Written as a short guide to promote and preserve the genuine purpose, values and understanding of Hinduism, the Vedic spiritual process.
This is a free "e-book," or electronic booklet. It is published as an "e-book" on the internet to more appropriately reach as many people as possible, and enable anyone to read it and pass it along in as many ways as necessary. You can read it on the internet on my website, or direct other people to do the same, or download it onto a floppy disk, park it on your computer hard drive for later use, email it to others, or print it out to send to friends, or re-typeset it as you see fit and print it in booklets for distribution. It does not matter. I am giving permission to anyone to use it in anyway you want, providing the content remains the same. Anyone who has this booklet can reproduce it in any form you want, as many times you want. In this way, it is a tool you can use for your own inspiration or to send to others, as well as to send to the media or those who need further understanding of what is Hinduism and the Vedic culture, and the advantages that this spiritual path has to offer.
Copies of this booklet can also be acquired as a Microsoft Word document, an Ascii Dos Text file, or an Acrobat Reader .pdf file. I can email it to you. Simply request it by email at: Srinandan@aol.com. This e-book is found at: http:// www.stephen-knapp.com
This book is my response to the fact that sometimes I get a little concerned, as I was when I took my latest tour of India (June, 2001), when I see the efforts of those who try to demean and unnecessarily promote serious misunderstandings about Hinduism, the Vedic culture. This often times is done in the attempt to convince others of the greatness of some of the minority religions there. This is something that is increasingly going on in India. It is also increasing in other parts of the world in what is called "Hindu bashing." I have also witnessed young Hindus who have moved to the West and sometimes exhibit confusion or disregard in their attitude toward their own culture, some of which is a result of the Western attitudes and misunderstandings toward Hinduism. So this booklet is written in response to that confusion, trouble, and the unnecessary campaigns for conversion. All of this is merely due to a lack of a clear understanding of Vedic culture and what it offers. So I wanted to bring out some simple yet important points, in the form of this booklet, that I thought people should consider in their view of the Vedic spiritual path.
One point to understand while reading this book is that the name Hinduism is, basically, a relatively modern term for the ancient Vedic spiritual path. So when I say "Hindu," I mean the Vedic philosophy, otherwise known as Sanatana-Dharma, and someone who is following that direction. I know there are many distinctions and specific schools of thought within the umbrella term of "Hinduism." However, I am writing this for a wide and general audience. So I am using the term in a liberal and collective way to include all people who follow the Vedic process or portions of it.
Hinduism, or Vedic culture, is not merely a religion. It is a spiritual path and way of life. Quite honestly, nothing compares with it. And I know. I grew up in the West as a Christian, studying the Bible from cover to cover due to my own curiosity. However, when I was about 19 years old, I still had many questions that were not and could not be answered within the Christian philosophy. So, I made great studies of the various religions and civilizations throughout the world, finally finding the Vedic culture as perhaps the most profound tradition of all. It is one that offers more insights into life and the purpose of it, especially the spiritual aspects, than any other culture one can find today. In this way, I found the kind of answers I needed in the Vedic literature, especially in the Bhagavad-gita, Bhagavat Purana and others. Only then did things of this world begin to make sense to me. I went on studying the Vedic philosophy and spiritual science and became an initiated disciple of His Divine Grace Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and was given the spiritual name of Sri Nandanandana dasa. I have continued practicing and studying the principles of Vedic philosophy ever since, as well as researching other religions of the world.
So what's so great about Vedic culture and its philosophy? This booklet describes some of the elementary details that differentiates Hinduism, the Vedic path, over all others. And I am glad to share this with my fellow human beings who are open-minded enough to consider the various avenues that can help us understand more about our spiritual identities and the purpose of life. This is not an attempt to say that the Vedic path is better than anything else for everyone, but there are distinct advantages worth considering from which a person can benefit. These are just a few of them.
