What is Hinduism?

What is Hinduism

What is in general Hindu religion or philosophy?

Hinduism is a way of living according to one's understanding of principles of the Vedas and the Upanishads. The Vedas are revealed knowledge. Just as the knowledge of gravity was revealed to Newton, similarly, in India, many Rishis or Seers were awakened to certain transcendental Eternal Truths. These Rishis realized that their real nature was not concerned with or linked with 'body or mind', nor was it dependent on sense perceptions, but was in fact Divine and identical with Universal Consciousness.

The Upanishads

These Seers realized their oneness with all beings, and even identified themselves with Transcendental Truth beyond all beings. The state of altered consciousness in which the Seers become one with Truth is spoken of as Samadhi. The Self-realized Seers termed this Reality as Atman, Brahman, Pure Consciousness, or Supreme Being. In course of time, the word God was also interchangeably used with Brahman or Atman.

This state of being one with Brahman or Atman was transient but very intense, and many a person gave up his or her body in this blissful state. Thus, their experiences were buried or cremated with them.
Fortunately, a few Seers could come back from the state of Transcendental Consciousness to human consciousness, and they were able to express, albeit sketchily, their experiences of that state. They, and their disciples, tried to describe the state that was beyond words and speech. Therefore, their words were inadequate to give full account of the nature of those experiences and of the Truth. The Upanishads contain closest possible approximation of such transcendental states in the language full of poetic richness, similes, and metaphors. But as the Seers lived in different time, culture, and place, the text describing their experiences appeared different.

However, one thing was certain and common: That the state they experienced or realized was full of Bliss, beyond comparison with any pleasure or joy obtained by one or all the five senses. It was much higher than sensuality of sex, much enthralling than the sweetness of music, more beautiful than any scenery experienced by the eyes, or any taste perceived by the tongue. Secondly, these Seers felt, out of compassion and love, that everyone should experience such a wonderful and unique state. They were also sure that every being is potentially capable of reaching there, because it was the inner and real nature of all!

The Yoga and Rituals

These rishis, accordingly, prescribed certain methods and practices for various persons according to their aptitude and spiritual development. They felt that certain people were almost ready to get the taste of Bliss. They called them 'adhikari', i.e. having ability and qualifications to undertake and fulfill the ardent spiritual disciplines required to realize the Transcendental Reality. Others needed some more time, for their attachment to worldly concerns and senses was intense. And therefore, these people needed or required to undertake certain sacrifices before they became fit for realization of the highest knowledge. Thus, Yagna (sacrifices) came into existence. From birth to death, in the ceremonies of marriage and childbirth, on every family and social occasion, certain rituals were laid down that helped in imparting certain measure of self-sacrifice (detachment from bodily pleasures) and control of senses.

Thus, the Vedas were divided into two parts:

1) Karma-Kanda (ritual or ceremonial portion), and

2) Jnana-Kanda (knowledge portion -Upanishads).

The Caste System

Unfortunately, this simple factual necessity and social reality was usurped to their own benefit by higher caste Brahmins and unfortunately that paved the way for caste system in medieval India. Brahmins were respected for their knowledge of and authority over the Vedas and the Upanishads; second in societal order were the Kshatriyas (warrior caste); third were the mercantile class (Vaishyas); and the last and unfortunate were the Shudras (lower caste).

The brahmins, instead of aspiring for realization of Atman, started to 'teach' the Vedas to other two castes - Kshatriya and Vaishya, and prohibited Shudras from even listening to the Scriptures! They took over themselves the sole custody of both the karma-kanda and the jnana-kanda, and forced the shudras to serve the higher castes. Shudras were thus victims of inhuman atrocities, and were denied access to even secular knowledge - simple reading and writing. Thus, like slaves, the shudras labored and worked for the three higher castes.

Gradually, over centuries, Kshatriya and Vaishya joined the league of Brahmins to acquire and enjoy material prosperity and social status. The Kshatriyas and the Vaishyas became important social force as the kings and the merchants respectively. Brahmins found important positions in royal courts as 'performers of rituals', the priests. This 'job' was less arduous and taxing as compared to spiritual practices meant for realization of the Highest Truth, Brahman. Thus, the Brahmins de facto became serving priests. They gave up their original role as 'seekers after Truth' and were, instead, busy in seeking wealth and position. This is the definition of decline of Dharma (religion).

Divine Incarnations (Men of God): The Avataras

When the path to self-realization is forgotten in favour of hankering after worldly pleasures, the Reality embodies itself as a Divine Incarnation -Avatara- to guide the humankind regarding true religion, and show true path towards the forgotten aim in life, to wit - Self Realization.

The spark of holiness, purity, and divinity present in every human heart coalesces to take a concrete shape as a divine person in every religion, in all chimes and climes. Such great scientists of spirituality show the path of further progress in human intellect and evolution. They are the embodiments of the aspirations of millions; aspiration to manifest divinity within, aspiration to get liberated. Thus from time to time, India saw incarnations of Men of God: Sri Rama, Sri Krishna, Lord Buddha, Bhagavan Mahavir, Shankaracharya, Guru Nanak, Sri Ramakrishna, and many others.

Influenced by their teachings, Dharma or religion or spirituality still survives in India, although appearing at times in its distorted form.

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