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Hinduism really doesn’t have a set beginning.
Some believe that it started as early as 1000 B.C.E. Hinduism unlike Christianity or Islam divided in its infancy into four main sects with varying beliefs.
The immense size of Hinduism and the quatrain arrangement of its sects makes it almost impossible to summarize in a lifetime, much less a simple project
like mine. John B. Noss writes, “Hinduism is fluid and changing…Hindus have an extraordinarily wide selection of beliefs and practices to choose from.”
This allows a Hindu to be a pantheist. In other words, Hindus can worship all gods. Hindus can be polytheist; worshiping more than one god. The Hindu
faith also allows for monotheism; worshiping only one god. But Hindus can deny the proof of a god or gods, or even be atheist; denying altogether
the existence of a god or Supreme Being in control of the universe and mankind
(McDowell, 1992: 284).
Joseph Gaer lists some of the vast numbers of sects. Some sects of Hinduism worship Vishnu, the god of space and time. Some sects worship Shiva, Lord Siva, the god of song and healing. Some sects worship Durga, the goddess of motherhood, or the Divine Mother. There are
various other sects. But central to all sects of Hinduism are a few core beliefs. The first one is Brahman, the everlasting or eternal Trimutri; translated
three God’s in one. The gods are as follows; Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer. The next belief that spans Hinduism is since man is not outside but part of Brahman he must submit to his fate.
Next is the caste system, which is determined by the Laws of Manu. The next one is “the Law of Karma,” which states that good comes from good, and if evil abounds it must come from other evil. Reincarnation or a “chain of
rebirths” is a cycle that’s ultimate goal is to escape. This escape is the final stage of the soul, commonly called Nirvana. Yoga is the discipline in which Hindus practice to gain control over the body and emotions. The
final law that spans Hinduism is Dharma. This is the “Moral Law.” This law must be followed if Nirvana or the final stage of the soul is to be reached
(McDowell, 1992: 283-284).
The oldest scriptures in Hinduism are “The Vedas.” Veda means knowledge. Originally orally passed on through teaching, the Vedas were believed to be written down around the 1400’s BC. These teachings
can be separated into three sections. The first section is the Mantras, or hymns of praise to the gods. The second section is the Brahmana, which is a guide for practicing ritual rights. And the third, considered to be the most important is the Upanishards, the teachings on truth and doctrine. Dharma is an encompassing term that relates
to the teaching of Hinduism. But more than mere teaching it is that which, “holds up the cosmos.” These laws are; divine law, law of being, way of righteousness, religion, duty, responsibility, virtue, justice, goodness and truth. As you can see Dharma is more than just a thirty-minute lesson you can put on tape and sell for 19.95. It’s a lesson that is a way of life. Dharma is considered to be a lesson that comes from within, a lesson of “fulfillment.” What is most important and vital to understand about Dharma
is that personal conduct is very important. There is a strong degree distinction between regular teachings and a lesson lived as in the case of Dharma. The way that you live your life or journey is a strong determinant of what kind of life that you will live. Now while that may sound redundant and not very profound to say, there are absolute consequences to your actions, it is
the central meaning behind Dharma There are four central Dharmas; “1) rita: “Universal law.” The inherent order of the cosmos. The laws of being and nature that
contain and govern all forms, functions and processes, from galaxy clusters to the power of mental thought and perception. 2) varna dharma: “Law of
one’s kind.” Social duty. Varna can mean “race, tribe, appearance, character, color, social standing, etc.” Varna Dharma defines the individual’s obligations
and responsibilities within the nation, society, community, class, occupational subgroup and family. An important part of this dharma is religious and moral law. 3) ashrama dharma: “Duties of life’s stages.” Human dharma. The natural process of maturing from childhood to old age through fulfillment of the duties of each of the four stages of life Ñbrahmachari (student), grihastha (householder), vanaprastha (elder dvisor) and sannyasa (religious solitaire)Ñin pursuit of the four human goals: dharma (righteousness), artha (wealth), kama (pleasure) and moksha (liberation). See: ashrama dharma. 4) svadharma:
“Personal law.” One’s perfect individual pattern through life, according to one’s own particular physical, mental and emotional nature. Svadharma is determined by the sum of past karmas and the cumulative effect of the
other three dharmas. It is the individualized application of dharma, dependent on personal karma, reflected on one’s race, community, physical characteristics, health, intelligence, skills and aptitudes, desires and tendencies, religion, sampradaya, family and guru” (Hinduism Today). That is to say Hindus are on a journey, a journey of self-fulfillment. But I’m not referring to self-fulfillment
in hedonistic terms, I am referring to self-fulfillment by understanding who the self really is. The self is more than finding out who you really are by looking for example at your attributes, your externalities, idiosyncrasies,
and attitudes. Hindu beliefs are that there is a true self inside of each person that is “hidden” from the individual.
