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The average Indian is by nature a devoutly religious person. For him, life has meaning only each day. Each moment in his life possesses a religious significance. Life on earth with all its sensory manifestations was considered as Maya, an unreal and evanescent illusion. To have recognized the futility of material life at a time when the rest of the world was not able to comprehend it, and further to have proclaimed the life beyond the body as the sole reality, a reality that is of the spirit, was indeed the very essence of the religious thought in India from very early days.
All religions which originated in India were absolutely different forms and methods of realizing this goal of a perfect life in the spirit, totally subjugating the material, even annihilating the material to release the spirit. India can reasonably be proud of the fact that in every generation and every part of this vast subcontinent of inconceivable diversities, she has produced innumerable men who sincerely attempted to delve deep into holiness and spirituality with an awe-inspiring vision for the universal mystery.
The nature of religious experience in an India represent not a simple search for truth, but it was more a kind of discipline in the subjective experience of ecstasy and freedom from responsibility to this visible earth. Religion and spirituality signified awe of the mystery rather than the revelation of the mystery.
Origin of Indian Spiritual Worship
Worship was not of the one whom we know, but of the unknown and unreachable. The known and the revealed were only shoals and shallows, the unrevealed was to be adored and feared. The significance of the physical world was valid only in terms of the spiritual world found it is the realization in the ecstasy of the mystery. This mystery was not to be revealed but to be psychologically grasped and worshiped.
God always transcended objects and occasions, even though the Indian thought admitted Him as the cause and source of limitation and determination of material objects in forms and content. God was par mature on the transcendental and universal self-manifesting himself in all forms. Jivatman is the activity and changeable existence. Paramatman was unchangeable, Jivatman was changeable, but both are inexplicable, to be known only mystically, not intellectually.
Life in God was not to be defined. It was a peaceful acceptance of life in all forms and conditions as it came. It remained outside the scope of logical precepts. Even today this concept holds its sway in the Hindu philosophy of spiritual life. God is nothing that is, He non-being. Because of this concept, India's common folks tried to realize God through myths, legends, creatures, and natural things visible to their eyes.
This resulted in the worship of creatures instead of the creator, holy men rather than the Paramatman who in the final analyses remains a mystery, unreachable, and non-being. At the same time, God is the Brahman, Atman, and Isvara, the transcendental eternal spirit who involves himself in events and circumstances. In these three terms, God's various attributes are also vaguely described.
However, for the common man God meant everything to every man. The only alternative for him was to find God in their own mind. This he did, and thus he came to the beginning of millions of gods each in relation to the needs and aspirations of diverse peoples and cultures. Put differently, God became the product of the fertile imagination of diverse situations of life. Since there was no revealed God, the only alternative for each tribe and each culture was to create a god of its own.
So each man created a god, each in his own image. This is why Indian religions, there is a popular belief that all religions are the same. This concept is an inevitable result of the worship of millions of gods and goddesses. The ancient Greek religion, the Mesopotamian religion of Euphrates and Tigress, the ancient Egyptian religion, all these possess the same quality of tolerating other gods and worshiping all as none of them really had the authentic revelation of the true, the one, and only God.
Everyone shared the spirit of fear and awe. The visible forms of creatures were the only field of choice for the form of God. In such conditions, at best, God became a self-conscious principle and at worst he became a snake or a rock. Their gods are mountains, valleys, rivers, trees, storms, sun, moon, stars, snakes, cow, monkey, and on and on. They have 33 million gods and goddesses to worship without knowing anything. Another important thing to bear in mind is that God was there only in relation to this small earth and in relation to man's needs, fears, aspirations, thoughts, and imagination.
Another omitting concept in Indian spirituality is that of Karma (Good Deeds). This has been there from the very beginning of religious thought in India. The being is a composite of mind and body, capable of action and reactions. When a man dies, his karma (good deeds) follows him. This is the foundation of the reincarnation of souls into various forms of life.
The desire manifests itself in action, and action determines the course of life. One becomes good by good actions and bad by bad actions. This evolving process of life and death continues until Mukti (Salvation) is attained by good deeds. Another way of liberation given in the Gita is Jnana Yoga, the communion with the universal soul by wisdom. Gita. 4.37-39 Jnana is the divine wisdom that brings liberation of the individual soul making it a part of the instrument of the liberation of the universal soul.
The third yoga mentioned in Gita is called Sanyasa yoga which is the path of renunciation. The Sannyasins, who are freed from the lust and anger with hearts will be subdued and self-realized for them absolute freedom exists here and hereafter, shutting out the external contact with sense objects, the eyes fixed between the eyebrows and equalizing the currents of incoming breath and outgoing breath inside the nostrils, the meditative man, having mastered the senses mind and intellect, being freed from desire, fear, and anger and regarding freedom as his supreme goal, is liberated forever, as the perfect example of a Raja Yogi.
Another most significant form of liberation according to Gita is through Bhakti Yoga. Krishna, the deity, said, “fill thy mind with me, thus steadfastly uniting thy heart with me alone and regarding me as the supreme goal, thou shall come unto me.” Gita 9:34. There is much other yoga mentioned in the Hindu scriptures especially in Gita. Essentially, all these yogas are intended for the union of the liberated soul with the universal being. Most probably Bhagavad Gita is the essence of the Upanishads.
Among the Hindu scriptures, the most ancient and profound of all is the Rig Veda, which can be considered as the fountain-head of all Hinduism and to a large extent even of Indian culture. In India the religion is culture. The source of Indian philosophy, ethics, science, and spirituality in one way or the other is traceable to Rig Veda and the other Vedas. The significance of the Rig Veda's success can be measured by the fact that the text has been preserved to this day from interpolation, modification, or corruption.
In the entire text of Rig Veda covering 1028 hymns or about 10560 mantras or about 74000 words with two distinct pronunciations. Even today all over India, a major portion of the mantras recited by the Hindus at various times are from the Rig Veda. The other Vedas are known as Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, and Atharva Veda.
Atharva Veda is exclusively related to magic, witchcraft, and superstitions, even though it too includes many highly philosophic hymns as well. Later there were Samhitas, and after that came the Brahmans and the Upanishads. The Sutra Vedanta period represented the closing times of Vedic literature. The Brahmans along with the Yajur Veda represented the earliest commentaries on the Vedas.
The Upanishads are really a supplement to the Brahmans. From the very outset of Vedic literature, we find that philosophic speculations go hand in hand with the realm of gods. Rig Veda itself anticipated the doctrine of Maya and Rupa in the Vedantic sense of the transient and deceptive appearance. The Brahmans deal largely with the sacrificial systems while the Upanishads bring forward philosophical contemplations.
After the Vedic literature, the most considerable literature representing Indian spiritual thought was produced by Jainism and Buddhism. Actually, Jainism and Buddhism were an extension of the spirit of the Upanishads and a sharp reaction to the ritualism and ceremonialism of the Brahman cult of the day. While Buddhism soon declined in India itself, the land of its birth, Jainism still continues in many parts of the country.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on April 15, 2014:
I have been to India recently and I was amazed at the complete dominance of religion in day to day life. There seems to be a renaissance in ancient Hindu beliefs going on.
Westerners who don't like Indian culture seem to have barred the door to heaven for themselves.
Kathryn L Hill from LA on April 14, 2014:
It is also very misunderstood. Especially by westerners. But I hear the people of India do not meditate much any more.
Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on April 14, 2014:
Indian religion is the most advanced religion on earth and holds the key to solve the most serious social problem on earth today: religious intolerance.
Indian philosophy and history contains the seeds of the modern sciences and the pinnacle of ethics.