Hinduism is known as Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Dharma) because it is not founded by any person or person. It has evolved from the spiritual life of all the people of India for over 5,000 Years. It rests on universal and eternal spiritual principles and not on belief and dogmas, or on the word of a Prophet etc. it is spiritual science based on self-disciplined systematic investigations, reasonings, meditations, and realizations in super conscious stages by great spiritual scientists called Rishis and other spiritual geniuses. Some of them, like Sri Krsna (the preacher of the wonderful Bhagavad-gita), Bhagavan Buddha, Acarya Sankara, and others, were so great that they are considered as incarnations of Divinity. Sri krsna is even considered as the very God Himself in human form. Even then, Hinduism does not rest on them, but on Impersonal Universal Truth. Hinduism, being a science, is not a once-for-all-fixed-religion of dogmas like most other religions, nor is it a closed system. And like science, it continues to explore the Infinite Divine Reality and keeps on growing vaster and richer and improving upon the past by incorporating the discoveries and teachings of great spiritual men and women, even from outside, from time to time. It invites noble thoughts from everywhere.
The Author, who has been in contact with the Ramakrishna order since 1935, and formally joined it in 1943, has a long history of distinguished service to the Organization in various capacities, especially in the literary and cultural fields. He has made a deep study of Hinduism over the years in its socio-religions and philosophical aspects, especially from the evolutionary and historical perspective, bearing fruit in this important work. Apart from this work, meant for thinkers and scholars, he has also published several booklets on Hinduism in its different aspects to propagate its ideas and ideals in a simple way among the general public. In this he had the advantage and experience of teaching the subjects to the monastic students of the Training Centre of the Ramakrishna order at Belur Math, its Headquarters, in the modern scientific context, for over 10 year, besides conducting discourses for the laity at various places in the country. A list of the booklets and other important works of the author bearing on Indian philosophical and cosmological thought in the context of Modern Science is appended in the present work. These works are popular and have received much appreciation in India and abroad.
Hinduism being a vast and variegated composite religion with numerous aspects and reach tradition, serving the needs of the simplest as well as of the wisest, of the laity as well as of acute philosophers, it is not possible to go into a detailed treatment of it in such a short work. Nor has this work been contemplated to fulfill that task. It has been conceived to acquaint the general reader in a brief compass with some of the fundamental features of Hinduism in its total perspective, showing their mutual inter-connection and coherence in the whole scheme. They cannot be looked at in isolation without losing purpose and significance, for it is an integrated system, like a living organism. An attempt also has been made here to bring in as many of the important terms and concept as possible from the Hindu religious thought in a co-ordinate manner.
We have tried to approach the subject, where necessary, in the background of an evolutionary, historical, and comparative spirit so that the treatment may be dynamic and applicable to the present times and not remain merely academic. We must make it clear that while this work presents a good grasp of the salient features of Hinduism and its scope, depth, and vitality, this is not a text-book of Hinduism, but a thought-provoking study of its present relevance to mankind.
We have tried to dispel certain misconceptions and misjudgments with regard to the Varna-Ashrama-Dharma putting it in its proper original perspective free from the accretions of untouchability, etc., and to point out the causes which gave rise to such accretions and why untouchability became crystallized in Hindu society. Like diseases in the human body, defects and corruptions arise in every society and system, religious or secular, in its working as time passes, and they go on accumulating as the society grows and becomes more and, more complex, unless it is regularly overhauled. Hindu society could not be overhauled to any extent due to historical vicissitudes and loss of overall political power. While these defects and corruptions are to be eliminated, it can be done only if we know the true spirit of the system, for every society has to be set right and reformed in terms of its own ideals and not that of an alien society. If a Vina goes out of order, it has to be repaired according to its own standard and not in terms of a typewriter, however useful it be commercially. As such we have tried to present Hinduism in its true nature based on the scriptures, since the corruptions in Hindu society at present are well known and efforts are afoot to remove them. However we have also tried to formulate a modified version of the Varna-Ashrama-Dharma to suit the modern times and conditions, capable of being adapted by all mankind, irrespective of religious affiliation, by divesting it of its accretions such as privileges based on birth, and occupation based on caste, though in the early stages birth was sanctified by character, and occupation determined the caste, like the trade-guilds. We have tried to restore in the new scheme the universal psycho-spiritual character of Varna-Ashrama-Dharma, based on the nature of Man, the Universe, and the Divine Reality, which are common to all mankind. The scheme is presented in Appendix VIII under the new designation Vritti-Ashrama-Dharma.
In this edition, we have thoroughly and suitably revised the book and added some new material as well as notes to make it more useful. The sub-title has also been changes from ‘A Brief Outline of Its Framework’ to ‘The Eternal Dharma’, since ‘HINDUISM’ is only its current alien name as related to the Hindus. ‘HINDU’ is sometimes used in the West to denote all Indians, as it was done by the Iranians and other in ancient times. Hence, the word ‘HINDUSTAN’ is used even now to denote the whole of India with its several religions.
‘SANATANA DHARMA’ (The Eternal Dharma), The way of Ethical Religio-Spiritual Life, based on Eternal Principles and Verities in Man and Nature, is the Traditional name of the VEDIC DHARMA, the religion based on the Vedas.
