The quintessence of Hinduism

I offer my deep sense of gratitude to our most revered Rabbi Ronald Millstein for extending to me his cordial invitation to speak on Hinduism. It is indeed a great privilege and pleasure to address this distinguished audience. I am extremely glad to learn from the Rabbi that this is a liberal synagogue. To me, the word "liberal" has a special significance. It signifies a truth as luminous and powerful as the sun, as vast as the universe. It is in our liberal understanding of all religious faiths that we can hope to achieve tolerance. Tolerance helps us to a large degree to put an end to the age-old prejudices born of ignorance.

And now my heart desires to share with you a few significant thoughts on Hinduism. Let me first tell you a short story.

A great sage of ancient India, named Bhrigu, wanted to test the three principal gods the great Trinity of Hinduism: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. He wished to determine who was the greatest. He approached Brahma, but showed him no respect. Brahma was very displeased with him. With the same disrespect, Bhrigu went to Shiva, who became violently angry. When he went to Vishnu, he found the deity asleep. So Bhrigu put his foot on Vishnu's chest to wake him up. The god was greatly alarmed at being awakened in so rude a manner, and immediately he began to massage Bhrigu's foot affectionately, saying, "Is your foot hurt? I am so sorry." Thus Bhrigu discovered that Vishnu was the greatest of the three gods.

The tolerance shown by the god in this story was not weakness but the heart's generosity. Further, it came from a feeling of oneness. When, in our sleep, our elbow strikes some other part of our body, we do not become angry with the elbow, but massage it. Similarly, Hinduism strives to regard humanity as one great body.

Hinduism is a river that flows dynamically and untiringly: Hinduism is a tree that grows consciously and divinely. Hinduism is variety. Unique is Hinduism in her Mother aspect. She is blessed with children who cherish various conceptions of God. One of her children says: "Mother, there is no Personal God." "I see, my child", she answers. The second child says: "Mother, if there is a God, then He can only be Personal." "I see, my child", she replies. The third child says: "Mother, God is both Personal and Impersonal." "That is so, my child", she says. And now she says to them: "Be happy, my children, be happy. Stick to your own beliefs and learn through them. Grow through them and always be faithful to your ideals." Indeed, this is the Mother-Heart of Hinduism.

Hinduism clings to the inner law of life which is the common heritage of mankind. So long as one is a Truth-seeker, it does not matter if one is a theist, an atheist or an agnostic. Each human soul has its own place in the Hindu ideal of spirituality. Significant are Gandhi's words: "Hinduism is a relentless pursuit after Truth. It is the religion of Truth. Truth is God. Denial of God we have known. Denial of Truth we have not known."

Hinduism's past

It is absurd to hold that the India of the hoary past played exclusively the role of world-renunciation. Our ancients accepted life in full faith. They clearly believed in life itself as a great power.

Our Vedic parents expressed their will to live a long, radiant life when they sang:

Tach chaks ur debahitam…

May we, for a hundred autumns, see that lustrous Eye,
God-ordained, arise before us.
May we live a hundred autumns;
May we hear for a hundred autumns;
May we speak well for a hundred autumns;
May we hold our heads high for a hundred autumns;
Yes, even beyond a hundred autumns.

In full earnest, they tried to fathom and understand the mystery of life. They accepted the earth with its joys and sorrows, its hopes and frustrations. Moreover, they wanted to live as the master and lord of life. They were therefore dauntless and uncompromising in their opposition to evil. They wanted their souls to be possessed absolutely by the Supreme and, at the same time, they aspired to serve Him in the world.

Our Vedic forebears discovered the existence of two lives: the ordinary life and the higher life. They gave due importance to physical, vital and mental activities, but with a view to entering into a higher, spiritual life, a life of more illumined knowledge, light and truth. Once established in that higher life, they knew the soul would receive absolute support from the members of its family, the body, vital, mind and heart, for its full manifestation and expression. Thus became inevitable the ideal of a special knowledge leading to the liberation of the aspiring human soul. Our ancestors were realists who felt that the spontaneous joy of life would feed the body and strengthen the soul. They knew that the secret of growth was freedom. They cried out:

Uru nastanve tan…

Give freedom for our bodies,
Give freedom for our dwelling,
Give freedom for our life.

This was a freedom to help untie the knot of ignorance. They were positive in their acceptance of life; positive, too, in their aspiration for Immortality.

Hinduism's Present

It is easy to insist that the India of the past was sublime while the India of today is anything but that. But they are mistaken who think that ancient Hinduism is the only part of Indian life worth study. India's present, too, has much to contribute to the world at large. Her soul's light, paying no heed to outer recognition, is playing an important role in awakening the heart of the world, and it is ultimately destined to inspire humanity with the message of truth, forgiveness and universal kindness.

Hinduism is a dynamic aspiration, divinely surcharged. In the course of its eternal journey, self-giving has been its very breath of life.

Hinduism is complex but it has always kept and forever will keep a distinct note: the note of spirituality. A true Hindu will keep his ideals burning, no matter how shattering the ephemeral changes are, no matter how powerful the destructive forces. Dr. Radhakrishnan, the philosopher-king, throws abundant light on the subject:

"When an old binding culture is being broken, when ethical standards are dissolving, when we are being aroused out of apathy or awakened out of unconsciousness, when there is in the air general ferment, inward stirring, cultural crisis, then a high tide of spiritual agitation sweeps over peoples and we sense in the horizon something novel, something unprecedented, the beginning of a spiritual renaissance."

The present-day world is consciously longing for unity. Hinduism teaches that India's unity is her oneness of spiritual vision, her integral fulfilment. Humanity is becoming convinced of the truth that the material, intellectual and spiritual lives can indeed run abreast to achieve the final victory of God here on earth.