In spite of the reverence, the intellectuals had for Hinduism, there seems a constant effort at defamation in the media. Hindu idols are routinely disparaged in all walks of life. At Disney World there is statue of Lord Ganesh in one of the jungle rides! There are no other religious icons of any faith in the park. Recently, News India-Times published a front page story on $10 Express, a Jackson Heights N.Y. shoe store that was selling $5 sandals with images of Shiva, Ganesh, and Gayatri. This week, Sittin' Pretty, a Seattle-based manufacturer of designer toilet seats, is marketing toilet seats decorated with images of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Kali.
Why such disrespectful treatment to such an ancient and noble religion?
Hindu scriptures such as Mahabharata, are often called myths. In reality, the great Hindu epics are formidable in their recording of events over a vast expanse of time. In the early eighties an important archaeological site was found in India, at Dwaraka, the site of the legendary city of Lord Krishna. Dwaraka was submerged by the sea right after the death of Lord Krishna. This was regarded as a grandiose metaphor, part of a story filled with great myths. Now, it is discovered that the whole coast of western India sank by nearly 40 feet around 1500 B .C. E. In contemporary world religions, the scriptural stories are not referred to as myths. For example, in Christianity the biblical story of the virgin birth of Jesus is considered true even today. Stephen Cross, in his book on Hinduism, pg 1, says, "It is no secret that we in the West live in a time of spiritual crisis. Western civilization has been guided by Christianity. Now it appears that this period is drawing to a close. Both religious institutions and social structures are in disarray. A great many things that were considered basic assumptions of western thought are being challenged. The reality of the external world, the soul, the linear nature of time.
Swami B. V. Tripurari, in his book, "Ancient Wisdom for Modern Ignorance", points out that, "Those now disenchanted with industrialization and scientific materialism as well as pseudo-spirituality, India's ancient spiritual heritage provides a rich alternative. Eastern philosophy, and the devotional heart of India's Vedanta in particular, can fill the empty shopping bag of our Western accomplishments." Whoever reads the Bhagvad Gita for the first time will be struck by the beauty and depth of this work.
Author Beatrice Pitney Lamb has noted: "Recently, increasing numbers of Westerners in revolt against what they have found to be the shallow, gadget-dominated, spiritually empty civilization of the West have turned to "Hinduism" in search of greater meaning or purpose in life. There is no doubt that the great Hindu tradition offers profound spiritual insights, as well as techniques for attaining self-realization, detachment, and even ecstasy.
(source: India: A World in Transition - By Beatrice Pitney Lamb p. 358).
W. J. Grant wrote: "India indeed has a preciousness which a materialistic age is in danger of missing. Some day the fragrance of her thought will win the hearts of men. This grim chase after our own tails which marks the present age cannot continue for ever. The future contains a new human urge towards the real beauty and holiness of life. When it comes India will be searched by loving eyes and defended by knightly hands."
'The religion of the Hindus is rich in legend and stupendous allegory. It is a religion of great dignity and beauty. Its wrestlings with reality are as courageous as any in the whole history of mankind..' Indian thought has generally been contemplative, it has seldom been enamored of the material side of life.'
(The Spirit of India - By W. J. Grant 1933 p. vi - 58).
According to S. Radhakrishnan, "In the history of the world, Hinduism is the only religion, that exhibits a complete independence and freedom of the human mind, its full confidence in its own powers. Hinduism is freedom, especially the freedom in thinking about God. "In the search for the supernatural, it is like traveling in space without a boundary or barrier." (source: Bhagavad Gita - By S. Radhakrishnan pg - 55).
Hinduism may not be called a religion in the sense other religions are known. It is much more than a religion, it is a total way of life. Hinduism has no founder. Its authority is Eternal Truth. The cumulative record of metaphysical experimentation. Behind the lush tangle of religious imagery, is a clear structure of thought. Compared to the rugged originality of the Indian traditions, the language of today's philosophers concerned with being often sound a little contrived. Hindus have always been metaphysicians at heart. It is the underlying ideas, and not the images which count. The forms are many, the reality is one. As stated at the outset in the Rig Veda:
"Truth is one, the wise call it by various names."
