I wonder, living and growing up in America, how much of a chance you have had to think about your wonderful Indian heritage – the heritage of a “Hindu” culture that comes from the oldest, richest and most enduring civilization of all time. This culture encompasses a deep spiritual philosophy – a philosophy first articulated in ancient times in the Vedas about some of the most profound questions that we can ask: questions about creation, life and death, love and healing, our relationship to the universe and the nature of our conscious selves. It shows us ways of uniting ourselves with our environment and shows us how we can unearth fundamental truths about existence and about the oneness that underlies everything.
I want to tell you some salient features of this great spiritual body of thought that is a part of our tradition, but I also want to emphasize that the “Hindu” culture was not just a philosophical system of contemplation. It was part and parcel of a magnificent civilization that excelled in science, music, astronomy, sophisticated political institutions, rules of governance, war and taxation. It also was extremely advanced in medicine: in many ways ahead of even modern day Western medicine in stressing holistic wellness through a science called Ayurveda . It has a body of literature that is astonishing in its scope and depth and unparalleled in any other civilization in history. See the chart below for some aspects of “Hindu” culture. The world took note of this incredibly advanced culture and it spread to China, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and much of Southeast Asia as well as Central Asia and as far as Persia and Greece. It enabled early India to “conquer” the world without ever sending an army!
Now this culture has fallen into relative obscurity. I know you still feel its influence and follow many of its traditions, like celebrating Diwali or occasionally visiting a temple and singing bhajans or practicing yoga or meditation or watching classical dances or Bollywood movies. But few today seem to study it deeply or comprehend its depth, scope, and its profound wisdom in guiding life in all spheres – practical, philosophical, spiritual and financial. The reasons for this recent lapse of interest in our heritage culture are historical and diverse – colonization and marginalization of India and the economic and cultural dominance from the West. Indian history or Hinduism is barely touched in US high school and college curricula and misinformation persists that devalues our heritage.
Here are some astonishing things about our culture that will pique your interest:
- Sanskrit, the language of ancient India, belongs to the largest family of modern languages – the Indo-European group. This group includes English, Latin, Greek, German, Persian, Russian, French and most West European languages. It is the oldest of all and the most sophisticated giving rise to the possibility that it belonged to a dominant and vast civilization.
- The four Vedas of Hinduism are larger than all the literature of ancient Greece and Rome combined – including Homer, Ovid, Plato et al
- The Indus Valley Civilization, which flourished as a huge “country” 3,500 to 4,600 years ago was perhaps the first Republic – it had the most egalitarian society ever seen before the birth of modern democracies.
- The Indus Valley Civilization has shown no evidence of war for about a thousand years! They were huge with more than 500 towns and cities, and had figured out how to live without violence!
- India invented an incredibly complex and sophisticated system of music – with ragas that codify hundreds of moods and classical structures, a unique body of musical art unique in the world.
- India had the first comprehensive doctrine of state law and just national governance. Also rules and techniques for waging war.
- The Ramayana, the Hindu epic, was composed by Valmiki, in a spontaneous outburst of the first shlokas of Sanskrit literature. And what an outburst – he created 500,000 lines of poetry with perfect meter of 16 beats per line. This poem documents the history of Rama and his exile in exquisite detail and was memorized by generations until it was written down about 1000 years later!
- The Hindus created the concept of zero in mathematics permitting much of modern math to exist. They also were the earliest to name the constellations and study their movements.
- Hinduism dominated some of the largest empires in SE Asia – e. g. the Khmer and the Champa empires for a thousand years were Hindu; the former has the largest known temples in the world at Angkor (modern day Cambodia).
There are many other tantalizing details that are emerging from ancient documents and archaeology. There is evidence that Christ himself was a student of Buddhism and that his philosophy is an offspring of Hindu thought. More research needs to be done to fully appreciate this and we hope that the next generation of Indian adults, now curious and economically secure will carry the mantle.
Hope these thoughts set off your curiosity in pursuing this culture further.