Hinduism is the oldest and most misunderstood religion. It is older than the Western religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and the Eastern religions of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, which are its offspring. Hinduism originated in India and has slightly more than a billion adherents throughout the world.
Hinduism is unique, because unlike the other major religions, it has no single founder, no single scripture, no single deity, no single prophet, no strict priesthood, and no single way to reach salvation. Because Hinduism has numerous sages as spokespersons, scores of religious books for open discussion and various paths available for enlightenment, it is liberal, tolerant of differences, accepting of other faiths, inclusive and secular in orientation.
What gives unity to Hinduism is the belief that it is based upon eternal principles, which are explicitly stated in the Hindu sacred texts of the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita and the Yoga Sutra. The quintessence of Hinduism is affirmed in the ancient text of the Rig Veda as follows: "There is one reality, the wise call it by many names; there is one truth, reached by many paths." This statement becomes the starting point of Hinduism and the Hindu way of life.
The Hindu mindset views the sacred books of all religions including its own, as nothing more than limited human perspectives on the unlimited reality. Though each perspective captures an aspect of this truth, no single perspective is capable to conveying it totally. The ancient Indian story of seven blind men and their limited perspectives on the elephant epitomizes this attitude. This is a clear example of Hinduism's tolerance of differences and acceptance of other faiths.
Hinduism uses the term Brahman for this single reality. Since Brahman is the source of everything, the plurality and divisions are only on the surface. Brahman permeates every aspect of existence ranging from inorganic objects to organic things, from plants to insects, and from animals to humans. As our unique bodily cells, while contributing to the development and sustenance of the various parts, are organically connected to the entire body, so are the different aspects of existence as cells connected to the body of Brahman. Though no single description of Brahman is capable of capturing its nature totally, Hinduism gives a partial account by identifying it with infinite blissful consciousness.
In Hinduism, the notion of a personal god is subservient to the notion of Brahman. A personal god is nothing more than the human attempt at conceptualizing what cannot be captured through the limited categories of the limited minds. Since no single concept of god can confine the infinite spiritual depth of Brahman, which is the boundless ocean of cosmic consciousness, Hinduism has no problem accepting many gods and goddesses (polytheism), a single almighty god (monotheism) and a single non-personal spiritual principle (monism). These deities are nothing more than limited attempts of the human mind at revealing the innumerable qualities of the one all-encompassing cosmic consciousness. Moreover, these deities are mere personal pathways through which one comes in contact with one of the manifestations of Brahman.
Brahman is unlike the creator in the Western religions. It is not an artist or a sculptor that creates a painting or sculpts a statue and remains separate from its creation. Rather Brahman is a cosmic dancer where the dance and the dancer are indissolubly connected. The creator and its creation are non-separable from each other because there is no creator without the creation and no creation without the creator.
Brahman has been creating, continuously and joyfully the varied forms of the entire universe. Brahman as cosmic consciousness is like an infinite circle whereas each object, animal and human being is a concrete center of it. Each human being is a miniature fountain of creativity just like the blissful creative consciousness of Brahman. Hinduism asserts unambiguously that all life is a gift of the divine consciousness. The birth of a human being is an opportunity to get in touch with this joyful-creative-force that resides within.
Hinduism believes that this joyful-creative force is the divine spark in each human being. It resides in each of us as our conscience, which can act as our spiritual mentor. This divine conscience is our inner sacred spiritual space. Through the regular practice of meditation, one can gain access to one's conscience and can live a divine life on earth.
Moreover, this cosmic consciousness is available to anyone who approaches it with openness and without malice. Through meditation, this joyful creative force can be made to descend into oneself to nurture and revive the conscience within and could be used for cosmic transformation of oneself and others. Mahatma Gandhi, the Buddha and Mother Theresa were transformed by it and they expressed it through "serving everybody, feeding everyone, and educating every individual."
By Ashok Kumar Malhotra