EP8 – Explaining Hinduism to travellers to Delhi, India

Ketaki and Anubhav speak with a close friend, Akhilesh to understand what is Hinduism? Why it is hard to understand hinduism from a western perspective? We then talk about the goal of life as per Indian philosophy or Darshanas. We briefly cover a few of the nine philosophies in ancient India.

What is Hinduism

Visitors have a template in their mind on what Hinduism is. They might have seen Christianity or islam or Judaisim. Its important to not look at Hinduism with the lens of both religions.

We talk about “isms” and why language limits our understanding of Hinduism. Ism is a particular kind of thought. A narrow view point or the thoughts of a person. Its not a good idea to call it an “ism” but we understand that Hinduism as a name has stuck.

The name came from others who observed folks in Sindu river. The word Sindhu and Hindu are the same. In India S and H are replaceable.

The other religions of the world have a template. There is a book, there is leader. People of that book and religion are said to be the followers?

What is the book for Hinduism? Is it the Gita, the upanishads?

We don’t have a book! If we are compelled to answer the question, “what is the book?” then we say the Gita or the Upanishads or the Vedas. Gita is not the book of Hinduism.

Hinduism is not based on a book or founded by a person. In this geographical part, in this land, lots of “paramparas” – closest translation is “Tradition” -were formed. All of those constitute what we today call Hinduism. But inspite of that there is a certain amount of unity in all these paramparas.

Is it fair to say that Hinduism is a philosophy or a branch of philosophy?

Indian word for philosophy is Darshan, which means ways of seeing. Philosophy is a Greek word which means love of knowledge and particular way to look at things.

Hinduism has many Darshanas. Its not one Darshana. All of them are a part of the broad tradition of Hinduism. All aspects of life are touched by it. How we go about living is guided by our traditions or Darshanas.

Do you need to understand Darshanas to get Hinduism?

You can start however you want. Start by observing India during a festival. In trying to understanding that festival you will understand key aspects of Hinduism. There are multiple starting points.  You will end up understanding India. Observing India is key to understanding Hinduism.

Hinduism states that while the end goal is the same, there are many paths to get there.

Is Hinduism prescriptive on how you get to end state or Moksha.

There are multiple ways of life and all of them constitute Hinduism. There is word in India called Sampradaya. There are many sampradayas in India and anyone on a path of seeking can follow any sampradays.

Are there any absolute truths in Hinduism? What about the concept of Karma and the afterlife or the soul, atma, consciousness? Are these Hindu concepts?

Lets avoid phrases like absolute truths. We can examine each of these words though. Moksha and Karma need to be contextualised. One of the common theme in Hinduism is Purusharthas – aims of life:

  1. Dharma
  2. Artha
  3. Kaam
  4. Moksha

These are not divisions. Its not like if you follow Dharma, you cannot follow artha. Moksha is the final purushartha. Lets discuss these in more detail

Dharma is not being translated as religion. THat’s not true

Artha – death

Karma – pleasure

Moksha – Salvation

Is there a Moksha Sutra like the Kamasutra?

bhramashastra is a part of adwaita vedanta philosophy and that’s the sutra for Moksha.

Dharma is a simple but complicated concept. To an Indian it does not need explanation. Indian thought never talked about rights. It talked about duties instead. All my duties are Dharma. My duties towards my nation, father, family, wife, etc. That said,

Dharma of fire is to burn. Dharma of water is to wet something. Raja Dharma is the duty of the king towards the nation. There is a modern way to think about Dharma. And that is Sustainability.

Dharma comes from the dhatu Dhru. Which means to hold or sustain. So, the way to learn words like Dharma is to continue to use them in different ways.

Artha broadly means wealth and encourages us to look at artha.

Kamasutra is famous but only a short part of it is famous around the world but that’s a topic for another time.

Upanishads are the last part of vedas. They are also thought of as the “end” of the vedas or the “

They are conversations between teachers and students that deal with the fundamental questions of life. Profound topics are discussed here and are a joy to read. There are 9 commonly understood darshanas in India. they are of two types

  1. Aastika : Those that believe in Upanishads and vedas
  2. Naastika: Those that don’t believe in vedas

Adwaita Vedanta is the most commonly understood Dharshana. It believes in the vedas and in the answers given in the Upanishads in a Story form.

We start by discussion how this world came about. There is a scientific explanation, what’s the Indian story that’s equivalent? The story is that there was the one when time did not exist. The one got bored because it was alone. The one is not a human figure. We believe that it is formless. The one became the many. It’s not like the division of an apple that destroys the apple. The one became many but the one remains. Like how a spider creates the web. The material of the web comes out of the spider but it does not destroy the spider. The one is in the many but also outside of it.

This many is what we see around us. Birds, trees, humans, etc. The one has a word called “Bhrahma”.

What is the material with which the one was created? Who created it.

The answer is that Bhrahma created itself out of itself. So the fundamental goal in life is that “I am the one”. The one who realises that he/she is the one is the one that attains Moksha.

So what’s moksha? That’s it. The state of moksha is to realise that you are the one. A part of everything and everything is a part of you.

Compare Hinduism to Islam and Christianity

They have books and leaders. The way followers get salvation is by following the path of a leader. The leader prescribed a path and you follow it to get to salvation.

With hinduism, there is no founder or book. The way it works is that it is a living tradition. There are so many people in our tradition who have reached the goal by following a tradition. These folks then teach the tradition to others.

All the Indic tranditions are a part of one big stream called India. What’s common to them as compared to semetic religions is that the ability to reach the final goal is not related to the historicity of the founder of that religion. What matters is the way in which you are living in the religion.

Is it fair to say that each Sampradaya has a Guru?

Yes, there are many gurus are Sampradayas. Some of 2500 years old and some are 25 years old. And, that’s ok.

What about the rituals?

Rituals in our tradition are very time and space dependent. There are three key parameters that define rituals in India.

  1. Desh: Region
  2. Kaal: Time
  3. Patra: Person

There are the parameters. Based on these parameters, rituals are defined. Some rituals re common, many are different. We keep changing our rituals with time. There was a time there were no temples in India. yagyas were common, now they are not.

This seems like a mix of philosophy and religion?

Lets use the India words Aachar and VIchaar. Just sitting and thinking about something or just following rituals will not make you reach anywhere.

This reminds me of Kabir and his many dohas. In one Doha he says that just chanting or counting beads and chanting is not going to get you to Moksha.

Yes, that’s a beautiful Doha. Kabir was a mystic poet in the 15th century. He is considered the leader of Nirgun Bhakti movement. He also had a famous Doha that said:

“The path of love is so narrow that there isn’t place for two. When I, the ego is there, there is no god, when god appears there is no ego I.”

This “I” becoming the one in Vedanta is similar to the bhakti tradition and that’s the key message in Hinduism.

This seems like a good place to end the conversation.

Thanks Akhilesh.