Hinduism Basics

Tolerance and Pluralism: The Essence of Hinduism

Hinduism is the world’s oldest living religion. It is a rich collection of hundreds of spiritual and philosophical traditions followed throughout Asia for more than 5000 years. Most traditions within Hinduism share certain distinctive, core beliefs despite the absence of an identifiable beginning in history, single founder, central religious establishment or sole authoritative scripture. Two of these core beliefs are that of tolerance and pluralism. While tolerance and pluralism are valued by many religions, these concepts are the very essence of Hinduism and are expressed through the diversity of Hindu practice and centuries of peaceful coexistence of various faiths.

By accepting the divinity in all beings, Hinduism views the universe as a family or, in Sanskrit, vasudhaiva kutumbakam. All beings, from the smallest organism to man, are considered manifestations of God. Mankind carries a special responsibility, as it is believed to be the most spiritually evolved with the capacity to not only tolerate, but honor the underlying equality and unity of all beings. The popularly recited Hindu invocation demonstrates this concern for universal kinship:

Om sarve bhavantu sukhinah. Sarve santu niraamayaah.
Sarve bhadraani pashyantu. Maa kaschid dukhbhaag bhavet.

May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy.
May all beings experience prosperity. May none in the world suffer.

The concept of pluralism within Hinduism is, in essence, tolerance taken one step further. For all members of this universal family, Hinduism promotes not only tolerance and respect for differences in belief and religion, but also acknowledgement of the existence of more than one path to relating to Truth (God). This true, unadulterated pluralism is captured in the ancient Sanskrit hymn:

Ekam sat vipraha bahudha vadanti
Truth is one, the wise call it by many names.

Thus, Hinduism asserts that it is not only harmful, but inherently flawed to insist that one’s own path towards God is the only true and meaningful path. Based on this firm pluralistic belief, Hinduism has never sanctioned proselytization. Further, over their vast history, Hindus have never invaded another land in the name of religion. It is also clear that, for centuries in Southeast Asia, it has been this Hindu brand of absolute pluralism, which has provided the ideal environment for peaceful coexistence and prosperity for at least 8 major religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism among others.

 

Hinduism as an Inspiration for Innovation and Discovery:
Hindu Contributions from Antiquity

Contrary to popular perceptions that Hinduism is a mystical religion exclusively concerned with transcendental concepts of spiritual practice, Hinduism has been a wellspring for vast contributions to global civilization spanning more than five millennia. As a religious practice aspiring to understand the eternal mysteries of existence, Hinduism has never been a regressive or closed dogma satisfied with historicentric interpretations of one holy book. Indeed, Hindus have explored the mysteries of science, mathematics and astronomy to revel in the glory of Creation. Epochal advances in metallurgy, medicine, grammar, music and dance, among other disciplines, came from early practitioners of Hinduism and its scripture is replete with practical and esoteric observations. Some perennial contributions of Hinduism:

Education The first university in Takshashila in 700 B.C.E.
Mathematics The concept of zero (200 A.D.). The modern numerical and decimal system (300 B.C.E). The value of pi (?) (497 A.D.). Area of a triangle (476 A.D.). Quadratic Equation (991 A.D.). Trigonometry.
Astronomy Concept of planets in the solar system circling the sun (500 A.D.). Earth as round, rotating on axis and gravity as a force of attraction by the earth (500 A.D.). Concept of Time as 365 days in a year.
Metallurgy Steel, iron, gold discovered in archaeological excavations dating to 3000 B.C.E.

Medicine

Ayur Veda, a system of allopathic and holistic medicine and now a subject of rediscovery, originated 1000 B.C.E. Detailed text called the Charaka Samhita includes anatomy, physiology and various treatments using various plants, fruits and herbs.
Surgery The Sushruta Samhita (600 B.C.E.) is considered the first detailed text with seminal descriptions of surgical procedures and instruments that, with modifications, are conceptually used today.
Literature Sanskrit developed as the most ancient systematic language in the world. The Ramayan (before 3000 B.C.E) and the 100,000 verses Mahabharata (300 B.C.E.) are venerable epics that continue to inspire Hindus today.
Arts Highly sophisticated Indian classical music finds its origins in the Sama Veda, one of the four original Vedas. The four classical dance forms of India find their origins and inspirations in Hindu religious tradition.
Yoga and Meditation These are, perhaps, the most widely-recognized spiritual contributions of Hinduism to humanity. Hatha Yoga, the widely practiced system of cleansing exercises, is only one of the Yoga disciplines that encourage spiritual, physical and intellectual advancement. Meditation, a process that calms and focuses the psyche, is integral to yogic practice and recognized with yoga for its salutary effects on personal well-being.

As continuous invasions rocked the Indian subcontinent—from Alexander the Great and the heinous barbarisms of the Islamic conquests to the most recently repulsed British colonial rule—the last millennia saw the nadir of Hindu innovation. Yet the 20th and 21st century are marking a resurgence as Hindus in the diaspora, especially in the United States, strengthen their adopted lands with contributions in technology, medicine, engineering, fashion and the arts among many other disciplines.