The Additional ONE
“What is Hinduism?”
This question has been asked in different ways and answered in different ways by different scholars for about a century now. People give different aspects of Hinduism as its practical definition, like “tolerance”, “eternal Dharma”, “belief in Veda and Vedic knowledge”, “the set of institutions like caste, marriage” and so on.
The very fact that there was no need felt for defining Hinduism, stands for its universal nature. It is for practical necessity that people tried defining the word in the past century. The first best attempt was Savarkar’s booklet “Hindutva”.
Hinduism is a comprehensive system of life, encompassing world view, religion, spiritual philosophy, social institutions and knowledge system. However, when it comes to defining Hinduism, it is not that simple. For instance if we try to define it by religion, one cannot say “worship of so and so God makes one a Hindu”. Because one can be a Hindu by worshiping any God, or even without worshiping! If we try to define it by spiritual philosophy, there is so much of diversity in schools of spiritual philosophy that almost any sane view is considered valid.
Seers have therefore defined it in this way: Any view which accepts the authority of Veda and believes in the law of Dharma, is Hindu. In fact this definition is clear and unambiguous. However practical difficulties started with this definition. So many philosophies, which are socially and culturally Hindu in origin, sprouted. For example Buddhism and Jainism. Technically none of them is Hindu, since they do not accept the authority of Veda. However they do accept the notion of binding and liberation. And socially or culturally they had no separate identity, which makes the definition technically valid but impractical.
Till date, the debate is on, and different people hold different opinions on this.
However as I started reading more on this subject, it felt that there is something that can put all the differences in place and give me a better definition of Hinduism. And that is, the belief in “the additional One”. We can notice that there is “an additional One” in the entire world view of Hindus, which differentiates them from practically all other religions and world views.
The Wise Minister
There is a famous story that is said about a wise minister. There was a merchant who was fond of arithmetic. He had three sons. He wanted to give a little challenge to his sons. Before dying, he told how to distribute his property among his sons. The eldest should get half, second son should get a third and third son should get a ninth of the entire property. While everything could be divided that way, he had 17 elephants which could not be divided that way. Going by the equation the three sons should get eight and half, five and two-thirds, and less than two elephants in order. How could they divide elephants in fractions! So they approached the king. The king had a wise minister. He said that since the problem cannot be solved with 17 elephants, he would give them one more elephant from the king’s property. So the total is 18. It is simple now, the eldest son gets nine, the second six and third son gets two elephants. This makes the distribution seventeen, and the king’s elephant is still with the king. Thus by adding an element from outside, the wise minister solved the riddle of division.
Very similar is the Hindu approach to understanding the world. They enumerate the world, add another element called the unknown or the origin or God, and simplify the riddle. The additional element is not really affected, the way the king’s elephant is not affected. But it will make a difference in the way we can view and understand the known, the way the king’s elephant does.
Another noteworthy point is that every one of the three sons, got more than their calculation and nothing really less.
The Additional Element
We can start with the basic elements that are said to constitute the universe. While most non-Hindu systems hold that there are four elements namely earth, water, fire and air, Hindus believe that there are five elements, the fifth being sky.
Now it is not just that there is an additional element, but an entire theory goes round it. The fifth element puts all the other four in a perspective, gives a relation between those four and gives us an entirely different understanding of the world. Sky is the origin, from which air, fire, water and earth emerge. Thus sky holds the secret of how the four elements emanate and dissolve. Furthermore, each element is said to emerge from another element in an order: air from sky, fire from air, water from fire and earth from water. This follows the Hindu theory of creation, that everything is created from sound.
Each element is associated with an attribute: sky with sound, air with touch, fire with form, water with taste and earth with smell. It is easy to match these with the five sense organs. Nose smells, tongue tastes, eyes see, skin feels touch and ears hear. Each of these is subtle, and the subtlest is direction that can be known through sound.
Also, since all the elements emerge from sky, sky has all the other elements in it, in their principle or subtle form. And since other elements come from sky and dissolve in sky, they contain the principle of sky in them.
