Reviewer Bani Sodermark. Bani has a Ph.D in mathematical physics and has been a teacher of physics and mathematics at the university level in both India and Sweden. For the last decade, her interests have been spirituality, healthy living and self-development. She has written a number of reviews on http://amazon.com. Bani is a mother to two children.
Author: Usha Choudhuri, Indra Nath Choudhuri
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Hinduism - a Multifaceted Religion
“Bahurupe Shonmukhe Tomar” (In myriads of forms before you.)--Swami Vivekanand
This book is a labour of love, and reflects the deep and wide ranging understanding of both the eminent authors of the subject.
Hinduism is a very multifaceted religion. Another word for it is “Sanatana Dharma” which roughly translates to “Eternal way of Life”. In this book, the authors explore the concepts of Hinduism as expressed in the ancient Indian texts in the context of Sanatana Dharma, i.e. dharma expressed as a way of life and a mode of thought.
Volumes have been written about Hinduism and how it has been practised through the ages. The very concept of Dharma is paramount in this regard. The authors define dharma as taking those actions that sustain life.
“The knowledge of dharma would thus mean the knowledge of the true nature of existence which underlies the basic principles of cosmic functioning and its’ cause. This vision of dharma applies to all the spheres of life at different levels. …
“So on the analogy of the sustaining principles of nature, the sustaining laws of society must also be formed. No individual is alone, the idea is that of entirety….
“The fundamental concept of dharma is free from all dogma and rigidity and is a working hypothesis of human conduct adopted to different conditions and requirements of life…..
“Therefore, it needs to be interpreted afresh by discerning minds, with regard to its’ practical form with changing times.”
The above phrasing of the word “Dharma” is a far cry from the loose translation as “religion”. It is the reason why the concept of dharma in Hinduism, can accommodate the religious sentiments of a great diversity of views and opinions.
After exploring the above interpretation of Dharma and its’ implication for Hinduism, the authors show that the reason Hinduism has survived over the centuries despite numerous murderous onslaughts from outside, is because “it is not a single monolithic religion, but owns to a diversity of religious texts put together under a uniform name.” They show how this plurality of interpretation imparts a spirit of tolerance to the people who practice it, the main reason for this being that there is no one person or text that characterizes Hinduism.
Next, the authors delve into the origins of the Hindu religious tradition, i.e. the Vedas and the Upanishads. These scriptures contain precise and elaborate instructions as to how rituals are to be conducted. There is also a short version of mythological content that is found in the Puranas. In addition, there are treatises on forests called the Aranyaka. In this chapter, the authors dive deep into the concept of yajna, or a sacrificial ceremony, which the individual performs for detachment from worldly possessions and also to incur favours from the gods in Hindu mythology. All the focus is on the Ultimate Reality and the steps needed for the individual to know and experience that s/he is intrinsically a part of the same and thus is free from the shackles of earthly bonds.
The next topic that is taken up in great detail are the two epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. These two epics embody the soul of India and illustrate those precepts of Dharma in mainstream society, that represent the cornerstone of Hindu philosophy and spirituality. These epics eulogize the characters of Rama and Krishna respectively, both are avatars of Vishnu, the Preserver. The authors go on to explain in detail, where the idolization of both led to the Bhakti Movement in which God is worshipped as a dearly beloved member of one’s family. Other avenues of expression of the Hindu way of Life that are discussed in this chapter of the book, are the Advaita philosophy of Sankaracharya, the Vishistha Advaita of Ramanuja and the Dvaita philosophy of Madhavacharya. This chapter ends with an interesting account of Tantrism. The authors analyse these developments from a Vedic historical perspective, in an attempt to show how the above movements were needed to stem the rot due to the dogma that had begun to creep into society over time.
The rich mythological content of Hinduism also finds expression in folk Hinduism. The authors show how tribals and others worship regional heroes and deities as gods, even going on to worship stones and trees, the idea being to pay tribute to the consciousness of the worshipped.
Thereafter, the authors explore modern reforming movements to cleanse Hinduism of dogma arising from outdated systems of practice over millenia. They take up the work of Ram Mohan Roy, Tagore, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda Saraswati among others. This is followed by a chapter on the tenets of Hinduism from a modern philosophical point of view. Finally, the authors compare the concepts of Dharma with different schools of Indian philosophy. They conclude with a summary of their premise of displaying the varied nature and scope of the religion.
This book is easily read and could fill a gap if used as a textbook on the Hindu scriptures. It is replete with photographs of Hindu art, architecture and shakti-spots in order to illustrate their points.
I have not been able to do justice in this relatively lengthy review, to the enormous amount of content in this book. However, I feel it imperative to say that the authors impart a sense of authenticity to the material in this book, i.e. it appears as if they have experienced personally, all that they have written about.
Personally, I found that this book cuts the clutter that surrounds many concepts of Hinduism, bringing forth the Truth that stands on its own strength.