by Swami Adiswarananda
(continued from previous month)
The Values of Life
Hinduism speaks of four values of life,
of which moksha, or liberation through Self‑knowledge, is the fourth. The
other three are dharma, or practice of righteousness; artha, or attainment
of worldly prosperity; and kama, or enjoyment of legitimate pleasures.
Practice of dharma calls for an individual to perform the duties of life
in accordance with the laws of morality, ethics, and righteousness. Artha
implies acquisition of wealth, necessary for the preservation of life and
the promotion of the welfare of others. Kama is the enjoyment of
legitimate pleasures, without which life becomes joyless and dry. The
first three values must find their fulfillment in the fourth,
Self‑knowledge. Moral perfection when not for the sake of Self‑knowledge
becomes nothing but enlightened egoism. Wealth and prosperity when not
used for the sake of Self‑knowledge breed delusion and attachment. Art and
esthetics that do not reflect the light of the Self degenerate into
voluptuousness and promiscuity. Knowledge of science and technology when
not directed to the attainment of Self‑knowledge proves to be a dangerous
weapon of Self‑destruction. Therefore, the acquisition of wealth and the
enjoyment of pleasures must be guided by dharma, or righteousness, and
governed by the goal of moksha, or Self‑knowledge.
The Stages of Life
In keeping with the four
values of life, Hinduism speaks of the four stages of life: brahmacharya,
garhasthya, vanaprastha, and sannyasa. In brahmacharya, the first stage,
the individual is asked to acquire knowledge, both secular and spiritual,
and to conserve energy through the practice of austerity and self‑control.
In the second stage, garhasthya, he enters family life through marriage.
Marriage is neither a concession to weakness nor a confession of sin. The
householder's life is the bedrock of society. Any society that ignores the
sanctity of marriage ultimately undermines its entire moral foundation.
The individual personality finds its expression through participation in
family life, the training ground for unselfishness. The third stage,
vanaprastha, is the stage of retirement from the compulsive obligations
and duties of family life. As sense pleasures grow stale, the individual
feels the call of the spirit more and more, and devotes himself to a life
of non‑attachment and contemplation. The last stage, sannyasa, is the
stage of renunciation of everything for the sake of Self‑knowledge. In
this stage a person is alone. Alone a person comes, and alone he goes.
The Four Castes
Hinduism places great
emphasis on spiritual qualities, and divides society into four castes in
order to preserve the spiritual ideal. It realized that, although all are
potentially equal in their divinity, there is an inborn inequality between
man and man with regard to intellectual and spiritual evolution, and each
could develop his spiritual potential through performance of duties in
accordance with his own inner disposition. The four castes are: brahmins,
kshatriyas, vaishyas, and sudras. The brahmins, devoted to self‑control,
austerity, and purity, are the custodians of spiritual culture. The
kshatriyas, known for their heroism, generosity, and fearlessness,
preserve the social laws. The vaishyas engage themselves in agriculture,
trade, and industry; and the duty of the sudras consists of service. A
person's caste is never hereditary. A person belongs to a particular caste
in keeping with his or her inner disposition, character, and qualities.
The division of society into four castes in Hinduism has nothing to do
with the superiority or inferiority of a particular group. Working in
harmony, the four castes ensure the equilibrium and perpetuation of the
Hindu social structure. The welfare of one caste depends on the welfare of
all others. The Vedas compare the four castes with the four important
parts of the body of the cosmic person: the brahmin represents the head,
the kshatriya the arms, the vaishya the thighs, and the sudra the feet.
Society, according to
Hinduism, is not only men and women but also all beings above them, such
as gods and angels, and all beings below them, such as animals and plants.
Hinduism maintains that an individual is indebted to all of them for his
own existence. For example, he is indebted to his ancestors for his
present life, to the vegetable and animal worlds for food, to the saints
and sages for moral guidance, to fellow human beings for protection, and,
above all, to God for His grace. So he is asked to perform daily the
following five sacrifices: worship of God; offerings to the deities;
making of oblations to the Manes (dead and deified ancestors); offering of
food to animals; and hospitality to chance guests. "He who does not feed
the deities, chance guests, the beasts, the Manes, and his own self, each
day, by performing the five great sacrifices, is a dead man, even though
he breathes," says Manu.
