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(A study into religious philosophy, beliefs and practices)
This paper will explore the tenets of Hinduism; describe the worship space; provide a
summary of an interview with a believer; and, compare and contrast Hinduism with
An Introduction to Hinduism.
Hinduism is one of the oldest religions on earth.
Anecdotal history (Itihasa) goes very far back to 7000 BC.
The Bharatan War (Mahabharata can be pegged at 3100 BC.
(The Yamuna flood & destruction of Hastinapura mentioned in the reign of Parikshita/
Janamejaya corroborated by geological data).
Hinduism is also called the “very old” or “Imperishable” religion. (Sanatana Dharma).
It is not a formalized “official” religion, but is an informally accepted way of life.
One may be an ascetic, a house holder, an agnostic, a disbeliever, a critic, and still be a
hindu. The frame work is so open.
This is what led Hinduism to crystallize ultimately into six major schools of thought.
In earlier days Fire worship was the main pillar, but has now been relegated to secondary
status. Indeed the Vedic gods are no more seen in temples, but avatars of Vishnu, and
Shiva dominate.
A visit to a Hindu temple in my Locality.
The temple within range (relatively short travel time) is:
The Hindu Temple of St.Louis
725 Weidman Rd,St. Louis,MO,63011,USA,
I visited the temple, and noted that it was heavily decorated with various deities.
The conical tower rectangular in section, was having a profusion of deities and so was the
façade of the compound wall.
The temple had 3 divisions vertically and 3 horizontally.
The vertical divisions were the sanctum sanctorum (Garbha Mandira), the Vimana (tower)
and the Gopuram (the pinnacle).
The horizontal divisions were the Garbha Mandira, The secondary assembly hall (Ardha
mandapa) and the main assembly hall (maha-mandapa).
The main deities were inside the Garbha Mandira.
Questions regarding Hinduism.
I managed to elicit information regarding Hinduism from a Hindu devotee as under.
1. What are the different classes in the Hindu society?
There are 4 classes or castes
a) – Brahmin
b) – Kshatriya
c) – Vaishya
d) – Shudra
2. Can you describe how a Hindu funeral is performed?
Dated:- Wednesday, January 07, 2009
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(A study into religious philosophy, beliefs and practices)
The body is ceremoniously bathed, and clothed in white cotton clothes.
It is then laid out on the pyre and more wood is added to completely cover it.
Care is taken to ensure that there are plenty of empty spaces between each log.
Ghee is added to the pyre.
Either the eldest or youngest son has to perform the rite.
He takes a bath and goes round the pyre 3 times, with an earthen pot on his left
shoulder, that has a hole through which water is dripping. After completing 3 turns,
he throws the pot to the ground backwards.
Then he lights the pyre from the head side first.
Any ashes are collected the next day.
3. In reference to reincarnation, how can you know how many times you have been
reincarnated? Does the cycle ever end?
No, not until one is free from Karma. One may pass through 84,00000 births!
4. Are there any foods that someone practicing Hinduism cannot eat? Why?
Actually Hindus can eat all types of foods, there is NO Bar in the Shastras.
In fact before the advent of Buddhism, Brahmins were the most avid meat eaters.
Though on fasting days, meat and food grown above ground is shunned.
5. What holidays do Hindi celebrate? Are there any similar to Christian holidays?
Though many Christians don’t know it, the Easter Bon fires are Pagan customes
inherited from earlier Aryan customs. Indians have Holi, when they light such Bonfires. Generally upon the advent of spring. The Deepawali lights festival comes
towards oct November and is close to Christmas.
6. How are women treated in the Hindu religion?
Women are treated in a dual way. On the one hand, women in ancient India had
Special rights, and modern women have them too, but the Islamic invasions and rule
has left a mark and certain sections of the society look down on women.
7. Please name some of the leaders of the Hinduism religion. How are these people
important? What did they do?
Dayanand-Saraswati tried to reform the religion as a reaction to perceived Muslim
threats, and he started the Brahmo-samaj.
Raja RAM-Mohan Roy helped greatly in abolishing the Sati system in Bengal.
8. How many gods are there in Hinduism?
Chiefly 3 Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. Many other gods are allowed, as long as they
are acknowledged as avatars of the above 3.
9. What are some interesting facts about Hinduism.
One may be an agnostic and yet be a revered Hindu!
Hindus studied Logic and Atomic theory as religious stuff 2000 years ago.
Their cosmological time line matches that of the big bang.
10. What are the important holidays and traditions of this religion?
Holidays are Deepawali, Holi, Makara Sankranti etc
11. How has religion shaped your life?
It has made me think about religion in a wider perspective, not just the genealogical
perspective or whos who as in the bible, but to look beyond into deeper aspects of
time and space and who we are.
12. What are the challenges, if any, to practicing this particular religion?
It requires intellectual rigor to follow it else one can easily get mired into shallow rituals, and there
are many a false paths here.
Dated:- Wednesday, January 07, 2009
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(A study into religious philosophy, beliefs and practices)
Comparison with Buddhism.
Buddhism is essentially an offshoot of Hinduism.
So much So that the similarities with Sankhya philosophy can be seen immediately.
The law of Karma pre-dated Buddhism, and is expounded in the Bhagavad Gita by Krishna.
