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Vedic Culture / Hinduism: A Short Introduction by Stephen Knapp

 

This is a short description of the basics of Vedic culture and its philosophy. Many people do not know quite what it is, and it is often described incorrectly by many who are not a part of it. However, it is not as mysterious or complex as it is often portrayed to be. So here in the next few pages you can get a quick review and understanding of what it is.

            First of all, to describe it in brief, we can begin by saying that:

1. The Vedic Tradition or Hinduism is more than a religion, but a way of life, a complete philosophy.

2. It is based on Universal Spiritual Truths which can be applied to anyone at anytime.

3. It is called Sanatana-Dharma, the eternal nature of the soul.

4. It recognizes that there is one Supreme Being with no beginning or end, the all in all, the unlimited Absolute Truth, which can expand into many forms.

5. That Supreme Being is found in the spiritual realm but also lives in the heart of all living beings.

6. The Vedic tradition recognizes that the individual soul is eternal, beyond the limitations of the body, and that one soul is no different than another.

7. The soul undergoes it’s own karma, the law of cause and effect, by which each person creates his own destiny based on his thought, words and deeds. The soul undergoes this karma in the rounds of reincarnation.

8. The soul incarnates through different forms (called samsara or reincarnation) until it reaches liberation (moksha) from the repetition of birth and death, and attains its natural position in the spiritual domain.

9. The Vedic path is based on regaining our natural spiritual identity.

10. It has a complete library of ancient texts, known as the Vedic literature, that explain these truths and the reasons for the tradition.

11. This Vedic literature is considered to be non-ordinary books that are the basis of the Vedic system. Some of these have been given or spoken by God, and others were composed by sages in their deepest super conscious state in which they were able to give revelations of Universal Truths while in meditation on the Supreme.

12. The Vedic path offers personal freedom for one to make his own choice of how he or she wants to pursue their spiritual approach, and what level of the Absolute Truth he or she wishes to understand. This is spiritual democracy and freedom from tyranny.

13. The Vedic path consists of ten general rules of moral conduct. There are five for inner purity, called the yamas--truthfulness, ahimsa or non-injury to others and treating all beings with respect, no cheating or stealing, celibacy, and no selfish accumulation of resources for one’s own purpose. The five rules of conduct for external purification are the niyamas--cleanliness, austerity, perseverance, study of the Vedas, and acceptance of the Supreme Being.

14. There are also ten qualities that are the basis of dharmic (righteous) life. These are dhriti (firmness or fortitude), kshama (forgiveness), dama (self-control), asteya (refraining from stealing or dishonesty), shauch (purity), indriya nigraha (control over the senses), dhih (intellect), vidya (knowledge), satyam (truth) and akrodhah (absence of anger).

            

A more elaborate explanation of various points of the Vedic tradition or Hinduism can be given as follows:


 

WHAT IS VEDIC CULTURE / HINDUISM

 

 

            When it comes to Vedic culture, more popularly known as Hinduism, many people find it difficult or impossible to define it in a concise or adequate manner. It differs quite a bit from the conventional and western monotheistic religions with which many people are familiar. Hinduism is pluralistic. In other words, it does not claim any one prophet or savior; it includes all aspects of God; it does not subscribe to any one philosophy or dogma; it includes various schools of thought and ways of understanding spiritual Truth; it includes a variety of religious rites or sacraments; it does not exclude any particular scripture that can help a person understand more about God and spiritual Truth; and it does not say that you have only one life in which to become spiritually perfect or you will go to eternal damnation. Thus, Vedic philosophy is more of a way of living and an outlook on life than a religion.

            

Because of this, Hinduism and the path of Vedic culture includes a variety of customs, ideas, and philosophies. It accommodates a wide range of approaches for allowing people to advance and understand our spiritual identity and transcendental Truth. It allows everyone to question the scriptures to increase one’s understanding, and recognizes no single person or prophet as having an exclusive claim over the Absolute Truth. Everyone can follow a system of realization to approach God since this is everyone’s right and destiny. This flexibility is one of the reasons why Vedic culture has continued over so many thousands of years.  

