The book presents an understanding of the philosophical roots of Hinduism: the nature and meaning of Hinduism as revea1ed in its Sruti and Smrti traditions. The discussion begins with an analysis of the Sruti and Smrti streams as integral to Hinduism and shows that the growth and development of Hinduism is a result of constant interaction and mutual influence of the two traditions. It then focuses on the unique Hindu world-view which is the major source of unity of Hinduism’s diverse sects and sub-traditions. Prof. Ramamurty examines in detail certain essential aspects of the Hindu philosophical thinking, such as the meaning of dharma as religion, man’s understanding of his own existence and reality, the Hindu conception of the divine and human destiny according to Hinduism.
Written in a clear style, the book, reflecting the author’s deep scholarship in the subject, includes an index and a bibliography for the readers’ easy reference and further research on the subject.
Prof. Ramamurty Presently UGC Emeritus Fellow, Philosophy Dept., University of Hyderabad, specializes in Hindu philosophy and religion. His in-depth research on the subject has resulted in the publication of books including Advaitic Mysticism of Sankara; The Central Philosophy of the Rgveda; and Advaita: A Conceptual Analysis.
Although much work has been done on Hinduism dealing with its various aspects very little is done to understand comprehensively the nature and meaning of Hinduism. And most of the work on Hinduism is based rather exclusively on either the Sruti or Smrti tradition of Hinduism. Most of the modern Hindu thinkers have tried to identify Hinduism with its Sruti tradition though Hinduism as believed in and practised by most of the Hindus is largely based on and developed by the Smrti tradition. Most of the modern Indian interpreters of Hinduism have paid little or no attention to Smrti tradition of Hinduism, and some are even averse to it, and consider that the Smrti form of Hinduism is not real Hinduism. What does Sruti tradition stand for is a matter of interpretation, and every interpretation is influenced by various factors, individual, social and historical. The Smrti tradition of Hinduism, which accepts the authority of Sruti, and adopts its world-view, is also a sort of interpretation of Sruti tradition. Besides being an interpretation of Sruti, Smrti tradition has an identity of its own which is due to its independent origin.
Every interpretation of Sruti, in so far as it is influenced by various factors, either individual or social or historical, will not have the same authority as that of Sruti. At the same time, every interpretation is helpful in understanding the meaning of Sruti, and by making explicit or by fully developing the ideas and insights of Sruti it helps in enriching the Sruti tradition. In this sense Smrti tradition is an interpretation of Sruti, and as an interpretation of Sruti the Smrti tradition is integral to Hinduism. Every interpretation of Sruti in so far as it accepts the world-view of Sruti is significant in the life and development of Hinduism, though no interpretation may prove itself to be universally meaningful and valid.
While Sruti represents that aspect of Hinduism which is stable and whose validity is not bound by time, space and other circumstances, the Smrti tradition represents Hinduism in its dynamic aspect. While Sruti gives Hinduism its identity and character, the Smrti tradition represents Hinduism in its growth and development. We may say that while Sruti represents the soul of Hinduism, the Smrti tradition forms the body of Hinduism. The development of Hinduism, its richness and integral character are due to constant interaction between the two traditions in which each tried to influence the other. We find in the history of Hinduism a subtle form of tension between Sruti and Smrti, and the development of Hinduism, and its integral character are due to significant efforts made by various creative thinkers and saints in reconciling and harmonising the two traditions. Hinduism is what it is due to such efforts. This process continues as long as Hinduism remains alive. The Smrti is not a closed tradition; it is ever growing. And its object is to interpret Sruti or to make its world-view intelligible and meaningful to all keeping in view the changing circumstances and the religious needs of the people.
Our understanding of the nature and meaning of Hinduism will not be comprehensive if we do not pay sufficient attention to both the traditions. Hinduism cannot be identified either with the Sruti or with the Smrti tradition. Both of them are integral to Hinduism, and help in comprehending its nature and meaning. As an attempt to interpret and adapt the Sruti tradition to changing circumstances and religious needs of people every interpretation of Sruti will have only derived authority, and depends for its justification ultimately on Sruti.
An attempt is made in this work to understand the nature and meaning of Hinduism which is more than all its sects and their sectarian theologies. It transcends all the sectarian concerns and identities. The sectarian traditions of Hinduism lose their sectarian character to the extent they accept and adopt the Sruti world-view. The world-view of Hinduism, which is based on and shaped primarily by the Sruti tradition, is what is common to all the sectarian tradition, is what is common to all the sectarian traditions of Hinduism.
