Hinduism, also known as Sanatana Dharma, is the world’s oldest living religion.
It is a natural religion, meaning its philosophy and practices are considered universally accessible through sincere study, reason, and experience apart from special revelation. Hinduism is also an indigenous religion made up of a diverse family of philosophies and traditions that have been practiced primarily throughout Asia for thousands of years. Today, Hinduism is a global religion with adherents living on every continent, and comprising majorities in three countries: India, Nepal, and Mauritius.
Most traditions, sects, or schools within Hinduism share certain distinctive, core beliefs despite the absence of an identifiable beginning in history, single founder, central religious establishment, or sole authoritative scripture. Two of these core beliefs are that of the oneness of existence and pluralism.
All beings, from the smallest organism to man, are considered manifestations of the Divine (existence, pure being, light of consciousness) or reflections of the Divine’s qualities, depending upon the school of thought. Because of this shared divinity, Hinduism views the universe as a family or, in Sanskrit, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
Hinduism also advances the concept of the equal worth of all mankind, as expressed in the ancient hymn:
Ajyesthaso akanishthaso ete sambhrataro vahaduhu saubhagaya.
“No one is superior, none inferior. All are brothers marching forward to prosperity.”
Mankind, because it is believed to be the most spiritually evolved, thus carries a special responsibility to honor the equal worth of all people and the underlying unity of existence through one’s relationship with oneself and others. Ensuring that one’s thoughts, words, and actions uphold and promote values such as truth, kindness, equanimity, empathy, generosity, and equal regard is how this responsibility is met.
The popularly recited Hindu invocation demonstrates this concern for universal kinship and well-being:
Om sarve bhavantu sukhinah. Sarve santu niraamayaah. Sarve bhadraani pashyantu. Maa kaschid dukhbhaag bhavet.
“May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings experience prosperity. May none in the world suffer.”
Against the backdrop of this understanding of equality and unity, the Hindu world has been able to embrace the reality of diversity through its philosophy of pluralism. Every being, with their varying likes and dislikes, their unique personalities, and their different cultures, not only connect with one another in their own unique ways, but connect with the Divine in their own individual ways.
As such, Hindus believe that the Divine (existence, pure being, light of consciousness): 1) Manifests in different forms; 2) Can be understood and worshipped by various means; 3) Speaks to each individual in different ways to enable them to not only believe in the Divine, but experience and know the Divine.
This embrace of pluralism has contributed to the incredible spiritual and religious freedom one witnesses within Hinduism — in its many deity traditions, paths or yogas, schools of thoughts, saint traditions, ways of worship, etc.
The worldview of pluralism is not just applicable to Hindus, but to all members of this universal family. Accordingly, Hinduism acknowledges not just the possibility, but also the existence of more than one path (religion) or way of relating to Truth (God).
This true, unadulterated pluralism is captured in the ancient Sanskrit hymn:
Ekam sat vipraha bahudha vadanti.
“Truth is one, the wise call it by many names.”
In relating to other religions, Hinduism asserts that it is not only harmful, but inherently flawed to insist that one’s own path towards God is the only true and meaningful path. Based on this firm pluralistic belief, Hinduism has never sanctioned proselytization. Further, over their vast history, Hindus have never invaded another land in the name of religion. It is also clear that, for centuries in Southeast Asia, it has been this Hindu brand of absolute pluralism, which has provided the ideal environment for peaceful coexistence and prosperity for at least eight major religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism and Zoroastrian.