            

This is also why many variations of philosophical thought or schools of religion can be viewed as branches or tributaries of the same great river of sanatana-dharma, which is the universal spiritual knowledge and practice that is the essential teachings of the Vedic literature. Such spiritual knowledge can be recognized in many forms of religion or their scripture. Because of this, it also means that no one is excluded or excommunicated from the Hindu or Vedic philosophy. There are no heretics, but there is room for everyone and respect for all who are practicing its basic principles of spiritual pursuit and understanding. This is also one reason why Hindus generally get along with other religions, though there have been many who have taken unfair advantage of their amiable nature.

            

So Vedic culture is not an organized religion like Christianity or Islam. It has no single founder. It has no Pope. It has no hierarchy, though people do recognize particular spiritual authorities or gurus. It also has a lot of scriptures. And in some of these Vedic scriptures you are actually studying the history and culture of India, just as through the 66 books of the Holy Bible you are actually studying the culture and history of the Jews.

            

Hinduism and Judaism are the sources of all modern religions in the world. Buddhism, Sikhism and to some extent Jainism and Zoroastrianism were outgrowths from Hinduism. Of course, Jainism existed during the period of the Rig Veda. Statues of Rishabha, the first Thirthankara and founder of Jainism was found in the Mohenjadaro and Harappa excavations. Islam and Christianity came from Judaism. Judaism, Islam and Christianity have Abraham as the common father figure. All three have many common prophets.

            

C.S. Lewis, the great author and theologist accurately explained, “Finally it will come to two religions. Hinduism and Christianity. The first [Hinduism] will grow absorbing ideas and concepts from everywhere and later [Christianity] will keep away from everything that is foreign to it.” This is one reason why Hinduism has continued for thousands of years and cannot be destroyed, even if we burn every Vedic scripture and kill every Hindu theologian on earth. Hinduism or Vedic culture is a very dynamic, living, breathing Reality. The strength of Hinduism lies in its most amazing ability to adapt to different circumstances and different ages while maintaining its strong continuity with the past.

 

RESPECT FOR INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM OF INQUIRY

         

   It is for this reason, as stated above, that the Vedic culture is wonderfully catholic, elastic and even democratic. It provides the epitome of the individual’s right for self inquiry and spiritual pursuit. It is this reason that it also maintains a liberal amount of tolerance and unlimited freedom for one’s own method of private worship. It is, after all, up to the individual to carry on with one’s own spiritual progress. Everything else in the Vedic system is for his or her assistance. It is not meant for being a religious dogma or to stifle or control, though it does expect one to stay within the laws of the land and ride the high ground of morality and spiritual discipline.

            

It is also because of this tolerance and mutual respect that you find Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and even Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Sikhism, and the Parsis all accepting the shelter of life in India. India also allows all of the various sects of Islam to exist, whereas no other Islamic nation provides for such freedom within its own religion.

            

It is merely the fanaticism that comes from the fundamental and monotheistic religions that have sparked the majority of violence that has been seen in India and throughout the world. It is also the ways of the various monotheistic religions and their conversion tactics that have encroached on the culture and land of the Hindus that have made Hindus view them with suspicion, and be less than welcoming in some areas of the country. It has made them to be more protective of their culture, taking up various means of defense that has been called communalism or saffronization by the so-called secular media. Yet, Hindus cannot be expected to humble themselves out of their own existence. Hindus make lousy terrorists, and they will not be such. But they also do not need to be the doormat of every other religion that wants another part of India.

            

So, if left to themselves, Hindus and the followers of Vedic culture will continue to be one of the largest shelters for the greatest number of diverse religious groups there can be. It will continue to be a most tolerant, liberal, and respectful system of spiritual development, without the usual violence and persecution toward “non-believers” that seems to be the attendant of so many other less tolerant, monotheistic religions. It is this inherent acceptance of the right of the individual to proceed in the spiritual quest that is most suitable for him or her that separates the Vedic process from most other religions on the planet.

