Upon close examination we discover that the religion of the Vedas was not the religion of the Hindus, nor were the Vedic people Hindus, nor will the Hindus of today approve the replacement of the term ‘Hinduism’ with ‘Vedic Religion’. None can say exactly when the Aryans became Hindus because neither the name Hindu nor its major beliefs and practices existed in the Vedic times. To this, one must add the marginal place the Vedic gods occupy in today’s Hindu pantheon. In addition, as we have seen, the Vedas themselves are not attractive to most of today’s Hindus as sacred texts. The Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavad-Gita, Puranas, and Manusmriti, may have more to do with the Hinduism of today than the Vedas.
Thus, it is clear that there is no direct ancestry of modern Hinduism traceable in the Vedas, though it does have some influence on it “The Vedic corpus reflects the archetypal religion of those who called themselves Aryans, and which, although it contributed to facets of latter-day Hinduism, was nevertheless distinct”.
When the religion of the Veda knows no idols then why so many gods and goddesses with different form and name are being propagated as Vedic gods. Why these conceptual gods are introduced when the Vedic concept of God is free from form and attributes.
Who introduced the concept of God with attributes and attributeless gods, when Yajur Veda says: - those who worship visible things, born of the prakrti, such as the earth, trees, bodies (human and the like), in place of God are enveloped in still greater darkness. Therefore, all these add-ons prove that the form and attribute based concepts are introduced by some sages of the past with a new belief system and code of conducts in the name of Vedas.
The vast ocean of Vedic religion or Santana Dharma was consistently steady and calm for a very long period. It appears that as a consequence of the rage of Buddhist revolution it got suddenly disturbed and flowed down to us in disorder. Even today Vedic religion or Santana Dharma has not recovered from the onslaught of Buddhism and Jainism and is not able to settle in people's heart in its original form in the same old measure.
The Buddhist influence is seen in a great measure in the Vedic philosophy which is followed by the majority of Indians. Thus, it is clear that Vedic religion or Sanatana Dharma has not retained its original form, but been influenced by other religions has undergone a sea change. Thus the influence of Buddhism on Santana Dharma is extraordinary. Even Kumarila Bhatta, who fought with great heroism for the revival of Vedic religion, was so much influenced by Buddhism that he established for the first time in the country, an atheist Vedic religion or Sanatana Dharma. There is no room for any doubt to assert that the Kumarila Bhatta School was influenced by the atheist Buddhism because the school which is based on the validity of the Vedas and rituals refutes the existence of God.
Sage Sri Sankara endeavored towards establishing Vedic religion overthrowing Buddhism. But even he was not able to avoid the influence of Buddhism. The influence of the revolutionary atmosphere of Buddhism has reappeared in the Advaita of Sage Sri, Sankara. His inability to revive Vedic religion that flourished before the Buddhist revolution in its pure form is discernible.
Many thinkers since his time have said about Sage Sri Sankara that he made use of many important tenets of Buddhism and presented to the people the very Buddhism in the guise of Vedic religion. Though the Vedic religion represented by Sage Sri, Sankara is like a conglomeration of many things he deserves the credit of having turned the Hindu mind which was once averse to Vedas -the root of Hinduism, towards the Vedas once again. For this, the followers of the Vedic Religion should be grateful to Sage Sri Sankara.
The brilliance shown by Sage Sri Sankara a man of wonderful genius, a matchless speaker, and an extra-ordinary dialectician is really a great spectacle in history. In his time, there was a severe conflict between Buddhism and the atheist Vedic religion of Kumarila Bhatta. Utilizing this opportunity Sage Sri Sankara intervened in the conflict and making use of some concepts and methodology of both the Kumarila Bhatta School and Buddhism presented a new coalition religion before people.
Sage Sri, Sankara gave an extraordinary charisma to this religion with the help of his methods of logic and style of exposition. Its influence was so much that both the Bhatta School and Buddhism had to flee from India without leaving a trace. The absence, even today, of a single follower of the Kumarila Bhatta school as well as of Buddhism, is a proof enough for the great achievement of Sage Sri Sankara. This indeed is a historical miracle.
One can see in the Vedic religion expounded by Sage Sri Sankara a different version of the Kumarila Bhatta School and Buddhism. That is why the tradition of following Kumarila Bhatta methodology in expounding the Advaita thought at the empirical level gained ground in the Advaita School. Different types of the methodology of Buddhism were absorbed into the Advaita thought, of course, under new labels. There is a very clear similarity between the Vedic religion of Sage Sri Sankara and Buddhism and the Advaita School have given the world a common message. The essence of both the schools is:-
The entire world which one perceives is illusionary; it is just an appearance of unreality and there is only one indeterminate and attributeless Sat at the root of this world".
