Hinduism is much misunderstood, by non-Hindus and Hindus alike. Some doubt if it is even a religion. One of the tasks of the book is to clear confusions about this unique religion.
The book has two Parts. The first explains in five chapters what Hinduism is and what it is not. Dr Ambedkar had advised that Hinduism be interpreted, not in terms of rules and rituals, but in terms of principles and philosophy. This is what this book does. Apart from elaborating on the theology, metaphysics and spiritual seeking in Hinduism, it presents its moral philosophy rooted in Truth and Non-violence, as Mahatma Gandhi had emphasized. In the process, the book probes into how Hinduism cares for this world, and how far it is socially engaged and environment sensitive. It also shows why Hinduism is neither Brahminism nor caste system.
The second part of the book expounds on the dynamics of Hinduism, which combines continuity with change, and how it has emerged as world religion capable of showing the way to solace and happiness in these troubled times. Though rooted in the Vedas and Upanishads, Hinduism is not limited by them, including as it does the democratic and spiritual aspirations of the masses which found expression in the Bhakti Movements during the middle age and also modern times. Equality of human beings and respect for differences in faiths and traditions are seen as intrinsic to Hinduism, making it possible for India to survive as a secular democracy with freedom of religion to all and a home to a wide variety of faiths and cultures.
The book includes anecdotes, shlokas and poems, making it enjoyable and authentic. Though scholarly, it is not tedious.
Handbook of Hinduism is an avatar of its earlier version, Hinduism – A Gandhian Perspective (2006, 2008). But there is so much new in it that a change in the title and cover design seemed justified. It is also more comprehensive, yet compact and readable.
Part I: What is Hinduism and What is not: (1) Introduction: A Religion without a name and definition? – Why Gandhian Perspective? – Is Religion necessary? (2) Theology and metaphysics of Hinduism: The Divine and the world – The Self and the Divine – The Self and the world – Law of Karma, Not Fatalism (3) Moral Philosophy of Hinduism: Meeting some criticisms – Truth and Non-violence – Dharma and its Dilemmas – Ethical Grading, theory of Gunas – Human goals in Hinduism, Purusharthas – Social Concern in Hinduism – Environmental Ethics in Hinduism – Ethics in practice (4) Sadhana in Hinduism: Sadhana and its purpose – Self-realiastion through Jnana-marga and Rajayoga - Karma-marga, the path of selfless work – Bhaktimarga, the path of love and devotion – Appendix I: Selected Prayers - Appendix II: Hindu Festivals (5) Caste System is not Hinduism: Hinduism is not Brahmanism – The Caste system, Jati vis-à-vis Varna – There was Hinduism before caste system – Social and occupational mobility not insignificant – Canon and caste – Legends as a weapon against caste – movements against caste within Hinduism – How then did the caste system emerge and survive? - Justification lost but castes continue, a paradox – Gandhiji’s views – Did the caste system help establish the Muslim rule? – Aggravation of caste inequality during British rule.
Part II: Dynamics of Hinduism: (6) Dynamics of Hinduism, Continuity and Change: Canon vis-à-vis charisma – Driving forces behind dynamics (7) The Ancient and classical phase: Vedic phase – Upanishadic phase – Six schools of philosophy – Heterodox schools – Hinduism on the eve of Muslim invasions (8) Bhakti Movements: General Features – Tamil Nadu – Karnataka – Maharashtra – The Rest of India – Conclusions (9) Modern and Contemporary Phase: Many Moods of Modern Phase – Continuity and Change, a few general features.