Principles and Practice of Hindu Religion — a Hindu Heritage Study Program prepared by Dr. Bala N. Aiyer is a step in the right direction. It is a comprehensive study of the Ancient Tradition and the Perennial Philosophy and is a sincere and dedicated effort to the Hindu Community properly informed of the unique heritage to which it belongs. Living in various parts of the world the Hindus sometimes are oblivious of their own great treasures of Ancient Vedic Philosophy and Religious Practice known as Sanatana Dharma,
Treating the Hindus of various parts of the world in foreign lands of alien faiths as an extended joint family, the compiler has set before him a clear but unique role of ‘educating the children of our faith’. His mission is to ‘provide some basic information in the materialistic surroundings of the West’. It is a genuine attempt to create a ‘common understanding of the faith’.
The book is divided in eight chapters. It deals extensively but clearly the intricate subject of Hinduism, essentials of Hindu tradition, its historical evolution, the scriptures and sacred works, its principles and philosophy and applied form of rituals, prayers, practice and problems. A selection of verses from Srimad Bhagvad Gita, selected Slokas from Vedas and some famous Mantras from Upanisads, etc. are provided in one section.
The author, compiler has plans to release an audio version of these Slokas and Mantras. This shall provide an authentic version of the pronunciation and hence shall be of immense utility for individual and social spiritual upliftment. His plans to have its publication in the form of a C.D. ROM with sound for computers and also to publish this material on the Internet Web Pages will provide a large audience throughout the world. This indicates and proves the inherent dedication and sincerity of such an effort.
The Epilogue portion of this volume has raised and tried to analyze and answer some very relevant problems facing the modern man. These include the ‘Law of Karma’ and rebirth; classes and divisions in Hindu Society; spreading the Faith through force; influence of Western faith on Hindu society; materialism, ignorance and renaissance and various related topics. The author has tried to inspire the reader to inquire and get the reply from within on the basis of the study material provided in this book. In short, this is a praiseworthy effort to inculcate the devotional and spiritual outlook for those who want to venture in this direction.
However, there is a vast religious and spiritual literature in almost all the Indian languages. The philosophy and Bhakti of, say, Nayanmars and Alwars, Marathi, Telugu or Hindi saints is in reality the example of the cultural development of India and the Sanathana Dharma has been kept alive all through these ages by these Saints and Poets of Indian languages. Taking the basis of Vedas and scriptures is no doubt a necessary dimension but these saints and poets are the torch bearers of our culture.
Your book Principles and Practice of Hindu Religion is a treasure to be preserved in one’s library. Of the Indians residing abroad, normally it is said, being away from one’s own motherland and not being in regular touch with its tradition and cultural values, they would find it hard to accredit themselves with the finer values of Hinduism. However, after my several visits abroad, my own personal experience is that the overseas Hindus take such care and pain in the pursuit of understanding the cardinal principles of Hinduism and practise it, nay, also preach it to our brethren in large number. The young and the old, despite their tight schedule and long hours of work from Monday through Friday, still find some time to think of the Almighty in the early mornings before embarking on their schedule. What is more interesting is that during the week-ends, Saturdays and Sundays, the Hindus do not merely look forward to picnics and carnivals, but to more important congregation of the community as a whole in places of religious worship.
The various temples in United States attract such large gatherings that one is really amazed at the turn-out; the volunteers assisting the devotees are drawn from men and women of high positions who wish to do real selfless work and in so doing they really enjoy the same.
I learn that the Hindu Temple Society of North America in Flushing, New York as well as Sri Meenakshi Temple in Houston, Texas and Sri Venkateswara Temple in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania have recently put up Kalyana Mandapams, with all amenities attached to it, at a cost over one to five million US dollars each. The New York Temple in Flushing is nearing its Silver Jubilee now and the other two Temples are nearly 15 to 20 years old. I am pleased to note that there are one or two Hindu temples in every major city in USA and Canada including Chicago, Washington, Boston, Los Angeles and Toranto. The priests in almost all these temples in the United States and Canada are the ones from India, well qualified in their professional pursuits, also English speaking and doing wonderful job of propagating the Sanatana Dharma and the cardinal principles of Hinduism.
In the context of the above, your book, Principles and Practice of Hindu Religion is such a welcome addition enriching one’s knowledge in deeper measures. What pleases me most is that a medical professional of your high calibre could yet find so much time to author the book and it only shows your fathomless interest in propagating all the virtues and virtuous things enshrining Sanatana Dharma.
