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Freedom – The Motto of Hinduism

Hinduism does not impose inviolable restrictions on its followers; it gives them the freedom to follow any particular principle or practice according to their own tastes and temperaments. According to Gandhiji, even an atheist many be called a true Hindu. This is because Hinduism does not insist on theism. Atheists and agnostics may still be Hindu if they accept the Hindu system of culture. The path that is suitable to a particular person sometimes may not suit another, so Hinduism advocates different ways for attaining Self-realization or God realization or the attainment of freedom. For Self-realization it offers three major paths: bhakti yoga, jnana yoga, and karma yoga. Hindus generally believe that a seeker after the ultimate Reality can follow any one of the three paths.

Gandhiji very much liked the liberal outlook of Hinduism and believed it to be the most tolerant religion of the world. He observes, ‘It was the most tolerant religion. It gave shelter to the early Christians who had fled from persecution, also to the Jews known as Beni-Israel as also to the Parsis.’ (MK Gandhi, In Search of the Supreme, ed. V B Kher (Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1962), 3.86.)

Hinduism is not a codified religion. No other religion in the world has had so liberal and catholic a history as Hinduism. Swami Vivekananda has expressed this catholic outlook of Hinduism in the following words: ‘We believe that every being is divine, is God. Every soul is a sun covered over with clouds of ignorance, the difference between soul and soul is owing to the difference in destiny of these layers of clouds. We believe that this is the conscious or unconscious basis of all religions, and that this is the explanation of the whole history of human progress either in the material, intellectual, or spiritual plane’. At the Chicago Parliament, Swamiji expressed his pride at being born in such a catholic religion: ‘I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.’

Religious tolerance is necessary for peace in the world and Hinduism accepted and practised tolerance. Hinduism has always been very liberal in its approach towards other religions. It accepts unity in diversity. It recognizes that each religion tries to reach the same destination in its own way. Hinduism believes that perfection can be attained not only by Hindus but by anyone of any religion.