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Philosophy And Spirituality

Distinctive Features Of Indian Religious Thought
By Sanjeev Nayyar, August 2013 [[email protected]]

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I was reading volume 4 of The Cultural Heritage of India published by The Ramakrishna Mission - Institute of Culture and found some very insightful writings in Introduction chapter. Sharing two interesting sub-sets titled ‘Distinctive Features of Indian Religious Thought’ and ‘Law of Karma and Maintenance of Social Order’. Excerpts are below.

Distinctive Features of Indian Religious Thought

“Perhaps, in India, the color has been laid a little too thick on the self-negating side of life, the Nivrtti-marga; but that is because plenty could be obtained by merely scratching the soil, and life was not so hard as it was, for instance, in Iran or Arabia or Palestine, where men had to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. Where nature is all attraction, there is an obvious danger in yielding to her seductive influence; hence the constant warning to be alert and mindful of spiritual obligations.1

The Semitic mind is preoccupied with the power aspect of God, and hence, the constant dreading of offending His majesty and the need of intercession through prophets to make peace with God play such a large part in the Semitic religious consciousness.

The Indian mind was latterly turned more inward and was, so to say, afraid of the blandishments of nature; it felt the greater need of self-discipline and indifference to the attractions of sense for realizing the inner Self. It is these that have given the distinctive twist to the Indian religious mind resulting in the abnegation of the lower self and reliance on the higher Self. Each man has been called upon to fight his lonely battle with the solicitations of the flesh and to conquer his lower self almost unaided. Buddhism, Jainism, Samkhya, Yoga all exhort the individual to be self-reliant in his spiritual struggles, to avoid the bondage caused by evil action, and to resist the temptation of even a pleasurable heavenly existence, where the senses are regaled by agreeable enjoyments.2 There is no spiritual advancement in heaven as held by many types of theism.

The boldness of this creed of self-help has proved baffling to those who have been brought up in the belief that at every step the helping hand of God is indispensable for the attainment of spiritual heights. For when the Indian mind swung over to the opposite side, it went beyond the personal aspect of the Divine, and posited the impersonal Brahman that could be contemplated and realized, but not loved or reverenced in the ordinary sense of these terms. This concept is equally enigmatic to western minds brought up in the tradition of intensely personal God who demand obedience, worship, and love from His devotees.

From this absolutistic position the Indian mind has drawn the logical conclusion that everywhere the universal Consciousness is present, images not excepted, and that therefore all the earth is equally sacred, and all souls are identical in essence through their common identity with Brahman.3 It is a moot question whether life and logic have ever completely coincided in any system of religious belief, and it is not impossible to find contradictions in every institutional religion.

But the fact remains that India has succeeded in developing a degree of spiritually that is a marvel, judging by its long history, its penetrating influence upon the masses, and its beneficent contributions to the spiritual uplift of the surrounding world.

We may conclude by quoting one who was speaking with the conviction that only profound knowledge could give. Says Max Mueller: ‘If one would ask me under what sky the human mind has most fully developed its precious gifts, has scrutinized most profoundly the greatest problems of life, and has, at least for some, provided solutions which deserve to be admired even those who have studied Plato and Kant, I would indicate India”.

My comments

1. So nicely said. India continues to be bountiful to this day. If there was no Oil in Arabia how would they fund their factories, lifestyles, infrastructure and economy? They would, probably, be in a situation similar to their ancestors.

2. Is that one of the reasons why Indians are good solo players but not as good team players? Or and ever willing to pull the other down.

3. Note that the Indian greeting Namaskar means that I bow to the divinity in you implying that the divinity in me is the same as the divinity in you. Indians worship various forms of nature for example the sun, water, mountains, trees, animals and so on. No Semitic religion does so.

Law of Karma and Maintenance of Social Order

“The immanent working of the divine spirit in the universe, esp. in the maintenance of the social order, is a cardinal tenet of Hinduism. As in Confucian belief, an intimate relation is supposed to exist between cosmic happenings and social phenomena, particularly the ordering in the State. If the King ruled justly and proper social relations were maintained, rains fell in season, and no premature death could take place in the kingdom.

Any calamity to individual or social life indicated the presence of some social disorder and prompted search for the offending event. A king who failed to punish the criminal incurred the guilt of sin by his lapse, as the authors of disciplinary literature (Niti-sastra) point put. As the upholder of the moral order, he is a representative of the Divine in whose universe good is destined for reward and evil for punishment.

The Law of Karma acts an invisible and impersonal law of recompense and retribution, but really it is the hand of God that operates in restoring moral equilibrium.

Good rulers are embodiments of the law of Karma. As ye sow, even so must ye reap. As ye do unto others, so shall it be done unto ye.

The good ruler punishes or rewards evil or good acts quickly, in this very life, whereas, the law of karma would do it, slowly in a subsequent life. The Mahabharata says: ‘He who, having sworn by solemn oath as his coronation to protect the people from wrongful oppressions, fails to do so, should be combined against by the people and slain, even as a mad dog’ (Anusasanaparvan, LXI.33)”.

This could explain what happened in Dev Bhoomi and is happening in other parts of the country. As rulers, UPA are not upholding Dharma hence we, the people of India, are facing the consequences.

Above excerpts are courtesy and copyright The Ramakrishna Mission - Institute of Culture, Kolkatta.

Also read
1. Characteristics of Indian Philosophy
2. Sacred Trees of Hindus
3. Animals in Indian culture create an inclusive universe
4. Seven sacred rivers
5. Monsoon Ragas
6. Surya – the destroyer of darkness
7. FAQ Karma and Reincarnation
8. Karma, Destiny and Free will

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