Joined: 03 Oct 2008
|Posted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 8:30 am Post subject: Hinduism
|I was reading Redant's posts on the Bhagavat Gita and the Vedas and thought it might be helpful to contribute something on the Philosophy of Hinduism. Many of us know of Hinduism as a religion but I would like to call it as a way of life. I have taken some of the information from the articles by Neria Harish Hebbar, since his knowledge on the Indian Philosophy is vast.
Hinduism is a way of living according to the one's understanding of principles of Vedas and Upanishads. Veda is revealed knowledge. 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 identical with the Universal Consciousness.
Dharma translates to righteousness and is a code of conduct that is expected of everyone though in Hinduism it is without compulsion. Laws of Manu (Manuva Shastra or Manusmriti) form the basis of Hindu conduct.
Karma is a retributive justice that is carried with the atman into the afterlife It is the imprint of one’s deeds in this life. A human being is born already with a heavy baggage that is the memory of the karma from previous births. In the current life he is in full control of his deeds and hence is capable of accumulating good karma throughout this life. This is like a balance sheet. Good karma cancels out the bad karma. When enough good karma is accumulated over many lifetimes, the jiva-atman is released from this eternal cycle of samsara and attains moksha.
Samsara is the repeated cycles of births and deaths. A human is destined to be born many times until his soul is purified. He is given a chance to accumulate good karma so that the endless cycle of rebirths can be broken. It is believed that as more and more good karma is accumulated it can be seen in one’s life as he becomes more and more illuminated and austere. Thus we say that the learned guru, for example has an aura around him. The avatars or the prophets perhaps are the ultimate examples of humans who have accumulated enough good karma to be on the verge of release from the repetitive cycle of samsara. This in Hinduism is called Moksha or Realization of Truth.
Punarjanma and Punarmrutyu are repeated births and deaths. The aim of a Hindu is to seek release from this endless cycle.
Moksha is attained when the jiva-atman is released from the cycle of samsara. This is not different from the terms Nirvana of Buddhism or Mukti of Jainism. It is also referred to as Realization of Truth, and identifying with the Eternal Self or Brahman.
Brahman is the Universal Self or World Soul or Parama-atman. IT is the Supreme God of the Upanishads, who is characterless, shapeless, without limitations and without any attributes (nirguna, nirakara, nirupadhika and nirvishesha). In the Upanishads Brahman is described as an amorphous, omnipresent, omnipotent all-pervading power. However, for practical purposes and for the sake of worship,nirguna Brahman was given shape and characteristics. This is the SagunaBrahman.
Jiva-atman is the self (soul) within every human. It is the ego and is molded after Brahman. Different Vedanta philosophies differ as to how closely aligned jiva-atmanis with parama-atman.
Antaratman is a deeper soul that is hidden deep within. However, layers of ignorance cover antaratman. The purpose of Hindu is to uncover the shades and let antaratman shine in all its glory. Only by gathering knowledge the covering around antaratman can be removed.
Goodness is present in every human soul. This is the basis of treating other humans with respect. Divinity rests in every soul of every human. The practice of greeting another human being with the palms brought together in front of the heart signifies the fact that we recognize the divinity in their souls. It is the sign prayer to God.
Philosophy of Hinduism
Only by studying the philosophy as written in the Upanishads this question can be answered. To explain them in more detail, there are seven fundamental characteristics of Indian philosophy.
First and foremost the philosophy concentrates on spirituality.
The second aspect of Indian philosophy is that it is socio-spiritual. It is not merely an exercise to seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge. This is to be lived and experienced. The philosophy is to be used to change one’s life and seek the Truth. This experience is to be seen as in Darshan and not merely known.
The third aspect is knowing oneself by introspection, is more important than knowing the physical world. Though science, astrology progressed at breakneck speed in India, it is the atma-vidya that is believed to lead a Hindu to realize the Truth. This in turn is a highly personal endeavor.
The fourth fact is that the philosophy is monistic. Despite the appearance of conflicting images of various gods and forms of worship, basic thought is that there is only one ultimate reality.
Fifth and perhaps one of the most important characteristics of the philosophy is intuition. Reasoning may be important to demonstrate the Truth but will not always discover it. It is a process of knowing or sensing without rationalization.
Sixth important fact is the acceptance of authority. Here comes the guru concept. The Vedic seers are accepted as the ones who had known the ultimate Truth and realized it. Buddha and Mahavira are also accepted as ones who had intuitive experience and thus realized the Truth.
The seventh characteristic is the ability to synthesize the different aspects of philosophical thought process. It is the thought that God is one but man calls Him by many names that helped to bring all the disparate philosophies under one tent.
Purpose and practice
The only purpose of man’s life on earth is to identify himself with the eternal Self-called Brahman and unite with it through knowledge (jnana), service (karma) and/or devotion (bhakti).
The well-educated upper echelon of the society can take the path of jnana yoga to realize the Truth by studying scriptures.
However, Upanishads give us other means of doing this if one is not familiar with the scriptures or is unable to comprehend them. For ordinary folks it is possible to seek the Truth by intense devotion to a personal God. This is called bhakti yoga. Any object or manifestation can be chosen to show one’s devotion. This has led to hundreds of perceived manifestations of Brahman, as envisaged by the devotees. But the underlying theme is that all these are manifestations of a single God. It is basically monistic. On the surface it may appear to be polytheistic with many gods and objects worshipped in various forms. But they are all manifestations of Brahman, the one and only Supreme Being. At one time, the religion was close to becoming polytheistic with belief in many gods, but Sharkaracharya reformed this.
For still others there is the karma Yoga, exalted in the Bhagavad-Gita. Service of humanity without the expectation of fruits or rewards is another method of gaining knowledge. If every human has an antaratman that resembles Brahman, then service of human is akin to service of God. This is the premise of Karma Yoga.
The Bhagavad-Gita teaches that paths to Truth are many. Thus it does not discount other philosophies that may show a different path. It is better to follow the faith one is born to than to change or convert to another. Thus the tolerance of Hindus for other religions is unique. It is the only religion that is inclusive, respectful of other religious thoughts and philosophy. Hinduism is the only religion that can be adopted universally.
Hinduism demonstrated its willingness to accept others early when it adopted Buddha as one of Vishnu’s avatars. It is conceivable that if Vishnu is to have more than ten avatars, both Jesus and Muhammad could be accepted willingly as avatars. After all, Buddha who did not believe in the sanctity of the Vedas was included as one of the avatars. Hinduism has shown remarkable resiliency and adaptability.