Who is a Hindu

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6. Nine Beliefs for all Hindus (quote the Himalayan Academy) – Here are nine beliefs or shraddha which summaries the Hindu view.

1. Hindus believe in divinity of the Vedas, the world’s most ancient scripture and venerate the agamas as equally revealed. These primordial hymns are God’s word and form the bedrock of Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion that has neither a beginning nor an end.
2. Hindus believe in a one, all-pervasive Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.
3. Hindus believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.
4. Hindus believe in karma, the law of cause & effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.
5. Hindus believe that the soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha, spiritual knowledge and liberation from the cycle of rebirth is attained. Not a single soul will be eternally deprived of this destiny.
6. Hindus believe that divine beings exist in unseen worlds and that temple worship, rituals, sacraments as well as personal devotionals create a communion with these devas and Gods.
7. Hindus believe that a spiritually awakened master, or satguru, is essential to know the Transcendent Absolute, as are personal discipline, good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry and meditation.
8. Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, non-injury.
9. Hindus believe that no particular religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine religious paths are facets of God’s Pure Love and Light, deserving tolerance and understanding.

7. Universal dimension – Swami Tattwamayananda of the Ramakrishna Order wrote “ The Vedantic concepts of the spiritual oneness of existence, the whole world being one spiritual family (vasudhava kuttumbakam), individuals being essentially the very embodiments of purity and morality, and the concepts of dharma and karma, all provide a solid foundation for a great ethical philosophy, which is universal in dimension. This is all the more relevant today when a global approach is becoming more and more popular and acceptable in all spheres of life”.

When we talk of spiritual oneness, one spiritual family it is only dharmic faiths or Indian religions using modern connotations that talk about it. It is only a Hindu who can teach millions of Americans Yoga without insisting that the student becomes a Hindu.
 
8. Love for Motherland, Vedic view -
There is a full chapter in the Rig Veda on the subject of love for motherland (1-80). Atharva 12.1.62 "O Mother Land! If need be, we thy sons are ready to sacrifice our lives to protect your honor. May we remain united and defeat all our adversaries". There is a full-fledged Sukta in Vedas on the issue. Arth 12 Sukta.

So love for motherland, Bharat, is always associated with followers of Indian religions. During the partition of Bengal in 1905, the song Vande Mataram by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee became very important. It was a hymn for the love of motherland sublimated into a devotion to the Divine Mother Bharat. In that vision was manifest the trinity of Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge), Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and beauty) and Durga (the goddess of strength and energy).

9. Vedic Concept of God (briefly)
His Names -
His best name is Om, comprised of three letters, a, u, m. A signifies Virat, the ruler of the Universe being omnipresent. U implied Hiranya-garbha, the upholder of all planers and M expresses his qualities as Ishwara, the universal intellect. He is also invoked by various names to indicate his qualities.

Rig V 1.164.46 – He is one but the wise call Him by different names. He is addressed as Indra, Varuna and Agni. He is shining Garutman. He is named Agni, Yama and Matarishva. Yajur V 32-1 – He is Agni. He is Aditya. He is Vayu. He is Chandrama (moon). He is Shankar, He is Brahma, He is Apah, He is Prajapati.

He is one and Only One of His Kind - Rig V 8.1.1. – One God alone is to be worshipped. O, ye friends! Do not glorify any other being than God so that sorrows and sufferings may not trouble you. Eulogize God of supreme power alone, as He is the shower of all blessings. Repeatedly pronounce the sacred hyms together in congregations.

God’s attributes in the words of Swami Dayanand Saraswati are “God is Truth and Happiness itself, Formless, Almighty, Just, Merciful, Unbegotten, Infinite, Immutable, Without Beginning, Incomparable, All supporting, the Lord of All, All Pervading, Omnipresent, Imperishable, Immortable, Fearless, Eternal, Holy and Efficient Cause of the Universe”.

10. Idol worship – Regarding Idol worship, while Vedas certainly do not have worship of Gods in human form, yet idol worship is not merely about worshipping gods in human form. The essence of idol worship is worshipping gods in some perceptible forms, which was very much there in Vedas. The symbols, which were instrumental to worship the almighty, were the 'powers of nature' - like sun, fire, wind etc. Moreover, Kenopanishad also provides for the first time manifestation of Almighty in human form - as a Yaksha. So the seeds are very much there in Vedas themselves, however, it was the Puranas written by Veda Vyasa which initiated the present day systems of Idol worship. Idol worship was first started in India by the Buddhists and probably the Jains.

