Some Paragraphs From
Hinduism, The Eternal Tradition
by David Frawley
American Institute of Vedic Studies: http://www.vedanet.com/
(Dr. Frawley,) ARE YOU A HINDU?
I have studied various teachings originating in the Hindu tradition for over twenty years including Yoga, Vedanta, the Vedas, Ayurveda, and Vedic astrology and found immense benefit in all of them. I have also practiced these teachings and made them the basis of my spiritual life. Hinduism was something I discovered in myself through the pattern of my deeper aspirations and my search into the nature of consciousness itself. It was never imposed upon me from the outside. I did not become ~ Hindu so much as discover that I already was one.
I am happy to belong to this ancient and unending tradition of spiritual knowledge, whose impressions upon the soul cannot be removed even by death. Hinduism has a rich field of knowledge and culture, like the lap of the Divine Mother, in which the soul can freely unfold its infinite capacities. To enter into this teaching is a great blessing to all.
Yet becoming a Hindu is not a matter of taking on some divisive identity. It means recognizing Sanatana Dharma or the universal tradition. It does not require joining a church but recognizing the universal religion that comes from the Self of all. It is to embrace all human aspirations and all that has beauty in life, but centered on a path of self-realization, not merely vaguely accepting everything as good.
However, I am sad that many Hindus today have little real appreciation or understanding of their tradition. To me it is a sign of ignorance to abandon such a profound spiritual system for modern political ideologies, or to spiritually cripple oneself by following regressive religions which are devoid of any real way of developing higher consciousness. Expressing the value of Hinduism as a Westerner, I hope I can get modern Hindus to reexamine their roots.
Common Questions About Hinduism
Close to a billion of the over five billion people in the world are Hindus by religion. India with its vast river system and subtropical climate has always contained a relatively large proportion of the human population. The Hindu religion has been going on for more than five thousand years, long before the other world religions came into being. In this respect perhaps more people have been Hindus through the course of history than have belonged to any other religion. All of us, during the course of our many births, have been Hindus during one life or another, particularly those of us who have had lives on the spiritual path, which has generally been a greater concern in India than in other countries. The Hindu Dharma is therefore ingrained within our samskaras, the deeper impressions of our souls which we can all access if we look within.
There now exists a significant Hindu minority in the Western world, particularly the United States, Canada and Great Britain, but also such peripheral areas as Trinidad and Guyana. This Hindu minority consists both of immigrants from India, many from the past few decades, and Westerners who have adopted Hindu teachings (who may not all formally call themselves Hindus). There are nearly a million Indo-Americans and a larger number in Great Britain.
What does a modern Hindu say, particularly when questioned by those who may know little about their religious tradition, to explain what Hinduism is? A Hindu in the West is often confronted with simplistic and derogatory ideas about Hinduism — that it is pagan, polytheistic, idolatrous, unscientific, socially backward or merely no more than a cult. Though more educated people in the West may not accept these opinions they may still be influenced by them, and may not have consistent alternative views. Modern Hindus are often not educated ill their own tradition. They may not have any real understanding of it or its global relevance as Sanatana Dharma, a universal teaching. They may not know how to present it to others under any circumstances.
As Hindus are generally tolerant and retiring, they may say nothing or even apologize for their religion rather than try to correct wrong ideas about it. The thoughtful among them have sought to communicate their tradition better, particularly seeing the popularity of Hindu practices in the West, like Yoga and meditation, once presented in a universal light. But many Hindus have so diluted their tradition with statements like “all religions are the same,” that they have failed to give Hinduism any character of its own. Instead of telling others what Hinduism is in its own right, they use Hinduism to give credit to other religions, whose beliefs and practices may not be regarded as the highest by the great Hindu sages of history. On the other hand, they may tolerate or even accept negative judgments against Hinduism by other religious groups, and not offer any Hindu critique of other religions so as not to appear offensive to anyone. They think that making Hinduism accepting of everything done in the name of religion is the best way to communicate its universality. This, however, does not lead to a better understanding of Hinduism but gives the impression that Hindus have no clear teaching like :he other religions of the world.
