Images of Hinduism
Aside from being the world's oldest religion, aside from being the third largest religion, Hinduism is a way of seeing and a way of being. It is full of rituals. Just close your eyes and think of it and it conjures images of stone deities, depictions of elephants. We picture ordinary citizens practicing puja, or purification, at home or in the sacred waters of the Ganges.
Thinking of Hindusim, our minds might go to yogis, eyes closed, palms up, meditating in the lotus position. We might conjure Brahmin priests — the religious leaders, scholars, and philosophers of Hinduism — sitting cross-legged in orange robes, books open and studying. Or we might think of incense and candles in a Hindu temple.
Not all the exotic elements of the religion are visual; the ideas are rich, too. The idea of reincarnation reminds us of the cyclical nature of existence. We think of sacred cows, protected because they play an important role in traditional Hindu life. We learn of karma, that law of cause and effect produced by all human actions. We think of birth, death, and cremation, with human ashes being spread over sacred waters. We think of the caste system, that social hierarchy into which Hindus are born. We think of the “stages of life” that prescribe their behavior from the time they are students right through retirement and detachment from the material world. We think of thriving rituals and festivals, celebrated in India and in cities in the United States.
Hinduism is a broad, elastic term for the religious beliefs and customs that originated in India. The beliefs themselves are a rich blend of elements from the Indo-European culture brought by the Aryan invasions of 1500
Because of its evolution over such a long period, Hinduism ranges over a landscape of religious beliefs and practices of unparalleled vastness, and it is neither dogmatic nor evangelical.
Because Hinduism lacks a creedal longitude and latitude, it has always seemed inclusive rather than exclusive. Despite its amorphous nature, despite a lack of a binding theological creed, Hindu consciousness is known by a family of elements. One of these elements is respect for the Vedas, the earliest Hindu sacred texts.