It is a common sentiment for one to consider one’s religion as the best. Here in this article, we will attempt to discuss on those unique points that make Hinduism the most special religion in the world.
Actually, Hinduism – Hindu Dharma – can be truly called as the one universal faith that is able to fulfill the spiritual aspirations of every individual entity, not just those of an Indian background.
Today, many intellectuals in the West have accepted that society should be democratic, egalitarian, tolerant, liberal, pluralistic and environmentally friendly, a far cry to the colonial, religious fanatic and Marxist ideas that still permeate a large part of the world.
However, all these core human values have always been intrinsic to Hindu Dharma. This article will elaborate this in more detail:
THE OLDEST, YET THE MOST RELEVANT
Hindu Dharma is the oldest practiced faith in the world, but despite being the oldest, it is also so refreshingly relevant to the present times. For example, the Bhagwad Geeta was spoken 5,000 years back, yet its message continues to resonate and be applicable today. Not just in India, but throughout the world, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Itihasas, Puranas and other ancient Vedic scriptures continue to enthrall intellectuals and the common people alike with its depth of knowledge, philosophy and devotion.
THE MESSAGE IS FOR ALL HUMANITY
The message of Hindu Dharma is for the entire world, as it does not divide the world into “believers and non-believers” and there is no such exclusive club of followers that alone can reach heaven. When Lord Krishna preached the Bhagwad Geeta to Arjun, He never claimed that spiritual benefits were only open to Hindus or Indians. Long before the world became aware of the concept of internationalism, or the idea of countries’ working together (League of Nations / United Nations), the ancient Vedic scriptures had boldly spoken of Vasudeva Kutumbakam – “the whole world is one family”. What to speak of human beings, Vedic culture encourages vegetarianism, and even those Hindus who do consume meat and enjoined to treat animals with dignity.
According to Hinduism, spiritual life begins when a person realizes that he is not this body, but the soul. And the soul, being a spiritual being, is not black in color or white, brown or mixed, so there cannot be any grounds for racial discrimination. In fact, Megasthenes, the famous Greek ambassador to India during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya about 2,300 years back, wrote that alone among the other countries in the ancient world, slavery did not exist in India.
There did arise at one point in history when birth based caste discrimination became widespread, but this was totally contradictory to what was preached in the Hindu scriptures. The very fact that Shri Veda Vyas, the compiler of the Vedas, the writer of the Mahabharat and the Puranas, was himself born of a fisherwoman, yet considered as one of the greatest ever Rishis / saints, is evidence enough that caste discrimination as understood today was completely alien to the values as represented by Sanatan Dharma.
The soul is neither male nor female, so where is the question of who is superior? Even otherwise, Hinduism is the only religion where the Divinity is also worshipped as SARASWATI, LAKSHMI, DURGA and other forms of the Goddess. Also, Hindus have always worshipped the feminine with the masculine, as one without the other is supposed to be incomplete – PARVATI with SHIV, LAKSHMI with VISHNU and SEETA with RAM. Thus, Hinduism is the only religion in the world which is not male–centric. Women have always been held in high esteem in our religion.
Manu-Samhita says, “Where women are honored, there the Gods are pleased; but where they are not honored, no sacred rite yields rewards. Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers”.
Furthermore, according to the Atharva Veda, when a woman is invited into the family through marriage, she enters “as a river enters the sea” and “to rule there along with her husband, as a queen, over the other members of the family”.
The Vedic hymns were also revealed by GOD to great women saints such as Lopamudra, Romahsa, Gargi, Ghosa, among others, so this clearly shows that in Vedic Dharma, there was total gender equality (with some even claiming that women were considered superior to men)
In ancient times, women had the same opportunities for education as men, and also could wear the sacred thread to study the Vedas. The ancient Dharma Shastra, Harita Smriti mentions a class of women called brahmavadinis who remained unmarried and spent their lives in study and ritual. The ancient Sanskrit grammarian, Panini clearly differentiates between an arcarya (a lady teacher) and acaryani (a teacher’s wife), between an upadhyaya (a woman preceptor) and upadhyayani (a preceptor’s wife), thus indicating that women at that time were not just students but also teachers of the sacred scriptures. He further mentions the names of several noted women scholars such as Kathi, Kalapi, and Bahvici.
The Upanishads also referred to several women philosophers such as Gargi Vacaknavi who debated with Yajnavalkya, thus showing that they were as knowledgeable and expert in the Vedas as the men.
The Rig Veda refers to women engaged in warfare; one queen Bispala is mentioned. The Ramayana describes how Dasharath’s youngest wife, Kaikeyi often accompanied him in his military campaigns. It was in fact in one of these campaigns that when Dasharath was badly injured, Kaikeyi not just repaired his broken chariot, but also rode him to safety and nursed him back to health, thus pleasing Dasharath to grant her the two (in)famous boons.
