Practising Hinduism the Hindu Way

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From The Editor's Desk

(Hinduwebsite Editorial - Exploring Truth Amidst Illusions and Distortions)

Hinduism is more misunderstood than understood by many people including many Hindus. An average Hindu does not know much about his or her own faith. Many people act as if they already know it, although they do not make any effort to study its scriptures or philosophy.

It does not cross their minds that Hinduism requires serious study to understand it. It is as if by some miracle God has infused in them knowledge of Hinduism by birth. Then there are those who come under the influence of extreme elements and take up their ideas to defend the faith from a narrow perspective to perpetuate or justify certain narratives.

Many Hindus follow the popular beliefs and practices of Hinduism as a continuation of their family traditions, having witnessed them in their homes or in public places, and consider it their faith. There are also some free souls who take liberties with their faith under the impression that Hinduism gives them the freedom to practice it according to their convenience or choice.

Hinduism deserves serious attention at least from those who practice it. It will save Hinduism from misinterpretations and distortions. It is true that Hinduism has many layers and dimensions and it may not be possible for everyone to understand every subtle nuance of it.

For example, Hinduism has a popular dimension, a philosophical dimension, a mythological dimension, a spiritual dimension, a mystical dimension, an occult or tantric dimension, a materialistic dimension, an esoteric dimension and so on. Each of them is an integral part of Hinduism, yet has its own distinction which may often contradict with others in some aspects.

Hinduism is not an organized religion, but came into existence due to historical reasons as an assortment of divergent paths and traditions. The word Hinduism is itself is a colonial legacy which was used by the British to distinguish the native faiths from Islam and Christianity.

In coining the word, they ignored the diversity of native faiths and the depth of their philosophy and practice. Instead of identifying multiple faiths, which truly qualify as religions in themselves, they conveniently lumped them together under one heading. The confusion is therefore natural.

Because of such historical reasons, Hinduism is not easily understood even by its own followers. Many Hindus who do not dwell deep into its past do not know what Hinduism represents or stands for. They practice Hinduism according to their family traditions, or according to the practices that are common to their castes or to the region where they live.

The practice of Hinduism also varies by gender. Men and women have specific roles and duties. So is the case with sons and daughters and their status in the family. The eldest son has greater responsibility in carrying forward the family tradition. Thus, unless you practice Hinduism for a long time and know its scriptures, you cannot easily understand it.

However, ignorance is not an excuse to disregard the tenets of the faith. Just because there is diversity in the practice of Hinduism, it should not be construed as a religion of convenience. Hinduism is not only complex but also difficult to practice.

The complexity varies according to the goals and the paths people choose. Some paths are more difficult to follow, and some are easier. Some sects provide easy solutions, while some offer difficult choices. In most sects, spiritual people who seek liberation and practice renunciation have a greater obligation to adhere to an austere and disciplined life than householders.

However, the lives of householders are not easier by any means. They may enjoy certain freedoms, but they have the obligation to honor the laws that are prescribed for them and perform their duties as a service to God. Thus, outwardly Hinduism may appear as a religion of convenience, but in truth it is not. It is perhaps one of the most difficult religions to practice.

In Hinduism, God is not a punisher or a judge. You cannot blame God for what happens to you. (True, many blame him due to the influence of secular education and western faiths). According to Hinduism God is the role model for people to follow and emulate.

He exemplifies ideals, virtues, morality, duty and code of conduct, which humans are expected to follow upon earth to ensure the order and regularity of the world. As the representatives of God upon earth, humans are responsible for their lives and their actions.

As the embodiments of God (the Self) they have to personify Dharma. Thus, a Hindu is not just a human or a puppet in the hands of fate. He is God’s living embodiment upon earth and must reflect his divinity through them.

The law of karma implies that if they do not represent God’s will upon earth and try to assert their own identities or pursue their selfish and egoistic goals, they will suffer from its sinful consequences. Thus, each human being is responsible for his or her life and actions. Each person becomes a witness to his or her own actions, suffering and enjoyment.

Hinduism has no centralized authority or institution because God himself is its centralized authority and institution. He lays down the laws, prescribes duties for various classes of beings and makes them responsible for their actions and decision. Therefore, while it may appear that people have the freedom to practice their faith according to their convenience, they cannot ignore their obligatory duties or their allegiance to God, or believe that whatever they do in the name of religion or spirituality will be acceptable.

In the practice of Hinduism, they have to accept certain fundamental beliefs and practices which are enshrined in the scriptures as inviolable and mandatory. They may take liberties with them only if they unconditionally surrender to God and submit to his will, renouncing the desire for the fruit of their actions and offering their actions to him with detachment and renunciation. Only renunciants who have reached the peak of perfection in the practice of karma yoga and jnana yoga may escape from the jaws of karma by skillfulness in their actions. Others have to pay the price.

Discretion (buddhi) is also important. People need to know the limits of their freedom, and where they can use discretion in practising Hinduism. For example, in Hinduism, we have the tradition of Shruti and Smriti. Shruti is what has been heard as the word of God or divine command. It is the eternal wisdom, which cannot be ignored, modified or violated. Smriti constitutes the memorial knowledge, gained by humans through experience, observation or intellect to regulate their lives and conduct. It is neither universal nor eternal, and can change as the world progresses and the conditions of society change.

Therefore, in the practice of Hinduism we may ignore the Smritis, such as the Dharmashastras (lawbooks) or the Bhashyas (commentaries), or change them according to the times in which we live. However, we cannot ignore the wisdom which is enshrined in certain scriptures such as the Vedas or the Agamas, and which stands the test of time. It is still useful and relevant to our religious and spiritual needs and cannot be ignored. The knowledge of the Shruti constitutes the axis or immovable part of Hinduism and that of Smriti its movable part.

Dharma is central to Hinduism. Dharma means moral duty or obligation. According to Hindu Dharma your duty upon earth is to live like God upon earth and exemplify his virtues and duties. It is what we mean when we say Hinduism is a way of life. The way of life which Hindus are supposed to follow is the way of God.

We have to live the faith on a continuous basis, not just practice it on specific occasions or at specific places. We have to personify God upon earth through our actions and manifest his will. It is what mean by living life as a sacrifice. In that sacrifice, you become the offering (bhakta), and God becomes the recipient (bhotka). By that sacrifice, we let God witness the world through us and enjoy the life that we live.

In Hinduism, this is the primary purpose of human life, and everything else is secondary. We have to step into the shoes of Brahman and perform his duties for the sake of the world, with a sense of sacrifice and as an offering. As his devotees upon earth, we have to protect and uphold Dharma, his eternal laws and duties. The scriptures give the assurance that those who protect and uphold God’s Dharma (moral duties) are protected by it.

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