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There are many sacred elements that characterize the Hindu religion. The Vedas are considered to be the religious texts of Sanatana Dharma. However, "their origins and antiquity are still unknown; the Vedas themselves can be examined. They are a revered collection of ancient sacred hymns comprising four parts, which appear to have developed over time. The earliest are the Samhitas, hymns of praise in worship of deities." (Pg 82) Following this, the Brahmanas appeared explaining the "symbolic correspondences between the microcosm of the ritual process and the "real world" in which rituals are performed." (pg 82) The third part of the Vedas is known as Aranyakas; these recluse people went to the forest to mediate. The last of the Vedas consisted of teachings "from highly realized spiritual masters: known as Upanishads. The Vedic devotion centers around fire sacrifice rituals that were created and controlled by the Brahmins.
Reincarnation is an answer that fills many with the question "what happens after we die?" The Hindus believe that the soul leaves one body and enters another. It is a very rare and fortunate thing when a soul is born as a human. It can take any form of life however, when born as a human being; this gives the soul a chance "to advance toward its ultimate goal of liberation from rebirth and merging with the Absolute Reality." (pg 86)
Karma "means action, and also the consequences of action. Every act we make, and even every thought and every desire we have, shape our future experiences. Our life is what we have made it. And we ourselves are shaped by what we have done: "As a man acts, so does he become. . . . A man becomes pure through pure deeds, impure through impure deeds." