Hinduism is primarily a philosophy of life that guides an individual to make the best of his existence in spite of all the travails and challenges one faces day in and day out. It aims for the individual a comprehensive fulfillment that consists of Dharma, Artha, Kaama along with Moksha - a state of ultimate peace, which can be attained by three different routes.
In ancient India, the people did not call or label themselves as Hindus, neither did they consider anything by the name of “Hinduism” as their religion. For many people, it is actually a way to live your life. While the different philosophies that form part of the Hindu thinking and tradition are closely related to the concept of divine and supernatural, it is always one’s conduct and feelings that dominate the objective and purpose of Hindu philosophies. At the center of it all is peace, as reflected in the words “Om Shanti” often repeated multiple times after all prayers and other exercises, literally meaning “Let there be peace”.
The ancient Indian scriptures refer to a comprehensive philosophy for leading a meaningful and fulfilling life. They elaborate life aimed at achieving four major goals or objectives in life, namely dharma, artha, kaama and moksha. First of them, Dharma means duty and refers to social and natural obligations that must be followed by every individual depending upon his place in society and his role in a particular relationship or context.
Second, artha means resources that are required for a man to live his life, carry on his household and take care of those dependent upon him. Accumulation of wealth for these purposes was considered an important and valid objective for leading a fulfilling life. Third, kaama means sensual pleasures, including sexual and other indulgence that every individual is entitled to and should obtain while respecting the norms and limits laid down by the society. The last of them, moksha refers to a state of lasting peace, free from all botheration, worries, stress, anxiety, pain and troubles. It is a blissful state of self actualization marked by real peace.
Once such a state is attained, nothing is left for that person to strive for or work towards in life. In simple words, it can be understood as the state in which a human being loses his individual ego and becomes one with nature or the ultimate being, the unseen Lord of universe. Once moksha is achieved, none of the other attractions are of any importance, and even the fear of death is lost. In common parlance, even today, death of a respected person in India is often referred to as attainment of moksha, another term of which is nirvana in certain traditions. However, this actually refers to a final and ultimate peace, which every individual should strive for in life, and before death.
This concept of self realization can be best understood as a state of eternal peace of the real being or Atman, conceptually somewhat similar to the soul as referred in Western literature. Such peace is the ultimate goal because it is the best state that one can experience, and could be achieved by following three different ways in life.
It is often hard for anyone seriously studying ancient Indian philosophy not to be impressed by the extremely practical approaches advocated therein, creating options that almost everyone could follow, irrespective of his or her situation and constraints in life. The same is also true for the three prescriptions that these philosophers made for attaining the state of ultimate peace, in the form of Gyana, Bhakti and Karma, which can be roughly understood as ‘knowledge’, ‘devotion’ and ‘selfless action’ respectively.
The first of the three paths to salvation of ultimate peace is Gyana or knowledge. It is based on the concept that knowledge liberates the mind and enables it to understand one’s true state and purpose in relation to nature, and thereby frees the self from the bondages of human illusions that bring all kind of attachments, worries, stress and pain. Once a person attains sufficient knowledge to understand and experience his real state and his oneness with nature, all fears, all attachments, all emotions become meaningless and a state of ultimate peace is achieved. Gyana is considered the best and the most revered of the three paths, along with the recognition that only a few may have the intellectual capacity to pursue this course.
The second path is Bhakti or devotion. Such devotion to the creator or the Lord of the universe can be in respect of any form of the Lord or any symbol representing his divinity. Thus it does not make any difference as to whether the devotion is directed to a supposedly human form, or a form of nature, or an inanimate object such as a stone or an abstract idea of the divine Lord. Any form that human mind associates with the Lord is considered divine enough, for the object of a devotee’s love and devotion to the Lord himself. The form only helps him in channeling it properly.
However, such devotion must be perfect and without exception, and must also be intense enough to subordinate and merge the devotee’s identity and ego in the Lord himself. When such a state is attained, it frees one from the bindings and obligations of one’s ego. When we devote ourselves to the Lord, we kind of give ourselves away, dedicating our existence to a cause and thereby becoming free, blissful and capable of enjoying perfect peace. Worshipping and prayers also bring us peace in the same way. Bhakti is a path that almost everyone can follow, though for attaining the perfect state, one may need to let go other endeavors, including the family.
The last of the three liberating paths is Karma or action performed as a duty without expecting any fruits in return. Such unselfish duty without expecting anything in return also liberates the person from all bindings, fears, anxieties and stress. When action is undertaken not because it will bring rewards, but because it is one’s obligation to society and nature, and when such action is undertaken with the same intensity and effort that an action out of greed or fear would be taken, one attains a state that liberates him from the anxieties and stress of this world. Such a person, who acts selflessly without greed or fear or worrying about its outcomes also attains the same state of liberation from ego, stress, pain and bonding as is achieved thorough Gyana and Bhakti.
What is great about Karma is that everyone can follow this path in the normal course of his or her life, without giving up any of the other responsibilities or family obligation. Selfless service as per your dharma thus becomes a path of salvation to ultimate peace for every individual. It can be undertaken as much by a soldier in a war, as it can be undertaken by a farmer tilling his land or a merchant indulging in trade, provided each of them is governed solely by the objective of selfless duty and not by greed, fear or revenge.
By following any of these three ways, one can attain eternal peace, which according to ancient Indian philosophy, is the final destination of every human being. When a person achieves that, there is nothing more to desire. Eternal peace thus becomes the lasting abode of one’s existence, thereby bringing in a state of perfect self actualization.
None of these three paths are easy. Knowledge is considered the best of them, but is also the most difficult as it requires great intellect, understanding and effort. Devotion can be difficult, but a person ready to sacrifice his ego can adopt it and try to attain peace through it. Karma or action is not easy either, but is a path than anyone can take, even while carrying on with one’s own life and being in the middle of all worldly affairs. For most common folk, Karma may be the best way forward to peace, and the trick lies in not expecting anything in return for your actions.
The Indian tradition thus makes way for everyone!
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