The Paths to the Goal
Hinduism advocates freedom
in the practice of religion. It maintains that the path to God‑realization
cannot be the same for all. Spiritual disciplines can never be
standardized, because all men do not have the same inborn tendencies and
temperament, and each must follow his or her own path. According to
Hinduism, there are basically four types of mind: emotional, active,
mystical, and philosophical. And in keeping with the four types of mind,
Hinduism prescribes the practice of four different paths known as yogas:
bhakti-yoga, karma‑yoga, raja‑yoga, and jnana‑yoga.
Bhakti‑yoga is the path
for the emotional type. Following this path, the seeker worships a
specific aspect of a personal God or a divine incarnation. Or he may
worship the ultimate reality as a deity who is without form but with
divine attributes. He establishes a human relationship with God, regarding
Him as father, mother, master, friend, or beloved, according to his
temperament. He directs all his emotions to God and worships Him through
the performance of various rituals and ceremonies. The watchword of bhakti‑yoga
is "Thy will be done," which indicates absolute self‑surrender to God.
Through self‑surrender and ecstatic love the seeker ultimately attains to
prescribed for the active type is karma‑yoga or the yoga of selfless
activity. The watchword of this path is "work is worship." The seeker
following this path performs all his actions regarding himself as the
instrument of God and surrenders the results of the actions to Him. The
seeker may be a worshiper of a personal God or look upon the ultimate
reality as the impersonal absolute dwelling within him as the soul.
Karma‑yoga is non‑attachment in action. The practice of non‑attachment
purifies the heart, and purity of heart leads directly to God‑vision or
For those who
are mystical by nature, Hinduism prescribes raja‑yoga, the yoga of
concentration and meditation. The seeker following this path looks upon
the ultimate reality as his inmost Self. The Self remains unperceived
because of the mind's restlessness, which is overcome by ceaseless
concentration and meditation on the Self. The watchword of this path is
"know thyself." Through uninterrupted concentration and meditation the
seeker ultimately realizes the true nature of his Self-pure, perfect, and
The path of
jnana‑yoga is for those who are philosophical and rational in temperament.
It is the path of relentless self‑analysis, discrimination, and complete
renunciation. The watchword of this path is "The Self is Brahman." The
seeker practices discrimination, renunciation, and self-control, and
develops intense longing for liberation. He hears about the Self,
reflects on It, and meditates upon It. Through ceaseless meditation on
the Self the seeker attains union with It.
However, a seeker may
follow any of these yogas or a combination of two or more of them for the
realization of his spiritual goal.
four main themes of Hinduism are: non-duality of the Godhead, divinity of
the soul, oneness of existence, and harmony of religions. God as the
ultimate reality is always one, and all seekers, regardless of their
religious beliefs and traditions, are calling on the same God. "Truth is
one: sages call It by various names," says the Rig-Veda.
The various Godheads of different religions are but various
facets of one and the same God. The soul of man is divine, and its
divinity is neither created nor derived nor borrowed. The goal of
religion is to manifest this divinity already in us. All our prayers and
worship, penances and austerities, are intended to arouse faith in our
divinity. Oneness of existence is the basis of all ethics, morality,
love, and sympathy. An act is regarded as ethical only if it is conducive
to the welfare of all, and ethical actions are considered good because
they lead us to realize the oneness of existence. Different religions are
but different paths leading to the common goal of God-vision or
God-realization, and there is an underlying harmony among them -- the
harmony of the goal. The paths vary because of the variety of human
temperaments, but they all lead to the same goal. So Sri Ramakrishna
says: "As many faiths, so many paths." Harmony of religions is to be
realized by a seeker by deepening his God-consciousness.