Science of the Rishis
The Sanatana Dharma
“After a study of some forty years and more of the great religions of the world, I find none so perfect, none so scientific, none so philosophic, and none so spiritual as the great religion known by the name of Hinduism. The more you know it, the more you will love it; the more you try to understand it, the more deeply you will value it. Make no mistake; without Hinduism, India has no future. Hinduism is the soil into which India's roots are struck, and torn of that she will inevitably wither, as a tree torn out from its place. Many are the religions and many are the races flourishing in India, but none of them stretches back into the far dawn of her past, nor are they necessary for her endurance as a nation. Everyone might pass away as they came and India would still remain. But let Hinduism vanish and what is she? A geographical expression of the past, a dim memory of a perished glory, her literature, her art, her monuments, all have Hindu Dom written across them. If the Hindus do not maintain Hinduism, who shall save it? If India's own children do not cling to her faith, who shall guard it? India alone can save India, and India and Hinduism are one.
These were indeed prophetic words that Annie Besant, wrote at the time of the British Raj. Perhaps she realised what her own people were doing to the deep rooted faith and culture of the land they had conquered. The British never went out overtly to destroy temples or desecrate Hindu art. Their attempts were more subtle and the unfortunate part was that this attempt was aided by the Hindu intelligentsia who were desperate to impress and get into the good books of their conquerors. The 19th century saw more harm being caused to classical Hinduism than any other century including the Mogul conquest. It is imperative for all Indians to save Hinduism and its culture for without it, India itself would not exist as Annie Besant said and this would be a terrible loss not just to India but to the whole world for Hinduism is unique in many respects and genocide is a serious crime. Let us go through the history of the Sanatana Dharma and thus allow Hindus everywhere to see what is being done to their own faith.
The Sanatana Dharma is the name of the most ancient religion in the world. Hinduism is the name given to it by the British. It only meant the people who lived below the Indus River. Hinduism has been called a way of life rather than a religion and that is why its ancient name is Sanatana Dharma or the ancient law of righteousness. It is the most tolerant and the most liberal of all religions. More and more intelligent people in the world with spiritual leanings are turning away from the orthodox ideas of a God who lives in his heaven and who punishes sinners and casts them into eternal hell and blesses the pious and gives them a place in heaven. One of the aspersions cast against Hinduism is that it has many gods whereas all western religions have only one God.
In this context it must be pointed out that the One god of all Semitic religions is a sectarian god, exclusive to the followers of that particular faith or sect. He has nothing whatsoever to do with those who do not believe in him. They are cast beyond the pale of divine grace.
Hinduism also believes in one God and one divine power. But the One God of the Sanatana Dharma is a universal Being, who transcends all boundaries of time, space and causation. He is not bound to only the Hindus but is available to the whole of creation and not just for human beings. He or IT has existed always and will continue to exist even if no one believes in IT. IT is the Ultimate Truth of everything and everyone.
Hinduism is the most tolerant religion in the world. It is a goal oriented religion and thus gives us many paths of approach to God. These are known as yogas and they cater to different types of personalities. It does not insist that there is only one path and one way to approach the Paramatma or the Supreme. There are many paths and many ways and what we choose is decided by our temperament. Hinduism is accused of being pluralistic but pluralism means freedom – freedom of choice. It has no overall authority which dictates what every Hindu should or should not do. The first charter of human rights and liberties was give by Hinduism to every human being and hence it is imperative that we educate our children in all these facts so that they realize how fortunate they are to be born in the arms of such a loving and tolerant mother. The rishis have catered to every type of person. No one is cast out of the loving arms of this divine mother. It is highly tolerant of all other religions. Everyone is given freedom to worship god in his or her own way as suited to his or her own personality. No one is cast out. We can take as many lives as we want but eventually every soul will be liberated. This is the beautifully consoling clarion call of Hinduism. Krishna tells Arjuna in the Gita, “Kaunteya pratijanihi, na me bhakta pranasyati.” “O Arjuna I give you my solemn promise that my devotee will never perish.”
