Description: This article provides information about the need for education about Hinduism / Dharma and covers some important Hinduism facts.
* Sindhu was the original name of a river in the Indian peninsula. The Greeks called it ‘Indos’, which got Romanised as Indus. When the Moghuls invaded India, they used the term ‘Hindus’ for the inhabitants of India based on the name of this river. These days, the followers of ‘Sanatan Dharma’ are called ‘Hindus,’ especially in the West and ‘Sanatan Dharma’ (which is not known to most non-Hindus) is called as Hinduism. Thus, for the sake of making the articles user-friendly, in this article, we have used ‘Hinduism’ instead of ‘Sanatan Dharma’.
1. Introduction and common Hinduism facts
Most people relate the word Dharma (Righteousness) to religion however; religion and Dharma are two different aspects. Dharma has been defined by Shrī Adi Shankaracharya as, ‘Dharma is that which accomplishes the three tasks of keeping the organisational setup of the society in excellent condition, bringing about the worldly progress of every living being, and facilitating their progress in the spiritual realm as well.’ This definition highlights the vastness of the concept of Dharma and its extraordinary importance in human life.
In the context of a nation, Dharma is its life. A nation will become prosperous and immortal only if the lifestyle of its society is based upon the foundation of Dharma. However, due to a lack of correct understanding and having misconceptions about Hinduism (Dharma), majority of Hindus are either not following the teachings of Hinduism or they are inclining towards the teachings of other religions.
Today there are many interpretations available of the rituals and teachings of Hindu Dharma. Authors, who have read only translated scriptures and are not an authority in the field of Dharma or Adhyatma, as they are not Saints themselves, have written most of these interpretations. Saints or Sages are the authority in the field of Dharma and Adhyatma. Another way of gaining knowledge about Dharma was the Gurukul system which used to transfer this knowledge to future generations. This was irreparably lost due to foreign invasions, which also destroyed the treasure of knowledge in the form of books, temples, monuments, etc. Thus the transfer of knowledge related to the underlying meaning of the rituals and practices held sacred by Hindu Dharma has been disrupted for the past few generations. As a result, the true understanding of Dharma and its various concepts is lost. Hence, we find widespread misconceptions, inaccurate practices in rituals, superficial definitions, contradictory interpretations and so on, which have affected the Dharmacharan (following of Dharma) by Hindus.
Upon seeing the scale of ignorance and misconceptions about Hinduism, FHA realised that elimination of these is the need of the hour. This is possible only by imparting Hinduism (Dharma) education to Hindus. In this article, we will further explain why there is a need for Hinduism education.
2. Misconceptions about Hinduism and lack of Dharma education
There are widespread misconceptions or misunderstandings about Hinduism all around the world, especially, in the West. Ironically, many followers of Hinduism also do not have complete understanding about the concepts of Hinduism. In this section, we will give a few such examples.
A. Hinduism is all about performing pujas, rituals
In the initial stages of sadhana, ritualistic worship helps in developing bhav (spiritual emotion) unto God. However, due to lack of understanding, most Hindus, especially the younger generation, defy ritualistic worship. They forget that in order to graduate from University, one has to start in Grade school. Hinduism has prescribed sadhana for every stage of a seeker so everyone can attain Moksha (Final liberation). and one of the beginning stages of sadhana is ritualistic worship. So Hinduism is not all about performing pujas and rituals. These are but a stage in the entirety of Dharma or Hinduism.
B. Ignorance about sadhana ( Spiritual Practice)
A majority of Hindus are not aware that the aim of our birth is to do sadhana and attain Moksha. They believe that visits to temples, holy places, performing puja, etc. are sufficient. Many Hindus are stuck at the stage of Karmakand sadhana, which is actually a primary stage of sadhana. Hindus, who are living outside Bharat, especially the younger generation, may not be even paying obeisance to Deities in the morning and evening. Working class Hindus may not even find time to do puja at home. Therefore, the opportunity to do the basic sadhana of doing puja, lighting incense sticks, etc. at home is being lost.
C. Lack of knowledge about the basics of Hinduism
Majority of Hindus have not read Bhagwadgita, Ramayan or other Scriptures of Hinduism. Thus they have very little knowledge about the basics of Hinduism. Concepts such as, Moksha (Final Liberation), karma, give-and-take accounts, destiny, Avatars, various Deities, etc. are either not understood well or Hindus are completely ignorant about them. Some Hindus read texts about Hinduism but get confused about what they need to practice. There are some Hindus who are well versed with Holy Scriptures; but they lack in practical implementation of the teachings.
