Vedantic Wednesday: How well do you know your religion?

I can track back my interest in spirituality to my formative years. Like most other people I got acquainted to the culture of the ecosystem in which I was brought up.  During the course of my upbringing I was exposed in bits and pieces to various facets of the Hindu religion. As I grew up and started getting involved in limited proportions to chanting of vedic hymns and routine practices, I began to accept that my understanding that following these gives me the security of being a devout and religious person. So for a long time I was under the impression that spirituality meant practice of the religion’s code of conduct.  Hence following it brought acknowledgement to my association with the Hindu religion.

Over a period of time practicing the suggested code of conduct and some experiences increased my curiosity, which led to my questioning if I really understood what I was doing.  Being naturally inclined to books for information and knowledge, I started digging into religion and spirituality. What surprised me most was much of spirituality and religion was philosophy. As I was reading various books on these subjects, the doubts received greater affirmation. There was something intriguing about what I heard about Hinduism from many senior and aged people. I also attended discourses and tried to meet up people who have taken up religion more seriously.  What I was being told about religion at a routine level and what it actually intended to achieve, I found was very different. And understanding this difference I felt was very important in a person’s evolution.

Some of the definitive clarifications I have received till date that have created an impact in my thinking are:

  1. ‘Hinduism’ is not an Indian word – it was what foreign conquerors who came to India termed us or rather our way of living as.
  2. The aboriginal (native) people were guided by certain broad guidelines for living, which had nothing to do with religion as it is known today. This set of guidelines was called Sanatana Dharma
  3. The non-changing part of the basic knowledge was split from that which changes with reference to context. The Vedas formed the non-changing parts of this knowledge base. They state the basic truths as discovered by the greatest enlightened masters. For a more detailed look at what the vedic literature contains please refer to https://rajshankar.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/vedantic-wednesdays-structuring-of-vedas-technical-and-spiritual/
  4. The changing part of the knowledge base was the flexibility given to people based on various factors and situations including but not limited to occupation. Thus the changing part of knowledge base was characterised by flexibility and over the generations has adapted itself to suit the needs of the current state of civilization
  5. For convenient and effective way of running society, people were divided into four broad groups with each one having defined responsibilities on behalf of everybody else. This division for the greater good, after many rounds of degeneration has today resulted in what is called the caste system. The basic fundamental reason why this exists is because division is being seen as a way of personal benefit.

There are many more learnings which I continue to pick up as I meet more learned people, and also read much deeper texts.  But beyond all these interesting trivia, what I have come to fundamentally believe is that spirituality is a way to SELF realization.  All religions and their core texts aid a person in reaching this exalted state. Any other use of religion is not its true intended purpose.

It is time people begin to first clarify, search and find for themselves what ‘Religion’ actually means. And how spirituality can help an individual grow in whatever is their current choice of religion.  Therefore, what is of greater importance is the understanding of the core intent of a religion rather than the choice of the religion itself.

Religions across the gamut is only the means to an end called SELF realization. All religions in their nascent form have been designed to serve this and only this purpose. It is we who in all our ignorance and short sightedness perceive religion as an end by itself!

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3 thoughts on “Vedantic Wednesday: How well do you know your religion?

  1. Hi Raj: Great Article – Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    One comment (tangential) – Calling the great Rishis, and people who lived thousands of years ago as aborigines, which has a connotation for not being evolved, IMO, is incorrect. They were far more advanced than what we are now. The people of the times of Vedas, Upanishads and Vedanta should be far more advanced than the monkeys we are now, isn’t it? 🙂

    Thanks for shedding light on Shruti (unchanging) vs Smriti (adaptable, for e.g. Manu Smriti) – Not many are aware of these details.

    Varnashrama Dharma has been a controversial topic – No one seems to question it now when a Doctor’s kid becomes a doc, Actor’s kid becomes an actor, or a Politician’s kid becoming a politician – It all seems so natural. However, when you do it in the context of Varnashrama Dharma, people call the whole this is wrong, and Hinduism is so biased and is shameful. I am puzzled. This Dharma could have been abused by a few for a period of time, but that doesn’t mean that Varnashrama Dharma is bad.

    I remember reading a conversation between a learned guy and Late Kanchi Paramacharya Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswati Mahaswami (I’ll address him as Periyavaa going forward to keep it short 🙂 ) – The person asked Swami, how can people classify people into Varnas, since Lalita Sahasranama (*) says that Mother Lalitha Maha Tripura Sundari is the Mother of all beings from Sri Brahma (Creator) to the smallest worm (a-brahma-kita janani) – Periyavaa asked if he knew the next name in the Sahasranama – The learned did not know. It was ‘Varnashrama Vidhayini’ – One Who established the Varnashrama Dharma. The other person was silenced.

    Religions are Paths that were walked by the Victorious. I’d rather not continue 🙂

    Keep writing and keep inspiring! Thanks, Raj!

    1. Thanks Sriram for your ever advancing and encouraging words!

      Agree totally with your observation. Number of references of paramacharya, vivekananda amongst others clearly indicates how the semi-learned (so called learned) misinterpret religion. With respect to your reference to the word ‘aboriginal’ my intent in using the term was to refer to the native people. The state of evolution of the natives with respect to India remains unquestionably at the highest level. Since in most other civilizations, aborigines were equated to un-evolved, it may be construed and read the way you have suggested. Considering the feedback we have included in the post the contextual meaning to help better readability. Thanks for highlighting this particular point. It takes the article and its meaning to a much greater level.

      It is active discussions such as these that encourage such writings and help advance understanding. Look forward to hearing and learning from you a lot more!

  2. The post and the reference to paramacharya did bring something to my mind. Hinduism has been known for its so called non-focus having 63000 gods and so many subsects. Commenting on this paramacharya had remarked saying (not the literal word to word account” “what we all call as weakness of the religion, is actually the strength. As this religion recognises that whoever you may worship in whatever form is but a stepping stone to the ultimate realization. So whether it is one god or a multitude – it should not matter. Allowing every individual to have his own means to the singular end talks about the all encompassing nature of the religion.”

    We forget this basic truth and fight over the gods, the rituals and the rites – constantly arguing within and across religion. If only we can truly treat religion as our stepping stone, this place would be a universal temple in spirit

    Thanks Raj and Sriram – after a long time I found myself inspired to think on the richness of our culture and traditions!

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