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Basic tenets of Hindu Philosophy

It is important to know the basic philosophy of a principles/culture and religion one follows. Rituals, customs, traditions of a society should not be mixed up with its basic principles. In a country like India where followers of all the religions reside, it is important to know about the philosophical tenets of Hinduism, the religion followed by the majority community living in India since ages.

  1. Principle of non-duality – The ‘Creator’ (God) and the ‘Creation (every living thing in this world) is an integral part of the same ‘Parmatma’/God/Creator, therefore inter-linked.
  2. Reincarnation – After several births and deaths of body, one can reach a state of immortality. A person is reborn depending on his deeds of previous birth.
  3. Immortality/Salvation – The final objective of all humans is to reach to the state of ‘Moksha’ or immortality – getting free from the cycle of multiple rebirths and deaths. In order to reach that status, one should do one’s duties.
  4. Karma with Detachment – This is perhaps the centre piece of Bhagwat Gita. Everyone has a role to play in ones life as per one’s karmas and destiny. While performing one’s duty/action, one should develop detachment – indicating, one should not bother for fruits of Action.
  5. Equanimity – One should try to be equanimous by overcoming the influence of the “pair of opposites” like heat or cold; pleasure or pain and honor or dishonor.
  6. Knowledge – As per Gita, senses are superior to the body, mind is superior to the senses and knowledge or intellect is superior to the mind. Gita tells: knowledge is better than abhyas (practice), meditation is better then knowledge and renunciation of the fruits of action is still better than meditation as peace immediately follows such renunciation.
  7. Four stages in life – For living life fully and fruitfully and aging gracefully, everyone one has to pass through four stages of life and perform different duties in different stages of life – before marriage learning; married life raising a family as householder; delegation of authority to next generation and spending time in contemplation; and after fulfilling familial liabilities, complete detachment and renunciation of worldly pleasures.
  8. Tolerance and acceptance/interdependence – Hindu philosophy values interdependence, acceptance and tolerance as – (a) It accepts that there are different paths leading to God and be humane; (b)It gives complete liberty to worship any god or goddess of their choice, as well as use their own methods of worship; (c)It does not impose its own codes of conduct on other faiths; (d) It is liberal enough to see atheism as a legitimate pursuit.
  9. Avatars – The Supreme power visits earth from time to time in some form to make human-beings free from evil and tend them follow virtue. So far, according to Hindu mythology human evolution began with Matsyavatar (fish), then to Kurma (tortoise)); Varaha (wild boar); Narsimha (half animal half mam); Vamana (dwarf); Parushrama with axe (tool); Rama the Maryadapurusha; Krishna the playful and serious avatar; and ninth, Budha the enlightened one. It is now expecting 10th avatar in the form of Kalki, a genetically supreme bionic man. (Quoted from ‘Know your religion through its philosophy’ by Prakash Shesh, the Speaking tree, TOI, January 14, 2016, p. 20)
  10. Principles of Dharma Varna and Karma – Principles of Dharma Varna and Karma are the core values of Indian ethos, which together defines the duties and vocations of different sections of society, ensures social harmony and prevents rivalries and jealousies.

  11. The principles of Dharma Varna and Karma principles still maintain inter-relationship of various sections of Indian society and contribute to its growth as a whole. It gives it a distinct character and prepares an atmosphere for their coexistence – be it ruler or ruled, be it rich or poor. It has served to give Indian society coherence, stability and continuity; and held together different castes and communities having diverse languages and practices for generations – thus making unity in diversity a reality. 

Principle of Varna Principle of Varna gives the Indian Society a stable, sustainable social structure, ensuring its continuity despite numerous foreign invasions, migrations and assimilation of various groups. It organized orderly performance of various basic functions needed to provide a quality of life to its people. It was based on the assumption that all persons were not identical and differed from one another on the grounds of natural endowments and aptitudes. Therefore, they should be assigned duties according to their natural aptitudes, instincts and qualities.

Ranking of different sections was done according to social relevance of their work, real contribution of their activities for social subsistence and amount of purity, discipline and training required to perform their duties well. Rules of endogamy, ritual purity, interdependence and hierarchical order of social units were the main features of Varna system. Observance of restrictions for self-discipline, clearly defined rights and duties and specialization were its important traits. Doctrine of Dharma and Karma provided legitimacy to it and prepared a political and social framework for Hindu society.

Principle of Dharma – Whereas, Western cultures have grown around the idea of `rights forming the natural foundation of human relationship, Indian value system has evolved around the concept of duty, tolerance and sacrifice. Emphasis on duty usually makes a person or a group humble and tolerant. In this system, sacrifice is regarded more important than success, and renunciation as the crowning achievement.

