Hinduism is Vedic religious philosophy whose correct name is Sanathana Dharma, meaning Eternal Law or Eternal Knowledge. It represents the oldest living religion whose beginnings reach in some unknown point in the distant past. It is hard to correctly state the age of Vedas, on which Hindusim is based, as they were carried in oral tradition from generation to generation for thousands of years. They were written down between 3.500 and 4.000 years ago. According to Veda themselves they are trillions of years old and they existed from the beginning of time. It is said they were originally a pure spiritual vibration which existed before the creation of material universe.
It can be speculated that some parts of Vedas were changed intentionally or unintentionally during the period of their verbal existence, and having them written down earlier might have given us better insight in what they originally were. It can also be assumed that some parts of this extremely valuable cultural heritage of the world were lost forever. But even in this possibly somewhat imperfect shape available to us today Vedas do not stop to surprise anybody who embarks on studying them.
According to Max Müller, German philologist and Orientalist, the first translator of Rig Veda and one of the founders of the modern academic subjects of Indian studies and Comparative religions, Vedic culture and its knowledge is 8.000 – 9.000 years old. He noted in his works that “in the Rig-veda we shall have before us more real antiquity than in all the inscriptions of Egypt or Ninevah. The Veda is the oldest book in existence… The Veda fills a gap which no literary work in any other language could fill. It carries us back to times of which we have no records anywhere.”
In his book The History of British India, Edward Thornton observed, “… when Greece and Italy, these cradles of modern civilization, housed only the tenants of the wilderness, India was the seat of wealth and grandeur.”
None of the religions which go back some 5.000 years are still around. While great civilizations of ancient Egypt, the empires of Inca, Maya and Aztecs, are all gone, leaving us only their ruins to figure out what their real cultures were like, Hinduism is still alive and well and represents the third biggest religion in the world today. Its scriptures, customs, ceremonies and wisdom are still widely available to anybody who reaches for it.
Although some say that Hinduism is still alive due to its adaptability and lack of one central authority which resulted in the lack of rigidity, it is more probable that the deep, universal truths it contains made it to endure all foreign influences and withstand the challenges of new times.
Many agree that Hinduism is not only religion but a way of life that person can accept and follow regarding of his background and without the need to leave the religion in which he or she was raised. Author of many respected books on Hinduism and Vedic philosophy, Stephen Knapp, said that Hinduism is “a code of conduct which values peace and happiness and justice for all. Thus, it is a path open for all who want to be learn how be happy with simple living and high thinking, while engaged in proper conduct, a moral life, and selfless service to humanity and God.”
The reason why Hinduism at first sight might seem hard to grasp probably lies in its diversity. As the Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, the founder of the magazine Hinduism Today, said “Hinduism is not a monolithic tradition. There isn’t a one Hindu opinion on things. And there is no single spiritual authority to define matters for the faith. There are several different denominations, the four largest being Vaishnavism, Saivism, Shaktism and Smartism. Further, there are numberless schools of thought expressed in tens of thousands of guru lineages. In a very real sense, this grand tradition can be defined and understood as ten thousand faiths gathered in harmony under a single umbrella called Hinduism, or Sanathana Dharma.”