Hinduism differs from Christianity and other Western religions in that it does not have a single founder, a specific theological system, a single system of morality, or a central religious organization.
Hinduism has grown to become the world's third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam. It claims about 13% of the world's population. It is the dominant religion in India, Nepal, and among the Tamils in Sri Lanka. There are about 1.3 million Hindus in the U.S., and about 157,015 in Canada.
Hinduism has traditionally been one of the most tolerant of religions. However, over the past few years, a Hindu nationalistic political party has controlled the government of India. Anti-Christian violence has escalated.
Name of the religion:
This religion is called:Sanatana Dharma, "eternal religion," and
Vaidika Dharma, "religion of the Vedas," and
Hinduism -- the most commonly used name in North America. Various origins for the word "Hinduism" have been suggested:
It may be derived from an ancient inscription translated as: "The country lying between the Himalayan mountain and Bindu Sarovara is known as Hindusthan by combination of the first letter 'hi' of 'Himalaya' and the last compound letter 'ndu' of the word `Bindu.'" Bindu Sarovara is called the Cape Comorin sea in modern times. 5
It may be derived from the Persian word for Indian.
It may be a Persian corruption of the word Sindhu (the river Indus)
It was a name invented by the British administration in India during colonial times.
Early history of Hinduism:
Beliefs about the early development of Hinduism are currently in a state of flux:
The classical theory of the origins of Hinduism traces the religion's
roots to the Indus valley civilization circa 4000 to 2200 BCE. The development
of Hinduism was influenced by many invasions over thousands of years.
The major influences occurred when light-skinned, nomadic "Aryan"
Indo-European tribes invaded Northern India (circa 1500 BCE) from the
steppes of Russia and Central Asia. They brought with them their religion
of Vedism. These beliefs mingled with the more advanced, indigenous Indian
native beliefs, often called the "Indus valley culture.". This
theory was initially proposed by Christian academics some 200 years ago.
Their conclusions were biased by their pre-existing belief in the Hebrew
Scriptures (Old Testament). The Book of Genesis, which they interpreted
literally, appears to place the creation of the earth at circa 4,000 BCE,
and the Noahic flood at circa 2,500 BCE. These dates put severe constraints
on the date of the "Aryan invasion," and the development of
the four Veda and Upanishad Hindu religious texts. A second factor supporting
this theory was their lack of appreciation of the sophisticated nature
of Vedic culture; they had discounted it as primitive.
Emerging Theory: The Aryan Invasion view of ancient Indian history has been challenged in recent years by new conclusions based on more recent findings in archaeology, cultural analysis, astronomical references, and literary analysis. One scholar, David Frawley, has established a convincing argument for this new interpretation. Archeological digs have revealed that the Indus Valley culture was not "destroyed by outside invasion, but.[by] internal causes and, most likely, floods." The "dark age" that was believed to have followed the Aryan invasion may never have happened. A series of cities in India have been studied by archeologists and shown to have a level of civilization between that of the Indus culture and later Indian culture, as visited by the Greeks. Finally, Indus Valley excavations have uncovered many remains of fire alters, animal bones, potsherds, shell jewelry and other evidences of Vedic rituals. "In other words there is no racial evidence of any such Indo-Aryan invasion of India but only of a continuity of the same group of people who traditionally considered themselves to be Aryans.The Indo-Aryan invasion as an academic concept in 18th and 19th century Europe reflected the cultural milieu of the period. Linguistic data were used to validate the concept that in turn was used to interpret archeological and anthropological data."
During the first few centuries CE, many sects were created, each dedicated to a specific deity. Typical among these were the Goddesses Shakti and Lakshmi, and the Gods Skanda and Surya.
The most important of all Hindu texts is the Bhagavad Gita which is a poem describing a conversation between a warrior Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna. Vedism survives in the Rigveda, (a.k.a. Rig Veda) a collection of over a thousand hymns. Other texts include the Brahmanas, the Sutras, and the Aranyakas.
Hindu beliefs and practices:
At the heart of Hinduism is the panentheistic principle of Brahman, that all reality is a unity. The entire universe is one divine entity who is simultaneously at one with the universe and who transcends it as well. Deity is simultaneously visualized as a triad:
Brahma the Creator who is continuing to create new realities
Vishnu, (Krishna) the Preserver, who preserves these new creations. Whenever dharma (eternal order, righteousness, religion, law and duty) is threatened, Vishnu travels from heaven to earth in one of ten incarnations.
Siva, the Destroyer, is at times compassionate, erotic and destructive.
Most Hindus follow one of two major divisions within Hinduism:
Vaishnavaism: which generally regards Vishnu as the ultimate deity
Shivaism: which generally regards Shiva as the ultimate deity.