Hindus in India — under the domination of Western culture in education and communication — may have encounters with missionaries or with Christian and Muslim minorities in India, similar to those that Indo-Americans have with Christian religious groups in America. They tend to feel that their culture is inferior to that of the West which is more modern and affluent, and therefore their religion must be inferior to those of the West as if spirituality were a function of material abundance). Young Hindus trying to answer questions put to them about their tradition face these problems more keenly as they are as yet unsure Is how to communicate what they think and are more under the influence of Western culture than their parents.
However, a revival in Hindu consciousness is now occurring throughout the world. Hindus are no longer willing to stand silent when faced with misrepresentations of their venerable tradition. A pride in being Hindu is arising, not as a religious arrogance, but as a recognition of the value of this vast and ancient spiritual heritage for the whole world. Such new Hindus are willing not only to affirm their tradition but to express its teachings, even when it may call into question other belief systems. They are willing to give a Hindu point of view on religious and social issues, which is not simply to agree with everyone but to point out the deeper wisdom that the Hindu sages have gathered through millennia of yogic practices. Along similar lines, a number of Westerners are beginning to recognize that there is a greater spiritual tradition — including such teachings as Ayurveda, Vedic astrology, and Sanskrit — behind the yogic and meditational practices they have adapted and that the entire system has relevance.
The following section has been devised to deal with the problems of expressing Hinduism in the modern age, which requires affirming its universality without losing its character. It requires fostering a pride in Hinduism without making it into another sectarian belief. It requires redefining what Hindu means and connotes to people, above all for so-called Hindus themselves, so that hearing the word Hindu evokes the Himalayan majesty of the great yogis, not the timidity of a kind but defeated people.
ARE ALL RELIGIONS ONE?
There is only One Truth behind all religions, whether the so-called world religions or primitive beliefs. The different arts and sciences also represent various attempts, though they may be indirect, to connect with the One Reality. Recognizing such a Universal Truth, we should strive to develop a universal religion which includes not only what is good in religion, but what is good in art and science, and in all human endeavors to know Reality. All ways of connecting with Truth — whether formulated as religions or not — are like various rivers that flow to the ocean of Truth. They all have a common goal, though not each singly can reach it.
Yet to reach that Truth we must follow a path that leads to Self-realization, Few religious teachings regard Self-realization as the goal of life. Therefore they cannot take us all the way to it, though they may be of preliminary benefit. And religion is sometimes a mask for adharmic activities, for attitudes that do not enlarge our minds and hearts but narrow them down to some dogma or opinion. Such religion cannot take us even part of the way to Truth, which is universal.
Sanatana Dharma is not meant as another one of these streams but as an attempt to portray the reality of the ocean, which accepts all streams without being limited to any of them. For this reason all the spiritual practices that can be found in other religions — like prayer, ritual, mantra and meditation whether devotional or knowledge-oriented – exist within the greater Hindu tradition.
AREN’T ALL RELIGIONS THE SAME?
Because there is a unity of Truth behind all religious seeking and, above all, because there is a commonality in the religious experience, some people have come to the conclusion that all religions are the same — that it doesn’t matter if one goes to a temple, church or mosque, or whether one prays, fasts or meditates — that as long as one is doing something that can be called religious, one will get to the same goal only along a different route.
Let us compare this with the field of art. Because there is a unity of the human creative experience behind all art does not mean that all art is the same, and it certainly does not mean that all that is called art is good art. Similarly that there is a unity of scientific inquiry behind all scientific pursuits does not mean that all science is the same, that all scientific theories are correct and lead to the same conclusions, or that it does not matter what experimental procedures we employ.
There is a tremendous gap between organized religion, which divides people, and the religious experience, which unites them. And the religious experience itself has different stages, levels and variations. All religious experiences are not merely equal or the same. There are many gradations between ordinary human consciousness and Self-realization, which should not all be lumped together as the same thing. Religious experiences can also occur in an impure or untrained mind and be mixed with egoism and delusion. Moreover, there is a diversity of spiritual practices, like the Yogas of knowledge and devotion, which proceed by different lines and have their own characteristic experiences. While we should recognize the unity of the religious experience, we should also acknowledge its diversity and multi-leveled nature.
