by M.P. Bhattathiry
(RETD. CHIEF TECHNICAL EXAMINER TO THE GOVT. OF KERALA, RADHANIVAS, THALIYAL, KARAMANA, TRIVANDRUM)
OM GANESAYA NAMH
the mother of all religions and it is individual's (jeevatma) association
with the Supreme (Paramatma), and the ultimate objective of religion is
realization of Truth. Forms which symbolize Truth are only indications;
they are not Truth itself, which transcends all conceptualization. The
mind in its efforts to understand Truth through reasoning must always fail,
for Truth transcends the very mind which seeks to embrace it. (Tatwamasi)
It is unique
among the world's religions. We may boldly proclaim it the greatest and
oldest religion in the world. To begin with, it is mankind's oldest spiritual
declaration, the very fountainhead of faith on the planet. Hinduism's venerable
age has seasoned it to maturity. It is the only religion, to my knowledge,
which is not founded in a single historic event or prophet, but which itself
precedes recorded history. Hinduism has been called the "cradle of spirituality,"
and the "mother of all religions," partially because it has influenced
virtually every major religion and partly because it can absorb all other
religions, honor and embrace their scriptures, their saints, their philosophy.
This is possible because Hinduism looks compassionately on all genuine
spiritual effort and knows unmistakably that all souls are evolving toward
union with the Divine, and all are destined, without exception, to achieve
spiritual enlightenment and liberation in this or a future life.
in the world is considered as a mind stratum within people. It is
a group of people who think consciously, subconsciously and subsuperconsciously
alike and who are guided by their own superconsciousness and the superconsciousness
of their leaders which make up the force field which we call a religion.
It does not exist outside the mind. People of a certain religion have all
been impressed with the same experiences. They have all accepted the same
or similar beliefs and attitudes, and their mutual concurrence creates
the bonds of fellowship and purpose, of doctrine and communion.
in Hinduism through a shared mind structure can understand, acknowledge,
accept and love all the peoples of the world, encompass them within their
mind as being fine religious people. The Hindu truly believes that there
is a single Eternal Path, but he does not believe that any one religion
is the only valid religion or the only religion that will lead the soul
to salvation. Rather, the Eternal Path is seen reflected in all religions.
The will of
God or the Gods is at work in all genuine worship and service. It is said
in Hindu scripture that "Truth is one. Paths are many." The search for
Truth, for God, is called the Sanatana Dharma, or the Eternal Path because
it is inherent in the soul itself, where religion begins. This path, this
return to his Source, is ever existent in man, and is at work whether he
is aware of the processes or not. There is not this man's search and that
man's search. And where does the impetus come from? It comes from the inside
of man himself. Thus, Hinduism is ever vibrant and alive for it depends
on this original source of inspiration, this first impulse of the spirit
within, giving it an energy and a vibrancy that is renewable eternally
in the now.
The Hindu feels
that his faith is the broadest, the most practical and effective instrument
of spiritual unfoldment, but he includes in his Hindu mind all the religions
of the world as expressions of the one Eternal Path and understands each
proportionately in accordance with its doctrines and dogma. He knows that
certain beliefs and inner attitudes are more conducive to spiritual growth
than others, and that all religions are, therefore, not the same. They
differ in important ways. Yet, there is no sense whatsoever in Hinduism
of an "only path." A devout Hindu is supportive of all efforts that lead
to a pure and virtuous life and would consider it unthinkable to dissuade
a sincere devotee from his chosen faith. This is the Hindu mind, and this
is what we teach, what we practice and what we offer aspirants on the path.
To the Hindu,
conduct and the inner processes of the soul's maturation are more essential
than the particular religion one may be by the accidents of birth, culture
or geography. The Hindu knows that he might unknowingly disturb the dharma
of the individual if he pulls him away from his religious roots, and that
would cause an unsavory karma for them both. He knows, too that it is not
necessary that all people believe exactly the same way or call God by the
also extremely sectarian, altogether dogmatic in its beliefs. Its doctrines
of karma and reincarnation, its philosophy of nonviolence and compassion,
its certainty of mystical realities and experience and its universality
are held with unshakable conviction. Perhaps this is due to the fact that
Hinduism is a religion more of experience than of doctrine. It prefers
to say to its followers, "This is the nature of Truth, and these are the
means by which that truth may be realized. Here are the traditions which
have withstood time and proved most effective. Now you may test them in
your own life, prove them to yourself. And we will help as we can." It
will never say, "You must do or believe thusly or be condemned." In Hinduism
it is believed that none are eternally condemned.
as within every religious system, are the practical means of attaining
the purity, the knowledge and the serenity of life. Each Hindu is enjoined
to attend a puja every day, preferably at a certain and consistent time.
