Everyone wants to LIVE. Even a worm turns when interfered with or threatened. A docile cow also defends with her horns. Animals eat other animals for food, but once their hunger is satisfied and there is no threat of life, animals do not kill others unnecessarily. They let others co-exist. The stronger would kill the weaker, only when there is need for food or threat to life.
Live and Let Live
Earlier humans also behaved like animals, but with more knowledge, awareness and development of empathy for others they started reliance more on agricultural products for their needs. With the advent of civilization, more humans turned to vegetarian food. They preferred cotton or woolen clothing than wearing animal skins. Today civilized humans observe restraint before killing others for food. When threatened they may exploit other options than killing the attacker. The difference between animals and humans is distinct. While animals co-exist, humans let others also live.
Diversification of Religions
The concept of ‘let live’ is marginally different from ‘co-existing’. Whereas animals instinctively co-exist, humans evolved ethical codes to practice ‘LIVE’ and ‘LET LIVE’. Live is survival for all living beings, but letting others live is Dharma for the mankind.
The wise men in India formulated ethics of certain ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ to follow the concept of ‘let others also live’. That implied no one should take the share of the other, another’s life, and resources. Non-Violance, Truth, Contentment, Control over greed and avoidance of misappropriation were considered human virtues. Those principles came to be regarded as fundamental ethics (Yamas) in Sanatan Dharma. More activities aimed to preserve the environment came under ‘Dos’ while activities resulting in destruction of environment were classified as Don’ts in Dharma. Living in harmony with local environment, letting all creatures live a natural life have been the essence of Sanatan Dharma. Any one following this in substance is surely a Hindu by faith and deed irrespective of his place of living in the world. ‘Vasudeva Kutambum’ has been the philosophy of Sanatan Dharma since times immemorial, implying whole world to be one large family.
Subsequently, local variations crept in the codes of ‘let-live’ all over the world keeping due to the environment, geographical, political, and economic conditions, as well as the state of emotional, psychological and general awareness of the groups. Following the pattern of Hinduism, those ethical standards emerged as separate religions. All religions primarily stress adherence to its ethical standards that lay down rules for regulating human relationships within the group. Thus, observance of charters to regulate relationships between humans, animals, and environment came to be known as divine command of the Creator. Family is considered to be the smallest group; persons of same religious community form larger group.
Observance of Dharma is Human
The animal world, plants and other celestial bodies perform their functions without any discrimination. Sun, Air, Water, Clouds, and Moon share their properties universally without any fear or favor. Birds and animals also perform their instinctive functions without any bias. It is only humans who perform their functions by choice and exercise selectivity. As all living things are ecologically dependent and co-exist, observance of the religious codes has been primarily the responsibility of human beings only. Person without Dharma is inhuman.
Competition and animosity between religions led to conflicts, bloodshed and wars whenever one religion tried to trespass the area of another religion. People living under different environments grouped themselves into different ethnic societies, countries, and religious communities. They were identified by some name given to them by the founder leader of their ‘Religion’. As long as people continued to observe their codes within the boundaries of their environment, their relations remained harmonious but once they crossed boundaries and came in clash with different environments that always led to disharmony and conflicts.
To cite an example, it is the ‘dharma’ of all drivers to keep left of the road in India and other Asian countries. Their environmental infrastructure is also designed accordingly. Similarly those living in USA drive keeping right and have their own environment. As long as both confine their ‘dharma of driving’ within their own territories both systems are fine, but if any of them intrudes into rival’s territory the result would be accidents, clashes and bloodshed.
First religion of mankind
The ethical code that emerged in India was popularly called Sanatan Dharma. It was thus the first religion for the entire mankind. Other religions originated later and shared many similarities with Sanatan Dharma. Commonly they were referred as paganism by Europeans when they started to civilize themselves. Today Sanatan Dharma is commonly identified as Hinduism. Hindus practiced live and let live, according to the conditions and constraints of Indian environment so that its resources could continuously be replenished for the use of future generations. Hindus regarded all living creatures to be the manifestations of God, entire universe as a large family. They condensed the concept in the doctrine of Vasudeva Kutumbakam.
