Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hinduism

Hinduism, a religious tradition of Indian origin, comprising the beliefs and practices of Hindus. The word Hindu is derived from the river Sindhu, or Indus. Hindu was primarily a geographical term that referred to India or to a region of India (near the Sindhu) as long ago as the 6th century BC. The word Hinduism is an English word of more recent origin. Hinduism entered the English language in the early 19th century to describe the beliefs and practices of those residents of India who had not converted to Islam or Christianity and did not practice Judaism or Zoroastrianism. In other religions the ultimate reality is known as God. Hindus refer to it by many names, but the most common name is Brahman.

In the case of most religions, beliefs and practices come first, and those who subscribe to them are acknowledged as followers. In the case of the Hindu tradition, however, the acknowledgment of Hindus came first, and their beliefs and practices constitute the contents of the religion.Hindus themselves prefer to use the Sanskrit term sanātana dharma for their religious tradition. Sanātana dharma is often translated into English as “eternal tradition” or “eternal religion”.

Origin and History: In many religions truth is delivered or revealed from a divine source and enters the world through a single agent: for example, Abraham in Judaism, Jesus in Christianity, and Muhammad in Islam. These truths are then recorded in scriptures that serve as a source of knowledge of divine wisdom: the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur’an. In the Hindu tradition, by contrast, there is no single revelation or orthodoxy (established doctrine) by which people may achieve knowledge of the divine or lead a life backed by religious law.
The earliest evidence for elements of Hinduism date back to the late Neolithic to the early Harappan period (5500–2600BCE). At one time scholars believed that the arrival of the Aryan people in India about 1500 BC represented a critical moment in the history of Hinduism. The Aryans replaced the earlier Harappan culture in the Indus valley, and they are the people described in the Vedas. The beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era (1500–500BCE) are called the "historical Vedic religion". Modern Hinduism grew out of the Vedas. The Vedas center on worship of deities such as Indra, Varuna and Agni, and on the Soma ritual. They performed fire-sacrifices, called yajña and chanted Vedic mantras but did not build temples or icons. The oldest Vedic traditions exhibit strong similarities to Zoroastrianism and with other Indo-European religions.
Beliefs: Hinduism is an extremely diverse religion. Although some tenets of the faith are accepted by most Hindus, scholars have found it difficult to identify any doctrine. With Universal acceptance among all denominations prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include Dharma (ethics/duties), Samsara (the continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth), Karma (action and subsequent reaction), Moksha (liberation from Samsara) and the various Yogas (paths and practices)
Concept of God: Hinduism is a diverse system of thought with beliers spanning monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, and atheism. It is sometimes reffered to as henotheistic (devotion to a single God while accepting the existence of inferior deities), but any such term is an oversimplification of the complexities and variation of beliefs.
Most Hindus believe that the spirit or the soul - the true self of every person, called atman -is eternal. According to the monistic/ pantheisic theologies of Hinduism, this Atman is ultimately indistinct from Brahman, the spirit. Brahman is described as “The One Without a Second”.The Upanishads state that whoever becomes fully aware of the atman as the innermost core of one's own self, realizes their identity with Brahman and thereby reaches Moksha (liberation or freedom).Hinduism is originally a polytheistic religion but in the 19th century one theory was arisen that said God is one and takes the share of three Gods in different times and the God is Bishnu.
Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva: Aspects of Brahman
Saguna Brahman—that is, Brahman with attributes—generally takes the form of one of three main Hindu deities: Brahma, Vishnu, or Shiva. These personified forms of Brahman correspond to three stages in the cycle of the universe. Brahma corresponds to the creative spirit from which the universe arises. Vishnu corresponds to the force of order that sustains the universe. Shiva corresponds to the force that brings a cycle to an end—destruction acting as a prelude to transformation, leaving pure consciousness from which the universe is reborn after destruction. Other forms of Ishvara widely worshiped by Hindus are Shakti, the female aspect of divinity, and Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity associated with the removal of obstacles.

HINDU RITUALS: Hindus consider all of creation worthy of worship, and thus religious activity in Hinduism takes many forms. Rituals may be performed by the individual, the family, the village, the community or region; at home or in a temple; and frequently or infrequently.

The school of Hindu philosophy called Mimamsa, which is specially concerned with ritual, divides all religious activities in Hinduism into three types: (1) actions that are performed daily, called nitya; (2) actions performed on specific occasions, called naimittika; and (3) actions performed voluntarily according to personal desire, called kamya.

Sacred texts:The Vedas: The four Vedas constitute the most important body of sacred Hindu literature, at least in theory. Other sacred literature, especially the Hindu epics, may be more popular with readers, but the Vedas, written in the ancient Sanskrit language, are the oldest and most respected scriptures. They are separately titled the Rig-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sama-Veda, and Atharva-Veda, and collectively referred to as the Veda.

Each of the Vedas can be divided into four types of texts, which are roughly chronological in order: mantra or samhita, brahmana, aranyaka, and upanishad. The mantra or samhita portion largely consists of hymns addressed to the various deities. The brahmana texts gather the authoritative utterances of brahmans (those with knowledge of Brahman, the ultimate reality) and describe the rituals, chiefly sacrificial offerings, in which the hymns are employed. The third section consists of aranyakas, or forest texts, presumably composed by sages who sought seclusion in the forests. The last section consists of the Upanishads, philosophical texts that have an air of mystery and secrecy about them.

Ramayana
The Ramayana of Valmiki consists of about 24,000 verses and describes the life of Prince Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu. The author, Valmiki, according to later tradition, belonged to the shudra varna and made his living by robbing travelers.

Mahabharata
The Mahabharata, an epic story of 100,000 verses, is attributed to a sage named Vyasa and considered to be the longest poem in the world.
Movements for Reform: One response to the encounter with Europe was reform. The Bengali scholar Ram Mohan Roy set the tone for reform in the early 19th century. Roy campaigned against medieval or regional Hindu practices that were objectionable in the modern world. He advocated allowing widows to remarry and abolition of the relatively rare practice of sati (self-immolation of a wife after her husband’s death. In 1828 Mohan Roy founded the Brahmo Samaj (Society of Brahma) to spread his ideas.

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