THE ESSENCE OF HINDUISM

[This article was compiled by Vinaire in 1995 from the authoritative introduction and translations of Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester.]

To understand the essence of Hinduism one must look at the oldest Hindu scriptures, called the Vedas. All orthodox Hindus recognize in them the origin of their faith and its highest written authority. The word Veda means, “to look, or to know.”

Who wrote the Vedas no one knows nor, with any accuracy, when they were written. The sages and seers whose insight they embody remain wholly in the background, impersonal as the truth they stood for, their individual lives lost forever, and even their names.

The Vedas are four in number: RikSamaYajur, and Atharva. Each of these is divided into two parts consisting of the rites and the philosophy. The part containing religious philosophy is called the Upanishads. The Upanishads must be understood for anyone to have any concept of Hinduism. The word Upanishad means, “sitting near devotedly.”

Any subsequent scripture must be in agreement with Vedas if it is to be regarded as valid. It may expand upon them, it may develop them, and still be recognized, but it may not contradict them. They are to the Hindu, as nearly as any human document can be, the expression of divine truth. At the same time it would be a mistake to suppose that his allegiance to their authority is slavish or blind.

If the Hindu considers Vedas the word of God, it is because he believes their truth to be verifiable, immediately at any moment, in his own personal experience. If he found on due examination that it was not so verifiable, he would reject it. If he found that any part of it was not so verifiable, he would reject that. And in this position, he would tell you, the scriptures uphold him, for the basis of all truth is mindfulness.

The real study, say the Vedas, is not the study of them but the study of that “by which we realize the changeless.” In other words, the real study in religion is first-hand experience of God.

The basic concepts of Hinduism are introduced here through some key excerpts borrowed from Katha Upanishad. This Upanishad starts out with the following statement.

“When a man dies, there is this doubt: Some say, he is; others say, he is not… Subtle is the truth regarding it, not easy to understand.”

The explanation of the truth is then attempted as follows.

“Both the good and the pleasant present themselves to men. The wise, having examined both, distinguish the one from the other. The wise prefer the good to the pleasant; the foolish, driven by fleshly desires, prefer the pleasant to the good.”

“Far from each other, and leading to different ends, are ignorance and knowledge. One who aspires after knowledge is not tempted by the multitude of pleasant objects …”

“The goal of worldly desire, the glittering objects for which all men long, the celestial pleasures they hope to gain by religious rites, the most sought-after of miraculous powers — last but till the morrow.”

“The ancient, effulgent being, the indwelling spirit, subtle, deep-hidden in the lotus of the heart, is hard to know. But the wise man, following the path of meditation, knows him, and is freed alike from pleasure and from pain.”

“The Self, whose symbol is OM, is the omniscient Lord. He is not born. He does not die. He is neither cause nor effect. This Ancient One is unborn, imperishable, eternal: though the body be destroyed, he is not killed.”

“Know that Self is the rider, and the body the chariot; that the intellect is the charioteer, and the mind the reins. The senses, say the wise, are the horses; the roads they travel are the mazes of worldly desire. The wise call the Self the enjoyer when he is united with the body, the senses, and the mind.”

NOTE: In Eastern psychology the mind is an organ of perception.

“When a man lacks discrimination and his mind is uncontrolled, his senses are unmanageable, like the restive horses of a charioteer. But when a man has discrimination and his mind is controlled, his senses, like the well-broken horses of a charioteer, lightly obey the rein.”

“He who lacks discrimination, whose mind is unsteady and whose heart is impure, never reaches the goal, but is born again and again. But he who has discrimination, whose mind is steady and whose heart is pure, reaches the goal, and having reached it is born no more.”

“The senses derive from physical objects, physical objects from mind, mind from intellect, intellect from ego, ego from the unmanifested seed, and the unmanifested seed from Brahman — the Uncaused Cause.”

“Brahman is the end of the journey. Brahman is the supreme goal.”

“This Brahman, this Self, deep-hidden in all beings, is not revealed to all; but to the seers, pure in heart, concentrated in mind — to them is he revealed.”

“The senses of the wise obey his mind, his mind obeys his intellect, his intellect obeys his ego, and his ego obeys the Self.”

“Arise! Awake! Approach the feet of the master and know THAT. Like the sharp edge of the razor, the sages say, is the path. Narrow it is, and difficult to tread!”

“Soundless, formless, intangible, undying, tasteless, odorless, without beginning, without end, eternal, immutable, beyond nature, is the Self. Knowing him as such, one is freed from death.”

The following are the key ideas summarized from various Upanishads. They highlight what Hinduism is.

I. KATHA UPANISHAD

THE secret of immortality is to be found in purification of the heart, in meditation, in realization of the identity of the Self within and Brahman without. For immortality is union with God.

II. ISHA UPANISHAD

LIFE in the world and life in the spirit are not incompatible. Work, or action, is not contrary to knowledge of God, but indeed, if performed without attachment, is a means to it. On the other hand, renunciation is renunciation of the ego, of selfishness — not of life. The end, both of work and of renunciation, is to know the Self within and Brahman without, and to realize their identity. The Self is Brahman, and Brahman is all.

