This essay briefly examines the world’s third-largest religion, which isn’t a religion at all!
Hinduism is a system of belief that claims over 700 adherents, most of them in India. It is based on the practice of Dharma, the Code of Life, and is not strictly a religion. Nevertheless, it has influenced the conduct of men for millennia.
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This paper examines Hinduism, its influence, how it might help create world peace, and how it connects with other faiths.
Although it is unfortunately not a “good” influence in Western eyes, Hinduism is considered to be responsible for the caste system in India; that is, Hinduism had such a great influence that it created the entire societal structure.
The caste system is actually based on distinctions among people as they progress in religious life (Ross, PG), but has permeated all of society to the point where its origins seem largely forgotten. All that’s left is the injustice of a system that denies people the opportunity to advance through their own efforts.
Hinduism as a Way to Resolve Conflict
Because Hinduism is not a formal religion but a way of life, those who practice it are free (as I understand it) to learn as much as they can; disagree as much as they desire, even with the scriptures; and seek the truth in whatever way seems best to them. It is a search for perfection and truth, strongly influenced by Buddhist tradition.
My positive scenario for the resolution of some of the world’s conflicts (Israel/Palestinians comes to mind) would be to encourage learning, growth and self-discovery. (OK, but it’s a fantasy.) When people are involved in the process of learning, they have little time to fight. Perhaps as they studied the Hindu religion, they would draw parallels to their own, and thus begin to find common ground with each other through the Hindu mediation. (Madras, PG).
Hinduism and Other Faiths
Other great faiths have characteristics that Hinduism shares. We’ll examine some common beliefs and what Hinduism has in common with them. First, many faiths deal with people’s relationship to the “unseen,” the world of spirits, gods and demons. In Hinduism, the gods speak directly to men by possessing certain members of the community, who then function as oracles and healers. The men chosen by the gods are known as “dhamis.” (Baker, PG).
Second, these religions have developed systems for communing with the gods or propitiating them; prayer is the most common method for communing with the spirit world. (Sacrifices aren’t used much these days.) In Hinduism, there are said to be 330 million gods, but only one God. Nevertheless, Hindus take one of the lesser gods to be their God, and commune with him.
This communion takes the form of chanting, “satsanga” and other rituals, which practices are designed to create an atmosphere in which the gods will want to come and rest. There seems to be little need of propitiation; rather, the peaceful atmosphere and strong sense of gladness to have their presence draw the immortals to their followers.
Third, the world’s religions have developed organized rituals, scriptures, temples, etc. Perhaps the most ritualized of all is the Roman Catholic Church and its Mass; and its celibate clergy. Remember, though, that Hinduism is not strictly a religion, but a way of life. Therefore, the rituals it encompasses are often done at home. Hindus light candles before a home altar, for instance, to symbolize knowledge; light is knowledge and darkness, ignorance. Some Hindus maintain a special prayer room in their homes. (Chinmayananda Mission, PG). There are many rituals, all imbued with love and respect that go far beyond the empty formalities we employ in the West.
Most religions also speak to the idea of a life beyond death in some form. Hindus believe in reincarnation; that the body is merely the outer “gross” form that is thrown off at death while the soul goes on into another body. (Jayaram, PG). This belief is fairly common in most Eastern religions.
Religions have also developed codes of conduct, sometimes, as in the case of Christian fundamentalism, enforced with visions of horrendous punishment for violation of these rules. Hinduism too has a code of conduct but one that seems to be enforced with common sense and love, rather than hellfire and brimstone.
In Hinduism, the concept of “good conduct” determines one’s actions. Good conduct includes such things as being nice to one’s neighbour, not critical; and being loving and kind, not hateful or mean. “Good conduct is right thought, right speech and right action.” (“Good Conduct,” PG).
Finally, these religions have all gained large numbers of adherents, either now or in the past. Hinduism, which apparently lost some followers at one point, has now grown to become the world’s third-largest religion, claiming some 792 million adherents, 13% of the world’s population. (Lucas, PG).
Hinduism is not a religion; it has no founder, no organized set of scriptures, no customary trappings of worship. It is instead a belief system that encourages kindness, good living, and spiritual growth. In its gentleness, it clearly shows Buddhist influence.
Baker, Ian and Thomas Kelly. “Shamans’ Quest.” [Web page]. Hinduism Today [Web site]. November 1997. Accessed: 6 Mar 2003. http://www.hinduismtoday.com/1997/11/1997-11-12.html
Chinmayananda Mission. “Hindu Rituals and Routines—Why Do We Follow Those?” [Web page]. www.mohyals.com [web site]. 2000. Accessed: 6 Mar 2003. http://www.mohyals.com/HinduRituals/#1
“Communing with the Gods.” [Web page]. Himalayan Academy [Web site]. Undated. Accessed: 6 Mar 2003. http://www.himalayanacademy.com/books/mws/mws_ch-19.html
“Good Conduct.” [Web page]. Hinduism Today [Web site]. June 1995. Accessed: 6 Mar 2003. http://www.hinduismtoday.com/1995/6/1995-6-11.html
Jayaram, V. “Hinduism and the Belief in Rebirth.” [Web page]. Hindu Website [Web site]. 2000. Accessed: 6 Mar 2003. http://hinduwebsite.com/reincarnation.htm
Lucas, Susan. “Number of Hindus.” [Web page]. All Sides of the Story [Web site]. 2002. Accessed: 6 Mar 2003. http://www.mrswebdesign.net/teachingreligion/hinduism/numbers.html
Madras, Giridhar. “What is Hinduism?” [Web page]. Hinduism [Web site]. Undated. Accessed: 6 Mar 2003. http://www.geocities.com/RodeoDrive/1415/indexd.html
Ross, Kelley L. “The Caste System and the Stages of Life in Hinduism.” [Web page]. 2001. Accessed: 6 Mar 2003. http://www.friesian.com/caste.htm
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