|THE ESSENCE OF HINDUISM|
Dharma of Hindus is called Sanatana. It can mean either that their Dharma is of Sanatana nature or that it protects man by making him conscious of his sanatana nature.
I. The mysteriousHindus have always fixed the goal of their religious pursuits at this eternal substance. Their relentless enquiry finally took them to the supreme truth of the Self or Soul within, to which all men and women, without exception, refer by the singular term 'I'. Some mysterious delusion envelopes the whole of mankind by virtue of which although they feel and say 'I' and 'mine' for everything, they never stop to think as to what the reference implies. Enquiry into the very concept of this 'I' holds the one key to salvation, freedom, surety and security that every man and woman inevitably need and often look to. This 'I' or the 'Self' is the one basis of all Hindu thoughts, practices and aspirations.
Hindus developed their characteristic reference to God by naming Him as the 'Self' of all creatures. By so doing, they made God more distinct, and also brought Him nearer and dearer than anything else in the world. In this the Hindus and their Dharma stand supreme.
II. The voice of immortalitySanatana Dharma tells every one : "My dear children of immortality, you are not the body. You are the 'I', the Self, which makes the body Its and makes Itself felt. Know and become truly AWARE of this 'I'. Once you gain this awareness, you will have gained what you really needed most throughout in your life. All the security, immortality, freedom and fearlessness you aspire for will come to you from this one realization."
"The body is born; it will die too. And so it is mortal. The identification with the body makes you think of mortality. But this body is something you have. You, the possessor of the body, is one different from the body. Seek that possesser, yourself, as different. Seek him as the 'I', or seek the 'I' as body-different. That will be a search, a journey, a grand pilgrimage. You will not have to cover any external distance, though you will be travelling for a long time. Once you succeed in the journey, you will have found the 'I', the distanceless entity, the one abode of immortality, the spirit that is immortal activating the mortal body ever since its inception. With that, your cry, your fear, your doubt, the illusion of your mind to satisfy the endless desires, will also dissolve forever."
This message and assurance of immortality, according to Hindu Dharma, is available before all. It is there assuaging the worst sinner as well as the best virtuous human. For the sinner, it is the first and last redress. For the noble ones, it stands as
the necessary source of fulfillment for their avowed nobility. Once they reach the Self, the state and freedom it offers, the sinner and the noble man stand alike; as do the rivers, holy and unholy, on reaching the ocean. Differences are in their external making and courses. The one source from which everything is made is the same - the single One. The ultimate refuge is also the same single Reality, the supreme Self, the immortal Consciousness, the mysterious womb of all the Sentience and Creativity you find displayed in the world and the several life-forms in it.
The Dharma of Hindus does not fulfill its purpose until it takes the seeker, the religious practitioner, to the sacred abode of immortality, to the realization that his Soul, as is the Soul of the Universe, is Sanatana, undying. The entire Geeta which was delivered by Sri Krishna to Arjuna in the battlefield was aimed at making Arjuna find his anchor in the indestructible nature of the Soul of Bhishma and Drona, as of himself. The disheartened fighter began to shed tears at the thought of causing destruction to his grandfather and preceptor. He could not find anything in the moral and social lessons he had learnt to assuage his mind at that juncture, to relieve him from his moral and religious fears. When everything thus stood deserting the valorous Arjuna, Sri Krishna unveiled before him the secret treasure of Dharma in the form of supreme spiritual wisdom.
The Bhagavad Geeta is a reproduction and elaboration of the Kathopanishad. The Unpanished sets clearly the theme of Sanatana Dharma through the young boy Nachiketa, who persists before God of Death, Yama, in being told of the secret about the human soul. His enquiry became most precise when he sought it as the last of the three boons Yama offered: "Is there a Soul for man?" Does It survive the body's death? What is the truth about death? Does death affect the body alone? I want to be instructed on this secret of wisdom, I want nothing else in preference.'
Yama was obliged to disclose the supreme truth. Nachiketa's enquiry surprised Yama's mind but delighted his heart. The enquiry was couched in very significant terms like this:
"Do not tell me anything ordinary which goes by the name of Dharma. Also do not differentiate it from Adharma (the opposite of Dharma). Likewise, let me not be told of the usual twin concepts and postulates like cause and effect, the preceding and the succeeding, the past and the present. Considerations like these are not the subject I wish to learn from you. Really, it is that which gives no room for such differentiations, such contrasts and comparisons, such divisions in time, place and person, that my enquiring mind yearns to learn from you. If you know of anything transcending all these worldly DOs and DONTs, preferences and prejudices, tell me clearly about it".
This is the unique way in which the Dharma of Hindus advances remarkably in its superb internal voyage. Hindus' sense of morality and ethics, their spiritual insight and philosophical probe, march forward and forward until they get glorified and fulfilled in their own undying lustre.
