How to Tell Hinduism to Your Child? – Part II

 (…….Continued) Religion – A Set of Beliefs: We see two aspects in any religion. The first is the usefulness of religion in bringing about social harmony and compliance to a moral code. The very word religion is from a Latin root ‘ligare’, to bind. It binds people to certain common norms. This is what is called the utilitarian view.

The second is about the content of teaching. We have to see as to what is the degree of truth or probability in various things told by religion, and how far is it compatible with the rational thinking and the scientific world view. If what religion tells is like a school boy’s tale, the school boys of today are unwilling to suspend their reason.

Some refute the utilitarian view and argue that religion is also the cause for great massacres and genocides on earth. Glaring examples can be seen if we look into the history of genocide.

There are also claims of superiority of one religion over the other.

These claims can never be settled. They were only settled by wars, conquests and conversions.

Religion: A Set of Beliefs or Postulations: I hope you will not dispute that no one has seen either heaven or hell and come back to us to tell what it is. We have to admit that any religion, as we see now, is structured round a set of beliefs – beliefs regarding creation of the universe by God about heaven which is the God’s abode and where good people go after death, about hell where the bad folks go and suffer for their bad deeds. Such beliefs existed all over the world and different religions visualized their own God forms, their own versions of heaven and hell, and their own norms about good or bad in society.

A majority of people take the belief system as the absolute truth and even now they do. This gives a lot of importance to the religious structure and the people in charge of that structure.

Votaries of religion have always held that religion instills good values, social discipline and order. Religion served the purpose of binding the society as a culturally homogenous unit. 

Philosophy versus Religion: Throughout history, there have been a lot many people who questioned such belief system. No one has seen God or heaven or hell but the books so solidly talk about these things. Hence, the non-believers or atheists had their own postulations about creation and about the human being’s role in the universe.

We assume that scientific spirit is a product of modern times. It is not so. Logical thinking is as old as human mind.

The ancient Indians (Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and others) had developed elaborate systems of logic. So did the Greeks, Romans and others. These thinkers were called philosophers, the lovers of truth. But quite often, the philosophical thought had nothing to do with religious structure. People of religion talked of a personal god in all grandeur while the philosophers tried to reason out and postulate. We can notice this among the western philosophers who, sometimes, talk almost on the same lines as the Upanishads but they were like rebels, and some were excommunicated by the clergy. Religion and philosophy were on a course of clash.

Two Levels of Truth: The Vedas talked of two levels of truth, one called parā, the supreme level and the other was called aparā, the lower level.

The higher level corresponds to philosophy and the lower level to religion. Indian sages examined the human mind and senses, the way they cognize the universe, the limitations of such cognitions and the nature of Supreme Reality. We find that the sages (we call them ṛṣi-s in Sanskrit) who gave Upanishads used elaborate reasoning in trying to know what is the ultimate reality, or God, as we call. They also realized that religion is a social need and that only a tiny minority indulges in philosophical quest. Hence the sages endorsed religion at the level of the common man in the early portions of Vedas and discussed philosophical issues toward the end of the Vedas. The belief system relating to rituals was accepted as a lower level of truth while the philosophical inquiry was regarded as the absolute level of truth. Hence we find stories of gods, demons and rituals at one level, and about human mind and its intricacies at another.

A distinct feature of these stories is that they are symbolic or allegorical tales, conveying the Vedic teaching to the common man. We shall see this in good detail in the forthcoming chapters. (To be concluded)