Research Paper on Hinduism - Analyze Ramakrishna’s saying “Insanity: My Religion Alone is True” in Light of Hindu Teachings

Research Paper on Hinduism
Analyze Ramakrishna’s saying “Insanity: My Religion Alone is True” in Light of Hindu Teachings

This statement suggests that Hinduism is a religion that refutes no other religion. We can go further and advance that Hindu teachings advocate the idea that everyone is Hindu. Thus, we might say that Hinduism is an inclusive religion. However, there exist elements within Hindu belief which suggest that not all religions would fit into Hinduism as the members of this religion might not identify themselves within Hindu religious framework. Therefore, Hinduism becomes an exclusive religion.

The early layers of Hinduism were exclusive in kind. Indeed, the Aryan population-first people according to history records who have been associated with this religion- had a fixed conception of our world and articulated it in the hymns their priests used to chant during the religious ritual of fire sacrifice. The books encompassing these hymns are called: Vedas, literally meaning Sacred Knowledge.

One can read in Vedas texts that our world has been created by Indra- the “Chief wise god who as soon as born surpassed the gods in power”. Indra is also credited for helping the Aryan population “overcome the non-Aryan population”. Indra was worshiped through a fire sacrifice: burnt offerings performed by priests (Novak, 1994, p.1-2). The sacrifice itself was ruled by another god: Agni who is described in the Vedas as the “ruler of sacrifices” (Rig-Veda I). Early Aryans holy texts also suggest the existence of a couple of other gods: soma- who inhabits a psychotropic beverage that both gods and morals can drink, and Varuna who is said to be the All-Knowing Guardian of the Cosmic Order (Novak, 1994, p.4-5).

According to the early Vedas texts, there were a multitude of gods each having specific characteristics and functions. However, as Novak (1994) explains: even though the “early Vedic religion was blatantly polytheistic, the notion of an underlying and all-encompassing metaphysical unity… made an occasional appearance.” Indeed we can read in Aryans’ holy literature about the existence of “that One” who “breathed windlessly and [was] self-sustaining. There was that One and there was no other “.

Here, the preeminence of their gods is put into doubt by the Aryans themselves, and it is substituted by the supremacy of that “One”. Nonetheless, if the Aryans advocate the idea that the “One” is superior to the series of gods, they do not assume that the “One” fashioned the world or that he knows how that occurred. The bottom line is that the Vedas texts advocate the idea of a “metaphysical unity” without describing it or openly stating its complete supremacy.

Another story suggests as well the idea of supremacy of one single divine being who is at the origin of the creation of our world and of the various casts in ancient Indian society: Perusha. Bockington (1981) explains that Perusha’s story is that of the “original sacrifice” of the “cosmic person”. The way Perusha is described suggests that “divine reality is greater than the world… but overall the emphasis is on the creative function of sacrifice and ritual” (p.29-30). Indeed, this story is a way to rationalize- if we can use such a term- the ritual of sacrifice. Actually, this “cosmic person” sacrificed its/her/himself to create Indra and Agni and other elements in the world we know such as the social classes of ancient India; consequently, it takes series of sacrifices to sustain the world.

Through this chronological account, we can draw the following conclusions: 1) early Hindu population used to believe in the existence of a multitude of gods, and this population’s relationship with its gods was regulated through sacrifices performed by priests. 2) These sacrifices were technically an exchange: the Hindu priests would accomplish them on behalf of Aryan people, and they would provide their gods with something- it can be soma drink for instance. This ritual was going hand in hand with an expectation. In other words, the gods would provide Aryans with something else in exchange. This is exactly what Brokington (1981) refers to when he states that the sacrifice was “originally an act of homage to the deities of the cult-consisting of a gift or oblation made in order to obtain certain benefits” (p.34). To illustrate further: in the Rig-Veda VII, the priests chant a hymn where they state “Agni preserve us from distress: Consume our enemies O God eternal”. 3) We also believe to have understood the existence of some hierarchy between the Gods: Indra is the most powerful while Varuna is characterized with some sort of immanence as “he knows the gods who dwell above… [while he] sits down among his people… to govern all” (Novak, 1994, p.2:5). 4) Last but not least: the idea of That One: the unique entity which existed while “there was no other” (p.6). That One’s supremacy is not completely assumed as the Aryans were not sure whether that One knew or did not know how and when creation took place. They do not know, for instance, if Perusha is the starting point of the universe of if he is himself preceded by something else: That One.

Finally, we advance that Hinduism used to be a profoundly polytheistic religion during its early ages with very well articulated beliefs, but it moved towards some form of monotheism and more abstract descriptions of the sacred. Nonetheless, the existence of the other gods is not refuted; thus, Hinduism can be understood either as a polytheistic or monotheistic religion. With this statement we would suggest that more than one religion can fit within this ‘framework’. However, the specific rituals, their philosophy, the end they pursue and the way they are performed make this religion, up to now, more exclusive than inclusive.

