Hindu Response to Modern Problems
Individuality is the result of association of „tman (spirit)
with a human body. A human body without „tman is a dead body and „tman without
a human body cannot manifest itself in the phenomenal world. Thus individual
personality comprises of two components, physical and spiritual. Because of this
natural constitution of the human personality, human happiness depends upon
balanced fulfillment of the spiritual and physical needs of one's being.
The scientific and technological revolution of the twentieth century has
provided man with substantial amenities of life. We have made immense progress
in fulfilling our physical needs. However, we have ignored our spiritual needs
and the result is catastrophic. The break-ups in families resulting in children
with single parents or no parents, child abuse, spousal abuse, teenage
pregnancy, drugs, violence and crime have increased to epidemic levels in modern
affluent societies. The root cause of all these problems is that we are focusing
our full attention on the physical needs alone and no attention on the spiritual
needs. We have become very materialistic in our outlook and in the process lost
Cosmos is One Family (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam)
In the past several centuries, science and technology have presented to us a
mechanistic world view which defines the world as an aggregate of particles of
matter. This mechanistic view of the world has led human beings to evaluate all
political, economic, environmental, and social issues in a fragmentary way. This
fragmented world view presents a separate existence for each unit without any
relationship with other beings, nature and God. Thus a modern human being tries
to resolve problems with a specialized view which is only a partial view.
Thousands of years ago, sages discovered that all things and beings of the
universe are the manifestation of the Supreme Self. "All are in One and One
is in all," the sages declared. The sages described the creation as a
continuous, dynamic, and blissful experience. The modern scientific view is
still short of experiencing the blissful aspect of Reality. Recent developments
in physics have shown that there are no definite boundaries separating the
fundamental particles, the building blocks of matter, from one another. The
scientists observing these particles and the instruments of observation are part
of a continuous stream of energy. The current world view of the unconnected
existence of everything in creation is at the root of many of our modern
problems. The so-called freedom of the human beings is grossly misunderstood as
is evident from the uncontrolled expressions of human behavior and controlled
thought processes by political interests and religious dogmas.
The fragmented view of life has distorted the relationship of individuals,
families, societies, nature and God. The realizations of the ancient seers found
the entire cosmos to be one family. Every aspect of creation was seen as the
expression of the same eternal principle described as Brahman, God or Ultimate
Systems Must Unfold the Divinity of Human Beings
In modern societies success is measured by possessions, positions and power.
Scientific knowledge has been exploited to control the external nature without
any attention to the control of the inner nature. This modern paradigm of
success misses the important parameter of character. The foundation of human
life is character, the moral and ethical ability of an individual to respond to
the external conditions of life. In ancient wisdom, the emphasis was on the
integrity of body, mind, intellect and soul.
The sages taught that every child that is born owes Three Debts that
must be repaid in the adult life. First, there is a debt to God that one can
repay by dedicating one's life to the service of God. To a Hindu, service of God
means service to all mankind, regardless of caste, color or creed. Service of
God also includes reverence for parents, teachers, the practice of non-violence,
and truthfulness, a pleasant and respectful attitude toward others, especially
elders, obeying scriptural injunctions, and practice of self-control and purity
of thought. In Hindu culture, respect and reverence for old age is recognized as
partial repayment of this first debt to God.
A second debt is to the sages and saints who have revealed the truths in the
Vedas and other scriptures. This debt can be paid off by serving sages, saints,
and gurus and by preserving and enriching the cultural heritage that is handed
down through each generation. In the absence of sages and saints in modern
societies, the repayment of this debt involves contributing generously, without
desire for reward, for the benefit of the needy, homeless, handicapped, sick,
poor, and less fortunate.
The third debt is to one's ancestors which includes raising one's family in
accordance with the moral and ethical principles of dharma.
To enable an individual to fulfill both the physical and spiritual needs, the
ancient sages organized life into four stages: studentship, householder,
retirement and renunciation. The three main goals of the studentship stage of
life are to acquire knowledge, build one's character, and learn to shoulder
responsibilities that will fall upon the individual during his (or her) adult
life. This stage begins when a child enters school at an early age and continues
until he has finished all schooling and is prepared to assume the
responsibilities of the future.
The student is expected to acquire two types of knowledge. First, he must
acquire knowledge in the arts and sciences, and learn necessary skills for
earning a decent living in the world. Second, the individual must acquire
religious and spiritual knowledge, the moral and ethical principles of dharma.
He must learn to discipline the body and mind, practice self-restraint,
non-violence, and truthfulness.
The householder stage begins with one's marriage, which in Hindu way of life
is regarded as a sacrament, and not a social contract. This stage forms the
foundation for the support of the other two stages that follow. The importance
of the householder stage is often reflected in the analogy that just as all
rivers flow into the sea, all stages flow into the householder stage.
An individual's competence in successfully assuming the duties and
responsibilities of the householder stage of life depends upon the intensity and
the depth of knowledge acquired during the studentship stage. During the
householder stage an individual pays the Three Debts. A householder earns
wealth and enjoys good and noble things in life in accordance with the formula dharma-artha-kama
to the discussion of Four Ends in Chapter 5.
After the responsibilities of the householder stage are complete (i.e., one's
children have reached adulthood and have assumed the responsibilities), one
enters the retirement stage, known as the ascetic or hermit stage of life. In
this stage one gradually withdraws from active life and begins devoting more
time to the study of scriptures, contemplation and meditation. The individual,
however, makes himself available in order to provide guidance and share
experiences with the younger generation, when requested to do so.