Why Be A Hindu: The Advantages of the Vedic Path
Points of Consideration
1. WHAT DOES HINDUISM STAND FOR?
Hinduism is, basically, the modern name for the Vedic way of life, especially the spiritual path usually associated with India. Previously, those who followed the Vedic system were also called Aryans. It is often considered that the Vedic Aryans were a race of people. However, Aryan actually means a standard of living, an ideal. It was the Sanskrit speaking people of thousands of years ago that gave the word arya to signify a gentleman, an ideal person, someone on the path of purity. It was a term meant for those who were on the cutting edge of social evolution. Another way of interpreting the word aryan is that ar also means white or clear. Ya refers to God. Ya also refers to Yadu, or Krishna. Thus, aryan means those who have, or are developing, a clear path or a clear consciousness toward God.
In this way, we can understand that Aryanism, Vedic culture, or modern Hinduism, is a way of life. It is not a race of people or merely a sectarian creed or religion. It belongs to no particular country or race. It is a path that upholds a code of conduct which values peace and happiness and justice for all. Thus, it is a path open for all who want to be trained to be happy with simple living and high thinking, while engaged in proper conduct, a moral life, and selfless service to humanity and God. Therefore, anyone who wants to live in such a manner may be called an Aryan, a member or follower of the Vedic culture, no matter from which race or country a person may come.
So what does it mean to follow this Vedic Aryan path? It generally means to learn the ways of a spiritually progressed person. This includes understanding one's spiritual identity, knowing that he or she is not the temporary body but is spirit soul, that there is karma or reactions for one's activities, and rebirth in another life after death in which one reaps the reward or punishment for his or her own good or evil thoughts, words, and deeds. By having a solid understanding of such spiritual knowledge, there is automatically a respect for all others regardless of race, sex, position, or species. This brings a moral and peaceful social behavior in everybody toward everyone. By having respect for everyone's spiritual identity, this also brings an innate happiness in us all. We can understand that we are only visiting this planet for a short time, and that we are all in this together. In other words, my contribution to your well-being, especially spiritual well-being, will be an automatic contribution to my own existence. In this way, society at large is in a state of constant improvement. Thus, together we all work toward attaining a clean mind and a pure heart. That is the goal of the Vedic Aryan way of life, and all those who seriously follow it.
Not everyone, however, wants to reach this stage of life or follow this path. That is why the Vedic system installs rules for moral behavior and regulatory sacraments and practices beginning from the prenatal stage all the way through death. Of course, many of these moralistic rules are also quite common in other forms of religion and behavior. However, anybody who is unwilling to follow such rules for a balanced moral standard is dubbed a non-Aryan, which simply indicates one who is not so civilized. Such a person is not on the spiritual path of life, regardless of what other standards or principles of etiquette he may follow. So a person who lacks spiritual tendencies and acts on the bodily platform of existence, willing to do whatever he likes, or who thinks he is a white body, or a black body, or from this country or that, and who holds loyalty only to that conception and shows it by criticizing everyone who is not like him, is a non-Aryan. He is one who works against the standards of Hinduism, even he if calls himself a Hindu, or anything else for that matter. In this way, we can see the need to return to the Vedic standards of life through authentic spiritual education.
Therefore, the Sanskrit word Aryan means a way of life that aims at the elevation of everyone in society to a higher level of consciousness, as we find in the broadest foundation within Hinduism. It means to assist ourselves through a disciplined and godly life to understand the purpose of our existence as well as to become a spiritually realized person. It means to recognize the divinity in each of us. It means to perceive the divine energy that permeates the creation, knowing that we and all others are but manifestations of the Divine, the same Supreme Creator, Father of all. It also means that we help every other individual soul understand this, because by helping others we help ourselves. That itself is a natural state of being when we can perceive God as the Supersoul, Paramatma, within everyone. All of this is encouraged by, and increases, a natural faith in an all-pervading Supreme Being. Such faith and focus on the Supreme can elevate us to return to our real spiritual home after death, that one infinite and eternal existence, which is one of the most important goals of the Vedic lifestyle. Once we are relieved of the body, or the bodily concept of life, then there is no longer any question as to what and who we really are. Offering this opportunity to society for reaching that level of understanding is one of the most important purposes of the Vedic path. This is the essence of what Hinduism stands for. Now let's consider the following points as to the advantages of the Vedic path.
