(An edited version of this article was published in the August 2019 issue of Vedanta Kesari, the monthly magazine published from Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.)
The philosophy of Bhagavad Gita is the philosophy of the Veda, which is the philosophy of Hinduism. There are various divergent concepts thriving under the name of Hinduism. Hinduism welcomes the diversity. However, there some high level common salient concepts, about which almost all Hindu saints and leaders agree. Some of them are listed here. References to the relevant verses from the Gita are given in brackets.
- All creatures, including human beings seek happiness. If questioned under what conditions we want happiness, the answer is always, everywhere and unconditional. If unconditional happiness is possible, it should be here and now. The only reason we are not happy is because we are not availing the intrinsic happiness and fulfilment. Problems will be there in life. Even in the worst of situations, we always have the freedom to put up a brave, cheerful face and handle the problems head on. This emotional independence by which we can assert our happiness that is independent of people, objects and situations is the goal. This is called Moksha. (2.11, 2.55-2.57, 2.71)
- We are not able to avail the happiness because of wrong assumption about our identity. If we know and assert our real identity, we will be happy naturally, because that is our true nature. We need to go step by step from where we are. First, we need to get out of lethargy into activity. Second, we have to turn selfish activity into selfless activity. Third, we need to develop the capacity to be introvert. Finally, we need to find deep within ourselves our real nature. (5.7, 6.3, 6.10, 6.27, 4.33, 4.34, 18.20)
- Hinduism gives a philosophy, and a way of life based on the philosophy. Most of modern Hinduism is based on the Vedanta philosophy. Almost all of the saints and leaders of Hinduism in the past 5000 years agree upon some basic tenets of Vedanta. They are presented here. On this foundation, Hinduism allows people to have variations in the details and encourages diverse practices to suit different temperaments of people. Hinduism believes in the principle of Unity in Diversity. (4.1-4.3, 4.11, 7.21, 9.14, 9.15, 12.8-12.11)
- The individual, called jiva is the possessor of freewill. As freewill is “free” from matter, memories and emotions, the jiva is not a part or product or property of the body or mind. The jiva is an independent entity, who expresses and experiences through the body and mind. (15.7, 15.8, 15.9, 15.16, 2.12, 2.13, 2.22)
- The jiva is wholly responsible for all the situations faced in life. (6.5) The present situation faced by the jiva is the result of the past actions (physical, verbal and mental) of the jiva. The future situations that will be presented to the jiva will be the result of the past and present actions of the jiva. The jiva cannot escape the good and bad consequences of its actions, even by death. (6.41, 6.42, 16.18, 16.19, 16.20, 9.3, 13.22) This is called the Law of Karma.
- Isvara is the sum total of all that exists. (7.4, 7.5, 11.7, 11.13, 11.38) Isvara is that Supreme Being, to whom, the entire material Universe is the body, the sum total of the minds of all jivas is the mind and identifies with the whole of existence. So, Isvara is everywhere as everything. (11.5, 9.4, 13.14, 13.15, 13.16, 13.17)
- Devataas are the cosmic equivalents of the various faculties of an individual. For example, the sum total of the seeing faculty of all the jivas put together forms the seeing faculty of the Isvara, and is represented by the Surya devataa. Worship with a desire for specific worldly security and prosperity is done to the corresponding devataa. This kind of worship is inferior to worshiping the Isvara. (7.22, 7.23, 9.25)
- Isvara has created, or rather has become or appears as, the jagat (Universe) for the benefit of the jivas to express and experience, by which they will mature in wisdom, which is the purpose of the existence of the Universe. For this, Isvara creates, sustains and recycles the Universe. (9.17, 10.20, 13.17) The jivas continue to exist with all their past effects and impressions intact even on recycling of the Universe. (8.19)
