Rev. Dr. Selvam Robertson
This Research Paper is an exploration into Hindu Religion and Philosophy to study the Hindu understanding of Spirituality. In order to attempt a comprehensive study of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ the subject mater is analyzed under four different parts.
The first is an analysis of four of the fundamental concepts of Hinduism. They are the concepts of Reality, World, Human Life and Self. These are critically analyzed to bring out the fundamental unity of thought present in them. Further, they serve as fundamentals for ‘Hindu Spirituality’.
Second part is an attempt to define ‘Hindu Spirituality. Etymological meaning of the word ‘Spirituality’ and analysis of some of the common definitions of Spirituality, and ‘Hindu Spirituality’ are the focal points of study. These can be studied with a view to promote a meaningful spiritual life and a relevant spirituality.
Third part of the study is focused upon the goal of ‘Hindu Spirituality’. This includes detailed study of Hindu view of salvation, the status of saved souls and the idea of jeevanmukta.
Fourth part is an attempt to show the pluralistic character of ‘Hindu Spirituality’. This is done by way of presenting a bird’s eye view of Spirituality found under the general term ‘Hinduism’. A discussion on the diverse ‘Hindu Spirituality renders greater possibilities for a meaningful introspection into Hinduism. The conclusions drawn from the discussions can be useful components for a relevant ‘Hindu Spirituality’.
Chain of Divinity
To study ‘Hindu Spirituality’ one needs to be strongly footed into some of the basic concepts of Hinduism. It is necessary because there is a Chain of Divinity among these concepts. These concepts will function as the fundamentals of ‘Hindu Spirituality’. Therefore, four such concepts are analyzed in the first part. They are the concepts of Reality, World, Human Life and Self.
In spite of the diction, mostly Western or Non-Hindu, like “More over, the Vedic as also later the Hindu gods were as little virtuous as men. They differed primarily in being more powerful”. Moreover, the gods are subject to the magical influence of properly utilized ritual. “One of the most remarkable ideas to be found in the Brahmans as that the gods were merely mortals till they extorted immortality from the Supreme Being by sacrifices and austerities”. Logically speaking, there is no place for God in the Upanishads etc. Hinduism as a whole embodies very definite and catholic convictions about the Reality or God.
These convictions can be understood from Hinduism’s response to certain crucial questions regarding the Ultimate Reality. These responses hold good only if Hinduism as a whole is approached without any reservation for any particular aspect. Scholars who have studied Hinduism with a different religious texture and without commitment to Hinduism failed to appreciate its unique concepts. As, an adequate understanding of the concept of Reality is fundamental for the study of ‘Hindu Spirituality’, four important questions related to the Reality can be clarified. These clarifications, in fact, lay the foundation for the detailed study of ‘Hindu Spirituality’.
Among the many questions regarding the idea of Reality in Hinduism, one which captured the attention of many serious thinkers was whether the Reality is one or many? This is a very vital question because there is a common notion among people, mostly people of other faiths, that the Hindus worship many gods. This might sound unfounded to a Hindu. This can be understood from the way in which all committed thinkers and followers of Hinduism have affirmed with one accord that the Reality is one. The famous Rig Vedic declaration is that the Reality is one but the sages call it with various names. Even today no Hindu will hesitate to state that the many forms of gods found in the day-to-day religious life of an ordinary Hindu is the diverse manifestation of the same One Reality. Even the manifold forms of rituals and worship (spirituality) are varied means of adoration to that One Reality.
The all comprehensive and catholic understanding of Hindu concept of Reality is very relevant to the pluralistic context of India where people adhere to different faiths. Even in the wider context of the world, given the geographic cultural and economic situations, the Reality could not be conceptualized uniformly.
The second pertinent question which drew the attention of both philosopher and believer was whether the Reality contains any attribute? Of course, the question is confined to Hinduism alone. Yet, it is discussed here because of its significance for a meaningful ‘Hindu Spirituality’. Even the monist Sankara was of the opinion that God can be worshipped by ordinary seeker only with qualities. Sankara calls this as lower type of spirituality. According to Sankara, at the higher level of spiritual realization, God can be realized as formless. Yet, it needs to be remembered that majority of Hindu forms of worship are patterned in according with the popular notion that God possess qualities. This popular notion is at the background of ‘Hindu Spirituality’. And this conviction is essential for any human being for his/her daily life and religiosity.
The third question which lays foundation for further discussion of the subject matter ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is, whether God is transcendent or immanent? The predominant and commonly accepted answer is that God is both. In the words of Radhakrishna “God is neither completely transcendent not completely immanent”. A more vivid expression of this conviction is found in the expression of Jitendra Nath Banerjee that “An intelligent Hindu thinks of god as residing within himself, controlling al his actions as the ‘inner controller’ and at the same time god is outside him, manifest in innumerable ways, known and unknown”.
