What are these strengths that make it an eternal universal religion? It is its very foundation that is eternal beyond time and space. Hinduism is a Vedic Religion. It is based on Vedas. It is not based on a book, a founder, a prophet, a sage or saint or a messiah. It is based on eternal TRUTH. What is this Truth and how does it come into Sanatana Dharma is the next question.
Truth by its very definition is something that is unchanging and permanent. The only thing that stands to this definition is God the original eternal principle. The primordial essence of creation out of which this whole universe appears to manifest. That is the Unity principle in the world of apparent diversity. Vedas are the vibrations of cosmic truth. Truth is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. It pervades in the cosmos as all pervading cosmic intelligence in the form of vibration. It is represented by pranava symbol, the OM.
People who are able to connect to this frequency of cosmic vibrations, gifted them to the world in the form of mantras. The people who heard these cosmic vibrations are the Rishis (sages) and the mantras that are given to the world are Vedas. Ved means Knowledge. Nobody claimed ownership or copy righted this knowledge since it is the cosmic knowledge and it is freely available to tune in and capture even by others in similar situation today. It is verifiable even today. The only requirement is absolute purity defined as Unison of thoughts, words and deeds, the aim all spiritual Sadhana.
Thus the first uniqueness of Sanatana Dharma is its emphasis on direct experience. The foundation of Hinduism as a religion is based on direct experience (Vedas, Revelations). It also promotes and encourages the seekers to aim at direct experience. Experience of others is only a basis, but each seeker should not rest until he/she develops this direct experience. This direct experience is called, sakshatkar, revelation, spurana or visvaroopa darshan, realization or nirvana. The experience others could not be our experience. Sanatana dharma insists on direct experience as the goal of spirituality through which one can realize the answer to birth cry “KOHAM” (who am I?). This answer comes in as experience of “SOHAM”, (I am that).
The second most important element of sanatana Dharma is its inclusivity. In all its proclamations the common theme is inclusion, Unity and Oneness. All 4 Vedas are based on the principle of Truth, which is Oneness. Essence of Rig-Veda is “Samatvam”. Essence of Yajur-Veda is “Yajnam”. The essence of Sama-Veda is “Pranavam”. The essence of Atharvana-Veda is “Sangham”. Whether it is Samatvam (Unity, equality), yagnam (Selfless service, common good actions), Pranavam (song, vibration of creation, of oneness) and the Sangham (society) is all about Oneness and Unity. This is the reason why Vedas proclaim “Vasudhaika Kutumbam” (World is one family) and “Loka Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu” (Let all the beings, people in all the worlds be happy).
Truth is the foundation, Direct experience and inclusivity are the two eyes of the Hinduism. Our foundation is Truth that is experienced by seers in the past and can be experienced by each seeker directly even now. Once this is experienced then all the scriptures become confirmation to already experienced truth. Till such time the scriptures are only road maps and cannot be destination. Each one is supposed to use the road map created by past successful travelers, travel the path recommended and reach the destination and experience the ultimate bliss. Once one reaches the destination, he/she experiences the oneness and unity in creation and develops an attitude of inclusivity. This inclusivity is the other strength of sanatana dharma.
Truth, Direct experience and Inclusivity are the trinity of Hinduism that kept the effulgence of Hinduism in the world and protected it from intentional onslaughts by other religions to conquer and destroy it. While these evangelical and invading religions succeeded in parts of the globe, they miserably failed in front of the three strengths of Hinduism.
Let us analyze why? Truth has no boundaries and no enemies. It takes good from all and accepts all even if others do not accept. Gowtam Buddha was a Hindu, revolted against the practice of ritualism, experienced Truth and preached what he realized. While he preached against idol worship and ritualism in addition to compassion and love, his followers after his death worshipped his image and formed a religion called Buddhism. Because of the patronage of the emperors and kings it spread rapidly and almost wiped out Hinduism from India.
Then what happened is the incarnation of Adi Shankara with his emphasis on Unity and Oneness (Adwaita), the core principle of Hinduism that revived Hinduism back. How did this happen in practice? Hindus took Buddha’s teachings as also part of the infinite Truth, created room for Buddha on their altars and considered him as the 9th Avatar in 10 incarnations of Vishnu. They took his teachings as truth since love and compassion is part of expressions of Truth. Hindus have a culture of accepting Truth from any source and good from any source. This is their inclusivity and strength.
