It is now possible to understand the essential idea of Hinduism as a harmony of science, philosophy and religion, and the art of perfect life, as a rational system based on the knowledge of the laws of Nature and the fundamental needs of human life, expressing its ideal of perfection in terms of God, personal as well as impersonal, "incarnate" as well as absolute.
Its primary aim, like the quest of man, is freedom from the ills of life; and it conceives of God as one who creates the world, and is yet perfectly happy and free. The God of Hinduism is accordingly not a "person" in the sense in which the term is ordinarily used, as a living being in human or some other tangible form, like the creatures we see but rather as a personification of absolute reality or attributes of ideal life, Sat-chit-ananda real existence, characterized by goodness, intelligence and joy; and to the extent to which a living creature approaches this ideal, he comes nearer unto God.
There is thus no contradiction between the conception of God and a perfect soul or a perfect Man, for the one is derived from the other; and so it is possible to conceive of a human being as a "Son of God" in this sense. But all creatures, such as they really are, live under the limitations of their physical form and circumstances, and absolute perfection is impossible to find; and so no living creature can really embody the idea of God; and the idea of God in terms of a living creature is nothing but a personification of certain attributes of perfection.
Hinduism is accordingly based essentially on reason and not faith, except where faith itself is but an extension of reason; and so it is the religion of Man, even as Man is said to be a rational animal, as distinguished from the rest. There is no necessary contradiction between reason and faiths and Hindu Philosophy recognizes sabda or oral statement of a wise and trustworthy person, which is but a form of faith, as a proper means of acquiring certain knowledge. The Bhagavad Gita tells us that faith is an integral part of a man.
Sanatana Dharma: It is thus a universal religion, because it is based on the laws of life which are of universal application; and it is said to be Sanatana Dharma or eternal religion, because these laws are eternal and cannot change so long as there is life. Indeed, there is no form of opinion or belief, extending from atheism to pure monism of God, and no mode of life, extending from pursuit of knowledge and renunciation of action to the fulfillment of life through all forms of knowledge and all kinds of actions, that is not included in its range; and so all kinds of persons, at whatever stage of mental and spiritual development, can find comfort in its teachings, and understand the truth according to their view of life. Jainism, Saivism, and Vaishnavism are, accordingly, equally integral parts of Hinduism, enabling us to rise from one stage of thought and life to another, and making the whole complete. Buddhism shows the path of perfection that ends in death; but, as it corresponds to the last stage of human life, and can be included in the other systems, it ceased to exist as a separate system, independently of the rest. It has its proper place as part of a whole scheme of life; but if we allow it to take the place of the whole, attempt to renounce action in the prime of life, before its tasks are done, it can only make for frustration and decay. It is for this reason that only a trace of it remains in the country of its birth, corresponding to it legitimate place in life.
Hinduism and other systems of Religion: Hinduism is the oldest of the world's great existing systems of religion which include Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, But it has its roots in the pre-historic past; and there is evidence of contact between Hindu thought and Greek civilization it the post-Buddhistic period. Indeed, if we understand the sacred books aright, we shall find that they throw a new light not only on the thought of Greece and Rome, but also solve some of the "mysteries" of the Old and the New Testament, and provide a rational explanation for the Islamic faith in "one and only one God, and nothing but God", for that is the very idea of Brahma in Vedanta. But, for obvious reasons, it is not possible to elaborate this idea here.
The sacred books of the Hindus: It is now possible to grasp more clearly the basic idea of Hinduism, as it is contained in the sacred books, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the six systems of philosophy, the Epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and the eighteen Puranas, all of which are believed to be sacred in their own way.
The Vedas, as the Mimansa tells us, contain an account of the laws of Nature, with special reference to the problems of different forms of life, especially Man; but we need to interpret them correctly to understand all this.
The Upanishads are said to be an exposition of the secret doctrine of the Vedas; and so they may be said to deal with the same problems more directly. Indeed, we find that they contain a great deal of pure philosophy; but some of their parts are not easy to understand, and would need to be interpreted in the same manner as the Vedas.
With regard to the six systems of philosophy, we have seen that they are closely connected systems of thought, and deal with the problems of life, with special reference to the laws of knowledge and action, and what belongs to Nature, Man, and God.
The different ideas of these systems, their apparent conflicts and the manner in which they can be reconciled, have been grouped together to form the different systems of religion, associated with the names of Brahma, Siva, and Vishnu, which include Jainism and Buddhism too; and the same have been rendered in story-form in the great Epics and Puranas, which can be understood as accounts of the different systems of philosophy and religion in accordance with the same method of interpretation as the Vedas.
A Hindu: A Hindu is said to be one who believes in all these sacred books; and as they, when properly interpreted, are found to deal with the fundamental problems of life, a Hindu is one who tries to understand the entire range of human thought extending from Nature to Man and God, and seeks to attain to perfection by attempting to live in accordance with their laws. lndeed the different forms of rites and ceremonies, devotion and worship, as well as the "castes" and the "stages of life", together with the "laws" relating to the family and other institutions, were intended to explain and illustrate this idea of perfection, and point the way to its achievement. But it is not possible to deal with this problem at length in this place.
The Mimansa contains an explanation of a number of terms used in connection with ritual and sacrifice, sacrificial altar, fire, sacrificial posts, grass, priests, sacrificer, etc. etc. The four "castes" refer to what is contained in Man and Nature, the intellect, ahankara and the mind, the senses, the objects of the senses respectively while the four "stages of life" are meant to deal with the different problems of life, with special reference to knowledge and action as its goal. All this has been dealt with in the present work, and considered elsewhere too.