 

THE GOAL OF THE VEDIC PROCESS

            There is both long term and short term goals.

 

 

            The Long-Term Goal: The ultimate goal of the Vedic process is moksha, or liberation and the release from samsara, or the continuous cycles of birth and death, otherwise called reincarnation. This liberation is the position of the soul when it regains or reawakens its spiritual consciousness to the fullest extent. When one’s consciousness is purified or completely spiritualized, and when the soul has regained its spiritual position and completely acts on that level, then there is no more need to take birth in a material body for the pursuit of material desires. One then enters back into the spiritual world, which is the natural home of the spirit soul, when the finite living entity returns to the Infinite.

            

The Vedic concept of salvation is different from that of the Christians. Hindu salvation is known as Self Realization and rising above ignorance. In Vedic philosophy, salvation or liberation means that a person realizes that he is not the body, but the immortal soul (Atman) within. That is the reason why Hindu salvation is known as Self-Realization or realizing that one is the Immortal self and not the perishable body. This realization is the means of rising above the illusion that keeps us from being free. Real freedom on the Vedic path is freedom from material and sensual desires. Such desire is the basis of what keeps us bound up in earthly existence and in samsara.

            

The Vedic system includes various processes in order to assist the living being to attain this freedom. According to the position and consciousness of the person, he or she may be interested in different processes, though some are more highly recommended in this present age. These may include the process of Jnana (knowledge), Vijnana (realized knowledge), Hatha-yoga (the practice of keeping the body in shape for ultimately pursuing the perception of spiritual consciousness), Yoga (the process for altering and uplifting the consciousness, which may include separate or individual practices), and Bhakti (the process of devotion in which attaining the Grace of God is the main focus). Each one of these systems or divisions deserves its own description to fully understand them, some of which will be summarized later in this introduction.

           

So Hinduism/Vedic culture takes it for granted that there is more than one approach to understand different levels of spiritual Truth and attain salvation, and that these different approaches are not only compatible with each other, but are also complimentary. Thus, the disagreements that you find in most conventional and monotheistic religions, and the friction between the various sects that often develop, are not so much a part of the Vedic culture, even though individual preferences may exist.

            

This is also why, generally speaking, many Hindus will respect all religions. They may be initiated by a Vedic guru, devoutly practice yoga, attend the temple regularly, yet still go to see some Christian preacher, or Buddhist teacher, or even hear an Islamic Imam talk about God. They may do this with the idea of attaining new insights, yet still not consider themselves falling away from their own path or converting to a different religion. Yet, if a Christian or Muslim would do such a thing as participate in an alternative religion, or even a separate sect, they may be considered sinful and apostates, or at least hypocrites deserving of some punishment. But such narrow-mindedness hardly touches the person following the Vedic path.


            

The Short-Term Goal is to find happiness. By understanding our spiritual identity, we also become free from the day to day turmoil and hassles that many people take so seriously. Some people let such problems control their lives. Life is too short for that. Allowing such circumstantial difficulties to increase our stress and anxiety only decreases our duration of life.

            

Life is meant for being happy. But real happiness, which exists on the spiritual platform, is always steady and, in fact, is continually increasing according to one’s spiritual advancement. Such persons who understand their spiritual identity and are self-satisfied and content within themselves find happiness everywhere. This is what the Vedic process tries to give everyone.

            

The Chandogya Upanishad (starting at 7.25.2) explains that he who perceives and understands this, loves the self, revels, rejoices, and delights in the self. Such a person is lord and master of the worlds because he has already attained all that he needs. He knows that he may be in this material world but is not of it. He is actually of the spiritual world and has regained his connection with it. Therefore, he looks at this world as if he were simply a tourist. He sees all the busy activities of people and society, the confusion, but he walks through it all unaffected. But those who think differently live in perishable worlds and have other mortal beings as their rulers. They are limited and controlled by their own material designations. But he who sees the soul of everyone, the spiritual identity beyond the body, does not see death, nor illness, nor pain; he who sees this sees everything and obtains everything everywhere. This certainly is the quality of those who have attained their own internal, self-sufficient happiness.

