A Brief Introduction to Hinduism
Part I of II
This article was written with the purpose of educating my children on the essence of Hinduism and how it compares with other religions. My forthcoming article will contain a brief comparison of other religions.
Religion has been a part of every society since the beginning of humans. Oral traditions passed on the beliefs and practices of societies that did not have a writing system to record the history of religion. In these early societies, religion played a controlling part in the lives of people, much as some religions do today.
According to Stephen Oppenheimer of Oxford, the journey of humankind started with its roots in Ethiopia over 160,000 years ago (see www.bradshawfoundation.com/journey). It took a considerable amount of time for the human mind to evolve and introduce the concept of religion as it is known today. By most scholarly estimates this may have occurred between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago.
So, how did humankind survive as a society for such a long period of time? It is believed that society could not have survived without Dharma which is ingrained in every living being. Dharma can be defined as “our right to live a truthful and just life,” which implies that we are at liberty to live our lives without encroaching upon the rights of other individuals. This right of Dharma gives freedom to every individual human being to live an independent life. Dharma provides a rational approach to distinguish right from wrong and good from evil. In this philosophy, duties and responsibilities are emphasized more than rights and privileges.
Even before the advent of organized religion and Gods like Krishna, Moses, or Jesus, and even before the human mind could even comprehend and articulate the concept of religion, Dharma is what helped humanity survive. The root of Dharma is Sanatana Dharma which has existed since time immemorial.
Sanatana denotes that which always is, that which has neither beginning nor end, that which is eternal in its very essence. Dharma is designed to communicate the view that there is an underlying structure of natural law that is inherent in the very intrinsic constitution of Being itself – an essential nature.
Sanatana Dharma comprises spiritual laws which govern human existence. Sanatana Dharma is to human life what natural laws are to physical phenomena. Just as gravitation existed before it was discovered, the spiritual laws of life existed before they were discovered by the ancient sages. Sanatana Dharma declares that something cannot come out of nothing, and therefore, the universe itself is the manifestation of the Divine being.
The universe comes forth from the Divine and therefore all things and beings are sacred and must be treated so in human thought and action. The Divine sleeps in minerals, awakens in plants, walks in animals, and thinks in humans.
Sanatana Dharma recognizes that the Ultimate Reality, which is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization, cannot be limited by any name or concept. The potential for human wholeness (or in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, liberation, transformation, blessedness, nirvana, moksha) is present in every human being. No race or religion is superior and no color or creed is inferior. All humans are spiritually united like the drops of water in an ocean.
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