What Can You Do In the Service of Hinduism?
In today's world, Hinduism is in the grave danger of losing its spirit and identity. It is partly caused by the indifference and ignorance of people who practice it.
Hinduism is a complex religion and it is difficult to practice it without certain knowledge and wisdom.
The complexity of the tradition also makes it vulnerable to decay and decadence. In the hands of ignorant people, Hinduism can fast decay into a demonic religion serving the needs of a few evil minds.
Every Hindu, who is committed to his faith, should feel concerned about what is going on with it today. Hinduism is fast become a religion of empty rituals, festivities, pilgrimages and temple traditions. The earlier this is addressed the better it is for the community.
More than 600 million Hindus not only live in abject poverty but complete ignorance of their religion. According to a recent survey, they constitute the poorest of the world. It is where maximum conversions happen.
The destruction of Hinduism from within
For over 6000 years, Hinduism and its antecedent traditions survived many deadly assaults and tumultuous conditions. For over 600 years, with all their might and cruel persecutions, the Delhi Sultans and Mughals failed to shake the foundations of Hindu religion.
But it looks like now Hinduism is facing a major crisis, not from foreign invaders and religious persecutions, but from a vast number of Hindus themselves. With their apathy and indifference and their preoccupation with self-interests, they are putting Hinduism to all possible misuses. They are degrading it by focusing upon the outer aspects of the religion, ignoring its core values.
Some may believe in the indestructability of Hinduism, thinking that if the religion survived for so long, it would continue to do. The truth, no religion can survive without the active support of its followers. A religion is also an institution and like every institution, it is subject to decay and decadence.
No religion can survive if its followers lack discipline, show no consideration for the ideals of the religion and think that it is someone else's duty and responsibility to protect it and uphold it.
The biggest challenge Hinduism has been facing today is the anarchy among its rank and file and total lack of discipline and commitment. Present day Hindus are Hinduism's ultimate challenge. How can you make a billion plus people, largely driven by self-interest and strikingly lacking in unity and foresight, to think alike and work together in the interests of a religion that is not organized or not bound to any authority or institution?
It took just a few decades, about 50 years, for once dominant religion like Zoroastrianism, the largest monotheistic religion in the world during Alexander's time, to disappear from the face of the earth. It happened mainly due to external factors and the systematic destruction of its viable and traditional institutions by the Islamic invaders.
Hinduism's demise will be, perhaps, much less violent, but internal, subtle and gradual. If the present trend continues, our future generations will probably know about true Hinduism through history books and a few internet archives. Even today, I believe the people who really understand the religion correctly will be perhaps less than a million.
This is not a pessimistic presentation of the future of Hinduism, but a possible scenario based upon current trends. Please do not be misled by the statistics that Hindus are growing in numbers in India and elsewhere.
The actual number of Hindus who practice Hinduism is significantly lower than what the statistic might tell you. You can conveniently put about 50% of the Hindus in the atheist (Carvaka) and materialist (lokayata) category because either they do not believe in God in the real sense of the word or they do not practice their religion at all.
The factors contributing to the decline of Hinduism
The decline of Hinduism is facilitated by a number of factors which are listed below.
1. A good number of people, originally belonging to Hinduism, converted to other religions two or three generations ago. Their children remained a part of the new faith to which they converted. The trend still continues and every year hundreds and thousands are silently converting to other faiths. A good example is what is happening in north eastern states and southern states like Andhra Pradesh. Hinduism lost them because casteism has pushed them away, making them feel small and marginal.
2. Since Hinduism is not an organized religion there is no recognized authority whose voice will be heard or respected. The various guru traditions and institutions have their own mills to run and their own agendas to push.
3. Hinduism is increasingly becoming a religion of ritualism, festivities, pilgrimages and such. The garbha dances organized in the north are hunting grounds for sexual predators and people looking for light banter. The Ganesh Chaturdhi festivities are a sham in many towns and cities as they are organized with great vanity, aggression and less sanctity.
4. The biggest challenge facing Hinduism today is the attitude of its own people. Many Hindus do not know much about their religion or read the scriptures. They are apathetic towards those who work for the cause of Hinduism.
5. Another challenge facing Hinduism is the internal divisions and disunity within the rank and file. Hindu society is divided on the lines of castes, communities, regions, and linguistic groups. The influence of castes among Hindus is so strong that given a choice, most of them would rather protect their respective castes and regional identities rather than help other Hindus who are different from them.
