Hinduism, the oldest and perhaps the most tolerant of all known religions, which stresses conduct and ceremony rather than rigid belief, has weathered many storms and crises in the course of at least 3500 years of its history, the actual time and circumstances of its birth being lost in antiquity.
The extreme asceticism of the religion led to the foundation of Buddhism in India by Gautama, a Hindu ascetic, who became the Buddha. The practice of Hinduism was later prohibited by the Muslim ruler of India, Aurangzeb, the son of Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal; but the religion survived to reassert its dominance.
Hinduism has no single personal founder, such as Buddha or Christ. It, therefore, has no prophets or Saviour, who holds out a hope to his followers, living in troublous times or in adversity, of a better life and time in the future, which perhaps explains why Hinduism is not regarded as a true religion by many.
This is perhaps also the reason why Hinduism has been belittled and ridiculed for centuries by the people of other faiths. It has been reviled and derided as idolatrous, polytheistic, and in disharmony with monotheistic faiths, and even treated sometimes as non-existent and its followers regarded as pagans.
The innate strength of Hinduism that derives from its conviction that God is Nature and that without Nature, man is helpless and powerless, and the wisdom of its followers have enabled it to survive unscathed every threat, adversity and onslaught upon it, since time out of mind. It has always been open to reform and therefore susceptible to changes of thought and new ideas, without losing sight of the inseparable bond between man and Nature.
Indeed, from its earliest origins, Hinduism has exhibited an unusual organic quality of growth and adaptation. Its flexibility and adaptability to changing conditions and circumstances and its disapproval of immoderation, intemperance and other excesses, and of contempt of other religious faiths, have made it more vigorous, humane, attractive and liberal today.
It is note-worthy that Hindu conceptions of freedom and liberality embrace notions of democracy which enable Hindus to accept adverse criticism of their religion and institutions with equanimity, unless it is grossly blasphemous.
Like all institutions of antiquity, however, Hinduism is based mainly on customs and conventions, such as the English Common Law; and, just as the Common Law cannot be found in one book, Hinduism too cannot be found in one book, like the Bible or the Koran. Yet, the religion exists and pulsates with all its energy, as the Common Law does, with constant infusions of fresh concepts and new interpretations of old doctrines.
By recognising all varieties of religious experience, Hinduism is capable of absorbing different and often even contradictory points of view, a factor that helps account for its tremendous tenacity.
Whatever view non-Hindus may take of Hinduism, it is an undeniable fact that Hindus are much sought after in the modern world for their knowledge and professional skills. Any Hindu today can take legitimate pride in the services that Hindus in general provide for the progress of humanity and civilisation.
Hindu professionals today serve in the most advanced countries in the West and in every corner of the world in multitude. Their knowledge of science, medicine, engineering and so on has contributed tremendously to the advancement of the countries in which they serve, and, therefore, to the welfare of humanity in general.
The truth bears ample testimony not only to the wisdom, intelligence, knowledge and pragmatism of Hindus but also to their willingness to reside and work among people of other faiths in different lands in their pursuits of happiness, and devotion for humanity, truly believing that service is prayer and that the oneness of God implies the oneness of humanity.
It is therefore, to be wondered if Hinduism, a religion that places great emphasis on education and knowledge and moulds the character and outlook of its followers in such a fashion as to make them believe in the brotherhood of man, and to regard human dignity sacrosanct, and service to humanity and its welfare their prime duty and concern, deserves to be disparaged, just because its followers act up to their conviction as followers of other faiths do.
Indeed, the clarity of vision and the devotion with which so many Hindus serve humanity cannot but arouse one’s intense admiration and respect for them.
However, I have been actuated to write this book by the intention of acquainting the curious reader with only the main features of Hinduism, so that he may catch a glimpse of some of its irresistible beauties that may in turn evoke his admiration for the religion or his pride in it and whet his desire to delve into its magnificence.
I should like to record my sense of gratitude to Sujata, my daughter, who worked under considerable pressure to have the manuscript of this book ready for publication in time. Without her constant encouragement and extraordinary patience and helpfulness, it could never have been possible for me to complete the book.
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