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Thursday, April 23, 2015
Answers to questions about Hinduism
Indeed, all religions are pluralistic to the core, but its practitioners are not. Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Bahai, Buddhism are pluralistic faiths. Most people get that right a few don't. The problem is not with religion, it is with the people.
acknowledge the potential existence of multiple, legitimate religious and
spiritual paths, and the idea that the path best suited for one person may not
be the same for another. The Rig Veda, one of Hinduism’s sacred texts, statesEkam sat
vipraha bahudha vadanti, or “The Truth is one, the wise call
It by many names.”
a result of this pluralistic outlook, Hinduism has never sanctioned
proselytization and asserts that it is harmful to society’s well being to insist
one’s own path to God is the only true way. Hindus consider the whole world as
one extended family, and Hindu prayers often end with the repetition ofshanti – or peace for all of
discrimination is not intrinsic to Hinduism.
discrimination and “untouchability” are purely social evils not accepted or
recognized anywhere in the Hindu scriptural tradition. The word “caste” is
derived from the Portuguese “casta” — meaning lineage, breed, or race. As such,
there is no exact equivalent for “caste” in Indian society, but what exists is
the dual concept of varna andjāti.
texts describe varna not as four rigid,
societal classes, but as a metaphysical framework detailing four distinctive
qualities which are manifest, in varying degrees, in all
individuals. Jāti refers to the
occupation-based, social units with which people actually
are four varnas and
countless jātis. In theory, the
numerous jātis loosely belonged to one
of the four varnas, but were not limited to the traditional profession of
the varna in
ancient India. Over time, however, varna and jati became conflated and
four varnas —
and the most common professions belonging to each — were:
scholars, physicians, judges, and priests (brahmanas)
soldiers, administrators, city planners (kshatriyas)
traders, bankers, agricultural, and dairy farmers (vaishyas)
artisans, blacksmiths, and farmers (including wealthy landowners) (sudras)
subsequent fifth category, now known as the “untouchables,” emerged more than
2,000 years after the Rig Veda (the first Veda) to categorize
those jātis which, for various
reasons, did not fit into the four-fold varna structure.
of these jātis performed tasks
considered ritually impure, physically defiling, or involving violence, such as
preparing and eating animal products. However, no sacred text or book of social
law ever prescribes this fifth category. Rather, Hindu scripture emphasizes
equality of all mankind.
one is superior, none inferior. All are brothers marching forward to
term “caste” in modern India is primarily understood to mean jāti rather
than varna and
is a feature across all religious communities. Discrimination on the basis of
caste is also outlawed. Generally, neither varna nor jāti have bearing
on one’s occupation in modern India, but may still influence lifestyle, certain
socio-cultural practices, and marriage.
3. Karma is more than
just “what goes around comes around.”
is the universal law of cause and effect: each action and thought has a
reaction, and this cycle is endless until one is able to perform virtuous action
without expecting rewards.
Bhagavad Gita, III.19 and III.20 expounds on this:
without attachment Perform always the work
that has to be done For man attains to the
highest By doing work without attachment Likewise you should perform with a view to guide
others And for the sake of benefiting the
welfare of the world
in karma goes hand in hand with belief in reincarnation, where the immortal
soul, on its path of spiritual evolution, takes birth in various physical bodies
through the cycle of life and death. Though karma can be immediate, it often
spans over lifetimes and is one explanation to the commonly asked question, “Why
do bad things happen good people?” or visa versa.
4. Hindus recognize
and worship the feminine Divine.
is the only major religion that worships God in female form. Hindus revere God’s
energy, or Shakti, through
its personification in a Goddess. Shakti is seen to be complementary and not in
competition with divine masculine powers which manifest as
Vedas are replete with hymns extolling the equality and complementary roles of
men and women in the spiritual, social, and educational realms. Hinduism remains
one of a few major religions in which women have occupied and continue to occupy
some of the most respected positions in the spiritual leadership — including
Sharda Devi, The Mother, Anandamayi, Amritanandmayi Devi or Ammachi, Shree Maa,
Anandi Ma, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda and Ma Yoga Shakti.
society has, over the ages and in modern times, seen tremendous contributions
made by women in nearly every aspect of life.
