Hinduism is a term coined by the British in the 1900’s, and given to the culmination of religious systems in the Indian Subcontinent (Fischer, 2005). It is much like panethnic grouping. The term Spanish is used as a grouping of several ethnicities and cultures simply because they speak the same language. It doesn’t mean their cultures are the same. Hinduism is simply a term for the religious systems that exist in the same area. However, Hinduism does have a very similar “foundation” of belief.
The foundation of belief The Indian Supreme Court has connected the foundation of Hinduism more succinctly in the following table, per Fischer (2005):
“1. Acceptance and reverence for the Vedas as the foundation of Hindu philosophy;
2. A spirit of tolerance, and willingness to understand and appreciate others’
points of view, recognizing that truth has many sides;
3. Acceptance of the belief that vast cosmic periods of creation, maintenance, and
dissolution continuously recur;
4. Acceptance of belief in reincarnation;
5. Recognition that paths to truth and salvation are many;
6. Recognition that there may be numerous gods and goddesses to worship, without
necessarily believing in worship through idols;
7. Unlike other religions, absence of belief in a specific set of philosophic concepts” (p. 113).
The scripture associated to these religious systems is the Vedas, which is like the Christian Bible, is commonly believed in Hinduism by the majority of religious systems. The origination of this sacred book is not agreed upon.
Vedas and Belief Structure
There is an Aryan Invasion Theory that Indo-European tribes migrated into Indian land and invented the Vedas, their Holy Scripture, and not the Indians themselves. Some believe the scripture is Holy and written by Rishis that received holy messages from their God. (Fischer, 2005).
Fischer (2005) states “According to orthodox Hindus, the Vedas are not the work of any humans. They are the breath of the eternal, as ‘heard’ by the ancient sages, or rishis, and later compiled by Vyasa. The name “Vyasa” means “Collector.” He was traditionally considered to be one person, but scholars think it likely that many people were acting as compilers” (pg 72).
Regardless of its origin, it is widely believed and followed in Hinduism.
Another connection in Hindu Religions is the forsaking of material things in exchange to learn and know one ’s self. Fischer (2005) “What is real and lasting, they found, can be discovered only by turning away from transient worldly things. They taught their pupils to turn their attention inward and thus discover a transcendent reality from within. This unseen but all-pervading reality they called Brahman, the Unknowable” (p.74).
The Hindu Religions believe in reincarnation but not that it is without end. They believe it is a progress toward liberation from the physical constraints of the world, once passing stages and learning oneself and practicing actions with karma in mind, one can achieve this liberation known to many Hindus as samsara. Per Fisher (2005) ”To escape from samsara is to achieve moksha, or liberation from the limitations of space, time, and matter through realization of the immortal Absolute. Many lifetimes of upward-striving incarnations are required to reach this transcendence of earthly miseries. This desire for liberation from earthly existence is one of the underpinnings of classical Hinduism” (p. 75).
Lord Shiva Meditating: Nirvana
Another common area in the journey to reach liberation from material worlds and find moksha is meditation. Meditation is used to connect with one’s self. To clear the mind of the physical and concentrate on one’s self is a pathway to greater understanding and becoming closer to achieving moksha. Ethical lifestyles are also common denominators of Hindu beliefs. They all believe ultimate cause of suffering is the ignorance of the “self”.
There are also common philosophies among the Hindu Religions. Samkhya is one philosophy that also connects the “self” to the religion. Per Fischer (2005) “Samkhya philosophy holds that there are two states of reality. One is the Purusha, the Self, which is eternally wise, pure, and free, beyond change, beyond cause. The other is Prakriti, the cause of the material universe. All our suffering stems from our false confusion of Prakriti with Purusha, the eternal Self” (p. 76)
Another philosophy is Advaita Vedanta, This is the philosophy that our material life is considered an illusion and prevents us from true unity with the self. (Fischer, 2005).
Fischer (2005) states “Maya is the illusion that the world as we perceive it is real. That we are unaware that we are believing in the illusion we are real, and when we truly understand we are a projection of thoughts and really one with ourselves, we find sublime peace” (p. 77).
Yoga is another platform of Hinduism. Fischer (2005) states “From ancient times, people of the Indian subcontinent have practiced spiritual disciplines designed to clear the mind and support a state of serene, detached awareness. This desired state of balance, purity, wisdom, and peacefulness of mind is described as sattvi” (p. 77).