The transcendent God is dwelling in human beings. The transcendent in relation to human beings is the bedrock for the development of ‘Hindu Spirituality’. Although it looks as a reaction to people who emphasis more on other worldly characteristic of god, the indwelling aspect of Reality in Hinduism is Stated by D. S. Sarma that “According to Hindu belief, god is not a judge sitting in a remote heaven meting out punishments, but an indwelling spirit whose will works in us through the moral law here and now”. The importance of the ‘indwelling’ aspect of Reality for ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is emphasized by Jitendra Nath Banerjee that “The concept of the adorable Lord of the world, the God who resides in the heart of all beings, plays a most important part in the spiritual life of the Hindu”. In short it can be said that the ideas that the One Reality is dwelling in the human beings is the center of ‘Hindu Spirituality’. In other words, the understanding that human being is divine is the focal point of ‘Hindu Spirituality’.
For Sankara the world is maya. The Vallabhas and Chaitanyas hold that God is the material and the efficient cause of the world. According to Tantra “It has neither a beginning nor an end”. It is eternal. The Nyaya-Vaisesika argues that eternal atoms are the material cause and god is the organizer and engineer of the world order. For Sankhya spirits are responsible for the world. According to mimamsa “The formation of the world is due to the operation of the law of karma”. Ramanuja explained that the world is depended on God. While discussing Indian theism, Satis Chandra Chatterjee says “Here it is believed either that God created the world out of Himself or that He created it out of preexisting materials”. This in short summarizes the whole Hindu view of the world. From ‘Hindu Spirituality’ point of view it is necessary to accept that the world is ultimately a ‘spiritual entity’.
Recognizing the fact that the world is diving or spiritual is another feature of ‘Hindu Spirituality’. Generally, according to Indian tradition the earth is considered to be Mother. As the present world is rampant with exploitations and ecological degradations, a spirituality that considers the world to be Divine can be more useful and challenging. Without understanding the Divine nature of the world which is God’s providence for sustenance, humanity has involved in devastating activities. These activities can even harm the very existence of humanity on the earth. Thus, ‘Hindu Spirituality’ has much to contribute to the modern world.
1.3 Human Life
The expression ‘Human Life’ is used here to denote man and his life. It is used here only with an inclusive sense. The real starting point of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is the recognition that human beings are divine. In other world Human being is the citadel of God. God is living in human beings. The philosophers go to the extent of saying that man is “… one of the many forms in which the Supreme Being is manifested in this Universe”. In the words of A. K. Banerjee ‘Divinity is the essence of humanity’, ‘Man is essentially a Spiritual Being’ and ‘a finite embodied self-expression of the Supreme Spirit or Brahman’. The concepts of salvation as found in Hinduism also testify to the fact that man is divine. “It looks upon man as a Spiritual being”.
Radhakrishnan is of the opinion “That which we indicate with awe as the absolute, is also our own transcendental essence”. The concept of rta in the Vedas explains that humanity is not only divine, but also is in harmony with nature.
The doctrine of karma works as a viable solution to the logical question that, if humanity is divine, why there are differences among human beings. This is clearly stated by R. V. Dandekar that “The doctrine of karma is the solution offered by Hinduism to the great riddle of the origin of suffering and the inequalities which exist among men in this world”. Sivaprasad Bhattacharya asserts that “it has always held that whatever a man attempts and achieves in this life is nothing but a form of worship of the Divine in the world around us and in man”.
A. K. Banerjee, V. Krishnamuthy and S. Radhakrishanan are of the view that human beings are born with a mission to grow. The mission may be related to the spiritual life. In the words of S. P. Dubey “Indians have taken, in general, the realization of spiritual reality to be the goal of life”. Another passive attitude of Indian life is also attributed to spirituality. “The striking endurance in the Hindu way of life is primarily due to its profound spirituality”.
The fact that humanity is by nature divine and it has a spiritual mission has been established beyond doubt. In fact if humanity is aware of this fact life on the earth would be like life on paradise. It looks as if human beings are unaware of this great fact. This is evident from the great many number of increasing crimes in India. It is true beyond doubts that, Hinduism has such great ideals. How far they are promoted in practical life should be evaluated. As stated earlier, the realization that he/she is divine is the dawn of ‘Hindu Spirituality’. The realization needs to be strengthened. This is the task of ‘Hindu Spirituality’. It is not enough to realize that humanity is divine, but it is crucial that human beings progress in their spiritual mission. This can be better understood from the background of Hindu understanding of soul. Before getting into the idea of soul, it needs to be stressed that ‘Hindu Spirituality’ has much to contribute to the betterment of humanity. Hinduism should initiate steps to translate the great ideals into common life.
1.4 Self (Soul)
“According to the Hindu concept, the soul which enters a body during birth and leaves it at the point of death itself is immortal and eternal. The acknowledgement of this truth is the first step in all spiritual exercises”. Without any exception every Hindu believes that the soul is eternal. This is expressed in unmistakable terms. The second aspect to be noted about soul is whether there is one soul or many. May be with the exception of Sankara, all would affirm that “It is wrong to identify the self with the body or to say that there is only one self in all bodies, for there are as many selves as there are bodies”. The third principle to be remembered about the soul is that it is in ‘Bondage’. Bondage means Samsara (birth and death). In other words, the soul suffers births and deaths on account of its unawareness about its eternal character.
