A general saying has it amongst the Hindu followers around the world: “Hinduism is not a religion”. People instead believe that it is a way of life, and there is no strict rule to what is right or wrong in the religion; everything is acceptable. The attitude is simple, and yet has serious consequences for continuity.
The general principle, however, is that human beings are responsible for what they do and the paths they choose for their own life. They have the freedom to choose their own paths in the inherent nature and explore the inner world to find the absolute truth about existence. This is not to say that the Hindu dharma is advocating permissiveness or the wrong way of living. Instead, it appeals to the illusions of life and the evils hidden on the path of it, while showing what could be the better way to deal with things.
There are scriptures that show how humans have had to suffer the consequences of their own actions. There are stories and epics in Puranas that talk about the same thing. One just needs to see how asuras or demons who have indulged themselves in wrong paths have had to suffer from retribution as well as from the consequence of the evil actions.
This is not to be misunderstood with religious permissiveness. This is nothing but the choice: a person willing to follow the wrong way of life has to suffer the consequences. This means one should always live one’s life with great responsibility, rather than with irresponsibility. That’s the dharma. You have your own duties to fulfill based on your position, status, knowledge, fate, relationship, and you are to think and perform well with these factors into account, such that you don’t ignore the spiritual cost of doing it. Bhagavadgita talks about this at great length.
Let’s analyze the assertion that Hindu dharma makes:
Hindu dharma says that every human being should think of living, practicing, and protecting, the Dharma; if not, then it is hard for him to achieve moksha or salvation. Moksha is liberation from the continuous cycle of life. Hence, one can live, practice, and protect one’s dharma by honoring one’s duties and obligations – towards himself, his family, his ancestors, gods, other humans and other living beings. He should do it as a return to them because he is gaining name, fame, wealth, progeny and other material comforts from them.
According to Hindu dharma, gods exist in the microcosm of each being, such as the internal organs and power centers, and not just in the macrocosm. This means that there are spiritual realms within a person, and in subtle states, they help him to progress towards “Aditi”, the Light and attain “Soma”, the state of divine bliss. So, one must nourish God inside you to nourish yourself and keep yourself in the realm of the predominance of sattva.
This is not indicating that gods are selfish, weak or biased. It is to keep the balance of the world – between the positive and the negative side of God’s creations. The Vedas have mentioned certain rituals and spiritual sacrifices. If performed rightly, Gods are obliged to help you too. It means that the gods are impartial, and they are also fulfilling their duties as part of the design of creation and universal laws of Eternal Dharma, including the law of karma.
The religious scriptures show what our attitude towards religious texts should be. If there is any doubt, we should read them and follow them. A true Hindu respects the Vedas, even if you don’t follow the Vedas. They include everything that God has revealed for the welfare and the guidance of this world. A normal human cannot grasp the understandings of the transcendental world; hence, it is necessary to verify the known through scriptures. A proper study and practice are required. And that can only happen if we rise from our material self, towards our spiritual and material welfare.
What the scriptures also say is that we need to be selfless. It means that we are responsible for our actions if we live selfishly, but we can free our “self” if we live selflessly and leave egoism behind. To go deeper, it means that the individual self must not exist; the self that only satisfies one’s own desires and only himself everywhere will not be free. One must let God inside, understand that God is omnipresent and that he is one with the God.
Upanishads say: “He who sees Him in all and all in Him would lead a deeply religious and spiritual life, because having realized the presence of God in all, he develops compassion and right attitude towards the creation of God.”
It is unfortunate that many are still ignorant about the rituals in Hindu dharma. They consider it to be superstitious and blind faith. They fail to acknowledge that the rituals are meant to bolster the feeling of reverence and devotion to Gods inside use and to remember our duties and obligations. The rituals are meant to be stepping stones towards liberation too. One must remember that the current reality is only a “Maya”, an “illusion”, and ultimately, we are seeking to go towards the immortal heaven.
It’s the method or the way. The Hindu way of life on this earth is a sacred ritual itself. The entire process of living is a ritual and a sacrifice in itself, where we are offering ourselves to the divine Self so that we achieve the highest state of self-realization. Spiritualism is a ritualism too, where spirits follow prescribed path and later return to original state. The spiritual liberation is different in a sense that the self-does do not change to anything; it regains the lost consciousness and remembers what has always been there. Thus, it is also known as self-realization or Atma-Gyaan. The rituals mentioned in Vedas are just methods or ways to achieve salvation in the end.