The renunciation stage is the final stage of life in which an individual
mentally renounces all worldly ties, spends all of his time in meditation and
contemplation and ponders over the mysteries of life. In this stage of life an
individual must forgo the concepts of I, My, or Mine, and
evolve his or her consciousness to seek oneness of all existence. In ancient
times one would part company with one's family and meditate in a forest. In
modern societies this stage can be regarded as complete mental renunciation of
the world and total absorption in meditation and contemplation.
Excellence is the Goal of Life, Not Competition
Without adequate attention to manifest the divine power that lies dormant
within every individual, one is left to suffer when stripped of material
prosperity, titles or powers. While competitiveness does enhance individual
skills, lack of basic character and human values cannot be replaced by personal
Individuals motivated by the goal of excellence in life strive to bring the
best out of their beings without concern for competition with others. The ideal
of personal success for completely selfish goals is highly stressful. Greater
joy in life can be derived by sharing the fruits of one's work with others.
Society's current paradigm of happiness is possessing, hoarding, and thinking of
"me" and "my rights." The sages tell us that greater joy
arises from sharing, caring, and loving. Nothing feeds the human heart with a
sense of satisfaction as much as acts of service to others. The Vedic prayers for the well-being of all living creatures should be the
inspiration behind the vision of the harmonious world.
The Paradigm of Happiness is Selflessness and Charity
The competitive lifestyle in modern societies encourages individuals and
nations to accumulate more and more wealth and material possessions without
regard for the welfare of others. The possessive nature of the mind is one of
the major causes of pain, suffering, and injustice in the world today. If
actions of individuals and nations were motivated by the instinct of charity,
the problems of poverty and starvation could be significantly alleviated. Forms
of charity such as Meals on Wheels, planting of trees, and provision of food,
clothing and medicines to refugees are all relevant in modern times. Charity
basically means sharing what God has given us with all of God's creatures.
According to the Bhagavad GÓt„ 3.12, one who takes from the society and does
not give back to those in need is a thief.
In Hindu view, charity encompasses a great deal more than giving away money,
food or clothing. Charity also includes sharing good thoughts, words and deeds
with others. Our prayers and good wishes to others are also expressions of
charity. Giving away material gifts fulfills the need of the moment, but giving
education, building and maintaining temples and charitable institutions, or
serving as volunteers at such establishments plants seeds of hope for the
future. Giving to those who are in need, such as the poor, hungry, sick, and
homeless helps us in two distinct ways. First, the charitable actions help the
„tman to slowly free itself from material bondage and attain union with God.
"Liberation is only for he who gives up everything for others. Even the
least work done for others awakens the power within; even thinking of the least
good of others gradually instills into the heart the strength of a lion,"
says Swami Vivek„nanda.26,30
cultural intolerance, poverty, political and economic exploitation.
|Notion of separate identity from each other
and from God; mechanistic view of the world.
||Recognition of the basic Hindu doctrines of
of existence and potential divinity of all human beings.
|Lack of character; the present system of
education allows the mind to gather facts and store and process data
before it knows how to control itself.
||Educational institutions must install
life-building, man-making and character-making systems. Control of the
mind should be taught before data acquisition and processing occurs.
|Crime and violence
||Injustices and inequalities, wrong thinking,
fear, indifference, hatred, moral decay, impulse to meet disagreement
with force, lack of values and attitudes.
||A fundamental change of values and attitudes
is required to recognize injustices and inequities in the society. A
spiritual response is necessary to ensure true justice and equality
among all people.
|Family break-ups, unwanted babies, and ill
|Non-recognition of the spiritual nature of
individuals, fragmentary world view and competitive life styles.
||Recognition of the Three Debts, Four
Stages of life, and striving for excellence and not competition.
||Fragmentary world view leading to the
irresponsible use of natural resources.
||Realization that nature is not a commodity to
be dominated and conquered. The planet earth must be treated as Mother
Secondly, serving others helps us to improve our own health. The authors of
the book titled The Healing Power of Doing Good researched several
thousand volunteer organizations.31 They concluded that 95 percent of
those researched exhibited increased self-esteem, serenity, relaxation and
positive sense of well-being. They further concluded that serving others
resulted in a significant reduction in stress and stress-related illnesses
among the volunteers.
Hindu religious literature describes some specific acts of charity which far
exceed the normal standards of compassion. For example:
- After being pursued by a hungry vulture, an injured bird fell in the lap
of the Great Emperor Sibhi. The emperor cut a part of his own thigh, offered
it to the hungry vulture as food, and treated the injured bird.
- While traveling in his chariot, a king saw a creeper plant grown over the
road. The king left his chariot on the roadside for the creeper plant to
climb and grow on the chariot and traveled to his palace on foot.
Hindu Vision of a Harmonious World:
- Where harmlessness to all creatures is the highest culture, service to the
poor is the highest worship, compassion is the highest religion, truth is
the highest law, and love for all God's creatures is the highest philosophy.
- Where political, social and religious institutions and their leaders
strive tirelessly to accept people of all races, colors and creeds, and
respect their faiths and beliefs.
- Where all forms of life are revered as various expressions of the Supreme
Lord and ahims„ is the governing law.
- Where educational, political and economic systems are designed to assist
individuals to unfold their highest potential.
- Where mothers, fathers, teachers and elders are revered, children are
brought up with self-esteem, and the young are taught to respect intrinsic