Hinduism is a monotheistic religion that springs from the Trinity (Trimurti). Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva. Three aspects of one God. Creation, preservation, destruction. Many in the west have tried to denounce it as the worship of idols. Swami Vivekananda, said: "If a person wants to drink milk, he uses a cup as he cannot drink it directly. Idols are nothing but symbols through which divinity can be comprehended. It helps undeveloped minds to grasp high spiritual truths.
Lord Krishna said:
"In whatever way men love Me, in the same way they find My love; various are the ways of men, but in the end they all come to Me."
The statue of Nataraja (dance pose of Lord Shiva) is a well known example for the artistic, scientific and philosophical significance of Hinduism. The dancing Shiva is the most sublime artistic attempt to capture the mystery of the universe in form. The late scientist, Carl Sagan, in his book, "Cosmos" asserts that the Dance of Nataraja (Tandava) signifies the cycle of evolution and destruction of the cosmic universe (Big Bang Theory). "It is the clearest image of the activity of God which any art or religion can boast of." Modern physics has shown that the rhythm of creation and destruction is not only manifest in the turn of the seasons and in the birth and death of all living creatures, but also the very essence of inorganic matter.
For modern physicists, then, Shiva's dance is the dance of subatomic matter. Hundreds of years ago, Indian artist created visual images of dancing Shivas in a beautiful series of bronzes. Today, physicist have used the most advanced technology to portray the pattern of the cosmic dance. Thus, the metaphor of the cosmic dance unifies, ancient religious art and modern physics. The Hindus, according to Sir Monier-Williams, were Spinozists more than 2,000 years before the advent of Spinoza, and Darwinians many centuries before Darwin and Evolutionists many centuries before the doctrine of Evolution was accepted by scientists of the present age.
The French historian Louis Jacolliot as quoted by Galav in the "Philosophy of Hinduism" page 17 says, "Here to mock are conceit, our apprehensions, and our despair, we may read what Manu said, perhaps 10,000 years before the birth of Christ about Evolution:
' The first germ of life was developed by water and heat.' (Book I, sloka 8,9 )
' Water ascends towards the sky in vapors; from the sun it descends in rain, from the rains are born the plants, and from the plants, animals.' (Book III, sloka 76).
According to the Gita, Creation has been under way from all eternity as the spontaneous outpouring of the Lord's creative energy, as the workings of his prakriti ( primordial Nature). Yet all this spontaneity and freedom, so natural to God, has yet to be discovered and realized by the numberless creatures involved in this process. (It is as if Creation were playing hide-and -seek with itself).
Hinduism is a positive religion in which there are no infidels or heretics. It does not look with contempt even upon an atheist. It doesn't approve of proselytism as means of increasing the number of its adherents. It contains no childish dogma of sin, superstition, fear, false hope and damnation like other religions. The serpent which, in Christianity, brought about the Fall of Man and became his lasting enemy, is in Hinduism found entwined around the neck of Shiva, and as the couch upon which Vishnu reclines.
In India, science and religion are not opposed fundamentally, as they often seem to be in the West, but are seen as parts of the same great search for truth and enlightenment that inspired the sages of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Philosophy and science both disputed Descartes' notions, and even the Church viewed him as a threat to its authority. In fact, in 1663, the Church condemned his books, but by then it was too late. Descartes reasoning helped bring in the Age of Enlightenment throughout Europe and North America.
Hinduism comes before us as an old and authentic path, tested by many centuries of human experience. With its respect for the earth and her bounty. It is truly a joyous religion as those who have witnessed it during its many festivals. It is based on personal discovery. "Know thy self and be free." In such an open laboratory, Hindu spirituality has grown over the millennia, so diverse and rich, that it defies definition. If the Indian mind went beyond form to the formless, it also reveled in a riotous feast of forms - in a world of imagination. It has flourished in exuberance...