Thus, your life is a sacrifice, and you are the sacrifice, the sacrificed, the object of sacrifice, and the sacrificial host in the world of Brahman. Thus, if you demean the rituals, you demean our own life and your role as an individual.
The rituals have social functions too. It gives a certain structure and discipline to society. Just analyze the smallest of details: it’s a ritual when you greet a person, it’s a ritual when you celebrate a birthday, it’s a ritual to honor the dead. It strengthens relationships and adds value to life. But with modernization and great influence of western religion and culture, one negates the influence that the rituals have on us; they fail to realize that the rituals are actually preparing us mentally to be a part of something great. But you should not follow the rituals blindly if you really don’t want to, it is just that you should not demean them just because you couldn’t understand them. There is the leniency in Hindu dharma to choose the rituals according to interests and goals (Purusharthas) in life.
You can be discrete in choosing between duties and rituals for your material and spiritual well-being; you can formulate ways in which you can harmonize with your own inner-self and with the values of Vedas; you can even form your own rituals and establish an original meaning that’s meant for greater good if there are rituals that offend you and your sense of injustice; you can even choose the way of an atheist or agnostic. If you don’t want to perform the rituals in the elaborate way mentioned in the Vedas, you can choose to do so. You just need to be rightfully aware and have a positive attitude towards performing the ritual. It is the approach that matters. If you deem that sacrifice of animals is bad, then you can offer alternatives to it. Even better, you can offer your animal tendencies present in you to propitiate your inner deities.
The Vedas even suggest that mental worship is far superior to physical worship. What is necessary is to make the offerings mentally with sincerity and devotion, so that it can lead to the same results. Say you want to pray in front of the image of a deity. It could be the same as performing the domestic ritual physically. Vedas have warned us about performing these rituals without any insincerity or performing empty ritualism.
But that does not mean that it advocates irreligious, immoral or irresponsible conduct. The emphasis of Hindu dharma has always been to protect the dharma so that everyone can be connected with God and follow their own duties, so as to maintain order. It is not like the ten commandments that instruct you to do things. It is what you are born with; it is part of your Samskara; it is what makes you an aspect of the Brahman. Imagine yourself to be a note of a harmonious song. There is no way you can sound discordant and disrupt the melody; you are always part of it. Likewise, you need hit the right notes to maintain the harmony of the society, and that you can do by following your duties as a Hindu.
Vedic texts have never favored rigid social structure. According to the dharma, one should make use of one’s discernment (buddhi) to follow the laws. As we are subject to physical and mental imbalance, we need to clear ourselves first to the modifications of nature and transform ourselves through yoga and austerities to make spiritual progress.
The word “Dharma” means the eternal law or the Law of God. It doesn’t necessarily limit to morality or laws, it also encompasses duty, obligation, religion, sacred teachings, faith, justice, righteousness, actions, and others. It is intertwined with the process of living, in a sense that the two cannot be separated. So, if someone says that you are practicing Dharma only when you’re fasting on some auspicious day, or only when you’re visiting temples and praying to images, then you can say that he only has limited knowledge. The practice of dharma exists as long as you exist.
What following the right Hindu way of life allows is to protect and uphold Dharma by upholding highest of all duties. Hindu dharma is such that if it is attacked, it lets it go or lets it be destroyed. We have stories of Gods who ascend in the case of adharma; he will always reincarnate in the case of adharma to destroy adharma or evil. We have scriptures to defend this claim.
You might be thinking that this article is just a drop of water in the ocean, that it does not encompass everywhere, or that this article might be wrong. What you are thinking is true. If you want to fully grasp the Hindu way of life, then you must read the Vedas and the Upanishads. They are the treasury of wisdom with innumerable secrets. These will only become clear to you if you read the texts. And you can be like Shri Aurobindo who saw deep symbolism in the structure of the universe and the power of the texts. However, even he claimed that he did not understand them fully and that human state of mind cannot fully grasp it to perfection.
To conclude it, Hindu dharma is not just a religion, it is a way of life. And so, everyone who is claiming this assertion is true. But to fully understand the nature of Hindu way of life, you must read the Vedas and the Upanishads.