Hinduism is more correctly referred to as sanatana dharma, which can be translated as the eternal way or the eternal law. In this post I hope to demonstrate that Hinduism can claim to be the eternal way, a claim that other religions cannot make. I will also show why Hinduism is the true religion.
First of all I need to define what I mean by the true religion. I do not define true religion to mean the only path, or means to spiritual realisation (moksha, enlightenment or heaven). By that definition Hinduism is not “the true religion”, there is no one true religion in that sense, people can reach enlightenment on other paths. What I mean by true religion is that Hinduism gives the clearest path, with methods and instructions for finding God, and that all that is valid in other religions can be found in Hinduism.
The Eternal Way
Clearly for something to be eternal it must have always existed, and must continue to exist in the future. Any religion that has a founder cannot claim to have always existed. There was no Christianity before Jesus and no Islam before Muhammad. Sikhism did not exist before Guru Nanak, nor Confucianism before Confucius. Judaism is the religion of the people of Israel, which started with Abraham, the Father of Israel.
Buddhism in the present era was formed by the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama, though I cannot be so quick to dismiss Buddhism as their writings claim that Gautama Buddha is only one of an infinite line of Buddhas. Other religions that can claim to have existed for ever are Taoism and various shamanistic beliefs, such as those of the Australian Aborigines and Native Americans.
In addition to having always existed, to be eternal a religion must continue for ever. For religions which believe in some kind of final judgement (Christianity, Islam, some lines of Judaism) it is questionable whether you could say that the religion would exist after this; at very least it would be changed. From the words of a Christian Hymn:
Prophecy will fade away,
Melting in the light of day;
Love will ever with us stay;
Therefore, give us love.
Faith will vanish into sight;
Hope be emptied in delight;
Love in heaven will shine more bright;
Therefore, give us love.
Similarly, for those that are not part of the religion, there is no hope or opportunity to practice the belief. For these we could say:
Faith uselsss when God does not care,
hope is emptied in despair.
Love? Look not to God there is none there;
By these beliefs, Gandhi is condemned to eternal punishment with no opportunity to change, whereas the Spanish inquisitors and Mafioso godfathers enjoy their eternal reward for correct belief. Can they still claim to be a religion when faith or belief no longer matters for people in either group? Personaly I would say they cannot.
This still leaves us with Buddhism, Confucianism and the Shamanistic beliefs as possible eternal ways. Though I have demonstrated unequivocally that the other major religions cannot claim to be eternal, I am believe my arguments against these three beliefs is not as strong (and with good reason).
One could argue that Confucianism and the Shamanistic religions are highly connected to the earth, and therefore will not survive the end of this earth. I am not entirely happy with this argument, as these religions are given as traditions of time and place. There is nothing in them to claim that they would not apply to other worlds and universes, and it would in the context of their beliefs be unreasonable to expect them to mention the possibility.
Buddhism inherits the view of a large, cyclic universe with many planets from Hinduism (an idea later shown to be scientifically correct). There is nothing in the belief itself that would make you question its continued existance.
How can we tell that these religions will actually last? Of course faith is one way to answer this, but for Hinduism there is also evidence. I have written previously about how Hindu-like revelations spring up in spiritual people from other traditions.
In various previous posts I have described how Julian of Nowrich had revelations that God was everything, and that there is no such thing as evil. How the Cathars came to believe that people were holy and pure at heart, that everyone would be redeemed, that purity was the way to break our bonds to the physical world, and to believe in reincarnation. And how even from Islam the Sufi Mansur Al-Hallaj came to see that the true nature of the human soul is God.
These examples, together with the ongoing teachings of many enlightened gurus within Hinduism show that for those who purify their mind and are receptive the revelations of Hinduism are still available. When working on this entry I read the same idea expressed clearly and concisely in the book “Am I a Hindu”, by Ed Viswanathan, also on his blog:
Even if some one kill every Hindu on earth and burn every book on Hinduism, this “thought process” we call Hinduism, will come back to life again within few years, may be with a different name, since Hinduism, is the relentless search after truth.
Now, I think this is where Hinduism can demonstrate above any other faith that it is the eternal religion, a constantly flowing revelation. In his book “How I became a Hindu”, David Frawley writes:
Though the New Age movement has much fantasy, if not self-indulgence within it, as it matures it will probably come to resemble Hinduism…
This is leads us on to why Hinduism is the true religion.
The True Religion
In the previous section, in order to show that Hinduism was the eternal way. I described how Hinduism is validated by a constant flow of revelation, even from people from other religious backgrounds. I could give a very robust argument against most major religions being the eternal way. I believe I gave a good argument regarding Buddhism, Taoism and Shamanic religions, but I would not give it the level of absolute unequivocal proof given to the other religions.
The reason that I believe these religions are harder to discount as eternal is that they all have strong elements from Hinduism within them. In particular they believe in personal spiritual advance being more important than belief, and are universal – not claiming to be the whole or only way.
Buddhism has inherited a lot from Hinduism, the main change being that it is primarily atheistic. Hinduism teaches us that God, the atman within us is the same as God without; “Aham Brahma Asmi“, or “I am Brahman”. Hindus can see Buddhism as avalid path, though mistaking God for Buddha Nature. The Buddhist parth is very like the path of Jnana Yoga.
Shamanism and Taoism both reflect on the holiness of nature, the spiritual oneness of everything. I see shamainsm as perhaps an early stage of the Sanatana dharma evolving through revelation. Shamanism includes elements of Bhakti Yoga. Taoism expounds the three virtues of compassion, moderation and humility, which are also central to Hinduism. Taoism is very like the path of Hatha Yoga, using exercises to tune the body and the spirit.
Other religions too have elements from Hinduism, Christianity and Islam mainly expound Bhakti Yoga and so on. Hinduism is unique in having a broad teaching of techniques for spiritual advancement, and methods to decide which technique suits a person best. This is why I say Hinduism is the true religion. It is not the only path, but the purest and broadest revealed pathway to God. Hinduism is unique in being the only intact revelation from previous ages, which has not been altered and edited for political expedience.
Aum Namah Shivaya