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Sunday, February 19, 2017

The essence of Vedic Teachings and the Indian Culture  


The two most important differences between Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma) and other religions are: 1. Openness to varying world-views. 2. No organizational structure and hierarchy.

Looking for some general statements about Hinduism, I came across a few gems in a talk given by Swami Ranganathananda and published in 1999 by Advaita Ashrama (5 Delhi Entally Road, Kolkata 700 014)

First, what is meant by “culture”?  It means “…. The total accumulation of material objects, ideas, symbols, beliefs, sentiments, values and social forms which are passed on from one generation to another in any given society”. (The source for this is The future for traditional Cultures by K.A.Nilakanta Sastry  UNESCO Chronicle May 1959)

The word “culture” includes both material and mental. Once a society is self-sufficient in food and prosperous in a material sense and is free from external and internal threats, it can spend its resources to mental pursuits. That is when arts, literature and science and innovation flourish. This is all also the time when a culture (nation) tends to start pushing its boundaries and start wars.

Ancient Greece started pursuing the position of man as part of nature and as a member of a society. The world is seeing the fruits of the remarkable insights and wisdom of these pursuits which focused on understanding the world we live in.

India and the Indian culture did not choose this path. Instead, it started a remarkable inward journey. We are yet to reap the benefits of its wisdom and foresight.

One sloka (stanza) in Katha Upanishad (4:1) summarizes the direction. It says that the Primordial Source (the IT or Brahman) created the sense organs and the mind with a major defect – a tendency to look outward. Therefore, man perceives outside things, not the Self within. Wise men turn their senses and the mind inwards and realize the Self.

The spiritual lessons which such direction gave are summarized by Swami Ranganathananda as follows: “The ultimate reality of man and the universe is spiritual through and through, It is One and non-dual, It can be realized by man, this realization is the goal of human life, this goal can be reached through different paths….. these constitute the fundamental ideas which have inspired Indian life; these have provided a spiritual base and a spiritual direction to Indian culture and shaped the destiny of the Indian people”.

Rigidity and exclusiveness are not in the province of the Indian culture. As Bertrand Russell pointed out when rigid cultures meet each other, they behave like billiard balls with hard collision as the only possible mutual relationship. Instead the Vedas teach tolerance for multiple views and multiple paths. Ekam satyam, vipra bahudha vadanthi  (Truth is One; people call It by different names) is the Magna Carta of Vedic teaching according to Swami Vivekananda.

S. Radhakrishnan said in his book on Eastern religions and Western thought that “Toleration is the homage which the finite mind pays to the inexhaustibility of the Infinite.”

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