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A Brief Look at Hinduism

Author: Russell Shortt

Hindu refers to the religious mainstream which evolved and spread across a large territory and is marked by significant ethnic and cultural diversity, resulting in an enormous variety of traditions within the religion from, small cults to massive movements of millions of followers. Prominent beliefs in Hindu include Dharma (personal duty/ethics), Samsara (the cycle of birth, death and rebirth), Karma (action and subsequent reaction), Moksha/Nirvana (liberation from samsara), and the various Yogas (paths or practices). Most Hindus believe that the soul, the atman is eternal; non-dualist schools teach that the goal of life is to realise that the atman is identical to the Brahman, the supreme spirit, do this and you will achieve Moksha. Dualistic schools believe Brahman is a Supreme Being and they worship him as Vishnu, Brahman, Shiva or Shakti depending on the sect. When God is viewed as the supreme personal being, God is called Ishvara, Bhagavan or Parameshwara. The Hindu scriptures also refer to celestial entities known as Devas, also Hindu epics relate several episodes of the descent of God to earth in physical form to restore Dharma in society, such an incarnation is called an avatar, the most prominent of whom are Vishnu , Rama and Krishna.

Hindu practices involve seeking awareness of God and blessings from Devas. To help think of divinity in the midst of everyday life, Hindus can engage in puja (worship) either at home or the temple. However, visiting a temple is not obligatory and many visit temples only during religious festivals. At home, Hindus often create a shrine with icons dedicated to their primary and subordinate deities. While engaging in puja, the penitent may chant mantras that help to focus the mind to express devotion. Devout Hindus perform daily devotions such as worshipping at dawn after bathing (usually at a family shrine and typically includes lighting a lamp and offering foodstuffs), reading from religious scriptures, singing devotional hymns, meditation and chanting mantras.

Occasions such as birth, death and marriage involve an elaborate set of customs. Pilgrimages are not mandatory but many do undertake them. There are several Indian cities that are viewed as holy cities - Allahabad, Haridwar, Varanasi and Vrindavan. Hinduism has many festivals which are celebrated which typically celebrate events from Hindu mythology.

Hindu scriptures were transmitted orally in verse form, many centuries before they were written down. Sages refined these teachings and expanded the canon, most scriptures are not interpreted literally instead more importance is attached to the ethics and the metaphorical meanings derived from them. Most scared texts are written in Sanskrit and are divided into two classes - Shruti and Smritis. Modern Hinduism grew out of the Vedas, which centre on worship of deities and date from 1,700 BCE. The major Sanskrit epics Ramayana and Mahabarata were compiled over many centuries, they contain mythological stories about the rulers and wars of ancient India and are full of religious and philosophical tracts. The later Puranas tell tales of the Devas, their interactions with humans and their battles with demons.

Hinduism has no central doctrinal authority and many Hindus do not claim to belong to any particular denomination. There are four major denominations - Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism; differing primarily in the God worshipped as the Supreme Being and the rituals to worship that God. The life of a Hindu is traditionally divided into four ashramas which are stages or phases. First is Brahmacharya - student stage is spent in a celibate, controlled and sober environment in pure contemplation under the guidance of a Guru who builds up the mind for spiritual knowledge.

Second is Grihastha - the householder stage where one marries and satisfies kama (sensual gratification) in their personal and artha (worldly status) in their professional life. The moral obligation of a Hindu householder include looking after their parents, children, guests and holy figures. Thirdly - Vanaprastha is the retirement stage which is a gradual detachment from the material world, this may involve handing over of duties to one’s children, spending more time in religious practices and embarking on holy pilgrimages. Fourthly and finally - Sannyasa is the stage of asceticism where one renounces all worldly attachments in search of the Divine and peacefully shed the body for Moksha. A Hindu who choose to lead a monastic life of simplicity, celibacy, contemplation of God and abandonment of worldly pursuits is known as a sanyasi, sadhu or swami or a female renunciate is known as a sanyasini. Some sanyasi live in monasteries whereas others choose a life of wandering. Hindu society is traditionally divided into four classes - Brahmin (teachers and priests), Kshatriyas (warriors, nobles and kings), Vaishyas (farmers, merchants and businessmen) and Shudras (farmers and labourers).

Hindus advocate the practice of ahimsa (non-violence) and in accordance with ahimsa many Hindus embrace vegetarianism. Observant Hindus who do eat meat, do not eat beef, the cow is seen as a caretaker or a maternal figure as it was relied heavily on for dairy products, tilling the fields and providing fuel and fertiliser.

Concepts of conversion, evangelization, and proselytization are absent from Hindu literature and in practice have never played a significant role, though acceptance of willing converts is becoming more common.

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About the Author:

Russell Shortt is a travel consultant with Exploring Ireland, the leading specialists in customised, private escorted tours, escorted coach tours and independent self drive tours of Ireland. Article source Russell Shortt,



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