Simultaneously, many hundreds of Hindu Gods and Goddesses are worshipped as various aspects of that unity. Depending upon ones view, Hinduism can be looked upon as a monotheistic, trinitarian, or polytheistic religion.
Humans are perceived as being trapped in samsara, a meaningless cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. Karma is the accumulated sum of ones good and bad deeds. Karma determines how you will live your next life. Through pure acts, thoughts and devotion, one can be reborn at a higher level. Eventually, one can escape samsara and achieve enlightenment. Bad deeds can cause a person to be reborn as a lower level, or even as an animal. The unequal distribution of wealth, prestige, suffering are thus seen as natural consequences for ones previous acts, both in this life and in previous lives.
Meditation is often practiced, with Yoga being the most common. Other activities include daily devotions, public rituals, and puja a ceremonial dinner for a God.
Hinduism has a deserved reputation of being highly tolerant of other religions. Hindus have a saying: "Ekam Sataha Vipraha Bahudha Vadanti," which may be translated: "The truth is One, but different Sages call it by Different Names"
The caste system:
Although the caste system was abolished by law in 1949, it remains a significant force throughout India.
Each follower of Hinduism belonged to one of the thousands of Jats (communities) that existed in India. The Jats were grouped into four Varna (social castes), plus a fifth group called the "untouchables." A person's Jat determined the range of jobs or professions from which they could choose. Marriages normally took place within the same Jat. There were rules that prohibited persons of different groups from eating, drinking or even smoking with each other. People were once able to move from one Varna to another. However, at some time in the past (estimates range from about 500 BCE to 500 CE), the system became rigid, so that a person was generally born into the Jat and Varna of their parents, and died in the same group. 1 "The caste system splits up society into a multitude of little communities, for every caste, and almost every local unit of a caste, has its own peculiar customs and internal regulations." 2 The Rigveda defined four castes. In decreasing status, they are normally:
Brahmins (the priests and academics)
Kshatriyas (rulers, military)
Vaishyas (farmers, landlords, and merchants)
Sudras (peasants, servants, and workers in non-polluting jobs).
The Dalit were outcasts who do not belong to one of the castes. Until the late 1980's they were called Harijan (children of God). They worked in what are considered polluting jobs. They were untouchable by the four castes; in some areas of the country, even a contact with their shadow by a member of the Varnas was considered polluting.
Practicing untouchability or discriminating against a person because of their caste is now illegal. The caste system has lost much of its power in urban areas; however it is essentially unchanged in some rural districts. The government has instituted positive discrimination in order to help the Dalit and lower castes.
Hindu sects and denominations:
About 80% of Hindus are Vaishnavites, who worship Lord Vishnu. Others follow various reform movements or neo-Hindu sects.
1. Believes in ONE all-pervasive supreme being who is both immanent and transcendent, both creator and unmanifest reality.
2. Universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.
3. All souls are evolving towards union with God and will ultimately find moksha -- spiritual knowledge and liberation from the cycle of rebirths. Not a single soul will be eternally deprived of this destiny.
4. Karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.
5. The soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved.
6. Divine beings exist in unseen worlds and that temple worship, rituals, sacraments as well as personal devotionals create a community with these devas.
7. A spiritually awakened master, or satguru is essential to know the transcendent absolute, as are personal discipline, good conduct, purification, self-inquiry and meditation.
8. All life is sacred, to be loved and refered, and it is therefore fair to practice AHIMSA or, non-violence
9. No particular religion teaches the ONLY way to salvation above all others but that all genuine religious paths are facets of God's pure love and light, deserving tolerance and understanding.
"Moksha" the personal and direct realization of one's true, divine nature . which releases permanently a human from the cycles of birth and death, termed "samsara". Such a realiation is termed "Nirvikalpa samadhi" and is completely transcendent culmination of yoga. Human soul gratually matures towards this goal and fulfills its obligations to society and family through the pursuit of three other noble human endeavor: (1) Dharma = righteousness, (2) Artha = wealth and material belongings, (3) Kaama = Love/lust. The ultimate destiny of all human souls is to unite with the supreme, commonly referred to as Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva or Shakti. The monoist group of Hindus believe in a total merger in oneness and identity. The others, it means loving, blessed union with God in which the individuality of the soul is maintained.
DIRECTION TO FULFILMENT:
Through the process of repeated births and death, "reincarnation", life after life, human soul matures from the instinctive-intellectual region into virtuous and moral living, then into worship and devotion. Then, by internalized meditation or yoga and all its accompanying disciplines. The sustained and consistent practice of yoga brings union with God through the grace of a living "satguru" holy teacher and results in the maturity of the soul, resulting in a state of "Jnana" or wisdom. Hindus value both "Bhakti" (devotion) and Yoga (devotional and contemplative sadhanas) and strongly urges people to study, hear and recite the Vedas, Agamas, Upanishads and other sacred scriptures