I express my sincere thanks to Shri Susheel K. Mittal Director, D.K Printworld (P) Ltd., New Delhi who has taken keen interesting in publishing this work.
Several attempts are made in modern times to comprehend the nature and meaning of Hinduism, and in all of them certain beliefs and doctrines are projected as being fundamental or central to Hinduism. In so representing Hinduism each thinker is guided by what he regards as fundamental to Hinduism as a religion. As most of the scholars and thinkers, at least during the beginning of this century, who worked on Hinduism, and tried to comprehend its nature and meaning happened to be
non-Hindu, they tried to understand and present Hinduism in the light of a concept of religion which is developed and formulated mainly on the basis of Semitic religious traditions, more specifically Christianity. Most of them, therefore, tried to find in Hinduism clear answers to certain questions or problems which are considered to be typically religious, and tried to pattern their understanding of Hinduism on the lines of Christianity which has a clear doctrinal focus and theological coherence and unity that can be clearly formulated and expressed. In other words
they tried to comprehend and represent the nature and meaning of Hinduism within the theological framework of Semitic religious traditions in general, and Christianity in particular.
The basic problem one faces in trying to comprehend the nature and meaning of Hinduism is to clearly identify and define the sources which are basic to Hinduism, and whose authority is accepted as final by all the Hindus. Moreover, traditionally the Hindus have made no systematic attempt to define their religion, or at least to indicate what they regard as the essence of their faith. All the attempts at understanding and defining Hinduism are modern. However, there are several traditional works dealing with what is essential to various sects of Hinduism, like Vaisnavism and Saivism, the major forms of Hindu religious life and worship. But Hinduism cannot be defined or characterised in terms of anyone or all of them, even though they are basically Hindu. They are the major or significant forms of expression of Hinduism. Even though an understanding of them is essential to understanding Hinduism, yet it is not sufficient to comprehend the nature and meaning of Hinduism. Understanding of Hinduism though requires an understanding of the various sects that form and express Hinduism, Hinduism cannot be equated or identified with its various sects. Hinduism has an identity which cannot be reduced to or equated with that of its sects, and, therefore, the nature and meaning of Hinduism cannot be comprehended and determined in terms of anyone or all of its sects. The various sects of Hinduism express or manifest Hinduism without determining its nature and meaning.
Even if we try to define Hinduism as that which is based on or inspired by the Veda it will not help us in comprehending the nature and meaning of Hinduism. It can only be a formal definition of Hinduism, which is primarily intended to distinguish those who accept the authority of the Veda, and follow the form of religious life that is based on or inspired by the Veda from those who do not accept the authority of the Veda, and hence follow the form of religious life based on it. It is also meant to exclude all those forms of religious life and worship that go against the spirit of the Veda, or are not compatible with the Veda, even though some of them are based on Smrti tradition which is a major source of Hinduism.
Now, we may for the purpose of understanding Hinduism define it as the religion based on or inspired primarily by the traditions of Sruti and Smrti. It is proper to identify Sruti and Smrti as two traditions because they do not represent the teaching or wisdom of any one person or book. The Veda or the Sruti refers to a genre of literature, which includes within itself the Vedic Samhitas, B rahmanas, Aranyakas and the Upaniads, and Smrti, in a general sense, refers to the literature which is not included within Sruti but is nevertheless revered and regarded as an authority in religious matters by the Hindus. And in practical religious matters of Hinduism the authority of Smrti is deemed final, because it is the only available source and authority in such matters. It includes the sacred texts and traditions of various sects of Hinduism, and for all practical purposes its authority is regarded as equivalent to that of Sruti by the followers of different sects of Hinduism. The term Hindu is a generic term which all the sects of Hinduism, despite their differences, which are significant, share in common.