Idol worship is only a means to an end and not the end by itself. When we look at an idol of say Sri Krishna it helps us improve our power of concentration by focusing on the idol - overcome distractions of the mind. Further by worshipping the idol we are trying to imbibe within ourselves the qualities represented by the idol, in this case Sri Krishna. As we move along the spiritual path the power of concentration helps us focus on the God within, the Atma or soul. However, there are some sects like the Arya Samajis or the Veersaivites (followers of Basavanna) who do not believe in idol worship. It does not make them any less Hindu.

Munisri Nyayavijayaji wrote in the book Jaina Darsana translated into English as Jaina Philosophy & Dharma by Shri Nagin Shah “An image is a symbol of the Supreme Soul, the highest ideal of non-attachment. It reflects perfect non-attachment. Dronacharya refused Ekalavya to teach archery. So Ekalavya made an idol of Dronacharya as he could and superimposed on it Dronacharya as his teacher. With great devotion to Dronacharya he started learning archery. As a result, he learnt archery and surpassed even Arjuna, the most favorite pupil of Dronacharya. How suggestive the illustration is!”

11. 33 crore Gods!
The Rishis were highly intelligent & observant people. Following the scientific premise that 'every effect has a cause', they inferred that even for this beautiful creation there has to be a creator, who naturally has to have not only the knowledge but also the power to create. Thus we have to have a causeless cause - who has to be omniscient, omnipotent & omnipresent. He being the creator has to as though stand apart from the creation, and is thus free from the all the limitations of time, space & objectivity, which characterize the creation. This transcendental, infinite embodiment of knowledge & power is what the scriptures call GOD. Infinite by its very definition has to be one, so we have the Vedas talking about one God.

Just as various ornaments are created out of one material, viz.gold; so also one basic TRUTH manifests in various forms. That one reality is called as Brahman in Upanishads (from the word 'Brahat' meaning the largest thing conceivable by man), while it’s various glorious manifestations are worshipped as various Devatas - the so-called 33 crore Gods. Here also the 33 crore stands for infinite. It is noteworthy here to indicate that in Hinduism we use two words as Ishwara & Devatas. The former is 'the thing', and the latter its manifestations. The problem comes because in English when we use the word 'God' for both Ishwara & Devatas. Devatas are also that one reality but manifested in a particular conditioning, while the word God represents the unconditioned truth.

12. AHIMSA – Thanks to Gandhi Ahimsa is a much-misunderstood term. To some it means that as a nation India must not fight wars and pursue the path of non-violence to achieve its objectives.

a) Vedic View  “When a nation is well protected through arms only then can all forms of knowledge and science flourish”. For the defence of a country there are abundant references in the Vedas, to maintain a regular-armed force.

War when to be fought - According to the Vedas, war with the enemy is to be started when the enemy attacks or intends to attack. It is not to be fought simply to acquire territory of any other country.

Rig 5.54.14 - Atharva 11.10.1 – ‘O brave warriors, rise with your banners and prepare yourself for (battle) to protect the territorial boundaries of the country. O snake like swift warriors, O demons like men and other people, chase the enemy who attempts to attack.

Rig 5.54.7 – O warriors, you cannot be conquered by anyone, but you do not trouble any one or plunder any area. You are assigned to protect the kingdom.’
From a reading of the above it is clear that the role of the army was to defend when attacked and not run away from war. So violence as an act of protection was not abhorred.

b) Holy Geeta view  Pujya Swami Chinamayanandji beautifully spells it out in his commentary on the Geeta.
1.   Chapter 2, slokha 31 “Further, looking at thine own duty thou oughtest not to waiver,
      for there is nothing higher for a Kshatriya than a righteous war.

Arjuna’s personal call-of-character (Swadharma) is that of a leader of his generation (Kshatriya) and as such, when his generation is called upon to answer a challenge of an organized un-Aryan force (Adharma), it his duty not to waver but to fight and defend his sacred national culture.

