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This article is from the book "The Eternal Religion".
Introduction to the Eternal Religion
Sri Swami Venkatesananda
History and to some extent science suffer from paranoia. They belittle all that comes within their grasp and deny that which is beyond. The ideas and the ideals of the East were contemptuously labelled primitive, pagan, heathen and foolishly unsound and superstitious till a few years ago. Many were the self-appointed redeemers of the lost soul of the East! Till a few great men whose soul was awake realised a marvellous truth.
The sun rises in the East. For the light, people turn to the East. And "the three wise men came from the East", too. The religions of the world had their origin in the East. Whilst the earthly power of the West might for a time challenge, ridicule and oppress the overwhelming spiritual wisdom of the East, eventually the latter not only survives but conquers its own oppressor, for this wisdom uses not weapons but love to win the opponent over.
The flesh decays. Weapons rust. Wealth is reduced to dust. Empires crumble. The life-and-death struggles of heroes are dismissed with a few brief sentences in a history book. The earth’s crust has borne with equal indifference the stamping foot of the tyrant and the dancing feet of the jubilant, and has opened a small pore to receive both.
This drama is necessary, very much so. Without it, the spirit that lies asleep in the human breast would not awake, but it is that spirit that ultimately endures. The East proves it again and again.
When crowns rolled in the dust of Europe, and when Western pre-Christian civilisation and religious faith were consigned to oblivion, the East was awake, and she is still awake. Today wise men of the West recognise that matter decays and spirit endures. They see in the Spirit the purpose and meaning of Life. More and more of the scientists and philosophers of the world openly admit that the present fashion of exalting material values over the spiritual is disastrous.
When they see that through all the vicissitudes of political upheaval, natural and national calamities, changing physical and mental climates, the Indian spirit has managed to survive, they legitimately pose the question: "What is her secret?" The answer is simple "Religion".
Religion does not "belong" to India. The fundamental scriptures of the Indian pray for the welfare of all beings, repeatedly assert that they are for the Human Being. "Hindu" is a foreigner-conferred title; and if Indians use it still, it is only because—"What’s in a name, anyway!" In fact, the Hindu does not recognise the multiplicity of religion.
The spirit of religion is fundamental to the soul of Man. You may stick any label on it or call yourself a "free thinker"—it is the spirit that is important. The truly religious Indian clung to that spirit. When he was questioned by others, he confessed that his was an "ancient or eternal religion" (Sanatana Dharma). Sanatana Dharma also meant to him the path which led him to the Eternal, which immortalised him or revealed to him his own essential immortal nature (all of which were implied by the word sanatana).
Without sacrificing this spirit, the Indian was ever ready to adapt its formulations to suit changing conditions. He has never yielded without resistance! The resistance he offers is like a filter which allows only Truth to pass through. In the preservation of the religious spirit, the Indian often resorts to internal spring-cleaning tactics, generating curative fevers within his own body spiritual.
When Lord Buddha challenged some of the beliefs of the people of His time, the first reaction of the orthodox was to cast Him and His followers out as heretic. On closer examination, when they discovered that His philosophy represented and re-presented that Eternal Truth, they eagerly accepted it, readjusted their thinking, and proclaimed Lord Buddha as one of the manifestations or incarnations of their Deity! No doubt they realised that His teachings were the same as their own fundamental beliefs which had with the passage of time been overgrown with a good deal of the moss of perversion and superstition. This they were glad to discard.
Thus has the spirit of religion been preserved in India. Over the centuries an unwritten code of conduct, of behaviour and of idealism has been developed to connote a "Hindu". The religion is not governed by a rigid set of dogmas and doctrines; and if, here and there, a pseudo-religious leader lays some down, he is only proving that Hinduism is not even tied down to the "dogma of no-dogmas". It gives Man, every man, the freedom to seek the Reality and to share it with all. It recognises that God alone exists; He is One, but not even restricted to Oneness and so He can be called variously! He is the Centre of all beings, as near to the most pious Hindu saint as he is to the devout Christian or Muslim, equally near to the atheist and to the sinner! Its legends dramatise this enigmatic truth by tales of demons who hated God but reached Him because this hatred was wholehearted and therefore bound them to Him (which the word religion means).
That perhaps is the secret of its vitality and the fountain of its eternal youth. This Ancient Religion is ever new, rediscovering itself in every new revelation of the Truth, be it philosophical or scientific. Hence, it is eternal. It is concerned primarily with Truth, though it does not turn a blind eye on other aspects of life which might involve half-truths and falsehood. Truth it clings to; it is ever ready to adapt itself of changing conditions.
I have endeavoured to garner the main stream of thought perennially gushing from this eternal fountainhead of Religion. The theory that the tenets of this ancient religion are the common denominators of all the "religions" of the world is gaining ground and more and more people are convinced that the original broadcasters of this religion lived in the Arctic circle and migrated southwards, sowing the seeds of Truth as they went. There is a great mass of scientific literature in support of this, but to me whether all these data are valid or not, the spirit underlying them is invaluable. Religion (ligature) must unite; that is what the word means. That which disunites is not ligature, but fracture!
Last Updated: Monday, 21-Nov-2005 03:34:45 EST
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