Hinduism2"Know Thyself." This is what Hinduism stands for. This is the quintessence of Hinduism.
In a world of nervous uncertainties, in a world of dark falsehood and blind unreason, religion is one of the few things that retain their dignity. It is religion that brings man's divinity to the fore. It is religion that can inspire man to grapple with the ruthless present, reaffirm his inner strength and fight for Truth and the Hour of God.
You all know that the Hindu religion is one of the oldest religions of the world. Unlike most of the world religions, the Hindu religion has no founder of its own. It is primarily founded on the soul-stirring utterances of the Rishis, the Seers. A Seer is one who visions the Truth and communes with the Truth.
If you want to define Hinduism, you can do so with the help of a monosyllable: Love. This Love is all-embracing and ever-growing. True, a staunch Hindu will say, "I can live without air, but not without God." At the same time, if a Hindu says that he does not believe in God at all, he is still a Hindu. He feels himself to be a Hindu and others do not deny it. It is the personal choice that reigns supreme.
A Hindu may have hundreds of gods to worship or only one. To him, God may be 'Personal' or He may be 'Impersonal'. My young friends, I will try to explain what is meant by 'Personal' and 'Impersonal'. An aeroplane is in the airport. You can see it. It is something concrete, material and tangible. When the plane leaves the ground and can no longer be seen, you know, nevertheless, that it is in the sky. It may be going to Canada or Japan or elsewhere. But it is in operation. You know that on some other level, it is present and functioning. Similarly, the 'Impersonal' God whom we may not see in a tangible form, we feel in our awakened consciousness, guiding and moulding us invisibly.
We have spoken of God in terms of Hinduism. Now let us focus our attention on what it says about God-Realisation. God-Realisation is nothing short of a spiritual science which puts an end to suffering, ignorance and death. But we have to realise God for His sake and not for our sake. To seek God for one's own sake is to feed one's ceaseless desires in vain. But to seek God for His sake is to live in His universal consciousness; in other words, to be one with Him absolutely and inseparably.
Now the paramount question is whether God has been within us all the time, whether He comes into our hearts for long periods as a guest or He comes and goes. With a deep sense of gratitude, let me call upon the immortal soul of Emily Dickinson whose spiritual inspirations impel a seeker to know what God the Infinite precisely is. She says:
"The Infinite a sudden guest
Has been assumed to be,
But how can that stupendous come
Which never went away?
Hinduism is called the Eternal Religion. It seeks union with God in every way known to mankind. Its essence is tolerance and it wants an all-fulfilling union of mankind with God, nothing more and nothing less. Hinduism refuses to think of world religions as separate entities. Housing within itself, as it does, all the religions of the world in its own way, it can be called, without being far from truth, a unique Fellowship of Faiths.
Love for others is, for a genuine Hindu, an organic part of his love for God. Cheerfully and significantly his soul will announce and sing with the dauntless spirit of Walt Whitman:
"I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you."
As I mentioned before, the most striking feature of Hinduism is the quest for first-hand experience, nay, realisation of God. If you study the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita and other Indian scriptures, you may be surprised to observe that although each emphasises a particular view or certain ideas, all these scriptures embody fundamentally the same perfect divine knowledge which is God.
The salient point in the Hindu religion is uniquely expressed in the teachings of the Isha Upanishad: "Rejoice through renunciation." You know perfectly well that the good and the pleasant need not necessarily be the same. If you want the pleasant, you may come right up to the foot of a mango tree, but the fruits will be denied to you by the owner. But if you want the good, which is in essence the truth, the situation will be entirely different. If you want the mango, not to satisfy your greed, but to make a serious study of the fruit, the owner will be highly pleased with you, not only offering you a mango for study, but telling you to eat as many as you wish.
None of us wants to play the fool; hence we must aspire for the good and do away with the pleasant for good. Our goal, the fount of the highest Truth and Bliss, is open only to the Truth-lover who wants to fulfil himself in the ceaselessly delightful upward and inward journey of his soul. A devout Hindu longs for a heart which is a perfect stranger to falsehood, a heart as vast as the world.
Perhaps you may say that to have a heart of that type is next to impossible, an unattainable ideal. I cannot concur with you. For even now such noble souls walk the earth. Your unique president, Abraham Lincoln had undoubtedly such a heart as that. To quote your greatest philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson: "His (Lincoln's) heart was as great as the world, but there was no room in it to hold the memory of a wrong."
My young brothers and sisters, I find no reason why I should fail to realise in you a heart as vast as the world, empty of falsehood and ignorance, and at the same time, a heart flooded with the Truth of the Beyond.
2. An extemporaneous talk given on 4 October 1965, to the tenth-grade students of Hicksville High School, Hicksville. New York.↩