To summarize the chain of thought present in the above discussion, it can be said that, the fundamentals of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ are the realization that the Reality is one, the World is divine, humanity is divine and the Souls are eternal. This background would be of immense insight to the study of ‘Hindu Spirituality’.
Having set the fundamentals of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ in the previous chapter, it will be conducive now to commence a discussion on ‘Hindu Spirituality’. As stated earlier the starting point of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is the dawn of realization that the souls are eternal. They suffer samsara on account of their ignorance. Salvation or liberation of the soul, therefore, is the supreme task to human life. The process of liberation can be termed as Spirituality.
Before going further into the discussion of ‘Hindu Spirituality’, the term ‘Hindu’ needs clarification. The term ‘Hindu’ is used here very comprehensively to include every thing that pertains to Hindu Religion. It is neither used in geographical sense nor to distinguish Hinduism from Aryan religion. It is used in a very general sense. As the focus of this subject is mainly on spirituality, the term Hindu does not warrant any further discussion. Rather, it is ideal that an attempt is made to understand the term spirituality and its implications from a Hindu point of view.
2.1 Etymological Meaning
According to Margaret Chatterjee “Indian languages have no word either for religion or for spirituality”. The word spirit and spirituality have the same root. But ‘this is not the case with say, ātman and sādhanā. The word closer to spirit in Indian language is ātman. The Indian word sādhanā shares a common characteristic with the term ‘spirituality’. In order to understand the word sādhanā it is suffice to suggest that “Fulfillment lies in creating a balance between spirituality and worldly life. Creating harmony between these two aspects of life is called sādhanā, spiritual practice”. Gordon S. Wakefield’s comment comes handy to understand the common usage of the word spirituality. For him “This is a word which has come much into vogue to describe those attitudes, beliefs, practices which animate people’s lives and help them the reach out towards super-sensible realities”. It is necessary, once again to quote Margaret Chatterjee before summarizing the implications of the word “It is not surprising that one of the commonest connotations of the term ‘spirituality’ in current usage centers on inner experience and on practices reckoned to foster it”. The word spirituality implies human beings self-awareness that they are divine and their constant effort to maintain and improve their divinity i.e. relation with God. This will be more clear when some of the available definitions of spirituality are analyzed.
At the outset, it has to be indicated that, the etymological meaning of the word ‘Spirituality’ focuses upon individuals and their efforts to improve their relation with the Reality. Spirituality to be more dynamic and relevant to the present context it should include the activities of Spiritual people in relation to their fellow human beings and environment. In other words spirituality, as etymologically analyzed, implies more of vertical dimension that the horizontal.
2.2 Definition of Spirituality
The Oxford English Dictionary, second edition defines as “the quality or condition of being spiritual; attachment to or regard for things of the spirit as opposed to material or worldly interests”. With similar implication, but more comprehensively Margaret Chatterjee defines spirituality as follows
The relation between the inferiority of the person and the transcendence of the divine can be enabled in various ways… in each case a particular style of religious life will ensue, or rather, be enjoined on man. It is this style that later generations called spirituality.
These definitions too emphasis more on the vertical dimension of spirituality.
A little more inclusive definition of spirituality is found from the words of non-Hindu writers. Three such definitions may be used for further analysis of the definition. The first one is “Spirituality is our innate orientation toward God in so far as it is consciously cultivated and translated into a way of life”. Second definition is “By ‘spirituality’ I understand life lived according to the spirit”. Third one is “Spirituality is a outward journey into the world transcending the spiritual and material dichotomy”.
The three definitions mentioned above for analysis confirms in concrete terms that spirituality is centered on Spirit/God. But they go further to emphasis that spirituality should become a way of life. Life lived here in the world in harmony with god, humanity and nature. Hinduism does not lack this ideal too. The common saying is that, ‘Hinduism is a way of life’. This ideal needs to be stressed today. Spirituality that tries to ignore the realities of the world cannot be called spirituality.
It dies not mean that all non-Hindu definitions of spirituality are all comprehensive and inclusive. There are very narrow definitions which focus only a fragment of the all-comprehensive term ‘spirituality’. One such definition is “spirituality may be understood as man’s existence”.
A viable, meaningful and dynamic definition of spirituality is given by Antony Edanad,
Spirituality may be described as the manner in which a person views his relation with God, other persons and the world in general, and responds to this relation in so far as it enriches, enables and elevates him fulfilling his desire for inner peace, total realization and ultimate happiness.
Before suggesting the basic dimensions of spirituality it is necessary to indicate two more narrow definition of Hindu Spirituality. They are “Spirituality in Hindu thought is ceremonial and external on the one hand, and mystical and subjective on the other” and “in the life of the Hindu, spirituality may take the form of sanctifying or defying a rock, a tree, a tank, an animal, a man, etc”. A relevant ‘Hindu Spirituality’ should comprise in it certain important dimensions. They are realization that human beings are divine, the constant nurturing of the relation between God and Humanity, translation of spirituality into day to day life and finally achieving Salvation. It may be said that, humanity’s divinity, relation with God and relation with environment should ultimately lead to salvation/liberation/moksha. This will be discussed extensively in the next section.
