Why Hinduism isn't an "ism" but a Way of Life
Yogi and mystic Sadhguru explains the origin of the word "Hindu" and looks at why there is actually no such thing as Hinduism. Being Hindu is a way of life, not a religion.
Sadhguru: The term and concept of Hinduism was coined only in recent times. Otherwise, there was really no such thing. The word "Hindu" essentially comes from the word Sindhu. Anyone who is born in the land of Sindhu is a Hindu. It is a cultural and geographic identity. It is like saying “I am an Indian” but it is a more ancient identity than being an Indian. “Indian” is only about seventy years old, but this is an identity that we have always lived with.
Being a Hindu does not mean having a particular belief system. Basically, the whole culture was oriented towards realizing one’s full potential. Whatever you did in this culture was Hindu. There is no particular god or ideology that you can call as the Hindu way of life. You can be a Hindu irrespective of whether you worship a man-god or a woman-god, whether you worship a cow or a tree. If you don't worship anything you can still be a Hindu.
It is only recently and due to external influences that this geographical and cultural identity has attempted to transform itself into a religious identity called Hinduism. Hindu was never an “ism”, and the attempt to organize it as a religion is still not successful because the Hindu way of life which is referred to as Sanatana Dharma or universal law is all-inclusive in nature and does not exclude anything. The Hindu way of life is not an organized belief system but a science of salvation.
The science of salvation
The conflicts in the world have always been projected as good versus bad, but really, the conflict is always one man’s belief versus another man’s belief. In the past, religion was far more important to people than it is now, but still there were no theocratic states in this culture; the ruler had his religion and the subjects had the freedom to follow theirs. There was no conflict because people did not look at religion as an organized process.
Everywhere in the world, whenever anyone spoke anything other than the existing organized religion of that time, the first thing that the people said was, “Kill.” In Europe, thousands of women were burnt at the stake simply because they showed other kinds of possibilities and capabilities that were not logically understood by people. So they were labeled as witches and burnt. Persecution has always been the thing. Some of the famous ones that you know who were persecuted were Jesus, Mansoor and Socrates. They were persecuted simply because they showed other kinds of capabilities which were not considered normal.
So, wherever spirituality happened in the West, it always happened in secrecy. It always was individual or in small groups, never as a society. But in this culture, there has never been anything called persecution for spiritual people. At the most, they called you for debates and asked you questions. Because the pursuit is truth, so people sat down and argued whether what they knew was true or what the other person knew was true. If his truth was more powerful than yours, you become a part of him. If your truth was more powerful than theirs, they would become a part of you. It is a very different kind of search. People were searching to know. They were not just believing and trying to prove that their belief was right.
There is no belief system to the Hindu way of life. Someone believes in God, someone else can choose not to believe in God. Everybody can have their own way of worship and way to salvation. If there are five people in your family, each one can worship the God of their choice, or not worship anything, and still be a good Hindu. So you are a Hindu irrespective of what you believe or don't believe.
At the same time, there was a common line running through all these. In this culture, the only goal in human life is liberation or mukti. Liberation from the very process of life, from everything that you know as limitations and to go beyond that. God is not held as the ultimate thing, God is seen as one of the stepping stones. This is a Godless but a devout nation in the sense that there is no concretized idea of God. When I say Godless, we need to understand that this is the only culture that has given humans the freedom not just to make a choice of Gods, but to create the sort of God that you can relate to. You can worship a rock, a cow, your mother – you can worship whatever you feel like – because this is a culture where we have always known that God is our making. Everywhere else people believe “God created us.” Here we know we created god so we take total freedom to create whatever kind of god we can relate to. People worshiped whatever aspect of life they related to most, and that was perfectly fine.
A Godless nation
In the East, spirituality and religion were never an organized process. Organization was only to the extent of making spirituality available to everyone – not for conquest. Essentially, religion is about you, it is not about God. Religion is about your liberation. God is just one more stepping stone that you can use or skip towards your ultimate liberation. This culture recognizes human wellbeing and freedom as of paramount importance versus the prominence of God, and hence the whole technology of god-making evolved into the science of consecrating various types of energy forms and spaces.
The essential purpose of God is to create reverence in a person. What you are reverential towards is not important. Being reverential is what is important. If you make reverence the quality of your life, then you become far more receptive to life. Life will happen to you in bigger ways. There is so much misunderstanding about these things because there is a certain dialectical ethos to the culture where we want to express everything in a story or in a song. But in a way, this whole culture referred to as Hindu is rooted in the spiritual ethos of each individual working toward ultimate liberation as the fundamental goal in life.
If you explore mysticism in India, it is absolutely incredible and this has been possible because it does not come from a belief system. It happens as a scientific means to explore dimensions beyond the physical.
India is not a study, but a phenomenon of possibilities, though a cauldron of multiple cultural, ethnic, religious and linguistic soup. It is all held together by a single thread of seeking. The tremendous longing has been nurtured into the peoples of the land, the longing to be free. Free from the very process of life and death. India cannot be studied, at the least one must soak it in, or at best must dissolve. This is the only way. It cannot be studied, western analysis of India is too off the mark, as symptomatic analysis of Bharat will only lead to very grossly misunderstood conclusions of a nation that revels and thrives in a chaos that is organic and exuberant.
This most ancient of nations upon this earth is not built upon a set of principles or beliefs or ambitions of its citizenry. It is a nation of seekers, seeking not wealth or wellbeing, but liberation, not of economic or political kind, but the ultimate liberation.
When Adiyogi was asked how many ways to enlightenment, he said only 112 if you are within the realm of your physical system, but if you transcend the physical, then every atom in the universe is a doorway. “Bharat”, as the nation has been known for many millennia, is a complex amalgamation of this variety of spiritual possibilities. If you happen to be at the Maha Kumbh, there was quite a display of this. The best compliment came from none other than Mark Twain, after his visit to India, he said, “So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.”
One must not forget that the basis of seeking is that One has realized that One does not know. One does not know the nature of One’s being. Instead of settling for a culturally convenient belief, for a whole populace to have the courage and commitment to seek the truth about themselves. This the basis of this nation that is called Bharata. Bha meaning sensation, that is the basis of all experience and expression; Ra meaning Raga, the tune and texture of life; Ta meaning Tala, the rhythms of life, which involve both rhythms of the human system and nature.
To preserve, protect and nurture the fundamental ethos of Bharat, the legacy of wisdom and unbridled exploration of life is a true gift to the Humanity as a whole. As a generation, this is an important responsibility that we should fulfill. Let not the limitless possibilities that the sages of this land explored and expounded be lost in religious bigotry and senseless simplistic dogmas.
An ancient land
Where Man learned to excel
Without having to propel
himself away from the
Principles that maketh
life process and the universe
A land where man was not
eager to do his own will
but to fulfill the will of the divine
He grew in knowing and learning
to enhance himself into an
exuberance of intelligence and emotion
Enshrined the carnal and the divine
Delved deep into the innards
of creation, deciphered the primordial
mastered the melody and the math
of music of sound and all its
manifestations. Above all
found the doors of freedom
Assured of final freedom
Came to an ease and beauty
Where life was not burden but
a Bounty. A copious production
of effulgent and gentle beings
occurred. Masculine and feminine
found their fulfillment and
went Beyond. An ideal prey
for the brutal forces from
Editor’s Note: “Bha-ra-ta: The Rhythm of a Nation” includes more of Sadhguru’s insights on Bharat, its past, present and future, and the profundity of its culture. The ebook is available on a "Pay As You Wish" basis. (Click "Claim for Free" if you want it gratis).