D. All religions are equal or one
The concept of ‘all religions are equal or one’ is very popular amongst most Hindus. However, this concept is almost non-existent in the followers of other religions, as they believe their religion or God is the only God. Due to this belief, Hindus are adopting concepts that originated in other religions and cultures for example, Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, etc. Such festivals have no spiritual meaning or benefits, on the contrary, they lead to adharma; accruing demerits.
3. Common misconceptions or misunderstandings among non-Hindus
Below are just a few examples of the types of misconceptions and misunderstandings, which are rampant in the western world. These are so prevalent that it will be very difficult to address each of them ;
A. Hindus worship idols and thousands of Gods
Abrahamic religions, like Christianity, Islam, etc. forbid idol worship; probably due to this, the concept of idol worship is unacceptable to them. However, the cross and statues of Jesus and Mary are permitted in Christianity. According to Hinduism, the Supreme God (Brahman) is all pervading and formless; however, to worship a formless God is very difficult for most people. The average spiritual level in current times is 20% whereas Supreme God is 100%. A person at the spiritual level of 20% would find it very difficult to worship a formless Supreme God as compared to a person at a spiritual level of 60%. Hence, if a person at a level of 20% worships idols, it will benefit him more, as he can relate to the form of God in the idol. Hindu Sages and Saints are at high spiritual levels, so they can undertake the spiritual practice of the un-manifest or formless Supreme God.
B. Hinduism is plagued with caste system
In the western world, this misconception is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted concepts of Hinduism. The correct term in a spiritual context is ‘Varna’ (Class), and not ‘Jaati’ (Caste), as misused in the western world. – The social system of the four classes (varnas) was created to assist everyone in society to behave as per their natural temperament, i.e. their constitution, which is composed of the three subtle components (trigunas) and to assist in their spiritual evolution. In other words, the system of the four classes is incorporated into Hinduism to provide guidance on behaviour and spiritual practice (sādhanā) according to one’s potential and requirement, to enable one to experience Bliss. Unfortunately, there is ignorance about this purpose of the social system and thus its portrayal is misleading.
C. Hinduism is based on mythology
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mythology as ‘ideas that are believed by many people but that are not true’. This misconception means that all the beliefs in Hinduism are false. This is completely incorrect. If Hinduism were based on mythology, then it would not have survived for thousands of years. 1 billion followers would not be following it today. In fact, Hinduism is the oldest religion in this world. Some do trace it back to ‘Indus Valley Civilisation’, but very few are able to trace its true origins; which implies that Hinduism was in existence before any other religions came into being.
D. Hinduism has no proper beginning; it has been formed based on people’s superstitions and tales
Can people’s superstitions and tales develop into the third largest religion in the world which has almost 1 billion followers? We also need to ask the meaning of a ‘proper beginning’. Is it having a founder or a prophet? Hinduism’s beginning is not known to the Western world because of their inability to go back billions of years. All the other religions in this world came into existence only around 2000 years ago; however, Hinduism already existed before these religions came into existence. Hinduism’s existence in the form of Sanatan Dharma goes back billions of years, that is, ever since the Creation of the Universe happened.
E. Hindu Gods are actually demonic gods
This misconception emerges purely from those who have no understanding of Hinduism and those who single-mindedly believe in the superiority of their own religion or beliefs. According to science of Spirituality, God has two forms – the Saviour and the Destroyer; which means God saves His devotees and destroys evil. Due to a lack of understanding of this Hindu concept, these people cannot comprehend why Hindu Gods wield weapons or why they have different forms. To give an analogy, a farmer sows seeds and after the crop is ready; he cuts it, or when we grow plants in the backyard or garden; we have to remove the harmful portions of the plant, or in our society, where, criminals are punished to protect law-abiding citizens. So also, God destroys demons to protect His devotees.
4. The impact of the lack of (Dharma) education about hindusim and misconceptions
When there are such misconceptions and misunderstandings about Hinduism, naturally, they have an adverse impact on society. As a result, not only Hindus but the whole society has to bear the consequences. Following are some examples of the impact –
Full-fledged denigration of Hindu Deities; most denigrations of God involve Hinduism’s concepts/principles/Deities
When a denigration happens, a majority of Hindus turn a blind eye towards it due to their lack of understand
Large-scale conversion of Hindus into other religions
Other religions have flourished and grown their presence all over the world; whereas, Hinduism’s presence is gradually reducing.