To the leaders of people, there can be nothing nobler than to get a glorious chance to fight for a righteous cause. That a king must fight on such a occasion is vividly brought out in the Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva –72-18 says “The sin that is committed by killing one who does not deserve to be killed is as great as the sin of NOT killing one who deserves to be killed”. It’s like saying that the man who pays a bribe as much in the wrong as the man who accepts one.

2. Chapter 2, slokha 32, “Happy indeed are the Kshatriyas, O Partha, who are called to fight in such a battle, that comes of itself as an open door to heaven.

As used here, Kshatriya is not the name of a caste. It merely indicates a certain quality of the mental vasanas in the individual. Those who have ever-bubbling enthusiasm to defend the weak and poor, besides their own national culture from all threats of aggression are called Kshatriyas. Such leaders of men are not allowed to be tyrants or aggressors according to the code of morality of the Hindus. But, at the same time, a cold, feminine and cowardly non-resistance is not the spirit of the Hindu tradition. In all cases where the Hindu nation is forced to wage a war on the principles of righteousness the leaders of India are ordered to fight in the defense of their culture. Such battle-fields are the wide-open gates to Heaven for the defending heroes who fight diligently on the side of Dharma”.

3. Chapter 2, slokha 33, “But, if you will not fight this righteous war, then, having abandoned your own duty and fame, you shall incur sin”.

4. Chapter 2, slokha 34, “People too will recount your everlasting dishonor, and to one who has been honored, dishonor is more than death”. We are yet to recover from the debacle of the Indo-China War of 1962.

5. Chapter 3, slokha 21, “Whatever a great man does, that other men also do, whatever he sets up as standard, that the world follows.

The moral rejuvenation of a society in any period can take place only because of the example set up by leaders of the nation. The very creed of Krishna is active resistance to evil. His non-violence is not the instinctive incapacity of the day-dreaming coward who cannot stand up against injustice and fight for the accepted principles of national culture”.

Buddhists and Jain sects have become strong propagators of Ahimsa today but history is replete with instances of Buddhist / Jain kings who took to violence to gain political superiority. An act of violence can be a Dharmic or adharmic act that is indeed what matters.

c) Yogic View  - David Frawley wrote “There are two main types of ahimsa in the Yoga tradition. The first is ahimsa as a spiritual principle that is followed by the monks, sadhus, yogis which involves non-violence on all levels. The second is ahimsa as a political principle, the ahimsa of the warrior or the Kshatriya that is followed by those who govern and protect society, which allows the use of violence to counter evil forces in the world, including to protect spiritual people, who often cannot defend themselves and become easy targets for the worldly people. Krishna taught this Kshatriya ahimsa to Arjuna for the benefit of future generations. Sages before Krishna also taught this, like Vishvamitra who taught Ram and Lakshman to destroy the evil forces that were persecuting spiritual people, so it is a very old tradition of India”.
 
d) Sri Aurobindo wrote in India’s Rebirth. “A few months earlier, Gandhi sent his son Devdas to Pondicherry to see Aurobindo. He asked my views about non-violence. I told him, “Suppose there is an invasion of India by the Afghans, how are you going to meet it with non-violence?” That is all I remember. I do not think he put me any other question”.

e) Jaina View (in brief) - Munisri Nyayavijayaji wrote in the book Jaina Darsana translated into English as Jaina Philosophy & Dharma by Shri Nagin Shah “Non-violence is a spiritual power. Noble bravery demands self-sacrifice. To sacrifice one’s self-interest and even one’s life – if the need be – while resisting violence and supporting and fostering non-violence is the bravery of high order. To oppose violence only verbally and to run away out of fear when one is required to face physical sufferings is really not the practice of non-violence. Inspite of his having courage & strength to fight, the person who controls his passion & excitement on such occasions and does not yield to violence is the true practicer of non-violence. Coward & weak men’s claim to the practice of non-violence is wrong.

It is the Kshatriyas who have taught non-violence, and those who follow their teachings are the brave men of heroic character. Prosperity and all round development choose and accompany the heroic character. Where there is weakness and feeling of fear, the practice of non-violence is impossible.