Klaus L. Klostermaier professor of Religious Studies at the University of Manitoba, Canada says in his book, "A Survey of Hinduism"
"Hinduism has proven much more open than any other religion to new ideas, scientific thought, and social experimentation. Many concepts like reincarnation, meditation, yoga and others have found worldwide acceptance. It would not be surprising to find Hinduism the dominant religion of the twenty-first century. It would be a religion that doctrinally is less clear-cut than mainstream Christianity, politically less determined than Islam, ethically less heroic than Buddhism, but it would offer something to everybody. It will appear idealistic to those who look for idealism, pragmatic to the pragmatists, spiritual to the seekers, sensual to the here-and-now generation. Hinduism, by virtue of its lack of an ideology and its reliance on intuition, will appear to be more plausible than those religions whose doctrinal positions petrified a thousand years ago." But man must go beyond the gratification of the senses. He must progress in thought. This cannot come, says Sri Aurobindo, "if we chain the spirit to some fixed mental idea or system of religious cult, intellectual truth, aesthetic norm, ethical value, practical action... According to M. S. N. Menon, "For the Hindus, we are like pilgrims on a long march. Some are in the lead. They have lighted torches in their hands. They are nearer to Bliss. Some are in the rear. They are somewhat in the dark. They are still in the thrill of the senses. And this is how it is going to be for ages. Before us is a great goal - the progressive divination of men. Those who are at the rear will seek to gratify their senses and those who are in the lead will raise their consciousness.
According to Hans Torwesten, in his book "Vedanta - Heart of Hinduism":
" A fair number of leading physicists and biologists have found parallels between modern science and Hindu ideas. In America, many writers such as J. D. Salinger (An Adventure in Vedanta: J.D. Salinger's the Glass Family), Henry Miller, Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, and Christopher Isherwood, were in contact with the Vedanta. Most of them came from elevated intellectual circles which rejected the dogmatism of the Christian Churches yet longed for spirituality and satisfactory answers to the fundamental questions of existence. In Vedanta, they found a wide-open, universal, and philosophically oriented religion where even the penetrating scientific mind could find something to its taste".
European philosophers rhapsodized about the profundity and beauty of these writings. Here they encountered a fusion of philosophy and religion, a deep wisdom and a concern with the ultimate, that had no parallel in either contemporary Western philosophy or Western religion. George Feuerstein, in his book ' Introduction to the Bhagavad Gita: Its Philosophy and Cultural Setting' says: " The ant-heap behavior of modern human society, with its soul-destroying mechanical routine and organized aggression and violence, is only one of the negative aspects of the present crisis. Thorough discontentment with the inherited Western - Christian - tradition, especially with the 'God out there' dogma, has kindled a large-scale authentic search for truth in the 'heathen world', above all the spiritual heritage of India. As was to be expected after the disappointment with Christian Theism, it is more the monistic school, like Advaita-Vedanta and Zen, which captivate the interest of the disillusioned Westerner."
God is not dead in India and not a mere memory of the past. Numerous "living gods" and "Incarnations" are everywhere in India today. It is not poverty that you find here - its the absolute core of a living faith so alien to Westernized minds that it can be seen terrifying. Many people in the West have come to realize more and more that organized and denominationalized Christianity (called Churchanity by Hindus) does not even represent the essence of Christianity, let alone that of religion, a new broader, and looser understanding of religion is emerging that approaches the Hindu notion of dharma.
Joseph Campbell, was an avid scholar of spiritual development, in his book Myths to Live By states: " We in the West have named our God, or rather, we have had the Godhead named for us in a book from a time and place that are not our own. And we have been taught to have faith not only in the absolute existence of this metaphysical fiction, but also in its relevance to the shaping of our lives." In the Great East, on the other hand, the accent is on experience: on one's own experience, not a faith in someone else's." In the Christian West, there was that Fall, back there, in the Garden, and we have all been congenital sinners ever since." "Whereas in the East there is the idea of the inherent innocence of Nature, even in what appears to our human eyes and sentiments to be its cruelties, the World, as they say in India, is God's Play (Maya). It is a wondrous, thoughtless play: a rough play, the roughest, cruelest, most dangerous, most difficult with no holds barred." (source: Myths to Live By - Joseph Campbell p. 96).
