Why is it difficult to define a Hindu and Hinduism?

Man’s attempts to figure out his existence has been ceaseless since time immemorial. This has resulted in the formation and dissolution of various ideologies and religions around the globe. These ideologies and religions have also majorly determined the systems of societal habits and shaped pursuits which can accommodate the struggle for survival. Many devastating wars have been fought and conquests claimed to establish dominance by usurping the existing systems. Sometimes in the name of religion and sometimes in the name of advancement; the common force has been to dominate. And the need to dominate, psychology suggests, springs from insecurity. Insecurity has direct relevance to existence. It implies a fear of losing one’s existence.

The oldest known literary compilation in the world is The Veda. Wherever Veda got transmitted, there it influenced human thinking so deeply that it shaped the identity, culture and ways of living for those people. The knowledge therein remained irrefutable even to the wisest. And it’s content ever attractive, since it spoke on life. This made it popular in society as it spread through word of mouth. But, as humans, people also want quick, easy solutions and applications. They do not have time, leisure or inclinations to engage in growing the understanding first, which should propel the life direction. They are left with the choice to accept what is told and fall risk to becoming rigid, and prey to blind faith. Or another choice remains, is to just reject it, and keep searching for different ways and methods, untried before, fuelling newer ideologies with an attempt to restructure society.

A society which had embraced the Veda’s way of life, over time, shows all the three firmly established. Currently seen as well there are people who have the availability of the correct knowledge and understanding of the Veda with which they lead their life.  Then there are people who have blind faith on prevailing systems with which they lead their lives. And then there are the new systems emerging every now and then with a defying vision to direct lives. There are people who understand what their roots uphold, and they are happy to abide in it. There are people who have no understanding what their customs and rituals or festivals truly meant but they blindly follow it, and there are people who are rebellious about it and try to restructure their life with a recent or experimental ideology. It is this amalgamation which makes it difficult to define Hindu and Hinduism.  For all of them come under the vast canopy of The Veda.

Geography was not concretely laid out when The Veda ruled the thought. As time advanced, and man globally continued to find meaning to his existence, intermingling with other regions became accessible. The ‘force of domination’ on geography became essential. For once you travelled to another land, your survival and insecurities had to play up and find their ground! Geographies tried to become distinct and people started to group to preserve their ideologies which sustained their predecessors.

Bhārata was the name of the area where the Veda ruled the life. And in the knowledge of the Veda, is the knowledge of one’s existence. Thus, these sets of people had a very low sense of insecurity, almost none. And hence they did not feel any need to dominate. To the extent that they did not even feel the need to travel to another land except to trade! Worse still, so lacking the sense of insecurity was, that even the need to defend when attacked was sparse! But, Bhārata was advanced due to the liberal way in which Vedās had educated man. This became a focus of many invasions. Every invasion brought with it new diverse ideological thoughts, customs, habits to be integrated in the mainstream. The fallout was that the method which educated the correct understanding of The Veda got intercepted by diverting energies to giving explanations to the non conformers. This added layers of contextual reasoning and integrated it to the main body of knowledge. Making it more and more difficult for the blind believer to get educated. The distance between the three sections, knowledge based, faith based and defiance based kept growing. And in the present, the latest invasion of Britishers almost broke the link of transmission of correct understanding of the Veda! Making it very difficult to define or even explain who is a Hindu and what is Hinduism especially to the one who have been integrated to this land by their ancestors but were not rooted here in the times when knowledge prevailed life!

Our ancestors in the form of great visionaries struggled hard to uphold and teach the correct understanding of The Veda. Only because it is that system of thinking, following which one knows the Truth of one’s existence, which alone ends all insecurities and miseries. There is death of the urge for violence and birth of compassion. This is Hinduism and the knower of it, A Hindu!

Wishing everyone a Happy Sankranti! Invoking the grace of Surya Devata to shine once again upon Bharata! Only this time, the lands have merged! Sarvebhya sukhino bhavantu! May wisdom prevail in all the beings! OM.

© Deepti Vishwanath. 🙏


Pic courtesy – google.com

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Significance of a religious life.

In Vedās, a religious life is prescribed for all those who have :

a. Absence of Ātma Brahman Aikya jñanam.
b. Who have rāga-dveśa.

Absence of knowledge that the real nature of oneself- Ātma, is in fact, Brahman – the vast. Popularly referred to as Self-knowledge. The Self here is Ātma as oneself, and not the notion that I am an individual. This absence is referred to as Self-ignorance or simply ignorance. Ignorance is not referring to absence of any objective knowledge, like that of Physics, Economics etc. But it is stating the ignorance regarding Self-knowledge.

In the absence of Self -knowledge, the obvious outcome is “I am an individual”. And in such a notion of individuality, obvious is the presence of rāga-dveśa, likes and dislikes.

Man is afflicted by his Self ignorance primarily. It is the root cause of “ALL” the sorrows. Sprouting from it, man then gets afflicted by the likes-dislikes. In essence, the Vedās point out that a human being, irrespective of his gender, race, colour etc. spends away his life being constantly disturbed. Sorrow is encompassing all the felt disturbances.

