What is Hinduism?

Hinduism: an explanation

What is Hinduism? What makes a true Hindu? What does Hinduism teach her flock?

These are questions asked by those who want to be true Hindus and by those who are curious about Hinduism. A short answer would be glib at best. As Yudhishtira wondered in the great epic Mahabharata (Mahabharata, Aranya Parva,Yaksha Prasna): “Debates lead to no certain conclusion. Scriptures are many and differ from one another. No interpretation is accepted by all. The truth about Dharma is hidden in the caves of our heart. The great among us have searched and found theanswers there.”

The fifteenth century poet saint Narasinh Mehta, who hailed from Gujarat, wondered about the same questions we raised at the beginning. A great mystic and scholar that he was, Mehta distilled his thoughts in a delightful poem “VaishNavajanato.” This poem contains teachings of Hinduism in the simplest yet profound manner. Mahatma Gandhi was deeply influenced by this poem and used it as the guiding principle of his brand of freedom movement – the Satyagraha.

A man of God feels the pain of others. He serves those in grief with devotion devoid of pride.

A man of God respects all and speaks ill of no one. His thoughts, deeds and words are pure. Verily he is a treasure to his parents.

A man of God sees the world without prejudice. He abhors greed and avarice. He treats women as he does his own mother. His tongue may tire but untruth will never be spoken. He never as much touches the property of others.

Worldly attachments do not touch a man of God. His mind is firm and detached from them. Prayer rejuvenates him and holy places are in his thoughts.

A man of God has no greed and deceit. He has conquered lust and anger. Such a man liberates those around him.


The lessons drawn by the poet are universal in spirit. They can be found in all great religions and they are at the heart of the teachings of Hindu scriptures. We shall expand on some points that have a distinctly Hindu perspective.

Subhashitas are a compendium of sayings expressed in short verses that contain the wisdom of the ages. Their repeated use over the centuries have made them so popular their authorship is lost. The following Subhashita brings out the message conveyed by Saint Mehta at the beginning of his poem: “Plants bear fruit for the enjoyment of others; Rivers flow to nourish others; Cows give milk to feed others; Hence this body is made to serve others.”

Service should be rendered with humility, not with pride or with an expectation of reward or recognition. This aspect of the teaching is hard to appreciate and is seldom followed. However, Hindu scriptures are emphatic about it. “Do your duty,” exhorts Bhagawadgita, “You have no right to demand the fruits of your action (Bhagawadgita 2-47).”

It should be recognized that this statement does not contradict the basic dictum of Hinduism: “All actions have consequences. One must and will reap rewards or pay the price in the present life or in future lives. No one, even the gods, can escape from it.”

The point made by Bhagawadgita is this: The fruits of labor will surely come but one has no right to demand what they should be or when exactly they arrive. Our actions are not isolated. In a complex world, a certain action may or may not have the intended outcome. Good deeds will be amply rewarded ultimately, not on the time table one desires. Being focused solely on the outcome leads to unhappiness and impedes the desire to do good.

One who knows this, is least concerned about it and his humility keeps him persist on the right path. Bhagawadgita addresses at length the attributes of “Sthita Prajna,” which mirror the man of God described by Saint Mehta.

A Sthita Prajna does his duty with a steady purpose, unflinching in the face of success or failure. Such equanimity is called Yoga by the sages (samatvam yogam ucyate) (Bhagawadgita 2-48).

Happiness and sorrow of daily life do not distress him; he is free from attachment, fear and anger. Such a person is called a sage of steady mind (Bhagawadgita 2-56).

In the material world, he isunaffected by success or failure. Neither does he praise it nor despise it. His mind is firmly fixed in the true purpose he seeks (Bhagawadgita 2-57).

As the mighty ocean remains unperturbed as waters from many rivers flow into it, a Sthita Prajna remains steady and calm as desires and temptations ofthe world around him come to him. They do not affect him (Bhagawadgita 2-70).


Bhagawadgita concludes: “Such a person who is detached and is devoid of false ego can attain true peace (Bhagawadgita2-71).”

nirmamo nirahankarahsa shantim adhigacchati

Narasinh Mehta was a true Sthita Prajna. The simplicity and elegance of his poem, while carrying a profound message, has inspired and continues to inspire many over the centuries.