2. HINDUISM IS THE OLDEST LIVING CULTURE IN THE WORLD.
Look around. Do you find any other culture that has lasted as long as the Hindu or Vedic culture? Do you see any other culture that after no less than 5,000 years, if not much longer, is still thriving and dynamic, practicing many of the same traditions as it did from thousands of years ago? Sure, you have other old cultures, like the Egyptian, the Inca, Maya, Aztec, all of which go back about 5,000 years, but none of these are still living cultures. They are all gone, leaving us but remnants and artifacts to figure out what really was their culture.
For the Vedic civilization, it is not something that we really need to decipher from old remnants. The traditions and practices that you presently see have been going on for many thousands of years. Its history is well documented in the Puranas, much of which even historians have not researched as well as they should. Through such study it is obvious that the Vedic society has a prehistoric origin. While most of the "living" cultures that we find today, and the most popular religions, are a modern creation in the sense that they have only come about within the past 1400, 2000, and 2500 years with the advent of the Muslim, Christian, or Buddhist religions. However, the Vedic culture goes back much farther. Many scholars have noted the antiquity of the Vedic civilization. For example, in his Discourse on Sanskrit and Its Literature, given at the College of France, Professor Bournouf states, "We will study India with its philosophy and its myths, its literature, its laws and its language. Nay it is more than India, it is a page of the origin of the world that we will attempt to decipher."
In this same line of thinking, Mr. Thornton, in his book History of British India, observed, "The Hindus are indisputably entitled to rank among the most ancient of existing nations, as well as among those most early and most rapidly civilized. . . ere yet the Pyramids looked down upon the Valley of the Nile. . . when Greece and Italy, these cradles of modern civilization, housed only the tenants of the wilderness, India was the seat of wealth and grandeur."
The well-known German philosopher Augustus Schlegel in his book, Wisdom of the Ancient Indians, noted in regard to the divine origin of Vedic civilization, "It cannot be denied that the early Indians possessed a knowledge of the God. All their writings are replete with sentiments and expressions, noble, clear, severely grand, as deeply conceived in any human language in which men have spoken of their God. . ."
Max Mueller further remarked in his India--What It Can Teach Us (Page 21), "Historical records (of the Hindus) extend in some respects so far beyond all records and have been preserved to us in such perfect and legible documents, that we can learn from them lessons which we can learn nowhere else and supply missing links."
On the antiquity of the Vedic society, we can respect the number of philosophies, outlooks on life, and developments in understanding our purpose in this world that has been imbibed and dealt with during the course of its existence. Through all of this, it has formed a commentary and code on all aspects of life and its value, the likes of which can hardly be found in any other culture today. Thus, with age comes wisdom. And the nature and depth of the Vedic wisdom can hardly be compared with anything else that is presently available. Anyone who has taken a serious look at it will agree. It is universally applicable to all.
3. THE VEDIC LITERATURE IS THE OLDEST AND MOST COMPLETE SCRIPTURES FOUND ANYWHERE. It is agreed by any scholar of history or religion that the earliest spiritual writings that can be found are the Vedic samhitas, such as the Rig-veda. In History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature (page 557), Max Mueller observed, "In the Rig-veda we shall have before us more real antiquity than in all the inscriptions of Egypt or Ninevah. . . the Veda is the oldest book in existence. . ."
In the same book (page 63) Max Mueller also noted, "The Veda has a two-fold interest: It belongs to the history of the world and to the history of India. In the history of the world the Veda fills a gap which no literary work in any other language could fill. It carries us back to times of which we have no records anywhere."
The Rig-veda, as old and profound as it, nonetheless, represents only a portion of Vedic thought and wisdom. It was further expanded and explained in numerous other portions of Vedic literature. The whole library of ancient Vedic texts covers a wide range of contemplation, experience and learning in regard to an extraordinarily diverse number of topics.
To explain briefly, we first find the most ancient four Vedic samhitas, namely the Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas. Then there is the Brahmanas, treatises explaining the techniques of the rituals in the Vedas, and the Aranyakas, further explanations for those renunciants who live in the forest. After this we find hundreds of Upanishads, the foremost of which are 108, out of which eleven are the most famous, such as the Katha, Mundaka, Brihadaranyaka, Shvetashvatara, Prashna, Chandogya, and others. These continue to elaborate on the Vedic spiritual truths. The Vedanta Sutras are also codes that contain the essence of spiritual truths that require fuller explanations by a spiritual teacher.
