Experiencing Divine light and supreme bliss is
not only well recognized in Hinduism, but is one of its ultimate
goals. From Hinduism we gain a clear and abundant sense of the
value that this tradition places on the subject at hand. Hindus
discovered very early in their history the presence of this
divine phenomenon, and have written about the sublime encounter
Hinduism derives its name from the inhabitants
of the Indus River valley in Northwest India, and are therefore
known as (H)-indus. Around 1500 BC, Aryan invaders from the
north conquered the Indus valley. They brought with them the
language of Sanskrit, which is used throughout the voluminous
literature of classical Hinduism. This literature includes the
mythical stories of the gods in the Rg Veda; the sacrificial
rituals in the Brahmanas and the Sama, Yajur,
and Atharva Veda; epic accounts in the Mahabarata
and the Ramayana; the mysticism of the Upanishads;
and the synthesis of all these in the Bhagavad-Gita.
The Gita is the latest of the collection, and was completed
in the 2nd century BC.
Hinduism is a remarkably versatile religion, and
for the most part very tolerant of differing religious views.
The ultimate goal in most forms of Hinduism is to achieve liberation
(moksha) from the material world. This can be accomplished
in several ways. The way of karma, or action, emphasises
exercises that are designed to physically untangle the spirit
from the body. The way of jnana, or knowledge, would
have one consider the true nature of reality in order to gain
the ultimate goal. Lastly, the way of bhakti, or worship,
allows one to pray either to a specific God or any number of
gods, depending on the person and the situation.
However, in classical Hinduism, it is only appropriate
for the priestly class, the Brahmins, to achieve moksha
in this life. Otherwise, if one is born of a lower class, then
one must properly perform the duties of that class, and the
caste within the class, in order to be reincarnated into the
next level above. Failure to do so could result in one being
reincarnated lower in the social order, or even into the animal
world. The righteous Sudra, or working class, would then
aspire to ascend to the Vaisya, or Mercantile class;
the Vaisya to the Kshatriya, or ruling class;
and the Kshatriya to the Brahmin class. The Brahmin
who performs all the duties that can be expected might achieve
this final release from an otherwise endless cycle of birth,
death, and rebirth.
Hinduism has several major schools of thought.
The Nyaya and Vaishesika schools hold that a personal Creator
has arranged particulate forms of matter (atoms, if you will)
to form the cosmos. The Mimamsa school emphasises the role of
ritual, and familiarity with the Vedic scriptures. The Sankhya
system emphasizes the achievement of liberation through proper
thinking. Yoga emphasises proper action, through exercises and
meditation, to achieve moksha. Vedanta sees a divine
reality that transcends the everyday world of the senses, and
deals with the relationship between God (Brahman) and
the soul (Atman).
Within Vedanta, views differ considerably about
what the relationship between Brahman and Atman means. The 9th
century philosopher Sankara maintained that Brahman and Atman
are ultimately identical. Ramanuja, in the 12th century, held
that the two are at once distinct and united, just like the
body and the soul. In the 13th century, Madva proposed that
Brahman and Atman are completely distinct.
The 19th century saw several outstanding Hindu
philosophers and reformers. Ram Mohan Roy re-emphasized the
importance of religious devotion and worship. Ramakrishna saw
a single divine reality underlying all of the world's faiths.
Mahatma Ghandi sought to reform the social order through non-violent
revolution. Aurobindo, after having been imprisoned for taking
part in violent attacks against the British in Bengal, had a
religious experience which inspired him to wed Hindu spirituality
with modern science.
As far as Hindu mysticism is concerned, one does
not need to look far to investigate the experience under examination.
The Hindu scriptures themselves, particularly the Upanishads,
are rich with such literature. The encounter with light and
ecstasy is as deep and profound in this tradition as one can
find in any other, modern or ancient.