The spiritual aim of Indian civilisation
The whole root of difference between Indian and European
culture springs from the spiritual aim of Indian civilisation. It
is the turn which this aim imposes on all the rich and luxuriant
variety of its forms and rhythms that gives to it its unique
character. For even what it has in common with other cultures
gets from that turn a stamp of striking originality and solitary
greatness. A spiritual aspiration was the governing force of this
culture, its core of thought, its ruling passion. Not only did it
make spirituality the highest aim of life, but it even tried, as far
as that could be done in the past conditions of the human race, to
turn the whole of life towards spirituality. But since religion is in
the humanmind the first native, if imperfect form of the spiritual
impulse, the predominance of the spiritual idea, its endeavour to
take hold of life, necessitated a casting of thought and action into
the religious mould and a persistent filling of every circumstance
Indian Spirituality and Life – 1 179
of life with the religious sense; it demanded a pervadingly religiophilosophic
culture. The highest spirituality indeed moves in a
free and wide air far above that lower stage of seeking which
is governed by religious form and dogma; it does not easily
bear their limitations and, even when it admits, it transcends
them; it lives in an experience which to the formal religious
mind is unintelligible. But man does not arrive immediately at
that highest inner elevation and, if it were demanded from him
at once, he would never arrive there. At first he needs lower
supports and stages of ascent; he asks for some scaffolding of
dogma, worship, image, sign, form, symbol, some indulgence
and permission of mixed half-natural motive on which he can
stand while he builds up in him the temple of the spirit. Only
when the temple is completed, can the supports be removed,
the scaffolding disappear. The religious culture which now goes
by the name of Hinduism not only fulfilled this purpose, but,
unlike certain credal religions, it knew its purpose. It gave itself
no name, because it set itself no sectarian limits; it claimed no
universal adhesion, asserted no sole infallible dogma, set up no
single narrow path or gate of salvation; it was less a creed or
cult than a continuously enlarging tradition of the Godward
endeavour of the human spirit. An immense many-sided manystaged
provision for a spiritual self-building and self-finding, it
had some right to speak of itself by the only name it knew, the
eternal religion, san¯atana dharma. It is only if we have a just and
right appreciation of this sense and spirit of Indian religion that
we can come to an understanding of the true sense and spirit of
Now just here is the first baffling difficulty over which the
European mind stumbles; for it finds itself unable to make out
what Hindu religion is. Where, it asks, is its soul? where is its
mind and fixed thought? where is the form of its body? How can
there be a religion which has no rigid dogmas demanding belief
on pain of eternal damnation, no theological postulates, even
no fixed theology, no credo distinguishing it from antagonistic
or rival religions? How can there be a religion which has no
papal head, no governing ecclesiastic body, no church, chapel
180 A Defence of Indian Culture
or congregational system, no binding religious form of any kind
obligatory on all its adherents, no one administration and discipline?
For the Hindu priests are mere ceremonial officiants
without any ecclesiastical authority or disciplinary powers and
the Pundits aremere interpreters of the Shastra, not the lawgivers
of the religion or its rulers. How again can Hinduism be called
a religion when it admits all beliefs, allowing even a kind of
high-reaching atheism and agnosticism and permits all possible
spiritual experiences, all kinds of religious adventures? The only
thing fixed, rigid, positive, clear is the social law, and even that
varies in different castes, regions, communities. The caste rules
and not the Church; but even the caste cannot punish a man for
his beliefs, ban heterodoxy or prevent his following a new revolutionary
doctrine or a new spiritual leader. If it excommunicates
Christian or Muslim, it is not for religious belief or practice, but
because they break with the social rule and order. It has been
asserted in consequence that there is no such thing as a Hindu
religion, but only a Hindu social system with a bundle of the
most disparate religious beliefs and institutions. The precious
dictum that Hinduism is a mass of folk-lore with an ineffective
coat of metaphysical daubing is perhaps the final judgment of
the superficial occidental mind on this matter.
This misunderstanding springs from the total difference of
outlook on religion that divides the Indian mind and the normal
Western intelligence. The difference is so great that it could
only be bridged by a supple philosophical training or a wide
spiritual culture; but the established forms of religion and the
rigid methods of philosophical thought practised in the West
make no provision and even allow no opportunity for either.
