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Is Hinduism a Religion or a Way of Life?

Path to Siva Commentary, Lesson 6

"Hinduism is recognized as the most compassionate, mystical and enlightened faith on the planet." Is India's ancient faith Hinduism a religion or a way of life? All religions are ways of life but there are ways of life that don't involve God and worship. Religion guides our daily life. We encourage deeper religious practices such as the humility developed by selfless service, especially in a temple or ashram, scriptural study, worship in the home shrine and temple, pilgrimage and coming into a sense of oneness with God which meditation can provide.

Path to Siva, Lesson 6

Unedited Transcript:

Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Mahesvara, Guru Sakshat, Parabrahma, Tasmai Sri Gurave Namaha.

Good morning everyone. So many devotees we don't all fit, small overflow.

We've been reading and commenting from our new book: Path to Siva, catechism for youth. And we're up to Lesson 6 today. The book is designed for teenagers and we've tried our best to keep the language at that grade level, which is a challenge.

"Hinduism..." Oh, "Is Hinduism a Religion or a Way of Life?" is the title.

"Hinduism is a religion and it is a way of life."

Okay, what's the point in going on, right? It's unusual to answer it so directly.

"Both ideas are true. It is a highly spiritual way of life which is the perfect definition of religion. The word religion means a particular system of faith and worship comes from religionum a Latin word meaning: respect for what is sacred, reverence for the gods. In that sense Hinduism is over qualified for the term. Unlike most religions it does not divide life into secular and spiritual opportunities. To devout Hindus all of life is spiritual, all of our daily activities are part of our religious practice.

"Religion is a powerful word in today's world one that we should freely use in describing India's ancient faith. A related issue is the use of the term Hinduism which is a broad name in which Sanatana Dharma is known and honored in the world. For centuries Hinduism was misunderstood by the West and broadly disparaged but that has changed. Entering the twenty-first century Hinduism is recognized as the most compassionate, mystical and enlightened faith on the planet. It's messages of peace, non-injury and open mindedness are urgently needed in this time of strife and bigotry. These values are being appreciated as are Hinduism's sciences of yoga, vastu jyotisha and ayurveda.

"If we discard the name Hinduism or call it just a way of life we remove it from the grand esteemed position that it holds and deserves as a major world religion. We should not do that. United together under the Hindu banner our family of faiths enjoys the many protections given to all religions. And we have a respected unified voice to the media, government, heads of education and planning departments.

"Hindus themselves are becoming more confident about their faith, proud to declare: I am Hindu. In universities the world over Hindus stand proudly side by side with students of other religions. That can't happen if we avoid the name Hinduism and it can't happen if we give up the word religion."

And Gurudeva's quote at the bottom:

"Dharma means merit, morality, good conduct, religious duty and the way of life of the wise person."

We have a Publisher's Desk on this topic. And it starts out with a quote from Swami Chinmayananda from a You Tube video of his. So I'll come up to the quote in a second here. It starts out by saying that this is a hot topic among youth around the world. We find it being discussed: "Is Hinduism a Religion or a Way of Life?" And we've reached the point that by definition a religion is a way of life. You can't have a religion that doesn't effect your daily life, right? That would be ridiculous. Religion guides our daily life. In fact, many religions, that's all they do. They give us guidelines for our daily life. So all religions are ways of life. That's, has to be true.

And then the article makes the point that there are ways of life that are not religions. So vegetarianism is a way of life followed by lots of people but is not really a religion; it doesn't involve God in any way. It doesn't involve worship; it's just showing respect for animals. But people who follow vegetarianism aren't necessarily religious at all. Some are but some aren't. So, vegetarianism is an example of a way of life followed by some religious people but is not a religion in and of itself.

And then Swami Chinmayananda, just unforgettable statement, he says:

"What an abominable stupidity is wrapped up in such an attractive statement."

He's a showman, remember that lecture he gave at, giving presentations kind of dramatically in a British style, very dramatic. "What an abominable stupidity is wrapped up in such an attractive statement."

Well, just a few thoughts cause I don't want to go too late this morning. Lets go let the monks get to work; they have lots to do today, to host all of you.

Again a point made in the Publisher's Desk and this has been my experience is that it comes up regularly at satsang. When I'm met in satsang with Hindus that I don't know and Hindus that don't know me; we're just getting acquainted. Came up at Chicago satsang. They had some academics come from out of town. Who, they were very humble and interested; they weren't there to argue. But one of them asked the question, you know, about Hinduism being a way of life. And in other instances too, it's a generalization, but generally the person asking it is not deeply involved in Hindu practices. They're know, culturally a Hindu, you know. Go to Divali and go to this, go to that, they're culturally a Hindu. They dress like a Hindu and use their native language in some situations. You know they have the cultural side of Hinduism they're participating in. For a virtuous person they're not being dishonest. They have a sense of duty. But they're not strongly religious. They don't worship, they don't meditate, they don't go on pilgrimage. That's a general description of a person who asked this question: Isn't Hinduism just a way of life?

So it is a way of life but if you only pursue Hinduism as a way of life, you're leaving out a lot. It's like going to a fine restaurant and just eating the appetizer. You missed out on the main course and the best part of course, the desert. So if you go to a fine restaurant why just eat the appetizer. Why not have the whole thing. Why not enjoy the main course and the desert as well.

So, that's the point is that Hinduism is a way of life and way of life encompasses good conduct for example, duty. But, worship, worship in the home shrine, worship in the temple is a very important aspect of Hinduism that we encourage all Hindus to encompass as well. Selfless service, particularly at a temple is ideal, temple or ashram. Putting in time, helping out in a humble way is a very good practice to further our spiritual unfoldment, help us develop humility.

Great story about that, that I will tell in the shortest time possible. Mahatma Gandhi had an ashram and VIP's would come and they'd expect him to give them some profound teachings on day one and then on day two they would leave, right? So he would ask them to do things like clean out the latrine on day one. And on day two they weren't there. They didn't want to become humble. You know, they wanted to just keep their status at the ashram that they had in the world, you know, which is their high status in society. VIP politician. But at the ashram you can't do that; you have to just give up your status. You know everybody is a humble servant of God in an ashram and that's how you need to develop that.

So, for the deeper practices, first we need humility which comes as selfless service. Scriptural study is very important because that's the only way we have a true understanding really, avoid superstition. Superstition as you've, some of you've heard me define as that which everyone thinks as true but is nowhere found in scripture. Superstition. If you bring the image of Siva into the home the husband will leave you and leave you and you'll become poor. Superstition. It's not in any scripture. No scripture says that. But it's a common belief among certain circles. Things like that.

So we avoid superstition by scriptural study and then all of this ideally leads up to some form of meditation where we're going inside ourselves then hopefully even coming into a sense of oneness with God which meditation can provide.

Well, thank you very much. Have a wonderful day.

Aum Namah Sivaya.

Photo of  Gurudeva
We never outgrow temple worship. It simply becomes more profound and meaningful as we progress through four spiritual levels.