This is why Hinduism has always been a religion that has taught tolerance of other valid religious traditions. However, the assertion that we should have tolerance for the beliefs of other religions is a radically different claim from the declaration that all religions are the same. Historically speaking, pre-colonial classical Hinduism never taught that all religions are the same. Of course it is absolutely true to say that Hinduism has always believed in tolerance and freedom of religious thought and expression. But these are two thoroughly separate assertions and should not be taken to mean that Hindu tolerance is synonymous with Radical Universalism (identity of all religions). To maintain a healthy tolerance of another person’s religion does not mean that we consider their religion to be the same as ours and that there is no harm in conversion!!
Traditional Hinduism has always been the most tolerant, patient and welcoming of all religions. It never persecuted others merely because they had a different theological belief. India is the only country in the world which has never practised slavery. Hindu India has been the sole nation on earth where the Jewish community has never been persecuted even though they have been living here for over 2000 years. Similarly, Zoroastrian refugees escaping the destruction of the Persian civilization at the hands of Islamic conquerors were warmly welcomed in India over 1000 years ago. The Zoroastrian community (now known as the Parsis) has thrived and lived amicably with their Hindu neighbors in peace and mutual respect. Hinduism has always sought to live side-by-side peacefully with the followers of other religions, whether they were the indigenous Indian religions of Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism or the foreign religions of Christianity and Islam.
In keeping with the Vedic injunction that a guest should be treated with as much hospitality as one would treat a visiting divinity, Hinduism has always been gracious to the followers of other religions, and respectful of their gods, scriptures and customs. The tolerance and openness of Hinduism has been historically unprecedented in the community of world religions and has been universally acclaimed. But now that very tolerance has been mis-understood and mis-interpreted by the Hindu intellectuals themselves.
The mistake that is now being made by modern Hindus, especially those living abroad, is to misunderstand the long-held Hindu tradition of tolerating other religions with the notion that Hinduism encourages us to believe that all religions are exactly the same. We have mistaken Hindu tolerance with Radical Universalism. The leap from tolerance of other faiths to a belief that all religions are equal is not a leap that is grounded in logic. Nor is it grounded in the history, literature or philosophy of the Hindu tradition itself.
Unfortunately, in our headlong rush to devolve Hinduism of anything that might seem to even remotely resemble the closed-minded sectarianism sometimes found in other religions, we tend to forget the obvious truth that Hinduism is itself a systematic and self-contained religious tradition in its own right. It is true that Hinduism is not an organised religion. It has no hierarchy of priests or popes or cardinals who impose orders which are obligatory on everyone. However like every other religion, Hinduism has a distinct and unique tradition, with its own inbuilt beliefs, world-view, traditions, rituals, concept of the Absolute, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, cosmology, cosmogony, and theology. The grand, systematic philosophical edifice that we call Hinduism today is the result of the extraordinary efforts and spiritual insights of the rishis, yogis, acharyas and great gurus of our religion, guided by the transcendent light of the Vedic revelations, that has stood the test of time. It is a tradition that should be protected and preserved by all Hindus and given respect and admiration by non-Hindus.
Such a realisation and acceptance of Hinduism’s unique place in the world does not, by any stretch of the imagination, have to lead automatically to sectarianism, strife, conflict or religious chauvinism. On the other hand the recognition of Hinduism’s distinctiveness is crucial if Hindus are to possess even a modicum of healthy self-understanding, self-respect and pride in their own tradition. Self-respect and the ability to celebrate one’s unique spiritual traditions are basic psychological needs and the right of all human beings whether Hindu or non-Hindu.
Unfortunately we find that the modern Hindu youth, especially those who live abroad is forced to take a defensive stand against the onslaughts of other religions and has no method of defending themselves since neither they nor their parents know enough to defend their own religion.
It should be impressed on the Hindu modern youth that they have no reason to be uncomfortable or ashamed about their unique spiritual tradition, or to be frightened of asserting their exceptional contributions to the development of global religious thought. This is an obvious, yet all too often forgotten, fact the importance of which cannot be overstated: Hinduism is its own uniquely independent religious tradition, different and distinct from any other religion on earth. Hinduism has a distinct tradition. This distinction has been asserted by all our great saints. Every time another faith came to disturb the even tenor of the Hindu tradition, we find that some great religious leader or prophet would rise up in order to keep it on the correct track and uphold the values of the Sanatana Dharma.