Karma is translated as “action, deed.” Karma
can be any act or deed, the principle of cause and effect and the ‘fruit of action'” (Hinduism Today). The concept of Karma is one of the most important laws in Hinduism. Karma states that for every action there is an equal consequence. But unlike a similar law in physics, the law of Karma applies directly to the individual doing the deed. So if a Hindu commits an ‘evil’ or selfish act the law of Karma states that he will ‘pay’ for it in this life or his
next life or lives. The law of Karma is not discriminatory. Karma lays out reward and punishment based solely on the actions of the Hindu. Karma is cumulative. The more good deeds a person does the closer he gets to his
goal of self-realization. Karma is one of the chief determinants as to what caste or level of society you would be born into in your next life. So a Hindu who lived a life of love and concern for his fellow man could expect
to be born into a higher social caste. The Rigveda describes five different social classes. Because Hindus believe in reincarnation or the rebirth of the soul into another life, it is possible for the reincarnated soul to be in any number of forms. There are certain sects of Hinduism that believe you can be reincarnated into a variety of entities, such as; other humans, animals, plants, and even rocks. But with regard to the Rigveda there are these descending
five levels social classes; Brahmins or the priests and academics, Kshatriyas or the military, Vaishyas the farmers or merchants, and the Sudras peasants
and servants. The Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Sudras order of ranking vary depending on the village you are referring too. The last caste you can be born into is the Harijan or outcasts, normally called the untouchables.
Normally you would be born into the caste of your parents. So, in turn, you would be born or reborn as it were according to what you did in the previous life. If you did little to improve your Atman and performed bad Karma, then you would likely descend to a lower caste at the point of reentry into the world. This had a great influence on the social life of the Hindu world
in India. This could be considered the real-life Truth and Consequences. The social implications of this are without a denouement. This caste system in so many ways can be compared to the “rewards and punishment” theory.
For the common criminal in America for instance, to commit a crime is to take the risk of being caught, punished, convicted and incarcerated. But that criminal will often take the chance and commit the crime knowing that he may or may not be caught. Contrasted though to the caste system of reincarnation according to Karma, Hindus believe in the absolution of ‘tit for tat.’ There
is no escaping the law of Karma. What you do in one life, will without fail affect you in the next. So the goal is to keep the laws, improve yourself through enlightenment, and go to the next stage as a final goal is the merging
with Brahman. The caste system was officially abolished 1947 but because of the infancy of the abrogation, it still remains as a significant force in India, especially in the southern portion . (http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0001469.html)
The goal of a Hindu is to become one with the
Creator Brahman. Brahman is the “eternal spirit.” Brahman is the creator of all that is. Brahman is defined as: “Supreme Being; expansive spirit.”
From the root brih, “to grow, increase, expand.” Name of God or Supreme Deity in the Vedas, where He is described as the 1) Transcendent Absolute, 2) the all-pervading energy and 3) the Supreme Lord or Primal Soul (Hinduism
Today.) A Hindu will spend his life in a journey of “awakening.” The “awakening” is realized when he becomes one with Brahman. This awakening is developed
through meditations, keeping the law of Dharma and pure Karma. The Upanishards or sacred Hindu writings teach the true essence of man is Atman. Atman is
the true and eternal soul. The Atman or soul is indestructible. Lord Krishna said, “This Self which is subtle weapons cannot split, fire cannot burn,
water cannot drench nor can the wind dry up. Incapable of being split is this Atman, it can never get burnt or drenched nor can it get dried. This is because its nature is to penetrate and comprehend everything” (www.hindunet.org
CHENNAI, June 19 )
The implications of Hindu beliefs in the soul
are as stated earlier, without limits. Hinduism teaches God “…as the Supreme, single, individual, independent soul (paramatama) creates the tiny, individual, dependent souls (atman) for His pleasure. As an individual drop of sea water is qualitatively equal with the sea but quantitatively vastly inferior, the individual souls (brahman) are made of the same spiritual nature but vastly inferior to the Supreme Personality of Godhead (parambrahman) (Kalakantha dasa). The soul goal is to serve God. This service is performed in human bodies with the goal to one day escape the continuous cycle of rebirths.
To shed the desire for material goods, and to seek to please God is the only way to truly become enlightened. This is known as leading a “non-volitiona life.” When one reaches a complete emergence with Brahman through mystical
practice, this is known as “nirvikalpa.”
In summary what would be the outcome of living
life like it is not your last one? Scientists say that we have on an average eighty years and then we die. Well Hindus would say that after that eighty years, there would be eighty more and eighty more after that. But the limit
or maximum amounts of rebirths could only be limited by the acts that you do while on earth. Are you a nice person or one that commits selfish and destructive acts to put it in western terms. This is the essence of Hinduism.
You have laws for daily life to abide by. If you abide by the laws you climb another level in the process of true enlightenment. Once there you have”arrived.”
Self, eternal in nature” Date: 19-06-1998 :: Pg: 24 :: Col: c Cl: Religion CHENNAI, June 19. 1998 www.infoplease.com
McDowell, Josh and Don Stewart. Handbook of Todays Religions. California: Here’s Life Publishers, INC. 1992
Kalakantha dasa; Associate editor “Back to Godhead magazine” 1999