Prodding Questions Faced by Hindus Globally
Continued from Part XLVII
It was during the summer of 2019 in the North America, while one of my close associate traveling in a Canadian city had to share a taxi with an unknown co-passenger by a sheer chance, who was an elderly religious lady. My compatriot is a bit shy and reserve person and usually avoids talking to any stranger but the lady was in a mood to talk. After brief exchange of courtesies, and knowing that he was from India, she rather abruptly opened a discussion on religion. To summarize it in a few words what she spoke to him is as follows: “You Hindus follow rather funny religious traditions; you worship idols and follow multiple gods who have spouses too. How could you do this while the truth is there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ…and only Jesus has power to save the world!” Needless to mention my friend felt embarrassed and ashamed too because he could not explain the lady why Hindus worship idols or the concept of multiple gods.
There are several reasons why many Hindus are unable to respond to queries or questions like this, and the chief reasons lie in the socio-political development and events of the last millennium. For nearly five hundred years since twelfth century, the most of the northern India and other regions remained under the successive Islamic regimes whereunder not only the Hindu culture and religion was systematically denigrated and violently attacked and destroyed, even the ancient Indian languages including Sanskrit was replaced by Arabic and Persian in official and daily use. Subsequently, the British colonial rule too treated indigenous languages and education inferior and backward introducing Macauley’s Education System which chiefly aimed to develop an English educated Indian class loyal to British Empire. Finally, after independence, the Indian National Congress government under Jawaharlal Nehru did not allow the rich Indian (Hindu) culture in the course curriculum in the name of secularism – a situation that prevails till date.
Even today any suggestion for giving the exposure of ancient Indian culture to pupils is strongly opposed by the Congress, Communist Parties and Left leaning intellectuals and liberals arguing that this would be an effort to communalization of the education system. For any sensible and unbiased mind, it will be beyond comprehension how the exposure of own culture and its glorious traditions would make the students “communal” in country; the only culture which has been spreading and asserting the mantras of “Sarva Dharma Sambhava (All religions are the same or All faiths lead to the same destination)” and “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (whole world is one family)” since ancient ages. However, here the aim is not to analyze or expose the hidden agenda of such political parties or biased intellectuals but to explain the common questions that Hindus face from within and outside world including while traveling abroad like one case referred to in the beginning.
Why do Hindus have so many gods?
The clergy, scholars and even followers of two Abrahamic religion often criticize Hinduism arguing that God is one so why Hindus should worship many gods. In fact, owing to misconception on account of this position, many Western scholars have concluded that the Hinduism is a polytheistic religion. On the contrary, truth is that the Hinduism considers Brahman as the Supreme Self, the Universal Consciousness or the God of gods. He is responsible for all creation, sustenance and withdrawal (termination) in this universe and the famous Trimurti or Tridev (Trinity) – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva - are His three manifested (Saguna) aspects representing aforesaid three activities. Similarly, all other deities too are only divine aspects the same Brahman (God). Due to the worship of Brahman in multiple manifestations commensurate with specific divine attributes, it appears as if Hinduism is a polytheistic religion while in essence and reality it is monotheistic and monistic with one and same God whom the followers identify by different names, attributes and functions.
The Vedas and Upanishads held that every divine entity in the universe is an aspect of Brahman Himself. The aspect of divine and demoniac attributes and entities have been so well explained in Srimad Bhagavad Gita. In fact, the widely accepted and popular Advaita Vedanta philosophy in Hinduism offers the most viable and credible answers on the divine and unknown, and spirituality as also it convincingly establishes Hinduism as a monistic religion. The oldest Hindu scriptures Vedas and Upanishads clearly visualized God as the universal formless entity i.e. Nirguna Brahman. Later when it was realized that adherents needed less abstract form of God for the ease of understanding and worship, the concept of Saguna Brahman in different manifestations received wider acceptance through Hindu Puranas and Epics. So the said many deities or gods are actually different attributes of the same one God.
