Indian Culture or Hinduism, as it is popularly known, is like a huge tree with its branches representing various systems of religious thought.Gayatri Mantra, from which the Vedas are said to be originated is the foundation of this Divine Culture . The Vedas represent the religious tradition and their extension Upanishads represent the philosophy upon which that tradition is based. Indian Culture essentially preaches: peaceful coexistence, potential divinity of an individual, freedom of thought, Cosmic Unity, non-violence in word, deed, and thought, reverence for all forms of life, and the law of karma: As you sow so shall you reap and rebirth. Unlike other religions of the world, Hinduism does not date from a particular point in time, and has no particular founder. It is based upon the insight and experiences of a large number of sages, saints, and seers. It is essentially a way of life, known in Sanskrit as Sanatana Dharma (Sanatana means eternal and Dharma means righteousness or religion).
Existence of a Supreme Reality
Hindus believe in the Existence of Supreme Reality which manifests itself as transcendent (impersonal) and immanent (personal). In its transcendent aspect, the Supreme Reality is called by various names, such as Supreme Self, Ultimate Reality, and Nirguna Brahman. In this impersonal aspect, the Supreme Reality is considered formless, attribute less, unchangeable, indeterminate, and beyond the perception of mind and intellect. The transcendent aspect of the Supreme Reality is of the nature of absolute existence, absolute knowledge, and absolute bliss (sat-chit-ananda). In its immanent aspect, the Supreme Reality is the personal God — Saguna Brahman, Ishvara, and Paramatma. He is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, all pervading, infinite, eternal bliss, creator, preserver and controller of the universe. He is worshiped in various forms according to the choice of His devotees. As an Infinite Being, He has infinite paths leading to Him.
Immortality of the Atman
The Sanskrit word atman, meaning God within, is usually translated as soul, self, or spirit. An individual being, according to Hindu view, is the atman living in a human body. According to the Scriptures atman is immortal and divine. The physical body perishes following death, atman cannot. This doctrine is based upon the spiritual experiences of rishis (sages and seers). From the perfect human being to the lowest worm resides the same omnipresent and omniscient atman. The difference is not in the atman, but in the degree of its manifestation. Just as electricity accomplishes various functions in different electrical appliances, depending upon the design of the appliance, atman manifests itself in different ways in physical bodies, depending upon the type and construction of the body. The degree of manifestation of atman is highest in the human body. In its liberated state of bliss and original purity, the atman is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. However, when it is associated with a particular human body, it gives rise to mind, intellect, and ego. Owing to the existence of maya, the original ignorance, the atman mistakenly identifies itself with the body, mind, and intellect. This false identity is the cause of the soul’s bondage to material existence and the consequent pain and suffering in the world. According to Indian Culture freedom (moksha or salvation) from this earthly bondage is the ultimate aim of human life.
Moksha (Freedom or Salvation)
The ultimate aim of life is to attain freedom from the cycle of birth and death, or union with God. This union can be achieved through true knowledge (jnana), devotion (bhakti), or righteous action(karma). Purity, self-control, truthfulness, non-violence, and faith are the necessary prerequisites for self- realization. The Indian Culture emphasizes the importance of a true guru (spiritual master) for the attainment of true knowledge of the soul and God.
A true guru is a enlightened master who guides his or her disciple on the spiritual path. The function of a true guru is two-fold: first, he or she explains the scriptures and guides the disciple on the spiritual path; second, the guru teaches by setting an example with the daily acts of his or her own life. Sometimes by words and sometimes in silence, a true guru purifies the spirit of the disciple. According to Hindu view, a disciple who obeys his or her guru in humility and in reverence attains the highest knowledge by the grace of God. In Hinduism a guru-disciple relationship is the most sacred relationship in life. The Katha Upanishad thus declares: “To many it is not given to hear of the Self [God within]. Many, though they hear of it, do not understand it. Wonderful is he who speaks of it. Intelligent is he who learns of it. Blessed is he who, taught by a good teacher (guru), is able to understand it....”
Unity of Existence
Hinduism believes that the universe is a manifestation of the Universal Spirit, known as Brahman in the Upanishads. Brahman has become all the things and beings of the world. Thus there is perfect unity behind the diversity of the world phenomena. The differences appear only when the universe is observed through the mind and the senses alone. However, when the mind is transcended by the wise through spiritual experiences, the Universal Spirit is seen as the sole essence of all things and beings with names and forms.
Freedom of Thought
Hinduism offers a number of ways to seek union with God. Hindus believe that all true religions are but different paths to God. This doctrine is included in the following verse (Rig Veda 1.164.46)’:
“Ekam sat vipraha, bahudha vadanti. “ “Truth is one, the wise call it by various names.”
Because of its belief in the omnipresence of the Supreme God in every individual, Hinduism teaches tolerance and universal harmony. Hinduism does not look with contempt even upon an atheist. A characteristic of Hinduism is its receptivity and all-comprehensiveness. It is the religion of humanity, of human nature, of the entire world. It cares not to oppose the progress of any other system. Therefore it has no difficulty in including all other religions within its all-embracing arms and ever- widening fold.”
Hinduism believes that God incarnates Himself on earth to uphold righteousness, whenever there is a decline of virtue. Thus declares Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (BG 4.6, 4.7):
“Whenever there is decline of righteousness and predominance of unjust, I embody Myself. For the protection of the good and for the destruction of evil and for the reestablishment of dharma (righteousness) I am born from age to age.”
The Law of Karma
Hinduism believes that God, who is pure bliss and merciful, does not punish or reward anyone. He molds our destinies based upon our own thoughts and deeds. Every action of a person, in thought or deed, brings results, either good or bad, depending upon the moral quality of the action, in accordance with the adage, As you sow, so shall you reap. Human actions do not occur without consequences. Moral consequences of all actions are conserved by Nature. “God keeps an accurate record of all things good and bad. There is no better accountant on earth,” says Mahatma Gandhi. If a person performs righteous deeds, he or she will be born into a better life in the next incarnation. For example, a sinner who leads an immoral life will be born as a poor human or as an animal in the next incarnation. A person is born again and again to reap the fruits of his or her own actions. This cycle of birth and rebirth continues until the person attains moksha, or freedom from the cycle of birth and death.
The Doctrine of Ahimsa
Ahimsa means non-violence, non-injury. Hinduism teaches that all forms of life are manifestations of the Supreme Being. We must not be indifferent to the sufferings of others. We must extend love and compassion to all living beings. Violence and self-centeredness are the causes of evil in the world.