Hindu and Sindhu: There are some who believe that there is no such thing as a Hindu philosophy or religion, and that the term itself, which is a variant of Sindhu, signifying the great river of that name and so referring to the region around it does not occur in the sacred books. They are of the opinion that the ancient Aryans lived at first in the region through which the Sindhu or the Indus passes, and subsequently migrated to the Gangetic valley in the east. The Hindu, according to them are the people who took their name from the river Sindhu, and have little connection with any system of philosophy or religion, however their evolution took place.
We have already explained how closely connected are these systems of philosophy and religion; and, while there can he little doubt that the words Hindu and Sindhu are allied, they are also connected with ideas of philosophy, which give a special significance to them.
There are a number of references to the Sindhu in the Vedas, where it means not only a river, but also the sea or the ocean, and stands generally for a great flood of water. Now the Mimansa tells us that Water is symbolic of Nature or Prakrti; and, as the Sindhu is the only river that is spoken of as masculine, whereas Prakrti is conceived to be feminine, and Man and Woman represent the idea of God and Nature respectively, it may be regarded as symbolic of the union of the two into one. Indeed, we have seen that it is the idea of Nature itself that is transformed into that of God by means of that of Sacrifice; and this would appear to be signified by the Sindhu, which is accordingly said to be a name of not only Varuna, but of Vishnu too. Hence, as the word Hindu is a variant of Sindhu, it refers to one who, beginning with Nature, ends in the idea of God as the supreme creator of the universe, transforming Nature itself into God by means of the idea of Sacrifice. A Hindu is accordingly one who understands the essence of all the sacred books, and endeavours to live in conformity with what they teach; and Hinduism, as originally conceived, is a universal religion in this sense of the term, as we have explained.
Varuna is the god of the ocean; and, as water is symbolic of Prakrti or Nature, he refers to the latter as the supreme creator of the universe. Vishnu, on the other hand, refers to God as supreme creator; and Sindhu, as the name of both, signifies a fusion of the ideas of the two.
Bharata: The land of the Hindus is also called Bharata, which has a bearing on the same idea. It means literally "descended from Bharata", which is a name of Agni, "kept alive by the care of men"; and Agni, as the Mimansa tells us, refers to the intellect. Bharata would accordingly mean "intellect which has been carefully preserved by human effort", or deliberate, as distinguished from natural, intelligence; and Bharata or "what is descended from Bharata" would refer to the final conclusion arrived at by means of the exercise of such intelligence.
Bharata is also said to be the name of a number of princes, one of the more celebrated of whom is the youngest brother of Rama-chandra, the hero of the Ramayana; and it has a bearing on the same idea. We have observed that Rama-chandra represents the dualistic school of the system of Vishnu, according to which God and Nature are conceived t be joint creators of the universe, but the share of God is greater than that of Nature; and we shall find, on a correct interpretation of the "story" of the Ramayana, that Bharat represents that intellectual process by means of which wt begin with belief in Nature as the supreme creator of life, and attempt to substitute it by God. Bharata or "what is derived from Bharata" is, accordingly, the final conclusion of this process of reasoning, by means of which we can transform the idea of Nature itself into that of God through the idea of Sacrifice, or good, intelligent and joyous action; and so the idea of Sindhu, Hindu, and Bharata is the same.
An Arya: A Hindu is also sometimes called an Arya; and the word is said to mean "an inhabitant of Aryavarta or India; one who is faithful to the religion of his country; a wise and highly esteemed person". With Buddhists an Arya is one who has thought on the four chief truths of their faith, and lives accordingly.
The word Arya is derived from the root r; and if we divide it into ar, ya, the meaning would be (ar) attaining to (ya) intellect. An Arya is accordingly an intelligent person who seeks to attain to truth, and lives in accordance with it; and that, as we have seen, is also the original idea of a Hindu.
A Hindu, in the original sense of the term, is accordingly one who is an earnest seeker after truth, and endeavours to live in accordance with it; and so he begins with a study of Nature and, understanding the real character of his soul and the purpose of human life, ends with devotion to God. In terms of ideas of philosophy and religion, he is one who begins with the Sankhya and, having grasped the different points of view of all systems of philosophy, ends in Vedanta. He is also one who begins with Jainism, continues with the system of Mahadeva, and ends in that of Vishnu. That is the ascending scale of thought; and when his time comes to depart, prepares for death, lays down everything, and passes away. Thus, after attaining to the highest point of thought and life in the system of Vishnu, a person goes down to that of Buddha again; and that is why an Arya has a special place in Buddhism, as one who lives in accordance with the teachings of that religion, which lays particular stress on the evil of desire, and the necessity of a total renunciation of action.
Hinduism: That is the ancient idea of Hinduism, a system of thought and life, aiming at the attainment of perfection through knowledge and experience, but with an eye to Truth. It has laid down a number of requisites for achieving this goal, knowledge of the sacred books, belief in Karma or action, transmigration of the soul, the four "castes" and the different stages of life, and prescribed a number of forms and observances for the purpose; but all of them, when properly understood, are found to bear on the same idea, the attainment of perfection in life. It is, as originally conceived, the religion of Man, a rational being who seeks to know and understand, and to live in accordance with the highest truth, and at the highest level of life.