was divided in four stages. .
Brahmacharya – First 25 years of life were devoted equipping oneself with health and wisdom to face odds in life . The person would observe brahmachrya –celibacy , formal education under a guru , character building , reading and understanding the scriptures etc.
Grahsth Ashram – Next 25 years , a Hindu would marry, have children , earn a livelihood etc. He would support the society by way of charities in this stage of life . He would observe the teachings of scriptures while living as a grahsth – householder .You can imagine how difficult it could have been to live as a householder by following the scriptures but the gain was ultimate –Liberation and a Hindu would do it happily.
Vanprastha Ashram – At the age of 55 years , a Hindu would give the charge of family to his children ; he would leave the house & would live in a secluded place . He would observe celibacy , eat simple foods like fruit , vegetables ; practice meditation , read scriptures etc.
Samyas Ashram – At around 75 years of age , a Hindu would totally renounce the world . He would be scantily covered , would survive on alms by begging and thus totally surrender to God.
All Hindu scriptures Vedas / Upanishads , Ramayana, Mahabharta , Gita , Puranas etc emphasise on Libration – Mukti because that is the permanent bliss ; otherwise we are caught in the unending cycles of birth and death and associated joys and sorrows.
The teachings of Hinduism are clearly spelt out in a dialogue between Kapil Rishi ( son of Rishi Kardam ) and his mother Devhuti , wife of Rishi Kardam and daughter of Rishi Manu- ( Rishi Manu is famous for Manu Smriti-arrangement of society based on four Varnas – profession i. e. Kshtriya, Brahmins, Vaishya and Shudra ).
Rishi Kapil was a Brahm Giani- God realized person since birth . He is the father of Sankhya Philosophy of Hinduism- means Cosmic Wisdom . Devhuti was very keen to get liberated ( Mukti ) from the world and requested her son to tell the techniques to be free from Samsara.
Kapila tells the mother that mind is responsible for bondage towards worldly objects. Attachment to worldly objects through senses and mind is the cause of bondage ; therefore divert the mind towards God from worldly objects.
Medidate on Him, the Almighty and develop a relationship & love for Him.
Love God in a satvik manner . Loving God in a ritualistic manner like going to temple or giving water to Peepal tree etc called Tamsik love is no good . Similarly loving God to get some desires fulfilled called Rajasik love will not give the desired results ; Love to God should be Satvik ; no desire for any blessings . Love Him and observe Him in all living beings.
Kapila further advises mother Devhuti , the techniques to develop Satvik love for God and ultimately achieve God realization .
Worship God through prayers , japa, meditation , kirtans , satsang , pilgrimage etc.
Respect the holy people .
Be kind to poors ; do charities regularly .
Perform the duties of life without expectation of fruits .
Observe non violence in thoughts , words and deeds
Train the mind to see God in all living beings . He ( God ) is the Self ( Soul ) in all beings . Therefore serve Him through the service of living beings .
By observing these techniques , the heart of the aspirant gets purified and he gets the vision of God .
Interestingly similar teachings were advocated by Lord Buddha in what is called the Four Noble Truths and Eight Fold Path .
These Four Noble Truths of Buddhism have remained the foundation stone of Buddhism till date .
Life is full of sufferings ( Dukha ) ;
Craving , desires ( trishna )are the cause of sufferings ;
Sufferings cease when their cause which is desires cease ;
Desires can be made to cease by following the middle path consisting of Eight Right Disciplines . This path has been named as Eightfold Path .
Right View –Clear knowledge & experience of sufferings
Right Intention –Intention to renounce and intention not to hurt and injure any life form , whatsoever
Right Speech-Refrain from false , harsh speech
Right Action —Abstinence from killing & injure any life
Right Livelihood –Abstinence from being a burden on others and living without exploitation of others
Right Efforts –Constant efforts to avoid bad and evil thoughts; only noble thoughts occupy mind
Right Mindfulness —Mental alertness and endeavor to destroy longings for body , senses and world
Right Concentration – Concentration of mind to gradually become free from passions , self possessed and then mind gradually goes beyond dualities and finally purity prevails .