Hindus laid importance on the preservation of environment. Various elements of nature such as mountains, sources of water like Rivers, lakes and oceans, also came to be respected as gods and goddesses. Yagnas were performed for purification of air. Animals and useful plants such as Peepal, Beil, Tulsi, and Banyan were preserved loved, nurtured, and even worshiped for their beneficial properties. Recognizing animals’ right to co-exist with men, Hindus inducted many animal forms into mythology also. No one was under-rated. Even pigs and snakes hated in other faiths found a respectable place in Hindu mythology. Many animals got associated with Gods as their carriers. Some animals were given the status of Gods and goddesses to impress the Omnipresence of the Almighty Creator. The animals were given prime position in art and architecture also. The emperors, kings and queens adopted different animals as their emblems as well as logos on flags. Birds and animals were embossed on royal emblems and coins were also minted depicting their images.
Rational and Humanist Approach
Hinduism considered man to be potentially divine and not a sinner off spring of Adam and Eve. Even the worst of ‘sinners’ may also find a place in Hinduism. By declaring that the whole universe is the projection of the Cosmic Mind, and same thread of unity passes through the diverse manifestations of all living beings, Hinduism carries conviction to the modern scientist in every concept of religion.
Hinduism is very liberal. As per its tenants God is not pleased with any particular form, race, nationality, clothing, food or rituals. If someone did not read any scripture, performed no rituals, and did not worship God in any form – he still remains a Hindu as long as he is performing duty according to his Dharma – the ethical code of local environment. A person may be a father, a husband, a son, a warrior, teacher or a servant. As long as he performs his duties on the basis of “live and let live” he pleases the God as a Hindu.
Unity in Diversity
Hinduism has always kept itself updated with the changes. Hindus never imported any saints from abroad. Reformers emerged within Hinduism. Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Arya Samaj have been the reformist off shoots of Hinduism. It was thus natural that interpretations sometimes differed, but subsequent sects stayed as extensions of Hinduism. The idols of founders and reformers have also been installed in Hindu temples. Hindus have always reconciled to the fact that religious diversities originated from one environment shall have similarities and have been tolerant towards other faiths. This is the unity in diversity of Hindu culture.
Hinduism tolerated dissent in thought as well as in action. Since Muslims and Christians had their religious origins in environments different from India, they did not join the main stream and clashed with Hinduism due to their own ideologies of intolerance and Jihad. They did not recognize the right of others to live differently but followed only the “Live” part of Hindu code and converted others to their faith, or killed them.
Hinduism did not restrict its followers from questioning religious dogmas. For instance, Islam is unthinkable without Prophet Mohammad, his sharia and Quran; Christianity is unthinkable without Christ, his gospel and the Bible. It is a faith in a particular prophet and book, which made a man Muslim or Christian. In contrast a Hindu is free to accept God in any form; so much so that the person is encouraged to identify himself with the God without any intermediary.
Importance of Religion
Religion thus established man-made relationships. God is not concerned who believed or disbelieved His existence. Non-believers also have to live in His domain. One may go on arguing the existence of God supported by tools of rationality provided by science for any length of time, but when rationality ends, faith automatically starts. When actions and efforts do not bring desired results, instead of getting frustrated, Hindus have left that to be the will of God. When no one is in sight, Hindu would recoup confidence by leaning on God. Whatever is unknown and undiscovered by mankind is considered to be in the knowledge of God. When no one is around, God is supposed to be there to give company to everyone and encouragement. What more we want? The buck stops there. Without Him there will be nothing but loneliness, insecurity, hopelessness and frustration. God is always loving, everlasting, omnipresent and omniscience. Every creation is manifestation of God. This is the strength of Hinduism.
Religion establishes and regulates the relationship of persons living dead and those to follow. A person inherits package of personal identity at birth such as a Hindu, Muslim, Christian or anything else. The identity package includes his parentage, name, country and Religion at the time of his birth. This package consists of fond memories of ancestors, their beliefs, customs and traditions all compressed in to the religion. Though circumstances may force any one to adopt a new nationality but the link with ancestors is continued through the religion even after death.
This magnificent heritage of realizations, thoughts and beliefs has been passed to mankind in the form of Hindu literature. It needs to be preserved, continued updated and passed to future generations. We are free to accept or reject the ‘research work’ already done by our ancestors, add-on to it, or start fresh with some new approach. In whatever way we may look at, Hindu literature is the record of development of human race and its thinking process. Hindus in India are proud of it that we are the authors, preservers, and custodians of human history. This is where the importance of religion lies to us in the scientific age of reality.
Hinduism has unified humanity by taking everyone into its fold and has accepted the right of everyone to live by the ethics of the code suited to the local environment. Every human who practices – ‘live and let live within the constraints of prevailing environment’ is regarded a Hindu on the globe.
Chand K Sharma
(To follow: Splashes- 5/72 – Unity in Diversity of Hinduism)