Hinduism

Hinduism is the main religion of India. The word Hindu is from the ancient Sanskrit language and means Indus, as in the Indus River. Approximately 700 million Hindus practice today, making it one of the major world religions.

Hinduism is an action religion. It is not so much what you think as what you do. The religion is replete with rituals, and the people may look like they are part of a religious monolith, but Hinduism is a diverse creed that is practiced in different ways by different sects.

Universal Themes

Hinduism, of course, has its universal themes: belief in reincarnation, vegetarianism, and the reverence for cows. Americans and Europeans are often shocked when visiting India to find people starving in the streets while cattle wander freely and unmolested.

Hindus observe a rigid caste system, wherein there is no such thing as upward mobility. You are born into a socioeconomic class, and there you shall remain. Intermarriage between castes is forbidden, and the lowest caste is called untouchable. You will not find any “yuppies” in the Hindi tradition.

The Hindu Gods

Hinduism is a polytheistic religion. Polytheism means the worship of many gods, as opposed to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, which are the three main monotheistic religions. Shiva and Vishnu are the main gods, and Devi is the main goddess, though hundreds of minor gods and goddesses are in the Hindu cavalcade of deities.

Shiva is a contradictory god. He is the god of those who renounce the material world and the pleasures therein, but he is also the deity of the phallus. This is made prominently clear in the statues of Shiva. Shiva killed his father Brahma, an unsavory sort who apparently had it coming, but was forced to carry his skull around with him at all times thereafter.

This is very similar to the Greek myth of Zeus, who castrated his own father Cronus.

Beware of single goddesses! The Hindu tradition has a pantheon of gods and goddesses, some benign and others quite nasty. Among the goddesses, single ones are to be feared, because unlike the married goddesses, they are given to mood swings and hormonal rages. As goddesses go, they make the characters on Sex and The City seem like Girl Scouts.

Vishnu is the main god in the Hindu belief system. A lotus sprang from his navel and from that emerged Brahma, the hapless father of Shiva. Vishnu has gone through many incarnations since his initial appearance. These incarnations are called avatars.

The main goddess, Devi, is worshipped under that name and sometimes in the form of other goddesses who are believed to be incarnations of Devi. By another name, she is called Kali, an unsavory deity who kills and eats her victims and then performs a frenetic dance while wearing the skulls and the hands of her dinner. Under still another name, Devi is known as Druga the Unapproachable, a Xena-type warrior princess.

Fortunately, there are more pleasant goddesses in the Hindu pantheon: Lakshmi, the fertility goddess; Ganga, the river goddess (the Ganges river is named for her); Parvati, the goddess of the Himalayas; and many more.

Hindu Texts

The four main texts of Hinduism are called the Vedas. Rig-Veda is the oldest and has been committed to memory by devout Hindus for thousands of years. The other three are called the Yajur-Veda, the Sama-Veda, and the Atharva-Veda.

Two other important Hindu texts include the Brahmanas, which is a Sanskrit document detailing the rituals to be practiced by Hindu priests. And perhaps the most famous Hindu text to Westerners is called the Upanishads. This is the most popular text to Westerners because of its very “New Age” sounding mystical meditations on the meaning of life.

The spiritual literature of Hinduism also contains a unique view of the universe. They believe that the universe is an enclosed shell with concentric universes going round and round with India at the center. It is not surprising that almost every society and culture has regarded themselves as the chosen people and their neck of the woods as the center of the universe. Hinduism also teaches that things have been going downhill since a golden age, called the Krita Yuga, in prehistory. Things fall apart, and the center cannot hold until that universe is destroyed and another golden age begins.

What is meant by the transmigration of souls?

This is another name for reincarnation. Hindus and Buddhists believe that we are reborn into another body after death, learning and growing (hopefully) in each subsequent lifetime. The goal is to become enlightened to the degree that you transcend your humanity and become one with all.

Reincarnation

When Sinatra sang, “Life keeps goin' in cycles,” he could have been discussing Hinduism. Everything in the universe is cyclical, including human life. Hindus believe in the transmigration of souls, which is another name for reincarnation. Whether you return as a supermodel or a giant tree sloth depends on your karma.

Karma is the principle that maintains there is an inherent balance to the cosmos. In the Bible, it says, “What you sow, so shall ye reap.” In Hindu terms, this means that what you do in your life, good or bad, will come back and bite you in the next, either in the form of rewards or punishments. A murderer will be a victim; an insensitive super-stud will be a monk in the next life. You acquire karma through your multiple incarnations over the millennia. The goal is to become more and more enlightened until finally you do not have to return to the physical realm. Then you can enjoy eternity as fully awakened spiritual being.

You had better be good for goodness sake, because if the Buddhists are right, your actions in this life will affect your karma. Karma is the force of cosmic justice in the universe. If you are an evil person in this life, you can expect payback in the next.

Hindus typically take one of two paths in life. Many work, have families, and live normal lives within the framework of the real world; others take their ancient scriptures more to heart and live lives of ascetic self-denial, seeking to jumpstart the process of karma and reincarnation and grow closer to enlightenment in this lifetime.

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