To the Indian mind the least important part of religion is its
dogma; the religious spirit matters, not the theological credo.
On the contrary to theWestern mind a fixed intellectual belief is
the most important part of a cult; it is its core of meaning, it is
the thing that distinguishes it from others. For it is its formulated
beliefs that make it either a true or a false religion, according
as it agrees or does not agree with the credo of its critic. This
notion, however foolish and shallow, is a necessary consequence
Indian Spirituality and Life – 1 181
of theWestern idea which falsely supposes that intellectual truth
is the highest verity and, even, that there is no other. The Indian
religious thinker knows that all the highest eternal verities are
truths of the spirit. The supreme truths are neither the rigid
conclusions of logical reasoning nor the affirmations of credal
statement, but fruits of the soul’s inner experience. Intellectual
truth is only one of the doors to the outer precincts of the
temple. And since intellectual truth turned towards the Infinite
must be in its very nature many-sided and not narrowly one,
the most varying intellectual beliefs can be equally true because
they mirror different facets of the Infinite. However separated
by intellectual distance, they still form so many side-entrances
which admit the mind to some faint ray from a supreme Light.
There are no true and false religions, but rather all religions are
true in their own way and degree. Each is one of the thousand
paths to the One Eternal.
CWSA Vol 20 P 178-181
An example below
A Hindu was flying from JFK New York Airport to SFO San Francisco Airport CA to attend a meeting at Monterey, CA.
An American girl was sitting on the right side, near window seat. It indeed was a long journey – it would take nearly seven hours.
He was surprised to see the young girl reading a Bible unusual of young Americans. After some time she smiled and we had few acquaintances talk.He told her that I am from India
Then suddenly the girl asked: ‘What’s your faith?’ ‘What?’ He didn’t understand the question.
‘I mean, what’s your religion? Are you a Christian? Or a Muslim?’
‘No!’ He replied, ‘He am neither Christian nor Muslim’.
Apparently she appeared shocked to listen to that. ‘Then who are you?’ “I am a Hindu”, He said.
She looked at him as if she was seeing a caged animal. She could not understand what He was talking about.
A common man in Europe or US knows about Christianity and Islam, as they are the leading religions of the world today.
But a Hindu, what?
He explained to her – I am born to a Hindu father and Hindu mother. Therefore, I am a Hindu by birth.
‘Who is your prophet?’ she asked.
‘We don’t have a prophet,’ He replied.
‘What’s your Holy Book?’
‘We don’t have a single Holy Book, but we have hundreds and thousands of philosophical and sacred scriptures,’
‘Oh, come on at least tell me who is your God?’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Like we have Jesus and Muslims have Allah – don’t you have a God?’
He thought for a moment. Muslims and Christians believe one God (Male God) who created the world and takes an interest in the humans who inhabit it. Her mind is conditioned with that kind of belief.
According to her (or anybody who doesn’t know about Hinduism), a religion needs to have one Prophet, one Holy book and one God. The mind is so conditioned and rigidly narrowed down to such a notion that anything else is not acceptable. He understood her perception and concept about faith. You can’t compare Hinduism with any of the present leading religions where you have to believe in one concept of God.
He tried to explain to her: ‘You can believe in one God and he can be a Hindu. You may believe in multiple deities and still you can be a Hindu. What’s more – you may not believe in God at all, still you can be a Hindu. An Atheist can also be a Hindu.’
This sounded very crazy to her. She couldn’t imagine a religion so unorganized, still surviving for thousands of years, even after onslaught from foreign forces.
‘I don’t understand but it seems very interesting. Are you religious?’
What can He tell to this American girl?
He said: ‘I do not go to Temple regularly. I do not make any regular rituals. I have learned some of the rituals in my younger days. I still enjoy doing it sometimes’.
‘Enjoy? Are you not afraid of God?’
‘God is a friend. No- I am not afraid of God. Nobody has made any compulsions on me to perform these rituals regularly.’
She thought for a while and then asked: ‘Have you ever thought of converting to any other religion?’