This eight fold path , if followed , leads to Nirvana , the Supreme state of bliss , beyond the cycles of births & death, pleasure and pain .This is equivalent to Mukti in Hinduism .
*According to Buddha, sufferings are a reality of life whereas Atma and Paramatma may or may not exist.
After knowing some important teachings of Hinduism , we can compare the life we are leading vis a vis the above teachings .
In Vedic times , man used to lead a life as per the teachings of Vedas . The emphasis and aim was on liberation of Soul by following the various techniques as discussed above .
In modern times , Hindus are doing quite a number of activities in line with Hindu traditions viz havan , prayers , pilgrimage , charity , Ganesh Puja , fasts etc. These have been handed over from generation to generation but “Bhava’’ which purifies mind and heart is missing ;
There is a greater emphasis on the upkeep of body and on pleasure seeking . It is irony that people are wasting time and spending lot of money on the upkeep of body . There is a vulgar display of wealth in various ceremonies like marriage etc. Focus is on luxury , consumerism , possessions of material wealth . Enrichment of soul has taken a back stage . The result is frustation , disease , fear of death etc.
A very relevant example is of the followers of Rajnish popularly called “Osho” . His famous work “From Sambhog to Smadhi “ outlines his philosophy . His philosophy was that you do anything , enjoy all the pleasures of the world including sex , pursue wealth but the focus has be on God realization . This sanction to do any thing was very much suiting the western society . Westerners started becoming his followers in a big way. They were indulging in all sorts of pleasures but forgot and ignored God . The result was that group of young people around Rajnish became morally corrupt . Accordingly the govts of various countries did not give him permission to stay in their country and he was driven out from country to country .
It is , however ,worth mentioning that Rajnish was a scholar par excllence . His philosophy , narrative on different subjects was superb . It is worth reading his books .
-After reading extensively about religions and philosophy of life , I have come to following conclusion regarding the manner in which life should to be spent .
Respect all life forms including men and animals etc. Worship God in Men ( living beings )
Do not humiliate any body by thoughts , words and deeds
The reason being that no living being has come to this world by choice . He is born here for reasons unknown to him . A song which has the first line “ Bulla ki jane wo kaun “ is the simple way to define it . All beings are subject to fate , on which he or she has no control . Therefore a poor , ugly , illiterate , lowly placed person in society has to be given respect and due support. We have to remember that he is a victim of fate as per divine Will ; we have no right to further aggravate his fate . In other words , disrespect to creatures ( living beings ) is disrespect to the Creator .
Do not be arrogant because of your assets in the form of house , husband/ wife / children , wealth , intelligence , social status , official position etc. Again these privileges on you are the blessings of Almighty . There are hundreds of persons much more capable than you but leading a miserable life as a victim of fate . Therefore thank God for giving you so much .
Practice purity of karmas ( thoughts , words and deeds ) by Satsang, study of scriptures , Vratas ( Fasts ) , pilgrimage , prayer , charity etc
Be compassionate and forgiving ; to Err is Human and to forgive is divine .
It is generally believed that spiritual life means that denounce pursuit of money ; it is a wrong notion . There is absolutely no harm in pursuing wealth or earn money . In today’s society , money is playing a great role ; without money , survival is at stake . Accordingly a reasonable source of income has to be ensured by every body . According to Mahabharata without money , there is no Mukti because money helps in following a spiritual path ; when you have money , then only you can do pilgrimage , charity etc. The only caution is that earning has to be Right Earning as Buddha said or money is to be earned by following Dharma as Mahabharta said .
By following these time tested and simple rules , you will observe sea changes in your life . You will feel connected to the world around you ; you will feel very calm , composed and light .You will be able to handle crisis in life , family very confidently without fear and frustration . Life then becomes a simple journey and not a burden .
Without elaborating further and with utmost humility , I would say that I am also experiencing lot of transformations in my life by following these simple rules .