Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma has been in practice for eons. Yet, Western academics and some Indian academics who follow their lead tend to keep Hinduism away from the ambit of religions. In the strict sense of the term, it is very difficult to translate Dharma into English because the language does not have an equivalent word for the same. While Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Islam, are based on dogmas and rituals; the scope of Hinduism is very vast. There are no fixed set of rules and dogmas and people are free to worship in the manner they deem fit. It is vibrant and followed by over a billion people the world over.
The word ‘religion’ comes from the Latin word re-ligare meaning to bind back. It, therefore, means binding back with one’s creator. In the absence of a clear definition of what constitutes a religion, it can be said with certainty that it has something to do with the origin of the universe and its creator. Hinduism differs from western concept of religion in more respect than one. While both Christianity and Islam proclaim that there is only one true religion in the world, each claiming it to be their own; Hindus consider themselves to be one with the universe and by extension its creator. Rishis enquired into the truth of this world and came away enlightened with the fact that the universe and everything contained within it as well as without is permeated with an invisible, conscious essence. This was known as Brahman. The Rishis observed and postulated that it was eternal, blissful, true and the invisible basis of everything including our own selves. When we say ‘Tat tvam asi’, you are that, we are indicating at the unity between ourselves and the universal soul. Hindu shastras not just tell us about the purpose of life but guide us towards realising the ultimate truth.
The western concept of God restricts the all pervading Brahman by making ‘that essence’ as a male, separate from creation and one who has strong likes and dislikes. There was a manual, Bible for Christians and Koran for Muslims, by which the adherents had to abide failing which they were bound to be punished. It was important for humans to not just accept him as the only true God but also join the true religion by following certain rituals else they would be doomed to burn in hell forever. The word of God as revealed to Jesus 2000 years ago or Mohammad 1400 years ago are to be accepted as the ultimate truth, without the potential to be questioned. Furthermore, those belonging to the religion are psychologically made to believe that they are lucky enough to have been born into the true religion. Essentially the carrot and stick policy is used and where the lure of reward fails a fear psychosis of ‘judgement day’ and ‘eternal hell’ is created.
Abrahamic religions are fixed belief systems where there is no potential to verify the claims being made. Hinduism, on the other hand, exhorts one to enquire into every claim and accept it only after one’s intellect is satisfied. If religion is about enquiring into the truth then Hinduism definitely qualifies as one and if religion is meant to act as a barrier between the creator and creation then Hinduism isn’t a religion. Hinduism has been the least understood religion and one which has been widely misinterpreted and misunderstood. It is now time for Hindus to put forward the insights of the Rishis so that people across the world might benefit by following Sanatana Dharma.