- Isvara knows the innermost thoughts and intentions of every jiva. (10.20, 18.63) Isvara oversees the reward of every physical, verbal and mental action of every jiva in a fair and appropriate manner. (4.11, 9.19, 7.21, 7.22) This does not make Isvara judgmental because, Isvara is not different from the whole of existence. It is Isvara, as it were, that enjoys or suffers as the jiva itself. (13.15, 13.23, 9.24) Isvara is compassionate to every jiva. In fact, the jiva is not apart from Isvara. (7.7) It is just the Law of Nature that results in the reward, under the supervision of Isvara. Isvara wants every jiva to learn from the good and bad experiences encountered in life and grow in wisdom. (4.33) Even if the jiva has done a lot of bad deeds before, making a resolution to change for good and trying to be good henceforth is the most valuable decision, because the current intention is more important. (9.30,31)
- Isvara’s teachings are available in the form of the Vedas, which was revealed to rishis in the distant past. (4.1) Isvara teaches the jivas through various saints in all places and in all ages. (4.2, 4.3, 4.34) Isvara is accessible to any sincere jiva in any place in any age. (7.21, 4.10) Occasionally, Isvara comes in the midst of the jivas in the garb of another jiva (incarnation) to help and teach the jivas. Isvara has come innumerable times in the past and will come innumerable times in the future. (4.6, 4.7, 4.8) Any teaching of anyone in any age is acceptable as authentic if it does not contradict the Vedas. (13.25, 16.23, 16.24)
- By having a relationship with Isvara, which is based on faith, gratitude and love, the jivas can face the ups and downs of life with poise. The relationship will help them to be honest, compassionate, disciplined, unselfish, peaceful and happy even under extreme situations in life. With this equanimity and poise, the jivas will be able to learn from the various experiences, grow in wisdom and understand that they are not apart from Isvara. (12.13-12.20, 9.34, 12.6, 12.7) This relationship is called Bhakti.
- To develop the relationship with Isvara, puja (worship) is a very effective exercise. Isvara can be worshiped as without form or through any form. It depends on the temperament of the worshiper. (12.2, 12.3, 12.4) The worship can be physical, verbal or mental. As Isvara is everywhere, knows the innermost thoughts and is compassionate, all that is needed is love and sincerity. (9.26) Isvara will know even if the jiva calls by any name. Isvara can be worshiped as male or female or neither or beyond. Isvara can be worshiped through any aspect of Nature, any of the devataas or any form. (11.5) Different forms of mental worship are called upaasana (meditation). Hinduism has developed a detailed system of preparations and procedures of meditation that is suitable to people of different temperaments. (6.10-6.28) Usage of images and other representations of Isvara helps to concentrate the mind and form a personal emotional relationship with Isvara. Stories of incarnations, saints and devotees, stories of divine personalities which incorporate various aspects of Isvara, allegories that help meditation on various qualities of Isvara and various legends help forming a personal relationship with Isvara. Any form of worship invoking an all-pervading, all-knowing, all-powerful and compassionate entity is accepted as worship of Isvara. (7.21, 7.22)
- As Isvara is the whole of existence, anything that the jiva does is an offering to Isvara and any situation that the jiva faces in life is from Isvara only. Thus, every moment of life is an interaction with Isvara only. So, doing full justice to the current situation in which the jiva is placed by doing its duty as an offering to Isvara, is itself a form of worship of Isvara. (18.46, 9.27, 11.55) This is called Karma Yoga.
- At every level – physical, physiological, emotional, intellectual, sub-conscious and pure Consciousness – the individual (jiva) is not separate from the whole (Isvara). The individuality of the jiva is only an appearance and it is only for the sake of convenience of transaction. The individuality is not real. When the jiva understands fully and deeply that it is not apart from Isvara, the goal is reached. Freed from the cycle of desire, action and result, the jiva merges with Isvara and attains real peace. This goal is called moksha – freedom. (13.31, 13.32, 6.29, 6.30, 6.31, 2.71, 2.72)
The Hindu way of life is harmonious living with the world, people and other living beings in it, knowing the interconnectedness of everything, considering everything as divine. Hinduism encourages and celebrates diversity. All daily rituals, traditional customs, festivals, stories, legends, pilgrimages and art forms of Hindus are designed to imbibe these principles. Engaging with them knowing how they are connected to the principles given here will lead to a rich cultural, emotional, intellectual and fulfilling life. This is the Hindu Way of Life.