Even Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador of the Mauryan rule, makes a note of heavily armed women guards protecting the palace of Chandragupta Maurya.
And of course, they excelled in the arts and crafts, in music and dance, and other such activities.
In short, unlike other countries, women in ancient India were not deprived of anything, and were treated with full respect and dignity.
ACCEPTANCE OF OTHER RELIGIONS
Even most non- Hindus agree that Hinduism is most tolerant – our GOD is not regarded as jealous or vengeful. The Vedic scriptures define GOD as SAT CHID ANAND (meaning truth + consciousness + bliss); Hindu kings and priests never forced or coerced anyone to become a Hindu. Even when Hindu Dharma spread across the length and breadth of South-East Asia, and when Hindu kings ruled these countries, not a single instance was recorded, where any non-Hindu subject suffered any discrimination because of his religion.
This is also the reason that persecuted Iranian followers of Zarathustra (who became known as the Parsis) and the Jews, could find shelter in India, and unlike in other countries, never faced any hurdles or obstacles to practicing their religion in India. In fact, they prospered and even contributed to their host country.
Even, the great Hindu king, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj who fought against the temple-breaking and fanatic Mughals, Bijapur Sultans and the Portugese, was praised by hostile Muslim chroniclers that he never broke any mosque or disrespected the religion; Muslims working in his service didn’t feel threatened due to their religion. Hindus are most tolerant and maintain respect towards others faiths.
OPEN MINDEDNESS AND FREEDOM IN WORSHIP
There is complete democracy within the Hindu religion; some worship GOD as impersonal, others in the personal deity form. Most Hindus visit temples and take part in various rituals, while others simply spend time in meditation. Some consider Gyaan as the preferred method to realize GOD, whereas others would regard Bhakti as the best way. For some, the Ramayana is the most important scripture, while to the others it is the Bhagwat Purana or the Shiv Purana. The Bhagwad Geeta is considered by most Hindus to be the most venerated scripture, as it was spoken directly by Lord Krishna to Arjun, yet others would give more importance to the various Upanishads. There are also many Hindus who would consider all forms of the Divinity and all scriptures to be equally placed.
Yet, all these different paths form an integral part of Vedic culture and are in harmony with each other, and an individual is given full liberty to choose whichever is best suited to that person.
HINDUISM IS MOST LIBERAL
One reason why Hindus living abroad have done so well for themselves, have prospered in business and as professionals, have rarely gotten into trouble with the law, and are considered ideal citizens by the Governments of the countries that they reside in, has got something to do with our liberal culture – “Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides” so said the Rig Veda, considered by many to be the first Veda. Thus, Hindus have integrated with many different societies in the world, trying to take the good from other cultures, while at the same time remained firm in retaining and preserving their own culture and traditions.
FOR THE BODY, THE MIND AND THE SOUL
Today, millions of non-Hindus across the world practice and follow the ancient Hindu traditions of yoga and meditation, chant Sanskrit mantras and accept the Hindu medicinal system of Ayurveda. It is estimated that anywhere between 16 ~ 30 million Americans practice yoga on a regular basis. Even though yoga and meditation are actually spiritual activities, yet they have innumerable physical and mental benefits and are also highly recommended by doctors and specialists. People who have ingrained yoga and meditation in their lives have found sublime changes – they have been physically, mentally and of course, spiritually uplifted. Across the world, yoga and meditation have been acknowledged by experts to give its practitioners the maximum health benefits, with 21st June, 2022 even being declared as World Yoga Day by the United Nations since 2015.
THE MOST ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY RELIGION
- a) Says the Atharva Veda “The earth is our mother and we are all her children”.
- b) The Rig Veda says “Do not cut trees because they remove pollution”.
- c) Yajur Veda declares, “Do not disturb the sky and do not pollute the atmosphere”
- d) And once again, the Atharva Veda declares, “We invoke all supporting Earth on which trees, lords of forest, stand ever firm.”
- e) The Mahabharat describes Yuddhisthira telling his subjects not to cut trees more than it is needed.
Thus, from the ancient scriptures, we can learn that Hinduism demonstrates an ecological awareness and great respect for the natural world. Ancient Hindus felt the Supreme Being’s presence in everything around them, and thus lived in harmony with GOD’s creation, including the earth, the rivers and the forests. Thus the modern environmentalists can find great solace and backing from the Hindu scriptures
Even otherwise, the Vedic religion recommends a vegetarian lifestyle, and as is well known, rearing animals to be killed for slaughter puts tremendous pressure on earth’s limited resources of water, clean air and land. According to a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (of 2006), livestock use 30% of the earth’s land surface, including 33% of the global arable land used to producing feed for livestock, plus livestock generates 18% more greenhouse gas emissions than transportation.
