Hinduism is the philosophy and way of life of the people belonging to the particular tradition and culture. The name by which it is called in the tradition is Sanaatana Dharma – The Eternal Order.
The ancient Western cultures like the Romans and Greeks called the land around and to the East of the River Sindu as Hindu and the people also by the same name. That is how the country also got the name Hindustan and India, and the philosophy and way of life of the people got the name Hinduism. For the sake of convenience, we can continue to call the religion as Hinduism.
Hinduism is based on principles and not on personalities. It was not originated by anyone. It is like Science. Hinduism is based on the eternal laws of nature discovered by sages of ancient times and recorded in the Vedas. The eternal laws were existent and functioning before the sages discovered them and they are accessible to everyone today also. Thus, Hinduism is universal, eternal and impersonal. It is natural and not manmade.
Hinduism clearly separates out religious principles from social rules. Religious principles like nature of the self, nature of the world, nature of God, injunctions like “Speak the truth”, “Don’t harm others”, etc. are eternal laws applicable to everyone in all times and places. They are called Sruti.
The social rules like food habits, family structure, governance, etc. are manmade laws that are applicable only to the time, place and people that they are designed for. They are called Smriti. Smriti can and should change from time to time and place to place. However, Smriti cannot contradict the Sruti. With this system, Hinduism is very dynamic and is actively revised according to the need of the time, keeping the fundamental principles intact.
This gives Hinduism its self-organized nature. There is no central authority. There are thousands of denominations. Everyday several arise, several die away and several get merged into others. It is the followers that make their leaders and declare their saints. People are totally free to follow any or multiple or none of the denominations. It is very common that each member of a family has his or her own way of following Hinduism. This tremendous dynamism is the characteristic of Hinduism. It gives full freedom to the individuals.
Another interesting aspect of Hinduism is the importance given to rational questioning. Every question has an answer, if you are intellectually prepared for it. Hinduism is not a preaching religion. It is a teaching religion. Every moral injunction is backed up with strong logic of why something should be done in a particular way. The Vedas never stop at saying, “you should do this”. It always says, “If you want that, you should do this”. What a person wishes is his or her choice. When it comes to philosophy, it is strongly supported by rigorous logic.
In the course of the thousands of years of glorious history, Hinduism faced a temporary decline in the past few hundred years because of the section of society that was supposed to teach the religion to others failed to do so due to various reasons. Because of that, there is a severe lack of awareness about Hinduism among Hindus. The advent of various great saints and institutions in the past one and a half centuries has created a great revival of the great ancient religion.
It is very important for India and the world that Hinduism is revived in its grand form. Modern times are characterized by three trends:
- The entire humanity of the world has come closely into interactive contact. People of different religious views need to live together in peace and harmony. Hinduism holds the template for religions of the world to manifest this unity in diversity.
- There is a shift towards decentralized approach to everything in society like governance, values, etc. Religion is no exception. Hinduism holds the template to structure religion in a decentralized manner.
- There is a quest by humanity to scrutinize everything through the test of reason. Hinduism holds the template for religions to cast their principles in a rational way.
Thus the revival and flourish of Hinduism is very important for the world and its religions. Religion is not a static entity. It is a live and dynamic process. The biggest service, which Hindus can do to themselves and to humanity, is to learn, revive and practice the grand principles of Hinduism in their everyday lives.
~ Gokulmuthu Narayanaswamy