2.3 Spiritual Life
All ardent followers of Hinduism have earnestly stated the significance of life in the world for spiritual development. It is sad that such vital aspects are not included in the definitions examined earlier. It is true that most English Dictionaries have attempted to define spirituality from the writers’ own religious point of view. In spite of this laxity, the rich experience of the great Hindu writers sheds adequate insight into the meaning of Hindus Spirituality. According to them “spiritual experience have to be sought in our day-to-day life”. “An aspirant does not need to disrupt his worldly life to practice spirituality”. “The external practice-external worship of the spirit by the spirit – comes of serving God in man”. Spiritual life is not different from secular life etc.
A more contemporary contribution to ‘Hindu Spirituality’ has been rendered by Krishna Sivaraman. For his spiritual journeys is ‘turning around’. It is ‘turning around from facing the world to face God’. It is a change from worldliness to ‘wordlessness’. Here ‘wordlessness’ is used to denote a dynamic and challenging life in the world without attachment to the world and its activities. It is a kind of selfless service.
Although the so called definitions of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ are not complete in themselves, the rich experiences furnished by the committed Hindu writers are adequate to appreciate the greatness of ‘Hindu Spirituality’. This greatness should not be confined to writing alone. It should become part and parcel of every human being. A spirituality which is practiced in day-to-day life, which is concerned with fellow human beings and nature as a whole is the need of the hour. Any religion that does not promote such spirituality will become irrelevant one. Such irrelevant spirituality can cause much damage than help in a pluralistic context.
Another basic element lacking in the so called definitions of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ was its fundamental origin, that the realization of man’s ‘inner essence as Divine’. In the words of Subhash Anand “To begin spiritual life, it is enough if man realizes that the deepest in him is more akin to God than to the world, and that consequently only in Him can he find his true fulfillment”. The contemporary world longs for people with such deep sense of awareness. Such an awareness can create a harmonious life here on earth and a living harmony between God and humanity. That is why ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is said as an inward direction toward life. Religion and Philosophy in India contribute so much in the process of making people to turn to themselves.
2.4 Relevant ‘Hindu Spirituality’
After evaluating the concept of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ it is suitable to propose some basic insights for a “Relevant Hindu Spirituality”. To begin with, it is appropriate to quote Ewert Cousins words that “For it may well be that the meeting of the spiritual paths – the assimilation not only of one’s own spiritual heritage but that of the human community as a whole – is the distinctive spiritual journey of our times”. It is very much in line with the basic attitude of Hinduism. At the same time it is unexpected that religious sentiments are utilized for other selfish reasons, like politics, etc. So as to make dissentions among religions. Any one who is aware of the world religions would be happy to assert that there is no single absolute spirituality. The spirituality practiced in a specific geographical situation is the product of conceptualizing it from that specific context. It is time that a give and take policy is developed among religion in order to formulate a concrete spirituality without disregarding or over regarding any specific conceptualization. It should be accepted that any monolithic vision of spirituality is outdated and irrelevant.
The second basic insight for a relevant ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is that it should broaden its horizontal arms to embrace all aspects of life. To quote “Relevant Spirituality will find signs and foot prints of god in every reality of human existence – cosmic (ecological), socio-political (structural), inter-personal (relational) and intra-personal (depth dimensions)”. It is not just for using religious sentiments for manipulative purposes but to approach all aspects of life from the deep rooted Divinity of Humanity.
The third insight for a relevant ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is that it should be both contextual and action-oriented, though it is guided by a vision rooted in a particular faith experience and commitment. In order to practice a relevant spirituality one need not give up the faith to which he/she belonged. In other words a dynamic and contextual spirituality can be practiced by any one irrespective of the faith commitment in which he/she is situated. A spirituality which is blind to the contextual realities of life is irrelevant.
A relevant spirituality should be ‘life-affirming’ and rejecting ‘anti-life’; it should be a ‘cry for life’. From Indian point of view the mere human existence is often not beyond threat. Poverty, unemployment, child-labour, ecological imbalance, etc are not issues pertained to a few. These issues call for a more dynamic spirituality. It needs to be remembered that spiritual practices which were responsible for degradation of human life are withering away from active life. This will be discussed extensively in the next part. Whether ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is ‘life affirming’ will be clear from the discussion of Hindu understanding of salvation / liberation / moksha, which is the final goal of every spirituality.
Goal of Spirituality
3.1 Importance of the Goal
The chief goal of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is salvation or liberation of the soul from the world. In other words salvation from samsara. Samsara means cycle of births and deaths. The common Hindu belief is that soul is eternal. But due to ignorance of its original nature, the soul is caught up in the attractions of the world. The soul which subjected to samsara should be liberated. The process adopted for salvation differs from person to person. But the ultimate goal is same.