This way, the Hindu theory addresses the riddle of creation and dissolution. Instead of just speaking of four elements in the nature, it speaks of how those elements related, what is their origin and where they dissolve. Thus it not only speaks of matter or the gross but also how gross is related to subtle and in turn how subtle is related to the causal.
The same applies to the Hindu explanation of life systems, including the human system. Man for instance, is said to have five sheaths of consciousness. There are three “bodies” of the being that manifest in these. Physical being or gross body is the outer most of sheaths. The there are three inner sheaths that comprise the subtle body, which are senses, mind and intellect. This far, is in total agreement with other knowledge systems. But what is more in the Hindu concept, is the fifth sheath in man, which is called blissful or the causal being. It is this one refers to as the self.
It is this causal being or principle that is said to pervade all the beings, cause and govern their existence. And this is the one that makes all beings part of the same universal being, and not independent atomic entities. It is this principle that establishes the relation between micro and macro, element and its system, man and God. Thus in Hinduism man is not merely a creation of God, but each being is an external manifestation of what is inwardly the same divine principle.
The principle of “the additional One” does not stop here. Mandukya Upanishad says that Brahman is four-fold. One is the gross, one is the subtle and one is the causal. There is still a fourth, which is beyond description, which is neither of the three nor a combination of them but pervades all of them. And that is the un-manifest.
Another unique feature of “the additional One” is that it is not outside the entities listed, but within them. It is two-way, all the entities exist in “the additional One” and the “additional One” exists as the causal principle of each entity. Sky is not external, but within the other four elements. Causal being is within the gross and subtle. The un-manifest is within causal in turn.
An important implication of this is that the “additional One” is the base for all entities. It exists with or without those entities. It is eternal. It is from this principle, that the concept of God, omniscience and eternity of God really take root.
Furthermore, Mandukya relates Brahman to Aum and explains the four-fold nature of Brahman. “A”, “u” and “m” are the three parts. The fourth is “Aum” itself. Thus it is acknowledged that there is something more than all the entities put together, in the total. Total is not just the sum of all its components, but something more than that. It is that “something”, that “additional One”, that brings completeness to the understanding. This is called holistic approach.
In arithmetic, the “additional One” takes two forms – zero and infinity. Both are intangible and non-quantitative, but without which arithmetic as a discipline could have made no progress. The biggest contribution of Hinduism has been because of the same – the “additional One”.
Behind the conceptualization of those two forms, is the same approach of considering the “additional One” along with countable numbers. It is one which has no tangible value by itself, but puts all the tangible numbers in place, with respect to which all those numbers really assume their values. In its essential form, it is existent in all numbers – zero exists in every number. For instance, 1 is one added to zero. In it’s another form - infinity, all numbers exist in it. Thus the entire number space is defined between two forms of the “additional One”.
In Hindu medicine, the “additional One” takes the form of Prana or vital breath. And it results in a totally different approach to medical science. Unlike the popular medicine instead of the medicine fighting the disease, it is the body that fights the disease when prana is revitalized. Here the treatment is prana-centric and not disease-centric.
According to modern medicine the remedy (the medicine) enters the body and fights the disease. According to Ayurveda the medicine revitalises Prana so that body itself fights the disease. This is the fundamental difference. Both medicine and disease being outsiders to the body, when two outsiders fight in the body a side-effect is natural. This is not the case with Ayurvedic system, as its approach is more positive.
This is just another instance of the same “additional One”, and how it can make a difference to our lives.
What makes the Hindu system unique is the mention of “the additional One”. It has different names in different contexts – holistic, eternal, undefined, absolute, God. It takes different forms in different contexts, the form of sky in the world, the form of prana in biological systems, the form of zero in arithmetic and the form of self in all the beings. It is all-pervasive in the true sense of the word. It is one which itself is not affected by anything but makes all the difference to all that we see and know. It is this “additional One”, that the Hindus pray in all the forms possible.