While I wish the volume all the success, I consider it indeed a privilege that the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan celebrating its Diamond Jubilee year will involve itself in the publication.
Hindu Religion and its Practices are guided by the teachings of the Vedas, Sastras and Agamas. It is given to us in various forms of informative writings by hundreds of great authors, saints, gurus, philosophers and teachers from ancient times to modern days. The cultural practice and interpretation of the faith varied from place to place, at different times and among families following different gurus, teachers and different schools of the faith. However, the essence of the faith and the basic teaching remained the same and common to every Hindu. The teachings of Hinduism have been questioned, analyzed and studied by many generations of the followers and the culture has been modified by several renaissance movements of their own and upon the onslaught of many reformers and alien faiths. Many “sectional” groups and followers of ‘Gurus’ of different teachings and schools and few sub-religions were formed in the later periods. Somehow the faith and the culture have been well maintained from ancient times with adherence to the faith as it developed through the ages.
The core of the Hindu faith and culture has always been based on:
1. Acceptance of belief in One God in many forms as desired by the devotee,
2. Acceptance of Karma and Rebirth of the Soul until the ultimate salvation,
3. Acceptance of Varna-Asrama Dharma, which are the varying rules of life for people of various age groups and various vocations of life as it occurred according to one’s inherent ability and ambition [though this was grossly misinterpreted in the later ages as the caste system] and most importantly.
4. The traditions of the “Undivided Hindu Joint-family.” Traditionally, the religious teachings and Hindu culture were learnt by the children from their grandparents and other elders in the Joint-family and passed on to the next generations.
Even though each generation tries to label the younger generation as not following the faith properly, except for the reforms and new teachings that developed, the basic faith remained the same. Since ancient times, the youth in the Hindu community often remained defiant and reactionary to their parents, questioning their faith and customs. As they grew older to the late twenties, they started following the teachings. Some of them in their forties and fifties studied the faith very much, until they became fanatically very religious. So, the faith has remained strong in every generation for thousands of years.
As the community has moved from place to place in this century and as many of us are settled in the “foreign” lands of alien faiths, the joint family system has been broken. The youths in the new lands have been exposed to various other cultural and religious traditions. All these other traditions should be considered as various paths to the same goal, like different roads in a city to the same place. Some are shorter, some run along scenic routes, some well lit, some are fast lanes in freeways, some are dangerous and some are safer. They can not be compared as one superior to the other: Each one will have to take the road that is best suited for him/her. We are happy with what we have chosen. Family unity and traditions now become important. All of us in the Hindu community shall be the core of the “Extended Joint-family.” It has become our solemn duty and responsibility to maintain and preserve this culture and faith by teaching our children as a group in our Temples. Thus the Hindu Temples in this country and all over the world will have to perform some unique role of educating the children on our faith.
This publication is prepared as a service to our Hindu community around the world to keep them in touch with the great treasures of our Ancient Vedic Philosophy and the Religious Practice known to all of us as “San Jnana Dharma” or Hindu Religion. It will also serve as a simple book for our children growing up around alien faiths and in the materialistic surroundings in schools and also for our Non-Hindu friends to create an understanding about our faith and practice. There are several good books available now in English language on Hinduism. An attempt has been made to collect some of these ideas to create a common understanding of the faith for the benefit of our children, for our youth and also for adult readers. I have listed a set of good books in English which I have used as reference that has helped me in the preparation of these articles. Please try to obtain the books listed in the Bibliography and reference pages for more information and for a more detailed study. Just as the history of Hinduism as told by one author is different from another school, the philosophy explained in one book with the words of one author may not be similar to the teachings by others, though they are all explaining the same Truth, based on Vedas.
Every effort is made to bring all the different views into one set of common understanding, accepting all their thoughts while fully complementing each other. If any opinion expressed is not according to your belief, please bear with us and consider this as a possible alternate thought expressed by another school. It is prepared as a set of articles prepared in 108 lessons based on the notes taken from these books. These texts were prepared mainly for the benefit of our youth and the parents to understand the basic principles of the faith and the history from a religious point of view as well as from a non-theological and secular point. This will help even a person who has doubts and questions on the faith, to study, reason out and understand the teachings of our Vedic Hindu Religion. Every one is encouraged to read not more than one or two lessons in a day so as to get the full benefit of understanding the topics covered. It some of our youngsters, and their parents are able to benefit by this study and get an interest in Hindu Religion, the purpose of this work is complete.
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