July 15, 2012

Counterfeit Religions V: Hinduism

Hinduism is overly complex and I will not be able to simplify it well for a short post like I am about to type. I will do my best though. Having said this, Hinduism by its very nature is pluralistic. Although religions like Hinduism will claim to be monotheistic, this needs to be viewed as a probable misuse of the term or misnomer. Some sects of Hinduism say that God can take many forms or manifestations but is one God, others say just the opposite. If anything Hinduism appear to be henotheistic which means that they believe in one supreme or a specially venerated god who is not the only god or deity possible (“Henotheism” Merriam-Webster 2012). There are some Hindu adherents though that consider the various deities forms of the one Brahman

Adi Shankara (788-820) an Indian philosopher has said that there is only one Supreme Para-Brahman and all the other deities are the forms and expansions of this Para-Brahman. It appears the Hindu "Parabrahman" can be modal or capable of different modes or states of being (forms). This very tenant is suspect as it allows for more than one omnipotent sovereign God which for logic's sake is flawed because it is redundant. It also causes a lot of confusion not only to those unfamiliar with Hinduism (like me) but also within Hindu circles. Being multiple a multiplicity of gods precludes claim of absolute sovereignty of one God, therefore none can be ultimately sovereign. If a Hindu claims that all manifestations of the godhead are all not sovereign or deity then they would need to be flawed in their nature and this defeats the purpose of being a god and would make the deity less than deity and therefore more human-like and subject to attributes similar to humanity, some of which would probably be construed as less than desirable. A less than sovereign God therefore becomes redundant. These modal conditions or different deities in some cases are also dependent on one another to function in their roles properly in what amounts to a polytheistic pantheon...therefore they are not individually omnipotent or sovereign.

Dates:  Unknown, Ancient

Founder(s):  Unknown, Multiple

Major Text(s): Are either considered heard (sruti) or remembered (smurti). These “texts” are considered offshoots or the minds of sages that have come before. These texts appear to have equal authority. Sruti (of which the Vedas are apart) are considered old but still valid. These contain sacrificial formulas and Upanishads or the Vedanta (the end of Vedas) which are essentially philosophical texts of which there are over 200 known. The Smurti help explain the sruti and act as commentaries. The Smurti include: Itihasas (History or Epics), Puranas (mythology), Dharma Shastras (Laws), Agamas and Tantras (Sectarian Scriptures), and Darshanas (Manuals of Philosophy). The older writings are from as far back as 1500BC the newer philosophical writings like the Upanishads are more recent from around 700-500BC

Major Variations:  Hinduism by its very intrinsic nature appears to be a wide variety of religious traditions and philosophies that have developed in India over thousands of years. Because there are so many varied traditions that are accepted, they may share common themes but none should necessarily be considered a unified practice.

Current Number of Adherents: Approximately 950 million to 1 Billion people. It is the third (3rd ) largest religion in the world.

Beliefs About Major Holidays and Practices:  Holidays: They observe festive holidays such as Diwali (Festival of Lights) and Holi (Festival or Colors). Some believers in Shiva observe Mahashivaratri that is the day before the new moon in February. It is a special event for devotion of Shiva, it is not necessarily a festival. Shiva devotees keep vigil for 24 hours. Devotees worship by repeating Shiva's name and place flowers and grains on his image. Water is poured in a steady stream from a copper vessel suspended above his image. Some believers observe Navaratri or the Nine Nights festival. It is held in spring and autumn and is devoted to the worship of Durga, Laksmi, Saraswati (all goddesses) and celebrate Vajayadasami / Dasara or the day of victory in which Durga gained victory over demons. It also celebrates the victory of Lord Rama over the demon king Ravana.

Hindus are quite absorbed with meditation and turning inwards to find truth. Because of the wide variety of Hindu traditions, freedom of belief and practice (plurality) are a feature of Hinduism. Hinduism has become rather popular in our postmodern and pluralistic society and culture. The very nature of its “tolerance” for diversity in belief made it an attractive alternative to traditional Western religion like Christianity which at times has appeared oppressive, legalistic overbearing and domineering in the hands of poor disciples and leaders.  Hinduism can manifest itself in the form of devotion to god/gods, the duties of family life, or concentrated meditation. Some of Hindi practices such as yoga (in a watered down and non-theological manifestation) have become amazingly popular and mainstream having invaded YMCA’s and even some “open-minded” Christian groups.

Hindus also believe in the practices of Ayurveda which is a form of traditional or alternative medicine native to India. Ayurveda is knowledge and awareness of the qualities of nature called gurvadi gunah. The gurvadi gunah are: (1) Guru (heavy) – laghu (light) (2) Manda (slow) – tikshna (quick, sharp)  (3) Hima (cold) – ushna (hot) (4) Snigdha (unctuous) – ruksha (dry) (5) Slakshna (smooth) – khara (rough) (6) Sandra (solid) – drava (liquid) (7) Mrdu (soft) – kathina (hard) (8) Sthira (stable) – cala (mobile) (9) Sukshma (subtle) – sthula (gross) (10) Vishada (non-slimy) – picchila (slimy). These things can either harm or heal people. Hindus also believe in the 5 Elements: (1) Akasha – ether or space (2) Vayu – air (3) Tejas or agni – fire (4) Apa or jala – water (5) Prthvi – earth

