I was born a Hindu in a mountainous village called Uttersoo in the meadows of Kashmir Valley (India), near the holy shrine of Uma Devi the consort of Shiva.
Life in the village revolved around tending the farms, and celebrating various festivals that tracked our yearly calendar. We enjoyed the festivals of Herath (Shiva ratri), Sonth (Spring), Nowreh ( New year), Zarama Satam ( Janama Ashtami, birthday of Krishna), Rama Navam ( Birthday of Rama), Shrawana Punim ( Day of pilgrimage to Amarnath cave; a day also celebrated as Raksha bandan) , Gada batha (offerings of food to house god), Kawa punim (offerings of food to crows and other birds), Khechi mawas (offerings of food to Yacha), and others specially for our patron Uma Devi. For me, growing up in a Hindu household, the festivals, the associated rituals and the festivities were a continual reminder and an affirmation of the mystical complexity of life itself. I took them for granted as an essential ingredient of my upbringing.
However, as I got to an age of reason, I found myself in a fortunate circumstance of being in the Hindu faith that allowed me freedom to question, reason, choose and decide. This of course brought up, on the one hand the frightening but challenging conundrum of taking responsibility, and on the other relief that God was not waiting to punish on the Day of Judgment, which for Hindus does not exist. This did not make me rush and seek out a personal messiah outside of Hinduism.
My redemption came in the realization, that as an inheritor of the great Vedic knowledge, the implications of logical reasoning and debate are unquestionably the most unique and the greatest gift we have to cherish. This allowed me to ascertain for myself the general absence of incongruities between the modern scientific approach and ancient Vedic knowledge. Here I only make of the Vedic cosmology, and the profound intricacies of evolution of life. These two examples not only make one proud, but also appreciate the fairly objective nature of that process of knowledge acquisition in the ancient times.
Going beyond the complicated rituals, the Hindu faith allows one to realize the common bond permeating not only the various life forms but also between the animate and inanimate forms on this earth and beyond. There you have the Hindu realization of Universality of Brahman. Thus I consider you to be lucky to grow up in a home that takes pride in Vedic heritage.
Clearly, a practicing Kashmiri Hindu is not an automaton but ideally a prayerful individual filled with kindness, compassion and love, helping those in need, and with self control and fidelity in marriage, and one who could of ones own choosing ascend ones destiny. And this all in the absence of the scheming devil, a promise and enchantment of heaven, eternal punishment and damnation of hell, and without the original sinners Adam and Eve.
The basic tenet of Hinduism that allows this to come about can be summarized in the acronym DWEL: the four letter word of: Duty, Wealth, Enjoyment, and Liberation. Thus as long as we DWEL we can live anywhere we choose. Although several conversations are needed to fully explain the meaning of the acronym, here I will try to introduce the basics.
D for Duty-Dharma essentially signifies the Standard-the Ideal ordained for us-against which all our actions are to be measured. This D does not just stand for duty in the ordinary sense but all that we should strive for to achieve and uphold such as the Golden Rule. Thus D is the ideal of pure goodness, unadulterated justice and universal peace. How close to that ideal we get and how much of it we are able to uphold and achieve depends upon how and what kinds of actions-our Karma-we perform. And thus Karma is the vehicle that either brings us closer to or strays us afar from D. Since Hindu life is measured against the D, Karma reigns supreme for our advancement in this world and beyond. Thus this D permeates whatever we do anywhere.
W for wealth, and E for Enjoyment. In this world capitalist or communist- it is no mystery that one needs some wealth to live and enjoy life. However, what is significant here is that a Hindu is enjoined to go out and accumulate and enjoy the benefits of wealth. The enjoyment includes the pleasures of sex, and procreation. The allowance for sexual enjoyment for a Hindu is particularly significant and stands a testament to the ancient understanding of sociological impact it has in contrast to Edwardian/Victorian/Puritan frigid notions about it. However, I must quickly add that while amassing wealth and enjoying various aspects of life, one is involved in activity-karma. There is an utmost need to act responsibly and with D-Dharma.
L for liberation-Moksha. This belief embodies several principles. One is the cycle of births and deaths as effect of reincarnation; second is the carryover of previous karmic balance, and the third is the ejective centrifugal force generated by good karma to jettison the reincarnation process. The culmination of this ejection is mingling in with the Universal Brahman. An intellectual parsing and at length discussion-scientific or otherwise-of the belief in liberation and the component concepts is beyond the purview of this introduction. Suffice to say that all worldly action-karma-determines the nature of entire existence held to the Ideal of D-Dharma. Therefore whatever we do in this life has the overarching effect on this L.
The intricacies and implications that underlie each of the letters of the acronym DWEL will be elaborated later on.