Specific Misconceptions and Truths about Hinduism
The misconceptions about Hinduism range across a broad spectrum of topics. Westerners often gain a somewhat incomplete knowledge of the religion because of the cultural and language barriers.
Belief in Many Gods
This is a common misconception about Hinduism. People get the idea that there are many gods and goddesses from reading legends (Pura-nas) and epics. But if we look at the religion philosophically, the Hindus believe in one god — Brahman — and all other gods are manifestations of this same god.
Hinduism and the Caste System
Hinduism created and sustained the caste system. This can be seen from the reading of classical works such as the Manu Dharma Shastra. The caste system kept its grip on the people for some 4,000 years, mainly because there are religious sanctions for it.
The system was legally abolished, but the custom remains much as it has been for ages in rural areas. Although progress has been made in urban centers, classified ads for those seeking a bride or groom often require their mate be of the same caste.
Inequality of Women
Many people hold tight to the idea that women are subservient to men in Hinduism. The status of women according to the sacred texts is abysmal, but their current status in modern society is very different than it was even fifty years ago — educational advancements, job availability, and general acceptance having allowed them to become upwardly mobile. The views of men about the equality of women have also changed substantially; the opinions of the sacred texts hold no sway on this issue.
This is not to say there aren't still more hurdles for women, particularly in the area of marriage and traditional domestic customs. Child marriage, though outlawed, is still practiced in some locations, and arranged marriages are not uncommon. Accepting dowry for a bride is no longer allowed, but the practice has proven difficult to eradicate. In extreme cases, brides are killed if their dowry is not substantial enough.
Another example is the plight of widows. In ancient times, women who had lost their husbands were shunned, and widows commonly sacrificed themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres. Today, the sacrificial practice of suttee is illegal, and only a few isolated cases have been reported in recent decades. However, the stigma against widows persists, and widows are still shunted to the bottom of society.
The idea that those who are in devaloka(heaven) will enjoy their happiness only as far as their karma allows is a misconception. According to this theory, souls will return to Earth to continue the cycle of rebirth once their stores of karma have been exhausted.
The belief that people will climb from a lower to a higher class before attaining moksha is wrong. It is not true that only Brahmins will have the chance of going to heaven; in fact, everyone from any class can attain the ultimate goal of moksha or liberation.
The Sacredness of Cows
Hindus consider cows as Mother; therefore, they do not want to kill them for food. Cows symbolize all other living beings, all of which are regarded as sacred. Cows provide milk, cheese, curd, and ghee, and their urine and dung are also utilized. They are also used for plowing the fields and pulling carts.
In a mythological story, when the demons poisoned all the waters, a certain cow's milk saved humanity, and therefore the cow should be protected. The story from some Puranas gave it a religious flavor and the practice became the law of the religion. Cows are considered sacred, but they are not worshipped.