However, in a way, the designation ‘HINDUISM’ too can have a special significance, viz. while Buddhism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism are based on the life and teachings of particular great individuals-Bhagavan Buddha, Jusus Christ, and Prophet Mohammed-who lived at a particular time, the Vedic religion is based on the life, thought, and culture of the entire Hindu people, covering the highest spiritual and intellectual giants as well as the lowest illiterate masses and tribes, from the most ancient times to the present day, the beginning of which cannot be attributed to any definite time.
Hinduism, with its long history of over 8000 years, its many denominations and schools of philosophic thought, and its oceanic literature, is so vast and versatile; its aspects so varied and subtle with profound implications; its mythology, symbology, rituals and organization of ethical principles and high spiritual sentiments so extensive, its mysticism so deep and proliferating; its power of absorption of diverse new elements as well as its capacity to harmonize and synthesize them into a co-ordinated system covering the whole world of Religion in its concept so great; and its practical application of the highest Truths to society so thorough-and all these oriented towards the realization of the Ultimate Infinite Spiritual Reality through so many varied Path-that it is very difficult to give an adequate condensed picture of it. It is like a great sprawling Universal Banyan Tree (Esho-Ashvatthah sanatanh-Katha Up.,II.6.1), with many huge sub-roots and stems and innumerable mighty branches and sub-branches (Cf. Gita,XV.1 ff.)-all living and forming one integral whole and yet appearing independent, so much so even an educated Hindu or a learned outsider is lost in the maze unable to discover its main root and stem and its unifying system, though he feel its ethereal imponderable unity in the midst of this bewildering diversity. However, we shall try to give here a brief outline of its framework, which enables it to be an all-absorbing, ever-growing, eternal spiritual tradition without any limit-rich, glorious, and beautiful-affording sustenance and inspiration to all, from the lowest to the highest.
Nature of Hinduism
Hinduism is not a circumscribed unitary religion like other fixed religions, which are actually faiths with belief in a creator god residing in heaven, a Supreme almightily being separate from man and universe. It is not a Mata (Faith), but it is Tattva or Satya (Investigated Realizable Ultimate Reality or Truth) and its practical application in life (Dharma); that is, Hinduism is philosophy, religion, and ethics combined. It its external practical aspect, it is a federation of faiths with common loyalty to the Supreme Reality and Certain metaphysical verities, discovered by the Vedic Rishi-s (Spiritual Scientists). But essentially, it is religion of man (Manva- Dharma), for it is based on the ultimate divine Nature of man not on dogmas and creeds, and is application to Whole Mankind.
Hinduism is broad based and deep and vast like the ocean. It has evolved gradually from life and grown out of: (a) keen religio philosophical questioning as to the nature of Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, the Source and Substance of all existence and experience, both spiritual and material; (b) Open debates and discussions on the subject and (c) Spiritual investigations, reflections and realizations of the people of India as a whole. It is not based or mere limited time bound revelation (i.e. claimed given at a particular time to a particular person, and once for all) by a hypothetical exclusive God in Heaven, and is not dependents on the life and teachings of one or more prophets or Son of God but is based on Shruti, Yukti and Savnubhuti, i.e. personal Revelation of Reality of Truth (Shurti), without regard to time or persons, discovered by the rishis in harmony with and supported by reason (Yukti), and continually confirmed by direct experience by many sages and saints, prophets and incarnations, all over the world, and open to Realization of all (Svanubhuti).
Hinduism is not Theo-Centric, in the usual sense not based on extra cosmic creator God like the other western religions Judaism, Christiantiy, and Islam. It is Reality based. In Hinduism god is an expression or cosmic manifestation of the supreme Infinite spiritual Reality. God is the inner self of man and of all beings and entities and is imminent in the universe as well. He is not a beng in heaven. Hence atman )the ever present divine self of man) is the centre of Hinduism, and manifestation of the innate divinity of the self and realization of its spiritual freedom here and how is the goal of human life and religion and not attainment of heaven after death.
Hinduism though it has a great place for theism in its own way is not a mere theological piety religion in the western sense. The western faiths are preoccupied with the questions of monotheism or polytheism heaven and hell how an extracosmic god should be worshipped, and the condemnation of what they call idolatry in other, while they practice it in more actual sense in several ways. As against this Hinduism seeks to realize the Ultimate spiritual divine reality in life and he innate unity of the self of man with divinity. Various kinds of theism, various modes of prayer and worship, including through images and other natural symbols, and different kinds of rituals and myths, are only so many graded helps for this consummation. They are not an end in themselves. Monotheism polytheism, pantheism, animism, and even atheism, have no particular significance or importance in Hinduism.
Hinduism’s appeal is universal and individualistic and to the inner spiritual man, whereas the other faiths appeal (except to some extent in Christianity) is to the community and to the outer social man. Hinduism is therefore no organized for proselytizing and fighting. It believes in the inner conversion or transformation of man as such, whereas the others want to add to their physical number. Instead of proselytizing others, Hinduism seeks to open itself to other ideas to enrich it self whereas the others resist and attack all extraneous ideas.
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