Hindus also practice Hatha Yoga which focuses and activates the chakras or centers of energies. This supposedly removes blockages of the mind and body on the path and pursuit of Enlightenment. It is an attempt to balance mind and body through physical postures and exercises that include controlled breathing and the calming one’s mind through meditation. They also practice a form of yoga called Kundalini Yoga and this deals more with psychic or cosmic energy that lies dormant in most people. When dormant, the Kundalini is said to lie coiled at the base of the spine, but it can be raised upwards through the spine using meditation, postures, ritual gestures and breathing. The ultimate goal is to raise the Kundalini to the top of the spine and into the brain. This is said to result in union with Shakti (divine energy) or atman (the cosmic Self), which is accompanied by an extraordinary state of awareness and bliss. Hindus also practice the Namaste Greeting, Puja which is a form of morning prayer or reverence to the divine

Beliefs About God(s)  Does not seem to have a single idea of God or deity. Too many to mention. Most individual Hindus worship one or more deity(ies). Because of all the variations in beliefs it is incredibly hard to determine if Hinduism is polytheistic, pantheistic, or monotheistic. There are some forms of Hinduism that are henotheistic or they recognize a single deity, and view other Gods and Goddesses as manifestations or aspects of that supreme God. Interestingly, because of its inherent pluralistic approach to beliefs, some Hindus also look inward to the “divine self” called the Atman or manifestation of god within the body (similar to a soul). Most also accept the existence of Brahman, the unifying principle and Supreme Reality behind all that is or the infinite manifestation the universe. 

Many denominations of Hinduism, teach that occasionally, a god comes to Earth as a human being to help humans in their struggle toward enlightenment and salvation  or moksha. Such an incarnation of a god is called an avatar (no relation to the movie). Hinduism teaches that there have been multiple avatars throughout history and that there will be more.

There are ten avatars of noted that include:
  • Matsya the fish, appeared in the Satya Yuga. Represents the beginning of life.
  • Kurma the tortoise, appeared in the Satya Yuga. Represents a human embryo just growing tiny legs, with a huge belly.
  • Varaha the boar, that appeared in the Satya Yuga and represents a human embryo which is almost ready. Its features are visible.
  • Narasimha or the Man-Lion that appeared in the Satya Yuga. It represents a newborn baby, hairy and cranky, bawling and full of blood. It is viewed as the most powerful avatar.
  • Vamana the Dwarf, appeared in the Treta Yuga and represents a young child.
  • Parashurama is Rama with the axe, appeared in the Treta Yuga. Represents both an angry young man and a grumpy old man simultaneously.
  • Rama who is the most famous, whose life is depicted in the Ramayana, Rama or Sri Ramachandra is the prince and king of Ayodhya and appeared in the Treta Yuga. Represents a married man with children. Regarded as the second greatest avatar.
  • Krishna which means he who attracts. Krishna whose life is depicted in the Mahābhārata and the Bhagavata Purana. The Bhagavad Gita, which contains the spiritual teachings of Krishna, is one of the most widely read scriptures in Hinduism.
  • Buddha or Buddha from the Hindu perspective who put forward his knowledge born of sorrowful feelings about the world.
  • Kalki or "Eternity" or "time" or "The Destroyer of foulness", who is expected to appear at the end of Kali Yuga, the time period in which we currently exist, though it has not happened yet.

Over the centuries many sects of Hinduism have believed many variations or combinations of what is stated below.  

Beliefs About Humanity: There are four purpose for human life.

Hindus believe in Dharma. In the case of Hindus it means one’s destiny or purpose. If a person becomes a leader it is because his dharma is to lead people. There is also an aspect to Dharma that requires paying debts to the Gods and/or humans. As such they are required over a lifetime to pay these karmic debts. A debt to gods for blessings; paid thru rituals and offerings. A debt to parents and teachers by supporting them or having children of one's own and passing along knowledge. Debt to guests; repaid by treating them with hospitality in one's home. A debt to humanity in general by treating them with respect. Another to all living beings that is paid by good will. Dharma also can mean righteousness or morality.

Hindus believe in Artha or prosperity. The type of prosperity that contributes to worldly pursuits. To me this is rather strange and counterintuitive considering the ultimate goal of Hinduism (like Buddhism) is enlightenment. This pursuit of worldly issue seems to ensure social order. It also seems to contribute to the caste system.

Hindus believe in Kama or pleasure, such as in the Kama Sutra which is a manual for erotic and other human pleasures. 

Hindus believe in Moksha or Enlightenment. Like Buddhism which is more or less a reaction to Hinduism the ultimate end of every Hindu's life is Enlightenment. This usually means either union with God, realization of the self or as our texts puts it, “a merger of the perceiving self with the self perceived (weird), or liberation from the cycle or rebirth or reincarnation. As most cannot achieve this end in one lifetime they are stuck in the cycle of reincarnation until they can achieve it.

Beliefs About the Supernatural (Angels, Messages from God): Because of Vajayadasami I know that Hindus believe in demons. Other than this its a mixed bag.

Beliefs About the Afterlife:  They believe that life is cyclical and believe in reincarnation (samsara) until they reach a final state.  Similar to Buddhism, Hindus believe that the ultimate goal is release from this cycle to go and be in presence of God, or become one with him (moksha). In order to get freedom from samsara or the cycle of life and death, Hindus believe they must collect good karma

[Obviously this is not all there is to Hinduism, there is much more but to add to this post would be to further confuse people unfamiliar. I have outlined most of the main tenants. Those that want a more thorough explanation of Atman and Brahman, how Hinduism plays into the Indian caste system and the Sadhus (Hindu holy man) should consult other sources as I am really not interested in going into it here.]

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