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An Introduction to Hindu Philosophy, Religion and Culture – 1

Hindu Religion and its Philosophy is very complex.

Like any other subject it requires deep study to understand and long practice to realize. It is therefore not surprising that the majority of us give little serious attention. We pick up a little knowledge here and there by listening to others equally ignorant of the subject.

As Hindus, however, we ought to and must have basic knowledge of our religion, philosophy and culture, if only to avoid being embarrassed in a mixed crowd such as what we find in a school, university or at a work place.

By a series of papers on the subject I hope to explore with you what our Sanatan Dharma really is. Let me hasten to add that I am only a student myself, and my aim is to embark on a course of study with you.

Let us therefore begin at the beginning.

Ever since man began to think, he has been puzzled by the events taking place around him. The power of the elements of nature such as the Sun, The Moon and the Stars, wind, water and fire and various others awed him. He began to offer prayers and sacrifices to appease them. This was the beginning of Religion. Throughout the world all human races have developed this way. Archaeologists have found thousands of different religious practices among different peoples of the world.

Yet we now find only about a dozen major religions in the world. Why? This is because a religion that has no written guidance gets lost in a series of transformations that take place over the ages. It disintegrates and loses its individuality. Written scriptures are indispensable to all religions. They save religions from mutations and from extinction.

A faith that draws sanction and inspiration from a sacred book is able to hold its own. It has in such a Holy book authorative statements to encounter the opposition and meet the attacks of the heterodox and the unbeliever. The religions of the world that have survived today are the ones’ which had their own scripture for guidance. Bible is the book of Christians, Koran is the book of Muslims. The scriptures of the Buddhist is the sacred collections of all the enlightened utterances of the Buddha, known as the Dharmapada, and so have all the other religions.

But what of the Hindu?

What is the name of Hindu Holy book?

Among the followers of different religions, he alone is bewildered in regard to this question. He does not know which book he may term his scripture. If a mention is made of the Vedas he confesses he has never had an occasion to see or handle such books as these, let alone the question of getting acquainted with their contents. (You can see a few Vedic books at the British Musuem) One may mention one or the other of the books from which one may draw inspiration and guidance but would hesitate to make any specific pronouncement. This dilemma is due to the immensity of the Hindu scripture. Vedas are the direct or indirect sources of all the sacred books pertaining to Hinduism. While several portions of the Vedas have become extinct in the march of time the cream of the Vedas – the Upanishads – have been piously guarded against extinction and mutilation. All the systems of philosophy in India derive their inspiration and authority from these Upanishads. These are the revealed knowledge of our sages or Rishis. A synopsis and classification of the contents of the Upanishads is known as Brahma Sutras or the Vedanta Sutras. These Sutras are aphorisms which are difficult to understand without a commentary to explain the Philosophy of Vedanta.

But apart from the Vedas and the Brahma Sutras we have the Bhagavad Gita or the Song of God. It is the essence of the Upanishads in the sense that the Vedanta Philosophy is made easy of understanding. One who has studied and understood the Bhagavad Gita may be said to have caught the cardinal teachings of the Upanishads.

These three books, namely, the Vedas or the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, together called the Scriptural Trinity are the Holy Books of the Hindu. They constitute the final authority on scriptural matters. There is no conflict of views among these three. They explain the ultimate Reality and the means of realizing. There is not a single cardinal point in Hinduism that is not touched in these books. All other books simply detail what is pithily stated in the Scriptural Trinity.

The name Veda, signifying wisdom, suggest the road which the Vedic sages travelled was the road of those who seek to understand.

The four most important Vedas are: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.

India developed six main systems of Philosophy namely:

(1) Nyaya or logical realism,

(2) Vaisesika or realistic pluralism,

(3) Samkhya or evolutionary dualism,

(4) Yoga or diciplined meditation,

(5) Purva Mimamsa, the earlier interpretative investigations of      the Vedas, relating to conduct,

(6) Uttara Mimamsa or later investigations of the Vedas, relating     to knowledge, also called Vedanta, the “end of the Vedas“.

There are also hundreds of sub-systems of philosophy in India.

In India, philosophy is for life; it is to be lived. It is not enough to know the truth; the truth must be lived. The goal of the Hindu is not only to know the ultimate truth but also to realize it, to become one with it.

