What is Hinduism and who is a Hindu? Hinduism is not a hodgepodge of different beliefs and practices as some believe. Hinduism extols the five cardinal principles of nonviolence, truthfulness, noncovetousness, continence and nonpossessiveness. It proclaims that one be very selective about the food one eats, the thoughts one holds, the actions one does and the company one keeps. Anyone and everyone can be a Hindu, but not everyone is. True liberalism, supreme magnanimity and unstinting forgiveness are evidenced only in Hinduism, not in any other religion in the world. It does not accept those practices which are selfish, morally degrading, violent and hurtful. Hinduism is a beautiful way of living and loving God. A true Hindu does not take God's name in vain. He practices what he preaches. Hinduism is the religion of humanity. Those who embrace Hinduism must embrace humanity, and those who embrace humanity must be humane. Inhumanity in any form is anti-Hindu. One who upholds these humanistic values is a Hindu.
Viveka, the power of discernment or discrimination, is an essential practice of Hinduism. Hinduism does not embrace all beliefs and practices. It only embraces those beliefs and practices that are in harmony with truth and righteousness, that are conducive to well-being. It does not embrace practices harmful to the body, mind and spirit. Hinduism embraces universality. It does not embrace dogma and ignorance. Hinduism is unique. It is not a man-made religion. Really, it is not a religion at all, though it includes religious practices and beliefs. It is an eternal way of life, a way of living in eternity, that is why it is called the Sanatana Dharma.
One cannot live in eternity if one is engrossed in man-made images and gross unreality. When a human lives in the figments of his imagination, he is unable to grasp the meaning of this life and does not know how to face death. Few people really live a whole life. Most are mortally wounded by their own ego, and they never live to realize the truth. Most people only live to realize the dreams of their ego, and that is why they live and die in hell.
When one is defrauded by mind or ego, he will not hesitate to defraud others. Unfortunately, this is the condition of many of today's ministers, gurus, swamis and sannyasins. Few have the eyes to see or the ears to hear. They are too busy looking outside themselves for recognition and only want to listen to those who praise them. Saintly persons speaking on spirituality, God and religion often talk about the path less traveled or not traveled at all. But the way of the Hindu is to look within, recognize God, the Parabrahman, the Absolute, shining in his own heart. He welcomes criticism, realizing he can learn much from the observations of others.
Religion is not a path to Godhead or to Godhood, but only a code of conduct without which there would be nothing but chaos in society. Beliefs are not paths. The Kingdom of God is a pathless land, a land of no paths! But today everyone wants to categorize everything: Hindu, Moslem, Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, Taoist, etc. Like pigeons living in little holes, people box themselves into a mental mold and never realize their essence. They never grasp the substance, because they are so preoccupied with the shadow.
There is no such thing as a Jewish soul, a Muslim soul, a Christian soul or a Hindu soul. There is no such thing as a male soul or a female soul. There is no such thing as a white-skinned soul or black-skinned soul. Soul is not qualified by the qualities of the body and mind. The soul is free from the gunas, the qualities and characteristics of prakriti (primary matter). The properties of the mind and body do not resemble the nature of the Atman (soul). People imagine that they belong to a particular religious sect or they become fundamentalist Hindus, Muslims, Jews or Christians. They neglect the fundamental practices of being a good human being: forgiveness, compassion, mercy, high moral character, vegetarianism, wisdom, service and devotion.
To be a Hindu, really, means to be yourself. This is the crux of the problem. We do not really understand ourselves, and that is why there is so much conflict and suffering in the world. Hinduism teaches us about our real nature, our dharma. Hinduism embodies all those practices, precepts and traditions that help us understand our real nature and be ourselves. And, so, the essence of Hinduism is revealed in yoga. In fact, the aim of all religious disciplines is yoga or union of the self with the Supreme Self or you can say, it is the total understanding of one's self and being one's Self. When we live in that Absolute Being, we realize our own eternity and are liberated from all selfish states.
In the Gita, Lord Krishna advises Arjuna, "Be a yogi." He does not say be a Saivite or be a Vaishnavite. Let us practice the qualities of all great souls and not just eulogize them. Instead of making little Krishna dolls, let us make our lives worthy of His Presence in our hearts by imbibing His ways in our actions. Let us follow the ways of the Wise and not the ways of the fools. This is the message of the Hindu religion, the message of true faith, the message of wisdom. Those who can understand will change for the better. If we have changed for the better, then we will leave the world a little better than we found it. This is the precept and concept and essence of the Hindu religion. God save the world! Peace be unto you!! Peace. Hail Hinduism!!! Hurrah, ye Hindu world!!!! Om shanti!!!!!
SRI LA SRI SWAMI BUA MAHARAJ, 107, is founder and head of the Indo-American Yoga-Vedanta Society, New York, USA. In November he taught Sanatana Dharma in Brazil, South America.