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“God is one, but wise people know it by many names.”
This ancient proverb reflects a central feature of Hinduism.
Hindus worship many Gods and Goddesses, but they believe
the Gods are all aspects of one Supreme God, Brahman. Hindu
thinkers came to believe that everything in the universe was
part of the unchanging, all-powerful spiritual force called
Brahman. Brahman is considered one unifying spirit. Hindus
believe that the multiple Gods represent the countless different
qualities and powers of Brahman. To Hindus, Brahman is too
complex an idea for most people to understand, so they
worship gods that give a concrete form to Brahman. Their
ultimate goal is to achieve union with Brahman. The three most
important Hindu gods are Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the
Preserver), and Shiva (the Destroyer)
Based on the reading, is Hinduism polytheistic or monotheistic?
Why do you think there are three heads on the statue above?
What is “Brahman”?
Who are the most important gods in the Hindu religion and what role do they play?
What is the Hindus ultimate goal?
In Hinduism, samsara is the continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. The process of
rebirth is sometimes referred to as reincarnation. The goal of Hindu’s life is to be released from
samsara and united with the Supreme God, Brahman. Hindus call this release moksha and it is
achieved after a person’s soul has lived through many lifetimes. Hindus achieve moksha by
following the path of dharma, balancing their karma (both good and bad actions),
worshipping the Gods faithfully, and having a direct and personal experience of God by
following certain spiritual practices.
The ultimate goal of existence, Hindus believe, is achieving moksha, or union with
Brahman. In order to do that, individuals must free themselves from selfish desires that
separate them from Brahman.
Most people cannot achieve moksha in one lifetime, but Hindus believe in reincarnation,
or the rebirth of the soul in another bodily form. Reincarnation allows people to continue
working toward moksha through several lifetimes.
In Sanskrit (written language of India dating back to 500 B.C.),
MOKSHA means:
"liberation from earthly bondage".
What is moksha?
How can individuals achieve “moksha”?
What can you compare moksha to in Christianity and Judaism?
For Hindus, what is the purpose of “reincarnation”?
Why do you think this is the Sanskrit definition of moksha?
Some Hindus follow the principle of ahimsa, or noninjury to
humans, animals and the belief that all life is sacred. To
Hindus all people and things are aspects of Brahman and
should therefore be respected. Many holy people have tried
to follow the path of nonviolence. This religious practice
applies especially to cows, which many Hindus consider to be
sacred. Some historians believe that in ancient India the
worship of cows stemmed from a practical effort to protect
the milk supply.
A sacred Indian
“Brahman Cow”
Although cows are not actually worshipped as gods in
modern India,
and are not treated as sacred animals by all Hindus, remnants of this ancient tradition still
exist. Hindus do not eat beef, and many eat no meat at all.
Hinduism contains some of the earliest writings about peace, as this quote from the Rig Veda
Come together, talk together,
Let our minds be in harmony.
Common be our end,
Common be our purpose,
Common be out deliberations,
Common be our desires,
United be our hearts,
United be our intentions,
Perfect be the union among us.
Rig Veda 10-191:2
What is “ahimsa”?
What does this practice/belief tell us about Hindus?
What did the worship of cows stem from in ancient India?
Based on the Rig Veda what was important to Hindus?
How does this ancient tradition affect Hindus today?
In each of their lives on earth, Hindus believe, a
person can come closer to achieving moksha by
obeying the law of karma. Karma refers to all the
actions of a person’s life that affect his or her
fate in the next life. People who live virtuously
earn good karma and are reborn at a higher level
of existence. Those who do evil acquire bad karma
and are reborn into suffering. In Indian art, this
endless cycle of death and rebirth is symbolized by the
image of the wheel. (picture on the right)
To escape the wheel of fate, Hinduism stresses
the importance of dharma (DAHR muh), the religious and moral
duties of an individual. It is the system of rules and values Hindus follow in their everyday
life. Another way to think of dharma is as “the right thing to do” in any situation. Hindus
believe in universal dharma that includes values all Hindus accept and practice, such as
nonviolence. However, Hindus also believe they have an individual dharma they should
follow these duties vary according to class, occupation, gender, or age. By obeying one’s
dharma, a person acquires merit to be reborn and have a better next life.
What is karma?
What is dharma?
How does a person’s dharma affect their karma?
What is the connection between dharma, karma and reincarnation?
Create a sentence using dharma, karma, and reincarnation.
Vedic Hymn
“When the gods divided the Man,
into how many parts did they
divide him?
What was his mouth, what were his
arms, what were his thighs and his
feet called?
The Brahmin was his mouth, of his
arms was made the warrior, his
thighs became the Vaisya, of his
feet the Sudra was born.”
The caste system is an important part of Hinduism. Castes are social groups into which people are born
and out of which they cannot move during a lifetime. A person may, however, by acquiring good
karma, be born into a higher caste in the next life. The three basic caste groups during the Aryan times
were the priests known as the Brahmins, who were the highest. The second caste consists of the
warriors, known as the Kshatriyas. The third caste is made up of the herders, artisans, farmers and
merchants. Later a group was created for the non-Aryans which included farm workers and servants
called the Sudras. The lowest ranking people, called the Untouchables, were at the bottom of the social
system. Untouchable’s life was very harsh and restricted. To Hindus people in the different castes were
different species of beings. Brahmins were purer and therefore closer to moksha. The caste system
governed every aspect of life- where they lived, what they ate, how they dressed, and how they
earned a living. A person was not allowed to marry outside of their caste.
What is the caste system?
How would you describe the caste system?
How does an individual move up in the caste system?
Who were the lowest people in the caste system?