One also needs to remember that Hinduism has never claimed to be only true religion unlike the two Abrahamic religions of the world today; instead, it talks of the universal brotherhood and equality of all religions. It is neither based on the teachings of any prophet or messenger of God nor creedal in nature relying on alleged infallibility of one religious book which forbids any debate or difference of opinion among the followers. The original name of Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma which literally means “Eternal Righteous Duty”; it is based on the knowledge and learning of Vedas and Upanishads which have been constantly enriched and updated by the ancient Rishis and Munis (sages) allowing mutual tolerance, debate and difference of opinion. Consequently, some people call it polytheistic due to acceptance of multiple manifestations of God, some others treat it henotheistic i.e. worshiping one god without denying the existence of other deities, and some even call it agnostic. However, old Hindu scriptures and later Advaita Vedanta effectively establish Hinduism as monotheism/monism i.e. only one Supreme Soul or Brahman as original and true existence with everything else as its manifestation or creation in the universe.
Another reality of Hinduism is that only belief and intellectual understanding is not sufficed, instead a great value is also attached to experiencing the truth personally. Consequently, though they worship the same Supreme Being (God), but often in different names. Traditionally, people of India have followed multiple languages and cultures which have also led to learning one God in their own distinct ways leading to evolution of several sects and denominations – the four major ones being Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism – each visualizing the same God in own way. Due to this diverse culture, Hindus are profoundly tolerant of other religions, recognizing the fact that each religion has its own pathway to the same God. Another unique understanding in Hinduism is that God is not far away located, say in a remote heaven, but is inside each and every living being, the individual soul being only extension of the same Supreme Soul (God). Hinduism also allows the freedom to appreciate God in our own way, through multiplicity of paths, not asking for conformity to just one defined path. For instance, the Bhagavad Gita outlines Karmayoga, Jnanyoga and Bhaktiyoga as different paths to realize God. Thus knowing and exploring one God in different ways is the unique feature as also the goal of the Hindu spirituality.
Why do Hindus worship Idols?
Hindus do not worship idols; instead, they treat idols as the medium of worship. Though yogis and accomplished devotees can easily focus on the Nirakar Brahman (formless God) but for the common man it is difficult to simply sit and concentrate. Therefore, they use a physical representation of God – in the form of an idol or image that enables them to concentrate in their prayer or meditation. In Hinduism and other Indian religions such as Buddhism and Jainism, idols just represent the embodiment of divine as symbolism for the absolute, and not the Absolute (God) Himself – a viable means to religious pursuit and Bhakti (worship). The fundamental concept of the Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) is that Brahman is omnipresent in all forms and names thereby the devotees have freedom to choose symbols or names for concentration and pursuance of the Divine. Agama Shastras provide a scientific methodology of "Prana Pratistha", whereby the idol or image is energized in a sacred way in temples and personal houses before prayer is commenced.
To further illustrate the above point, the Hinduism has the concept of Sadhak (devotee), Sadhya (divine), Sadhna (devotion or worship) and Sadhan (medium). As already mentioned, an accomplished yogi or devotee may not need any assistance (i.e. medium) but the ordinary devotee finds it easier to offer his (or her) prayer if an energized idol or image is available before him as a symbol of the God. Thus idols are used for worship in Hinduism but that does not essentially mean that Hindus are worshipping idols. In reality, the Hindus actually worship Brahman (God) in its various manifested forms, and in the process the idols merely serve as a medium. It is like someone paying reverence to the image of his parents or guru (teacher); we know well that the image is not the real subject but bowing before the image actually serves the purpose of paying respect to the parents or teacher. The practice of energizing idols through the Prana Prathishta literally means reinforcement of the life energy into the idol; the practice of consecration in the Christianity is somewhat like the Prana Pratishtha of Hinduism.
Is it true Hindus have 330 million gods?
Hindus do not worship millions of gods; instead, they worship God in several manifested forms. Many educated people in the Western countries and followers of Abrahamic religions try to mock Hindus for following thirty-three crore (330 million) gods. In fact, many ignorant Hindus and atheists too have similar misplaced notion of Hinduism endorsing such a large number of deities. Actually, during the Vedic period there was no concept of religion in literal sense, and people practiced many rituals or sacrifices as offerings to “deities” associated with various natural phenomenon for self, family and society's goodness and welfare. For instance, Agni (fire) was an essential part of life, so it was revered as Agni deity in the Vedic society. For these people the life itself was a continuous sacrifice and offerings as the source of all creation, diversity, and fulfillment of desires. Therefore in Vedic scriptures, there is a mention of thirty-three “Koti” deities who were entitled for sacrifices and offerings by the Vedic people for their own well-being and survival.