The Upanishads- another Hindu holy text literally meaning “sitting down near… as of pupils around their teacher” focuses mainly on the “that One”: “the underlying reality behind everything” (Brockington, 1981, p.41:43). Priests and rituals are not mentioned as much as it was the case in the first ages of Hindu “Sacred Knowledge”, and the focus is especially on the relationship between the mortal, its atman {“the permanent self or soul lying within” (p.43)} and Brahman-the Spirit. One can notice here, as Brockington (1981) put it that “Upanisadic thought clearly owes much to a tendency towards inwardness” while the Vedas were outward looking (p.43).

In Katha Upanishad, a mortal is having a conversation with Yama: the lord of death. Yama explains that each of us has in its heart the Atman. It is said not to “die when the body dies”, and to be “smaller than the smallest atom, greater than the vast spaces”. Human beings are to pursue the path towards Atman by abandoning “evil ways” to find the “glory of the Atman by the grace of the Creator”. We notice here that the texts mention the existence of “the Creator”- with a capital C (Katha Upanishad in Novak, 1995, p. 9:13)

The purpose at this stage of Hinduism is no longer to receive the gods’ help to defeat one’s enemies or anything of such a nature. Rather, the sole purpose, as described in Svetesvatara Upanishad is to release the soul from this cycle: “the soul is born and unfolds in a body, with dreams and desires… then it is reborn in new bodies, in accordance with its former works… but when a man knows God he is free from all bondage [he rather reaches] freedom in eternity” (Novak, 1994, p.19). This final release, as we have already stated it, comes when the person is “one with his Atman, his own spirit”. The Atman is described by Rosen (2006) as the “unchanging essence within a material body” (p.24).

Indeed the way to Atman is also the way to find the One single Creator. The texts suggest that finding it is the way for one to be released from the series of deaths and births- samsara- regulated by karma- “the law of action and reaction, that is causality… [by which] actions performed in this body determine the next body” (Rosen, 2006, p.24). The sole goal then of one’s life should be to reach moksha- stage of liberation from samsara and the stage at which one merges with the one and unique Brahman. To illustrate, we can read in Novak (1994): “who sees variety and not unity wanders from death to death”. Thus, as long as we do not understand “that One”, we are condemned to the cycle of reincarnation.

This idea is also advocated in the Bhagavad Gita- Hindu Holy text- Krishna (a deity associated with joy) states that “after attaining me, the great souls are never born again”. The purpose of religion then, according to Rosen (2006) is to “free one from material conditioning and from the life of illusion” (p.25).
The way to Brahman and to the release from samsara is to conduct all actions without any attachments. The Bghagavad Gita teaches us to act according to Karma Yoga. To illustrate: one should conduct every action without seeking the fruits of action, without any anxiety about results, and with no attachment. This is further explained in the following Hindu text: “when a man can act without desire, through practice of yoga, when his doubts are torn to shreds because he knows Brahman; when his heart is poised in the being of Atman no bonds can bind him”. Concentration and meditation are the ways for the person to find her/his own Atman, it is one’s way to Moksha and to the final release: one merges in eternity with Brahman.

Brahman’s characteristics is that he is the “Eternal among things that pass away … the Spirit that takes new forms in all things that live… the Spirit who transforms his own into many” (p.14). This description is so ‘non-exclusive’. I can advance this because I personally tested this description and found out that my own God can fit in it; this does not mean that I would work for everyone. Brahman can be a living being in nature-which would be its avatar- or one can keep the Brahman at the abstract level, and when one can see him-whatever it is- then one can reach peace and eternity and be released from the cycles of birth and death.

While reading through this essay, I noticed that I used the word “us” to refer to the teachings of the Bghagavad Gita. This is to say that I could identify myself in Hindu tradition especially the Upanishad texts. This is simply because that One is not confined in any fixed description, so I could see my own god in some many phrases. There is this one for instance: “from the Creator infinity of beings have life and to him return again” (Mundaka Upanishad in Novak, 1994, p.15). I could also interpret the release into peaceful and joyful eternity my own way; but I could not see how my own religions fits in the notion of samsara and its relationship with the caste system. This is to say, that every religion came up in a given society and should be studied in light of the structure of the society it first appeared in. For this reason, I do not believe that Hinduism is as inclusive as the most romantic interpretations would advocate for. Nonetheless, its description of THAT ONE leaves the room open for both “fat and thin gods” (Dr Carlos Jack, 2010). This is the relative universal aspect of this religion. This conclusion goes hand in hand with that of Rosen (2006) who advances that “Hinduism is widely known as a tolerant religion. This is not to say that it accepts all religious doctrines indiscriminately, but it is significantly… finding a place for almost any conception of spirituality. The many gods usually associated with the Hindu pantheon, are seen as various manifestations of the same God” (P.29).