While, Truth, Direct Experience and Inclusivity are our strengths, there are some in us who are raising alarm that this is our weakness and we need to be exclusive like other religions. If something that is so valuable for centuries, some thing that protected us from all these exclusive evangelists and exclusive invasions for so long, should we change those very protective principles? Should we change to exclusiveness like others from our inclusive attitude? We as Hindus have to answer this question by each one of us and decide which way to go. If all our ashrams are filled by westerners attracted by our culture of inclusivity, should we change our basic culture that attracted them in the first place? They come to us because of our inclusivity that they did not find in any other religions. Inclusivity is our strength not our weakness.
Then, people can question the issue of recent conversions to Christianity. Think about who are being converted. Majority are the under privileged, illiterate and the tribals. This is because of their ignorance, poverty and their treatment in society, they become vulnerable for exploitation. Food for the hungry, education for the illiterate, money for the poor, jobs for the unemployed and honor for the dishonored, attract them, since it is their immediate need. Somebody is addressing their immediate need and they are being attracted and exploited, not because they have something that Hinduism do not have.
WEAKNESSES (IMPURITIES) TO CORRECT:
All religions accumulate some garbage over time to its fundamental Truths. Similarly while basic tenants of Sanatana Dharma is absolute Truth, Experience and Inclusivity, as time passed certain impurities joined and accumulated. It is because of this accumulated dogma that our religion is criticized. It is the responsibility of each Hindu to cleanse these impurities that do not belong to Hinduism. I call them the weeds in the field of Hinduism. Let us discuss those weeds and ways to remove them. These are internal weeds that we need to remove. They are within us and if not removed could potentially harm the harvest of Hinduism.
1. LACK OF CLARITY: One of the weeds that cloud the Hindu mind is lack of knowledge of the tenets of Hinduism. The only solution is learning and teaching about Hinduism by all concerned. It should start in each Hindu home. Parents should learn, live their lives accordingly, teach children, and mentor them to be good Hindus. Each temple and community should be gurukulas of Hinduism. This should be the Dharma of each Hindu. 1. Learn, 2. Travel the path, 3. Experience, 4. Teach, 5. Contribute should be PANCHA MARGA, fivefold path of each Hindu.
2. LACK OF UNITY: While our Vedas proclaim Unity and oneness, in practice, we are acting differently. With the fierce competition of globalization each one is thinking about himself and his family more and more and less and less about greater good of the society. We become divided based on caste, language, religion, race, region and the like. As these divisions in society are increasing, we are travelling away from the essential tenants of Hinduism, unity, oneness, inclusivity and Truth.
Historically nobody was able to conquer Bharat as long as we were united. It is the rivalry of Jayachandra with Pridhviraj that resulted Ghori’s conquest of Hindustan in 1192. Same story with British and other colonial rulers that ruled India. This is true even today. Individually we excel and collectively we fail. While Dharma talks about greater good principle where in, we need to sacrifice the lower Dharma for the sake of higher Dharma; in practice we do the reverse. We are sacrificing the community for the sake of me and mine. This attitude can only change with proper awareness of what Hindu Dharma stands for.
CASTE SYSTEM: Other significant obstacle for this is our deteriorated God given natural Varna system into society created caste system (Kula Vyavasta) by birth. This is what other religions are pointing to us as our weakness and exploiting for conversions to their religions. There is need now to address this squarely and remove this weed from the field of Hinduism.
Identity of who we are is very important for each one of us for self confidence. Self confidence leads to self satisfaction and that leads to self realization. Self confidence is the foundation on which the mansion of self realization is built. We are God first, Humans next, Bharatiyas, Telugus, then our family and ourselves in that order. The work for a better humanity begins with self and the last to receive the benefit is self. This should be the order. Greater good is the principle that Dharma is founded on.
This is how our body works. The liver cells, bone cells, blood cells, bone cells and brain cells all derive their nutrition from the body and work harmoniously for the greater good of the body. When a cell or a group of cells forget this greater good principle and work selfishly for itself, then it becomes a cancer cell. Selfishness is cancer and selflessness is health. We should identify ourselves as humans and Hindus then everything else and we should be proud of who we are. A true Hindu is a blessing to the world because of his inclusivity. Indians whether it is Hindus, Muslims or Christians should proudly proclaim that they are proud citizens of Hindustan, Bharat and India. They should proudly declare that they belong to great ancient living Hindu culture , Bharatiya culture and Indian culture, They should proudly proclaim they are from Hindustan, Bharat and India, the most inclusive country with the most inclusive religion..
To summarize we as Hindus have our work cut out for us. First task is to learn and disseminate proper knowledge about Hindu Dharma to all. Second promote unity among Hindus and Hindu organizations. Third to remove the obstacles to unity in Hinduism like caste system. Fourth, we need to promote, project Hindu identity with self confidence and reverence.