The great Hindu saints used to have debates with the protagonists of non- Hindu traditions like Buddhism, Jainism and Charvakins (atheists). The sages of Hinduism met all philosophical challenges with infallible logic and sustained pride in their own tradition, and always succeeded in defeating their philosophical opponents in open assemblies. Adi Shankaracharya, founder of Advaita Vedanta, went all over the peninsula defeating all his learned opponents in open debate. This was known as his "Digvijaya", or "Conquest of all Directions". This indomitable title was awarded to Shankaracharya solely due to his formidable ability to defend the Hindu tradition from the philosophical attacks of non-Hindu schools of thought. Indeed, Shankara is attributed as being partially responsible for the decline of Buddhism in India due to his great ability in debate by which he totally annihilated his opponent’s arguments and proved the superiority of the Vedantic doctrines.
The great teacher Madhvacharya, founder of the Dwaita school of Vedanta, is similarly seen as being responsible for the sharp decline of Jainism in South India due to his acute intelligence and great debating skills in defense of the Vaidika Dharma (Vedic Dharma). All pre-modern Hindu sages and philosophers recognized and celebrated the singularly unique vision that Hinduism had to offer the world. They clearly distinguished between Hindu and non-Hindu religions, and defended Hinduism to the utmost of their formidable intellectual and spiritual abilities. They did so unapologetically, professionally and courageously. The Hindu world-view makes sense, and will survive only if we celebrate Hinduism’s uniqueness today.
India was the richest country in the world till the advent of the British in the 17th century . Robert Clive’s personal wealth amassed from the blunder of Bengal was £401,102. The total amount of treasure looted by the British reached one billion pounds by 1901. This was apart from the price of the Kohinoor diamond. Apart from this financial catastrophe, there was another tragic occurrence, during the 19th century, the destructive magnitude of which Hindu leaders and scholars are only dimly beginning to recognise and assess. This development both altered and weakened Hinduism to such a tremendous degree that Hinduism has not even begun to recover from it. During the last century the classical, traditional Hinduism that had been responsible for the continuous development of thousands of years of a unique culture, architecture, music, philosophy, ritual and theology came under the devastating assault of British colonial rule. This was different from any of the other assaults that Hinduism had to bear in the past. For a thousand years previous to the British Raj, foreign marauders had repeatedly attempted to destroy Hinduism through overt physical genocide and the systematic destruction of Hindu temples and sacred places. Our sages and warriors had fought bravely to stem this anti-Hindu holocaust to the best of their ability, often paying for their bravery with their lives. What the Hindu community experienced under British Christian domination, however, was an ominous form of cultural genocide. It was a subtle yet systematic program of intellectual and spiritual annihilation. It is easy to defend oneself from the threat of an enemy who tries to kill us physically but much harder to recognise the threat of an enemy who, outwardly claims to serve the best interests of the people that it has subjugated but slowly seeks to undermine the authority of its cultural heritage! Thus you find that all original thought both in the field of science and arts was totally nipped in the bud during and after the British rule.
During the short span of the British Raj, the ancient grandeur and beauty of classical Hinduism that had stood the test of thousands of years came under direct ideological attack. What makes this period of Hindu history especially tragic is that the main apparatus that the British used in their attempts to destroy traditional Hinduism were the British-educated, adopted sons and daughters of Hinduism itself. Seeing traditional Hinduism through the eyes of their British masters, the Anglicized Hindu intellectuals took it as their solemn duty to "westernize" and "modernise" traditional Hinduism to make it more palatable to their new English overlords. One of the unfortunate happenings of this historic period was the fabrication of a new movement known as "neo-Hinduism". Neo-Hinduism was an artificial religious group that claimed to form a bridge between traditional Hinduism and their Christian overlords which would make it more palatable to them. Neo-Hinduism was an effective weapon, used to replace the traditional Hinduism that had been the religion and culture of our people for thousands of years, with a British invented version designed to make a subjugated people easier to manage and control. Perhaps the British did not quite realise the enormity of the crime they were perpetuating against an ancient culture and heritage which was so far removed from their own religious beliefs, that they were totally incapable of understanding it, far less appreciating it.
