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What does it mean to be a Hindu?  What are the different aspects of Hinduism?  How is it different from other religions? These are the questions that are answered in this book. It is the reason the book is subtitled: “The Hinduism Primer.” One of the author’s major points is that Hinduism is the pursuit of truth above all else. It is a quest to live the truth, to realize the truth and to leave illusion behind.

The Scope of Hinduism

This book is for those readers who have very little or no background in Hinduism.  The author declares that Hinduism “is not a religion, but a way of life……Hinduism is more a culture than a religion.”

Viswanathan gives a comprehensive chronicle of this faith. He explains how it ranges from the celebration of Kumbha Mela and other religious festivals to the practice of pranayama, kriya, yoga and transcendental meditation. He writes about how it is an all-embracing religion allowing for the worship of many gods and goddesses yet there is still the underlying belief in the one God.  Hinduism even tolerates and envelopes the concept of atheism as another point of view. It encompasses the concept of Maya (the world is an illusion) and at the same time includes an instruction on how to live a dharmic life.

This is a book that clearly details the unique qualities of Hinduism while enabling the reader to appreciate its nuances and values.  The author goes on to say that it is a way of life not based on the principle of telling the person what not to do, but rather its focus is on an explanation of all aspects of the Cosmos – from understanding what worship is, to understanding the facets, and scientific underpinnings of architecture, temple construction, music, mathematics, astrology, astronomy, engineering and more. This information, Viswanathan says, is contained in the ancient scriptures called the Vedas (Vedas itself means knowledge).

The Treasures of Hinduism

The author explains that Hinduism is the research output of many learned men known as rishis. The rishis heard eternal truths during meditation and transmitted those truths telepathically to their disciples. These truths eventually were written down and became the Vedas.

As the rishis worked on different riddles of the universe, they presented varied perspectives on how to envision and comprehend the infinite. Hinduism includes the supposition that every being is a center and focal point of creation.  In addition, the human being is the microcosm of the universe as macrocosm.  They both reflect each other.  The God-realized being, sees the ‘I’ as the universe and the universe as “I”. Ramana Maharshi reflected this message because he expressed that the search for the real ‘I” was and is the greatest goal in life for each person on this earth.

Scriptures Mentioned

The Rig Veda

One of the many revelations of Hinduism comes from the Rig Veda, the first sacred text that was downloaded by the rishis.  It was wise of the author to pick this particular section in the Creation Hymn because it reminds the reader of the preciousness of existence and its underlying mystery.

Creation Hymn: Rig Veda X,129,6-7

After all, who knows and who can say

From whence it all came, and how creation takes place?

The Gods (powers of nature) themselves came after the creation

So who knows truly when it happened?

The Upanishads:The Brihad-Aranyaka

The Brihad-Aranyaka is one of the Upanishads.  The Upanishad were teachings that were given by the Guru.  The disciple sat very close so that not only was it very intimate, but nobody else could overhear.

Viswanathan is, also very astute in quoting the great sage Yagnavalkya in the Brihad-Aranyaka.  Because in this quote, lies the quandary that makes for the seeker in us; it is that which spurs many of us on the path:

“You cannot see the seer of all things: you cannot hear the hearer of all things: you cannot think the thinker of all things: you cannot understand the knower of all things.  That which is beyond all comprehension is the self within you.”

The Bhagavad Gita

According to the author, the Bhagavad Gita is equivalent to the Bible in importance to the Hindu worshipper. It is also the summation of the Upanishads (Sacred Hindu treatises).  It deals with all the Yogas or ways of God-realization.  The Gita addresses many of the problems that a person may face in life.  It never tells a person what to do.  It gives the advantages and disadvantages of every conflict, but the decision of how to deal with the conflict is ultimately left to each individual.

Other Concepts Alluded To

Reincarnation

If there is one major tenet of Hinduism that all Hindus share, it is the belief in life after death. The body dies, but the soul goes on life after life.  The past actions of the soul are carried into the next life. This determines the path that will be taken by the incarnated soul.

Maya

Another main tenet of Hinduism is that the world is Maya.  This world is illusion because it is in constant flux: what is seen in the moment, is never seen again,  because within every second existence becomes something else.  We are actually caught in the paradigm of time. The truth is that reality is beyond  time.  We live in illusion because we are limited in how we perceive by our five senses.  As we are bound by our senses we can never get a glimpse of what  reality really is.

Conclusion

Viswanathan brings the reader an introduction to another way of life that most westerners do not often get exposure to.   The information shared in this review is an indication of the broad spectrum that he covers.  His book is a taste, a dip into a religion that is awe inspiring in its complexity and humbling in its expression of elemental truths.

Footnotes

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