He must observe the laws of virtue and the codes of ethics. He must serve
others, support religion within his community. He should occasionally pilgrimage
to sacred shrines and temples, and partake in the sacraments. If he is
more advanced, an older soul, then he is expected, expects of himself,
to undertake certain forms of sadhana and tapas, of discipline and asceticism.
Though it is
broad and open in the freedom of the mind to inquire, Hinduism is narrowly
strict in its expectations of devotees--the more awakened the soul, the
higher the demands and responsibilities placed upon him. And though other
systems of belief are fully acceptable mind structures within the structure
of the higher mind, there is no way out of Hinduism. There is no excommunication.
There is no means of severance. There's no leaving Hinduism once you have
formally accepted and been accepted. Why is that? That is because Hinduism
contains the whole of religion within itself. There is no "other religion"
which one can adopt by leaving Hinduism, only other aspects of the one
religion which is the sum of them all, the Eternal Path, the Sanatana Dharma.
It can be said
that, if it lacked all the qualities of open-mindedness and compassion
and tolerance just mentioned, that Hinduism would be the greatest religion
on the basis of its profound mysticism alone. No other faith boasts such
a deep and enduring comprehension of the mysteries of existence, or possesses
so vast a metaphysical system. The storehouse of religious revelation in
Hinduism cannot be reckoned. I know of its equal nowhere. It contains the
entire system of yoga, of meditation and contemplation and Self Realization.
Nowhere else is there such insightful revelation of the inner bodies of
man, the subtle pranas and the chakras, or psychic centers within the nerve
system. Inner states of superconsciousness are explored and mapped fully
in Hinduism, from the clear white light to the sights and sounds which
flood the awakened inner consciousness of man. In the West it is the mystically
awakened soul who is drawn to Hinduism for understanding of inner states
of consciousness, discovering after ardent seeking that Hinduism possesses
answers which do not exist elsewhere and is capable of guiding awareness
into ever-deepening mind strata.
scriptures written thousands of years ago explain how we should live, and
saints and rishis and seers throughout the ages have told us that it is
impossible to live that way. So, Hinduism has a great tolerance for those
who strive and a great forgiveness for those who fail. It looks in awe
at those who succeed in living a life according to its own strict ethics.
In Hinduism we have many, many saints. You don't have to die to be acknowledged
a saint in our religion, you have to live. The Hindus, perhaps beyond all
other people on the earth, realize the difficulties of living in a human
body and look in awe at those who achieve true spirituality.
in reincarnation. He believes that he is not the body in which he lives,
but the soul or awareness which takes on a body for a definite purpose.
He believes he is going to get a better body in a better birth, that the
process does not begin and end in a single life, that the process is continuous,
reaching beyond the limits that one life may impose on inner progress.
Of course, his belief in karma assures him that a better birth, that progress
inwardly, will come only if he behaves in a certain way. He knows that
if he does not behave according to the natural laws, to the Hindu ethics,
that he will suffer for his transgressions in a future life, or future
lives, that he may by his own actions earn the necessity of a so-called
inferior birth, earn the right to start over where he left off in the birth
in which he failed.
in more than a single life brings to the Hindu a great sense of peace.
He knows that the maturity of the soul takes many lives, perhaps hundreds
of lives. If he is not perfect right now, then at least he knows that he
is progressing, that there will be many opportunities for learning and
growing. This eliminates anxiety, gives the serene perception that everything
is all right as it is. There is no sense of a time limit, of an impending
end or an ultimate judgement of his actions and attitudes. This understanding
that the soul evolves gives the Hindu remarkable insight into the human
condition and appreciation for all men in all stages of spiritual development.
Within it there
is a place for the insane and a place for the saint. There is a place for
the beggar and for those who support beggars. There is a place for the
intelligent person and plenty of room for the fool. The beauty of Hinduism
is that it does not demand of every soul perfection in this life, a necessary
conclusion for those who believe in a single lifetime during which human
perfection or grace must be achieved. Belief in reincarnation gives the
Hindu an acceptance of every level of humanity. Some souls are simply older
souls than others, but all are inherently the same, inherently immortal
and of the nature of the Divine.
it is believed that the Gods are living, thinking, dynamic beings who live
in a different world, in an inner world in the microcosm within this world
in which there exists a greater macrocosm than this visible macrocosm.