Beyond these are the Itihasas, or the histories, which are contained in such large volumes as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, of which the famous Bhagavad-gita is a chapter. These contain not only an immense library of stories and moral principles, but some of the loftiest spiritual teachings that anyone can find. Furthermore, they can act as guidebooks for one's life, as well as explain the step by step processes for achieving one's own spiritual enlightenment. This is also true of the Puranas, out of which there are 18 greater or Maha Puranas and another 18 lesser or Upa Puranas. There are also many regional or Sthala Puranas. All of these give many stories of the past histories of the world, and even the universe, as well essential spiritual teachings that are universal in nature that everyone could benefit by studying.
We also find additional Sutras, books of codes that explain such things as rules for householders, as in the Griha-Sutras, or codes of duty and other topics. The Vedangas contain the auxiliary sciences, such as phonetics, grammar, astronomy, etc. Then there are the Upavedas, or lesser Vedas, which deal with the arts and sciences such as dancing and music (Gandharva-veda), holistic health (Ayur-veda), or the art of war, and even architecture. Beyond this there are thousands more books that are the books of great spiritual masters and Vedic teachers that are commentaries on the original Vedic texts. All of these are in pursuance of the Vedic path.
In this way, within the Vedic scripture, one can find music, dance, art, biographies on great saints and personalities, and stories that contain every level of emotion. They also exhibit lessons of truth, etiquette, philosophy, and examples of how others have lived and attained the heights of spiritual consciousness and freedom from further material birth.
The most important books for spiritual instruction, as most everyone will agree, are the Bhagavad-gita and Srila Vyasadeva's own commentary on the Vedic texts, the Bhagavat Purana. He was the original author of the essential Vedic scriptures. These will bring anyone to various levels of spiritual knowledge, the likes of which surpass conventional religious principles. The Bhagavat Purana brought out everything that Vyasadeva neglected to explain in his previous writings. Therefore, anyone who studies Vedic knowledge should not neglect reading the Bhagavat Purana, also called the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Through this short review of the Vedic texts, one can get an idea of how thorough and comprehensive is this science. These scriptures reveal the form of God, His personality, the loving nature of God, His greatness, mercy and compassion like no other scripture available. It also shows the unique paths to God in ways that are far more detailed and beyond anything that other scriptures present. Everyone, no matter whether they are religionists, philosophers, politicians, artists, celebrities, or renounced swamis, will appreciate and benefit from the continued study of this most ancient, sacred, and most complete of all spiritual literature. Therefore, those who are devoted Hindus and practitioners of the Vedic system never give up the reading and study of the Vedic literature, knowing that newer and loftier levels of understanding and perceptions into the secrets of life are awaiting them.
Naturally, there is wisdom and understanding available through all of the great books and religions. But to fathom the vast depths of Vedic knowledge is to flow through such a grand gallery of realizations and levels of consciousness that a person can merely get a glimpse of the innumerable considerations that have been made within the development of the Vedic lifestyle regarding all aspects of life. It has been said that the Vedic scripture remains ever fresh with newer and newer realizations, insights and wisdom. Thus, it could be advised that a person can spend a lifetime reading and studying the Vedic scripture and never end in finding newer and higher levels of understanding.
4. THE VEDIC PATH HAS A MOST DEVELOPED AND COMPLETE SPIRITUAL PHILOSOPHY.
As we can see from the previous description of the Vedic scripture, the Vedic philosophy is the most extensive you can find anywhere. It covers so many aspects of life, both material and spiritual, that it is more comprehensive than any other philosophy or lifestyle that you can find. So many viewpoints on life, the material manifestation, God, and our spiritual nature have already been thoroughly considered and thought out that there is little, if anything, that the Vedic philosophy has not already dealt with and spoke about. Everything is there, more of which than most people are aware. Because of this it has attracted thinkers and philosophers from all over the world and from all points in time. The West in particular has, and still does, look to India for the loftiest spiritual knowledge, and for what the churches or synagogues have not delivered. This may include practical spiritual guidance in self-discovery, an integrated world view, spiritual and emotional fulfillment, and even true mystical or spiritual experiences. The spiritual processes that are explained in the Vedic teachings go far beyond the conventional idea, as presented by most religions, that people should merely have faith and pray to God for forgiveness of their sins in order to be delivered to heaven. Naturally, we all have to be humble before God. That is what is encouraged and developed. This is especially in the loving devotional path, wherein a person can purify his or her consciousness through the spiritual practices that are fully explained in the Vedic teachings, even though this takes time and serious dedication and sincerity.