Meaning of Dharma – Scholars have repeatedly commented that the word ‘Dharma’ is not translatable in English. Words like law righteousness, ethics, morality all together are not enough to give justice to the meaning of Dharma. The principle of Dharma embraced within itself religion, law, duty, righteousness, morality and conformity with truth”. Along with its being a religious idea, Dharma was also a principle and a vision of an organic society, in which all participating members were independent, yet their roles complimentary.

There was a common Dharma, which was applicable to all. It was nothing, but norms and values of good conduct, leading individuals to the path of righteousness. All the people in the society were governed by Dharma at all times, be it a ruler or ruled, parent or child, teacher or student or man or woman.  

The principles of Dharma guided individuals to remain true and to fulfil their duties earnestly, enabled different groups to act cooperatively and regulated the behavior of its component members within the society. It provided universal, practical and eternal guidelines to be followed in personal life, family life, community life, social life, professional life and national life.

Dharma also specified duties, privileges and restrictions of each role separately and their relationship with each other. In order to maintain a smooth relationship of its people with nature and society, Dharma prescribed a separate Dharma appropriate to each Varna, each class and each stage of human life. Separate Dharma for different communities was based on inherent qualities, aptitude and potentialities of its members. The Dharma of Brahmin was not that of a Shudra, or the Dharma of a student not that of an old man.

Separate rules of conduct were aimed to inspire every one to perform sincerely one’s own duties and obligations, giving everybody opportunities- social, economic physical and spiritual . It inspired people to do their jobs well and preserve the tradition and lifestyle of all communities.

Molding ones life according to Dharma was not an easy task. It required tremendous will power and a strong character. Therefore, persons with weak faculties found it difficult to observe Dharma. Dharma along with Karma was the means, through which a person approached the desired goal of life, the ultimate aim being salvation from the cycle of birth and death. 

Principle of Karma – Doctrine of Karma made the inequalities, prevalent in the society, tolerable to a common man. It gave hope and inspired people not to get disappointed by their present unfavorable circumstances, but to keep on making efforts to improve their future, by performing their duties sincerely, which would ultimately strengthen their character and improve social position. 

Principle of Karma offered an explanation for inequality, affluence, poverty and happiness. According to it everybody has to face the inexorable consequences of one’s own doings. Therefore it is not proper to blame others for one’s own failures, miseries, or being revengeful. Such an attitude had prevented ancient India to exercise coercion against its working class, whereas in ancient Greece, Rome or other European countries, people were made to work under the threat of a whip. It stopped people from taking law in their own hands. While other nations passed through many bloody revolutions, Indian value system kept on adapting itself to changing times.

Doctrines of Dharma and Karma filled the Indian community with a sense of duty and trained them in obedience. It helped the people to adjust themselves, without much difficulty, to most drastic changes in the past. It guided people to lead a disciplined life – to do one’s own work assigned to him/her by the society and not to interfere in other’s work. It taught people that Work is Worship. All types of work were worth pursuing and respectable. Any work done in its true spirit could never be derogatory or a waste. A work was not so much valued for its external reward, as for the intrinsic satisfaction towards realization of ‘Swadharma’. It gave the feeling to all, that each one was an integral part of the society, not an outsider to it. Society itself had assigned everybody a specific task to do; therefore, each person earned a rightful place in the society.

Knowledge was supposed to be necessary for giving Karma its due meaning, direction and value. Ignorance was considered to be leading to futile efforts destroying direction. Discipline was inculcated amongst ignorant masses, and a sense of direction was given to them through infinite variety of rituals, prayers, practices, customs and meditation.

Winding up – Ever since an average Indian has lost faith in these principles, (s)he has also lost faith not only in her/his fellow beings, but also in herself/himself. Almost all persons are heading towards indiscipline, violence and chase of sheer materialism/consumerism based on ruthless competition. The knowledge of the foundation pillars/core values and principles of Hinduism will lead to more tolerance and acceptance by all the communities settled in India. 

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January 14, 2016 - Posted by | Social and political values and systems |

1 Comment »

  1. The Principle of non-dualism is the main theme of Advaita Vedanta.
    You can’t say that this principle of non-duality permeates whole Hindu/Indian Philosophy. The scope of Hindu philosophy does not have any basic tenets as such.
    Rather the above mentioned things just represent a small section of Hindu Philosophy within the Astika (Orthodox) schools i.e. Vedanta School, and within that the Advaita Vedanta, as you mentioned the non-dual principle.

    Comment by rubenmadoff | April 3, 2016 | Reply


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