Ramayan and Mahabharat are referred to as epics; whereas other religions’ scriptures are considered the ultimate truth
Incorrect and misleading information about Hinduism in educational textbooks and reference books
When people from other religions ask questions about Hinduism, majority of Hindus do not know the correct answers.
When people from other religions make a mockery of Hinduism, majority of Hindus join the laughter and do not make efforts to stop it
Disrespect given to the followers of Hinduism
No due recognition of Hinduism as a major World religion
The followers of all major religions in the world have their own official countries, for example, Christians of various denominations have Vatican City, UK, Greece, etc. Muslims have Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, etc. Buddhists have Thailand, Cambodia, etc. Whereas there is not a single official Hindu nation in the world.
We have given only a few examples for our readers, however the adverse impact of the misconceptions about Hinduism and its followers is complex and multi-dimensional. The gravity of these examples will help us understand why we have to address the root cause, which is a lack of knowledge about Hinduism. Hence the need for Hinduism education! His Holiness Dr. Jayant Athavale has said, “If all Hindus have knowledge about Hinduism and they follow Dharma, then they will feel proud of Hinduism and they will be able to protect it.”
5. Greatness of Hinduism
Granting Sagehood and Incarnation status to opponents: Charvak (an ancient great intellectual) did not believe in either God or rebirth. Yet, far from being tortured, he was proclaimed a Sage instead !
Flexibility: ‘Hindu Dharma is so flexible that such extreme flexibility will not be found in any other religion. Hence, all other sects are derivatives and sub-derivatives of our Dharma.’ – Swami Vivekanand
Other ideologies and Hindu ideology: Boundless love unto the feet of God, and that love being in a state of continuous offering, is a mark of the Hinduism of Hindus. When asked ‘what ideology (Socialism, Communism etc.) do you advocate?’ Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay would answer, ‘It is Yathārthavād’ (Yathārtha is ‘just’ and vād is ‘ideology’). Actually, even in times when no ideologies existed on the face of the Earth, Hinduism existed. Though different ideologies have come into existence from time to time, Hinduism still exists and will continue to exist even when all ideologies will cease to exist. Hence, it is not an ideology. If at all it has to be called something, I would rather call it a happiness endowing conversation. It is a studious conversation or one done with full knowledge. A conversation of this type ends in happiness. Rest are all ideologies and fall in the category of argument provoking conversations. Quibbling with words is their characteristic. Hence, they end up in unhappiness.
International identity of Hindu Dharma: Hinduttva (seeker qualities) is a permanent character of a human mind and hence, unless one imbibes those qualities, God-realisation, which is the ultimate aim of human birth, can never be achieved. It is through education on Dharma that the desired state of the human mind can be attained.
From amongst the foreigners who realised God, some were British, some Americans, while some were Germans. Irrespective of the sect (religion) they belonged to, they had primarily acquired Bhāratiyatva (Seekership quality), meaning they had rediscovered the original character of the human mind and hence, got themselves blessed. Max Muller (a German), Thoreau (an American) etc. did not convert to Hindu Dharma, but just by becoming Hindu mentally, they were blessed. Thoreau, in fact, fell madly in love with Shrīkrushṇa just by reading the Holy text Shrīmadbhagwadgītā. He considered Shrīmadbhagwadgītā as his mother. Dr. Annie Besant and Sister Nivedita were British women. Dr. Annie Besant had declared that, ‘there was no literature superior to the Upanishads that teach the human beings about their own welfare’.
Thus, in order that not only the Hindus by birth, but also the entire Human race is happy, formation of a Hindu (seeker) Nation is of utmost importance. Only a Hindu Nation can protect human rights. Everyone is striving for world peace, but without establishing a Hindu Nation, world peace is impossible. – H.H. Kane Maharaj, Narayangaon, District Pune, Maharashtra
The current state of Hinduism and its potential is evident from the above examples. The rampant misconceptions and misunderstandings about Hinduism call for an intense campaign to promote education about Hinduism. If correct education is not given at this stage, then the misconceptions and misunderstandings about Hinduism will grow to such an extent that it will become impossible to sustain Hinduism. Therefore, Forum for Hindu Awakening has initiated the humongous task of imparting Dharma education through its website, events, etc. We urge all Hindus to actively participate in this initiative and make a squirrel’s contribution toward the preservation of Dharma. (In Tretayuga, everyone contributed to Shree Rama’s side against battle with demon Ravan. Even a squirrel contributed as per its capacity.)