The point is that the Vedic process does not discourage one from having his or her own spiritual realizations, which are often minimized, neglected or even criticized in other religions, which often teaches that the church alone is what maintains your connection with God. But in the Vedic system it is taught that we are all spiritual and loving parts of God, and automatically have a relationship with Him. Therefore, such experiences are considered a proof that the process is successful at helping one elevate his or her consciousness. One's consciousness resonates at various frequencies, depending on the level of one's thoughts, words, and actions, as well as the images and sounds that one absorbs through contact with objects and activities. By learning how to undergo the proper training, one can include the practices that will bring one's consciousness to a level in which one can perceive that which is spiritual. The more spiritual you become, the more you can perceive that which is spiritual. The whole idea is to bring one to perceive his or her spiritual identity and relationship with God. Thus, it must be a scientific process, used under the guidance of a spiritual master, for it to be successful. If the process is not complete, or if the student is not serious, then of course the results will not be as expected. Yet, if the proper spiritual process is explained correctly, and the student is sincere in his or her efforts, the effects will be there. This is why for thousands of years philosophers and spiritual seekers from around the world have come to India, or have been influenced by the Vedic system: It gives practical results when properly performed.
5. THE VEDIC LITERATURE OFFERS MORE INFORMATION ON THE SCIENCE OF LIFE AFTER DEATH, KARMA AND REINCARNATION.
Sure, all religions indicate there is life after death. However, they normally offer only the most basic understanding that if you are good and a believer, maybe you will go to heaven. And if you are predominantly bad, you will go to hell. But only the Vedic philosophy offers detailed information on how exactly this works, and how we create our future with every thought, word and deed. And how that future may not only be in a heavenly world or on a hellish planet, but how it can be another life similar to what we are experiencing now on this earthly globe.
After all, we can look around this planet Earth and see that some people live a nice heavenly existence. They may live in beautiful weather and landscapes, in pleasant surroundings, and in a lovely house, with plenty of money, etc. While someone else may live in a country torn by war, with famine and drought all around, dealing with disease and poverty, and so on. Or we can see that even within the same family, someone may be born and become educated, wealthy and accomplished, while a sister or brother may be born blind, deformed, uneducated, and grow to have a hellish life filled with difficulty. Why is there such a difference? The fundamental religions may give only basic answers, like it is the will of God. Yet the Vedic knowledge can go into great details to explain how such occurrences are arranged by nature to provide the necessary facilities for each individual to have what he or she desires and deserves according to their past actions, words and consciousness.
6. THE VEDIC PHILOSOPHY OFFERS A MOST COMPLETE UNDERSTANDING OF GOD AND THE SPIRITUAL DIMENSION.
In all of the religious books one can gather, you will find nowhere else but in the Vedic texts such a complete description of the Supreme Being and the spiritual dimension. Nowhere else is the understanding given that God is an impersonal force (the Brahman effulgence, in which God displays His potency of existence/eternality), as well as Paramatma, the localized incarnation known as the Supersoul in everyone's heart (in which God displays His potency of existence and knowledge), and, ultimately, Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality who creates this world and overlooks all things (in which God displays His potencies of existence, knowledge and pleasure pastimes). Nowhere else is there offered such a complete understanding of all aspects of God, from His impersonal characteristics to His individual and supreme nature.
Nowhere else can you find such details of God's personality, what He looks like, how He lives and sports with His friends, or that He even DOES have friends and sports with them. Nowhere else can you find that God has devotees who play the parts of parents and relatives, but in a perfect spiritual family. Nowhere else but in the Vedic texts, especially in the likes of the Bhagavat and Vishnu Puranas or Mahabharata, can you see how God takes care of His friends and devotees, how He reveals Himself, how He engages in the most loving pastimes with those who love Him most, or even that you CAN engage in loving pastimes with God. Nowhere else is it explained how God, through His causeless mercy, descends into this world to exhibit His pastimes in order to give us a chance to learn how to become attracted to Him.
