Which is the oldest religion in the world? Nobody knows. Ask the foremost historian or the greatest saint but they will not have an answer. We know so little about the earliest humans who inhabited our planet. But we can take an educated guess about the first god. Keep aside for a moment the view that god created the universe and just consider how humans visualize god. Most probably, the first god that humans recognized and worshiped was the sun.
The agnishomiya vyuha – the Agni-Soma formation – is the cosmic structure, the eternal arrangement. It is the eternal establishment that binds the consumer and the consumed. This concept has been discussed in the Upanishads and the Yogavasishtha. Krishna speaks about this in the Gita when he identifies himself with the sun, the moon, fire, energy, sap, thought, etc. (BG 15.12-15).
Do you love your spouse? Do you love your child? Do you love your parents? Do you love your wealth? Do you love wisdom? Do you love power? Do you love god? Most of us would answer with a yes to at least a few of these questions, but according to a famous story in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (2.4.1-5) the answer is no.
While Krishna praises the trait of detachment and contentment, he emphasizes the need for hard work. At the risk of sounding paradoxical, he says in the Gita – I’ve achieved everything, yet I continue to work (BG 3.22); If I fail to work tirelessly, humans will blindly follow my example and sit idle (BG 3.23); If I didn’t work, the worlds would perish and I would become the cause of chaos (BG 3.24).
The uniqueness of sanatana dharma is its universality. Three cardinal features confer upon it its universal character. These three are however not mutually exclusive; they, in fact, nourish one another.
In the Bhagavata Purana, there is the moving episode of Kuchela’s visit to Krishna’s palace. Kuchela and Krishna were classmates in the gurukula of Sandipani. Kuchela leads an impoverished life while Krishna is a king. Kuchela visits his old friend with a view to ask him for help but when he actually meets him, he is unable to bring himself to ask for a favor.
Whenever I'm asked to speak about Hinduism to a Western audience, who is typically unfamiliar with our tradition, I like to use a simple acronym to highlight the core values of sanatana dharma, the eternal truth. But before that, I usually mention these four important points about our tradition:
Krishna speaks about bhakti so often in the Gita. He goes as far as to say – sincerely worship the supreme in any form you like; I will strengthen that faith (BG 7.21). But what of Krishna himself? Is he a devotee? Or is he an arrogant god?
The basic idea of the Gita was to convince Arjuna to fight the war and kill his enemies. Krishna tells Arjuna without mincing any words that he has to face his enemies and march ahead. And in the course of this persuasion, he uses various lines of argument (see for example, BG 2.31-33, 11.34). But this is not an empty exhortation. Krishna himself has killed others. He has killed his own people too. He killed his own maternal uncle Kamsa because the latter was not adhering to dharma and was ruling over the kingdom as a tyrant.