Hinduism

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Hinduism: The Origin of the Eastern Worldview It is estimated that between 11 and 14 percent of the world’s population are adherents to the Hindu religion It is the third largest religion in the world. The vast majority of Hindus – some 750 million – live in India, where they account for 85% of the population. Hindus also comprise a significant portion of the population in Nepal (89%), Fiji (41%), Trinidad (25%), Surinam (28%), and Bhutan (25%) to name a few. There are around 1.5 million Hindus in the U.S.

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Hinduism’s Origins The Vedas (knowledge): (1200 B.C. – 800 B.C.) The earliest, and most sacred documents in the Hindu religion are called the Vedas; the Vedas are a collection of prayers, chants, incantations, and meditative musings. They were initially written as instructions for priests as to how believers should perform the rituals of the religion, however, as a result of the Upanishads, they have become a more “personal” document – they are used by some Hindu believers. The Upanishads (to end/conclude): (800 B.C. – 300 B.C.) The equivalent to the Christian New Testament, are a series of stories called the Upanishads. These stories expound the idea that behind the many gods of this world stands one Ultimate Reality, which the Hindus refer to as Brahman – however, as much as Hinduism is monotheistic, it has elements of polytheism, and pantheism. The origins of Hinduism can be traced back to around 1500 B.C. (prehistoric), in what is now India. In its origins it is a ritualistic religion, while in its modern form, it is rooted in internal meditation. Hinduism can be difficult to study because of the diversity of belief that is included – the path of any seeker is given credence (at least to a certain extent).

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The Bhagavad Gita is the highest expression of philosophical Hinduism. It is a chapter of the immense Indian epic, the Mahabharata, the saga of the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Arjuna, hero of the Pandavas, is about to confront the army of the Kauravas on the battlefield. Among the opposing army are his friends and relatives. Convinced that it would be wrong to kill his own kinsmen, Arjuna is overcome by despair. He lays down his bow and declares that he will not fight. The God Vishnu, incarnated as the charioteer Krishna, explains that Arjuna should do his duty and do battle. The human soul, which is part of the universal soul, is immortal - therefore no-one is actually slain. If people perform the duties appropriate to their station, without attachment to success or failure, then they cannot be stained by action. The Bhagavad Gita is an expression of the Hindu philosophy that God is in all things, and all things are in God. It contains probably the most powerful expression of pantheism in world scripture. The one God is the pinnacle of all things - the radiant sun of lights, the guiding light of sensory organs, the intellect of beings, the ocean of waters, the Himalayas of mountain ranges, the Ganges of rivers. He is also the inherent essence of everything - including evil. He is the gambling of rogues, the courage of the courageous, the rod of disciplinarians, the statecraft of politicians, the Knowledge of the knowing. The Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord)

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It is doubtful if modern day Hinduism would buy the argument that these and these alone (and any other religious book for that matter) would ensure salvation to an individual, although it does emphasize that one should live and act in accordance with ones own dharma and the scriptures. Those who still trust their religious validity look for new meaning in them, while others look elsewhere for answers to their perplexing questions. The skepticism of a modern day Hindu, or perhaps their indifference or lack of interest towards all religious literature, is born out of the unlimited freedom Hinduism offers to humans in their search for truth. Each person alone has the solace and the comfortable feeling of assurance that his/her religion and his/her scriptures give liberty to pursue truth in his/her own way. The Importance of Hindu Scripture

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According to Hindu tradition, Brahman became personal in the form of Ishvara – Ishvara became known to humanity in three manifestations. Ishvara then became known further through the ten mythical incarnations of Vishnu, called avatars (animals: a fish, a boar, a tortoise… and humans: Krishna, Rama, Buddha…). The stories of these avatars are told in the Bhagavad Gita. Pantheistic view – the entire universe is one divine entity who is simultaneously at one with the universe and who transcends it as well. Monotheistic view – Ishvara is the personified form of Brahman; that is, Saguna Brahman has particular traits. These traits are expressed through the Trimurti (three manifestations). Polytheistic View – the ten incarnations, or avatars, are the “original” gods of Hinduism; it is estimated that there are now some 300 million gods in the Hindu religion. Each god is said to provide focus on an aspect/attribute of Ishvara – a “path” to understanding.

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The Hindu Life Ultimately, Brahman is an impersonal oneness that is beyond all distinctions, a being who is entirely transcendent, yet is the essence of everything. The soul, known as the Atman, is one with Brahman and is representative of the “true self.” Just as the air inside an open jar is the same as the air that surrounds it, so our essence is identical to that of Brahman – it is the job of every Hindu to “open the jar.” Humanity’s primary problem, according to the Hindu, is our ignorance to our divine nature. We have forgotten that we are extended from Brahman and so we mistakenly attach ourselves to the desires of our “separate self” (ego) and thereby suffer the consequences. Because of our attachment to desire and individualistic existence, we are all subject to the law of Karma. The Law of Karma is the moral equivalent to the natural law of cause and effect. In essence, we reap what we sow. Every action produces a just and definite reaction. Moreover, the effects of our actions, follow us not only in our present lifetime, but in lives to come…

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Reincarnation (Transmigration of the Soul), is the Hindu concept that the soul is transferred into another body after death. This is the ever-revolving wheel of life, death, and rebirth. A person’s karma determines the kind of body (any living being) into which he or she will inhabit in the next life. Through pure acts, thoughts, and devotion, one can be reborn at a higher level. Likewise, bad deeds can cause a person to be reborn at a lower level. The unequal distribution of wealth, prestige, and suffering are thus seen as the natural result of Karma. In acknowledging the truth of the above process, Hindus organize their lives around certain activities, known as purusharthas (the doctrine of the fourfold end of life). dharma – righteousness in religious life; sacredness of all life artha – success in economic life; material prosperity kama – gratification of the senses; pleasurable existence moksha – liberation from the cycle of rebirth Liberation (moksha), is attained through the realization that the concept of the individual self is an illusion and that only the undifferentiated oneness of Brahman is real. Detachment from self is the the path to liberation.

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Important Hindu Terms Puja – the act of showing reverence to a god or to aspects of the divine through prayers, songs, and rituals. The essential part of puja for the Hindu is making a spiritual connection with a deity. Ahimsa – doctrine of nonviolence to all life, which is the basis for Hindu vegetarianism. Guru – one who shows by example a spiritual path to follow. Tilak (Kumkum) – Generally, no religious work should begin without a Tilak on the forehead. There are 13 places on the body where the Tilak can be placed, however, it is only on the forehead that it is noble. The head is the summit of the body with the brain being the axis of the entire body. The wearing of the Tilak is a symbol of worship and devotion. Yoga (5 types) – Bhakti (means intense love for God), Karma (is often called the path of right action), Jnana (described as the way to God through intellectual ability), Hatha (meant as a controlling of physical self – the body), Raja (teaches the path to God through meditation).