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Dharmik Symbol Om
Dharmik Symbol Om

Understanding the Essential Nature of Hinduism




Hinduism is difficult to define

That Hinduism is not a religion in the strictest sense of the word, but an ancient tradition in continuity and in perpetual evolution is an unquestionable fact. To try to define Hinduism is like trying to put the waters of an unfathomable ocean into a small vessel, or to capture the essence of human life in a single word or phrase. With a structured definition we may be able to capture the essential elements of Hinduism and satisfy our intellectual curiosity. But it is highly doubtful if that justifies the significance of a tradition that began in prehistoric times and eventually grew into a complex system of religious thought and beliefs, which we recognized today under the generic name of Hinduism. Hinduism is continuing to evolve even now. Hinduism can be truly called an asvaththa tree, whose roots are above, and whose branches are spread throughout below. The roots are the traditions that we inherited from the rigvedic Aryans or their ancestors. The branches are the various new schools, sects, philosophers and teacher traditions, which were subsequently incorporated into it during its long history. The trunk is the belief in the eternal nature of self and the supreme self who are central to Hinduism.

 

Hinduism is a way of life

Those who are familiar with Hinduism know that it is not a religion, but a way of life. It is very true. Hinduism is not supposed to be practiced on specific occasion or at specific places. You may go to temples and offer worship to gods. You may perform daily rituals. In Hinduism they do not constitute true practice. Hinduism has to be lived in word and deed from the time you wake up and until you go to bed. Your commitment to the dharma extends even beyond this world into the next world since your karma follows you like your shadow. According to the tenets of Hinduism, life and religion are inseparable. Religion pervades your whole life, like the omnipresent brahman, dominating and regulating every aspect of your life, and aligning it with the aims of creation and the functions of god. As an aspect of god you have the obligation to manifest the will of god upon earth and play your dutiful role in ensuring the order and regularity of the world. Thus in living your life upon earth you are never separate from your source from your ordained duties. Dharma, which is a set of your prescribed duties, controls every action of a devout hindu. Though he has the freedom to live his life according to his desires and expectations, he cannot yield to them because it will bind him to the cycle of births and deaths. Therefore, if he wants to be free from suffering and escape from rebirth, he has to put god at the center of his life and lie it for his sake rather that for himself. Thus the invisible hands of religion mold the thinking of a devout hindu at every step, and make him part of the larger vision of god. Beneath his mind, his religion remains, like an undercurrent, influencing his thinking and actions.

 

The transformative nature of Hinduism

Throughout its history, Hinduism has never been static. It has evolved continuously from stage to stage, adapting and transforming itself to the changing, social and political conditions. While circumstances played a considerable role in its growth and transformation, it also benefited greatly over the ages from the contributions of numerous seers, sages, saints, kings, scholars, devotees, and patrons. By correcting, molding, modifying, and integrating various aspects of the tradition according to the needs and demands of the times, they kept the lamp of hindu wisdom and spirituality bright and burning. With foresight and wisdom, they provided knowledge and guidance to a multitude of people, while the world still overshadowed by endless wars, violence, barbarism, savagery. They enriched the tradition, gave it depth and complexity, and imparted to it great flexibility and openness for which it is well known today, making it appealing and acceptable to a wide range of people with different temperaments, beliefs and attitudes. Because of them Hinduism has become like an ocean, allowing into it the flow of diverse streams of thought from all directions. Like an ocean it remained firm and stable, in a world of impermanence and change absorbing new knowledge and traditions, without losing in the process, its moorings and original character. Despite its long history and numerous influences, it did not compromise its basic ideals, nor lose its vitality and core beliefs. Instead, it grew in strength and character, to illuminate and enlighten eager minds, absorbing new thoughts and concepts, without discarding what it has already gathered. Over the centuries, it peacefully and harmoniously integrated the old with the new and broadened its base.

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