            

A similar verse is found in the Katha Upanishad (2.5.12-13) where it says that those who have realized their self and also see the Supreme Being residing within their heart and in all beings as the Superself, to them belongs eternal happiness and eternal peace, but not to others.

            

The original spiritual form of the living being is sac-cid-ananda: eternal, full of knowledge, and full of bliss. The living being’s spiritual form is never limited by the body or one’s situation. The only limiting factor is the living being’s consciousness or lack of spiritual awareness. When the living entity, after many births, finally regains his original spiritual consciousness, realizing he is not the body, he naturally feels very happy and jolly, being freed from the limited and temporary perspective one has while being controlled by the illusory, material energy. He also understands that this material world is not his real home, and it has nothing substantial to offer him since real pleasure and happiness actually come from within on the spiritual level. As stated in Bhagavad-gita by Lord Sri Krishna: “One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman and becomes fully joyful. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service to Me.” (Bg.18.54)

            

In this way, “The yogi whose mind is fixed on Me [Lord Sri Krishna] verily attains the highest happiness. By virtue of his identity with Brahman [the absolute spiritual nature], he is liberated; his mind is peaceful, his passions are quieted, and he is freed from sin. Steady in the Self, being freed from all material contamination, the yogi achieves the highest perfectional stage of happiness in touch with the Supreme Consciousness.” (Bg.6.27-28)

            

“Such a liberated soul is not attracted to material sense pleasure or external objects but is always in trance, enjoying the pleasure within. In this way the self-realized person enjoys unlimited happiness, for he concentrates on the Supreme.” (Bg.5.21)

      This happiness, therefore, is the goal of all people, and is the highest level of happiness which is attained when one understands his or her true spiritual identity and becomes spiritually Self-realized.


 

THE CORRECT NAME FOR HINDUISM IS SANATANA-DHARMA

            

It is generally accepted that it was the Persians who invaded India during the 6th century B.C. who gave the name “Hindu” for a society of people who lived in a certain region of India near the Sindhu river, later known as the Indus river. In Persian, the letter H and S are pronounced almost the same so they mistook the S in the word Sindhu as H and then started calling the people Hindus and their religion as Hinduism. Thus, the name is actually a misnomer since there are many schools of thought and views of God within the umbrella term of Hinduism, each with its own specific name.

            

Dr. Radhakrishnan has also observed about the name Hindu: “The Hindu civilization is so called since its original founders or earliest followers occupied the territory drained by the Sindhu (the Indus) river system corresponding to the North West Frontier Province and the Punjab. This is recorded in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas, the Hindu scripture which gives their name to this period of Indian history. The people on the Indian side of the Sindhu were called Hindu by the Persian and the later western invaders.” This indicates that the name is not based on religion or theocracy, but is merely a name based on the particular locality of a people. This could also mean that numerous people, even tribals of India, Dravidians, or even the Vedic Aryans are all Hindus. Again, in this way, Hinduism can accommodate different communities, rites, various gods and practices.

            

Other originations of the word Hindu may be given, but they all essentially show that it was a name indicating a locality of a society, and it had nothing to do with the religion, philosophy, or way of life of the people. This is why some followers of Sanatana-dharma or Vedic culture do not care to use the name Hindu, including gurus, to describe their spiritual path, even though it is based on the Vedic system.

            

The more correct term for the Vedic process is the Sanskrit word Sanatana-dharma. This is a path and a realization. Sanatana-dharma means the eternal nature of the living being. Just as the dharma of sugar is sweetness, and the dharma of fire is to burn and give warmth, the spiritual being also has a dharma. That dharma is to serve and love, and that love ultimately is meant to be the relationship between the living being and God and all other living entities. When that love and spiritual realization is attained, then the living being regains his natural Divinity. To attain this stage, one can follow the path of dharma. Thus, dharma is also a code of conduct. This, however, is not a dogma or forced standard, but it is a natural training that brings people to a higher level of consideration and consciousness. Thus, the whole of society can develop in this refined manner to a higher level of awareness and understanding of our connection with each other, with nature, and with God.