(Compiled by Keshavlal J Patel, from various Philosophical and Religious Texts)



An Introduction to Hindu Philosophy, Religion and Culture – 2

We learnt that the Vedas, Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, together called the Scriptual Trinity are the Holy Books of the Hindu. We also mentioned the names of the six main philosophies developed from the Vedic thought.

Let us now look at some of the questions relating to the Vedas.

What are the Vedas?

There are four main Vedas.

Rig Veda – this comprises 1017 hymns divided into ten books and represents the earliest phase of the evolution of religious consciousness.

Yajur Veda – this deals with sacrificial formulas.

Sama Veda – This refers to melodies.

Atharva Veda – this describes spells and incantations for healing of diseases and are the beginning of Indian medical science.

These four are considered the original Vedas. However, the principal teachers of Vedic Philosophy – Sankaracharya, Ramanuja and Madhvacharya, mentions that the concluding portions of the Vedas – the Upanisads numbering over a hundred books which form the basis of Vedanta Philosophy, the historic facts and stories from the Puranas, the Itihasas, like the Epics Mahabharata which incorporates the Bhagavad Gita, and the Ramayana, to be the fifth Veda.

These are all (sruti) revealed Holy books of Hinduism.

The Vedic scriptures (sastras) comprise a harmonious whole with a harmonious conclusion (siddhanta) and a study of them is necessary for the proper understanding of subsequent thought, practices and philosophies. Vedas are a collection which represents the thought of several generations of thinkers indicating marked development from “polytheistic” religion to monostic philosophy.

How old are the Vedas?

There is evidence to indicate with some certainty that the hymns were current fifteen centuries before Christ in the arrangement in which we have them at the present time. It is believed however that a long time must have elapsed between the composition and the compilation of the hymns.

What are the Essential Elements of the Vedas?

The Vedas and the Upanisads have dominated Indian philosophy, religion and life for over three thousand years. Though remote in time from us, the Upanisads are not remote in thought. The ideals which haunted the thinkers of the Upanisads – the ideal of man’s ultimate beautitude, the perfection of knowledge, the vision of the real in which the religious hunger of the mystic for direct vision and the philosopher’s ceaseless quest for truth are both satisfied – is still our ideal today.

Vedic thought discuss three aspects of the Absolute Truth.

Brahman – The Upanisads focus upon Brahman, the impersonal, all pervasive aspect of the Absolute Truth.

Paramatama – The Yoga System focus upon the Paramatama, the eternal individual Self.

Bhagawan – The Bhagavad Gita and the Puranas focus upon the Supreme Being possessing all attributes.

All three aspects are in reality One, seen from different angles.

According to Vedas the Universe is constituted of:

three factors -time, space and causation.

three Gunas (ingredients) – sattava, rajas and tamas.

three functions – creation, preservation and destruction.

We shall examine these in detail later, for now let us see

What is Bhagavad Gita?

The Bhagavad Gita is a religious classic. It is set forth as a tradition which has emerged from the religious life of mankind. The Bhagavad Gita is both metaphysics and ethics, Brahamvidya and Yoga-sastra, the science of reality and the art of union with reality. The Bhagavad Gita integrates into a comprehensive synthesis the different elements of the Vedic cult of sacrifice, the Upanisadic teaching of the Absolute Brahman, the Bhagavata theism, the Samkhya dualism and Yoga meditation.

The Gita is interested in the process of redeeming the world. The world for the Gita is the scene of an active struggle between good and evil in which God is deeply interested.

The Gita is a comprehensive Yoga-sastra (treatise on yoga), large, flexible, many-sided, which includes various phases of the self’s development and ascent into the Divine. The different yogas are special applications of the inner discipline which leads to the liberation of the self and a new understanding of the unity and meaning of mankind. This goal of union with God may be attained by jnana-yoga (the way of knowledge), bhakti-yoga (the way of devotion), or karma-yoga (the way of action). Knowlegde, devotion and work are complementary both when we seek the goal and after we attain it. We may climb the mountain from different paths but the view from the summit is identical for all.