Today, despite a growing population of non-vegetarians in India, the country still has by far the largest number of vegetarians in the world. Even those who eat meat seldom eat it more than once or twice a week.
Finally, Hindus cremate their dead, and this also saves precious land. This is one reason why many in the West from a non-Hindu background also cremate, rather than bury their dead
MOST LOGICAL UNDERSTANDING OF “WHY WE ARE HERE IN THIS WORLD,” WHERE DO WE GO AFTER THIS LIFE” AND “WHY IS THERE SUFFERING”
Many people question that if GOD is all-loving and caring, why does HE allow so much suffering to take place? Why is there so much unhappiness? Why is there so much unfairness, where some people are billionaires whereas others can’t even eat two meals a day?
Hinduism provides very logical and precise answers to this. Whichever body we get – man/woman or animal, Asian or African, whether we are born in an aristocratic family or a poor one, etc – is all due to the results of our own karma, which is the sum of one’s actions and the force that determines our next re-incarnation. As mentioned earlier, the very first understanding should be that we are not this material body, but the eternal soul, which transmigrates from one body to the other. So, actually it is our own past actions that have led us to “occupy” our current body, and it will be an accumulation of our past and present deeds that will take us to our next destination.
Many intellectuals from non-Indian / non-Hindu backgrounds, who have otherwise been skeptical of religion in general, have found this core belief of Hinduism as extremely logical and realistic. With this explanation, one can understand that GOD is neutral, and does not generally interfere with the results of one’s karma. This understanding also makes us realize that it is upon us to be careful not to do any bad actions, as bad deeds may not even guarantee us the body of a human being in the next life – we may even get the body of an insect or an animal. We should therefore always strive to perform good and noble deeds in this present life as we are responsible for our own actions. The cycle of continuous life and death only comes to a stop when one becomes totally detached from the results of one’s activities – finally achieving Mukti / Moksha / a place in the spiritual world (in Hinduism, heaven and hell are only temporary destinations, not the ultimate)
NO CONFLICT WITH SCIENCE
It is generally accepted that Hinduism is the only religion which is in tune with science (though of course, science does not accept a creator, and Hinduism does). It is a very vast subject and not possible to cover in this article, but a very brief introduction from a brilliant article, “Hinduism and Science” written by the late T.D.Singh (former Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute; former President, Vedanta and Science Educational Research Foundation) is given here, “Vedanta, the scientific and theological doctrine of Hinduism, explains that in principle there is no conflict between science and religion. In fact, the two fields are complementary. This is because of the understanding that the domain of each realm is well-defined. In Hinduism there are two categories of knowledge – (i) para vidya – the spiritual knowledge and (ii) apara vidya – material knowledge. Scientifc knowledge is the realm of apara vidya. Spiritual knowledge – knowledge of God and life – belongs to para vidya. Hinduism points out that scientific knowledge can lead to spiritual knowledge…it’s scientific and intellectual contents have attracted the attention of some of the world’s finest scientific and philosophical minds, such as Erwin Schrdinger, Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, and Aldous Huxley. It speaks of billions of years of history, creation of the universe, medicinal science, metallurgy, space travel, embryology, art, music, etc. It is no exaggeration to say that there is almost no branch of knowledge that is left untouched in the Vedas. There are five core features in Hinduism: (1) God – Isvara, (2) Soul – Jiva, (3) Time – Kala, (4) Matter – Prakriti, and (5) Action – Karma. Of these the first four principles are eternal whereas the last feature is temporary. Based on these principles, Hinduism provides a deep knowledge and understanding of life and the universe. In its pure form, Hinduism is also known as Sanatana Dharma or the eternal function of the living entity…….Vedantic worldview in reference to many of modern science’s perspectives include the subjects of mind, consciousness, embryology, epistemology and cosmology” (the entire article – http://www.metanexus.net/conference2005/pdf/td_singh.pdf )
From all of this, we can conclude the reasons why Hinduism is considered as the most unique religion in the world. We can also better understand and appreciate why so many people, belonging to different ethnic backgrounds, are taking so much interest in Hinduism, in many cases even formally converting. Others, while still nominally Christians or atheist, have embraced many of the integral Hindu beliefs and customs so much so that a Newsweek article published in 2009 wrote “We are all Hindus now” detailing how American beliefs today conformed more to Hindu beliefs, than to Judeo-Christian ones – the article was not just about yoga, but also on how 24% of Americans believed in reincarnation, that there was more than one way to Godhead, and more than a third chose cremating rather than burying the dead, which were totally contrary to Christianity and more in line with Hinduism.
Today, kids in our school learn so much about democracy, equality, environment, etc, so Hindu parents should take the lead in introducing our Sanatan Dharma to our children at a very young age, and explain to them how all these ethics and morals have always been the bedrock of Hindu civilization
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