The Mother Divine
Change Font Size 
(Originally appeared under the title “Hinduism of Today”)
By M.K. Gandhi
Sri Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath

A correspondent styling himself “Sanatani Hindu’ writes: “Hinduism of today presents many a curious anomaly. No one cares to study it. . . . Those reputed as the most religious do not follow the Shastras in every detail. “There is no definite body of doctrines or practices which may be called Sanatana and should be respected and observed as such. Every Hindu regards his own provincial usage as the Sanatan usage.”

The letter presents only one side of the case. There is reason for the correspondent’s complaint. But Hinduism is a living organism liable to growth and decay, and subject to the laws of Nature. One and indivisible at the root it has grown into a vast tree with innumerable branches. The changes in the seasons affect it. It has its autumn and summer, its winter and spring. The rains nourish and fructify it too. It is and is not based on scriptures. It does not derive its authority from one book. The Gita is universally accepted, but even then it only shows the way. It has hardly any effect on custom. Hinduism is like the Ganges pure and unsullied at its source, but taking in its course the impurities in the way. Even like the Ganges it is beneficent in its total effect. It takes a provincial form in every province, but the inner substance is retained everywhere. Custom is not religion. Custom may change, but religion will remain unaltered.

Purity of Hinduism depends on the self-restraint of its votaries. Wherever their religion has been in danger, the Hindus have undergone rigorous penance, searched the causes of the danger and devised means for combating them. The Shastras are ever growing. The Vedas, Upanishads, Smritis, Puranas and Itihasas did not arise at one and the same time. Each grew out of the necessities of particular periods, and therefore, they seem to conflict with one another. These books do not enunciate a new the eternal truth but show how these were practiced at the time to which the books belong. A practice which was good enough in a particular period would, if blindly repeated in another, land people into the ‘slough of despond’. Because the practice of animal sacrifice obtained at one time, shall we revive it today? Because at one time, we used to chop off the hands and feet of thieves, shall we revive that barbarity today?

Shall we revive polyandry? Shall we revive child-marriages? Because we discarded a section of humanity one day, shall we brand their descendants today as out-castes? Hinduism abhors stagnation. Knowledge is limitless and so also the application of truth. Every day we add to our knowledge of the powers of Atman, and we shall keep on doing so. New experience will teach us new duties, but truth shall ever be the same. Who has ever known it in its entirety?

The Vedas represent the truth, they are infinite. But who has known them in their entirety? What goes today by the name of Vedas are not even a millionth part of the real Veda — the Book of Knowledge. And who knows the entire meaning of even the few books that we have? Rather than wade through these infinite complications, our sages taught us to learn one thing: ‘as with the Self, so with the Universe.’ It is not possible to scan the universe, as it is to scan the self. Know the self and you know the universe. But even knowledge of the self within presupposes ceaseless striving — not only ceaseless but pure, and pure striving presupposes a pure heart, which in its turn depends on the practice of Yamas* and Niyamas — the cardinal and casual virtues.

The practice is not possible without God’s grace which presupposes faith and devotion. This is why Tulasidas sang of the glory of Ramanama, that it is why the author of the Bhagavata taught the Dwadasha mantra (Om Namo Bhagwate Vasudevaya). To my mind he is a Sanatani Hindu who can repeat this mantra from the heart. All else is a bottomless pit, as the sage Akho* has said.

*Yamas, the cardinal virtues according to Yogashastra are Ahimsa (Non-violence), Satya (Truth), Asteya (Non-stealing), Brahmacharya (Celibacy), Aparigraha (Non-possession); and the Niyamas or the casual virtues are, according to the same authority, Shaucha (Bodily purity), Santosha (Contentment), Tapas (Forbearance), Swadhyaya  (Study ofscriptures), Ishwara Pranidhana (Resignation to the Will of God). —M. G.