Before examining the various means adopted for salvation for various types of spiritual practices, it is suitable here to discuss the states of a liberated soul. It is discussed first because of its importance in the life of a Hindu. An ordinary belief of the Hindus is that “Every twelve years the Ganga is believed to secrete amrit – a celestial drink which confers immortality on its drinker; and one who baths or drinks the water at Hardwar is believed to be saved from further rebirth”. One more similar example would suffice to prove the strong urge of Hindus to seek liberation at any cost. It is said that “… death in or near the Ganges at Benares results in Moksha, the final liberation from the endless cycles of birth and rebirth that is the ultimate spiritual goal of most Hindus”. In order to obtain this privilege too people flock to Benares.
Another reason for discussing it before the discussion on the means of salvation is, it is the immediate fruit of ‘Hindu Spirituality’. Further discussion on salvation immediately after explaining ‘Hindu Spirituality’ adds additional insight into ‘Hindu Spirituality’.
3.2 State of the Liberated Souls
There are at least three different views about the status of liberated souls according to Hinduism. One is that the souls go to another world. The second is that the souls become one with God. And the third one is that the liberated souls maintain their individuality even after death.
The concept of transmigration of the soul was not fully developed in the Vedas. Yet there is dislike for the return of the souls after death. The Vedic sears believed that the virtuous souls go to the world of gods from there, there is no return whereas the wicked one enter into the world of fathers from there they return to the world. It should be reminded here that for the Vedic Aryans, life here was more important that hereafter. Most of their prayers were for happy and long life here with abundance of riches.
Brahmanas, the treatises on rituals also do no convey a clear cut idea of the nature of the liberated souls. “They assert that a recompense awaits all beings in the next world according to their conduct in this”. At the same it needs to be highlighted that “the texts rarely give any detail of the way in which man is rewarded or punished after death”. The idea of transmigration of the soul was not yet fully developed. The dominant view in the Brahmanas was that the souls get ‘immortality in heaven, the abode of the gods’.
The Upanishads explain the status of liberated soul as union with Brahman. In this union there is no distinction between individual souls and Brahman. The reason for such an understanding may be that the union between individual souls and Brahman is already there. It is eternal. There is no distinction between Brahman and the souls. It is only because of ‘ignorance (avidyā)’ that the soul thinks itself to be different from Brahman. The very moment ignorance of the soul is removed the original unity is realized.
According to Swami Prabhavananda “Moksa is called in the Gita Brahma-Nirvana-extinction in Brahman, or union with Brahman”. It needs to be remembered here that commentators like Ramanuja have explained Bhagavad Gita as to facilitate a philosophical background for the path of devotion. The later Bhakti Movements advocated an entirely different line of thought. For them “the soul never becomes identical with God”. According to Sri Vaisnavas the souls which are liberated from Samsara enter Vaikuntha the heaven of Visnu. There the individual soul is united with the Lord in a loving relationship while yet maintaining its distinction. For Sūdras and Tulasidāsa it is only an emotional union with god. To a Śaiva Siddhāntian he becomes omniscient and omnipotent, like Śiva, but ontologically distinct from him. The sequence of thought prevalent among Bhakti movements reflect the influence of Semitic religions. According to the orthodox philosophical schools, salvation is liberation from body i.e. pain and suffering.
The varieties of interpretations stated regarding the status of the liberated soul is a great lesion for humanity to understand the limitations of human perceptions or knowledge. It is also a lesson for people to learn to avoid any absolute claims regarding religious concepts and ideas.
Anybody going through the different view points regarding the status of liberated soul will be tempted to conclude that Hinduism is pessimistic in its outlook about the world. On the other hand there are committed Hindus who affirms “salvation is not escape from life”. “It is to live in the world with one’s inward being profoundly modified”. And “if the saved individuals escape literally from the cosmic process, the world would be for ever unredeemed”. This is the concern that will be discussed here. Before proceeding to do so, it is necessary to point out one of the strong criticisms leveled against Hindu view of salvation. To be open, such criticisms are generally charged by Western scholars or scholars who belonged to other faiths. According to Max Weber “All salvation technologies of India stemming from the intellectual strata, whether orthodox or heterodox, involves a withdrawal, not only from every day life but from the world in general, including also paradise and the world of the gods”. Such views are represented by scholars who have no respect for others religions and scholars who have failed to develop a wholistic approach to Hinduism as a whole. Taking just one concept, or aspect and attempting to study any religion will not be constructive.
Coming back to the main concern of this discussion it is relevant to understand the importance of the idea of ‘Jivanmukti’. According to Hinduism, salvation can be attained while one is still living on the earth. This starts from the moment one realizes that soul is eternal. The liberated soul is called Jivanmukta. Jivanmukta continue to live in this world until his/her death. But he/she will not be affected by the world. The jivanmukta will continue to help other souls to obtain salvation. The jivanmukta engages himself/herself in the service of others. Finally bodily death, Videhamukti takes place. This is the final separation of the soul from the body. The status of the liberated souls is already explained.