If one who knows swimming does not rescue a drowning man and simply watches him drown, it is an act of violence. Not to give food to the hungry inspite of one’s ability to give food is also an act of violence. To remain indifferent to other’s happiness, comforts and benefits for the sake of one’s own is also an act of violence”.

13. Tolerance
From the very beginning the followers of Hinduism realized that truth was many-sided and different views contained different aspects of truth, which no one could fully express. Further Direct Experience is an important characteristic of Indian philosophy meaning that each individual must have spiritual experiences himself. Since each one of us comes into this world with different experiences in our previous births our way of thinking differs. As we spiritually evolve we choose our own way of attaining self-realization. This knowledge inevitably bred a spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the other’s points of view. This is how the several views set forth in India are considered to be the branches of the self-same tree.

14. Worship of Animals
Quote from an article Animals in Indian art by Nanditha Krishna. “Ancient India protected animals in the same way it protected all of nature, by creating an aura of sanctity of around them and celebrating their dignity. Such animals were the vehicles of the Gods. Others, such as the elephant-headed Ganesha and Hanuman, the monkey devotee of Lord Ram, became Gods themselves. This is probably no other culture in the world that has been so consistently associated with plant & animal life as the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain traditions of India.

Indian art, which was used to allegorize values and moral beliefs, honored the dignity of animals. Hermits and saints were always depicted to be living in harmony with nature. Probably, as people moved from hunting to food production, the need to kill for food receded, and they could sit back and appreciate the qualities of the animals that were once their antagonists. The Vedas invested gods and animals with divine parentage. In the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu we have divine manifestations that are equally animal and human.

The lion capital of Ashoka, with the majestic Asian lions in Persepolitan stule, proclaimed the might of the king, and is now the emblem of the Govt of India. In contrast, as the base of the same capital, are frolicking animals to represent the Buddha: the elephant symbolized his birth, the lion his clan, the horse his renunciation and the bull his zodiac sign. The lion represented might, a symbolism that continued through Indian art history, as late as the Pallava and Vijayanagara periods. This probably saved the Asian lion from extinction.

Ungulates are prolific in art. The bull represented mobility and stature. It was also the capital of an Asokan pillar from Rampurva (Bihar). The bull accompanies Shiva, standing at the entrance to all Saivite shrines, while depictions of Uma Maheshvara (Shiva & Parvati) are prolific paintings in the Maratha paintings of Tanjore. The cow was of course, gow mata and Kamadhenu, a representative of Goddess Lakshmi. Unfortunately, the buffalo alone, representing the demon Mahisha destroyed by Durga, came to represent ignorance, slothfulness and evil and became a much maligned and sacrificed animal.

Birds were used to express human emotions. The swan represented morality and clean living, being the vehicle of Brahma and Sarasvati, while the crow was a messenger. The eagle hawk (Garuda) and similar large bird’s symbolized speed, strength and sun. It was the enemy of the snake, feared yet respected and worshipped in the Naga stones of rural India”. Feeding of birds is widely done. There is a roundabout circle in Mumbai called Kabutharkhana where thousands of pigeons are fed throughout the day.

15. Worship of Water.
There is probably no other culture in the world that attaches as much importance to water as we do. Before we start Puja water is sprinkled on select parts of our body to purify it. When a Hindu goes for any Yatra, be it to Mansrovar or Gangotri he invariably carries holy water for others. When fellow passengers at Kathmandu Airport saw me carrying a 20-litre can of Mansrovar water they asked to share the water. When I went to Hemkund Sahib in 2001 I saw Punjabi Sardars carry water from the holy lake there.

According to the Hindu Marriage Ceremony published by Jnana Prabhodini, Pune before the completion of the ceremony, there is a Blessing of the couple by sprinkling holy water. The priest says ‘Dear friends, let us sprinkle the holy water from Yajna on the newly wedded couple and bless them’. So also after the wedding ceremony is over there is ‘Singing of marriage hymns and removing the Antarpat on the auspicious moment’. The third stanza invites all the holy rivers to bless the couple. The sixth stanza says that so far as the Ganges is flowing through its course, so far as the sun is shining in the sky, so far as the Meru mountain is adorned with blue marble rocks, you enjoy life with sons and grandsons’.