But, an human being, again irrespective of his gender, race, colour etc. also has the equipped faculties, to gain this Self-knowledge. In the presence of which the root of Self -ignorance gets uprooted, there is then no locus for the individuality, and thus, no likes and dislikes get formed. The person of Self-knowledge, Such a human is referred to as “liberated”. Having fulfilled his human birth potential.

To uproot Self-ignorance, a lot of internal preparation is required. Just as to sow a seed, the soil is tilled; so too, for Self-knowledge, the human mind needs tilling.

This tilling is the job of a religious life.

Does every religion then take one to Self-knowledge?

No. Though ALL religions, when followed, cultivate the soil.

Vedic vision held the performance of the Vedic Karmas as religious. This was the karma-kanda, portion of Vedās detailing the knowledge regarding Karmas to be performed as per your notions of individuality. Abiding in the performance of the prescribed Karmās was being religious.

What was the advantage of this vision? The uniqueness of the vision of the Vedas? To the extent a person abided in his ordained karma, to that an extent indirectly his internal preparation took place. The source of sorrow coming from likes-dislikes got managed. And as one got prepared, the Vedās effortlessly revealed Ātma-jñana, through the Vedānta part, also called the Upanishads. Knowing which the final source of sorrow was destroyed. The one with Self-knowledge, now is the One. Where there is no sorrow. For sorrow to be, there has to be duality. But, for the Ātma-jñani, where is the other?

Thus, Vedic Karmās relevance as a religious life. And as with any knowledge, the chances of it being understood is relative, so too with Vedic knowledge. And the non-understanding leading to misunderstanding gets compounded when the knowledge is regarding the very Subject, the person, who has to re-know himself. This leads to layers and layers of deep-rooted superstitions, fanaticism, blind beliefs, rigid adherences, which more often destroy the very purpose of knowledge. And moreover, destroy the very potential of a human existence.

Iśvara is Bhagavān

Iśvara comes from the root Isha- ‘to rule’ ‘ईश्-शासने’। The one who governs. Bhagavān is a word which is a गुण वाचक । Guṇa vāchaka means, those words which indicate the inherent qualities of the one it is used for. It is derived as भग + वान ।  All Sanskrit words have a root base from which derivations are formed as per the intention of the usage. In the word ‘Bhagavān‘ the root is ‘bhaga‘ and it has the meanings of six qualities. Bhaga भग – ऐश्वर्य  aiśvarya, वीर्य vīrya, यश yaśa, श्री śrī, वैराग्य vairāgya एवं and मोक्ष mokṣa freedom. ऐश्वर्य aiśvarya means majesty, Lordliness. वीर्य vīrya means strength,  यश yaśa means fame, श्री śrī means wealth, prosperity, वैराग्य vairāgya means detachment and मोक्ष mokṣa means absolute freedom. These are mentioned in various Purāṇas, with a slight change in the list of the six. This specific list mentioned above comes in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa and has been quoted by Śri Ādi Śaṅkarācharya, in the Bhagavad Gītā, Ch4, Vs 37 as –

“ऐश्वर्यस्य समग्रस्य वीर्यस्य यशसः श्रीयः । वैराग्यस्याथ मोक्षस्य षण्णां भग इतीरणा ।।(विष्णुपु. ६।५।७४)

Aiśvaryasya samagrasya vīryasya yaśsaḥ śrīyaḥ . Vairagyasyātha mokṣasya ṣaṇṇām bhaga itīraṇā . (Viṣṇu Purāṇa 6.5.74) 

The -वान्, vān suffix is used to denote the ‘possessor of’; so Bhagavān means the one who possesses the above mentioned qualities inherently, in wholeness. Like in the example of धनवान dhanavān means the one who possesses wealth in abundance. Buddhimān means one full of Buddhi – discerning thinking.

Idea being, all the qualities which we perceive as wonderful, extraordinary, or even  ultimate ends, the one who has them in full measure, developed fully, and the qualities are there constantly, steadily and not sporadically, such a one is called a Bhagavān.

Iśvara means Bhagavān – with such a definition. Iśvara who is Bhagavān.

If there are two words, Iśvara and Bhagavān can they not mean the two are different?

The difference is this only. Iśvara is used as a noun. And Bhagavān is used as an adjective. Thus when Iśvara has been given a name like Brahmā -the originator; Viṣṇu – the sustainer, or Śiva the destroyer, he is qualified as Bhagavān Viṣṇu etc. which in understanding becomes the Iśvara with all the complete qualties himself is now The Viṣṇu etc.

Difference of usage between Bhagavān and Devatā? None. Since Bhagavān is an adjective, even Devatās are called Bhagavān. In fact, due to the meaning of Bhagavān, it gets used even for someone whom we look upon as great. We do address them in Hindi as ‘Hey Bhagavan!’ हे भगवन्!

Thus, we do see that in the translations of the Vedic thought in English, Bhagavān is also God, Iśvara is also God, Devatā is also God. But in the Vedic thought they are all distinct. This has been one of the major sources of confusion among the seekers of mokṣa born and brought up in the era – “independent India.”

Vedās talk about kārmā – the realms of Vedic actions, upāsanā -the realms of worship and meditations, and jñana – the realm of knowledge of oneself, ātmajñana. This is for the sake of man alone. And not for Iśvara or God. But Iśvara and Devatās are important for those ends to be achieved respectively for which Karma, Upāsana and Jñana are the means, sādhanās.

Deepti Vishwanath