These thirty-three deities were broadly categorized as the Adityas, Vasus, Rudras and Aswinis. Of these, the twelve Adityas or personified deities were Vishnu, Aryaman, Indra, Tvastr, Varuna, Bhaga, Savitr, Vivasvat, Amsa, Mitra, Pusan and Daksa. The eight Vasus or deities of material elements were Dyaus (Sky), Prthivi (Earth), Vayu (Wind), Agni (Fire), Naksatra (Stars), Antariksha (Space), Surya (Sun) and Chandra (Moon). The eleven Rudras were five abstractions – Ananda (bliss), Vijnana (knowledge), Manas (thought), Prana (breath) and Vac (speech); five forms of Siva are Isana (revealing grace), Tatpurusa (concealing grace), Aghora or Bhairava (dissolution/rejuvenation), Vamadeva (preserving aspect) and Sadyojata (born at once); the eleventh for Atma (Self) is also ascribed to Rudras. Remaining two deities included Asvins (solar deities).
Ancient Hindu scriptures are in Sanskrit language and the word “Koti” literally has different meanings such as category, type, crore (ten million) etc. It’s a case where even many Hindus mistakenly take the meaning as “crore” due to sheer ignorance. While defining aforesaid deities, Rigveda, other Vedas and many Upanishads have clearly mentioned “Brahman” as the Universal Consciousness or Supreme Soul and everything else as His manifestation or creation. Several hymns in Rig Veda and other Vedas and Upanishads can be quoted to vindicate this averment. From the Vedic to Medieval period, Hinduism experienced several transitions including evolution of the concept of Tridev or Trimurti (Trinity) with Brahma as the Creator, Vishnu as the Preserver and Shiva as the Destroyer as also some other gods and goddesses. These deities have distinct forms and functions yet in essence all are manifestations or creation of the same Supreme God, referred to as Brahman in scriptures.
Why do Hindus depict gods as married and with spouses?
The early and original scriptures of the Vedas and Upanishads, we do not find any reference about the marriage and spouses of gods or their being male or female. However, such references are found in the later evolved legendary tales of the Hindu Puranas and Epics. While Vedas and Upanishads have exalted metaphysical and spiritual contents largely suitable for highly learned and spiritually evolved people, the Puranas and Epics have spiritual content narrated in simplified story form for the benefit of the common people. This genre of literature focuses more on the Saguna (manifested) aspects of God including incarnations of God. For instance, two Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are based on the life of Ikshvaku Dynasty King Shree Ramchandra and Yadava Dynasty King Shree Krishna; both the virtuous kings are remembered as incarnations of Lord Vishnu, who were brought up, educated, married, and lived with spouses like normal human beings but for their glory and contribution to mankind they are worshipped as gods by Hindus globally and also by some people in Southeast Asia. There seems to be no anomaly or objection in this as even in modern times in different cultures, great men with divine attributes or godly ansh (element) are revered by people in various ways.
Those who learn or understand higher metaphysical and spiritual concepts of Hindu philosophies in true sense also know that God is neither male nor female. In Upanishads, Brahman (God) is mentioned as indescribable, inexhaustible, incorporeal, omniscient, omnipresent, original, eternal, both transcendent and immanent, absolute, infinite existence, and the ultimate entity Who is without a beginning and end, Who is hidden in all and Who is the cause, source, material and effect of all creation known, unknown and yet to happen in the entire universe. The concept of masculine and feminine energy in living beings could be understood by learning the Nadi concept of Ida, Pingala and Sushumna, in which the first two typically represent feminine and masculine energies. God is represented as male, and God's (creative) energy or Shakti is personified as His spouse: Philosophically, however, the God and God's energy are One, and the allegory of the divine couple serves only to illustrate this Oneness. This unity of God and His Shakti is best illustrated in Lord Shiva being depicted as Ardhanarishvara i.e. Siva as half man and half woman suggesting that Shiva and Shakti are one, and that Shakti is Siva's energy.
Marriage and spouse are legally valid social terminologies evolved by human beings, which incidentally also has implication on creation, sustenance and termination of human life. The concept of the male and female energies of God is also explained in Samkhya philosophy of Hinduism. According to this philosophy, the entire universe is the product of Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (matter or nature). The Purusa-Prakriti fusion in numerous permutations and combinations is responsible for the creation of the universe. Purusha is all pervading, eternal, and transcendental Self corresponding to Brahman of the Vedanta philosophy. On the other hand, Prakriti represents the “matter” under the play and influence of three gunas, namely Sattava, Rajas and Tamas. All evolution including creation, perpetuation and extirpation in this universe is the result of the union of Purusha and Prakriti. The Brahman and Matter (Nature) or Purusha and Prakriti also symbolize the male and female energies in the universe.
