Hinduism is not a religion but a Way of Life

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By Zile Singh

            Hinduism is a major religious and cultural tradition of South Asia, that has emerged from Vedic religion. It is, in a fact, not a religion but a Way of Life. It is also called “a family of religions”. It is the third largest “religion” of the world, with over 1.2 billion followers, or about 16% of the global population, known as Hindus. Many practitioners refer to this religion as Sanatan Dharma “the Eternal Dharma” –an idea whose origin is older than human history.  Another, though less fitting self-designation is Vaidik Dharma, the dharma related to the Vedas.

Hinduism’s early history is the subject of much debate for a number of reasons. Firstly, there was no ‘Hinduism’ before modern times, although the sources of Hindu traditions are very ancient.  Secondly, Hinduism is not derived from a single tradition but embraces many traditions. Thirdly, Hinduism has no definite starting point.  The traditions which flow into Hinduism may go back several thousand years as its revelation is eternal. Although there is an emphasis on personal spirituality, its history is closely linked with social and political developments, such as the rise and fall of different kingdoms and empires. Hindus themselves tend to be more concerned with the religious value than its date.

            According to Hinduism, time is cyclical, like the four seasons and eternal rather than linear and bounded. Its texts refer to successive ages ‘Yugas’ designated respectively as the golden, silver, copper and iron ages.  With each successive age, good qualities diminish until we reach the current Iron or Dark age ‘Kali Yuga’ marked by cruelty, hegemony, hypocrisy, materialism and so on.