The revelatory character of Sruti, and, therefore, its ultimate authority in religious or spiritual matters is accepted by all the Hindus. But conceptually revelation involves a belief in the existence of a personal divine being or God who chooses to disclose or reveal Himself to someone of His choice, as the person who is literally responsible for its existence considers himself as only an instrument or representative of God. Revelation, therefore, does not represent his wisdom but that of God, its real source, and hence its uniqueness, supreme authority and infallibility. In this sense the one who is historically associated with the text of a revelation is regarded only as an instrument of God. All else is a matter of theological debate. The Veda, especially the Samhita part of it, is a revelation though revealed to a class of people known as seers (rsi) and seer-poets (kavi) over a period of time. These seers and seer-poets do not claim to themselves the source and authority of the truth or wisdom expressed through the hymns of the Veda. The knowledge or wisdom of the Veda is divinely inspired, but not acquired by the seers and seer-poets in terms of their own effort and understanding. Therefore, the Veda does not represent the wisdom of the seers. It represents the divine wisdom as revealed to the seers of the Veda in the state of divine inspiration. In this sense the Veda is impersonal (apauruseya), and its wisdom or truth has no agent or author though its literary expression in the form of Vedic hymns is associated with the names of various seers.
While the Vedic Samhitas are a poetic expression of the divinely inspired truth or wisdom in its purest and simplest form, the other Vedic literature, particularly the Brahmana literature, involves human agency and understanding. The Brahmanas are an attempt to understand, and even to interpret, the divinely inspired wisdom of the Veda (Samhitas), mainly with the object of employing it to serve the practical religious needs of man. They are the earliest interpretation of the Vedic revelation or the Vedic Samhitas, and are also the first to evolve methods of Vedic interpretation. We find in the Brahmana texts attempts to interpret the hymns of the Veda, and the purpose of the Brahmanas in interpreting the Vedic Samhitas is to develop, on the basis of Vedic revelation, a form of religious life and worship.
The Upanisads are mostly a philosophic restatement or representation of the Vedic vision or wisdom poetically expressed in the Samhitas. They criticise and even reject much of Vedic theology and cosmology, mostly developed in the Brahmanas, and try to articulate the basic ontological vision of the Veda (Sa7hhitas). The approach and attitude of the Upanisads to the basic problems concerning the nature of human reality, the nature and meaning of the divine, etc., are philosophical. In other words, they represent the philosophy of the Veda (Samhitas) in which the divinely inspired truth or wisdom of the Veda is philosophically interpreted. Thus, while the Brãhmanas represent one type of interpretation of the Vedic - Samhitas, which is religious, the Upanisads represent another type of interpretation of the Vedic Samhitas which is philosophical. It is undeniable that the Upanisadic thought or wisdom presupposes or is based on the Vedie revelation of the Samhitas. They reflect or represent the essence of the Vèda (Samhitas), as the word Upanisad can mean also essence, and is so used in the ruti literature.’ The Upanisadic knowledge is not speculative as it is based on the divinely inspired and directly experienced wisdom of the Vedic seers as expressed in the hymns of the Veda. We do not find in the Upanisads any description of the direct and immediate experience of the divine or Brahman though the Upanisads talk of Brahma that is directly and immediately experienced. The Vedic Samhitas describe the divine as directly experienced or divinely inspired. The Upanisads can, therefore, be regarded as representing the philosophy of the Veda or a philosophic restatement of the Vedic wisdom. Hinduism, as a religion, is not simply a metaphysic or theology but is founded on the truth revealed or divinely inspired to the seers of the Veda which the hymns of the Veda express. The Veda is, therefore, the supreme authority for Hinduism, and is regarded as sacred and infallible.
The mutual antagonism between the Pürva Mimãmsã and Uttara Mimamsa or Vedãnta, both of which are based on the Veda, is due to the importance and value they attach either to the Brãhmanas or the Upanisads in understanding the real import or meaning of the Vedic Samhitas. While the Brãhmanas are an attempt to develop a form of religious life and worship on the basis of Vedic revelation, the Upanisads are an attempt to understand and present the Vedic vision of truth philosophically. Thus, the Vedic Samhitas gave rise to Brahmana form of religious life and worship, and to the Upanisadic or Vedãntic form of philosophy. The fact that the Upanisads have not given rise to any form of religious life , but are intended to be studied, reflected upon and meditated by those who are not satisfied or dis-enchanted with the ordinary or ritual form of religious life and worship, shows that the Upanisads are not the source of Hinduism as a religion. The Upanisadic through or wisdom can not be adapted to the popular religious needs and aspirations. It can not also be used to support or justify the beliefs and doctrines of popular form of Hinduism.
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