According to Sri Aurobindo, in his book, "India's Rebirth" (ISBN 2-902776-32-2) page 141, says:
"The mentality of the West has long cherished the aggressive and quite illogical idea of a single religion for all mankind, a religion universal by the very force of its narrowness, one set of dogmas, one cult, one system of ceremonies, one array of prohibitions and injunctions, one ecclesiastical ordinance. That narrow absurdity prances about as the one true religion which all must accept on peril of persecution by men here and spiritual rejection or fierce eternal punishment by God in other worlds. This grotesque creation of human unreason, the parent of so much intolerance, cruelty, obscurantism and aggressive fanaticism, have never been able to take firm hold of the free and supple mind of India".
To quote Sir Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, " The intolerance of narrow monotheism is written in letters of blood across the history of man from the time when first the tribes of Israel burst into the land of Canaan. The worshippers of the one jealous God are egged on to aggressive wars against people of alien cults. They invoke divine sanction for the cruelties inflicted on the conquered. The spirit of old Israel is inherited by Christianity and Islam, and it might not be unreasonable to suggest that it would have been better for Western civilization if Greece had molded it on this question rather than Palestine. Wars of religion which are the outcome of fanaticism that prompts and justifies the extermination of aliens of different creeds were practically unknown in Hindu India."
The Vedas say that " the wise call the One by many names", and exhort us to "let good thoughts come to us from everywhere"; in the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna assures the adherents of all religions that "those who pray with devotion to another god, it is to Me that they pray."
Many foreign groups of people persecuted for their religion came to seek refuge in India. The Parsis have thrived. The heterodox Syrian Christians have lived in peace until the Portuguese came to enlist them in their effort to christianize India. The Jews have expressed their gratitude when they left for Israel because India was the only country where their memories were not of persecution but of friendly co-existence. All these groups were not merely tolerated, but received land and material support for building places of worship. Yuan Chwang, the Chinese traveler, reports that at the great festival of Prayaga, King Harsha dedicated on the first day a statue to the Buddha, another to the sun, the favorite deity of his father, on the second, and to Shiva on the third. The famous Kottayam plates of Sthanuravi (ninth century AD) and the Cochin plates of Vijayaragadeva bear eloquent testimony to the fact that the Hindu kings not only tolerated Christianity but granted special concessions to the professors of that faith. Today, The Tibetan Buddhist and their spiritual head, the Dalai Lama have taken refuge in India, from the persecution of Communist China.
Hinduism is not a religion for occasional airings on Sundays or to be pulled out to celebrate births, marriages and deaths. It is part of everyday activity. To survive and flourish over a long period (over more than five millennia) is a striking testimony to Hinduism's ability to adapt itself to changing circumstances, an ability often insufficiently appreciated because of the apparent dominance of traditional attitudes. Hinduism is by definition (actually it defies definition) formless and seamless; its beauty lies in its refusal to be contained, least of all by national boundaries. Hinduism continues to show amazing life and vigor. In all the historic encounters between Hinduism and other religions Hinduism has always emerged the stronger and richer and succeeded in absorbing the other elements. According to Nirad C. Chaudhuri: " The faith which the Hindus had in their religion never wavered even in its worst days. It has had waxings and wanings which has kept the balance even." " In judging the vitality of Hinduism the point should be emphasized that it has maintained itself through the ages and enforced obedience to itself without support from any kind of organization, secular or spiritual." (source: Hinduism: a religion to live by - Nirad C. Chaudhari p. 116-120)
Hinduism is an inclusive faith, with many branches and many spiritual leaders, its strength is the unity which underpins the diversity.
In conclusion, " Hinduism it is said, compares to the River Ganges, which arises from the mighty Himalayas. She descends to the world of man and of everyday life, bringing great floods of life-giving waters to the plains. As she progresses, small tributaries and great streams join her, swelling her volume and joining in her progress to her ultimate home, the infinitude of the ocean. So it is with Hinduism. It is the oldest of the great religions. Rather than a single doctrine or a single system of worship it is a broad confluence of ideas and attitudes."
" Into the bosom of the one great sea
Flow streams that come from hills on every side
Their names are various as their springs,
And thus in every land do men bow down
To one great God, though known by many names."
- (The Folk Songs of Southern India By Gover 1871 p. 165)