by Jayaram V
To believe that some people need to be forced
or lured or convinced or encouraged or threatened to agree with
our religious beliefs and dogmas has been and will always be
the cause of the instability of this world.
Hinduism is not a religion, but a set of beliefs and practices.
It is not a religion
like Christianity or Islam or Buddhism because it is not
founded by any one person or does not have an organized controlling
body like the Church or the Order. Everything is acceptable in Hinduism
because there is no single authority or organization either to accept
it or to reject it or to oppose it on behalf of Hinduism.
It is like what happens when you have country without a ruler.
Any one can go there, set up his shop and do his business as long
as he is in harmony with the group or the peer culture. The same
thing happened with Hinduism. Here the priestly class supported
by the kings and rulers and backed by the authority of the Vedas
acted as the Peer Group and exerted peer pressure. The priests laid
down some rules and practices (dharma shastras), partly based on
social compulsions and partly based on the authority of the Vedas
as to what was religious (dharma) and what was irreligious (adharma).
But even they were a heterogeneous mass who disagreed and quarreled
a lot among themselves on the finer aspects of the scriptures and
in the ways of worship or performance of rituals. Besides, they
had practically no control on the
religious beliefs and practices of diverse groups of people
who inhabited the subcontinent and were beyond their reach or authority.
They did exercise some peer pressure on the whole community, because
of the commonly accepted authority of the Vedas and the centuries
old belief about the religious authority of the Brahmins. If Hinduism
had attained or retained some distinction it was because of this
social and intellectual pressure.
The fact is Hinduism
is a religion of the individual, for the individual and by the individual
with its roots in the Vedas and the Bhagavad gita. It is all about
an individual approaching a personal God in an individual way according
to his temperament and inner evolution. If he does not like Siva,
he can choose Vishnu. If he does not like either of them, he can
become a Shakta worshipper. If he is still not comfortable, he can
bring in a few elements from other religions like Buddhism or Jainism
or even Islam and Christianity and add them to his rituals or ways
of worship. Or he can choose a local guru, baba or a saint and follow
him. In summary we can say that Hinduism accepts various forms of
worship including the forms of worship followed in alien cultures
as long as they are in harmony with the original ideas founded in
the Vedas and especially the end part of the Vedas called the Upanishads.
It is also true that in the past Hindus were not completely
tolerant of other religious groups, though Hindu scriptures as such
did not approve such behavior. Religiously, the ancient Hindus treated
invaders like the Greeks, the Sakas, the Kushanas and the Turks
with great contempt referring them with such epithets as mlecchas
and tucchas and putting them on par with the untouchables. The concept
of religious tolerance in Hinduism is very ancient but its practice
is of recent origin. Today in India, Hindu fundamentalism is a palpable
phenomenon. And this is mainly because of the resurgence of
Islamic fundamentalism and Christian missionary activity.
Suggested Further Reading