For the Hindu, surrender to the Divine Will, that created and pervades
and guides the universe, is essential. The Hindu believes that these beings
guide our experiences on earth, actually consciously guide the evolutionary
processes. Therefore, he worships these beings as greater beings than himself,
and he maintains a subjective attitude toward them, wondering if he is
attuned with these grand forces of the universe, if his personal will is
in phase with what these great beings would have him do. This gives birth
to a great culture, a great attitude, a great tolerance and kindness one
to another. It gives rise to humility in the approach to life. Not a weak
or false humility, but a strong and mature sense of the grand presence
and purpose of life before which the head naturally bows.
There are said
to be millions of Gods in the Hindu pantheon, though only a few major Deities
are actually worshipped in the temples. That God may be worshipped as the
Divine Father, or a Sainted Mother or the King of Kings is one of the blessings
of Hinduism. It offers to each a personal and significant contact, and
each Hindu will choose that aspect of the Deity which most appeals to his
inner needs and sensibilities. That can be confusing to some, but not to
the Hindu. Within his religion is monism and dualism, monotheism and polytheism,
and a rich array of other theological views.
God and Goddess
in Hinduism is accepted as both transcendent and immanent, both beyond
the mind and the very substratum of the mind. The ideal of the Hindu is
to think of God always, every moment, and to be ever conscious of God's
presence. This does not mean the transcendent God, the Absolute Lord. That
is for the yogi to ponder in his contemplative discipline. That is for
the well-perfected Hindu who has worshipped faithfully in the temples,
studied deeply the scriptures and found his guru. For most Hindus, God
means the Gods, one of the many personal devas and Mahadevas which prevail
in our religion. This means a personal great soul which may never have
known physical birth, a being which pervades the planet, pervades form
with His mind and Being, and which guides evolution. Such a God is capable
of offering protection and direction to the followers of Hinduism. The
Hindu is supposed to think of God every minute of every day, to see God
everywhere. Of course, most of us don't think of God even one minute a
day. That's the reason that each Hindu is obliged to conduct or attend
at least one religious service, one puja or ceremony, every day in his
temple or home shrine. This turns his mind inward to God and the Gods.
an Eastern religion, and the Eastern religions are very different from
those of the West. For one thing, they are more introspective. Hinduism
gave birth to Buddhism, for Buddha was born and died as a good Hindu.
And it gave birth to other religions of the East, to Taoism, to Jainism,
to Sikhism and others.
There are three
distinct aspects of Hinduism: the temples, the philosophy and the guru.
It is very fortunate that in the last decade Hindu temples have nearly
circumferenced the world. There are temples in Europe, in the United States,
in South America, in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia. The Hindu temple
and stone images in it work as a channel for the Deity, for the Gods, who
hover over the stone image and in their subtle etheric forms change people's
lives through changing the nerve currents within them through their darshan.
People come to a sanctified temple and go away, and in that process they
are slowly changed from the inside out. They have changed because their
very life force has changed, their mind has been changed and their emotions
have undergone a subtle transformation. The temples of Hinduism are magnificent
in their immensity and in their ability to canalize the three worlds, the
First World of physical, outer existence and the inner Second and Third
Worlds. Hindu temples are not centered around a priest or minister, though
there may be a holy man associated with a temple whose advice is cautiously
and quietly sought. There is no sermon, no mediator, no director to guide
the worship of pilgrims. The temple is the home of the Deities, and each
devotee goes according to his own timing and for his own particular needs.
Some may go to weep and seek consolation in times of sorrow, while simultaneously
others will be there to rejoice in their good fortune and to sing God's
name in thanksgiving. Naturally, the sacraments of name-giving and marriage
and so forth are closely associated with the temple. One has only to attend
a Hindu temple during festival days to capture the great energy and vitality
of this ancient religion.
In its second
section, of philosophy, Hinduism has influenced the deep religious thinkers
of all cultures through known history. It is not a single philosophy which
can be labeled "Hinduism." Rather, it is a network of many philosophies,
some seeming to impertinently contradict the validity of others, yet on
deeper reflection seen as integral aspects of a single radiant mind flow.
In the area of philosophy must be included the enormous array of scripture,
hymns, mantrams, devotional bhajan and philosophical texts which are certainly
unequaled in the world. In the natural order of things temple worship precedes
philosophy. It all starts with the temple, with this sacred house of the
Deities, this sanctified site where the three worlds communicate, where
the inner and outer mesh and merge. It is there that devotees change. They
become more like the perfect being that lives in the temple, become the
voice of the Deity, writing down what is taught them from the inside, and
their writings, if they are faithful to the superconscious message of the
God, become scripture and make up the philosophies of Hinduism. The philosophies
then stand alone as the voice of the religion. They are taught in the universities,
discussed among scholars, meditated upon by yogis and devout seekers. It
is possible to be a good Hindu by only learning the philosophy and never
going to the temple, or by simply going to the temple and never hearing
of the deeper philosophies.
still another section within it, and that is the guru--the teacher, the
illuminator, the spiritual preceptor. The guru is the remover of darkness.
