As all religions grow and become organized, they take on external rituals and trappings. They form rules and regulations and lose internal freedom. Nuns and monks used to shave their heads for a certain reason, but now they have forgotten why they do so. Sannyasins have rules too, but they must work out for themselves what those rules are. In the beginning, we may tell a disciple to shave his head but after some time he starts to question ‘Why?’
Hinduism has survived because of its flexibility. It has not rejected anyone or anything and this is why the pantheon of Hindu gods is so large – one man worships a stone, another a god, another a goddess. A Hindu may say, “Okay, God is formless and omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, but we need a form to focus on and to make us one-pointed in our devotion.” Even if a Hindu doesn’t agree with someone’s ideas, he accepts his rights to worship. He is brought up to respect all religions, creeds and faiths. He may say, “We accept that God is formless and so on, but not everyone does so.” Parents teach children to accept all religions, philosophies and ideologies but to keep Hinduism. The essentials don’t change, the external changes. Hinduism today is different from what it was one thousand years ago. The essentials are the same but the external aspects have changed. There are two aspects to religion:
According to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed passed in the 4th century, it was agreed that people would go to hell, not into another birth and be given another chance. This is a social decree, not a divine dispensation. There are many apparent inconsistencies in religions. For example, in Christianity people may argue, ‘If God is omniscient, all powerful and so on, why doesn’t he stop suffering on earth? If he is all-beneficent, why doesn’t he destroy evil in an instant? If he is so powerful then he can do all the work. After all I am only a human being, how can I hope to do anything?’
In Hinduism, too, we see the same. One year after a person dies the shraadha ceremony is performed. Mattresses, blankets, rice, money and different items of comforts are gathered and given to the brahmin pandits who are supposed to send it to the departed for their comfort in the other worlds. Some people say that these people have already reincarnated, so how will these things reach them if they are in another body?
Such discrepancies are found in all religions but only in the external aspects. Realizing this, Hinduism accepts everything and merges. It doesn’t reject, realizing that any view is as good as mine. This is why you see elements of all religions in Hinduism.
Any religion which remains rigid, upholding only one book and only one way will be subject to conflict and will die out. Only the religions which adapt will survive. The fighting in the Middle East is an example. It goes back to Biblical times. Christianity and Islam are said to have come from Judaism. One said only my way is right and the other would not accept any other God other than their own.
But if they are one family, why do they fight?
Distant friends don’t fight, only close friends or family do. Hinduism, by accepting, will survive. Even though it changes on the outside, on the inside it remains the same. This principle has enabled Hinduism to resist many invasions. For example, Hindus only fought the Muslims because they went against their own principles. When the Muslims came, they abused Hindu women yet in their own faith they revere women and keep them very well-guarded. The Hindus said, “How can you demand virtue from your own women but you defile our women?” Hindus don’t eat beef and Muslims don’t eat pork. The Muslim invaders asked the Hindus to eat beef. The Hindus rejected this and fought back. As soon as the Muslims developed a third force within themselves of benevolent rulers, Muslim saints and so on, they began to question other Muslims, “Why do we force our views on others?” When their benevolent attitude spread, they were accepted by the Hindus.
Education should not try to provide everything. This only results in confusion. The main aim of education is to attain efficiency in society. If we try to bring in ethics and morals, we create more confusion than if we merely attempt to create productive individuals who can do their work well by the age of 18 or 19. Then they have less mental problems, problems of identity, and so on. If we tell a man it is wrong to drink but all his friends and the whole society does so, then he becomes confused. If we say smoking is bad, he cannot believe us because all his friends do it.
Ethics and morals are an individual’s choice, not a social responsibility, however society demands certain things from us in terms of our personality and behaviour. The evolution of society and the individual goes through karma. We must match up to the demands of the times. However, education cannot hope to meet all the demands. We must look closely to determine whether the process so far has been successful. We should not try to do everything in school. Ethics and morals must arise from an inner desire.
If you come to sannyasa, I do not say, “Do not drink alcohol.” I do not make this imposition. However, any other institution will say, “Do not drink.” This assumes that you want to drink and provides a temptation. In sannyasa you must want to do something or you cannot be successful. This is the basis of right ethics and morals. It is up to society to provide itself with capable, efficient workers and it is up to the individual to develop other aspects of his personality, intuition and so on.