Only a fool sees
any difference between Rama and Shiva.
Samohana Tantra, Ch. 9
In giving comment on any doctrine, one must
needs adapt oneself to the standpoint of the doctrine one wishes to explain. One may and
even should have one's own preferences, of course, but the object is not to show which one
is superior. The object is not to oppose nor to propose, but merely to expose. The object
is to look at that particular doctrine through the eyes of the people who practise it and
not through our own. For most people this is difficult, if not altogether impossible. It
even remains to be seen whether many make the attempt. They look at the matter from the
point of view of their own creed, faith, belief - whatever. Racial prejudice may stand in
the way as well. A quarrelsome attitude as regards other creeds, however, is, at least
according to the Tantrik Shastras, the mark of a lower mind. To whatever creed one
belongs, each one has its path which, if sincerely pursued, will procure its fruit.
"Dogmatism," Shri Ramakrishna once said, "is not good. All doctrines are
only so many paths; but a path is by no means God Himself." The Vedas tell us that
"Reality is One: Sages call it by various names". In his own simple but
inimitable way Ramakrishna used to say that "different opinions are but different
paths," and that "the goal is one and the same."
So let's get some knowledge, and with getting it, get some understanding.
To a Western mind, it rather seems there are
many religions in India. It seems like a jungle full of contradictions, full of gods and
goddesses amidst which one is lost. Not few people may wonder whether there even is such
thing as a common Indian Religion, a Bharata Dharma. Rest assured there is, though it is
divided in three great divisions - which it has in common with all other great religions.
It is an Aryan religion and is held by all Aryas, whether Brahmanic, Buddhist or Jaina.
Bharata Dharma holds that the world is
an order or cosmos, and not a chaos of things and beings thrown haphazardly together. The
world-order is Dharma, which literally means: that by which the universe is upheld. Take away Dharma, and the world would fall
to pieces and dissolve into nothingness. There is indeed Disorder or Adharma, but this can
exist only locally and for a span of time, and in particular parts of the whole. But in
the end, Dharma will prevail, for this is the nature of things, and not a law imposed from
without by some celestial Father or Mother. Dharma is the nature of things, that which
constitutes them what they are. Dharma or Righteousness is not arbitrarily imposed from
without by a lawgiver. Rather, it is belief in a principle of reason which all men can
recognize for themselves if they will. Again Dharma is not only the law of each being. It
is necessarily also the law of the whole. It expresses the right relations of each part to
the whole. This whole is harmonious, for else it would dissolve.
The etymological meaning of religion is that which binds together. In its most fundamental sense this is the recognition that the world is
an order. Each man, each being and thing is a part of it and each of them stands in a
definite, established relation to it. Together with it go action based on and consistent
with that recognition and in harmony with the whole cosmic activity. The true religious
man, then, is he who feels that he is bound in varying ways to all being. The not so true
religious man is he who considers everything from the standpoint of his limited self and
interests, who feels poor or no regard whatsoever for his fellow beings or for the world
at large. That's why all religions agree in the essentials of morality, being the true nature
of man, and hold that selfishness is
the root of all sin (adharma). There is as well a general, universal law or Samanya Dharma
that governs all as a particular law or Visesha Dharma, which is peculiar to each class of
Disharmony means suffering. "As a
man sows, so he will reap." The fruit of no action is ever lost. But it does not
always appear at once. If not in the present life, then in some future one. Dharma or
Justice or Righteousness will always prevail. "Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt
by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing," says
Saint Matthew 5, 26.
Birth and death mean the creation and destruction of bodies. The spirits so embodied are
infinite in number and eternal. The material universe comes and goes. It is like the
systole and diastole of the One Universal Heart, Itself at rest - the moveless play of
Consciousness. Each embodied soul or Jivatma will be reborn and reborn into the world
until it is freed from all desire. This involves the doctrine of reincarnation, back into
the flesh, the Samsara, the Wheel of Life and Death, the wandering in transmigratory
worlds. The world is a composite of happiness and suffering, called Dvandva. Desire leads
to manifestation in form. Desirelessness leads away from it. Those who reach this state
find Moksha or Nirvana.
Religion, and hence true civilization,
- the upholding of Righteousness as the individual and general good,
- the fostering of spiritual progress.
In that way, with justice to all beings, true happiness,
the immediate and ultimate end of all humanity, and indeed of all being, may be attained.
Anyone who holds these beliefs follows the
Bharata Dharma or common principles of all Aryan beliefs. There are those who deny God's
existence (atheism) or affirm it (theism). There are those who say they have no sufficient
proof one way or another (agnosticism). But it is always possible to accept the concept of
an Eternal Law or Dharma and its sanctions in a self-governed universe. In that way one
does not deny God.
On this common foundation are based India's
three main religions: Brahmanism, Buddhism and Jainism.
Brahmanism accepts Veda as its ultimate authority. It is the revealed word of God. The Veda says,
"All this (that is, the Universe) is Brahman." The word "veda" means
"which is heard". But as to how to interpret what is heard, what is revealed,
was and still is as difficult as in any other religion. What exactly is meant by
"this"? Hence different interpretations and different schools:
(Shankaracharya) says there is one Spirit (Atma) with two aspects: as transcendent supreme
(Paramatama), and as immanent and embodied (Jivatma). The two are at base one (monism)
when we eliminate Avidya (ignorance) in the form of mind and body.
(Ramanuja) says, that just as we distinguish our body from our inner self,
"this" is Brahman in the sense that it is the body of the Brahman. (qualified
Dvaitavada Vedanta claims
there is nearness and likeness between God and man. (dualism)
Brahmanism includes many divisions and
as such many worshippers who call themselves by different names. One sect was influenced
by the other. Many sects also share much in common. It is indeed a hard task if not
altogether impossible to make hard and fast distinctions. In general Brahmanism follows
the Agamas or Tantra Shastras. These, in their turn, admit the authority of the Vedas
and recognize other Scriptures.
There are four main classes of Brahminical
Scriptures and each one of them was revealed as the specific scripture for a certain yuga or age. There were four of them. They comprise an aggregate of
4,320,000 years and thus constitue one Mahayuga.
Satya Yuga we find the
Shrutis or "that which has been heard" or
"divine revelation", i.e. the four Vedas and the Upanishads. For quite a lot of
people the meaning of the word Veda is a bit difficult to grasp. Its
essential meaning is sacred knowledge. The Vedas are without any personal composer. They
are attributed to Shiva and were manifested to the Rishis or Seers. So those Rishis were
not their authors.
The Vedas consist of four collections (samhitas) called:
Rigveda, hymns to gods
Samaveda, priests' chants
Yajurveda, scarificial formulas in prose
Atharvaveda, magical chants
The word Vedanta litterally means "the end of the Vedas". Vedanta is identical
with the Upanishads, which teach the knowledge of the Absolute Being
(Paramatma) and union with It.
For Treta Yuga we find the
Smritis or "that which is remembered". They
are handed down by the Rishis. Among them we find the so-called Dharma Shastras
or rules of law.
For Dvapara Yuga we find the Puranas, eighteen or more sacred treatises, which by
myth and story convey in an exoteric manner the doctrines of the Vedas. They deal with
nearly every subject of knowledge.
For Kali Yuga,
according to orthodox views the present age, we find the Agamas or Tantra
Shastras. They are also known as
the fifth Veda. They deal with sadhana and mantra. The Tantra has been said to exist in
the Veda as the perfume exists in the flower.
(Article based on Sir John Woodroffe's 'Shakti and Shakta'.)