The premise of the article, Religions Changing with the World” (published in Chennai_Live_News), was that religions should be uniting forces. However, both past and recent atrocities committed in the name of religions show, that we use religion more as a weapon than as a means to unify people. Religions are turning into blind belief and authoritarian, while failing to promote human values and spirituality. This is not the fault of religions or their messages but of the followers who interpret them conveniently justify their prejudices. It is therefore worthwhile revisiting our religions for a greater understanding of its history and their true objectives. I will begin with Hinduism.

When the Persians invaded India around 500 BCE, they mistakenly called the Indus River, Sindhu; Sindhu later became Hindu. Over time, the faith of the people living near the Sindhu River was referred to as Hinduism. Before the Persian invasion, Hinduism was known as vaideeka-dharma (religion that originated from the Vedas) or as Sanatana-dharma, (religion of perennial values). The concepts and messages of Hinduism are said to have originated from the experience of sages. The Vedas represent their experiences. Hinduism, unlike most world religions, does not have a prophet or a founder or even a holy book to which Hindus must pledge allegiance. To be a Hindu, the only requirement is to believe in the teachings of the Vedas and conform to a life of Sanatana-dharma.

ONE must believe in the teachings of the Vedas does not imply that a Hindu must accept the Veda literally and without questioning. The religion is not about blind faith or dogma but about living a valuable and meaningful life. As E. B. Havell says, “Hinduism is a working hypothesis of human conduct.” Vedic scholars were emphatic in stating that the Vedic teachings must not be followed blindly but adapted to the various stages of one’s life. The emphasis is on upapatti” or understanding and reasoning and not on rote practices.

To non-Hindus, Hinduism appears chaotic with its innumerable gods, variety of views, and practices. But, these do not indicate chaos but freedom; freedom to engage in intellectual inquiry and rational reflection. The ultimate objective is seeking the ultimate Truth. All religions agree that Truth is eternal and remains unchanged. Therefore, Hinduism says that one must have the freedom to choose the path that leads to the eternal Truth. Religion should not impose the path and require that only the chosen path is valid and all others are false.

Dr. Ram Sriram