(Compiled by Keshavlal J Patel, from various Philosophical and Religious texts)


  An Introduction to Hindu Philosophy, Religion and Culture – 3

The ancient teachings of the Vedas are the basis of Hindu philosophy, religion and culture. If any sect in India wants to have its ideas established with a firm hold on the people, it must base them on the authority of the Vedas. A serious student therefore must study the Vedas and the main philosophies, with the help of scholastic commentaries.

The Vedas and the Upinishads are a great mine of strength. The whole world can be invigorated, vivified, made strong and energised through them. They call upon all to stand on their feet and be free; freedom, physical freedom, mental freedom and spiritual freedom is the watchword of the Upanishads.

Of the six principal systems of Hindu Philosophy (see earlier paper), Sankhya explains the why of religion. Sankhya means to enumerate and classify and its teachings are based on scientifically assessed situations. Vedanta describes the end to be attained and Yoga provides the practical methods (the know-how) for that attainment.

Sankhya Philosophy points out that the primary goal of everyone is the avoidance of suffering – physical, mental and spiritual. Vedanta Philosophy tells us that the true aim of life is the attainment of eternal happiness – Bliss. Yoga Philosophy gives us the practical means of achieving this.

That is the gist of Vedas. Do this and be free.

The teachings of Vedas is for all mankind and for all times. That is why its true name is Sanatana Dharma. It encompasses all religions. That is why Hindus never saw any need for religious conversions saying that all roads lead to the same eternal reality.

The wisdom of the Vedas have withstood all these centuries the acid test of time so well that their immunity from corrosion of any kind is beyond any shadow of doubt. Why? Because it has incorporated within itself a method of verification that can be used by anyone, of any level of intelligence and natural tendencies.

By understanding and practising the divine laws of human conduct taught in the Sankhya Philosophy, one is freed permanently from the causes of physical, mental and spiritual suffering. Vedanta Philosophy goes further and explains that beyond the peace achieved by the Sankhya learning there is the state of divine consciousness, the ever new bliss that will never go stale.

The practice of this therefore not only frees one from all suffering but also binds one to the eternal happiness.

Sage Patanjali to whom the teachings of Yoga is attributed says that after studying Sankhya and Vedanta one should study and practice Yoga. That is to say after one understands the why of religion one must learn and practice the how of religion.

We will cover the why as we go along. Let us first look at Yoga.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is that science by which the Soul gains mastery over the instruments of the body and mind and uses them to attain Self-Realisation – the reawakened consciousness of its transcendent immortal nature, one with Spirit. Yoga is a complete science whose practice develops each aspects of man’s threefold nature: body mind and soul.

Yoga covers an immense ground. In Bhagvad Gita, Shree Krishna give details of the various Yoga systems. What is described below is a form of Yoga known as Raja-Yoga.

Sage Patanjali formulated the Yoga System.

Raja-Yoga is divided into eight limbs or steps.

(1) Yama – Abstention – Avoid unrighteous behaviour. Eg. non-killing, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, non-receiving of gifts,etc.

(2) Niyama – Observances – follow certain moral and spiritual precepts. Eg. cleanliness, contentment, austerity, study, self-surrender to God, etc.

(3) Asana – Posture. Learn to be still in body and mind, for where motion ceases, there begins the perception of God.

(4) Pranayama – Control of prana-breath. While concentrating on the state of peace, practice control of the life force in the body.

(5) Pratyahara – Sense withdrawal – Restraint of the senses from their objects. When your mind is your own, that is, under your control through pranayama, then you can give it to God.

(6) Dharana – Concentration – Fixing the mind on a spot. Concentrate on one of God’s cosmic manifestations such as love, wisdom, joy, etc.

(7) Dhyana – Meditation. What follows in meditation is an expansion of the realization of God’s infinite omnipresent nature.

(8) Samadhi – Contemplation – Superconsciousness. When the soul merges as one with God, who is ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss.

The first two are moral trainings, without these as the basis no practice of Yoga will succeed. Asana or posture is a series of physical and mental exercises. This branch of Yoga is also called Hatha-Yoga. Pranayama or the control of breath is for the purpose of purifying the nerves. Pratyahara is control of senses through mind and body control. These three have to do with body and senses. The last three deals with the mind.

