Sanaatan Dharm And Hinduism - Questions & Comparisons

It was a discussion over Whatsapp that spawned a series of thoughts in my mind, given that the topic was: Hinduism… or as I like to call it – Sanaatan Dharm, which may well be the rightful name for our religion. The topic hinged around the concepts of our religion as it is given in the scriptures vis-à-vis as it is commonly understood. I normally prefer to keep silent on such matters, as they are matters of faith, and I refrain from forcing my beliefs on other people. There is, in fact, solid basis for this in our scriptures as well, as I have pointed out earlier.

Hinduism / Sanaatan Dharm

While the discussion was on a tangent that is not relevant to our hunt here – which is a hunt to understand Sanaatan Dharm, as I have documented earlier on my blog. To reiterate, I will use my blog as a tool to document my thoughts as I try to come to terms with my identity, my self in totality. This current article is the next in the series, and has been brought to my mind by two or three people who deserve a mention – my childhood friend Aparna, and my college senior, strongest critic, and strongest supporter – Amitabh D Sinha Sir. Without these two, I would very likely have not come to these thoughts, and these realizations. I must also mention Sandipanda – who inadvertantly guided me to the next point in my hunt, namely Swami Vivekanand.

Anyways, to come to the point : the discussion veered around to Hindutva, Hinduism and the concepts of Sanaatan Dharm; my confusion relates to correlating these, and my complete inability to see them as part of the same whole. How do you reconcile these – and a reconciliation is essential – for the perfectly simple reason that the society I live in does not recognize a difference between Sanaatan Dharm, and Hinduism. But my problem has always been that while the latter is around specific Gods, the former is amorphous in content; the latter is specific & vivid with clear imagery and identities you can relate to; while the latter is philosophical, intense and seemingly vague.

How can these two diametric opposites be part of the same, and indeed the identical same? That even lead me to exclaim in resignation :  “My Religion is not Hinduism - it is Sanaatan Dharm” to Amit Sir, Da and some others. I would like to claim that I don’t identify with Hinduism as it is understood in some minority niches, while I do identify completely with Sanaatan Dharm; but there is an issue in that proclamation, as we shall see later in further articles. That said, I do find some of the practices among the public & some beliefs to be beyond my comprehension. Thus, since I straddle both boats, Hinduism and Sanaatan Dharm, and given the centrality of Religion to a human personality, a reconciliation between these two diametric opposites becomes essential.

And it is in this reconciliation of these two extremes that I feel learnings can be hidden for my readers – just as by the mere act of penning these words in free-flow, I am also realizing through contemplation. On the one side, we have a specific, definable set of identities, imageries and figures that we relate to on a deep personal level – be it Sai Baba, Hanuman, Lord Ramchandra, Saraswati, Ma Durga, Bholenath, Shri Krushn {Krsna} etc. On the other hand we have the amorphous Parabrahm of the Upanishadic texts. While on the one hand we have Lord Ganesh, on the other we have the infinite wisdom of The Geeta.

I find myself relating to on a successively deeper level with each iteration of The Geeta that I read; with each iteration of the Upanishads I read; and now, with the writings of Swami Vivekanand. And yet, I feel an equal pull & attachment towards the specific identities given above, known to be Avatars of the Lord. These are the ones I have grown up with, these are the ones I have prayed to, and these are the ones I have sought solace in and thanked, as the occasion may be. They are as much a part of me as my Atma is, they are central to me and my very existence. And it is this which gives an incorrect impression to outsiders – that our religion is amorphous, has  many dieties, and so on.

The question then arises – why should I find it a question, and why cant I leave well enough alone? Why should I be concerned if my religion has two aspects – one specific and one seemingly amorphous? The source of my discomfort are many; viz – the ideological usage of our Gods & Avatars, the political intermingling, the rising need of cohesion in a section of my fellow-religionists, and so on. On a deeper, more personal level, my readings and my life experiences have lead me to ask some hard questions, which weren’t so easily answered by my then-existing belief systems.

One – the hunt for peace of mind. No amount of success, happiness, sadness or any emotion could give me  my peace of mind; even in a temple, I was full of thoughts – (nay, desires – as I now realise); the inability of existing prayer to enable me to de-stress; I was full of either desires & ambition, or fear. Going further, existing belief systems simply failed to answer basic questions – who am I? Where did I, we, this world come from? Why am I here? What is the purpose? The fear of death would always be paramount & everpresent, whenever it arose.

Out of all this arose a rising and absolutely stunning realization – this inability to answer & cope had nothing to do with my external situation. The more I introspected, the deeper the realization that my discomfiture had precisely nothing to do with  my personal ambition and needs. My rising discomfiture was due to the prevalent politicization of an intensely personal topic; it was due to my own unanswered internal questions & fears; it was due to my inability to understand how & why praying, or temples would exterminate the evil I had perpetrated – and many other similar questions and observations.

When I looked around, I spotted a pantheon of Gods; so who do I pray to? I feel no special connect with any over another God; and I cannot believe Lord Ganesh would mind if I pray to someone else, so long as I do it properly! So, who do I pray to? Is it wrong if I pray to only one? And so on and so forth. Not only  that, I also cannot fathom that if our Gods are Gods, what, then are the Gods of the other religions? The prevalent theology present simply failed to answer this. If my Gods made me, who then has made the Muslims, The Christians, The Parsis, The Sikhs? And if that is indeed so, that the one true God made us – what are the humans? And if they are praying to their Gods, aren’t their prayers being listened to? Don’t they believe? These and many many other questions came crashing into my mind with a gale force every so often. Questions to which I was not able to formulate any answer.

I am a man of science; I have studied evolution, and in depth. I have a hobby of Genetics, and once fancied an MSc – PhD in Genetics. I am aware of the theories of Astronomy as well – well aware. Nothing – not religion and certainly not science answered my question, my most basic question – who am I? Where did I come from? Where did this world & this Universe come from? Many other questions hurtled through my mind on a daily basis – why this poverty and inequality all around us? Every time I saw a poor person, my heart would stop, and I would cry, quite literally. Every time I saw a heated discussion over Religion, I would wonder how and why can someone fight or argue over that?

Putting all of these questions together into one coherent whole, – or incoherent whole, depends on your POV – took all of 4 – 5 years of thinking. This is as far as I have got, or rather had gotten, before a chance discussion with the 3 aforementioned people led to a series of thoughts, learnings and realisations. And while some people insisted on coherence among co-religionists, across religions,  this gave rise to further questions, as the breadth, scope of what was called Hinduism simple overwhelmed me. People said it was a way of life, a path; if that is so, what is that path? And how should I follow that path? Am I currently following that path? This question is what I tackle next, insofaras it pertains to me… do stay connected with my thoughts. If you have found this rambling & confusing, the reason is that it is both. My apologies for the same, as well as any hurt I may have caused, which was not intentional.