He is one who knows the philosophy, who knows the inner workings of the
temple, and who in himself is the philosopher and the temple. The guru
is he who can enliven the spirit within people. Like the temple and the
philosophy, he stands alone, apart from the institutions of learning, apart
from sites of pilgrimage. He is himself the source of knowledge, and he
is himself the pilgrim's destination. Should all the temples be destroyed,
they would spring up again from the seeds of philosophy, or from the presence
of a realized man. And if all the scriptures and philosophical treatises
were burned, they would be written again from the same source. So Hinduism
cannot be destroyed. It can never be destroyed. It exists as the spirit
of religion within each being. Its three aspects, the temple, the philosophy
and the guru, individually proficient, taken together make Hinduism the
most vital and abundant religion in the world.
a grand diversity among its many sects. That diversity is itself strength,
showing how broad and encompassing Hinduism is. It does not seek to have
all devotees believe exactly alike. In fact, it has no central authority,
no single organized institution which could ever proclaim or enforce such
sameness. There is an immense inner unity, but the real strength and wisdom
of Hinduism is its diversity, its variety. There are so many sects within
Hinduism that you could spend a lifetime studying them and never begin
to assess them all. More is there than any single human being could assimilate
in a single lifetime. Hinduism, therefore, has the magnetism to draw us
back into its immensity life after life. Each sect may be said to be a
full religion in its own right, with all the increments of faith, with
no necessary part missing. Therefore, each sect works for the individuals
within it completely, and each tolerates all the other sects. It does not
totally divorce itself from the other sects, denying their beliefs, but
simply separates to stress or expound a limited area of the vast philosophy,
apart from all others, to be understood by the limited faculties of man.
sects and divisions within Hinduism all spring from a one source. Most
Hindus believe in the transcendental God as well as the personal Lord or
God, and yet there is within the boundaries of the faith room for the nonbeliever,
for the atheist or for the agnostic who is assessing and developing his
beliefs. This brings another unique asset to our religion--the absence
of heresy. There is no such thing as a heretic in Hinduism, for there is
no single right perspective or belief. Doctrine and sadhana are not considered
absolutes, but the means to an absolute end, and they can be tailored to
individual needs and natures. My Guru would say that different prescriptions
are required for different ailments.
there is no person or spiritual authority who stands between man and God.
In fact, Hinduism teaches just the opposite. The priests in the temples
are the servants of the Deity, the helper, the keeper of the Gods' house.
He prepares and purifies the atmosphere of the temple, but he does not
intervene between the devotee and his God--whichever of the many Gods within
our religion that he may be worshiping. Without a mediator, responsibility
is placed fully upon the individual.
There is on
one to intercede on his behalf. He is responsible for his actions, for
his thoughts, for his emotions, for his relationship with his God. He must
work out his beliefs from the inside without undue dependence upon external
influences. Of course, there is much help, as much as may be needed, from
those who have previously gone through what he is now going through. It
is not enough that he adopts an authorized dogma. He must study and bring
the teachings to life from within himself.
philosophy each philosopher proclaims that God can be found within man
if man practices the proper precepts of yoga and delves within himself
through his kundalini force. The guru himself teaches the awakening of
that force and how God can be realized in His transcendental as well as
His personal aspect within the sphere of one's own personal experience
in this very lifetime if he but pursues the path and is obedient.
unique because God and man, mind and God, instinctive mind, intellectual
mind and superconscious mind, can merge as one, according to the evolution
of the individual. Each one, according to his own self-created karma, has
his own fulfillment. Those in the first stages of evolution, whose interests
and experiences are basically instinctive, who possess little intellect
or mental prowess are guided by their emotions and impulses are generally
fearful. They have a personal experience of the Deity in the temple, but
it is generally a fearful experience. They are afraid of God. Alongside
of them during a puja is a great rishi who has had many hundreds of lives
on this planet. He has his own personal experience of God, but it is an
experience of love, of oneness and of union. There they are, side by side.