Furthermore, nowhere else are there such elaborate explanations of the spiritual world and what goes on there, or how we can truly enter that region, and what the areas are that surround the cosmic creation. Also, nowhere else can you find such detailed descriptions of how the universe was created. Often you will find in a scripture a simple allegory for people to believe that gives only the slightest ideas of how the worlds were created. But in the Vedic literature, there are complex explanations of how and when things took place in order to manifest the universe as we see it now. [My book, "How the Universe was Created," gives these details.]
For these reasons, anyone of any religion can study the Vedic scripture to add to whatever spiritual understanding they already have. Or if they don't have any spiritual understanding, then you just found the mother lode, the main vein of spiritual knowledge of which all others are but portions.
7. HINDUISM AND THE VEDIC LITERATURE HAS MANY DIRECT WORDS AND INSTRUCTIONS FROM GOD.
The Vedic literature is filled with stories and conversations of instruction, and many of those instructions are given directly by God or one of His many incarnations. Other spiritual paths may provide a few commandments that are said to be given by God, or books given by His representatives or prophets. And these certainly can be helpful for the guidance of mankind. However, no where else but in the Vedic scripture do we find such a collection of direct instructions given by Lord Krishna, Lord Vishnu, or the Lord's other forms that direct us in explicit methods of reaching spiritual realizations and perfection.
No where else can you find such lofty and spiritual advice as that related in books like the Bhagavad-gita, or the Bhagavat Purana and other numerous Vedic texts. No culture or religion has anything that compares, or that go far beyond basic moralistic rules to provide the higher principles of direct spiritual realization. These instructions are a scientific process in which the results are assured to cleanse our minds and purify our hearts, if we sincerely follow the formula. Therein lies the doorway through which we can perceive our own spiritual identity and then the numerous aspects of the Absolute Truth.
8. THE VEDIC PATH OFFERS THE MOST LOVING AND BEAUTIFUL FORMS OF GOD.
Not only does the Vedic literature describe the innumerable aspects of God, but also relates the knowledge of the numerous incarnations and forms of God. In these incarnations He performs innumerable pastimes for multiple purposes. Out of all these, which are completely spiritual in nature, we find such beautiful attributes and forms as Lakshmi and Vishnu, or Sita and Rama, and Sri Sri Radha and Krishna as the most sublime. In fact, the forms of Radha and Krishna have been described at length for Their superb qualities and features of incomparable beauty. Plus, the depth of Lord Krishna's loving nature and pastimes with His closest associates is like none found elsewhere. There is no other culture or spiritual path that has any such knowledge of God, or that can present such loving and beautiful forms of God who displays such deep and nectar-like pastimes and personality. Therefore, the Vedic process offers the deepest insights into the most confidential forms and loving disposition of the Supreme Lord. These pastimes often cannot be understood by those who view the Supreme as an angry and jealous God, as some religions do. They do not know the more sublime nature of spiritual relations with the Supreme because there is no information about it found elsewhere.
9. THE VEDIC CULTURE HAS SOME OF THE GREATEST SPIRITUAL TEACHERS AND MASTERS THAT YOU CAN FIND.
In any of the authorized sampradayas, or lines of disciplic succession, you can find greatly learned and fully realized spiritual masters. These lines of gurus and disciples include the Brahma, Sri, Shiva or Kumara sampradayas. In these lines, the highest levels of spiritual knowledge has been carefully handed down from person to person, guru to disciple. Therein we have received the blessings and elaborate instructions from such teachers, as well as witnessed their lifestyle and numerous miracles, as some people would call them. The histories and biographies of such saints and teachers show their ability to affect others, and provide examples of how some have entered directly into the spiritual dimension, or even communed with God on a regular basis.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Why Be A Hindu: The Advantages of the Vedic Path
Written as a short guide to promote and preserve the genuine purpose, values and understanding of Hinduism, the Vedic spiritual process.