The History, Beliefs, and Practices of Hinduism
Hinduism is a religion that consists of many other religions. This religion is used to encompass almost all of the religions in India that do not include Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Hinduism is also refered to as "Sanantana Dharma", which means ageless religion (Fischer, 2005 p. 2). Considering all that Hinduism entails there are many important aspects of it.
Although Hinduism lacks a unifying belief system there are still aspects of all of the varying practices included as Hinduism together. Hinduism has been around for a very long time. Not all Hindu religions follow the Brahmanic tradition, but many do. "The Brahmanic tradition can be traced back to the Vedic age, thousands of years ago" (Fischer, 2005 p.6). These traditions were based largely on the Vedas, which are a " revered collection of ancient sacred hymns" (Fischer, 2005 p.10). The Vedas consist of four parts named, the "Samhitas", the "Brahmanas", the "Aranyakas", and the "Upanishads" (Fischer, 2005 p.10). The Vedas play a central role in Hindu religion. As mentioned earlier, many Hindu religions follow the Brahmanas, but many also follow the Upanishads. The Upanishads are believed to be the last text of the Vedas to be developed. " Many people consider these philosophical and metaphysical reflections on Vedic religion the cream of Indian thought" (Fischer, 2005 p.14).
Although, not all Hindu religions focus mainly on the same part of the Vedas, they all have " deep roots in the Vedas" and "in direct person experiences of the trut through meditation" (Fischer, 2005 p.21) They also all believe strongly in ethics as a way ofmainti ng a correct social path. Hundi religions believe that suffering is an effect of karma. The belief in karma helps make ethical decisions a pleasing option. All of the Hindu religions also believe that "the ultimate cause of suffering is people's ignorance of the Self, which is omniscient, omnipotent, omniprescent, perfect, and eternal" (Fischer, 2005 p.21)
There are many influences that have made Hinduism vital to the region in which it originated. The caste system developed through Hinduism in the Vedic age. The highest group of people in the caste system is the Brahmins which are, "the priests and philosophers, specialists in life of the spirit" (Fischer, 2005 p.106). The next highest group is the "kings, warriors, and vassals", followed by the "farmers and merchants", the "labours and artisans", and finally the "untouchables" (Fischer, 2005 p.108). This caste system implements a way of controlling the population in India and setting up a system of classes. The religion has maintained the catse system by using the idea of self sacrifice for the greater good of society and order as an ethical sacrifice. This idea attempts to "uplift people from worldly concerns and to encourage them to behave according to higher laws" (Fischer, 2005 p. 109). This use of personal faith in religion works well to maintain the caste system in India.
Hinduism is vital to the place it originated because of the worship of trees, rivers, and forests. Many Hindus consider trees and forests sacred and symbolizes their deities. Many rituals are performed under trees, and many temples are built along rivers. Presently the Narmada River in India is considered extremely holy and is "lined with thousands of temples devoted to Mother Narmada and Lord Shiva" (Fischer, 2005 p.111) Many pilgrimages are made along this river. Currently the Narmada River is being eyed for the location of the "world's largest water development scheme" (Fischer, 2005 p.111) The water shed conflict had been going on for over ten years now, and the people do not want their sacred sites to be disgraced.
The desire for liberation from earthly existence is a major factor in Hinduism. Earthly existence is considered an illusion, or a test. In the Hindu religion it is important to become knowledgeable of one's self, in order to see past the given reality of earthly existence. There are many practice and rituals, such as yoga, that are meant to help a person obtain a peaceful pure existence. When one becomes liberated from earthly existence the true cosmic spirit will be revealed. The mysteries of the universe will be uncovered, and one will reach enlightenment. This is the highest goal in Hindu religions.
Fischer, M. (2005). Living Religions, Sixth Edition. Hinduism, p69-115.