Quote from an article by columnist Rajeev Srinivasan. “Ancient India did recognize the importance of their rivers as literally the lifeblood of the nation. Hence the great honor and respect given to them in Hindu scriptures. For e.g. read this slokha

‘Gange cha! Yamuna chiava! Godavri! Saraswati!
Narmade! Sindhu! Kaveri! Jale asmin sannidhim kuru!

In this water, I invoke the presence of holy waters from The rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Sarasvati, Narmada, Sindhu and Cauvery!”

It is the Hindus who worship various elements of nature; water and sun are just a few.

16. Worship of Women.
It is only in Hindu dharma that women are worshipped i.e. the trinity of Sarasvati (the goddess of knowledge), Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and beauty) and Durga (the goddess of strength and energy). During Navaratri three days are dedicated to each of these goddess.

Shri Pankaj Dixit wrote in the Times of India an article titled Invoking blessings of Goddess Lakshmi on Deepavali, “Women are considered to be the human form of Goddess Sri or Lakshmi. The wife’s role in domestic prosperity is of prime importance in Hindu religion and she is termed Grihalakshmi. As the spouse of Lord Vishnu, Lakshmi becomes a model wife – loyal, loving, caring and ever ready to fulfill her duties. Deepavali is, therefore, celebrated as a festival of Gayatri, Sri and their beautiful human incarnate, the wife”.

Quote Shri H V Seshadri from a recent article on Hindu Values, “One is often astonished at the continuing stability of the Hindu home inspite of the most trying circumstances over the last one thousand years. But one cannot understand the secret of this immortality unless one realizes the vital role of woman in the entire Hindu social structure. Home is the vital arena in which woman is expected to play the crucial role of not only caring for the health of the child but also molding its character”.

Some of you might ask why is it that women in some parts of the country are not treated as well today. To find answers please visit the history section of the site and read A Tribute to the Indian Women that traces her history from the Vedic times to 1947 OR read ‘Dowry Murder, the Imperial Origins of this Crime’ by Veena Talwar.

17. Worship of Trees
Dr Satish Kapoor wrote in an article ‘Sacred Trees of the Hindus’ “Trees being nature’s major processors of solar energy which is vital for our existence, and yielding flowers, fruit, wood or medicine, have been worshipped by the Hindus as a matter of gratitude. Manu believed that they were conscious like humans and felt pleasure and pain. Indian sages and seers eulogized asvattha or peepal (Ficus religiosa), gular (Ficus glomerata), neem (Azadirachta indica), bel (Aegle marmelos, bargad or banyan (Ficus bengalensis), Asoka (Sereca indica), amala (Phyllanthus emblica), arjuna (Terminalia arjuna) and many other trees which acquired social and religious sanctity with the passage of time.

Bel, rudraksa (seeds of Elaeccarpus) and ber (Zizyphus jujuba) are considered dear to Lord Siva, sala (Shorea robusta) and pipal to Lord Visnu; kadamba (Anthocephalus cadamba) to Lord Krsna; mango (Mangifera indica) to Lord Hanuman, asoka to Kamadeva; silk cotton (Bombax malabaricum) to the goddess Laksmi; and coconut or sriphala (Cocos nucifera) to Varuna or the lord of waters, and to many other gods and goddesses. Tulsi tree is worshipped with great fervor.

To read more about the Sacred Trees of the Hindus please go to the questions & answers section. So you Hindus or must I say residents of India worshipped various forms of nature namely water, trees, sun etc. We realized the importance of living in peace with nature early on.

18. What is it that distinguishes Hinduism from Islam and Christianity?
I would like to reproduce a letter written by Swami Vivekananda that answers the question briefly. It appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune of 20 September of 1893, “We who come from the East have sat here on the platform day after day and have been told in a patronizing way that we ought to accept Christianity because Christian nations are the most prosperous. We look at history and see that the prosperity of Christian Europe began with Spain. Spain’s prosperity began with the invasion of Mexico. Christianity wins its prosperity by cutting the throats of its fellowmen. At such a price Hindus will not have prosperity. I have sat here today and I have heard the height of intolerance. I have heard the creeds of the Muslims applauded, when today the Muslim sword is carrying the destruction into India. Blood and sword are not for the Hindu, whose religion is based on the laws of love”.