5. Hindu iconography
is replete with symbolism.
as we see the endless sky and oceans as blue, we are reminded of the Divine’s
infiniteness through the blue-toned depiction of some Hindu Gods. Because
Hinduism teaches that all of nature is Divine, Hindus believe that God manifests
in the various forms that are found in nature.
example, the ever-popular Ganesha is depicted with an elephant head, symbolizing
wisdom, as elephants are recognized to be among the wisest of animals. Hanuman,
worshipped as the perfect devotee and depicted as a monkey, symbolizes the
individual’s ability to quiet the ever-racing human mind through loving devotion
to God and selfless service, or seva.
6. Hinduism is
actually a family of six major schools of thoughts, one of which is
the ages, various schools of theology developed in Hinduism through a dynamic
tradition of philosophical inquiry and debate. Six schools of thought,
or darshanas, are
recognized as the most influential:
Vaisheshika: considered one of the most
ancient atomic theories founded by Sage Kanada. Sage Kanada held that all matter
is made up of atoms and these atoms are activated through Divine
intervention. Vaisheshika and Nyaya eventually
Nyaya: a system of logic proving the
existence of the Divine as well as other core Hindu concepts such as karma.
Nyaya insists that nothing is acceptable unless it is in accordance with reason
and experience. The thoroughness of Nyaya logic and epistemology
greatly influenced succeeding orthodox and unorthodox schools of
Sankhya: considered one of
the oldest schools of thought. Sankhya divides all of existence into two
categories — Purusha(divine
consciousness) and prakriti (matter). Very little
Sankhya literature survives today, and there is some controversy over whether or
not the system is dualistic because it propounds the existence of these two
Mimamsa or Purva Mimamsa: interprets the rules of Vedic
ritual, proffering perfection in ritual as a path towards moksha.
Yoga: more aptly Raja Yoga
focuses on quieting the mind through an eight-limb system (Ashtanga yoga) as described in
Sutras for a balanced life and ultimatelymoksha.
Vedanta: arguably the most
influential on modern Hinduism, this theology relies primarily on transcending
one’s identification with the physical body for liberation. The means by which
an individual can transcend one’s self-identity is through right knowledge,
meditation, devotion, selfless service, good works, and other religious and
spiritual disciplines. Major sub-schools of Vedanta include Advaita,Dvaita, and Visishtaadvaita.
Hindus believe the Divine resides in all beings.
accepting the divinity in all beings and all of nature, Hinduism views the
universe as a family or, in Sanskrit,vasudhaiva kutumbakam. All beings, from the
smallest organism to man, are considered manifestations of
carries a special responsibility, as it is believed to be the most spiritually
evolved with the capacity to not only tolerate, but honor the underlying
equality and unity of all beings. In line with this idea is the commonly heard
Hindu greeting of Namaste, which means “The Divine in me bows to the Divine in
Hindus worship God, or Brahman, in various forms.
Hindus believe in one, all-pervasive Divine Reality that is formless (Brahman)
or manifests and is worshiped in different forms (Ishvara or God/Goddess). A
Hindu may choose to worship God in the form(s) of Shiva, Ganesha, Lakshmi, or
any form that personally speaks to her.
will freely worship multiple forms of God and participate in the many religious
festivals throughout the year that honor the different forms of the Divine (i.e.
Shivaratri pays homage to Shiva, Janmashtami pays homage to Krishna,
reason Hinduism depicts God with form is based on an acknowledgement that the
average human mind finds it near impossible to mediate upon or develop a
personal relationship with a Divine that is formless.
Hinduism is a global religion.
the majority of the world’s Hindus reside in India, there are substantial Hindu
populations across the globe. Hindus form sizeable minorities in North America,
the UK, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Fiji, and Malaysia.
the recent past, sizeable Hindu populations existed in Bhutan, Pakistan, and
Bangladesh, but those have diminished considerably due to human rights
violations and lack of religious freedom.
Hinduism and Sanatana Dharma are synonymous.
term Sanatana Dharma,
loosely translated as “Eternal Law or Way,” is self-referential. The term
“Hindu,” however, is a twelfth-century Persian abstraction referring to the
Indic civilization they found espousing certain beliefs, practices, and a way of
life on the banks of the Indus (therefore Hindu) river.
the centuries, the diverse followers ofSanatana Dharmahave adopted the
references of Hindus and Hinduism. Other terms used to refer to Hinduism
include Vedic,Sanskritic,Yogic, Indic, and Ancient