Who is the Founder of Hinduism


by Jayaram V

Question: Who founded Hinduism?

A founder implies that someone brought into existence a new faith or formulated a set of religious beliefs, principles, and practices that did not exist before. That cannot happen with a faith such as Hinduism, which is considered eternal. According to the scriptures, Hinduism is the religion of not just humans. Even gods and demons practice it. Isvara, the Lord of the universe, is its source. He also practices it. Hence, Hinduism is God's Dharma, brought down to the earth, just as the sacred River Ganga, for the welfare of humans.

Thus, Hinduism is not founded by a person or a prophet. Its source is God (Brahman) himself. Hence, it is considered an eternal religion (Sanatana dharma). Its first teachers were Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Brahma, the creator God, revealed the secret knowledge of the Vedas to gods, humans, and demons at the beginning of creation. He also imparted to them the secret knowledge of the Self, but due to their limitations, they understood it in different ways.

Vishnu is the preserver. He preserves the knowledge of Hinduism through countless manifestations, associated gods, aspects, saints, and seers to ensure the order and regularity of the world. Through them, he also restores the lost knowledge of various Yogas or introduces new reforms. Further, whenever the Hindu Dharma declines beyond a point, he incarnates upon earth to restore it and revive its forgotten or lost teachings. Vishnu exemplifies the duties that humans are expected to perform upon the earth in their individual capacities as householders within their spheres. Lord Krishna, considered Vishnu’s incarnation, is one of the most excellent teachers of the ancient wisdom preserved as a dialogue in the Bhagavadgita.

Shiva, too, plays an important role in upholding Hindu Dharma. As the destroyer, he removes the impurities and confusion that creep into our sacred knowledge. He is also considered the universal teacher and the source of various art and dance forms (Lalitakalas), Yogas, vocations, sciences, farming, agriculture, alchemy, magic, healing, medicine, Tantra, etc.

Thus, like the mystic Asvattha Tree, which is mentioned in the Vedas, the roots of Hinduism are in heaven, and its branches are spread out on earth. Its core is divine knowledge, which governs the conduct of not only humans but also of beings of other worlds, with God acting as its creator, preserver, concealer, revealer, and remover of obstacles. Its core philosophy (the Sruti) is eternal, while its changing parts (smriti) keep changing according to the time and circumstances and the progress of the world. Containing within itself the diversity of God's creation, it remains open to all possibilities, modifications, and future discoveries.

Many other divinities, such as Ganesha, Prajapati, Indra, Shakti, Narada, Saraswathi, and Lakshmi, are also credited with the authorship of many scriptures. Apart from this, countless scholars, seers, sages, philosophers, gurus, ascetic movements, and teacher traditions enriched Hinduism through their teachings, writings, commentaries, discourses, and expositions. Thus, Hinduism is derived from many sources. Many of its beliefs and practices found their way into other religions that originated in India or interacted with it.

Since Hinduism has its roots in eternal knowledge and its aims and purpose are closely aligned with those of God, the Creator of all, it is considered an eternal religion (Sanatana Dharma). Hinduism may disappear from the face of the earth due to the impermanent nature of the world, but the sacred knowledge which forms its foundation will remain forever and keep manifesting in each cycle of creation under different names. It is also said that Hinduism has no founder or missionary goals because people have to come to it either by providence (birth) or personal decision due to their spiritual readiness (past karma).

The name Hinduism, derived from the root word “Sindhu,” came into usage for historical reasons. Hinduism as a conceptual entity did not exist until British times. The word itself does not appear in literature until the 17th Century A.D. In medieval times, the Indian subcontinent was known as Hindustan or the land of Hindus. They were not all practicing the same faith but different ones, which included Buddhism, Jainism, Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Brahmanism, and several ascetic traditions, sects, and subsects.

The native traditions and the people who practiced them went by different names, but not as Hindus. During the British times, all the native faiths were grouped under the generic name “Hinduism” to distinguish it from Islam and Christianity and to dispense with justice or settle local disputes, property, and tax matters. Subsequently, after the independence, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism were separated from it by enacting laws. Thus, the word Hinduism was born out of historical necessity and entered the constitutional laws of India through legislation.

Today, Hinduism includes all the native faiths that originated in India, including those that became extinct, excluding Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Many secular people and atheists also go by the name Hindu since being born in a Hindu family qualifies anyone as a Hindu until they willingly convert to another religion or officially disavow it. Strictly speaking, Hinduism is not a religion but a basket of religions because it has four sects: Brahmanism, Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism, which can be considered religions in themselves. In recent times, it has inspired many New Age faiths and hybrid traditions. ISKON is also a modern offshoot of Hinduism. Since present-day Hinduism incorporates many tribal and rural beliefs and practices, it cannot just be treated as a religion in the Western sense but a socio-cultural phenomenon and a way of life built on the foundation of eternal values.

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