Practice Question – What are the basic tenets of Hindu religion? Is Hinduism based on monotheism or polytheism? (UPSC 2015)
Approach – Introduction, List basic tenets of religion, Hinduism is a monotheistic religion – explain why, Conclusion.
When Hinduism was being practiced as the path of Dharma, there were only different sampradayas or traditions. None of them were known as religions but they coexisted honoring their differences. Over time, various sampradayas became different religions. Some evolved out of Hinduism like Buddhism and Sikhism and some evolved independently around the world. As time, culture, society evolved, translation of Sanatana Dharma into Dharma practices, principles and perspectives continue to evolve within Hindu ocean. Some of the practices, principles and perspectives became different traditions though they all connect to the ocean of Vedic knowledge — just like rivers flow from ocean far and in different direction but the roots of all these rivers is still the ocean.
WHO IS A HINDU ?
Those who follow the teachings of Vedas. They are called Vedic people, or Vaidikas. The term Hindu was coined by people outside India (Persians), who based the
name referring to those living close to river Indus. Hinduism is also referred to as सनातन धर्म or the perennial wisdom.
THE CONCEPT OF GOD
Hinduism has a complicated system of belief in the individual soul, as well as in a universal soul, which can be thought of as a single deity – God. Hindus believe that all creatures have a soul, a true self, known as ātman. There is also a supreme, universal soul, known as Brahman, which is considered distinct and different than the individual soul. Different schools of Hinduism may worship the supreme being as Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, or Shakti, depending upon the sect. The goal of life is to recognize that one’s soul is identical to the supreme soul, and that the supreme soul is present everywhere and that all life is connected in oneness. In Hindu practice, there is a multitude of gods and goddesses that symbolize the one abstract Supreme Being, or Brahman. The most fundamental of Hindu deities are the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Hinduism teaches that there is ONE Supreme Reality— known as Brahman (The “Immensity”) which is inconceivable and therefore cannot be described in any way — but it can be realized in deep states of meditation. It is that from which every conceivable thing arises, by which things exist and into which everything is ultimately dissolved. This Supreme Being assumes a dual nature — Male and Female. The male aspect is known as Purusha which means “that‐which‐fills” — and the Female aspect is known as Shakti which translates as “Energy” or “Dynamic Force” or Prakriti — material nature. The Purusha and Shakti are philosophically distinguishable but inseparable in their being and cosmic function. If the Purusha is the word, Shakti is the meaning; if the Purusha is the flower; Shakti is the smell. Both the subjective Purusha and objective Prakriti arise from the same “Oneness”.
Hinduism is both monotheistic and henotheistic. Hinduism is not polytheistic. Monotheism is simply defined as the belief in one god and is usually positioned as the polar opposite of polytheism, the belief in many gods. Henotheism (literally “one God”) better defines the Hindu view. It means the worship of one God without denying the existence of other Gods. Hindus believe in the one all-pervasive God who energizes the entire universe. It is believed that God is both in the world and beyond it.
- Dharma: the ethical, duty-driven manner of living in cooperation with one’s fellow human beings. This path includes a comprehensive set of rules for the “right way of living.”
- Artha: the pursuit of material prosperity through constructive work. For Hindus, Artha includes not only traditional work for daily sustenance but also the work of government and civic service.
- Kama: the pursuit of pleasure and happiness through the exercise of desire and passion. This does not have the connotation of hedonistic pleasure, as it does in some other traditions, but is regarded as one facet of a well-rounded spiritual life.
- Mosha: the pursuit of spiritual liberation and salvation. This is the area of scholarly study and meditation, along with other forms of mysticism.
TEN DISCIPLINES IN HINDUISM
The 5 Great Vows (Yamas) are shared by many Indian philosophies. The Yamas are political goals, in that they are broad-based social and universal virtues in the form of moral restraints or social obligations.
- Satya (Truth) is the principle that equates God with soul. It is the mainstay of the basic moral law of Hinduism: people are rooted in Satya, the greatest truth, unity of all life. One should be truthful; not act fraudulently, be dishonest or a liar in life. Further, a true person does not regret or brood over losses caused by speaking truth.
- Ahimsa (Non-violence) is a positive and dynamic force, that means benevolence or love or goodwill or tolerance (or all of the above) of all living creatures, including the objects of knowledge and various perspectives.