Why do Hindus believe in reincarnation?
Yes, every devout Hindu believes in reincarnation. The literal meaning of incarnate is “embodied to flesh, and reincarnate would mean to "re-embodied to flesh." Hinduism as also other Indian religions like Buddhism and Jainism believe in the rebirth and reincarnation of soul after the death of the mortal body. The soul, being immortal and imperishable, is part of a jiva who is prone to the impurities of attachment, delusion and laws of karma. Therefore, death is not an end of the soul but a natural process following which it recuperates, reassembles its resources and adjusts its course according to the past Karma to return again to the earth. The process continues till the soul is liberated through union with the Supreme Soul (Brahman). Thus the physical death is only a temporary interruption of the journey of soul, following which the soul recycles and reenergizes itself for reincarnation and enter the next phase of life. According to Hindu Theology, every incarnation of soul offers an opportunity to learn the truth of universe and pursue the ultimate goal of life i.e. liberation (Moksha) by experiencing own inconsistencies and infirmities, and ways to overcome it.
Following the death, where and what life one gets, is the product of the accumulated positive and negative action and the resultant karma (cause and effect) of the past lives. Persons who do not attend karma based moksha remain part of the cycle of the life-death-rebirth. The following verse of Srimad Bhagavad Gita illustrates this journey of soul.
Vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya navani grhnati naro 'parani,
Tatha sarirani vihaya jirnany anyani samyati navani dehi.
(As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones,
the soul accepts new material bodies,
giving up the old and useless ones) (Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2 Verse 22)
Actually, most religions of the world have some concept of life after death. Among the two dominant Abrahamic religions, the Christianity believes in the concept of spirit, resurrection, heaven and hell, reward and punishment based on righteous and sinful deeds of the person. The common Christian belief is that there will be a final judgment day on which the bodies of the all dead shall be resurrected; the right ones shall enter into full possession of eternal bliss in the new realm (earth) in presence of God, and the wicked shall be condemned to eternal death. In Islam too, death is not seen as the termination of life. Though Islam does not believe in Karma but it holds that there is a direct relation between the conduct of a person on earth and the life beyond with the rewards and punishments commensurate with the earthily conduct. A day of final judgment (Qayamat) will come when Allah (God) will resurrect and gather all His creations (spirits) to judge and sent them to their final abode i.e. the Paradise or Hell.
In fact, the practices of the last rite of the dead body in different religions conform to their afterlife belief. In Hinduism, the soul is believed to be immortal while the body is disposable; hence after the death corpse is cremated through a funeral ceremony. On the other hand, as Christianity and Islam believe in resurrection, the last rites of corpse are carried out by burial. Though enigma about afterlife continues but, in India and Western countries, studies have been conducted by scientists, psychiatrists and parapsychologists and cases have been reported about the individuals' remembering their past lives. In fact, the Hindu view of the soul's nature, evolution and journey answers many bewildering metaphysical questions, including an assurance that every soul has the same definite spiritual goal i.e. liberation from the karmic cycle through God Realization.
Why does Hinduism allow discriminatory caste system?
Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) did not allow caste system based on inheritance or birth of the individual. The Varna (class) System finds mention in the ancient Hindu texts as an occupational arrangement prevalent in the Hindu. According to this arrangement, the entire ancient society was divided in four Varnas namely Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra based on the division of labour (work); people belonging to one of these classes were called savarna while certain tribes and outcasts including sinners were classified as avarna (untouchables). According to this classification, the priests, scholars and teachers came under the category of Brahmin; the rulers and warriors with the duty to protect society from external and internal threats were called Kshatriya; the traders, businessmen and farmers were categorized as Vaishyas; and labour and service class were known as Shudras. This position is vindicated from the numerous instances recorded in the ancient texts in regard to the change in Varna of people based on the merit of their work. Among the Hindu Dharmashastras, Manu Smriti is frequently quoted in this context, vintage and chronology of which is often debated with some alleged interpolations in the later period.