Hindus are idol worshipers of the large number of Gods and Goddesses whereas the in Vedas the God has been described as:-
v Sakshi (Witness)
v Chetan (conscious)
v Nirguna (Without form and properties).
v Nitya (eternal)
v Shuddha (pure)
v Buddha (omniscient)
v Mukta (unattached).
The nature of the Atman (soul) is:-
v Without form and properties
The Vedas confirms God is Atman (spirit), the innermost Self.
In Yajurveda – chapter- 32:~ It has been said that God Supreme or Supreme Spirit has no ‘Pratima’ (idol) or material shape. God cannot be seen directly by anyone. God pervades all beings and all directions. Thus, Idolatry does not find any support from the Vedas.
Rig Veda: ~ The Atman is the cause; Atman is the support of all that exists in this universe. May ye never turn away from the Atman the innermost self. May ye never accept another God in place of the Atman nor worship other than the Atman?" (10:48, 5)
Vedas itself declare: May ye never accept another God in place of the Atman nor worship other than the Atman? Thus, to know the real God Self-realization is necessary. Self-realization is God realization. Self-realization is real worship.
Thus it refers to formless and attributeless God, which is the Atman (soul), the innermost self within the false experience. Thus it indicates clearly all the Gods with form and attributes are mere imagination based on the false self. Thus Atman or soul, the innermost self is God.
The Vedas do not talk about idol worship. In fact, till about 2000 years ago followers of Vedism never worshipped idols. Idol worship was started by the followers of Buddhism and Jains. There is logic to idol worship. Vedas speak of one God that is the supreme self in i.e. Atman or soul but Hinduism indulges in worshiping 60 million Gods.
That is why Swami Vivekananda:~
The masses in India cry to sixty million Gods and still die like dogs. Where are these gods?
Knowing this, stand up and fight! Not one step back that is the idea. ... Fight it out, whatever comes. Let the stars move from the sphere! Let the whole world stand against us! Death means only a change of garment. What of it? Thus fight! You gain nothing by becoming cowards. ... Taking a step backward, you do not avoid any misfortune. You have cried to all the gods in the world. Has misery ceased? The masses in India cry to sixty million gods and still die like dogs. Where are these gods? ... The gods come to help you when you have succeeded. So what is the use? Die game. ... This bending the knee to superstitions, this selling yourself to your own mind does not befit you, my soul. You are infinite, deathless, birthless. Because you are the infinite Spirit, it does not befit you to be a slave. ... Arise! Awake! Stand up and fight! Die if you must. There is none to help you. You are the entire world. Who can help you? - Swami Vivekananda (Delivered In San Francisco, on May 28, 1900) -The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 1/Lectures And Discourses/The Gita II
As indicated in ISH Upanishads:~ By worshipping gods and goddesses you will go after death to the world of gods and goddesses. But will that help you? The time you spend there is wasted because if you were not there you could have spent that time moving forward towards Self-knowledge, which is your goal. In the world of gods and goddesses you cannot do that, and thus you go deeper and deeper into darkness.
It clearly indicates that:-If the human goal is to acquire Self-Knowledge then why one has to indulge in rituals and glorifying the conceptual gods, goddesses, and gurus to go into deeper darkness. Instead spend that time moving forward towards Self-knowledge, which is one’s prime goal.
Since it is eternal and infinite, it comprises the only truth. The goal of Vedic religion, through the various yogas, is to realize that the consciousness (Atman) is actually nothing but Brahman.
The Vedic pantheon of gods is said, in the Vedas and Upanishads, to be only higher manifestations of Brahman. For this reason, "ekam sat" (all is one), and all is Brahman.
Thus, the goal is to realize Atman (consciousness). If Atman (consciousness) is nothing but Brahman and by realizing Atman (consciousness) as Brahman (ultimate truth) is truth realization or Self-Realization , then there is no need to follow religion, study scriptures or glorifying gods or gurus and follow the path of doubts and confusion by losing oneself in the labyrinths of philosophy, when there is an easier path. By mentally tracing the source of the mind from where it rises and subsides one becomes aware of the fallacy of the mind, which rises as waking or dream and subsides as deep sleep. The mind raises form consciousness and subsides as consciousness.
Reincarnation was not a Vedic belief. Belief in reincarnation which is central to Hinduism of today is not really attested to in the Vedas, though they hint at life after death. The doctrine of transmigration as elaborated in Hinduism has no place in the Vedic hymns”. In the early Vedic literature, there is no express mention of the doctrine of transmigration.