III. KENA UPANISHAD

THE power behind every activity of nature and of man is the power of Brahman. To realize this truth is to be immortal.

IV. PRASNA UPANISHAD

MAN is composed of such elements as vital breath, deeds, thought, and the senses — all of them deriving their being from the Self. They have come out of the Self, and in the Self they ultimately disappear — even as the waters of a river disappear in the sea.

V. MUNDAKA UPANISHAD

SINCE the manifold objects of sense are merely emanations of Brahman, to know them in themselves is not enough. Since all the actions of men are but phases of the universal process of creation, action alone is not enough. The sage must distinguish between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is of things, acts, and relations. But wisdom is of Brahman alone; and, beyond all things, acts, and relations, he abides forever. To become one with him is the only wisdom.

VI. MANDUKYA UPANISHAD

THE life of man is divided between waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep. But transcending these three states is super conscious vision — called the Fourth.

VII. TAITTIRIYA UPANISHAD

MAN, in his ignorance, identifies himself with the material sheaths that encompass his true Self. Transcending these, he becomes one with Brahman, who is pure bliss.

VIII. AITAREYA UPANISHAD

BRAHMAN, source, sustenance, and end of the universe, partakes of every phase of existence. He wakes with the waking man, dreams with the dreamer, and sleeps the deep sleep of the dreamless sleeper; but he transcends these three states to become himself. His true nature is pure consciousness.

IX. CHANDOGYA UPANISHAD

BRAHMAN is all. From Brahman come appearances, sensations, desires, and deeds. But all these are merely name and form. To know Brahman one must experience the identity between him and the Self, or Brahman dwelling within the lotus of the heart. Only by so doing can man escape from sorrow and death and become one with the subtle essence beyond all knowledge.

X. BRIHADARANYAKA UPANISHAD

THE Self is the dearest of all things, and only through the Self is anything else dear. The Self is the origin of all finite happiness, but it is itself pure bliss, transcending definition. It remains unaffected by deeds, good or bad. It is beyond feeling and beyond knowledge, but it is not beyond the meditation of the sage.

XI. KAIVALYA UPANISHAD

THE sage who by faith, devotion, and meditation has realized the Self, and become one with Brahman, is released from the wheel of change and escapes from rebirth, sorrow, and death.

XII. SVETASVATARA UPANISHAD

MEDITATION can be learned, and it must be practiced according to accepted rules. By its means it is possible to realize the personal Brahman, who, in union with Maya, creates, preserves, and dissolves the universe, and likewise the impersonal Brahman, who transcends all forms of being, who eternally is, without attribute and without action.

OM . . . Peace — peace — peace.

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Comments

  • Nehru  On August 22, 2012 at 1:31 AM

    A very good ‘distillate’, Vinaire. Thank you; this helped me fill in a space or two!

    • vinaire  On August 22, 2012 at 4:59 AM

      This was put together back in the nineties. I need to review it for myself.

      .

  • vinaire  On August 22, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    The following verse from KATHA UPANISHAD seems to go against the idea of heaven and hell to force moral behavior:

    “The goal of worldly desire, the glittering objects for which all men long, the celestial pleasures they hope to gain by religious rites, the most sought-after of miraculous powers — last but till the morrow.”

    It goes against the goal of worldly desire attached to many Vedic rites themselves. It goes against the idea of OT Powers of Scientology.

    .

  • vinaire  On August 22, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    “The ancient, effulgent being, the indwelling spirit, subtle, deep-hidden in the lotus of the heart, is hard to know. But the wise man, following the path of meditation, knows him, and is freed alike from pleasure and from pain.”

    This path of meditation is now well defined in KHTK Looking:

    KHTK EXERCISE SET 1 (new)

    .

  • vinaire  On August 22, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    “When a man dies, there is this doubt: Some say, he is; others say, he is not… Subtle is the truth regarding it, not easy to understand.”

    Here the center of consciousness shifts from SELF to SOUL. These are not the same thing. Please see

    The Self and the Soul

    .

  • vinaire  On August 22, 2012 at 11:16 AM

    The following is simply beautiful:

    “THE power behind every activity of nature and of man is the power of Brahman. To realize this truth is to be immortal.”

    If Allah of Islam is correctly understood, it is the same understanding as that of Brahman.

    .

  • vinaire  On July 29, 2014 at 5:34 AM

    I replaced the word “self-determinism” by the word “mindfulnss” in the following paragraph of the Opening Post.

    If the Hindu considers Vedas the word of God, it is because he believes their truth to be verifiable, immediately at any moment, in his own personal experience. If he found on due examination that it was not so verifiable, he would reject it. If he found that any part of it was not so verifiable, he would reject that. And in this position, he would tell you, the scriptures uphold him, for the basis of all truth is mindfulness.

    I think this is very significant. I find that a person may think that he is self-determined while acting per external conditioning. Thus, “self-determinism” is a feeling only. It doesn’t mean much. Mindfulness is the process that starts to take care of conditioning.

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