The main concern of the discussion is to prove that Hinduism is not pessimistic in its outlook. According to Durga Das Basu “The goal of a Hindu is not merely salvation for himself but also the good of the world created by God (Atmanomokshartham Jegadhhitaya cha). And this goal is symbolized in the existence of a Jivanmukta”. It needs to be highlighted that Nimbārka does not believe in Jivanmukta. His is of the opinion that salvation is possible only after death (videhamukti).
Even after accepting the optimistic nature of Hinduism, many tend to say that Hinduism is individualistic in outlook. This claim can gather much support. But the Hindus would go to the extent of saying that “That highest stage of Hindu spiritualism is selfless service to others”. No doubt this ideal is present in Hinduism in the form form of Jivanmukti. To quote “The Jivan-Mukti or liberation-in-life ‘ideal’ has been customarily enshrined as the highest vision of life in the Indian Tradition”. According to Swami Prabhavananda Moksa or Brahma nirvana can be attained here and now. He argues that “The Gītā tries to raise the aspirant (sādhaka) to such a height of spirituality that he ultimately finds himself only to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord”. No doubt, the ideals are very well present in Hinduism. But there are no many channels to inculcate these ideals in the day-to-day life of Hindus.
The leading scholars on Hinduism untiringly project the world-affirming, world-caring, and world-concerning aspect of ‘Hindu Spirituality’. According to Satis Chandra Chatterjee “The liberated self attains the life divine and lives and acts for the good of mankind”. Another great example is the services of Ramakrishna Mission.
To conclude the discussion on the goal of “Hindu Spirituality”, it needs to be stated that Hinduism as a whole has all the ideals needed for a relevant and meaningful spirituality. These ideals were not put into practice in the early phases of Hinduism. That is why it has to face strong criticisms such as, it is individualistic, pessimistic, no concern for the world, etc. Either because of the influence of other religions or because of the growing awareness of the realities of the world, the current representatives of Hinduism have involved themselves in addressing to the burning concerns of the people around.
The Indian Hindu scholars are unanimous in their commitment to represent Hinduism as world-affirming. And this world affirming nature is the highest outcome of “Hindu Spirituality”. Addressing to the concerns of the world can be relevant ground for people of all faiths to work together with one accord and one spirit.
Plurality of Hindu Spirituality
It was established earlier that salvation or liberation of the soul was the supreme goal of Hindu Spirituality. The concept of Salvation in Hinduism has scope for a life affirming spirituality. Another characteristic of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ left for further extensive treatment was the pluralistic character. This pluralistic character can be understood from the manifold ways in which Hindus have attempted salvation. The pluralistic character of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is well represented by two dynamic concepts in Hinduism.
The two concepts are adhikāra and ishta-devata. The first one is called the doctrine of the spiritual competence and the second is the doctrine of chosen deity. Hinduism proposes that a seeker of religious truth should choose a means of realization according to his/her ability. If any one follows a path which is beyond his/her capacity, he/she will meet spiritual death. Similarly a devotee can choose any deity of his/her own choice. These are apt examples for the accommodative nature of Hinduism.
Instead of the usual patter of presentation - karma, jnana and bhakti marga, a bird’s eye view of most of the Hindu spiritualities can be useful for the better understanding of the pluralistic character of ‘Hindu Spirituality’. This can pave further scope for a thorough discussion on ‘Hindu Spirituality’.
The Aryans of the Vedic period believed that sacrificial karmas will take them to heaven. Every sacrifice performed guarantees merit to the person concerned. The merit will ultimately enable salvation. This is called karma marga – the way of action. In the Upanishads importance is stressed on ‘meditation’ and ‘observation of the laws’. Meditation is focused upon the fact that Brahman alone is real. This is called Jnana marga or the way of knowledge.
In spite of the ‘synthetic nature’ of Bhagavad Gita, it emphasis on the “grace” of God and ‘devotion of God’. This is called bhakti marga or the way of devotion. Before going further it is essential to analyze a strong criticism which is leveled against Gita. “A feature of the Bhagavad-Gita which has arouse criticism in modern times is its study defense of the system of the four classes”. It is true. The criticism is relevant to the other two spirituality as well Vedic and Upanishadic. A careful assessment of Hinduism in the light of the above discussions can offer a viable solution to the criticism. The class system presented in the Vedas is purely sociological. It was misappropriated by a few for their own benefits. Purusa sukta is only one of the creation narratives found in the Rig Veda. There are other creation narratives also. This was only one of the many ways in which the Vedic people tried to comprehend god’s creation. Therefore, this cannot be absolutised to sanction caste hierarchy. Further the catholic character of Rig Veda would not allow such a narrow outlook to penetrate. Above all the caste system is no longer relevant to the present context. In today’s world there is no chance to force anyone to a particular type of work. Knowledge is no longer a monopoly of a selected few.
Even in the Upanishads, there is a preferential option for the twice born in the matters of spirituality. If Brahman alone is Real and everybody is Brahman the caste system has no place in Hinduism. Those who advocate caste go beyond the real spirit of the Upanishads. Coming to Gita, the class system found there is only occupational. Lord Vishnu, in his universal form asserted that human beings are only instrumental in the activities of god. How can such a great truth reconcile with the unhealthy caste system? Of course these ideals could have been helpful in their contexts. In the present context caste perceived from religious point of view or sociological point of view, has no relevance. This system was broken in the later spirituality of Hinduism. This is the uniqueness of the pluralistic character of Hindu Spirituality.
