Very often I find the Hindus, both in India and abroad, wondering as to what is the basic tenet of Hinduism, what practices constitute the fundamentals of the Hindu way of living. This is a question which arises in their own minds. Often, the question is not pursued consistently by the questioners, either independently or in the presence of those who are quite well-versed in the Hindu lore. In fact, the consistent pursuit of religious and philosophical questioning is itself the basis as well as the finale of the Hindu life and saadhana.
There is no wonder in the Hindu minds raising such a question. For Hinduism is so vast, complex and multifarious in its structure and expressions that the normal man and woman find it extremely hard to gain a precise knowledge of what it is exactly. At the same time, vast, complex and multifaceted character is what has made the Hindus and their thoughts an immortal religion and philosophy of his entire mankind. If one tries to assail Hinduism in one aspect of its expression and pursuit, it will reassert itself in another form and expression with redoubled force and enthusiasm. The practices of the Hindus are as various as human beings and their individual natures. Again, they are as complex as Nature Herself, manifest in the endless universe before us. In spite of their variety, multiplicity of expression, they no doubt carry their own unique and intrinsic oneness, as for instance, do the humans and Nature when closely studied.
It is no doubt that today you find in India a number of temples, which is a landmark of the Hindus, their religious culture and wisdom. But it is a fact that these temples were not there a few thousands of years ago. Yet the Hindus were quite the same and their attainments were greater and more common among their numbers.
Look at the Vedic literature which is the first evolved religious wealth of the Hindus, of the whole mankind as well. The Vedas began their contents with a reference to a number of super human deities, caked devatas. These are bit the gods and goddesses presently known to us and worshipped. They were not idolized and installed in any temple. If at all, their seat and abode were the minds if the Vedic religionists themselves. As a means of offer of gratitude to those deities were evolved, not the practices you find today in the temples of our country but the ceremonies in the form of sacrifice and Yajnas. Even these sacrifices had to be dispensed with at one stage, in the advent of old age and the attendant troubles, Hence, an innovation or substitute was called for. The staunch religionists. The votaries of Vedic thought and culture, took to the practice of meditation done all alone, sitting still in a place, casting aside all involvements in external rituals and sacrifices.
Greater depth probed
The meditative disciplines and practices, taken to as a result at that time, were the ones that blossomed into the spiritual and philosophical questions, which became almost the inevitable beginning of a new phase of religious life. When these questions compelled what became a dedicate pursuit of the heart and the intelligence, engaging them both in a deep and penetrating probe, then emerged the zenith and fruition of the whole religious life of the Hindus. The Upanishadic declarations, the revelations setting forth the immortal and all-comprehending nature of the soul of man, were the direct and ultimate result.
You find the Vedic culture culminating in these Upanishadic discoveries and the way of life based upon them. Also the religious life is led to its destined goal and ideal, thereby fulfilling itself in every understandable way; the assertive and ambitious human nature standing face to face with peace, harmony and wisdom, realizing finally that there remains nothing else before it to enquire into and know in the religious and spiritual spheres of living and that the ultimate truths have already been discovered and sported with.
So the destination for the Hindus is very clear. It is the discovery of the Supreme Truth about themselves, about the world in which they live, about the Creator of the universe from whom arise the promptings for all quests and discoveries. The whole of the Hindu religious and secular ways of living are aimed at leading every man and woman to this ultimate and, this finale, which one may picture in any manner, using any terminology.
The question you must ask now is: What in essence will be the factor which will lead toward the phase of questioning and answering? In other words, what should be the cardinals, the pursuit of which will take man to a state of thinking or mental evolution, wherein he will find himself compelled and inspired to seek, to enquire into and to know for himself the Supreme Truth about himself, about the world and about its Creator?
The cardinals, whatever one may argue, cannot be too much divergent. The modes of approaching them may, however, be different. The recipes may be different. They can be made to suit the ones who eat and their divergent tastes. But the one common factor, evidently, is that the items prepared must be edible and acceptable to those who eat. And on eating them, the eaters must beget pleasure, have appeasement of their hunger and get nourished as well.
Apply this principle to the religious recipes, their intake and the benefits produced thereby. Then you will find your questions answered.
The external modes of religious living may be anything. Today, they are mostly temple worship in India. To the better section, it the worship offered individually in their own homes and pooja rooms. To a yet rarer few, it is the practices like Yoga-aasans, praanayama etc. To some it is the discipline and refinement to their actions and the way their minds accept the results brought in by what they do from time to time – invariably uniform results can never be had.
Some are prone to regular japa (chanting) of a mantra. Some may recite hymns and slokas. Some supplement their pursuits with periodical fasting, study of religious texts etc. Some take to the exclusive worship of the Guru and his behests, taking special care to serve him and cater to the needs of his personal life and the work he does.
The list can be extended to cover one and all other practices and ways as well. Thus, the Hindu recognizes all practices as handy and fruitful towards man’s religious evolution, provided the practitioner pins his faith and remains watchful about himself and what he does. The practices are by which he tries to reform his personality and cultivate introspection. As is a vehicle helpful in reaching one’s destination while traveling, so is the practice a vehicle in taking the human inwardly to where he wants.