            

The Manu-samhita recommends the following characteristics to be developed. These include fortitude, forgiveness, self control, non-envy, purity, sense control, the ability to discriminate between good and evil, learning, truthfulness, and absence of anger. So we can imagine how much nicer the world could be if everyone developed these qualities. So Sanatana-dharma is also the path to attain our natural spiritual qualities.

            

Dharma also means the natural laws that sustain and hold together the whole universe. So dharma is also that which brings harmony and unity, because that is how the universe, along with society in general, is maintained and preserved. In this way, Sanatana-dharma is also the path that allows the individual to realize his or her spiritual position and true identity, and also brings the ultimate stage of harmony and balance to each person, to society, and to the whole planet. This is the Vedic process. It is thus a Universal Truth in that it can be applied anywhere in the universe and at any time in history, to any people or culture, and it will produce the same results for all. This brings us to our next point.

 

WHO MAY BE A HINDU OR PRACTICE SANATANA-DHARMA

            

Since Sanatana-dharma is a universal process and applicable to everyone, then naturally anyone can practice the principles of it. Anyone can and should be allowed to participate in the process. Furthermore, anyone who is looking for the ultimate spiritual Truth is already one who is following the path of Sanatana-dharma. So you could say that anyone who is sincerely looking for such Truth with an open mind is already on the spiritual path, at least on some level, and is thus also a Hindu or Sanatana-dharmist, a follower of Sanatana-dharma.

            

The point is that there is one and only one God and one Absolute Truth. The very first of the Vedic books named the Rig-Veda proclaims, Ekam Sat, Viprah Bahudha Vadanti (There is only one truth, only men describe it in different ways). So a Jew or a Christian or a Moslem who is in search of the Absolute Truth is automatically on the path of Sanatana-dharma. However, if they get stuck with accepting nothing more than their own local traditions, this may hamper their growth in understanding a broader range of the many aspects of the Supreme that are described in other scriptures, such as those of the Vedic literature. So a person’s progress depends on how far he or she really wants to go in this lifetime, and how they approach various levels of knowledge to understand the Absolute Truth.

           

So those who may be accepted as followers of the Vedic tradition generally accept the following: A) The Vedic literature presents knowledge of the Absolute Truth and is the authority on the Vedic tradition; B) There are various ways to realize different aspects of this spiritual Truth; C) God can appear in different forms; D) We are given more than one life on this road of Self-Realization; E) That ultimately we are responsible for accepting the path we take and the progress we make.

            

To clarify this last statement, even if you accept the path of Christianity and believe that Jesus will save you, Jesus also said that faith alone is not enough. You must show your faith by your works, and your works will show the true state of your desires and consciousness. Otherwise, if by faith alone you go to heaven yet remain full of material desires for earthly things, do you think Jesus would force you to stay in heaven? No, he would let you go back to earth, to where you heart is, to try and satisfy all those desires because that is your state of consciousness. So your spiritual advancement is still up to you.


 

WHO FOUNDED VEDIC CULTURE

            

No one individual founded Vedic culture, nor is there any single prophet, holy book or way of worship. The Vedic culture has a library of texts to help establish the nature of the Absolute Truth. Hindus recognize the good and spiritual essence in all religions, so it is easy for them to display respect and tolerance for other spiritual paths.

            

Through the Puranic stories of the universal creation, we learn that the Vedic knowledge was first given by Lord Vishnu to the secondary creator and first living being known as Brahma. It was Brahma who then disseminated it to other great sages and masters, the Rishis. It is through the continued research and output of these learned Rishis that humanity has learned the various levels of spiritual Truth, as they have been handed down through the generations.