Indian intellectuals educated in England and in British public schools in India who were encouraged to read only English classics were an easy prey. The schools and colleges all taught them to admire and appreciate this foreign culture which seemed so delectable to them. If their culture was so admirable then surely their religion must also be great was their logical conclusion! We learnt to despise our gods and condemn our traditions as superstitious nonsense. Our schools that used to teach yoga were replaced by what the British called PT (physical training). We yearned to be considered the equals of our conquerors and bent ourselves backwards in order to change our ancient beliefs to suit the spiritually immature viewpoint of our conquerors and forgot that our own religion had stood the test of thousands of years and had all the force and strength of the great spiritual giants who had given it to us.
As soon as they came to India, the British recognised that the dignity, strength and beauty of traditional Hinduism were the foremost threat to Christian European rule in India. This is an extract from Macaulay’s address to the British Parliament on the 2nd of February 1835.
“I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar or who is a thief. Such wealth have I seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage and therefore I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system and her culture, for if the Indians can be made to think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them to be, a truly dominated nation!’
This is exactly what the British proceeded to do. They systematically destroyed our spiritual wealth which is the basis of our scientific knowledge and thus impoverished the whole nation into becoming a set of poor imitators and docile servants of the British Raj. The invention of neo-Hinduism was another diabolically clever method. Had this anti-Hindu program been carried out only by the British and the missionaries, it would not have met with as much success as it did. Therefore, an Indian facade was used to impose neo-Hinduism upon the Hindu people. The effects of the activities of Indian neo-Hindus were ruinous for traditional Hinduism. The age brought a spate of highly intellectual Indians like Ram Mohan Roy and the Brahmo Samajees who literally played into the hands of their ingenious masters! They brought out a form of watered Hinduism which they felt would find more favour with the British.
Many of the pseudo gurus of today are also propagators of neo-Hinduism and the theory of Radical Universalism (all religions are the same), even though they do not realise it. They wear orange clothes and quote liberally from the Gita and the Bible alike and try to show the similarity in both teachings and in the lives of Krishna and Christ. Actually they do harm to both religions. The ideas of Radical Universalism, have had a paralysing impact on modern Hindu philosophy. It has resulted in killing all Hindu philosophical development since the 18th century and in severely undermining Hindu self-esteem. Its intellectual roots are certainly not to be found in Hinduism, but can clearly be traced back to early Christian missionary attempts to alter the genuine teachings of authentic Hinduism.
The Brithish did their best to suppress the true facts of the historicity of the Hindu gods like Rama and Krishna and even insisted that the Vedas which are the corner stones of Hinduism was actually a graft brought from outside by creating the myth called the Aryan Invasion. The great German Indologist, Max Mueller was the first to think of this theory which has no historical basis whatsoever. The Indian historians simply copied him without going to the roots of the matter. The roots of course can be found in the Hindu scriptures. No one thought of investigating the Vedas themselves in order to verify this claim. Indian historians simply swallowed what was given in western historical books and reiterated the myth of the Aryan Invasion. When we look into the Vedas we find that no mention has ever been made of such an expedition or invasion. According to the Vedas, the whole of the Vedic culture was developed along the banks of the great Saraswathy River which was the great artery for the whole of North India as the Ganga is today. However western historians claimed the river to be purely mythical and of course Indian historians repeated this in a parrot-like fashion. It is only today that modern scientific research and photos taken from space has clearly shown the existence of this river which was the very backbone of the Vedic scene and thus of the Hindu culture. Science proves that the Vedic culture is totally indigenous. In fact now it has been proven that Hinduism has existed right from the great Harappan culture through the Vedic, and right up to the present. The seals found in the Harappan valley have many of the Vedic signs on them like “\”, the swastika and the peepul tree. The Vedic culture was developed all along the banks of the great River Saraswati which has been described as mythical by all the western Indologists who seemed bent on belittling the greatness of this culture for some strange reason of their own. Satellite pictures clearly show the River Saraswati rising in the Himalayas and wending its way to the ocean. Remains of many settlements along the river are also found. The river slowly dried up due to seismatic movements and the gradual drying up of her tributaries, giving rise to the Thar Desert. This happened in 1900 BCE. According to the Hindus, part of the river went underground and emerged in Allahabad where it joined the other two great rivers of N. India, the Ganga and the Yamuna. This highly spiritual spot is known as Triveni.