6. The Indian film industry is eroding the values of Hinduism by making a caricature of our gods and presenting the religion in poor light, showing Hindus wearing Christian crosses, being buried in graveyards and praying in the churches.
7. Indian history is being rewritten, distorted and glossed over by godless people as a cover up to keep people in ignorance of their own religion and historical background.
8. Hindu religious institutions and spiritual leaders are denigrated by Hindus themselves in public and in media for political and personal ends.
9. The education system in India is so designed that it provides little scope for the students to learn about their religion or its values..
The importance of individual duty in the Eternal Duty of God
Dharma, meaning religious duty or divine law, is central to Hinduism. At the highest level is the Duty of God, which He takes upon Himself, even though He has no need to do anything. Having created the worlds, He manages them with utmost discipline to keep their order and regularity and ensure that they do not lapse into chaos and moral confusion. His law (dharma), therefore, is meant to enforce discipline among beings. Those who do not participate in it according to His laws would incur karma and suffer from it.
Therefore, in the life a human being, as in case of God, duty is of great importance in Hinduism. It is no surprise then that of the four aims of human life (Purusharthas), dharma or religious duty comes first. Without it, the other three aims, namely wealth (artha), pleasure (kama) and liberation (moksha) do not contribute to the orderliness of society.
The Bhagavadgita says you duty is the best compared to the duties of others. It is not necessary that everyone should follow your faith or believe in the same deities, whom you worship. What is important is you should be dutiful and virtuous and lead a responsible life to realize the ultimate purpose of your existence upon earth, which is liberation.
This is the ideal, which Hinduism projects and which every dutiful Hindu should uphold as a part of his religious duty and moral obligation. A Hindu, ought to know his duties and responsibility towards himself, his family, his gods, his ancestors and the world in general.
This is the sum total of Hindu dharma, to be practiced by a Hindu everyday, until he retires from active duty and goes into seclusion to practice renunciation. It is what takes a dutiful person closer to gods and sets him apart from the demons. It is through the practice of our dharma that we are expected to climb the path of liberation and reach the gates of eternal heaven.
Our scriptures caution that if dharma (religion) declines, there will be chaos everywhere. Demons will enter the worlds and dominate. They will also become active in the microcosms of individual beings and bring misery and chaos to everyone. As a result, there will be further decline of light and virtue and people will become enveloped in delusion and ignorance.
Seven ways to protect your religion and uphold it?
Hinduism is not an organized religion. Its survival, practice and continuity depend not upon institutions, but upon individuals. There was a time Hinduism was protected by a dedicated grouped of scholars, philosophers, seers, sages and priests. Many kings used to support them and uphold the religion.
Now, we do not have that luxury. The last thing the government wants to do is to protect Hinduism, while there are umpteen number of forces ready to destroy it. We also do not have many people who work for Hinduism selflessly. We do not have many people who want to support those who work for Hinduism.
The media decides largely who should be the spokespersons for Hinduism. Search engines will tell you what and whom you should know and what information you should read. The media would willingly publish the religious beliefs of a criminal in capital letters, while the seers and sages who work in the background, and scholars who contribute to Hinduism with humility, remain unnoticed and unrecognized. They will publish only when a guru is involved in some sex scandal or a financial irregularity.
This is the state of affairs which we have to face today. In this scenario, the only hope for Hinduism is the commitment of those who practice it. As a Hindu, it is your prime responsibility to do your duty in upholding it and protecting it. Here are seven important suggestions for a duty bound Hindu to work for the welfare of Hinduism.
1. Know about your religion. If you know your religion, you will not be misled by propaganda. You will know what to do and how to defend it. Study your scriptures, especially the important ones. Focus on the higher knowledge rather than the mantras and rituals. One way to acquire knowledge is through the traditional method of self-study (svadhyaya). If you have the opportunity, you may also learn from learned scholars, religious teachers and by participating in religious discussions and congregations (satsangs).
2. Practice your religion. Any religion can continue only if it is practiced. A religion lives through the actions and thoughts of its people. As per the Vedas, our gods need our support for nourishment. Just as we need breath, they need food. They are nourished by our internal and external rituals. One can practice Hinduism in three different ways:
- Physically by performing rites and rituals, daily puja, visiting temples and participating in devotional services such as bhajans and satsangs;
- Mentally, through prayers, contemplation and devotional worship;
- Spiritually, through austerities, yoga, meditation and the like.