Each experience of God is as real to one as to the other. There is no one
in-between, no arbitrator of the experience to compel the one to see God
exactly as the other one does.
as broad as humanity is, as diverse as people are diverse. It is for the
rich and the poor, for the mystic and for the materialist. It is for the
sage and the fool. None is excluded. In a Hindu temple one can find every
variety of humanity. The man of accumulated wealth is there, supporting
the institutions that have grown up around the temple, seeking to spend
his abundance wisely and for its best purpose so that good merit may be
earned for his next life. The pauper is there, begging in hopes that perhaps
he will eat tomorrow and the God will inspire some devotee to give Him
a coin or two. So a Hindu temple is a reflection of life, set in the midst
of the life of the community. It is not making an effort to be better than
the life of the village, only to serve that life and direct it to its next
stage of evolution. The same Hindu mind which can consume within it all
the religions of the world can and does consume within it all of the peoples
of the world who are drawn to the temple by the shakti, the power, of the
temple. Such is the great embracing compassion of our religion.
of Hinduism cannot be compared with other religions. There is no basis
for comparison. Hinduism has no beginning, therefore will certainly have
no end. It was never created, and therefore it cannot be destroyed. It
is a God-centric religion. The center of it is God. All of the other religions
are prophet-centric. The center of those religions is a great saint or
sage, a prophet, a messenger or messiah, some God-Realized person who has
lived on earth and died. Perhaps he was born to create that particular
sect, that particular religion, needed by the people of a certain part
of the world at a certain time in history. The Hindus acknowledge this
and recognize all of the world's religious leaders as great prophets, as
great souls, as great incarnations, perhaps, of the Gods, or as great realized
beings who have through their realization and inward practices incarnated
themselves into, or transformed themselves into, eminent religious leaders
and attracted devotees to them to give forth the precepts of life all over
again and thus guide a tribe, or a nation or a race, into a better way
The Hindu mind
can encompass this, appreciate it, for it is firmly settled in a God-centric
religion. The center of Hinduism is the Absolute, the timeless, formless,
spaceless God who manifests as Pure Consciousness and as the most perfect
form conceivable, the Primal Soul. He radiates out from that form as a
myriad of Gods and Goddesses who inhabit the temples and bless the people,
inspire the scriptures, inspire the spiritual leaders and uplift humanity
in general. It is a one God in many forms.
There are nearly
sixtyfive crores Hindus in the world today. Hinduism attends to the needs
of each one. It is the only religion in the world today that has such breadth
and depth. Hinduism contains the Deities and the sanctified temples, the
esoteric knowledge of inner states of consciousness, yoga and the disciplines
of meditation. It possesses a gentle compassion and a genuine tolerance
and appreciation for other religions. It remains undogmatic and open to
inquiry. It believes in a just world in which every soul is guided by karma
to the ultimate goal of Self Realization, or moksha. It rests content in
the knowledge of the divine origin of the soul, its passage through one
life and another until maturity has been reached. It offers guidance to
all who take refuge in it, from the nonbeliever to the most evolved rishi.
It cherishes the largest storehouse of scripture and philosophy on the
earth, and the oldest. It is endowed with a tradition of saints and sages,
of realized men and women, unrivaled on the earth. It is the sum of these,
and more, which makes us boldly declare that Hinduism is the greatest,
even though not the largest, religion in the entire world.
People in other
religions may question the sanctity of idol worship and we can say it is
only due to ignorance. God is all-pervading formless Being.
of the all-pervading God is vibrant in every atom of creation. There is
not a speck of space where He is not. Why do you then say that He is not
The idol is
a support for the neophyte. It is a prop of his spiritual childhood. A
form or image is necessary for worship in the beginning. It is not possible
for all to fix the mind on the Absolute or the Infinite. A concrete form
is necessary for the vast majority for practicing concentration.
Idols are not
the idle fancies of sculptors, but shining channels through which the heart
of the devotee flows towards God. Though the image is worshipped, the devotee
feels the presence of the Lord in it and pours out his devotion unto it.
The idol remains an idol, but the worship goes to the Lord.
To a devotee,
the image is a mass of Chaitanya or consciousness. He draws inspiration
from the image. The image guides him. It talks to him. It assumes human
form to help him in a variety of ways. Idol worship is not peculiar to
Hinduism. The Christians worship the Cross. They have the image of the
Cross in their mind. The Mohammedans keep the image of the Kaaba stone
when they kneel and do prayers. The mental image also is a form of idol.
The difference is not one in kind, but only one of degree.
however intellectual they may be, generate a form in the mind and make
the mind dwell on that image. Everyone is an idol worshipper. Pictures
and drawings are only a form of idol. A gross mind needs a concrete symbol
as a prop or Alambana; a subtle mind requires an abstract symbol. Even
a Vedantin has the symbol OM for fixing the wandering mind. It is not only
pictures or images in stone and wood that are idols. Dialectics and leaders
also become idols.
what we can say is that we should be proud to be a Hindu.