The 19th century British educated Indians, had little authentic information about their own Hindu intellectual and spiritual heritage. These westernized Indians vied with each other to gain acceptance and respectability for themselves from their Christian European audience who saw in Hinduism nothing more than the childish prattle of a primitive people. Many exaggerated stereotypes about Hinduism had been unsettling impressionable European minds for a century previous to their era. Rather than attempting to refute these many stereotypes about Hinduism by presenting Hinduism in its authentic and pristine form, many of these 19th century Anglicized Indians felt it was necessary to remove from Hinduism anything that might seem offensive or barbaric to the European mind. Radical Universalism seemed to be the perfect base on which to construct a "new" Hinduism that would give the Anglicized 19th century Indian intelligentsia the acceptability they so yearned for from their British masters.
The primary dilemma for the western educated Hindu youth both in India and abroad is that they do not realise that there are really two distinct and conflicting Hinduisms today, Neo-Hindu and Traditionalist Hindu. The Traditionalists who are the guardians of authentic Hindu Dharma, have not yet found a way of communicating this unadulterated Hindu Dharma which is the Sanatana Dharma in a way in which the modern mind can appreciate it. Until they do so Hinduism will continue to be a religion mired in confusion about its own true meaning and value until traditional Hindus can assertively, professionally and intelligently communicate the reality of genuine Hinduism to the world.
In order to fully experience Hinduism in its most spiritually evocative and philosophically compelling form, we must learn to recognize, and reject, the concocted influences of neo-Hinduism that have permeated the whole of Hindu thought today. It is time to rid ourselves of the liberal Christian inspired "reformism" that so deeply prejudiced such individuals as Ram Mohan Roy over a century ago. We must free ourselves from the anti-Hindu dogma of Radical Universalism that has so weakened Hinduism, and re-embrace an authentically classical form of Hinduism that is rooted in the actual scriptures of Hinduism, that has been preserved for thousands of years by the legitimate acharyas and has stood the test of time. The neo-Hindu importation of Radical Universalism into the Hindu thought may appeal to many on a purely emotional level, but it remains patently anti-Hindu in its origin, and is a highly destructive doctrine to the further development of Hinduism!
“Traditional Hindu philosophers continually emphasized the crucial importance of clearly understanding what Hinduism proper was and what non-Hindu religious paths were. You cannot claim to be a Hindu, after all, if you do not understand what it is that you claim to believe, and what it is that others believe. One set of Sanskrit terms repeatedly employed by traditional Hindu philosophers were the words Vaidika and avaidika. The word Vaidika (or "Vedic" in English) means one who accepts the teachings of the Veda. It refers specifically to the unique stand taken by the traditional schools of Hindu philosophy, known as sabda-pramana, or employing the divine sound current of the Veda as a means of acquiring valid knowledge. In this sense the word "Vaidika" is employed to differentiate those schools of Indian philosophy that accept the epistemological validity of the Veda as a perfect authoritative spiritual source, eternal and untouched by the speculations of humanity, as against the avaidika schools that do not ascribe such validity to the Veda. In pre-Christian times Buddhism, Jainism and the atheistic Charvaka schools were all known to be avaidika – or those who did not accept the Veda. These three schools were unanimously considered non-Vedic, and thus non-Hindu. Though they are geographically Indian religions, they are not theologically and philosophically Hindu religions.” Manu, one of the great ancient law-givers of the Hindu tradition, states the following in his Manava-dharma-shastra (XII, 95)
"All those traditions and all those disreputable systems of philosophy that are not based on the Veda produce no positive result after death; for they are declared to be founded on darkness. All those doctrines differing from the Veda that spring up and soon perish are ineffectual and misleading, and are of a modern date."
Stated in simpler terms, "Vaidika" specifically refers to those persons who accept the Vedas as their sacred scripture, and thus as their source of valid knowledge about spiritual matters.