By the time Buddhism evolved, Hindu philosophical thought had become divided neatly into six
'darshana's or schools of thought (Müeller, Max (1899)) namely
a) - Nyaya, or simply, Logic, under Akshapad Gautama
b) - Sankhya, a dualist exposition of mind and matter, under Kapil Rishi
c) - Poorva Mimansa, a fundamentalist vedic school under Jaimini Rishi
d) - Uttara Mimansa or Vedanta under Vyasa Rishi
e) - Yoga Darshana - under Patanjali Rishi
f) - Vaisheshika, the atomic school, under Kanada Rishi.
The Aryans were heavy consumers of meat at the time and the vedic rituals included sacrificial
slaughter of many animals chiefly the ram and the horse. In a particular case animals were
slaughtered in such a large quantity that people washing their hides in the local river made it turn red
with blood! It was then named "charman-vati" river of hides! (Vishnu Purana: Book IV: Chapter XIX)
This river to this day bears that name as the fabled "Chambal" flowing through central India.
Later with the rise of revolutionary Buddhist though and the appeal of a casteless Buddhist
society, forced the Hindus to adopt certain practices of the Buddhists, such as abstinence from killing
animals. There are no animal sacrifices in Buddhist rituals. (Except may be in the Vajrayan Tibetan
branch, which is also Tantrik in nature). (Tsongkhapa: Tantrik Ethics page-46).
So hindus too (only Brahmins), adopted this “altruistic” practice. The lower Varnas, Kshatriya
downwards were free to eat meat. In fact the Buddha himself a Kshatriya, is said to have liked Pork
very much and died from the over eating of Pork. His last meal was Pork (Cunda; Mahāparinibbāna
Other religious philosophies were already extant such as the Jainas, when the Buddha was born.
He was greatly influenced by the philosophy of Karma that was already very well developed in India of
the Buddha's time. (Anderson, Alan:
All he did was to demystify the Indian gods, and come up with a caste less "godless" religion
where every soul had equal right to better itself to moksha. It had a liberating influence akin to the
one that Islam had in the middle east much later. But unlike Islam, since Buddhism grew out of a
society that was inherently tolerant of criticism and free from violence, It quickly made societies
peaceful and progressive.(Notable cases were the kingdoms along the silk road that became pacifist
Buddhists only to be conquered by barbarians further to their west and north)!
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(A study into religious philosophy, beliefs and practices)
As for contrasts in the two religions, there are these chief differences.
1 – Hisduism has Cahtur-Varnya (4 castes) Buddhism does not.
2 – Fire worship is central to Hinduism, for Buddhism it is not.
3 – Hinduism never actively sought converts, Buddhism did.
4 – Hindus had multiple gods, Buddhism was godless.
5 – Hinduism had formal ritual, the Buddha did not lay down formal rituals at all.
6 – Hinduism crystallized into 6 schools of thought, Buddhism split essentially on other grounds and had
no formal distinct schools like Nyaya, Sankhya, Yoga etc in Hinduism.
7 – Hinduism looked down on women as sanyasinis, Buddhism had official nuns.
8 – Hindus looked down on young sanyasis, Buddhism encouraged the young also to renounce the
9 – Hindus had their human duties “purusharthas”, the Buddhists had no such injunctions.
10 – Buddhism disappeared from India in face of stiff intellectual 3 way debate (between Mandan
Mishra - his second wife Maitreyi - Adi-Shankaracharya). Buddhism could persist only in areas where it
got moulded to local needs and where serious intellectual competition was missing.
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(A study into religious philosophy, beliefs and practices)
The tenets of Hinduism are very old, reaching far back in time to the onset of the branching off of the
European Aryans (Forerunners of the Greeks / Romans, the wild Goths, Francs, and Scandinavians) and
the Indo-Iranians somewhere on the steppes to the north of the Caspian sea.
Kaspios a personage held in great esteem by the Indo-Iranians is mentioned by the historians travelling
with Alexander the Great into India.
The Avesta traces the vestiges of the Indo-Iranian split (finalized by the battle of the 10 kings
(DashaRadnya war under the Indian Sudas and the Iranian Chayamana ..later Achaemenian references
point to Chayamana. The word Kshatriya appears as “kshaythia on the behishtun rock edicts. Later to be
corrupted as ‘Scythians’ in the phonetically most imperfect English language.
(Thompson, R. Campbell. "The Rock of Behistun". Wonders of the Past. p. 760-767).
Hinduism developed in the Punjab and the Saraswati is mentioned a lot as a mighty river in the Vedas.
The chief gods were Indra, Agni, Mitra, Varuna, the Nastya twins, etc.
Later on Vishnu and his Avataras tended to predominate along with Shiva. There is only one temple of
Brahma in India today! (At Pushkara in Rajasthan).
The pinnacle of Hindu thought were the Upanishadas and Vedanta.
Dated:- Wednesday, January 07, 2009
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(A study into religious philosophy, beliefs and practices)
Müeller, Max (1899). Six Systems of Indian Philosophy; Samkhya and Yoga, Naya and Vaiseshika.
Calcutta: Susil Gupta (India) Ltd.. ISBN 0-7661-4296-5. Reprint edition; Originally published under the
title of The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy.
Tantric Ethics: An Explanation of the Precepts for Buddhist Vajrayana Practice by Tsongkhapa, ISBN 086171-290-0, page 46
Thompson, R. Campbell. "The Rock of Behistun". Wonders of the Past. Edited by Sir J. A. Hammerton.
Vol. II. New York: Wise and Co., 1937. (p. 760-767)
Dated:- Wednesday, January 07, 2009
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