Acknowledging the importance of the religion and its growing influence globally, David Frawley has addressed the prime teachings of Hinduism, its role in India, its place in the information age and has compiled an exhaustive set of questions and answers dwelling on all the significant issues. This essential learning helps us understand our spiritual heritage as a species and the place of India among the greatest civilizations of the world-ancient and modern. Further, the book charts out how Hindus can overcome the challenges confronting them today and communicate their diverse tradition more effectively, making it an ideal book for the Hindu youth.
Honoured with the Padma Bhushan Award, the third highest civilian award of the Government of India, in 2015 Dr Frawley has a D.Litt from S-VYASA (Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana), Bengaluru, and another D.Litt from Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Avadh University, Uttar Pradesh. He is also the recipient of a National Eminence Award from the South Indian Educational Society (SIES), Mumbai.
Vamadeva, as he is popularly known, carries on the teachings of Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni, the chief disciple of Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi. He is a disciple of Sadguru Sivananda Murty of Andhra Pradesh and has been associated with many Hindu organizations including Swaminarayan BAPS, Chinmaya Mission, Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Sri Ramanashram and the magazine Hinduism Today. He is the director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies (www.vedanet.com Foreword
I still remember the occasion when I first came across Dr Frawley's book on Hinduism, now expanded in a new edition called What Is Hinduism: A Guide for the Global Mind.
It was 2004. I had just met my guru. Being a young seeker, my mind was full of queries related to culture, religion and spirituality. Like the majority of middle-class Hindus, my schooling was conducted in English. In India, this means looking at the world through the Western intellectual paradigm. Though it did broaden my understanding of the world through science, there was nothing in my education which encouraged me to explore the issues pertaining to my own culture and civilization.
One area of enquiry where my education left me with more questions than answers was religion. Sometimes, religion was portrayed as a harbinger of peace, love and freedom; as a force of harmony and cooperation. But more often, it was depicted as a force of violence and pure evil, which led to the greatest, bloodiest and cruelest wars that humanity has ever known.
If the portrayal of religion left me confused, the depiction of Hinduism left me even more perplexed. Where does it stand on this spectrum of good and evil? Does it have any place in the modern world of science and technology? Or, is it just like any other religion?
In Western intellectual discourse, Hinduism is often associated with a belief in something unseen, miraculous and supernatural; that it demands faith and scorns reason and rational logic. Hinduism is portrayed as steeped in stultifying ritualism and abstruse metaphysics. It is depicted as the most primitive form of religion. Hindus are often depicted as worshippers of ghosts, goblins and a whole array of supernatural creatures. Most commonly, Hinduism is identified with the caste system which is alleged to have institutionalised the worst form of slavery.
This was my frame of mind when my guru gifted me David Frawley's monumental work on Hinduism.
It was a life-changing experience for me. It threw my confused worldview into a tailspin, ultimately organizing it, sifting the wheat from the chaff. It cleansed me of many misconceptions and helped me gain a deeper and truer understanding of Hinduism. It was only later on that I realised that I was not alone in my quest. Millions of young Hindus had similarly been trying to understand Hinduism. For such seekers, Frawley's grand exposition on Hinduism has become a standard guide.
In Frawley's writings, Hinduism no longer remains a random collection of cults, ridden with primitive rituals and superstitions. It becomes an organic religion, unfolding and evolving in various branches on its own, without any external imposition or commandment.
Hinduism turns out not as a religion propagating a set of beliefs. Nor is it a matter of faith, demanding absolute surrender to an unquestioned dogma. Hinduism is a system of inquiry leading to the universal tradition of inner knowing. It is a quest for understanding the nature of things and how they really work. In fact, it seems to be closer to science than religion.
It became quite clear to me that the very term 'Hinduism' is a misnomer. It is no 'ism' or ideology. It is not a creation of the human mind. It is a complete way of life, rooted in cosmic intelligence, leading us all to live in harmony with nature and one's own Self. It is a search for the eternal and immutable truth which is beyond all thoughts, opinions and beliefs. More importantly, I realised that Hinduism can be better understood only from the perspective of Santana Dharma or dharma. The word `dharma' unfolded many layers of meaning and took me to the essence of Hinduism. The quest for understanding dharma is a quest to explore the most sublime aspect of our existence and life.