‘Why should I? Even if I challenge some of the rituals and faith in Hinduism, nobody can convert me from Hinduism. Because, being a Hindu allows me to think independently and objectively, without conditioning. I remain as a Hindu never by force, but choice.’ He told her that Hinduism is not a religion, but a set of beliefs and practices. It is not a religion like Christianity or Islam because it is not founded by any one person or does not have an organized controlling body like the Church or the Order, I added. There is no institution or authority..
‘So, you don’t believe in God?’ she wanted everything in black and white.
‘I didn’t say that. I do not discard the divine reality. Our scripture, or Sruthis or Smrithis – Vedas and Upanishads or the Gita – say God might be there or he might not be there. But we pray to that supreme abstract authority (Para Brahma) that is the creator of this universe.’
‘Why can’t you believe in one personal God?’
‘We have a concept – abstract – not a personal god. The concept or notion of a personal God, hiding behind the clouds of secrecy, telling us irrational stories through few men whom he sends as messengers, demanding us to worship him or punish us, does not make sense. I don’t think that God is as silly as an autocratic emperor who wants others to respect him or fear him.’ He told her that such notions are just fancies of less educated human imagination and fallacies, adding that generally ethnic religious practitioners in Hinduism believe in personal Gods. The entry level Hinduism has over-whelming superstitions too. The philosophical side of Hinduism negates all superstitions.
‘Good that you agree God might exist. You told that you pray. What is your prayer then?’
‘Loka Samastha Sukino Bhavantu. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti,’
लोका समस्ता सुखिनो भवन्तु !!! ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः !!!
‘Funny,’ she laughed, ‘What does it mean?’
‘May all the beings in all the worlds be happy. Let there be Peace, Peace,and Peace every where.’
‘Hmm ..very interesting. I want to learn more about this religion. It is so democratic, broad-minded and free’ she exclaimed.
‘The fact is Hinduism is a religion of the individual, for the individual and by the individual with its roots in the Vedas and the Bhagavad-Gita. It is all about an individual approaching a personal God in an individual way according to his temperament and inner evolution – it is as simple as that.’
‘How does anybody convert to Hinduism?’
‘Nobody can convert you to Hinduism, because it is not a religion, but it is a Culture, a way of leaving life, a set of beliefs and practices. Everything is acceptable in Hinduism because there is no single Authority or Organization either to accept you or to reject you or to oppose you on behalf of Hinduism.’
He told her – if you look for meaning in life, don’t look for it in religions; don’t go from one cult to another or from one Guru to the next.
For a real seeker, He told her, the Bible itself gives guidelines when it says ‘ Kingdom of God is within you.’ I reminded her of Christ’s teaching about the love that we have for each other. That is where you can find the meaning of life.
Loving each and every creation of the God is absolute and real. ‘Isavasyam idam sarvam’ Isam (the God) is present (inhabits) here everywhere – nothing exists separate from the God, because God is present everywhere. Respect every living being and non-living things as God. That’s what Hinduism teaches you.
Hinduism is referred to as Sanathana Dharma, the eternal faith. It is based on the practice of Dharma, the code of life. The most important aspect of Hinduism is being truthful to oneself. Hinduism has no monopoly on ideas. It is open to all. Hindus believe in one God (not a personal one) expressed in different forms. For them, God is timeless and formless entity.
Ancestors of today’s Hindus believe in eternal truths and cosmic laws and these truths are opened to anyone who seeks them. But there is a section of Hindus who are either superstitious or turned fanatic to make this an organized religion like others. The British coin the word ‘Hindu’ and considered it as a religion.
He said: ‘Religions have become an MLM (multi-level- marketing) industry that has been trying to expand the market share by conversion. The biggest business in today’s world is Spirituality. Hinduism is no exception’
He said “I am a Hindu primarily because it professes Non-violence – ‘Ahimsa Paramo Dharma’ means – Non violence is the highest duty. I am a Hindu because it doesn’t condition my mind with any faith system.
A man/woman who changes his/her birth religion to another religion is a fake and does not value his/her morals, culture and values in life.
Hinduism is the original rather a natural yet a logical and satisfying spiritual, personal and a scientific way of leaving a life..