Hindu Dharma or Sanatana Dharma is least dogmatic (Buddhism is more dogmatic as it follows what Buddha said and Buddha was only one of numerous Hindu sages). And of course it is completely different from Christianity and Islam. If those two big religions are the norm, then Hindu Dharma should not even be called a religion.
However, it is not easy for a foreigner to get to the core of Hindu Dharma. One reason is that we hear mainly bad things about Hindu Dharma in the west and another is that Hindus don’t go out of their way to explain. In fact, many of them, especially the English educated, know themselves pretty little about their tradition as it was demeaned under British rule and even after Independence.
Only recently more Hindus realize its worth and this may fluster the Christian west. I guess it’s because at least some westerners know that Hindu Dharma can pose a real challenge to their “blind- belief- in- divisive- dogma religions”. And again there is this increased effort in recent times to demean Bharat in general and Hindus in particular – whether it is by shouting “rape” or “attack on minorities”. Both charges are very unfair if seen in relation.
I was on my way to become an atheist, as I couldn’t believe anymore what the Church told us to believe, and the Christian God simply couldn’t be true, sending non-Christians summarily into hell. And what about all those who lived before Christ was born? Anyway, it’s easy to see why one can lose faith in dogmatic religions and the Christian God.
On my first trip to Bharat I didn’t understand a thing about Hindu Dharma. Only on my second trip (which was intended as a stopover) I came by chance into contact with two great sages and then slowly went deeper, started reading, reflecting, meditating…
It all made immensely sense: naturally there must be some great power/intelligence behind and beyond this universe – the inner ruler of the big and the small. It makes sense that the meaning of life is to discover That in oneself. If it is there (and it makes sense that it is there), then of course it makes sense to put my focus in life foremost on That.
From then on, it is not only intellectual enquiry but also experience. If I say that Bhakti, devotion to that great power, is a natural outcome of putting one’s focus on it, many may not agree because intellect alone can’t get there. One needs to genuinely want to know the truth about ourselves for the truth sake.
Unfortunately, for many in the west “God” has such negative connotation thanks to the Church that they don’t have an open mind even towards “Brahman” (big, expanding), as they may feel that “God’ comes in again through the back door. Yet the Hindu concept of the Highest is scientific. “Veda” – the most ancient Hindu scriptures – means knowledge. The analysis of us and the universe by the rishis is mind-boggling and the ways to connect with that power in present day Hindu Dharma are amazingly colourful and joyful.