Used as a path to knowing oneself and reaching moksha Yoga has specific areas it focuses on. Fischer (2005) states “Patanjali distinguishes eight ‘limbs’ of the yogic path: moral codes (yamaniyama), physical conditioning (asana), breath control (pranayama), sense control (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana), and the state of peaceful spiritual absorption (samadhi)” (p.78).
Clearly separating from physical worlds desires and uniting with ones “self” spiritually is paramount in this religion. From their daily activities, philosophies, scriptures, and beliefs, ones “self” is the ultimate goal to become. To get closer to ones “self” Hindus use Gurus, spiritual teachers that bridge the gap between infinite and finite to connect the followers to their higher spirit (Fischer, 2005).
Patanjali Yoga Sutra
Hindu Deities Symbolism and Explanation
Hindus also pray to Deities. There are common deities in the religion. Per Fischer, (2005) “Of all the deities worshipped by Hindus, there are three major groupings: Saktas who worship a Mother Goddess, Saivites who worship the god Siva, and Vaishnavites who worship the god Vishnu. Each devotee has his or her own ‘chosen deity,’ but will honor others as well. Ultimately, many Hindus rest their faith in one genderless deity with three basic aspects: creating, preserving, and destroying. The latter activity is seen as a merciful act that allows the continuation of the cosmic cycles” (p. 83) and she continues “sacred texts called Tantras instruct worshippers how to honor the feminine Divine” (p. 84). Many other texts exist that explain myths, have poetry, and guide the Hindu followers.
Hindu Rituals and Caste System
Outside of the belief system of Hinduism, or Sanatana Dharma, there are rituals for everyday activities. Fischer (2005) states “From the cradle to the cremation ground, the Hindu’s life is wrapped up in rituals. There are sixteen rites prescribed in the ancient scriptures to purify and sanctify the person in his or her journey through life, including rites at the time of conception, the braiding of the pregnant mother’s hair, birth, name-giving, beginning of solid foods, starting education, investing boys with a sacred thread, first leaving the family house, starting studies of Vedas, marriage, and death. The goal is to continually elevate the person above his or her basically animal nature” (p. 95)
Division of labor through a caste system Hindus are born into to give social order and labor positions, in addition to fasting, prayer, respect of nature, and pilgrimage are all part of Hindu’s daily life as they seek spiritual enlightenment (Fischer, 2005).
Now that you know more about Hinduism, would you consider exploring it as a religion?
Cultural and Societal Influences on Hindu Beliefs
Many Cultural and societal influences have made changes to this belief system. Once Hinduism exalted women as great contributors to Dharma, being praised, esteemed and valued more than in any other religion, however in the beginning of the 1900’s women were demoted to a servant and housewife level. They are required to bring a large dowry to a marriage and in turn, women are killed to avoid the burden of a dowry (Fischer, 2005).
In addition Kali Yuga has been reached in the listed “ages” of Dharma. This is due to society’s penchant for material things and physical things. Fischer (2005) states “When society reaches a stage where property confers rank, wealth becomes the only source of virtue,
passion the sole bond of union between husband and wife, falsehood the source of success in life, sex the only means of enjoyment, and when outer trappings are confused with inner religion” (p. 89).
Additionally politics has used the guise of “secularizing” religion from politics stating the numerous religious systems within Hindu cannot be favored individually, political figures use the religious systems to cover corruption and gain notoriety (Fischer, 2005)
Hinduism is a constant cycle of attempting to achieve moksha. This is the uniting of the physical and soul, or “self”. The desire to be liberated from earthly things is because Hinduism believes earthly things cause illusions and prevent a person from uniting with the spiritual part of oneself. A love for materially things, or belief they are “real”, is also is part of the final ages of Kali Yuga, a Hindu term for when the world comes to its worst, which makes it harder to reach the spiritual unity Hindus seek. The physical aspect of the world is the only thing stopping a Hindu from reaching the “afterlife” or the sublime where he no longer reincarnates, but finally become one with oneself.
The Hindu faith is peaceful and very internal, sharing many of the core values within each religious system, and the ultimate goal of reaching the sublime achievement of breaking the chains of the illusions of the physical world and finding one’s “Self”.
Fisher, M. P. (2005). Living Religions. Prentice-Hall.