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Tracing the Hindu Heritage

by Navina Krishna Das

Five thousand years have gone by since the historic times of Lord Krishna’s appearance. Since then, untold stories have been written about men and women, nations, ideas, and civilizations. Mother earth has seen hundreds of chapters open and close.

Somewhere in those chapters, you and I have appeared. And as more chapters are written, we will disappear in the pages of history and be forgotten.

Today some of us are Hindus. We are proud to be Hindus. And we try hard to convince our children that they need to be good Hindus too. Of course, we don’t always find it easy to explain to them why being Hindu is important and what it’s all about anyway. Still, we want to stand up for Hinduism, India, temples, and other things somehow connected with our birth and heritage.

Nonetheless, it’s entirely possible that a few hundred years ago, in a previous life, we lived as proud Muslims. In that life, we stood up for Islam, tried to raise our children to be good Muslims, went to the mosque, and perhaps broke down Hindu temples to build new mosques.

And before that, in some other life, who were we, what religion did we adhere to, and what did we fight for?

In this life we may be Indians, Americans, Chinese, Russians. We may be Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews, or whatever. And so we may be friends or enemies, live peacefully or make war. But this all comes from a great misunderstanding.

Let’s not just read one insignificant chapter of our existence. Let’s think about all the chapters. Because now we may we see ourselves as Indians, as human beings born in India or born from Indian parents twenty, thirty, fifty, or seventy years ago. But the more we think that way, the more deeply we have failed to understand the most basic message of Bhagavad-gita.

Lord Krishna calls Arjuna a fool for identifying with his body and not understanding his spiritual nature.

And for us too, how foolish or intelligent we are depends on our own self-understanding.

When we trace back our heritage—long before we were Indians—we will understand that we are all spirit souls, parts of the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna. At some remote time, long before we can ever hope to remember, we gave up being loyal, loving servants of the Lord. Mistakenly, we chose to leave the Lord’s abode. And we ventured instead into this temporary, miserable material world to try to enjoy.

Taking on different bodies for millions of lives, we have uselessly tried to enjoy what is not enjoyable, forgetting the spiritual bliss found only in the Lord’s abode.

In Bhagavad-gita (8.16) Lord Krishna tells Arjuna:

a-brahma-bhuvanal lokah
punar avartino ’rjuna
mam upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate

“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.”

Lord Krishna invites us back to His abode. And He gives us the means to become free from illusion and go there. The Lord says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja: “Abandon all other so-called dharma and just surrender to Me.”

And if we’re worried about family obligations, career, community duties, or anything else, the guidance and advice of the all-knowing Supreme Lord are available to us in Bhagavad-gita. In fact, we’ll find that when we cooperate with Lord Krishna’s plan, our life becomes peaceful and joyful in every way.

This message of the Bhagavad-gita is the true message of India’s greatest saints. It is the real heritage of India. And now is the time for all Indians—and all followers of Vedic culture—to take advantage of this great heritage.