Even before the gospel preached by Sri Krishna as written in the Bhagavad Gita, by the great poet Vyasa, had had time to be assimilated and influence the nation, the high creed of Buddhism siezed hold of the peoples. Buddhism, with its extreme emphasis on the ascetic ideal, reduced the classes into two – the layman and the monk (with a very large gap between the two), erased the transition between the former four classes and upset the balance in society. It gave much too importance to the virtues of self-abnegation and to that of calm,peace and repose (opposite to the gospel of action that Sri Krishna preached) with the result that half of the nation moved towards a spiritual passivity and the other half towards a splendid (but ultimately weakening) materialism. The nation began to lose its heroic manhood, its vitalising force, its grasp on the world; the Kshatriya caste (the man of action and power) has practically disappeared in society. Buddism was ultimately overpowered by Shankaracharya with his monistic illusionism and there had been an ever-increasing bias towards ascetic spirituality to such an extent that spirituality was seen as an escape from life, which was not at all the original meaning of the Vedanta.
But even this austere exaggeration had its necessity and value for the human mind. The mind cannot in one all-embracing effort reach the lofty heights and understand the eternal truths. It formulates one side of the truth, lives it and for a time even believes it to be the one Truth, then takes its opposite view and believes that to be the only Truth and in this way, by making many adjustments and compromises, gropingly and ardously begins to arrive at the true relations. This great culture, with a sheer audacity, allowed for any spiritual liberties, every line was taken to the extreme possibility, even towards atheism(rejection of belief in God) and agnosticism (belief that the existence of God cannot be proved). From the heights of every such extreme possibility, life was looked back on to see what new power and value such a view could give back to life. From all such spiritual adventures, the culture assimiled whatever of the truths that it could, forming the rich, synthetic Hindu mind of today. Hinduism is not so much of a religion as a vast, complex and greatly diversified mass consisting of the spiritual thought, spiritual aspiration and spiritual experiences of the peoples. Spirituality is single term describing three different lines of human aspiration – 1. Human aspiration towards Divine love, beauty and joy, 2. Human aspiration towards Divine knowledge and 3. Human aspiration towards Divine strength.
For the European mind, it is baffling to figure out what Hinduism is, because the religion sets no sectarian beliefs, it has no rigid dogma, no single discipline to be followed, no single narrow gate to salvation and it permits all kinds of belief, even in the belief of the non-existence of God! The only thing that is clear and fixed is the social law and this has led many to believe that it is more of a social system than a religion, but nothing can be farther to the truth. Hinduism is foremost a spiritual, not a social discipline. In fact, we see that, Sikhism which had broken down the social traditions to build new ones, is still considered to be within the religious fold because it adheres to the earlier Vedic truths; while Jainism which has the same social rules as Hinduism is considered to be outside its religious fold, since it deviates from the Vedic truths.
Even though Buddhism was the first religion to really cast doubt on the value of life, it did so only in its intellectual parts, in its dynamic parts, it was immensely creative in its arts, ethics and social life. It gave a gentle idealism and a great and powerful discipline for the life of man, for even to achieve the state of Nirvana, man has to develop and perfect his nature. If such an extreme philosophy of denial (which siezed only on one part of the Vedic tradition) had such a positive impact on the nation, then this positive turn can only be more largely and strongly found in the totality of the culture.