All religions of the world have prescribed certain texts to be read, revered and recited by the followers to demonstrate their fidelity in the faith. In certain faiths, it is mandatory to visit assigned places to offer prayers before the Almighty. Some have prescribed certain dress codes also to be observed and violations are not tolerated at all. Violators could be ticked off, punished and even killed by fellow believers. They could be forced to comply with religious obligations.
In contrast, Hinduism offers total freedom to maintain personal relationship with Almighty as per the choice of the individual. Nothing is prescribed or considered as compulsory, except if the place of worship owned by some individual or trust, only then, the rules framed by the owners have to be observed. Individual should not offend others is the only constraint.
- Literature – Hindu catalog of scriptures offers wider choice. Hinduism neither prescribed any particular syllabus of religious textbooks nor prevented anyone form the study of any scripture. Hindus can pick and choose the type of literature that suits their individuality and the goals for self-development. More and more additions continue to be made by various sects that keep emerging within the fold of Hinduism.
- Forms of God – Everyone is free to have individual precepts about God in Hinduism. It could be one or multiple gods; it could be formless or a god in flesh and blood in the form of human, animal, living or non-living object. God can be perceived and addressed by thousands of name at individual choice.
- Language – Sanskrit is the common language of ancient Hindu Scriptures. It is a scientific, systematic, expressive and yet compressive language. Unlike the Roman script there is no variation in written or spoken words. Still, there is absolute freedom regarding the choice of language in Hinduism. Translations are as valid as the Sanskrit texts. Signs and gestures are also adequate if anyone wanted to remain silent.
Dynamism in Hinduism
Hinduism was not founded by any individual, but is the result of meditations, intuitions, and experience of a large number of seers, saints and mystics called Rishies. Their wisdom and experiences were systematized and handed down from one generation to the next as a great tradition.
Even today, these spiritual truths can be experimented on and verified like the statements about natural laws found in textbooks of science. Truths are open to discussion, addition, interpretations, and modifications. The religion is adaptive to the changes and additions to human knowledge. Everyone can write and project his interpretations supported by reasons for others to accept or reject. Hindu literature is therefore open to inclusion of new codes of law.
Acquisition of knowledge
Acquisition of knowledge is regarded an individual responsibility. The learned are graded in the society accordingly. Those who specialized in any one Veda were called Vedi, specializing on two were Dwevedi, on three were Trivedi and those specializing on four Vedas were Chaturvedi. Person knowing all the Vedas, Upanishads and Shastras were called Vedanti and so on.
However, today these titles have become hereditary and their actual specialization is not counted. Even Muslims also have such titles. Individuals capable of reciting Quran are called Hafiz, those having under taken pilgrimage to Mecca are called Haji, and those having been slayers of infidels are honored as Gazi. But in Hinduism if anyone did not read or recite any scripture or text, he is still regarded as a Hindu without any prejudice.
Compendiums of Collective Wisdom
Hindu scriptures contain subtle and secular philosophy of everyday life and environment around. For the sake of laymen abstracts have been personified. We need to recall that when early men saw the rising of the Sun, Moon, stars, thunder, lightning, they wondered or feared the same. Only some of them thought of solving those mysteries around their environment. They used their observations, imagination and intelligence to create mythical stories. They were the scientists of ancient world, and their collective knowledge has been compiled in Hindu literature for the benefit of entire mankind.
In every part of the world some form of mythology had come into existence. The nomadic groups adopted paganism, but later submitted to Christianity or Islam. New faiths demolished paganism. For protecting their new-found dogmas against exposure and test of rationality, they prohibited questioning of their dogmas. This has not been the case with Hinduism.
In India ‘Sanatan Dharma’ and Vedic knowledge have remained supportive to each other and grown side by side. Puranic mythology is the pictorial form of Vedic knowledge through which abstract thoughts and attributes have got personified in divine hierarchy of Gods, goddesses and mythical events. Both are complementary to each other.
Faith of Universal Brotherhood
Conversions are not sought in Hinduism by force, allurements, or deceit. Hinduism is acquired by birth as a human. Anyone who lived a natural life and let others also live their life within the constraints of local environment preserving harmony is a natural born Hindu. It is the practice of this subtle philosophy that Hindus can be seen feeding ants and birds in nearby parks, revering water sources and mountains even in remote areas.
An individual may not have time; aptitude, opportunity, and inclination to read religious literature as people have different priorities and commitments. It does not matter if anyone did not read any scripture, nor went on pilgrimage, believed any God or remained an atheist, yet he can proudly call himself to be a Hindu. It is a faith of absolute freedom for those who respect the freedom of fellow humans and all living beings as one family Vasudeava Kutumakam.
Chand K Sharma
(Next: Splashes – 18/72 – Laying Foundation for Moral Values)