4.2 Devotion – Grace
The puranas are committed to the spirituality of ‘istadevada’ and ‘adhikara’ in the Bhagavata purana. God’s grace and devotion to him are suggested for salvation. In the Vallabhacharya’s system ‘parapatti (surrender to the will of God) is the only means and goal to be attained by a devotee. His method of spirituality was called ‘pushti-marga’. It has two interpretations. One is that “the way of eating, drinking and enjoying oneself”. The other interpretation is that it is the way of “grace”. The two interpretations are true. Because all bhakti movements insists upon the grace of god. The other interpretation is also true because, the vallabhas were known for their excessive and uncommon practices. “Mira’s devotion to lord Krishna is an epitome of intense emotional relationship that embodies the highest level of conjugal love”. Saivism stresses the importance of rituals along with devotion and grace in the process of realization. In the Saiva Siddhanta sect “However, a woman can rise up to Siva’s abode, through the merit of her husband’s practice”. The highly ritualistic Tantra too stresses the need of ‘kali’s grace’ and ‘devotion’ for salvation.
4.3 Philosophy – Grammar – Siddha
For the Nyaya – Vaiseshika liberation is possible through the ‘right knowledge’ of the reality. The Rajayoga advocates concentration and the katha yoga proposes physical exercises for realization. According to the mimamsa ‘Self can attain liberation by means of knowledge and the performance of obligatory duties in the right spirit’. “The means of liberation, according to Sankara is the study of the Vendanta under a teacher who has himself realized Brahman”. For the Grammarian “Knowledge and correct use of words brings about both spiritual merit (dharma) which leads to heaven (svarga)”. “The Siddhas are antagonistic towards bhakti; they accept yoga as the only method of final realization”.
4.4 Significance of Hindu Spirituality
The above sketchy outline may be unpleasing yet profound with insights for a pluralistic society. Religious pluralism is a challenging issue present before every one. all religions promise their respective followers salvation. Apart from it, each religion tend to claim superiority over the other. Each religion presents itself as a better and easy way of attaining salvation. These claims should be given up. A right kind of insight for such a radical change is found in the pluralistic character of Hindu Spirituality. It is a living affirmation that the religious experience differs from person to person. The religious experiences of people cannot be expressed in a single form of worship. Plurality of spirituality, therefore is the only way to get rid of the problem. This is a challenge for the religions which claim superiority.
The pluralistic character of Hindu Spirituality is again the solution to the mystery of God. God is addressed with different names. These different names are together the absolute reality. No one can claim that his/her concept of god is the final one. God is mystery. This mystery cannot be understood fully through any single stream of religious thought. The diverse spirituality found in Hinduism testifies to the manifold efforts of human beings to comprehend the ultimate Reality. Unity in plurality is the salient feature of Hinduism.
A strong criticism obvious in the plurality of Hindu Spirituality is also the same as found in the ‘goal of spirituality’ i.e. Hindu Spirituality is individualistic in nature. Individuals are advised to choose their favorite deity and convenient path. None of the Hindu Spirituality is clear in emphasizing the concerns for the family or society.
Similarly, concern for the world, society, etc are not considered as part of spirituality. No doubt the jivankukti ideal is all inclusive. Yet Hindu Spirituality should promote a harmonious lie; a life in relation to fellow humanity and nature. As there is no yard-stick to measure whether a person is jivanmukta, it will be relevant, if the very life is considered as a great opportunity to worship god in the form of a living sacrifice. The great ideals present in Hinduism should be made known to all its followers.
This criticism poses another comment that, there is no spiritual nature in Hinduism. Every religious practice performed at a home can definitely be a kind of nurture to its members. Good parents might impart religious instructions to their children. Apart from these spiritual nurtures ordinary Hindus are not in reach of any other forms of spiritual insights. It will be contributive, if Hinduism, the majority religion in India, promote ways and means to disseminate its greater spiritual values to its followers in order to make them instruments in the service of fellow divinities.
In spite of the great contributions of Bhakti Movement to Hinduism and humanity, two comments deserve attention. One is related to morality. It is said that a devotee who is absorbed in his devotion to the lord is beyond the moral codes of the world. He could do any act to exhibit his devotion to his favorite deity. Such an ideal requires refinement. Another aspect needs reorientation is the position of woman in some of the sects. In the modern world it may no be appropriate to hold on to the belief that woman can attain salvation only through the spiritual practices of her husband.
Amidst all the criticisms, a few aspects of Hinduism, at least in the later phase of its development, deserves appreciation. The plurality of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ offers sufficient freedom to the seeker to choose his deity on his spiritual-path. This can create a spontaneous spirituality in the life of the seeker. Another aspect deserves admiration from the study of plurality of Hindu spirituality is breaking away from the orthodoxy of caste system. This was very clear in the spirituality which emphasized devotion and grace of God.
