Understanding Hinduism

  • By Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden, London
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Courtesy and Copyright Swaminarayan Aksharpith.

An airhostess friend of mine who works with Air India visited the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in London and picked up a little booklet for me titled ‘Understanding Hinduism’. First a bit about the temple. “The First Traditional Hindu Mandir in Europe carved and constructed entirely according to ancient Shilpashastras. No steel has been used. 2,828 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tonnes of Italian Carrara marble were shipped to India, carved by over 1,500 craftsmen and reshipped to London.

In all, 26,300 carved pieces, including amazing intricate ceilings of Indian Ambaji marble, were finally assembled like a giant jigsaw within three years. The Exhibition Understanding Hinduism, on the ground floor is concise, yet comprehensive study of Hindu religion – its Origin, Growth, Glory and what Hindu values can contribute to the Individual, the Society and the World at large. This booklet provided the research displayed at the Exhibition”. Friends I have reproduced excerpts. Have divided the booklet into five chapters.

1.    Origins, beliefs & glory.
2.    Literature & First University.
3.    Zero, PI, Geometry, Astronomy.   
4.    Surgery & Contributions.
5.    Universal nature, Care for Animals.

Origin, Beliefs, Glory     

A. Roots - Hinduism is world’s oldest living, over 8,500 years old. It is also the most tolerant, most resilient, most peace loving of all religions. Its roots lie in the vast Indian subcontinent, in the Indus Valley, which had 300 advanced settlements as early as 5,000 BCE. The people living around the River Sindhu (Indus) came to be known as the Hindus. Also known as the Aryans, these people were local inhabitants and not foreign invaders.

B. Founder - There is no one single Founder. Through penance and prayers, intuition and introspection, ancient seers gained the ultimate experience of God. These collective experiences formed the foundation of the Vedic Civilization from which emerged the Hindu Dharma.

C. Civilization - “In those ancient days even China had not worked it all out practically, and even Egypt inherited much of its sacred knowledge from India, subsequently to pass it on to Greece and then Europe still sunk in sleep. India held the palm of civilization and soon spread all around her.” J. Miller (American Poet & Journalist)

D. Advance Township - By 5,000 BCE a sophisticated civilization flourished in India with over 300 settlements in a belt extending 1,520 kms. Villages of mud-brick houses were being built. The formative phases culminated into a cultural uniformity and single province – The Harappan Culture. The Harappan towns by 3,000 BCE were well planned with citadels and defensive walls. Layed out in a grid fashion, the houses had rooms and compartments, with one or two courtyards and a stair leading often to two storeys. In some places 80 ft wide the streets and lanes had drains, roofed in brick with regular inspection holes. Individual bathrooms and lavatories were impressively drained into a larger system. The amazing thing is that all construction was done with baked bricks which were of a standard size –24 x 14 x 7 cms found throughout the Indus Valley at this period. The larger cities like Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, probably, sheltered 20 to 25 thousand inhabitants.

The Rig Veda mentions a winter solstice in 6500 BCE, confirming the existence of an advanced civilization much earlier.
Note: All references to dates in the booklet are in CE Common Era) and BCE (Before Common Era).

E. Beliefs  - What makes the Hindus specials is that they honor the whole of Creation, see the presence of God in everything. To them there are two heathens or enemies. Everyone has the right to evolve spiritually, and shall, at some time realize the Truth. Hinduism is liberal; it does not set man a limit of one life, but offers many lives. At the same time, Hinduism is strict; it makes man feel responsible for every action he performs, through the Law of Karma.

The major beliefs of Hinduism are:
Parabrahman: One Supreme all-powerful God. He is the Creator, has a divine form, is immanent, transcendent and the Giver of Moksha.
Avatarvad: Manifestation of God on Earth. God Himself incarnates on earth in various forms to revive Dharma and grant liberation.
Karmavad: Law of Action. The soul reaps fruits, good or bad, according to its past and present actions, which are experienced either in this life or future lives.
Punarjanma: Reincarnation. The immortal souls is continuously born and reborn in one of the 8,400,000 species until it attains liberation.
Moksha: Ultimate liberation. The goal of human life. It is the liberation of the soul from the cycle of births and deaths, and remain eternally in the service of God.
Guru-Shisya Sambandh: Master-Disciple Relationship. Guidance and grace of a spiritually perfect master, revered as the embodiment of God, is essential for an aspirant seeking liberation.
Dharma: That which sustains the universe. An all-encompassing term representing: divine law, law of being, path of righteousness, duty, responsibility, virtue, justice, goodness and truth.
Ved Pramana: Scriptural authority of the Vedas. All Hindu faiths are based on the teaching of the Vedas.
Murti-Puja: Idol worship. Consecrated images represent the presence of God, which is worshipped. The image is a medium to help devotees offer their devotion to God.

F. Growth - Hinduism existed long before the sun rose on the kingdoms of Egypt or set on the Roman Empire; even before it sparkled upon the Chinese civilization. When much of Europe was still sunk in sleep, Hindu astronomers were mapping the skies, doctors were performing surgery and seers were composing scriptures.

The growth and spread of Hinduism lies in the fact that it is broad-minded, encourages all scientific and social developments. It is more than a religion and is rightly called the Hindu Dharma meaning, ‘that which sustains’. The Truth of Hinduism aims to sustain the whole of creation, not just one particular species or group.

It promotes a civilization founded on spiritual principles and not just reason and inquiry. Hence, the Hindu Culture has survived for millennia uninterrupted even by the innumerable intrusions and invasions. And despite these continual provocations, history shows that the Hindus have remained silent, never aggravated into war or enmity.

The non-violent, peaceful experience of Hinduism is such that, without the aid of swords, or mass conversions, its pure, liberating values have attracted people all over the world.

G. Glorious Culture - The Vedic Civilization flourished around the three major rivers of India. Its first seeds germinated in the valley of River Sindhu, then migrated to the shores of River Saraswati (now underground. Existence proven by satellite images) and finally culminated along the banks of River Ganga. The holy Ganga became the ultimate source of life, of intellect and of illumination. Here, India’s glorious culture reached its sublime heights. And has ever since attracted travelers and traders, scholars and philosophers, kings and conquerors to its golden shores, which have never ceased to fascinate the world.

“The ancient civilization of India differs from those of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece, in that its traditions have been preserved without break down to the present day”.  Arthur Basham (Australian Historian).

“In India, I found a race of mortals living upon the Earth, but not adhering to it, inhabiting cities, but not being fixed to them, possessing everything, but possessed by nothing.” Apollonius Tyanaeus (Greek Traveller. 1st century CE)

“If there is one place on the face of this Earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India.” Romain Rolland (French Philosopher, 1886-1944)

“In religion, India is the only millionaire…. The One land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for all the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.” Mark Twain (American Author. 1835-1910)

“It is already becoming clear that a chapter which had a Western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in the self-destruction of the human race… At this supremely dangerous moment in history, the only way of salvation for mankind is the Indian Way.” Dr. Arnold Toynbee (British Historian. 1889-1975)
Hinduism, through its heroes and history, relays the real values of life. As George Bernard Shaw confirmed: “The Indian way of life provides the vision of the natural, real way of life. We veil ourselves with unnatural masks. On the face of India are the tender expressions which carry the mark of the Creator’s hand.”

These divine expressions are the values of service, love, sacrifice, humility, duty, devotion, fidelity, tolerance and others that help perfect the Individual.