 

VEDIC CULTURE STARTED BEFORE THE BEGINNING OF TIME

            

To explain further from the previous point, nobody knows when the Vedic culture started. It goes back to before the beginning of history. If you go by the Vedic legends and histories, Vedic culture is trillions of years old. It is said to have originally been a vibration, an eternal and pure spiritual vibration known as shabda-brahma. This existed eternally before the material creation ever manifested. This spiritual vibration was first articulated to humanity by God. It is said that through this spiritual vibration one can understand the Supreme. This vibration descended from the spiritual domain and pervades the material strata. Thus, those great sages who have become spiritually realized can receive and perceive this spiritual vibration. Then they work to reveal that to others through their writings and descriptions of the path by which one can be spiritually enlightened themselves. This was the start of the Vedic philosophy and its system of knowledge.

            

According to Vedic scriptures, this revelation of the spiritual vibration started as shruti - that which is heard. It was passed on as a vocal tradition. The great seers of ancient times called Rishis who had perfected themselves have heard in their hearts the eternal truths and taught those truths to disciples by telepathy and talks, and later through writings in books which became known as the Vedas and Upanishads. These are known as the shruti literature The remaining part of the Vedic literature is called smriti, or that which is remembered. All these Vedic scriptures were considered as revealed truths from God.

            

Even if you accept the conclusions of Max Muller, the German philosopher, Vedic culture and its knowledge is at least 8000 to 9000 years old. However, studying the relics of Mohenjadaro and Harappa excavations, the Indus Valley civilization shows the seeds from which arose many other cultures and concepts. The Indus Valley was home to the largest of the four ancient urban civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China. Harappa and Mohenjodaro were cities in the Indus Valley civilization that flourished around 2,500 B.C. in the western part of South Asia. The roots of Vedic culture can be traced to this civilization and even earlier. That is why you can see Vedic culture in the relics of all other civilizations like Egyptian, Celtic, Mayan, Greek, Roman, etc., which I have analyzed more completely in another book.


 

HINDUS ACKNOWLEDGE REINCARNATION

            

Hindus, along with most every other religion, believe in life after death. According to the Vedic philosophy, the body alone dies, the soul within is eternal and thus never dies. The process of reincarnation means that the soul takes another birth in a material body to continue with material experiences or the pursuit of material desires. Thoughts and desires create a level of consciousness for the individual. This consciousness at the time of death is what determines a person’s next life. Then, after death, a person is drawn toward a new body and set of circumstances that is most suitable for that person’s level of desires and thinking.

            

There has also been an increasing number of books written by professionals that document the stories of those who have remembered their past lives, especially children who have no ulterior reason to mention their memories about previous lives. Yet, the evidence these researchers have provided has shown that reincarnation and living multiple lifetimes is a fact and has been going on indefinitely.

            

The path the soul takes into another birth is decided upon by past actions, which is known as karma. So the actions of our former body does not die with the body. Past actions and the karma from them are attached to the subtle body and carry over from one physical life to the next. This is what determines the kind of body the soul takes in the next life and what situations of happiness or suffering will affect it. When an individual soul exhausts all its material desires and karmas, it is free to enter into the spiritual domain, in which case Hindus say that the soul has attained moksha or liberation.

            

How many lifetimes we spend in this universe is up to us. The Vedic literature, especially the Bhagavad-gita, very clearly says that one can attain liberation in one life, provided one surrenders his will to the will of God 100%. This is done by understanding and following the Lord’s instructions. This sort of surrender allows one to spiritualize his or her consciousness, in which case all material desires become eliminated. And without any material desires to fulfill, there is no further need to take birth in another material body. The point is, you cannot fulfill material desires without a material body. But when one purifies himself through spiritual practice, one can become free from such desires and become eligible for liberation into the spiritual domain. Lord Krishna says: “Those who surrender all actions to Me and regard Me as the supreme goal and worship Me with whole hearted devotion, I will deliver them from repeated births and deaths.” In another verse, Lord Krishna says: “Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Bg.18.66) Thus, our eagerness to surrender to God will certainly diminish the need for further rounds of birth and death in a material body in this cosmic manifestation. In fact, we can become liberated in this one life if we are serious and sincere.

