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Religions in India

Sam Sengupta

Birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism,


Tantra, Bhakti movement, …

What special does India offer? Another set of faiths?


That would be too tacky! Perhaps, it offers something
different.

In India, RELIGION is the way of life. India is a


smorgasbord of religions!

You can design your own religion. That’s the appeal of


India to Westerners.

India asks: “What do you want? Let that curve out


your way, your life, your own religion. Because through
it, you’d discover the uncharted territory: Life DIVINE,
the TRUTH! YOU matters most! So, what is it that you
really want?”

India asks and then waits for your response.

Religion is a discovery. Religion is life-affirming, an


invitation to the ultimate realization: Thou art That!

This perspective suggests:

► All religions are same; all could potentially lead


to TRUTH. The ultimate blasphemy: I’m
right, and you are wrong! So is its converse:
You are right and I’m wrong!

► Truth cannot be captured in a net of concepts.


All religions are conceptual and, therefore, false.

► The world is conceptual in our dealings; in that


it is an illusion (the maya).

► Challenge for each man:

Be liberated from this bondage of illusion

Liberation = Enlightenment (Buddhist, Hindu)


= Moksha (Hindu)
= Nirvana (Buddhist)

But the illusion is not external, it begins with ME. So,

Religion = Liberation = Self-discovery

WHO AM I?

Collectively, all Indian responses seemingly fall into


several systematic structures. The major ones among
them:

Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Tantra,


Islam (yes, the homegrown version is different)
This is Sania Mirza, an 18 year old Muslim at WTA’s
34th rank. In a way, this is India’s offer of Islam. She is
touted to be one of the ten most potentially capable
ladies able to influence the world in the future (by
London’s New Statesman). In India, Islam is different.

To get a glimpse of India’s response, consider this


invocation:

O Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations:


Thou art everywhere, but I worship you here;
Thou art without form, but I worship you in these forms;
Thou needest no praise, yet I offer you these prayers and salutations,
Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations

What is this essence that compels Huston Smith (an


MIT and a visiting professor at UC, Berkley) to
conclude:
When I read the Upanishads, I found a profundity of world view that
made my Christianity seem like third grade!

The essence that India discovers in thousand different


ways is that Religion (Truth) has to be self-experienced
to be authentic. Religion is a journey within and
without, it is a discovery within and without – no one
can teach it, no one can dictate it, no one can help the
process. It has to be realized entirely by the self.

That it is “realizable” makes everybody and anybody


special: The child of immortality.

Thus, an Upanishad begins:

Shrinvantu vishwe amritasya putra …

(Oh the children of Immortality, Listen if you please ..)

Note the highest accolade ever heaped upon man! One


is not a sinner, not a lost one, does need neither
redemption nor grace. No salvation is needed. We are,
in every sense of the word, the children of immortality.
We are THAT.

Another glimpse! From Osho (Aka Bhagavan Rajneesh)

God is not a question of belief; it is an experience of inner light. Then


you can give it any name. You can call it God, you can call it truth, you
can call it love, you can call it peace. You can call it life -- it does not
matter what word is used, but it should be based on experience. Once
you have experienced your light, you know there is no need of any other
God. The whole existence is godly.

A few observations on Hinduism

■ Hinduism as a “religion” appears only recently in


history; it was just “a way of life” going back 1800-1000
BC.

■ Hinduism has no founder, no creed, no single source


of authority.

■ Traditionally, conversion to “Hinduism” has had been


a logical impossibility; lately, some modern Hindu sects
have begun conversion.

■ Hindus believe in a single Godhead, the supreme


presence, whence all other gods derive as aspects of the
nondual presence. To a Hindu, it could be

Agnosticism, Atheism, or

any state on the spectrum

Nondualism Dualism
Hinduism is the only religion on earth which tolerates
both personal god(s) and a nondual that claims
“Thou art THAT!”
In the dualist view:

Brahman
Supreme existence

Brahma, the
creator
Visnu, the
sustainer
The Trinity
Shiva, the
destroyer

■ Within this structure, all other foci, all other gods, all
kinds of beliefs are entertained. Hence, multiplicity of
gods or none (total rejection of any godhead).

■ Hinduism is not life-denying but life-affirming.

■ For a Hindu, Life is a structured response to


existence. Hence, about four stages of life for the higher
ones in the social hierarchy:

● Brahmin (twice-born)
● Kshatriya (the warrior class)
● Vaishya (the traders)
● Sudras
● Untouchables (the dalits)

For the first three, four stages are:

■ ■ schooling or learning period


(live with a teacher for several years and learn
primarily Vedas, rituals, …)
■ ■ householder period (enjoy life in all its
dimensions – establish a career, a job, be rich,
get married, have a family, look after young
and old, maintain worship tradition ..)
■ ■ retirement period (with wife enter into
retirement, hand-over the responsibility of
the household to the male child, contemplate
the phenomenal world, …)

■ ■ renunciation period (give up every tie that


binds one to the world – the family, the
society, the caste and creed, the samaskaras
(the rituals of previous three stages), and
become nobody (with no religion, no sacred
thread, no Vedas, no shelter, no possession)

■ Hinduism leaves the question of methodology to the


seeker, the individual.

For the emotional one: Bhakti yoga (enlightenment


through devotion to personal godhead)
For the ones ruled by head: Jnana yoga (liberation
through understanding)

For the ones who are active: Karma yoga (liberation


through unfettered work)

For the ones naturally meditative: Raja yoga (liberation


through meditation and mysticism)

On this broad-brush, any combination is a welcome


possibility because man is a combination of all these.

On beliefs: India’s response to religion is any


conceivable position on the spectrum

No belief Belief-driven

Some snippets of beliefs: (within Hinduism)

a. Individual soul = Atma that experiences,


witnesses continues even after death to a new
birth. Immortality of Atma, the divine spark.
b. Reincarnation = Transmigration of soul is
predicated by desire to be born, to experience.
c. Desire is supported by Karma-principle: Pay as
you live! (I’m joking, of course)
d. Ultimate goal is to realize that in the core of
individual is the Atma (the Brahman), all rest
are added for the “drama” effect.
In summary:
“The whole existence is godly.” This is the essence of
religion in India. But it has to be realized, experienced.
“The whole existence is godly” ⇒ Only one exists:
Existence (God, Truth) ⇒ Non-duality. Only one exists
in infinite moods, in infinite sparkles comprising the
many-fold existence.