Hinduism is more of a way of life than a Religion. It abounds with every possible name and forms for Truth or the Divine. This is because Hinduism requires that we see the same reality in all the diversity of creation – that we see the same Self in all beings. It is not because Hinduism is trapped in the diversity of name and form but because its sense of unity is inclusive.
Hinduism is not attached even to its own names and forms, however diverse. It can accommodate the names and forms of all religions into its view. This universal view pervades the form of the teachings of Hinduism, which consists of many different approaches to the same One Reality. It allows the teaching of Hinduism to encompass all time and all religion and affords it a characteristic tolerance and syncretic view of life. In this paper, I will be contrasting the freedoms with the responsibilities of Hinduism.
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Hinduism believes that freedom or liberation is the true goal in life. True freedom is freedom from all external conditioning influences, whether of body or mind. This is the freedom of Self-realization, complete independence of time, space and causation. We all seek freedom. One does not enjoy boundaries or limitations.
However, often, we seek freedom in the outer world, through more possessions, power and pleasure, which, according to Hinduism are forms of limitation. It says we must redirect seeking of freedom within ourselves, where alone it can be truly realized. Freedom is not the ability to have more things or gain more experiences but the inner completeness, which no longer requires external support for happiness.
Hindus have complete freedom in their spiritual life. They have any number of holy books to choose from and are not required to literally believe in any one of them. They have their sacred sites everywhere that they live. Hinduism does not require that we all have the same view of Divinity but encourages unique and diverse views for the complete unfolding of creative intelligence. It says that there is something unique about each person that is their special connection with the Divine and that there should be no standardized religion for all people.
According to scriptures, a Hindu’s mode of living is governed by what is called the ‘Caste System’. “The word Caste comes from Portuguese for Class”(Class Notes-918 1). This complex social structure has been mentioned in the Bhagwad Gita, The Rigveda and many other sacred Hindu texts. “The Lord Says: The fourfold caste has been created by me according to the differentiation of Guna and Karma”(Bhagwad Gita, Ch.4, Verse 13). This fourfold caste consists of the Brahmins or the priests, the Kshatriyas or the warriors, The Vaishyas or the merchants or artisans and lastly the Sudras or the servants whose sole purpose is to serve the other three classes. No one imparts a person into these classes. One has to be born a Brahmin or a Vaishya. The question of why one person is born in one caste and one in the other again depends on one’s needs.
At first, everyone is born a Brahmin, as a consequence of one’s conduct, one again takes birth in a different order. “Of Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, as also the Sudras, O Arjuna, the duties are distributed according to the qualities born of their own nature”(Bhagwad Gita, Ch.18, Verse 41). Hinduism says that this is a universal system and no human being is an exception to it. “There is no neutral action that a Hindu commits.” (Class Notes-918 1). Every deed done has a result. Thus, one’s Karma alone decides one’s fate in the afterlife and the next birth. A Hindu is completely responsible for his conduct. The caste system was a way of dividing various tasks in society.
A Brahmin, who was the teacher or the priest, was meant to study the Vedas and officiate in religious ceremonies. The Kshatriya was meant to protect the people. The Vaishyas were the merchants or the craftsmen and lastly, the Sudras were the menial class, they were the servants of society. Violating this social structure was a sin to oneself, the community and the world. The caste system is Dharma and violating its code would be Adharma.
Thus, we see that Hinduism preaches both freedom and responsibility. Hinduism has developed unparalleled freedom in the religious and spiritual realm, as Western culture has done in the scientific and material realm. It would be of great benefit to humanity to combine them. To the Hindu, the spiritual realm is an inner universe to be explored, not a doctrine to believe in. However, responsibility is something else. I feel that it has been stressed much more through the ages.
At every step of Hinduism, one might find a reminder telling us that we ourselves and no one else is responsible for our actions and there is “no power norming our conduct” (Class Notes- 918 1). From a judgment point of view, Hinduism is atheist. But, we must understand that our conduct today has been governed by our conduct in the past and will govern our conduct in future. Thus, what we do today will return to us for better or worse depending on what we did.
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