III. Aparent complexity inevitableHindu Dharma, its diverse practices and vast literature with apparently contradictory exhortations, often strike one as abstruse and intriguing. It has to be so, for human nature is itself diverse and baffling. Can the pursuit, which embraces such an amazing diversity and endeavours to lead it to the final abode of fulfilment through reform and refinement, avoid being complex and baffling? Sanatana Dharma recognizes all practices as meaningful, fruitful towards man's spiritual
evolution, provided the practitioner. pins his faith properly and remains watchful about himself and what he does. The practices are but a medium by which his personality is reformed and becomes 'nature for deeper and deeper introspection. Obviously, they have to be in tune with the personality of the practitioner in all its current manifold aspects.
IV. Believer more important than beliefAmong Hindus, there were and there can be those who believe in God as well as those who do not believe in God. 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 or 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 his belief and devotion would expect of him, then no 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, but has some sound principles 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 him, which the former will not, despite his pet belief.
Thus come two distinct considerations: belief or bon-belief - which is the object; and then, the believer or non-believer - the subject. Between the two, the object and the subject, the subject is what truly counts. If to reform and improve 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 desirable, that also is equally good.
With this kind of sense, look at the thousands of devotees that go to worship in temples, churches and mosques. For all of them the place of worship is the same - either the temple or the church or the mosque. The deity or god installed there, or represented in one way or another is the same. But do all get the same progress and purity or attainment or what they aim at? Each worshipper has his own story of devotion and its varying fulfilment to narrate. If pursuit of devotion and its fulfilment depended upon the place of worship, and the deity or god or goddess that is represented there, why this difference?
The only answer is that the practice of devotion solely rests upon the devotee himself And the devotee (in fact this is true of every man in any walk of life) is no other than what his personality and its expressions arc. The knowledge one has gained, the attitudes he fosters in general and in particular, the actions and their ends which he lives for and pursues: these are what precisely represent him in the world. If all these are not in tune with what is professed by his devotion and piety, then of what practical importance is his devotion?
V. Enquiry and knowledge sine qua nonRight 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 instilled more and more in him? 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 it will never be revealed to you. Ask any question you like: Why morality and morals? Why Dharma or restraint? Why God? Why 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 life?
Where lies the secret source of all powers, external and internal, we find manifest in the world? How many sources like these are there? Are they one indeed, as religions and scriptures declare? If so, is not the source of all one's powers, which evidently reigns within the body, the same as that of all the powers of all other things, including those of sun and moon? The search for it and its discovery and direct apprehension will then be rather easy, practicable in every way.
Such questions are inevitable in any sincere pursuit of Hinduism. 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 beginning of true religious and devotional 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 are the various stories dealing with enquiries and searches contained in all other scriptures - devotional, yogic or otherwise. Hinduism becomes Hinduism only when such enquiry and introspection form a vital part of the practitioner.
VI. Pilgrimage to immortalityThe religious endeavour of Hindus is a full internal spiritual pilgrimage. In it they aim at glimpsing, to their delight and wisdom, the One Lord of the Universe, but as seated safely in the heart within. Antaratma (indwelling Self) is of the nature of chetana - the power of cognition or consciousness which makes beings animate and alive.
This chetana is eternal, unlike the body in which it is present, through which it manifests. All thoughts arise from it. Every emotion has its origin in it. All desires and the motivation to pursue them are but creation of this same source. Remaining one, it gives rise to many and all. Extensive by nature, it is fully manifest in one's heart. Wisdom of the wise becomes meaningful only when this Supreme Sentience, the One of all, is realized safely seated within.
By persistent enquiry and repeated introspection, by restraints and moderations - internal as well as external - and at last by meditation aimed at stabilising the mind and dissolving thought and desires, find your way to a full apprehension and realization of this deathless presence. Realization of self alone can make the human peaceful, contented and fulfilled. The challenge, scope, assurance and call stand before every one. No one is debarred on any consideration. The wish first, the will next, efficiency and persistence later, sincerity and exclusiveness to end with, these are the 'only' qualifications required for any seeker.
Such a Dharma no doubt is par supreme. It is compelling in its enunciation, appealing in its exhortation, asserting in its promise of relief and reward.
As long as the humans last in the universe, this Dharma will also live making itself felt and followed variously in different degrees by different people. In truth, it is as old as the human mind, as true and undying as the Soul of man. May the thought and inspiration of this Dharma guide you in complex life in the world. May the sense of it grow and conquer your hearts and minds more and more.
Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha Narayanasrama Tapovanam Paralam, Trichur,
Kerala - 680575; India 05.02.1988