India: The Golden Bird
Her Spiritual Values and Scriptures
India is not just a place.
India is not just a people.
India is the celestial music,
And inside this music
Anybody from any corner of the globe
Can find the real significance of life.
– Sri Chinmoy.
India is the oldest civilization in the world. Spirituality seeps into every facet of Indian life and down through the ages, India has sent forth the message of peace, love and truth. India’s national flag with its tricolor of deep saffron, white and green clearly conveys India’s commitment and adherence to spiritual values. The color saffron on the flag stands for courage, sacrifice and the spirit of renunciation; the white for purity and truth; green for faith and aspiration. In the center of the white band on the flag, there is a wheel in navy blue to indicate the Dharma Chakra or the wheel of law.
For the last 4000 years despite invasions, persecution, European Colonialism and political upheaval, the spiritual and social structures that define India’s identity have remained intact.
On his return from the tour of the West Swami Vivekananda said:
“I loved my motherland dearly before I went to America and England. After my return, every particle of dust of this land seems sacred to me.”
The architect of independent India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel remarked:
“There is something unique about this soil, which despite many obstacles has always remained the abode of great souls”.
The word “Hindu” comes from the name of the river Indus, which flows 1800 miles from Tibet through Kashmir and Pakistan to the sea. Originally the word “Hindu” was the name that the ancient Persians used to apply to the river Sindhu. Whenever in Sanskrit there is an s in ancient Persian it changes into h, so that sindhu became Hindu. This word Hindu referred to people living on the other side of the river Indus, regardless of their faith. Gradually in course of time, Hindus started being identified as people practicing the faith “Hinduism”.
Historically, the Indus valley civilization (3000 BC to 1500BC) is considered the first civilization in India. This was followed by the Vedic period (1500BC to 500 BC). The Mauryan Empire is the first Indian empire. The Gupta, Pratihara, Pala, Chalukya, Chola, Pandya dynasties followed this. The Muslim period was established in the 9th century and was followed by the arrival of Europeans, mostly British in the 17th century. India attained independence on August 15, 1947.
In India, Hinduism is the oldest living spiritual tradition. Hinduism was originally referred to as Sanatana Dharma, which in Sanskrit means “Eternal Law”. Hinduism does not have a founder or creator. Most of its principals and scriptures were formulated over thousands of years by many different “seers” or rishis, as well as avatars, or incarnations of God. One of the most unique features of Hinduism is its ability to evolve and update itself to suite changing times and people. This has helped to sustain Hinduism for thousands of years through many difficult times. To quote the world famous words of Rig Veda:
“Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides.”
According to Hinduism there is only one, all-pervasive God or Supreme Being. God is both transcendent and immanent in all things and has unlimited names and forms. This Supreme Being is the fundamental reality and the purpose of human life is to realize this underlying reality. Sri Chinmoy states:
“The ancient Indian seers felt that religion, nay, dharma, must release man from that which binds him, i.e., his own ignorance. Man’s awakened consciousness must do away with ignorance, or to be precise, must transform ignorance into the knowledge of Truth.”
Infinite tolerance is the hallmark of Hinduism. Though worshiped in different ways in different religious and spiritual paths, there is only one God. As stated in the Rig Veda:
“Truth is one, the wise call it by various names.”
This tolerance of other people’s cultures, religions and views is one of the most beautiful aspects of Indian spirituality. Within the framework of this tolerant spirituality is a tremendous spiritual freedom that encourages and provokes Hindus to think, learn, explore and look inside themselves for the meaning of life. The Hindu philosopher puts more emphasis on intuitive insight coupled with reason. According to President S. Radhakrishna,
“In the history of the world, Hinduism is the religion, that exhibits a complete independence and freedom of the human mind, its full confidence in its own powers. Hinduism is freedom, especially the freedom in thinking about God. In the search for the supernatural, it is like traveling in space without boundary or barrier.”
Hindu Scriptures are broadly classified into Shruti, Smriti and Nyaya. The Sruti scriptures are of divine origin, whose truths were directly revealed to ancient rishis (sages) in their deep meditations. Smriti refers to what was written down and remembered. The Smriti scriptures are of human origin and were written to explain the Sruti writings and make them understandable to the common man. Nyaya means logic. The four Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita constitute the shruti. The Itihaasa-s (epics), Puraana-s (moral stories), and Angamas (emanated scriptures) are known as smriti. The Vedanta-sutras (Vedanta aphorisms) are classified as Nyaya.
The Vedas are the most authoritative texts in the Sanatana Dharma. The word Veda literally means “knowledge”. In ancient times the Vedas were passed on from generation to generation orally, because the sages believed that the eternal truths of the Vedas could be contaminated, manipulated, or erased if they were ever written down. In all there are four Vedas: Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva. The Upanishads also called as the Vedanta, are the philosophical parts of the Vedas and are found at the end of the Vedas. They expound on the spiritual essence of the Vedas.
The Smritis have lesser authority than the Shrutis. There are many smriti scriptures. The most popular among these are the Manu Smriti, the Ithaasas and the 18 Puranas written by sage Vyasa. The Ithaasas comprises of the two epics: Ramayana and Mahabharata. These two epics are by far most popular among the Hindus. Ramayana was written by Valmiki while Mahabharata was written by Sage Vyasa. The Bhagavad-Gita is the crest- jewel of Hindu philosophy and is found in the Mahabharata. In the Puranas are recorded the ancient Hindu history as well as a collection of fables and stories with moral, ethical and spiritual lessons.
There are six philosophical schools of Sanatana Dharma broadly classified as the Darshanas. These six schools of philosophical thought are: Jaimini’s Purva Mimanasa, Patanjali’s yoga, Gautama’s Nyaya, Kanada’s Vaisheshika, Vyasa’s Uttar Mimansa, and Kapila’s Sankhya.
India’s Offering to Humanity
The greatest offering of India to humanity has been the continuity of the line of her spiritual seekers and spiritual Masters. They are men who have a burning desire for truth, the courage to explore the unknown and have declared to the world the reality of spiritual values. It is because of these men that India in spite of the threatening darkness of the centuries, has held on to the ideals of the spirit – the love of God and the service of humanity, has shared with the world the message of universal peace and has always worked towards the unity of mankind.
“Today’s India is poverty-stricken. But tomorrow’s India will be prosperous. She will be a mighty wave of hope and faith. Her very thought will be stirred with a new vision. Infinite will be the possibilities on her horizon. Her sacrifice will build a more durable foundation for mankind. She will continue within herself nationalism and internationalism, becoming the true symbol of spirituality in action.
India, with her spiritual power, will wield a tremendous influence on the future generations. This is no imagination, but vision in operation.”
– Sri Chinmoy