That all religions are one is a statement similar to that all water is one. This does not mean that all water is the same or that all water is fit to drink. That all water is one does not mean that it is not necessary to carefully consider the quality of the water we drink. There are religious doctrines and practices, which are outward or of preliminary value and others which are limited or even wrong. To discover the real truth of religion requires a great deal of discrimination, a discerning of the essence, not merely an acceptance of all forms.
AREN’T ALL RELIGIONS MERELY ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES?
One may recognize the differences that exist between various religions but consider them to be merely different alternatives, just as different roads may all lead to the same goal. This is true of religious teachings that have inner values and practices of meditation and Self-realization, but differ only in outer factors of name and form, like different enlightenment or Self-realization traditions. We can consider these to be different approaches to the same Truth. But we also observe that there are religious teachings which differ in fundamental values, goals and practices, not merely in superficial names and forms. These cannot be merely different ways to the same reality. For example, we can recognize that there are many different names for fire. Calling fire by a different name does not mean that one does not understand the nature of fire. But this is not to say that fire can differ in its essential nature and qualities, that Hinduism – The Eternal Tradition – for some people fire is hot and for other people it can be cold. While formal differences can be reconciled, substantial differences cannot. Truth must be the same. It cannot differ according to the different beliefs and opinions of human beings.
Where religious differences are merely a matter of words or forms, we can recognize a common truth behind them. If one religion calls the ultimate reality love, another calls it truth, another calls it the infinite, we can accept a common reality behind all these formulations. But when religious teachings have differences of a substantive nature we cannot accept their varying views as equally true. For example the law of karma and rebirth leading to bondage or liberation cannot be equally true as that of sin or salvation leading to heaven or hell, as the two views are substantially different. Such views may be reconciled into lower and higher, or outer and inner truths but they cannot be given equal validity. This does not mean that we must insist that only one religious belief is valid but that we must maintain an inquiry into Universal Truth and find out the real nature of things. The goal is to discover the Truth of things, not merely to uphold religion as we know it, which is a very mixed affair, as Truth. Religion, after all, is an expedient measure to aid us in the pursuit of truth. It should never be made an end-in-itself.
ISN’T IT WRONG FOR RELIGIOUS PEOPLE TO DISAGREE?
Each one of us sees the world differently. The very beauty of life is that each being is unique and has his or her own unique perspective. Such differences need not be a problem. We should honor and respect them. Through them each person provides a new vision of the universe. Such differences only become a problem when we insist that one perspective is correct for everyone. For example, there is an underlying unity of all human beings but we all have different faces. To arrive at human unity it is not to make all people have the same face, but to see the common humanity behind and through all different human forms.
It is not wrong for us to disagree with one another. After all, no opinion of any human being can be regarded as the absolute truth that no one can question, and no verbal formulation is final or incapable of being distorted. We must hold to the truth that we perceive, even if no one in the world agrees with us. To find truth we must express how we see things and compare it with how other people see them, and try to find out what is really there. This clash of inquiry leads us to discovery. But we should not promote disagreements or refuse to recognize common truths merely to uphold a particular identity or belief as opposed to others.
We must recognize the right of others to see things differently than we do. We must create a culture that honors many different points of view. This does not mean that we should create a culture in which all things are permitted. We must base our lives on higher universal values, like non-violence, truthfulness, compassion, and self-discipline, But this should allow any number of names and forms for the spiritual life and its activities. Universality is not a matter of agreement, which may be no more than a social consensus or blind uniformity, but of integration in which one goes beyond all dualities.
CAN I BE A FOLLOWER OF ALL SPIRITUAL PATHS?
One should recognize the validity of all true spiritual paths, though only a part of what is called religion is a spiritual path. There are a number of spiritual paths which provide meditation practices that can, if applied with the proper background and guidance, lead to union with the Divine or the inner Self. Moreover, it is good to know something about a number of the world’s spiritual traditions in order to broaden one’s mental horizon, just as it is good to know something of the different cultures and customs of various lands and peoples.
However, life is limited. One does not have the time to follow out in depth the practices of all teachings, which require a certain period to work properly. For one’s actual meditation practice one has to choose a certain line of approach, and a connection with specific teachers, generally within the same tradition.
