Essential Aspects of Hindu Way of Life
Question: I am being told that Hinduism is a way of life. Many people keep saying it but in their approach and attitude do not seem to be much different from the followers of other religions. What do we mean when we say Hinduism is a way of life? How is it different from other religions?
You have asked an important question. I have written several essays on this subject. I will briefly explain here why Hinduism is a way of life. True, Hinduism is known as a way of life, not just a religion. It is also true that Hindus keep saying it with pride, but do not mean it in practice because it is difficult to put the idea into genuine practice. For example, how many times in a day can you remember God?
Ideally in Hinduism, you have to remember him always, without any gap. It is possible only in the advanced stages of Bhakti yoga, which is why Bhakti yoga is considered higher than all other yogas, which are mentioned in the Bhagavadgita. In Classical Yoga, it is called Isvara Paridhana, which forms the central aspect of Samyama (concentrated meditation), which leads to self-absorption (samadhi). It is also why in the Bhagavadgita you will find repeated references to contemplation upon God.
When we say Hinduism is a way of life, it means in Hinduism living itself is a way of worship. There is no distinction in Hinduism between worship and living. Living itself is a means to worship God and express your gratitude and devotion. As a true devotee, you make God the center of everything and the goal of every action. It is indeed difficult, unless your mind is constantly engaged in the thoughts of God.
The Way is a reference to the journey of the soul in the Samsara (cycle of transmigration). That Way has to be paved with the footprints of God, and lit with his eternal wisdom as contained in the scriptures. The following are a few important aspects of the so-called Way, by following which a Hindu is supposed to live upon earth and attain liberation, pursuing his worldly and spiritual goals.
Exemplify God upon earth.
According to the Vedas, each human being is a personification of Purusha, the Cosmic Being. He contains within himself the whole universe. In his highest aspect, he is the eternal, indestructible Self. Therefore, he should represent him in word and deed and live as if God would have lived upon earth. The incarnation of Rama is a perfect example in this regard. He was born as a human being and experienced human emotions. He also made some mistakes in judgment due to the limitations to which humans are subject, but upheld Dharma and fought with evil to protect the world.
Serve God by performing obligatory duties
Since Hindus represent God upon earth, they have to perform his obligatory duties upon earth as a part of their Dharma to ensure the order and regularity of the world. Since he is the source of all, they should perform them without desires and expectations and without claiming ownership or doership. The obligatory duties are towards God, oneself, one's family, the world, gods, ancestors, and other living beings. As the Bhagavadgita says, even God performs such obligatory duties to set an example and ensure the continuity of existence. The Isa Upanishad says that one should perform their actions with that attitude and wish to live here for a hundred years.
Practice righteous conduct
The way of life in Hinduism is paved with Dharma (divine laws). God is its creator and upholder. As God’s representatives upon earth, Hindus are expected to cultivate divine qualities and follow righteous conduct. They shall abstain from immoral, unethical and selfish conduct and exemplify God in every aspect of their lives, cultivating purity, which is the essential nature of Isvara, Lord of the Universe. Many Hindu gods and goddesses personify this approach in their actions and conduct.
Lead a holistic life
Hinduism understands the importance of human beings in ensuring the order and regularity of not only this world but the worlds above. It also understands the consequences if humans neglect their duties and fall into evil ways. Therefore, it prescribes a holistic approach to ensure that both spiritual and temporal needs of creation are met. Hindu householders are supposed to pursue the four aims of human life (Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha) in the four stages of their lives namely childhood, adulthood, retirement age and old age. They have the freedom to pursue worldly goals in the first two stages of their lives without ignoring their obligation to God, but in the latter stages, they have to pursue liberation only.
Live life as a sacrifice or an offering
For Hindus, life on earth is one long sacrifice, in which every physical and mental action is an offering, worship and an expression of selfless service and devotion. Even simple actions such as walking, sleeping, eating, speaking, listening, thinking, loving and serving are considered acts of sacrifice only, in which God is the sacrificer, the sacrificed and the object of sacrifice. Thus, human life is a great opportunity to engage in sacrificial actions with intelligence and awareness as an offering to God. Even when they are engaged in mundane actions, human beings have to remember God and offer him their actions. By being equal to the dualities of life and renouncing their egos, attachments and selfish desires, they have to sacrifice everything, including their failures and successes, and joys and sorrows, to God only.