Historically speaking there are six systems of Hindu philosophy which accept the Veda as their main source of valid knowledge. These systems are known as “darshanas.” In Sanskrit darshana means a “point of view” or “a method of looking”. It will be interesting to see how scientific many of these ancient systems were. It is important to realize that the founders of these systems were great rishis in their own right, who had a deep insight into the workings of nature and hence they can be called scientists. They photographed Truth from various angles as it were, accepting the fact that Truth is many faceted.
1. The sage Gautama is the founder of the Nyaya philosophy which deals with logic and reasoning. In fact all Hindu logic is derived from his work.
2. Kannada is the founder of the Vaisheshika School which is the first ancient school in the world which dealt with atomism. He decreed that the world is composed of atoms long before the atomic theory was even thought of. He talks of anus (atoms) and paramanus (molecules). These two schools are closely connected and Vaisheshika makes use of Nyaya logic.
3. The great sage Kapila is the founder of the Samkhya Philosophy which postulates Reality as being dual, Prakriti and Purusha or Nature and Spirit. He postulates that the world is made up of the five great basic elements. To these were added many others making up a total of twenty-four cosmic principles. The basics of the Samkhya system were later used by both Yoga and Vedanta.
4. Patanjali, the founder of the Yoga school, was the greatest psychologist known to the world. He taught the various methods of mind control like meditation and breath control which is still used by all those who wish to attain liberation. These will be discussed fully in the chapter on Patanjali. Samkhya and Yoga are always connected.
5. Mimamsa is differentiated into two schools one of which is known as Purva Mimamsa founded by the sage Jaimini. It stresses the efficacy of that portion of the Vedas which advocate yajnas and other rituals.
6. Uttara Mimamsa is known as Vedanta which accents the end of the Vedas or the Upanishads which contain the path of wisdom. There are three schools of Vedanta each having its own teacher or guru. Adi Shankara is the founder of Advaita Vedanta which is the most famous of all the schools. He says that Reality is One alone and is called Brahman. This is known as monism and will be discussed fully in a separate chapter. Ramanuja is the founder of the Visishtadvaita School which is known as qualified monism. Madhvacharya is the founder of the school known as Dwaita or dualism.
Hinduism is not just a mass of ritual and superstition based on ignorance as the westerners have made us believe. It has a purpose which is to cater to the human being’s aspiration for a good and happy life. In fact it teaches us our dharma, or duties of righteous behaviour. Apart from the four Vedas, the principles of Hindu dharma are to be found in ten other books. These are, the six Vedangas, or auxiliaries to the Vedas – Shiksha, which teaches the correct pronunciation of the Vedic hymns, Vyakarna or grammar, Chandas or metre, Nirukta or etymology, Jyotisha or astronomy and Kalpa or procedure. To these ten are added, Mimamsa, the interpretation of the Vedic texts, Nyaya or logic, Purana or mythology and the Dharma Shastras which contain codes of conduct for all human beings. All knowledge and wisdom are enshrined in these fourteen books. Normally four more books are added to these which are known as Upangas or appendices to the Vedangas. They are Ayurveda or science of life and health, Arthashastra, the science of wealth or economics, Dhanur Veda, the science of weapons, missiles and warfare and Gaandharva Veda or treatises on fine arts like music, art, dance, drama, sculpture and so on. The Vedangas and the Upangas are all derived from the Vedas and should be studied along with the Vedas so that their meaning becomes clearer.
Let us encourage our youth to go the source of their religion which have been mentioned above and also to the Itihasas and Puranas in which the great rishis, Vyasa and Valmiki have related the stories of the great incarnations of Hinduism. Only then will they learn to appreciate the greatness of Hinduism and also learn how they can defend themselves from the criticism of other faiths.
“Knowledge, scriptures and discourses cannot disclose the cause of life. Do thou search for the wisdom of existence in the eternal reality that unites life.”
“When the earliest of mornings dawned, the Great Eternal was manifested as the path of light. Now the commands of the devas shall be revered. Great is the One source of energy of the cosmic forces.”
Rig Veda (3.55.1)
Loka Samasthath Sukhino Bhavantu.