We can compare this with any field of learning. One can recognize the validity of all true artistic approaches, but one cannot practice all techniques of art. One cannot be simultaneously a sculptor, painter, musician and dancer, in ancient, medieval and modern styles. In one’s actual practice one will have to make a choice and follow it out. Moreover, the goal of a spiritual practice is not to learn various traditions but to know oneself, and for this the teaching is a guideline, not the end. To be a true artist one does not need to study all forms of art but to discover one’s own creativity. If we spend our time exploring different teachings and traditions, rather than looking into who we really are, we have missed the point. The different teachings are aids to Self-realization. The important thing is to reach the goal, not to explore the different paths.
WHAT DO ALL HINDUS BELIEVE?
Hinduism as a universal tradition does not emphasize a particular code of beliefs that divides humanity into believers and non-believers. It does not begin with the assertion “I believe in God” but with the recognition “God or Truth and myself are one.” It does not state that only those of our faith can find God but that God or Truth is the nature of all beings. It does not have articles of faith, like the belief in various miracles or special revelations, but directs us to discover the nature of Truth, which we can experience in our own consciousness as clearly as we can see the sun rise in the morning.
Hinduism is not centered in a particular name or form but on Truth which lies behind all names and forms. It is an open tradition that encourages a diversity of approaches, not a monolithic religion consisting of a standard creed. Its emphasis is Dharma or Universal Truth that one can perceive, Rot belief, which appears contrary to the nature of things. Hinduism recognizes not only the unity of the Divine but the infinity of Truth.
The principles which all Hindus accept are not articles of faith but dharmas or natural laws. Such are the law of karma, rebirth, the existence of a cosmic Lord (ishvara) and universal intelligence, the beneficence of the world of Nature, and Self-realization as the ultimate goal of life. Hindus similarly share common practices like ritual, prayer, pilgrimage, charity, Yoga and meditation but there is no prescribed system of activities that all Hindus must follow. There are common Hindu values and attitudes like non-violence, truthfulness, self-discipline and control of sexual energy, which are even more important than these practices.
These approaches are employed as ways of finding Truth, not as dogmas that tell us what that truth is supposed to be. Sanatana Dharma tells us that it is more important to give people the means to find Truth, than it is to tell people what Truth is supposed to be, which becomes a dogma. As Truth is our own nature, we need only let it come forth by no longer trying to impose any external influences upon it.
We see therefore that many people, who may not formally regard themselves as Hindus, may have a Hindu view of reality. This is because the Hindu view is not a sectarian view but the view of the whole, which is that One Self is All.
WHY ARE HINDUS APOLOGETIC ABOUT BEING HINDUS ?
First, Hinduism as the formulation of a universal tradition is not an aggressive system. It encourages humility and respect for all peoples and all religions. It promotes itself through peace and love, not through preaching and condemnation. In the modern world, which has little of spirituality in it, many Hindus find that their tradition appears out of place. This has caused them to feel apologetic about their practices as part of an attempt to accommodate others. On the second level, the Hindu social system contains various regressive social customs, like untouchability, which Hindus feel ashamed of in the face of modern humanitarian political values.
Only those Hindus who don’t understand the real meaning of their tradition as Sanatana Dharma and the centrality of its yogic approaches to world spirituality can be dominated by either of these views. In fact Hinduism, through Vedanta or the science of Self-realization is the teaching of lion-hearted souls. It is for the fearless and independent, for those who are willing to transcend the external view of reality.
Yet not all Hindus are apologetic about being Hindus. The apologetic Hindu may soon be a thing of the past, as the great value of Yoga, Vedanta, Ayurveda, Vedic knowledge and Sanatana Dharma spreads throughout the world.
SHOULD HINDUS BE MORE AGGRESSIVE?
Hindus suffer from passivity and disunity. These are their main enemies. They are not only not aggressive in asserting themselves, they are generally apologetic if they assert themselves at all. A more positive, expansive self-confident spirit in their religion is essential. This does not require that Hindus become militant or violent, but it does require that they wake up and become active. Perhaps in this process some Hindus may become temporarily over assertive but that is better than being overly passive. The present crisis in the world today, and in India, demands action both individually and outwardly. Let us all rise to the occasion and bring the light of Truth and Self-realization into the world.