            

According to Vedic knowledge, it is not necessarily so that a human will always reincarnate as a human being. If a man exhibits beastly character throughout his life, the low consciousness that he develops will see to it that he reincarnates as a beast. A glutton may take birth as a pig or another lower form of life. The Vedas talk about 8.4 million species of life, right from an amoeba up to human beings and demigods. A person can take any of these life-forms. Sometimes the soul will also remain in a standstill state for long periods of time without taking any body at all. However, the soul can work out its karma through spiritual practice, called sadhana, only if it takes a body. So for attaining liberation, or salvation, the soul is bound to reincarnate.

            

Lord Krishna has explained in the Bhagavad-gita that whatever one thinks of during the time of death, one will attain that in the next life. So the whole process of religion or spiritual practice is to raise one’s consciousness and spiritually purify it so that we can enter the spiritual dimension after death. But a man who has beastly ideas and desires throughout his life is unlikely to think of God at the time of death. He will likely take his beastly thoughts and desires into the next life, which will propel him to his next form of existence. Only God-fearing people can think of God at the time of death; others will think of a multitude of things but not about God. And that is what propels one towards the next appropriate body which will accommodate that consciousness.


 

HINDUS ACKNOWLEDGE THE LAW OF KARMA

            

The understanding of reincarnation is not complete without understanding the law of karma. So followers of Sanatana-dharma also accept the Biblical concept “Whatever a man soweth, that shall he reap”. The doctrine of karma has been elaborated since the days of the Rig-Veda and it is very well explained in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Every action and every thought has a reaction. That is the basis of karmic law. This is also the second law of thermodynamics: that every action has an opposite and equal reaction. On the universal level this is the law of karma. Applying the law of karma to individual development means that every thought and every action produces a reaction of some kind that will manifest in our lives. It is weighed on the scale of eternal justice. The law of karma is one of cause and effect. Nobody can escape from any karmic debt since it follows you throughout the universe.

            

So if you act piously and righteously, such action produces good or heavenly reactions. If you act cruelly, such acts produce bad or even hellish reactions, or reversals in life. So whatever we do in this life is felt in the form of good or bad reactions later in this or the next life. In the same way, our present life is based on a combination of the good or bad reactions from what we have done in previous lives. So the idea is to become free from such reactions, no matter whether they be good or bad so we can become free from taking any more births in this world. Then, with a spiritualized consciousness, we can reach the spiritual domain.

            

According to Vedic knowledge, the body alone dies, the soul never dies. But past actions are attached to the soul and they decide the path of the soul’s travel. So if you are born rich or poor, it is because of your actions in a previous life. If you are born with disease, that also is the result of your past actions done in previous lives. After death, the soul carries a heavy load of karma and seeks an ideal body to be born in again. If you had lived as an evil individual in your last life, then the soul will take birth in a home where people may be leading evil lives. You will be forced to endure the consequences of your nefarious activities. However, if you had lived a pious life, then you will be reborn in an ideal home where both parents will be pious and happy. On the other hand, if you are born in a good and rich family because of your pious acts from a previous life, yet all you do is engage in selfish or cruel activities in this life, then you will simply use up all your good karma and pave the way to a lower birth in your next life.

            

According to Vedic understanding, the soul continues this journey with its load of karma from one life to another until it exhausts all karma by either undergoing the appropriate amount of pain or pleasure in the body, or by becoming purified through spiritual practice. The different methods of sadhana or God-realization provide easy ways to put an end to this drama of the continuous ups and downs in the body that you are given according to one’s karma.

            

One point to consider is that God will never punish us. He does not have to. God has created man near to perfection and has given him the “Free will” to decide what he or she wants to do. God never interferes in our decisions. There is no such thing as being cursed by God. Yet, He is always trying to call us home to the spiritual worlds. It is we ourselves who make our lives miserable or happy. Even in the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna never tried to influence Arjuna’s free will. Lord Krishna, like an adviser, only discussed with Arjuna (his disciple) the various options he could take in his life and then let him make his own decision. So the condition of our lives and even of the planet is merely a reflection of the consciousness of the people who inhabit it. And it is simply one’s ignorance to say that something is the “Revenge of God”, etc.