During the long history of Hinduism, the work based system, however, degenerated into the birth based giving origin to the caste system with many discriminatory layers and numbers. This caste system did not have a religious sanction but it existed as a social evil for several hundred years now. In the modern age, a lot has been done by the government, NGOs and responsible citizens to do away with the caste system and improve the social fabric through unhindered movement, interface and convergence among social groups and layers through legislation, empowerment, economic packages and reservation in education, jobs and other opportunities. The Indian Constitution and prevailing laws prohibit any discrimination in the occupation, working, social interaction including dining and sharing leisure time as also it is illegal in Indian law to discriminate against, abuse or insult anyone on the basis of caste. Even inter-caste marriages are now quite common and accepted with relative ease in the society. Of late, the federal laws have been further strengthened to provide for non-bailable arrest if any complaint is registered against a person for any social discrimination or harassment against the member(s) of the weaker section (Shudra/dalit).
Is Bhagavad Gita of Hindus equivalent to Bible of Christians?
In the first place, the comparison of Srimad Bhagavad Gita with the Bible is not in order. The Bhagavad Gita is a 700-verse Hindu scripture, which exists as the part of the epic Mahabharata (Bhishma Parva) set as a narrative framework of the dialogue between Shree Krishna and Pandava Prince Arjuna at the start of the Dharma Yudhha (righteous war) between Pandavas and Kauravas armies at Kurushetra. Though the Western Indologists and many left leaning modern age Indian historians estimate Indian culture of Vedic age to be around 3,000 - 3,500 years old largely based on Indus Valley civilization, Hindu Puranas have record of continuous genealogical and chronological history of the ancient India. The Indian traditional and literary sources put the Mahabharata war during the 32nd century BCE and epigraphic evidence of the Aihole inscription establish the date of the aforesaid war in 3162 BCE. As against the above, the history of Christianity is only about 2,000 years old; hence vintage-wise or any other likewise parameter the Bible cannot have precedence over the Bhagavad Gita. A comparison should be made from old to new and not the opposite.
In the Western countries, scholars and even common people often try to draw parallels between the Bible and the Srimad Bhagavad Gita citing the latter as "Hindu Bible". The Bhagavad Gita is the most familiar and recognized text of Hinduism in the West but it cannot be treated as Hindu Bible because it is neither creedal nor dogmatic like the Christian Bible. Hinduism is not based on single canonical text like Bible; instead, it is very rich in scriptural knowledge with a vast collection of ancient religious writings broadly categorized as “Shruti” and “Smriti”. They include variety scriptures such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Agamas, Itihasas, Sutras, Shastras and the Bhagavad Gita (nicknamed Song of God). This scriptural text is presented as a narrative dialogue between Lord Shree Krishna and Prince Arjuna and embodies knowledge and wisdom of the Vedas and Principal Upanishads. This is why it is often held that if a person has read and understood the Bhagavad Gita, he need not look for any other scripture including Vedas and Upanishads.
The Bhagavad Gita is one of the most popular, widely read and analyzed Hindu texts in India as also in some Western countries. It embodies the essence of Vedas and Upanishads unraveling the supreme spiritual mystery and gems of Hindu philosophy. The essential nature, form and virtues of Brahman (God) and Atman (soul), concepts of Karma and Dharma, theistic devotion and yogic means of liberation by exercising Jnana (knowledge), Bhakti (devotion) , Karma (action) and Raja Yoga, and many other tenets of Hinduism are incorporated in the Gita in such a way that one may not find a parallel elsewhere. In short, it is an epitome and compendium of all Hindu scriptures. Notwithstanding, it cannot be compared with the Bible because it is not the only codified literature, instead a whole range of scriptures and texts as referred to above constitute the core literature of the Hinduism in various disciplines.
Do Hindus worship cow?
Though Hindus protect cattle, particularly cow, due to well-known reasons but they do not worship it. This belief among Muslims and some Westerners is more due to misconception and propaganda, rather than any genuine fact or perception. In India, a sharp contrast and division in opinion exists between two main communities of Hindus and Muslims due to latter's insistence on beef: Though meat eating is not prohibited but Hinduism generally endorse and encourage non-violence and protection of animal life while Muslims have a religious belief that all resources (including cows) have been created by Allah for the consumption of His faithful i.e. devout Muslims. This religious and cultural difference between the two communities in India often becomes the cause of disinformation and conflict between the two communities receiving global attention through international media. The majority Hindus discourages violence against all living beings but they are more protective towards cow for its gentle nature and usefulness for the society.
