India is a land of many philosophies. These theories helped our forefathers to think radically.
Hinduism is not a religion, it is a way of life. It allows for questions and seeks to find answers. If there are many answers to the same question, all the answers are accepted as correct. No one’s solution is held as wrong. This is the core of Hinduism.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Hinduism. One of the main ones are that Hindus believe in many gods. Each of the god has certain limited power and can bestow only certain things. This is so far from reality.
The Upanisads state “Ekam sat, viprah bahuda vadanti”
This means, there is one and only one truth. Different scholars give different versions.
When a human being searches for the ultimate, eternal truth, she/he may take any path of their liking. This path leads them to their concept of Truth. Then to explain their experiences, they may choose to portray the Almighty in a certain way. This does not mean that other forms are wrong. It just means, they are able to connect through this particular form. Hence, there are different forms of Lord in India.
Ultimately all the roads lead to the same Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent Supreme Power.
The Bhakthi movement in India marked the revival of Hinduism. The Vedas and Upanishads were getting erased from the minds of the people, who were getting more and more immersed in the rituals and customs and not understanding the real reason behind them. The priests became more powerful and ordinary people became fearful of them.
It was during this time that Buddhism and Jainism were born in India. Though these religions had their roots in Hinduism, they were different in their approach to attain the Supreme.
The pioneer of Bhakti movement is Sri Adi Shankaracharya. He single handedly brought the whole country back to Hinduism. He traveled throughout the country, established the 4 Shankara Mutts in the 4 corners of the country (Badrinath, Dwarka, Shringeri and Puri), wrote countless treatises and explanations to different Puranaas, Vedas and Upanishads, wrote many shlokas in praise of the Lord, all in the span of just 32 years. Adi Shankara is till date revered as the Jagat Guru (Guru to the world). His teachings are relevant even to this day.
Adi Shankara propounded the theory of Advaitha or Non-dualism. He stated that God or Brahman and human soul (Atman) are one and the same. Advaita is very simple to understand. It simply states that the whole world is just a manifestation of that ultimate, supreme power called God. That means, you are God, I am God, this computer, the alphabet, every single thing that you can touch and feel and all that you can’t touch and feel too are just God expressed in different forms. Hence it becomes easier to respect everyone and everything. It becomes easier to not abuse anyone or anything. The final goal to life is to realise this and merge with the God. His treatises and sholakas are the means through which Advaitha was taught.
Advaitha teaches us that “Tat twam asi” (You are That).
Sri Ramanujacharya was another Guru who propounded the theory of Visisthadvaitha or qualified non-dualism. He differed from Shankara’s Advaitha in stating that Brahman and Atman are different entities and the soul can merge with God through unflinching devotion or Bhakti. Ramanujacharya taught that there exists essential plurality between God and Human soul. They are not one and the same. Whereas Brahman in all-pervasive and all-present and has no boundaries, the Atman is limited to the body in which it is present. He said that there is an inherent unity of all souls and individual soul has the potential to merge with Brahman by practicing devotion to the Lord.
Another pioneer of Bhakthi movement was Sri Madhvacharya. Madhvacharya is the pioneer of the Dvaita or dualism theory. Madhvacharya studied Advaita under his guru. But he disagreed with the principles of the theory. He also disagreed with Visisthadvaitha theory. He started his own theory of dualism and called it Dvaita.
He felt that the differences between the Brahman and Atman are too vast to merge at all. The Supreme Lord is limitless, whereas the Atman or individual soul is too limited to understand the unfathomable. Even with great penances and devotion, the Atman cannot hope to achieve the merger. The Atman can only realise the greatness of the Lord and oneness with Lord can only happen with the grace of the Lord.
The Dvaita and Visisthadvaita theories did not have the impact of Advaitha philosophy in the country.
There are followers of all the three philosophies spread across India till now.
There are other great teachers who taught the people to be closer to God. Some of the notable ones are
- Guru Nanak, who started Sikhism
- Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who taught devotion to Lord Krishna which later led to ISKCON movement worldwide
- Meera bai, who sang praises of Lord Krishna
- Sant Kabirdas, the poet who propagated Sufi philosophy
- Sant Tukaram, who sang praises of Lord Panduranga.
- and so many more…..
It is to be noted that not all of these great saints are contemporaries.
There are so many more great teachers across the length and breadth of India who preached bhakti or devotion to God as a means to salvation. The teachings of these Gurus are studied by today’s students and the effort to understand the Lord still continues.