Hinduism: Its spiritual and devotional themes

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by Mukul Shri Goel

Hinduism has evolved both as a religion and a way of life. The main purpose of Hindu life is to find eternal peace, which is possible only by finding proximity to God. In other words, liberation (moksha) or God-realization is the ultimate objective. The initial aim that gives life its foundation is developing righteousness and ethics (dharma). Intermediate aims of life are earning and accumulating money (artha) and fulfilling our material dreams (kama).

Though the customs, rituals, and practices of Hindus can appear to be very diverse, the Hindu way of life can be more easily characterized by some of its inherent spiritual themes. Given below are selected spiritual themes that form the core of mainstream Hinduism.

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Its God-centric approach

Most Hindus believe in a God who is all-powerful and transcends nature. In the Hindu way of living, everyday activities like listening to sacred stories, offering food to a Deity at home, celebrating a festival, visiting a temple, participating in a yagna (fire sacrifice), performing an astrology remedy, showing support for vegetarianism, and offering prayers — all directly or indirectly focus on trying to form a connection with God [1].

Religious practices are not mandatory for any Hindu follower but can be utilized to form a spiritual connection with God. Individuals who do not wish to participate in any of these expressive activities can spend their time in chanting a name of God, meditation, reading scriptures, and community service. As I have mentioned previously [2], Hinduism never necessitates participation; its flavor of devotion is decided by its followers.

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Support for righteousness

Hinduism is also known as Sanatana Dharma, which can be roughly translated as Eternal Righteousness. Accordingly, all Hindus are expected to support righteousness or truth in speech, thought, and action. Ethics are not optional for a Hindu; the karmic law can be harsh for humans who neglect the path of goodness. It is believed that our karma attract results in accordance with the laws created by God; good actions attract good results, and selfless actions attract emancipation.

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Liberation for all

Hinduism holds that every living being deserves liberation and can attain it, though he or she may have to be reborn if more lessons are to be learned in life. It is important to note that only the souls who do not make it to God in the present lifetime may be reborn.

The concepts of rebirth and liberation are interlinked to the eternal nature of the soul. Irrespective of whether the soul is similar in essence to the Supreme Soul (God) or is made of different material, the soul is everlasting. And its permanent place is not Earth. To exit the world and find the soul’s permanent home (the abode of God), Hindus are expected to search God and/or contemplate on the relationship between the soul, nature, and God.

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Space for multiple routes to God

Hindus believe that multiple paths exist to reach God. Some of the popular paths are bhakti yoga (path of selfless love), karma yoga (path of selfless action), and jnana yoga (path of knowledge). At the same time, Hindus can choose a favourite form of God to worship from God’s numerous forms: Rama, Vishnu, Shiva, or Shakti. And Hindu thought incorporates multiple philosophical preferences, for example, dualism vs. non-dualism. Such theological choices are responsible for Hinduism’s diverse shades.

In the last millennium, most of the Hindu saints were devotional saints. This reflects the popularity of bhakti yoga, devotional spirituality, in contemporary Hinduism. Bhakti focuses on developing trust on God and eventually surrendering the soul to him.

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Respect for nature

Hindus believe that plants, trees, rivers, mountains, cows, and birds are all holy and are to be respected. This creates harmony with nature and automatically prevents environmental concerns. At the same time, everything other than God is considered less permanent or perishable. Support for vegetarianism falls within the same sphere of respecting nature.

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Belief in divine grace

Most Hindus believe in the grace of God. They believe that God’s grace is essential for liberation. Devotion, interest in scriptures, participation in yoga, spiritual experiences, protection from suffering by God — all involve elements of divine grace embedded within them. Spiritual guidance from a guru, from scriptures, or directly from God are also forms of grace.

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Knowledge beyond scriptures

Because every God-realized human may have something unique to say about God and his or her own spiritual journey, the knowledge base of Hinduism is dynamic; there is always more space for new scriptures and philosophies. Human beings who realize God become saints and can write new scriptures and/or update old ones for the benefit of fellow beings.

While reading scriptures is recommended for Hindus, it remains voluntary. Followers have freedom in terms of the amount of time spent in learning. Understanding philosophical principles is not a prerequisite for liberation; devotional Hindu saints hold that the love of God and an honest aspiration to reach God is all we need to reach God.

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References

[1] Mukul Shri Goel’s answer to “What-are-the-most-interesting-facts-about-Hinduism?” on Quora (2019). https://qr.ae/TecvlZ.

[2] Goel, Mukul Shri. “The secret of divine creativity.” The New Indian Express, Sept. 15, 2013.

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This article was initially published at Elephant Journal.