Essence of Hinduism

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THE ESSENCE OF HINDUISMByM. K. GANDHIComplied and edited byV. B. KHERNAVAJIVAN PUBLISHING HOUSEAHMEDABAD-380 014Fifty RupeesThe Navajivan Trust, 1987First Edition, 2,000 Copies, August, 1987Second Edition, Copies, May, 1996Printer and PublisherJitendra T. DesaiNavajivan MudranalayaAhmedabad-380 014TO THE READERIwouldliketosaytothediligentreaderofmywritingsandtootherswhoareinterestedinthemthatIamnotatallconcernedwithappearingtobeconsistent.InmysearchafterTruthIhavediscardedmany ideas and learnt many new things. Old as I am in age, I have nofeelingthatIhaveceasedtogrowinwardlyorthatmygrowthwillstopatthedissolutionoftheflesh.WhatIamconcernedwithismyreadiness to obey the call of Truth, my God, from moment to moment,and therefore, when anybody finds any inconsistency between any twowritings of mine, if he has still faith in my sanity, he would do well tochoose the later of the two on the same subject.M. K. GandhiHarijan, 29-4-1933, p. 2[iii][ iv ]EDITORIAL NOTEHinduismdiffersfromotherfaithslikeChristianityandIslamintwo ways. First of all, it does not believe in any dogma and rejects theexclusiveclaimofanyindividual,howeverhighlyevolved,tothemonopolyofTruth.ItbelievesthattheSupremeBeingmaybeapproachedthroughseveralpathssuchasKnowledge(Dnyana),Devotion(Bhakti),Action(Karma),andYoga(PsychicalControl).Infact, in actual life, the path trodden by a seeker may be a combinationoftwoormoreofthesedisciplines,dependingonthechoiceoftheindividualinconsonancewithhistemperamentaptitudeandattitude.Hinduismisnotfoundedbyanyindividual;ithasgrownorevolvednaturally,and,therefore,remainsgloriouslyundefined.Infact,itcannot be defined precisely as any other religion can be. However, thefollowingdescriptionthereofbyaforeignthinkerisnearerthemarkthan any other: HInduism is hardly a dogma but a working hypothesisofhumanconductadaptedtodifferentstagesofspiritualdevelopmentanddifferentconditionsoflife.Startingwiththisworkingdefinition,let us probe a little more into the subject.What is really meant by Dharma or Religion? Broadly speaking,theuniversalmorallawgoverningboththesacredandtemporalaspects of human life is known as Dharma. Confucius has described inverysignificantandprofoundwordshowtheuniversalmorallawoperates. He says :TheordinanceofGodiswhatwecallthelawofourbeing.Tofulfilthelawofourbeingiswhatwecallthemorallaw.Themorallaw when reduced to a system is what we call religion.Themorallawisalawfromwhoseoperationwecannotforoneinstantinourexistenceescape.Alawfromwhichweescapeisnotthemorallaw.Whereforeitisthatthemoralmanwatchesdiligently . . . over his secret thoughts.Whenthepassionssuchasjoy,anger,griefandpleasurehavenotawakened,thatisourtrueself,ormoralbeing.Whenthesepassionsawakenandeachandallattainduemeasureanddegree,thatisthemoralorder.Ourtrueselformoralbeingisthegreatrealityofexistence, and moral order is the universal law in the world.[iv][ v ]Whentruemoralbeingandmoralorderarerealized,theuniverse then becomes a cosmos and all things attain their full growthand development.1TheabovequestionsuccinctlybringsouthowintegrationofthemoralbeingandmoralorderalonecanusherintheuniversetheKingdom of Heaven.ItisundeniablethataLawofPowerhigherthanhumanwillregulatesevents. WemayallhaveourdifferentdefinitionsoftheLaworPower.Infact,therewouldbeasmanydefinitionsoftheLawastherearemenandwomen.Butbeyondallthatvarietyofdefinitionstherewouldbeacertainsamenesswhichwouldbeunmistakable.Fortherootisone.GandhijidescribestheLawasthatindefinablesomethingwhichweallfeelbutwhichwedonotknow.IfitwerepossibleforthehumantonguetogivethefullestdescriptionofthatLaworPowerinoneword,GandhijiwouldcallitTRUTH,asittendstodisaramanycriticismnaturally.Andacontinuousandrelentlesssearch,after Truthwouldbythesummumbonumofhumanlife.SpeakingofthisconceptionofthescientificidealinhisfamouslettertoCharlesKingsley,T.H.Huxleyobserved,Sitdownbeforefact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion,follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses Natureleads or youshalllearnnothing.ThispursuitofTruthisalsotheidealofHinduismthoughthemeansfordiscoveryofphysicalandspirituallawsmustnaturallyvarybutthebasicscientificattitudeandtemperamentareidenticalinboththecases.AscientisttriestounderstandtheultimateTruththroughaseriesofsteps,meticulouslyanalysingeachstep.ButinancientIndiasageswentstraighttotheRealitywiththehelpofcertainmentalparadigms(meditationformulae).2SaysPaulDeussen,ThatIndiamorethananyothercountryisthelandofsymbolsisowingtothenatureofIndianthought,whichapplieditselftothemostabstruseproblemsbeforeitwas even remotely in a position to treat them intelligently.3TheadviceofBuddha,oneofthegreatestofHindus,toKalamas, a Kshatriya tribe of Kosaldesh, was also in keeping with thisscientificideal.Hesaid,DonotacceptwhatIhavesaidtoyou1 Juan Mascaro, Lamps of Fire, Methuen, London, 1961, p. 32.2 Prabuddha Bharat, Editorial, May 1981, p. 202 at p. 2063PaulDeussen,ThePhilosophyoftheUpanishads,DoverPublicationInc., New York, 1950, p. 120[ vi ]becauseithasbeensosaidinthepast;donotacceptitbecauseithasbeen handed down by tradition; do not accept it thinking it may be so;donotacceptitbecauseitisalsointheholyscriptures;donotacceptit because it can be proved by inference; do not accept itthinking it iswordlywisdom;donotacceptitbecauseitseemstobeplausible;donotacceptitbecauseitissaidbyafamousorholymonk;butifyoufindthatitappealstoyoursenseofdiscriminationandconscienceasbeingconducivetoyourbenefitandhappiness,thenacceptitandliveup to it.WhenstoningtodeathforapostasywassoughttobedefendedbyheadsofmanyIslamicbodiesasbeingenjoinedintheKoran,Gandhijiquestionedthemoralityofthemethodunderanycircumstance whatsoever and wrote in a forthright manner:Everyformulaofeveryreligionhas,inthisageofreason,tosubmit to the acid test of reason and universal justice if it is to ask foruniversalassent.Errorcanclaimnoexemptionevenifitcanbesupportedbythescripturesoftheworld.(YoungIndia,20-2-1925,p.74)IwouldliketosaythateventheteachingsthemselvesoftheKorancannotbeexemptfromcriticism.Everytruescriptureonlygainsbycriticism.Afterallwehavenootherguidebutourreasontotelluswhatmayberegardedasrevealedandwhatmaynotbe....Ifully endorse the Maulanas statement that error is a relative term. Butweknowasamatteroffactthatsomethingsareuniversallyacceptedas errors. Death by torture is, I expect, such an error. (Young India, 5-3-1925, p. 181)Everythinghastosubmittothetestofreason....Thereareundoubtedlythingsintheworldwhichtranscendreason.Wedonotrefusetobringthemontheanvilofreasonbuttheywillnotcomethemselves. By their very nature they defy reason. Such is the mysteryof the Deity. It is not inconsistent with reason, it is beyond it. (YoungIndia, 26-3-1925, p. 110)TheaboveextractsfromGandhijisarticlestrulysumuptheattitudeofHinduismtothequestionswhicharisefordecisionintheapplicationofthecriterionofTruthtomatterspertainingtopublicmorality and general humanity.TheHinduclassicalreligiousthoughtisclassifiedundertwogroups,viz.ShrutisandSmritisincludingDharmashastra.ShrutiswhichincludeVedasandUpanishadscontainknowledgeofRealityAsItIswhichcanbeverifiedandisuniversalinitscharacter.As[ vii ]suchitmaybecharacterisedasPHILOSOPHIAPERENNISorPerennialPhilosophy.ThePerennialPhilosophyisprimarilyconcernedwiththeone,divineRealitysubstantialtothemanifoldworld of things and lives and minds. But the nature of this one Realityissuchthatitcannotbedirectlyandimmediatelyapprehendedexceptbythosewhohavechosentofulfilcertainconditions,makingthemselvesloving,pureinheart,andpoorinspirit.Whyshouldthisbeso?Wedonotknow.Itisjustoneofthosefactswhichwehavetoaccept,whetherwelikethemornotandhoweverimplausibleandunlikely they may seem. . . . It is only be making physical experimentsthat we can discover the intimate nature of matter and its potentialities.And it is only by making psychological and moral experiments that