Unfortunately, this deeper understanding of Hinduism is not common, even among Hindus. It might look strange to outsiders, but a majority of Hindus find it hard to answer simple questions such as: What is Hinduism? What does it actually stand for? What is its core principles?
This, as Frawley states, brings us to a paradox.
On one hand, Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world with a literature larger than any other religion's. It has a glorious heritage of the most continuous, comprehensive and cumulative knowledge system in the world. It is the largest of the non-Abrahamic religions and the third largest religion after Christianity and Islam, with over a billion followers.
On the other hand, a majority of Hindus have lost the art of decoding their own spiritual tradition. They can explain a few aspects of Hinduism like Yoga or Ayurveda, but are unable to clearly articulate what Hinduism stands for.
Frawley resolves this paradox by tracing it back to its proper historical context. Prior to the advent of British rule, India had one of the finest education systems in the world. There was a decentralised network of institutions, consisting of schools in every nook and corner of the country. However, colonial education destroyed this traditional order and undermined the rights of Hindus to define themselves and their tradition.
Yet Hinduism is not just a local religion of India, its people or culture. Hinduism is the basis of the oldest and most diverse of the world's great religions, whose original name is Sanatana Dharma, 'the eternal tradition of Truth'. To understand it we must go back to its broader principles and adaptable practices, which can far exceed what most of the world regards as a religion today, being more akin to experiential spirituality than to any dogma or commandment.
Though born in the United States, I have been fortunate enough to connect to the Hindu tradition from its ancient Vedic roots to its many contemporary gurus. Over several decades, I have written extensively on important aspects of Hindu thought, including Yoga, Vedanta and Ayurveda, in a number of books and articles. This Hindu experience has compelled me to write on the underlying system that has provided the inspiration for my writings and my inner quest.
My examination of the world's spiritual and religious traditions, East and West, led me to Hindu-based teachings of Yoga and Vedanta that I found the most compelling, comprehensive and articulate. This culminated in an encounter with the universal view, Sanatana Dharma, behind these. As few people today-including a great majority of Hindus-understand the profound background of this complex tradition, I have tried to present it in a contemporary idiom, so that others might share in the discovery.
I am not writing about Hinduism from an academic perspective, which, however interesting, is a second-hand view that is often artificial in its presentation. The academic approach is not the view of the artist but the art critic. It is not the view of the practitioner in the field but the critic peering in the distance, often with a different agenda and his own biases. Hinduism, with its subtle and mysterious teachings, affords endless ground for academic investigation, but such an approach will not provide a first-hand understanding of this vast tradition that antedates by millennia the views according to which it is usually judged.
I am writing about Hinduism as someone who has become immersed in the Hindu tradition, discovering that tradition at the core of his own being, not as a novel identity but as a doorway to one's true Self. Many Hindus have requested me to write a book expressing their vast tradition to the contemporary mind, particularly for the sake of modern educated Hindus among whom it is fashionable to denigrate their own tradition without having really studied it, and for their children, particularly those in college, to help them appreciate their heritage in a society that has little understanding of it.
Fortunately, I have been able to meet people in India from all backgrounds, including swamis, yogis, traditional Brahmin priests, social activists and political leaders, Ayurvedic doctors, Vedic astrologers, musicians and modern Hindus of all types, including businessmen, writers and journalists, extending to the Marxists. India contains probably a greater diversity of points of view-spiritually, intellectually and politically-than any country in the world, as it contains all the views of the modern West along with those of its own ancient teachings extending back thousands of years. I have endeavored to study the Hindu tradition from its Vedic and Purina roots including the Vedas, Vedanta, Samkhya, Yoga and Tantra, examining original Sanskrit texts and having discussions with traditional teachers. In the process, I discovered that a tremendous gap exists between how the Hindu tradition formulates itself and how others view it. What people in the West think characterizes Hinduism is often inaccurate, prejudiced and contrary to its real teachings.
Inside the Tradition View
To address the many distortions about Hinduism, this book offers what could be best called an 'inside the tradition view', attempting to portray the higher side of Hinduism that has sustained it through the ages while many other religions have come and gone. The book attempts to reveal Hindu Dharma in its greater beauty, profundity and significance. Such an inside view naturally differs greatly from the usual 'outside the tradition view', which is all what most people have encountered in the accessible books on the subject.
Book's Contents and Sample Pages
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