Question: Was there a specific founder of the religion (Hinduism) ?
Hinduism cannot be described as an organized religion. It is not founded by any individual. Hinduism is God centred and therefore one can call Hinduism as founded by God, because the answer to the question ‘Who is behind the eternal principles and who makes them work?’ will have to be ‘Cosmic power, Divine power, God’
Swami Vivekananda wrote:
There are these eternal principles, which stand upon their own foundations without depending on any reasoning, even much less on the authority of sages however great, of Incarnations however brilliant they may have been. We may remark that as this is the unique position in India, our claim is that the Vedanta only can be the universal religion, that it is already the existing universal religion in the world, because it teaches principles and not persons.
[The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, III,
Topic ‘The Sages of India’]
Swami Vivekananda wrote:
If you want to be religious, enter not the gate of any organised religion. They do a hundred times more evil than good, because they stop the growth of each one’s individual development…. Religion is only between you and your God, and no third person must come between you. Think what these organised religions have done! What Nepoleon was more terrible than those religious persecutions? If you and I organise, we begin to hate every person . It is better not to love, if loving only means hating others. That is no love. That is hell! If loving your own people means hating everybody else, it is the quintessence of selfishness and brutality, and the effect is that it will make you brutes.
-The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume I,
Topic ‘The Gita III’]
Swami Vivekananda wrote:
Truth is of two kinds: (1) that which is cognisable by the five ordinary senses of man, and by reasonings based thereon; (2) that which is cognisable by the subtle, super-sensuous power of Yoga.
Knowledge acquired by the first means is called science; and knowledge acquired by the second is called the Vedas.
The whole body of super sensuous truths, having no beginning or end, and called by the name of Vedas, is ever existent. The Creator Himself is creating, preserving and destroying the universe with the help of these truths.
The person in whom this super-sensuous power is manifested is called a Rishi, and the super-sensuous truths, which he realises by this power, are called the Vedas.
This Rishihood, this power of super-sensuous perception of the Vedas, is real religion. And so long as this does not develop in the life of an initiate, so long is religion a mere empty word to him, and it is to be understood that he has not taken yet the first step in religion.
The authority of the Vedas extends to all ages, climes and persons; that is to say, their application is not confined to any particular place, time and persons.
The Vedas are the only exponent of the universal religion.
Hinduism is God centred. Other religions are prophet centred.
Question: How did Hinduism start and when did it begin?
Hinduism is God centred. Other religions are prophet centred.
Hinduism is based upon Eternal Principles. Eternal principles apply to all human beings everywhere. The laws of physics exist and work all the time. The healing principle will get to work immediately the moment a little cut is sustained on a finger. No one can tell when this healing principle began or when it will end. It is there existing eternally, all pervading (available everywhere), omniscient (aware all the time and therefore healing principle gets to work when injury is sustained). (These simplified examples serve to understand God’s power: omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent).
Hinduism is based upon Eternal Principles. If a great scientist like Einstein, discovered or realized laws of physics, Hinduism would call him a great Rishi (Maharshi or seer of truth.) Such seers of truth are not confined to any one age or country. Self realized persons like Jesus Christ would be called Rishis (seers) and their teachings would be readily acceptable to those who properly understand the principles of ‘Hinduism’. From the ancient times, many great Rishis achieved self-realisation through such practices as meditation and austerities and they realised knowledge concerning Eternal Principles. Their knowledge, taught to disciples, and eventually made available in written form, is known as the Vedas (Ved = knowledge), the scriptures upon which Sanatan Dharma (Hinduism) is based. Sanatan means eternal and Dharma means religion.
The word ‘Hinduism ‘ does not appear anywhere in Hindu scriptures, The proper name for Hinduism is ‘Sanatan Dharma’ Sanatan = eternal Dharma = religion.
Hinduism is God centred whereas other religions are prophet centred. For this reason the whole of mankind has to abide by (or is affected by) the eternal principles. The question of acceptance or rejection of Hinduism by any individual simply does not arise, or is irrelevant. It is illogical to talk of conversion to Hinduism. It is like saying that the laws of physics (e.g.gravity) will apply to you only if you belong to an organization or organized religion.
[The ceremonies and rituals connected with Hinduism (and other religions) are designed to cultivate increased spirituality. At advanced level of spirituality, rituals and ceremonies are dispensed with]
Sri Madhusudana Sarasvati Wrote:
(Commentary Gita Ch.3, Shloka 16)
But he who has realised the Spreme Entity and does not derive pleasure from the senses, he on account of being self-fulfilled, does not incur sin even by not performing the rites which are thus the cause of the movement of the Wheel of the World.
From Brahadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10:
Even the gods cannot prevail against him (he who has realised the Spreme Entity). There need be no performance of any action even in the form of worship of gods for averting obstacles
Gita Ch. 3 Shloka 17:
The Blessed Lord said: But that man who rejoices only in the Self and is satisfied (only) with the Self, and is contended only in the Self – for him there is no duty to perform
Swami Vivekananda wrote:
[The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, III,
Topic ‘The Sages of India’]
The very fountain-head of our religion is in the Vedas (Srutis) which are perfectly impersonal; the persons all come in the Smritis and Puranas- the great Avataras, Incarnations of God, Prophets, and so forth.
[Note: Srutis means revealed knowledge; Smriti means memory, history]
And this ought also to be observed that except our religion (Sanatan Dharma; Hinduism), every other religion in the world depends upon the lives of some personal founder or founders. Christianity is built upon the life of Jesus Christ, Mohammedanism (Islam) upon Mohammed, Buddhism upon Buddha, Jainism upon the Jinas, and so on. It naturally follows that there must be in all these religions a good deal of fight about what they call the historical evidences of these great personalities.
If at any time the historical evidences about the existence of these personages in ancient times become weak, the whole building of the religion tumbles down and is broken to pieces. We escaped this fate because our religion is not based upon persons but on principles. That you obey your religion is not because it came through the authority of a sage, no, not even of an Incarnation. Krishna is not the authority of the Vedas, but the Vedas are the authority of Krishna himself. His glory is that he is the greatest preacher of the Vedas that ever existed.
So with the other Incarnations; so with all our sages. Our first principle is that all that is necessary for the perfection of man and for attaining unto freedom is there in the Vedas. You cannot find anything new. You cannot go beyond a perfect unity, which is the goal of all knowledge; this has been already reached there, and it is impossible to go beyond the unity. Religious knowledge became complete when Tat Twam Asi (Thou art That) was discovered, and that was in the Vedas.
What remained was the guidance of people from time to time according to different times and places, according to different circumstances and environments. People had to be guided along the old, old path and for this these great teachers came, these great sages. Nothing can bear out more clearly this position than the celebrated saying of Sri Krishna in the Gita : “Whenever virtue subsides and irreligion prevails, I create Myself for the protection of the good; for the destruction of all immorality I am coming from time to time.”
What follows? That on the one hand, there are these eternal principles, which stand upon their own foundations without depending on any reasoning, even much less on the authority of sages however great, of Incarnations however brilliant they may have been. We may remark that as this is the unique position in India, our claim is that the Vedanta only can be the universal religion, that it is already the existing universal religion in the world, because it teaches principles and not persons
No religion built upon a person can be taken up as a type by all the races of mankind. In our own country we find that there have been so many grand characters; even in a small city many persons are taken up as types by the different minds in that one city. How is it possible that one person as Mohammed, or Buddha or Christ, can be taken up as the one type for the whole world, nay, that the whole of morality, ethics, spirituality, and religion can be true only from the sanction of that one person, and one person alone?
Now the Vedantic religion does not require any such personal authority. Its sanction is the eternal nature of man, its ethics are based upon the eternal solidarity of man, already existing, already attained and not to be attained.
The Hindu can worship any sage and any saint from any country whatsoever, and as a fact we know that we go and worship many times in the churches of the Christians, and many times in the Mohammedan mosques and that is good. Why not? Ours, as I have said, is the universal religion. It is inclusive enough, it is broad enough to include all the ideals. All the ideals of religion that already exist in the world can be immediately included, and we can patiently wait for all the ideals that are to come in the future to be taken in the same fashion, embraced in the infinite arms of the religion of the Vedanta.
“Let noble thoughts come to me from all directions”
– Rig Veda [Aano bhadra krtavo yantu vishwatah]
Question: What is the most important part of the religion?
[Note: Different scholars may emphasize other aspects
of the religion as the most important part]
The affirmative attitude of Hinduism toward life
has been emphasized by its recognition of four
legitimate and basic desires:
1. Dharma or righteousness
2. Artha or wealth
3. Kama or sense pleasure
4. Moksha or freedom through communion with God
or the Infinite.
These four attainments of life are collectively known as Purushartha.