- Brahmacharya (Celibacy, non-adultery) is one of the four great ashrams of Hinduism. The beginning student is to spend the first 25 years of one’s life practicing abstinence from the sensual pleasures of life, and instead concentrate on selfless work and study to prepare for life beyond. Brahmacharya means stringent respect of personal boundaries, and the preservation of vital life force; abstinence from wine, sexual congress, meat-eating, consumption of tobacco, drugs, and narcotics. The student instead applies the mind to studies, avoids things that ignite passions, practice silence.
- Asteya (No desire to steal) refers not just to the theft of objects but to refrain from exploitation. Do not deprive others of what is theirs, whether it is things, rights, or perspectives. An upright person earns his or her own way, by dint of hard work, honesty, and fair means.
- Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness) warns the student to live simply, keep only those material things that are required to sustain the demands of daily life.
The five Niyamas provide the Hindu practitioner with rules to develop the personal discipline essential to follow the spiritual path
- Shaucha or Shuddhata (Cleanliness) refers to the internal and external purification of both body and mind.
- Santosh (Contentment) is the conscious reduction of desires, the limiting of attainments and possessions, narrowing down the area and scope of one’s desire.
- Swadhyaya (Reading of scriptures) refers not just to the reading of the scriptures but the use them to create a neutral, unbiased and pure mind ready to conduct the self-introspection required to create a balance sheet of one’s omissions and commissions, overt and covert deeds, successes and failures.
- Tapas/Tapah (Austerity, perseverance, penance) is the performance of physical and mental discipline throughout a life of asceticism. Ascetic practices include observing silence for long periods of time, begging for food, remaining awake at night, sleeping on the ground, being isolated in the forest, standing for a prolonged time, practicing chastity. The practice generates heat, a natural power built into the structure of reality, the essential link between the structure of reality, and the force behind creation.
- Ishwar pradihan (Regular prayers) requires the student to surrender to the will of God, perform every act in a selfless, dispassionate and natural way, accept the good or bad results, and leave the result of one’s deeds (one’s karma) to God.
FOUR STAGES OF LIFE
Hindu belief holds that human life is divided into four stages, and there are defined rites and rituals for each stage from birth till death.
- The First Ashrama–“Brahmacharya” or the Student Stage
- The Second Ashrama–Grihastha” or the Householder Stage
- The Third Ashrama–“Vanaprastha” or the Hermit Stage
- The Fourth Ashrama–“Sannyasa” or the Wandering Ascetic Stage
Nirvana means the cessation of the cycle of rebirth. It is Liberation (Moksha or Mukti) from the state of embodiment in the material world. Emancipation from Karma and its results, and
subsequent Liberation from the cycle of rebirth can be obtained in several ways, for there are many ways to Liberation and Beatitude. Each individual must essentially follow his/her own path and work out his/her own way to Moksha under the guidance of a competent Spiritual Preceptor (Guru) according to the Cosmic Laws (Dharma) and his/her own disposition and stage of spiritual development.
Dharma is the foundational concept in Hinduism and its offshoots and is contained in the name Sanatana Dharma. The word Dharma is derived from the root dhr which means ‘to support’ or ‘to maintain’; that which is the essential nature of a being and the means of its moral and spiritual support is called its Dharma. There are two elements to Dharma (1) knowledge and (2) works. Knowledge refers to that which leads one to a realization of one’s true nature as an inseparable aspect or “expression” of the divine essence, and establishes one’s natural and eternal relationship with the Godhead, and helps one to know that Brahman is the focal element of Dharma. The second element is morality which is our personal code of conduct and ethics which governs one’s dealings with others.
Hinduism is often viewed as so complex that the task to even explain it appears daunting, let alone to grasp it. Yet, the uniqueness of Hinduism is that its basic principles, and its advice to solve the human problems, have never changed; they are just as relevant today as they were in ancient times. The basic core of this wisdom can be described, and understood, when studied well in a thorough structured manner, not unlike specialized fields as physics or medical science. This vision is clearer, more rigorous and even more ‘scientific’ than the principles of science that we are accustomed to judge things by. If properly understood, the Hindu vision unifies and incorporates the myriad varieties of practices, belief systems and even schools of thought within Hinduism, as well as those outside the Hindu system.