Make God the Highest Goal
Way means the path or the set of principles, methods and practices which you choose in life to achieve your worldly and spiritual goals. According to Hinduism, the paths to God are many but of all the goals which humans pursue, God is the highest and the ultimate goal (parandhama). Hence, in Hinduism, the Way has no meaning unless it directed to take you towards God and facilitate nearness (samipya) as well as union (sayujya). The paths are many but he goal is one. You may choose any path and practice any methods to worship God and serve him with your heart and soul, but they must be aligned to the highest goal of achieving liberation.
Practice self-transformation for liberation
You cannot achieve self-realization or union with the Self or God, unless you remove all the differences and distinctions between the two realities that exist in you. Therefore, whatever you do in life, make sure that it brings you closer to God and removes the barriers that stand between you and him, so that at some point, you will be exactly like the eternal Being in all respects. It is what we mean by union, oneness, nearness, unity and absorption. The main difference between gods and humans is the degree of impurities. Human beings are subject to the impurities of gunas, egoism, desires, attachment, delusion, etc. Unless they are removed through Yoga and self-purification, one cannot cultivate nearness to God.
Use your intelligence to make right choices
Intelligence is God (prajnanam Brahma). Hindus have to take refuge in their intelligence to make right choices with discretion. Intelligence is their guru and God. Hinduism is a way of life. However, it is not easy to say what that way represents. It depends upon you, your predominant nature (gunas) and your choices. As in other aspects of creation, diversity exists in the methods of worship and paths to liberation also. Therefore, in Hinduism you have the freedom to make choices. It is up to you to choose your methods, deities, scriptures and beliefs to worship God and strive for liberation. However, in making that choice you must rely upon your own intelligence (buddhi). If you purify your intelligence, it is much better. Then you can make better choices and avoid mistakes. You may rely upon others such as teachers and scholars, or upon scriptures. Even then, you must use your intelligence to discern truth.
In the western sense, each religions is an organized set of beliefs and practices, centered around a scripture or a prophet or founder. According to the Vedas, the source of Hinduism is God himself. He is its founder as well as protector and upholder. Even gods practice it. He disseminated its sacred knowledge through several channels in different ages for different purposes. Hence, in Hinduism there are no set beliefs, no particular doctrine, no particular teacher, no particular beliefs, no particular god, no particular messiah or school of philosophy. Each person has to make choices according to his knowledge and intelligence, which in turn depend upon his effort (karma) in this life and in previous lives.
Since, the karma of all beings is not alike, there will be diversity in people’s choices and methods of worship. Some paths are straight and direct, and some are indirect and circuitous. Some lead to God, and some to other deities, which one may choose to worship. In the end, they all lead to God only. Whatever path one may choose, one should not forget that the paths of Hinduism are never separate from God or from the act of living. They connect both and remains inseparable from both. The path which a Hindu chooses is one long sacrifice in itself. It starts from God, paved with God, leads to God and ends in God. The practitioner may not be aware of it, but God is.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- An Essay on Hinduism As Way of Life
- Ten Reasons Why Hinduism is a Way of Life
- The Hindu Way Of Life
- The True Essence of the Hindu Way of Life
- Living According To Hindu Dharma For Self Realization
- Who is the Founder of Hinduism?
- Three Thoughts to Remember for Spiritual Life
- Ten Distinguishing Features Of Hinduism
- Purusharthas in Hinduism
- The History, Antiquity and Chronology of Hinduism
- Main Beliefs and Practices of Hinduism
- God and You in Hinduism
- The Future of Hinduism
- Hinduism and Diversity
- Hinduism - The Faith Eternal
- Three Myths about Hinduism
- Hinduism and Its Intellectual Appeal
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