wecandiscovertheintimatenatureofmindanditspotentialities.Intheordinarycircumstancesofaveragesensuallifethesepotentialitiesofthe mind remain latent and unmanifested. If we would realize them, wemust fulfil certain conditions and obey certain rules, which experiencehas shown empirically to be valid.4TheeternalTruthmayalsobeexplainedinanotherway.ThisgreatUniverseispervadedbytheSpirit.TheSpirit(Self)isoneunmoving;He(It)isswifterthanthemind.ThesensescannotreachHim(It).He(It)iseverbeyondthem.Unmoving,He(It)outrunsthepursuitbysenses.OutoftheSpirit(Self)comesthebreaththatisthelifeofallthings.He(It)movesandHe(It)movesnot.He(It)isfar,andHe(It)isnear.He(It)iswithinall,andHe(It)isoutsideall.(Ishopanishad,4and5).Inotherwords,theSpiritorthePowerthatsustainstheUniverseisimmanent,universalandtranscendental.Butthat Spirit which is consciousness raised to infinity, in order to becomeimmanent,mustruleandtransformthehumanheart.WithNishkamaKarmaordesirelessactionandpureandsingle-mindeddevotion,theseekerofTruthcanovercomedeathandwiththetranscendentalknowledgecanhavedirectperceptionoftheDivineRealityandattainimmortality. (Ishopanishad, 11 and 14)Smiritsderivetheiroriginandalsoauthorityfromapersonalfounder and deal with social and religious rules and regulations. Theselawscanbemodifiedoraltered,asacodethatsustainsthesocietyinoneagemaychokeitinanotherage.Andassocio-economicconditionschangewiththechangingtechnology,whichinturninfluencethepoliticalstructure,lawsneedtoberecastand4.AldousHuxley,ThePerennialPhilosophy,Chatto&Windus,London,1946,Introduction,pp.2-3[ viii ]reinterpretedinthelightofthemilieuandcontextofthechangingconditions.Ifthelawsdonotkeeppacewithorareoutofstepwiththe changing conditions, they can be the cause of strangling the socialorganismorofsocialupheavals,sometimesviolentandbloody.Soitisprudentandinsocialinteresttoleavetheformulation,amendmentandreinterpretationoflawstothepoliticalconstitutionsandsocialconscience.ThatshowtheHinduLawhasbeencodifiedbytheLokaSabha after the attainment of independence by India, to bring it in linewith the modern life, conditions and ideas.ThedivisionofreligiousthoughtintotheKnowledgeoftheSpirit or Divine Reality and the Religious and Social Code of ConductisauniquefeatureofHinduismandisnottobefoundinotherreligionssaidtoberevealed.ThewisdomofthiscourseofactioncanbestudiedfromtherecordofHinduism.NowarshavebeenfoughtinthenameofHinduism(whichincludesBuddhismandJainism)unlikethemedievalreligiouscrusadesbetweenIslamicandChristian potentates. Nor have there been any inquisitions in Hinduismforquestioninganyreligiousbelief.Eventhough,BuddhismwastheStateReligionofthekingdomfoundedbyAshoka,thewisestandthegreatestkinginhumanhistory,itwastrulysecularinoutlookanddidnotdiscriminateagainstHindusimandJainism.ItwasagainaHindukinginGujaratwhogavesheltertoParsiswhentheyfledfromPersiato escape religious persecution at the hands of Muslim zealots.TheflexibilityandcatholicityofHinducivilizationenablesheratoncetorenewherselfintermsofherownessentialnatureandtochangeherselfsoastobringherselfinharmonywiththeformofageinwhichwelive.Inplainterms,theancientIndianspirittakesonanewformwithoutceasingtobeitself.Indiasreligionshaveallbeennatural religions. They have grown and prospered naturally. They werenotself-awarebecausetheywereexpressionsofthecosmicreality.Theydidnotdefinethemselves.ButwhentheChristianchallengearose,theyhadtodefinethemselves.Theydid.Lokamanyas,GandhijisandAurobindoscommentariesontheGitawerepartofthat effort at self-definition. . . . The Gita and the two epics, RamayanaandMahabharata,nowsellinlakhsofcopiesyearafteryear.ThisintellectualizationofthelifeoftheSpirit,ifwemaysodescribethisphenomenon, has deprived it of some of its natural flow but it has alsogiven a strength which is valuable in our days.5Contrastingtheresponseoftheworldof Arab-IslamtoWesternculture,GirilalJainopinesthatrefusingtobesimilarlycreativeand[ ix ]flexible in the interpretation of the Koran, the Hadith and the