The fundamentals of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ are the realization that the reality is one; the one reality is responsible for the coming into being of the world; humanity is the citadel of God i.e. human beings are Divine; and, Soul is eternal but because of the ignorance of its original nature it suffers births and deaths (samsara): Divinity is the single chain of thought that unites these concepts and prompts spirituality.
The words spirit and spirituality have a same root. This is not the case with the words atman and sādhanā. The word closer to Indian idea of spirituality is sādhanā which means spiritual practice. The etymological meaning of the word spirituality does not reflect Divinity which is the fundamental aspect of Hindu Spirituality.
Most of the existing definitions of spirituality and Hindu Spirituality, tend to promote and individualistic character to spirituality. They have not heeded to the horizontal dimension of spirituality. The greater spiritual ideals present in Hinduism are not highlighted in the definitions and the day to day life of the majority Hindus. The chief concerns of a relevant spirituality should be all inclusive, concerned with life here in the world, dynamic and action oriented, and above all Human life.
The supreme goal of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is salvation or liberation of the soul from the world. It is the result of the basic assumption that soul is eternal. As to the status of the liberated soul there are three opinions – it enters heaven, it merges in Brahman and lives in the world in the world of gods. The greatest contribution of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ to the world is its concept of jivanmukti. This great ideal is not exposed adequately to the common mass.
There is no one single ‘Hindu Spirituality’ in Hinduism. The unique feature of Hindu Spirituality is its pluralistic character. This is expressed in the concepts adhikāra and ishta-devata. The varieties of spiritualities practiced by Hindus of all walks of life is the living solution to the present problem of religious pluralism. The major milestones of Hindu Spirituality deserves appreciation. At the same time adding few more necessary dimensions to ‘Hindu Spirituality’ will make it a relevant spirituality for India.
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 Ibid., p. 259.
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 Ibid., p. 215.
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 Ibid., p. 16.
 Ibid., p. 63.
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 Ibid., p. 63.
 S. Radhakrishnan, Op. Cit., p. 124.
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 Roma Chaudhuri, “The Nimbarka School of Vedanta”, The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol. III, p. 342.
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 Durga Das Basu, Op. Cit., p.119.
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 Swami Prabhavananda, Op. Cit., p. 109.
 Swami Suddhananda, “The Teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita”, The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol. II, p.164.
 Satis Chandra Chatterjee, Op. Cit., p. 243.
 Jan Peter Schouten, “Hinduism and Development Three Case Studies”, Religion and Society, Vol. XXVII, No. 2, (June 1981), p. 86.
 D. S. Sarma, “The Nature and History of Hinduism”, Kenneth Morgan edited, Op. Cit., p.5.
 Giorgio Bonazzoli, “Puranic Spirituality”, K. R. Sundararajan and Bithika Mukerji, edited, Op. Cit., p.166.
 Yakub Masih, Op. Cit., p. 35.
 Ibid., p. 75.
 Swami Prabhavananda, Op. Cit., p. 64.
 S. N. Dasgupta, “Classical Forms of Devotional Mysticism”, Hindu Mysticism, Republished, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., New York, 1959, p. 119.
 A. L. Basham, The Origins and Development of Classical Hinduism, ed. and annotated by Kenneth G. Zysk, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1992, p. 91.
 Ibid., p. 94.
 Giorgio Bonazzoli, Op. Cit., p.166.
 Ibid., p. 176.
 Swami Vikrant, Spirituality of the Bhagavata purana”, Jeevadhara, Vol. XIII, No. 78, (November 1983), p. 415.
 Sudhindra C. Chakravarti, “Bengal Vaisnavism”, K. R. Sundararajan and Bithika Mukerji edited, Op. Cit., p.53.
 Monier-Williams, Hinduism, Op. Cit., p.100.
 Gocindlal Hargovind Bhatt, “The School of Vallabha”, The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol. III, p. 354.
 Sudhindra C. Chakravari, “Bengal Vaisnavism”, K. R. Sundararajan and Bithika Mukerji edited, Op. Cit., p.49.
 Braj Sinha, “Mirabai: The Rebel Saint”, K. R. Sundararajan and Bithika Mukerji edited, Op. Cit., p.141.
 Satis Chandra Chatterjee, Op. Cit., p. 235.
 Gavin Flood, An Introduction to Hinduism, Op. Cit., p. 164.
 Satis Chandra Chatterjee, Op. Cit., p. 215.
 K. Guru Dutt, “Shakti Worship in India”, Religion and Society, Vol. XXII, No. 4, (December 1975), p. 51.
 Satis Chandra Chatterjee, Op. Cit., p. 215.
 Ibid., p. 212.
 Ibid., p. 241, 242.
 Harold G. Coward, “The Reflective word: Spirituality in the Grammarian Tradition of India”, Krishna Sivaraman edited, Op. Cit., p. 209.
 T. N. Ganapathy, “The Way of the Siddhas”, K. R. Sundararajan and Bithika Mukerji edited, Op. Cit., p. 239.