It is in the Upanishads that it appears for the first time. The Rig Veda speaks of two paths for the souls of the deceased, namely, the path of the gods (devayana) and the path of the fathers (pitriyana). Those who go by the former enjoy immortality and there is no return to physical life after that.
In fact, the Vedic man longed for this state of life. Whereas those who go by the latter path, unite with the fathers and then return to earth, after having enjoyed the fruits of his deeds.
The entire Rig Veda ― consisting of about 10,500 verses ― there is only one occasion where there is mention of a return to this world after death. What is implied here is that it cannot be taken as an important teaching of the Rig Veda
The doctrine of Avatara and caste system are not Vedic in origin.
The theory of Avatara (‘descend’) of gods which is very important to modern Hinduism is non-Vedic. The term Avatara […] is not found in the earlier Vedic texts, and is absent from the older Sanskrit glossaries”.
The caste system which is so integral to Hinduism was also not practiced in the Vedic times. There is hardly any evidence of rigid caste system in the Vedas. It is argued that the purushasukta hymn of the Rig Veda (X.90) which is often referred to in order to give a religious sanction to the caste system, was a later interpolation. The Vedas, however, speak of various classes of people, which appear to have been names of professions, and they were not hereditary.
“The very concept of castes by birth, upper/lower castes, superior/inferior castes, outcastes, untouchables, Dalits, etc. are clearly prohibited by Rigveda”.
The taboo on cow slaughter is not Vedic in origin. The taboo on cow slaughter and beef eating did not exist in Vedic times. Criteria like taboo on beef-eating or belief in reincarnation might stamp the Vedic seers as non-Hindus”. The question whether the Vedic people practiced cow slaughter is debated among Hindu traditionalists. The cow was a sacred animal that the authors of the Vedas sacrificed cows and ate beef on special occasions. This argument only substantiates the view that cow was not an inviolable animal and that beef eating was not a taboo in Vedic times.
As is clear from the above, several aspects that are intrinsic to the Hinduism of today, such as, the doctrine of re-incarnation, avatars (‘descent’) of gods, caste system, the taboo on cow slaughter and beef eating were absent in the Vedic religion. It was shown by a critical study of the Vedas that the Aryans had no developed idea of the caste system, (.…) The taboo on the use of beef was shown to be of later origin, that the cow was freely killed for ceremonial and other purposes in ancient India”.
Vedic religion or Santana Dharma is distinct from the Hinduism.The Vedic religion or Santana Dharma deserves to be treated on its own as a distinct religion with its own sacred texts, rites, rules of social life, beliefs and practices without inter-linking it with Hinduism. Perhaps it is right to maintain that the Mimamsa School which is concerned with the investigation of the Vedic texts, their correct interpretation and the meticulous performance of the Vedic rituals and ceremonies has preserved and defended a part of the heritage of the Vedic tradition.
The Vedanta school also may have received a part of the inspiration from the Vedas. For the rest of the Hindu philosophical schools and religious sects, the influence of the Vedas is nominal. However, in as much as elements from the Vedas have influenced some aspects of Hinduism, it may be considered as one of the many factors influencing modern Hinduism.
But by no means can it be maintained that Hinduism has its direct ancestry in the Vedic religion or Santana Dharma. Therefore, Hinduism of Vedic times is an imagined community. Hinduism is of a much later origin, and a historical view of Indian religions would endorse a dichotomy between Vedic religion or Santana Dharma and contemporary Hinduism.
Hinduism does not have a long ancestry as is often presumed or propagated by the Hindu ideologues. In fact, historically, religions like Buddhism and Jainism can claim greater antiquity than the Hinduism of today. Hinduism began to take a systematic form from the time of Sage Sri, Sankara (8th century A.D). In this sense, he may be considered as the ‘founder’ of Hinduism.
Thus Hinduism came into existence with its own code of conduct beliefs, rituals after the 8th century. Hinduism as one knows today is of recent origin. He states: “Hinduism did not really achieve its status as a coherent, though still baffling, religious complex until after the establishment of the British rule in India.
In discussing the Vedic religion it is also to be remembered that in the course of history, many non-Aryan elements entered into the Vedic religion. The Vedic Aryans freely borrowed elements from the culture and the society around them. But we cannot say with precision, which are the non-Aryan elements in the Vedic religion. Therefore, the thesis of the direct ancestry of Hinduism of today from Vedic religion is to be considered as a myth purported by orthodoxy.