[Note: Reply based upon the teachings of Swami Nikhilananda, Ramakrishna Math]
Of the four grand objects of human aspirations (Purushartha), viz., Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha, Dharma is given the foremost rank in the scriptures. Dharma alone is the gateway to Moksha, to immortality, infinite bliss, supreme peace and highest knowledge. Dharma alone is the primary Purushartha. Dharma is the first and foremost Purushartha.
Dharma is the cementer and sustainer of social life. The rules of Dharma have been laid down for regulating the worldly affairs of men. Dharma brings as its consequence happiness, both in this world and in the next. Dharma is the means of preserving one’s self. If you transgress it, it will kill you. If you protect it, it will protect you. It is your sole companion after death. It is the sole refuge of humanity.
[Note: Dharma (roughly translated as righteousness or virtue, must be at the center and at the circumference are Artha (wealth), Kama (all kinds of desires or pleasures), and Moksha (liberation). All activities in life must revolve around Dharma. Dharma must be kept in focus all the time and adhered to.]
Question: Do Hindus worship one god or many?
The following is from page ‘Ideal behind the idol’
There is no polytheism in India
By Swami Vivekananda
The foremost disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa
Descend we now from the aspirations of philosophy to the religion of the ignorant. At the very outset, I may tell you that there is no polytheism in India. In every temple, if one stands by and listens, one will find the worshippers applying all the attributes of God, including omnipresence, to the images. It is not polytheism, nor would the name henotheism explain the situation. “The rose called by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names are not explanations.
Question:Is the Caste System an eternal principle?
In the Mahabharata it is described as the ‘Four Orders of Human Beings’.
There is no country on earth where the four orders of human beings do not exist.
1.Teachers (at schools, colleges and universities) and spiritual leaders (priests, Imams, Rabbi, Pandit)
2. Government, judiciary, law-enforcement agencies and the defence force.
Ministers, civil servants, military, soldiers, police (Kshatriyas)
3.Food producers & Wealth producers.
Farmers, industrialists, merchants, business people, professionals (doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, etc)
“The four orders of human beings” refers to the whole of mankind and is not confined to any one country, or any one race group. We usually associate ‘the four orders of human beings’ with India (where it is generally known as the caste system, often misunderstood, misused or abused).
Consider for a moment an imaginary scenario where from the map of the world India is made invisible. Now apply the principle of ‘the four orders of human beings’ to all the countries in the world. Not one country will be found where this principle is not made applicable.
Imagine again that in a given country, all the men, women and able-bodied youths decide to join the defence force of the country (claiming equality amongst all human beings). They are all sitting pretty with a rifle in hand waiting for the enemy to show up.
Who will do the cooking to feed this defence force? What about tilling the land to grow the food to feed this defence force, and who will wash the clothes? If during war situation the wounded have to be operated upon, who will teach how to perform surgery? The maintenance of general cleanliness, removal of garbage etc. will have to be done by whom? The young boys and girls will remain uneducated because the whole population is sitting pretty with a rifle in hand waiting for the enemy to show up. Who will run the schools?
There are no industries, no labour force, no business community, because there are no ‘four orders of human beings’. Without the division of labour, there is no human progress. Witness the crippling results of any general strike, by the workers of any vital industry, when such strike is sustained over a lengthy period. Such action can cripple any country.
Let all the countries legislate that as from next month no human beings on this earth will perform the task of labourers (claiming that it is beneath human dignity and that all human beings are equal). What is stopping any country from enacting such legislation?
If a labourer wins a lottery for ten million dollars, will he, thereafter, voluntarily remain a labourer? Labourers in this world are not labourers by choice.
Now the big question is: who can decide who is to be the labourer and who is to be the professor to teach at the medical college? Who will decide that? The division of labour, which broadly falls into ‘the four orders of human beings’ is based upon “guna and karma” of each individual. The word ‘guna’ in Vedanta means Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas (the three qualities born of Nature also known as “prakriti).
To say that we should abolish the four orders of human beings (the caste system) also amounts to saying that the authority of the scriptures is to be brushed aside and substituted by some modern day thinker who argues that “In this day and age” the eternal principles do not apply. Consider the following extracts from the Bhagavad Gita:
Bhagavad Gita, Ch.4, Verse 13: the Lord says:
“The fourfold caste has been created by Me according to the differentiation of Guna and Karma;”
Bhagavad Gita, Ch.18, verse 40 the Lord says:
“There is no being on earth, or again in heaven among the
gods, that is liberated from the three qualities born of Nature.”