The ancient Indian Vedic society was agricultural based largely dependent on farming and cattle rearing. Cow milk was known as rich source of a complete protein diet while bulls were used in farming. Even cattle dung provided an easy and plenty source of natural fertilizer and fuel. Besides nutrition, the cow milk was also used as an important ingredient in many Ayurvedic Indian medicine and body parts of the dead animal were made use in making various articles and artifacts. Despite advent of technology and large scale mechanization, many of these practices are still in vogue. Also the cow milk is often used among Hindus to nourish the new born and toddlers as a substitute of mother’s milk. These are some of the important reasons why Hindus lay emphasis on protection of the Cattle (especially cow) even today so much so that some devout Hindus symbolically treat cow like a mother. In India, thousands of Gaushalas (cow shelters) are maintained by charitable trusts to take care of old and infirm cows.
In some Hindu texts, due to its very nature cow is treated as symbol of the Earth, the nourisher, the ever-giving and the undemanding provider. The Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) does not ask followers to worship cows nor in reality do they do so. Such a question is raised due to misconception among the non-Hindus as also because of the manner in which cows are reared, treated and protected in any typical Hindu household. As Hinduism teaches ahimsa (non-violence), tolerance and protection of all living beings, a large number of Hindus remain vegetarian, protect and love animals and birds, more particularly cow which is treated as a maternal figure in many households. Even after the large-scale globalization, a large number of Hindus have still remained vegetarian; and even those who opt for non-vegetarian food habits are selective and choosy with limited options. Because of their sensitivities, cows are protected by law also in several states in India. The Article 48 under the Indian Constitution mandates the states to prohibit the slaughter of cows, calves, and other milch and draught cattle. The Supreme Court of India too has upheld the constitutional validity of anti-cow slaughter laws in a landmark judgment on 26 October 2005.
It has been globally accepted that Hinduism is the oldest surviving religion but I would rather prefer to call it the oldest surviving culture and civilization, of which religion only too is a part. Civilizational and cultural issues are at times questioned and debated due to lack of enough sustainable evidence but it is generally agreed that the Hinduism, Judaism and Zoroastrianism are among the world’s oldest religions. With the advent of Christianity and Islam, the Zoroastrianism, as the ancient pre-Islamic religion of Iran, now mainly survives in India with its descendants known as Parsis or Parsees; and the Judaism, a religion of the majority Jewish people as also one that considerably shaped Western ideals and morality since Early Christianity, has survived mainly in Israel and USA with sparse population elsewhere. While these two religions could hardly survive onslaught of Christianity and Islam, Hinduism along with other offshoot Indian religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism has survived and prospered in the Indian sub-continent despite constant attack and subversion.
Questions answered in this piece of writing may be asked out of sheer curiosity or concern by colleagues at work places, students in educational institutions, friends and relatives, foreign tourists, strangers, or even Hindu youth exposed to or fascinated with the alien cultures, especially of the materialistic West. But such questions are intently posed by the Christian evangelists or clergy and religious preachers of other dogmatic religions including atheists and rationalists to denigrate and embarrass Hindus while travelling abroad or in their areas of operation within this country. Therefore, it is an obligatory and moral duty of all Hindus to embibe the basic knowledge and understanding of own culture and religion, more particularly about the contentious issues as illustrated in the foregoing paragraphs. The author has taken care to shortlist only more debatable issues and briefly answered it to the extent of his knowledge and understanding. The intent of the questioner or querist also needs to be seen if it is his genuine curiosity or hostile attempt to embarrass the respondent.
In the foregoing context, questioner of the latter category also needs to be told the difference between the Hinduism and their religion or God. There is this religion that treats the entire universe as a family with the message of peace and brotherhood, and that all religions are equal because the paths may be different but the destination is same (God). Then there are these religions where the God looks like a powerful sectarian boss in that only He is true and should be followed to save the world or that if you are faithful to Him, you are entitled to all comfort and bliss on the earth and afterwards in the heaven else you are a sinner (Kafir) who should be condemned to death to face eternal fire of hell. The truth is that the God cannot be dictated by the man-made divisions; we may call Him with different names but God has to be the same for the whole universe. In fact, Hinduism has evolved as an all-inclusive culture of which pursuance of spiritual progress of Self (soul) is also a goal. Religion is more of a Western concept with no exact corresponding term in Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) having same literal meaning. The common term 'Dharma' used in lieu in Hinduism has the actual meaning and connotation of the “Righteous Duty”.
Continued to Part XLIX