Whatever may be the methods you choose, you have to ensure that they are done to uphold the dharma not for material ends.
3. Believe in your religion. Our gods and goddesses are not mythical beings. Heaven and hell are not the creation of creative minds. There is truth in rebirth and karma. The wisdom of our religion represents the unfolding of human consciousness in the Indian subcontinent for over 7000 years. This religion of ours has not been shaped in a day or a hundred years. It has a long history and it has been enriched by great minds. Unless you have conviction in your religion it is difficult to practice it with interest and faith (sraddha).
4. Teach your religion. Our religion thrived in the past, even during difficult times, due to the dedication of countless selfless teachers. Students were schooled and trained until religious and scriptural knowledge was firmly implanted in their minds. The Taittiriya Upanishad provides a rare glimpse into the minds of the teachers who taught and what they expected from their students when they completed their education. We do not have that system today. Our education system is meant to promote materialism, worldly knowledge and unabashed self-interest. So do whatever you can in the yoga of knowledge, writing about it, teaching it to others or simply teaching your children.
5. Support your religion. The best way to support one's religion is to support the people and the institutions who are engaged in the service of it. Today, the gurus are able to command some respect due to the influence and attention they command. But many scholars, who are probably equally endowed with the wealth of spiritual knowledge, rarely get any support. They need our help. Similarly, while some temples are able to attract millions of visitors, many in the towns and villages are in dilapidated condition due to lack of support, or in some cases, due to misuse of funds and temple owned agricultural lands. If Hindus take care of their local temples financially or by service, Hinduism will flourish greatly.
6. Defend your religion. Defending Hinduism is the duty of every Hindu. This can be done peacefully, in a very dedicated way. Religious rivalry is a sad part of our modern life. While we have an obligation to be tolerant towards other faiths, we have a right to defend our own. It is said that if your protect your dharma, your dharma will protect you (dharmo rakshati rakshatah). So speak for your religion and defend it whenever and wherever necessary without inciting passions or indulging in negative emotions.
7. Know that religion is just a tool. Attachment to religion defeats the very purpose for which it is intended, which is liberation. We are here not to fight battles on behalf of God or to convert people to our faith. Let that be the domain of the fools and the deluded. You are here to practice virtue and work for your salvation. You are here to perform your obligatory duties with a sacrificial attitude to become free from the cycle of births. Let that be the guiding principle of life.
Whether you live in India, or elsewhere, you have an obligatory responsibility towards your religion and your society. Your duty towards your religion is not just a moral or social responsibility, but a part of your inner transformation and your final liberation. It is a precondition for your final admittance into the realm of immortal souls and an opportunity to cleanse your mind and body through acts of piety and selfless service. Serving your religion is serving God. It is up to you how you utilize the opportunity given to you and find your way into the heart of God.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Hindu Gods - Lord Ganesha
- God and Self in Hinduism
- Goddesses of Hinduism, Their Symbolism and Significance
- Purusharthas in Hinduism
- The History, Antiquity and Chronology of Hinduism
- Ashrama Dharma in Hinduism
- Hinduism and Buddhism
- Death and Afterlife in Hinduism
- Hinduism and Divorce
- Hinduism and Adultery
- Hinduism, Food and Fasting
- The Future of Hinduism
- Good and Evil in Hinduism
- The Hindu Marriage, Past and Present
- What is Maya in Hinduism?
- The Origin and Definition of Hindu
- Hinduism and Polygamy
- Hinduism and polytheism
- Hinduism and Premarital Relationships
- God and Soul, Atma and Paramatma, in Hinduism
- About Suicides in Hinduism
- Religious Tolerance in Hinduism
- Violence and Abuse in Hinduism
- Traditional Status of Women in Hinduism
- Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali
- About Hanuman or Anjaneya
- Hinduism and Same-sex Marriage
- Perspectives on What Karma Means
- Hinduism - The Role of Shakti in Creation
- Significance of Happiness in Hinduism
- Hindu God Lord Shiva (Siva) - the Destroyer
- The Role of Archakas, Temple Priests, in Hinduism
- Hinduism - Gods and Goddess in the Vedas