Gita Ch.18, verse.41:
“Of Brahmanas, Kshtriyas and Vaishyas, as also the Sudras, O Arjuna, the duties are distributed according to the qualities born of their own nature.”
If we look at newly born human babies, we can see their physical features. Can we see in them the potential of the future Beethoven, Michelangelo, Einstein, a great saint or a common criminal? One baby may be endowed by nature with artistic abilities and another with musical talent, and yet another may be devoid of both these attributes. These are qualities born of nature. Human efforts can complement these qualities or attributes as when a teacher guides and inspires a pupil to achieve greater heights in a chosen field.
When those babies grow up, their careers are distributed according to the qualities born of their own nature. The four orders of human beings are based upon “qualities born of their own nature.
In a maternity hospital, can we draw lots from a hat and fasten a tag on baby numbered one as the future labourer, the second baby as the future industrialist, the third baby as the future army commander, the fourth baby as the future college professor and the fifth baby as the future common criminal? Obviously not. The situation or the station in life for the individual will be determined by “qualities born of their own nature”. These fundamental principles apply to all without geographical boundaries.
The eternal principles apply to all . One does not have to subscribe to a system of belief or carry the banner of any religion to include or exclude the application of eternal principles.
Question: Is the use of images an universal practice?
Reply: A hundred Dollar currency note is much smaller than the Sunday newspaper. The newspaper would be discarded within a few days. Why attach so much more importance to a much smaller piece of paper that is called a hundred Dollar note? After all both the newspaper and the currency note are pieces of paper. The image on the currency note makes it different. The image attaches to the paper ( currency note) values, qualities, awe (if it is a million Dollar note), etc. Power of the human consciousness is transmitted to the currency note. An atheist who decries the use of images can empty his wallet of all the Dollar notes and send them to us.
I can pull out a handkerchief from my pocket, blow my nose into it and then ask an audience to salute my handkerchief. Why salute the flag of the nation and not my handkerchief? After all both the handkerchief and the flag are inanimate pieces of cloth! I can hear the patriot saying that he is prepared to lay down his life for his nation’s flag. Why would he not do the same for my handkerchief? Power of the human consciousness is transmitted to the piece of cloth we call a national flag whereby the inanimate piece of cloth acquires qualities of patriotism, noble values, pride, loyalty, identity etc.
If a stranger were to spit on your mother’s photo, why would you feel hurt? After all it is only a piece of paper with dots that are lighter or darker, giving an image or resemblance of the face of mother. This piece of paper has acquired the ability to make you angry or happy, or sad or fill you with memories and inspiration. An inanimate piece of paper infused with such powers!
My mother scribbled three or four lines on a piece of paper and sent it off to me. Another gentleman sent me a long discursive fifty page letter. Now, which is more weighty? But the feeling in my mother’s few lines is beyond measure; it is sacred. The other stuff cannot stand comparison with it.
-Saint Vinoba Bhave
The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is revered by the Jewish community. Why kiss the wall and why does it invoke feelings of reverence? Inanimate stones or bricks! Power of human consciousness is attached to it. A photograph of the wall (image) would invoke reverence and respect for the piece of paper upon which it is printed.
Islam: Pilgrims to Mecca throw stones at the three pillars that are infused with the images of devils!
And why kiss the stone of Kaaba? And if someone were to spit upon this stone of Kaaba, why would it invoke and provoke angry reactions? After all that is only a piece of stone! Muslim pilgrims visiting the Kaaba temple go around it seven times. Any pilgrim going to a place of pilgrimage does so with the utmost worshipful attitude of the mind. Why the display of reverence and the worshipful attitude towards the stone of Kaaba? After all the stone of Kaaba is an inanimate object.
A sacred fount exists near the Kaaba. Its water is held sacred because it has been traditionally regarded as sacred like the waters of the river Ganges since pre-Islamic times (Zam-Zam water). Even today, Muslim pilgrims who go to the Kaaba for Haj regard this Zam-Zam water with reverence and take some bottled water with them as sacred water.
Chemically speaking, water is water. What is the difference between this Zam-Zam water and the water that flows downstream from some nearby mountains?
Christianity: The Cross of Christianity is a piece of wood or metal or stone. Why do worshippers bow their heads before such image that is made of inanimate materials?
The qualifications at a university college are proudly hung on the wall for all to see. A piece of paper, framed and attracting such high esteem! If you think that the use of image is not universal then make sure you remove that inanimate piece of paper (certifications) and promptly consign that to the garbage can.