20 June 2015
Notwithstanding the plurality of beliefs that encompass the Hindu-Universe, there are certain commonly held concepts…like a leitmotif they recur in any discussion on the tenets of this faith. There is the belief in idol-worship; in reincarnation and the conviction that each soul has multiple lives; in the theory of ‘Karma’ which tells you that every action of yours has an effect on your individual karmic-account; and in ‘moksha’…the liberation of the soul from the cycle of birth and rebirth. Universal ethical norms that are consistent with a mans personal needs and social compulsions are expected to be followed by all to become true human beings. These include non-violence, truthfulness, compassion, fortitude, self control and generosity among others.
As an individual you can choose to follow the ‘Grihastha-Dharma’ (domestic path) or the ‘Sanyasin-Dharma’ (ascetic path). (To digress a little, i use the term ‘Dharma’ in its original Vedic sense. We use ‘dharma’ today in the very narrow sense of religion but in the Vedic tradition it refers to behaviour in accordance with the cosmic laws that make life and universe possible. Google tells me that the term has no single word translation in English and straddles a complex set of meanings and interpretations!) The ‘Grihastha’ path enjoins you to pursue four goals in life…’Kama’ (gratification of sensual pleasures), ‘Artha’ (accumulation of wealth and worldly goods), ‘Dharma’ (performing the right actions as per your duties) and ‘Moksha’ (working towards the liberation of your soul). The ‘Sanyasin’ recognises only the last one and chooses to skip the previous three. Your life in society is divided into four stages and there are defined rites and rituals for each stage from birth to death. At one level these rituals perform the task of being gentle reminders like signposts for the duties you are required to fulfil on the path of life. But more often they give rise to much dogma and exploitation of the ignorant by unscrupulous priests and self-styled God-men. There is also the principle of ‘Varna-system’– the classification of society into four distinct castes and your caste being determined by the family you are born to. Many try and explain the rationale behind setting up of this class system by the Indo-Aryans but the fact is that this is an aspect that is most abhorrent for all liberal Hindus and has led to much angst and struggle within our society.
Above all this faith is about the individual seeker– about you and your salvation. Among the many interpretations of who or what makes a Hindu, the one that echoes beautifully my own beliefs is the elucidation of the concept by Sadhguru of the Isha Foundation. ‘Hindu’ he says was ‘never an -ism’ and recent attempts by many to organise it in the traditional sense of religion can never be successful for the Vedic Sanatan Dharma (as the purists like to call this belief-universe) is all inclusive in nature and accepts every seeker without any restrictions. You may be tagged a Hindu by birth yet in the same Hindu family you may have the agnostic, the atheist and the devout each practising his/her own individual morality. What is most important is that you follow your ‘dharma’ to sustain harmony and order in the world. At one level it is simply about being humane and true in your interactions with others and the world around you. This inherent individualism and at the same time all inclusive nature of this faith is what makes it more liberal, more progressive and more tolerant than any other faith that i know of. Even when fundamentalism, dogma, bigotry and intolerance do raise their head they can only be subsumed and drowned in the sacred waters of this ever flowing living tradition.