 

THE WONDER AND BEAUTY OF THE VEDIC PATH

            

Hinduism is open, with open doors and open windows, meaning no closed minds. So it does not promote a supremacy of any particular point of view as the only way. It has respect for all ways to God, and different ways are provided within the Vedic context for different people, depending on what they need. This is a rare point to find in religion. The Vedic process allows for the utmost freedom of thoughts and actions in the system for understanding the Absolute Truth. Sanatana-dharma never forbids anyone to question its fundamentals. In other words, anyone can ask any question they want without feeling that it is overstepping or questioning the authority of the Vedic teachings. Whereas if you ask too many questions in other religions, you can be criticized or ostracized from the religion. That’s what attracts many to Hinduism.

            

In Vedic culture, you may come across people engaged in simple acts of worship on one side, and on the other you will come across concepts parallel to Quantum Physics and Neil’s Bohr Theory of nuclear structure and reactions. On one side there is the Advaita or nondual philosophy, and still on another side there is the Dvaita or dualist philosophy. Hinduism never banished anyone for inquiring into some aspect of God, or for accepting a particular Vedic text or scripture, or for not observing a particular ritual.

            

Mahatma Gandhi said that even atheists can call themselves Hindus. Voltaire in an Essay on Tolerance wrote: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it.” In the same way, Hinduism maintains this principle of individuality and freedom for investigating the way to reaching the Absolute Truth. The Vedic system not only allows but actually encourages one to seek truths from all sources.

            

Hinduism has no problem facing any type of questions. In fact, most of the Vedic texts are structured around questions and answers of all kinds. It has answers for everything and covers a multitude of topics, as an analysis of the Vedic texts will reveal. It does not have to hide behind what may appear to be unquestionable spiritual dogmas. It absorbs new ideas like the use of technology and modern science, psychology, and so on. Within Hinduism, you can think and argue on any subject.


 

THE VEDIC TEXTS AND SANSKRIT

            

We are only going to give a short summary of the Vedic texts here. We have already written a more complete analysis elsewhere and want to keep this introduction short. So, to begin with, the Vedic texts are written in Sanskrit. Sanskrit, which literally means “cultured or refined”, is the classical language of India and is the oldest and the most systematic language in the world. Forbes Magazine, (July, 1987) wrote: “Sanskrit is the mother of all the European languages and is the most suitable language for the computer software.” It is older than Hebrew or Latin. According to the PBS video “The Story of English” the first words in the English language came from Sanskrit. The word “mother” came from the Sanskrit word “mata” and “father” came from Sanskrit word “pita”. Believe it or not the word “geometry” came from a Sanskrit word called “Gyaamiti” meaning “measuring the earth”. The word “trigonometry” came from the Sanskrit word “trikonamiti”, which means “measuring triangular forms”. Numerous other similarities and connections can be found between Sanskrit and many other languages.

 

 

WHAT ARE THE VEDIC TEXTS

            

They started with Shruti. Shruti literally means “That which is heard”. For long periods of time there was no Vedic literature. It was a vocal or oral tradition, and passed down accordingly. The Vedas and Upanishads were in Shruti form for a long period of time. In fact, the word Upanishad means “Upa (near), Ni (down), Shad (sit).” This means that the teachings of the Upanishads are conveyed from Guru to disciple, when the disciple sits very close to the Guru.

            

The very first of the sacred books of Vedic culture, in fact the oldest books on earth, are called the Vedas. The word Veda means knowledge. The word Veda came from the root word vid meaning “to know”. The Vedas are the very first scriptures of Hinduism. Vedas, as described by the scriptures, were given by God. There are four Vedic samhitas, which are the Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, Atharva-Veda, and Yajur-Veda. The Sanskrit word samhita means “put together”. They contain wisdom that has been assembled to teach men the highest

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