Obviously, therefore, the practices have to bear this fruit. Their roles must be such as to take the personality of the practitioner in all its aspects, and then process it in such a way that everything in him gets reformed and tuned to what he intends to achieve in the end.
Among Hindus, there were and there can be, those who believe in God as well as those who do not. It is not the literal recognition of God that matters any time. Like many other things, at best this can only be a belief.
What does such a belief of non-belief mean to the believer or non-believer is the prime consideration for the true Hindu. If one believes in God, but does not take the trouble of thinking, talking and acting in the way that his belief and devotion to God would expect of him, then not much purpose will be served by his claiming to be a believer and devotee. In the same way, if a non-believer chooses to be so for his own reasons and has equally some sound principle of living and looking at his mind and the world, which principles can be quite philosophical, spiritual and or yogic, then he will be able to hit at peace and freedom for himself, which the former is yet unable to achieve despite his pet belief.
Here come, thus, two distinct considerations: the belief or non-belief which is the object and then the believer or the non-believer, as the case may be, the subject. Between the two, the object and the subject, the subject is what truly counts. If for reforming and improving your nature and insight you feel it desirable to foster belief in God, well and good. If for the same end, you find some other course preferable, that too is equally good.
With this kind of a sense, look at the thousands, that go to worship in temples, churches and mosques. For all of them the place of worship is the same, be it the temple, the church or the mosque. The deity or God installed or represented there in one way or another, is the same. Being so, do all get the same progress and purity, or eve the attainment of what they aim at? Not at all. Each worshipper has his own story of devotion and its fulfillment to narrate. If the pursuit of devotion and its fulfillment depended upon the place of worship, i.e. a temple etc., and the Deity or God represented there, why this difference for the devotees?
The only answer is that the practice of devotion solely rests upon the devotee himself. And the devotee, this is true of every man, devotee or not, and that too in any walk of life, is no other than what his personality and its expressions are. The knowledge one has gained, the attitudes in general and in particular, the actions and their ends for which he lives and pursues, these are what precisely represent him in the world. If all these are not in tune with what poses to be in is devotion and piety, then of what practical importance is his devotion?
The confusion between the subject and the object, taking one for the other and thereby getting lost to the importance of the former, is congenial for all humans. When I say it is not so much belief in something that really matters, but the believer himself or herself, many of you will not take the statement with the gravity it deserves for the meaning it contains!
Looking at the subjective devotee or seeker and his personality, you cannot overlook the ultimate factor of all religious and spiritual living.
Knowledge Sine Qua Non
Right knowledge cannot be divested from any pursuit of man. This is so in respect of his religious and spiritual or yogic pursuits as well. What is the pursuit, what does it propose to gain for him, is he getting nearer that end, are the qualifications required for achieving his end present more and more etc., these are very vital questions. Whatever you may say on the ground of faith and its merits, you cannot oust these considerations. Even faith, closely viewed, is the refined form of an ultimate knowledge and its acceptance.
How can this quest for knowledge be met except by taking the knowledge pursuit itself as an independent item of dedication? To gain knowledge, in any field whatever, the only course available is to approach it in all earnestness. The approach is through questioning and introspection. Unless you put the why before a thing, the knowledge about that thing will never be revealed to you. Ask any question you like: Why morals and morality? Why dharma or restraint? Why God? And His realization? What is Yoga? Why should it be sought? What is the soul and where does it reign? What is its relationship with the body? Why should the soul be considered at all in the context of 1ife?
Where lies the secret source of all powers, external and internal, we find manifest in the world? How many such sources are there? Are they one, indeed, as the religions and scriptures declare? if so, is not the source of all my powers, of all other things including those of the sun and the moon? If this be the case, the search for it and its discovery and its direct apprehension, is rather easy, practicable in any way.
In this way. there can be dozens of questions. One or more of them can be quite delightful and gripping to any one. Every one should take those which interest his mind most and pursue them. That will mark the true beginning of the religious and devotion evolution for him. In fact, this kind of enquiry and the pursuit of it ever thereafter is the last stage of religious life. The Upanishads, enjoined at the end of the Vedas, are an immortal proof for it. So too, the various stories, dealing with the enquiries and searches contained in all other scriptures, devotional, yogic or otherwise, are an equal proof.
For the devotees too the same is the course, none different. I am reminded of what Sri Krishna’s parents, Vasudeva and Devaki, one day asked of the sage Narada, when he visited Dwaraka in the course of his wanderings. Seating him with honour, they enquired of the Sage: “What are the characteristics of the true devotee of the Lord by which the Lord himself would be propitiated and pleased, and by the pursuit of which they can evolve themselves and be absorbed into the immortal being of the supreme lord?”
Is this not an enquiry? In answer, Sage Narada, repeated exactly what transpired between the None Sages of yore and the Emperor Nimi, who too enquired of the former in precisely the same way as did Vasudeva and Devaki. The whole conversation, which consisted of questions and answers, was reproduced by Sage Narada to Sri Krishna’s parents.
That is how I say that enquiry and introspection become the final constituent of any valid pursuit of Hinduism. By enquiry alone your inner being can be made to rise and reach the heights you want to. By introspection alone can you rate yourself as to where you are, what you are now and how and where you should be. Hinduism becomes Hinduism only when this enquiry and introspection form a vital part.