(Compiled by Keshavlal J Patel, from various Philosophical and Religious Texts)


     An Introduction to Hindu Philosophy, Religion and Culture – 4


                                                               LORD SHIVA


                                              The Supreme Lord of Benediction

“Namah: Shambhawaaya Cha Mayobhawaaya Cha

Namah Shankaraaya Cha Mayaskraaya Cha

                                      Namah Shivaya Cha Shivataraaya Cha…”

“We offer our adorations and salutations to THEE,

the giver of all happiness and well-being; the promoter of all

that is good and beautiful; the bestower of bliss,

                                                         and still more bliss.”


On MahaShivratri, as we recite the above prayer to Lord Shiva. What picture and attributes of Lord Shiva are created in our minds?

Hinduism is a pre-historic faith that has its roots in the Vedas. Over the years these have undergone many changes and continues to do so. Its concept of theology and practice of the religion is still the subject of research and investigation. Vedas were not composed but were “revealed” to our Sages and Rishis. The Vedas, thus, are of divine origin: they are the Truth, Knowledge and Absolute Reality.

To the Vedas, Rudra and Vishnu are the two aspects of one absolute Brahman. They are the two principal deities – the manifested powers of Brahman representing creation, sustenance and dissolution of the universe. Vedas declare that Brahman is one. Everything is Brahman and Brahman is everything. Thus the heart of Rudra or Shiva is Vishnu and the heart of Vishnu is Shiva.

Shiva Puja, Shakti (Mata Ambe) Puja and the study of Bhagvad Gita are so essential ingredients to our worship that we are exposed to them to some degree. The oldest Veda, Rigvada describe Virat Darshan, (Purush-Sukta: Rudrashta Dhyayi) the cosmic vision of the Absolute Truth. This is also described in Chapter XI of Bhagvad Gita as Vishva Roop Darshan Yoga. The quotations from the above forms the begining part of Shiva Puja. Shiva Puja also involves the Abhishekha. This is done by arranging a continuous flow of water (usually with milk added to it) on the Shiv Lingum while certain Mantras are chanted.

The Aphorisms of Vedas has been described in an innumerable, immortal stories in the Puranas. Puranic literature is produced to explain and interpret the eternal truth in lucid, imaginative, interesting stories that could be enjoyed and illuminate the lives of ordinary human mortals from all layers of existence. There are eighteen Puranas compiled by Vyas Muni.

So from this puranic stories what picture of Lord Shiva do we have in our mind

Lord Shiva is Mahadev who resides in Kailas, the highest pinnacle of Himalayas. He is unborn, ageless, eternal and all-powerful. He is blue in colour, dressed in skin, having ornaments of snakes. He besmears His body with ash – Bhasma, He has a large lock of hair in which the Sacred Ganga is tied, and the crescent adorns it. On His forehead, between His brows He has a third eye. He is Yogeswar – the master of Yoga, the science and metaphysics of the path of Realisation. He loves His divine consort Parvati. He is ArdhaNariswar. Parvati is His very self, He is the Purush of Vedas and Parvati is the Divine ShaktiPrimordial Energy. He wears a garland of skulls, holds a trident in His hand. His vessal for Bhiksha is skull. He is the source of sound – the musical instrument in His hand is Damuru – a drum that produces the Na – the music of the universe. His Tandav Nrutra is the dance of death, destruction, annihilation. He is Nilkantha who drank and held in his throat the poison from Samudra Manthan. He burns the God of Love and lust – Kamdev when the latter tries to disturb His meditation. He is the victor of all desires. He is the transcedental samadhi at all times.

Yet He is full of kindness, compassion and love for his devotees.

Shambho Aumkare Avinashe Gangadhar Kailase….

He is Shambho ie. compassion, benevolence, manifestation of the OM and He is without Vinash- endless.

He is easy to please and the modest articles in his Puja are water, Bhasma (ash), Billipatra,and the flowers of Dhatura.

Lord Shiva is worshipped as an oval-shaped Lingum, the universe in symbolic form. Lord Shiva – the Lingum is the symbol of creation, the all pervading, everlasting object of worship. It is encircled by a serpant having three and a half rounds and his hood making an umbrella on the Shiva Lingum. There is a waterpot with a hole, suspended above the Lingum so that water flows continuously from it. This process is Abhishekh.