Sunnah,ithasnotonlydenieditselfasimilaradvantagebutasaresult,fallenintoadeepstateofshockanddespair.ItisundeniablethatbecausealargemajorityofIndiansprofessHinduismthatdemocracyhassucceededinIndiawhileithasfailedtotakerootsinothercountriesofthethirdworld.Hinduismabhorsstagnation.HinduismislikethemightyGangeswhichhasbeenjoinedinitsonwardflowbyotherstreamsandtributaries.UnfortunatelyIslamandChristianitywhichcametoIndiaasappendagesofforeignconquerors,didnotminglewiththemainstreamthoughtheyundoubtedlyinter-actedwithHinduism and influenced each other.Another distinctive feature of Hinduism is the doctrine of karmaandrebirth.Transmigrationisnotatheorybutafact.Gandhijialsobelievedinfurtherlifeandinthecontinuityofkarmathroughsuccessive births. What we sow here, we must reap here and elsewherethereisnoescape.Thelawofkarmaisrelentless.However,repentanceevenduringoneslastmomentswillwashawaysinandsterilizeitofconsequences.AmongHinduismscontributionstotheworldaretheideasofmansidentitywiththedumbcreationandfourashramas.Thereaderwillfindreferencestotheseandmanyotherideas in the pages of this Book.One of the texts in the Smritis says that whatever is followed bythelearned,thegoodandthosewhoarefreefromangerandattachmentandwhateverisexperiencedintheheartisdharmaorreligion. Gandhiji though not an acharya or an crudite scholar like AdiShankaracharya, is the authentic voice of age-old Hinduism in moderntimeswhohasgivenitanewturnanddirection.HecalledhisautobiographyTheStoryofMyExperimentswithTruth.Hefoundafteralong,arduousandrelentlesssearchforTruththatHinduismsatisfiedallhishighestmoralaspirationsandhefoundsolaceandafriend,guideandphilosopherintheBhagavadGita.Hesays,It(theGita)isacceptedbyallHindusectsasauthoritative.Itisfreefromanyformofdogma.Inashortcompassitgivesacompletereasonedmoralcode.Itsatisfiesboththeintellectandtheheart.Itisthusbothphilosophicalanddevotional.Itsappealisuniversal.Thelanguageisincredibly simple.ToallGandhijirecommendswithoutanyhesitationNamaandprayerforpurificationoftheirmindsandtranscending5.GirilalJain,AssessingIndiasProgress,TimesofIndia,Bombay,dated15-8-1986[ x ]consciouesness. In consonance with the discourse in Chapter 12 of theGita,Gandhijiadvisesaseekertobecomeadevoteeonewayorotherand from his own experience recommends Nama and prayer.TheEssenceofHinduismissoplannedandarrangedthateachsectionnaturallyleadstothenextone.ThefirstchapterexaminesthemoralbasisofHinduism.ThenatureoftheuniversalMoralLaworPowerthatsustainstheuniverseisdescribedinthesecondchapter.How can a seeker come face to face with the Supreme Spirit throughfaithortrainedreasonorajudiciouscombinationofboth?Ananswerto this conundrun will be found in the third chapter. The Bhagvad GitaisanUpanishad,atextonBrahmavidyaandanexpositionofyoga-shastraandnobookonHinduismcanbesaidtobecompletewithoutareferencetoit.InfactitcanbesaidtobetheonlybookwhichharmonizesalltheapproachestotheSupremeandhenceGandhijisviewsonGitafindaplaceofhonourinthisCollection.Thebeatentracksofamiliartoallandsoeasyforalltotread,viz.,Namaandprayer is dealt with in the last chapter.ThisBookisprimarilymeantforlayreadersandHinduboysand girls attending English medium schools and brought up in familieswithoutanyreligiousbackground,orinwhichreligionhasaminimalinfluence.Assuch,itwillserveasanintroductiontoHinduism.Forfurtherstudy,theinterestedreadermayrefertotheexhaustivecollectioninthreevolumestitledInSearchoftheSupremebyGandhiji.12-10-1986 V. B. KherGLOSSARYAcharyaPreceptorAhimsaNon-violence; loveAntyajAn outcasteAshramAplaceofspiritualretirement;ahermitage;aplaceforstudy and disciplining lifeAsuraDemonAtmanThe Self; the SoulAvatarAnincarnationofGod.Thiswordusuallyindicatesthetenincarnations of Vishnu, the God of preservation and sustenanceBhagvadgita(popularlyknownasGita)apartofthegreatHinduepic Mahabharata wherein Krishna is the divine heroBhajanHymnBhaktaDevoteeBhaktiDevotionBhatthaDaily allowanceBrahmcharayaContinence; celibacy; self-control; also the first stageofahighcasteHindus[usuallyreferredtoas