Harry S. Sharma
In My Father's House
Are Many Mansions
All the great religions ..... Brahmanic Hinduism, Shintoism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism .... offer some answer to the several questions man ask during their daily lives.
Yet, many think their own religion offers the best answers. That one's culturally given religion is the best of all religions, if not to any one else, at least to oneself.
That is a comfortable feeling.
After all, there are lots of things that life gives us without our choosing --- by birth we are white, brown or black. We are male or female, German, Chinese or African. We are even the son or daughter of a destitute or a King.
It is by the same accident of birth that we are born in the home of a Hindu or Christian or Buddhist and long before we reach the age of discretion, our thinking become thoroughly saturated so that few ever make a radical break from their religious upbringing.
Religion has always been one of those more complex thoughts that continue to give more and more questions than answers to man's quest.
It is not uncommon, even today with advanced science and technology for one to ask:
What happens after death?
Who am I?
What is the meaning of human life?
What or who is GOD?
Without doubt, somewhere along the road of life every thoughtful person wonders about the powers or force responsible for the creation of everything that we see, hear, taste, smell or touch.
And while the oldest religion alive today, Hinduism ought to have all the answers ... and it may just be so ... because of its experience over the centuries, during which it survived one invasion after another, the fact remains that the Western World is barely aware of its existence.
Dr. Floyd Ross, Professor of World Religion at the University of Southern California noted that:
The Vedas, ancient poems and hymns,
are over 3000 years old.
The Brahmanas, rules for rituals and worship,dates between 1200 to 1000 B.C.;
The Upanishads, answers about life and the universe, dates about 800 B.C.
Even the Great Epics, were told for generations before set in writing about the first century B.C.
Apart from Surinam and Trinidad, and to a lesser extent Guyana and Canada, Hinduism has little or no serious impact on the communities of the rest of the western world although they are domiciled in almost every western territory.
And thus to some western minds Hinduism judged by the few Hindus they meet appears to be without meaningful philosophy, moral or ethic or even laws or disciplines.
Basically there are two principal reasons for this. In the first place there is the language barrier ... Sanskrit and Hindi as against English, French and Spanish... and then, the western world is a world of migrants who are conscious of missionaries hunting communities for conversion to their fold.
Hinduism does not advocate conversion. The Hindu may convert to another religion, but has no provision for others to convert to Hinduism. And some scholars even claim that "everyone is a Hindu" even after they convert to another.
Frankly, Hinduism is not seen by Hindus as a religion but as a way of life governed by certain tenets and disciplines known as " Sanatan Dharma", eternal laws.
Therefore regardless of race, creed, religion or country, by right of birth and in accordance to "Sanatan Dharma" one is Hindu at birth, since birth itself is a natural act governed by cosmic laws.
"There are differences in forms and rituals." noted the first Governor-General of India, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, who emphasised that
" A knowledge of Hinduism will make
Hindus better Hindus,
and Christians better Christians,
Muslims better Muslims,
and all of us
better citizens in a consolidated nation."
"Mahatma Gandhi," he wrote, "has made it clear that he disapproved of seeking to convert people from one religion to another. Conversion would mean asking them to give up the use of names, symbols and rituals in which they were brought up from childhood and inducing them to adopt a new set of names, symbols and rituals.
"At the same time," he continued, "people who follow one religion should understand the other religions professed by their fellow citizens.
"Most certainly, at least the religion of the vast bulk of our people which necessarily influence the life of the nation, should be understood by those who have been following other faiths."
And he emphasised:
"Integration does not mean the giving up of any creed or customs or the adoption of those of others but consists in all round sympathetic understanding."
"Ultimately all religions, all the ways adopted by men and women to offer obeisance and adoration to the Most High are the same....as all the waters falling as rain from the sky ultimately reach the ocean, so does reverent obeisance paid to whatever GOD ultimately reach Kesava."
Philosophical Hinduism believes in the oneness of the Supreme Soul, the Brahman, of which individual soul ultimately merges into the universal soul. It has, however, to work out its destiny, its Karma, by passing through a series of births. According to his status in life a man must perform his special duties, thereby laying emphasis on action.
Naturally, what the Sages took thousands of years to document cannot be expounded within the space allotted here, but "karma" is a much debated subject within our own society that do need some guidance.
More often than not and particularly when depressed for one reason or another, I have asked:
"If the objective is to obtain moksha or for the soul to become One with the Supreme Being, then why are we born in the first place?"
Frankly there are varying answers from several schools and writers, but the quest goes on ... and yet, some would say "you are here, aren't you? Why question."
And here Chakravarti Rajagopalachari in his publication, "Hinduism .... The Doctrine and Way of Life " points out:
"The law of karma, the law of cause and effect in things spiritual,lays down that death does not end the chain. Whatever activities we engage ourselves in, the body is not the agent but that which dwells in the body, which does not die with death but takes a lodging in another tenement. The spirit within continually shapes itself and builds its future accordingly. The new tenement is one that suits the shape the soul has worked itself into."
The body, he says is not the person, but the person's tool.
And the soul "must be looked upon
as an instrument of Iswara
who resides within every soul
and uses it as a craftsman uses his tool."
And Rajagopalachari too, asks: "For what purpose?"
And his answer:
"This we cannot unravel. The Hindu way of looking at it is that it is Iswara's (Supreme Being) leela or play. Those who posit a purpose may please themselves with their conceits, but must not impose them on others."
That aside, man has recognised that "religion is the highest need of human nature"just as our body requires food for their sustenance and our minds require knowledge for their expansion, so do our souls require religious experience for their perfection.
And man with this understanding have over the ages carved many a path for the attainment of this perfection ...just as all the rivers flow into the ocean.
Be it then:
"Let noble thoughts come to us from every side."
Published in the Trinidad EXPRESS
Divali Supplement: November 6, 1988
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Harry S. Sharma