We enter the Shivalaya – the Shiva Temple and ring the bell. This symbolises the awakening of our own self. Now we approach the Shiva’s Bull.Bull represents the animal strength, the primary senses and uncontrolled pleasures. Shiva is Pashupati Nath. We ought to be able to ride over our sensuous nature like Shiva. And the tortoise is there to remind us to withdraw our senses and control our vasana- desires. Now we enter the inner temple where we see Lord Shiva’s emblame. His ornament is serpant – the symbol of Shakti – the cosmic energy – the Kundalini. Every devotee has an unlimited source of Shakti, coiled in his Muladhar – the lotus at the base of his spinal cord.

From animal nature to sublime divine nature through Yoga: this is the significance of vedic ritual of Shiva Puja.

(Compiled by Keshavlal J Patel from various Philosophical and Religious texts)


Shri Krishna

We all enjoyed the film Mahabharat on our TV. A great number of us even recorded it on our video and will further enjoy it at our leisure. And as we do so we need to reflect on each of the great characters that made the greatest story on Earth.

Shri Krishna is the pillar of the story and by courtesy of the Bulletin of the Rama-Krishna Mission Institute of Culture, Calcutta, I quote below a short sketch of Shri Krishna that reflects my own feelings and may be yours too.

‘Krishna was a statesman, philosopher, warrior and humanist – all rolled into one.  He was above all, a defender of virtue.  He fought evil wherever he saw it.  He destroyed his own kinsmen because they were wicked.  Left to himself, he would have preferred to live a quiet life, but the events in contemporary India forced him to take a hand in shaping the country’s destiny.  The mantle of leadership was literally thrust on him.  If ever intervention by a single individual changed a country’s history, this was it.  He was kind, but, where necessary, also ruthless.  But his motive was always the same; upholding virtue.  He was not an idealist who merely talked; he was a man of action and was always to defend truth and justice that he acted.  Weakness often passes as goodness.  He had nothing to do with this kind of goodness.  He would rather have a strong man making honest mistakes than an ineffective man doing nothing lest he should commit mistakes.  He had many admirers but, naturally, also many enemies, but, so far as he was concerned, he treated everybody according to his merits as a man.  A man might be poor, but he was a good and honest man, he would rather be his guest eating whatever he could afford than eat at the house of a prince who was wicked.

Krishna appeared at a period of history when there was much confusion as to the real meaning and purpose of religion.  He removed that confusion.  There were many contending systems of thought in the field of religion then, each claiming to be the best and highest.  He reconciled them, giving each its place.  There were also many social practices which created unnecessary divisions among men and women.  He reorganised them into social sections based on aptitudes and skills.  People needed a philosophy which gave life a purpose and a sense of direction.  He taught that philosophy.  It was nothing new perhaps, it was ancient wisdom, but he distilled it into a new form which was at once logical and relevant.  In this, Krishna sums up man’s goal of life and the way to reach it.  He teaches no dogmas, he teaches what is obvious, practical and reasonable.  He makes no false promise, he draws attention to the realities of life and teaches how they may be handled.  Life is as much a challenge as an opportunity.  One can never turn one’s back on it, one has to face it, never balking at the struggle that it may demand.  `Intense rest in the midst of intense activity’ – this is the ideal Shri Krishna preaches.  Most people are the victims of their circumstances.  The ideal is to rise above circumstances, to remain calm in spite of everything.  This is possible when one fully masters the art of non-attachment.  Shri Krishna stressed much the importance of this art of non-attachment.  He taught a new concept of duty.  What is duty for a scholar cannot be duty for a soldier.  A soldier may abhor killing but a soldier has to kill, it is in his duty.  One cannot copy another.  Each has to grow in his own way, according to his genius.  Each has to do his duty well, there is no high or law in this.  A sweeper who does his duty well is just as good as a priest who does his duty well.

Shri Krishna is the ideal man, judged by any standard.  He is the sum total of all that men can wish to have – strength, courage, wisdom, physical beauty, above all, moral grandeur.  He is the way as well as the goal before men.’

Jai Shri Krishna.

Collected by K.J.Patel.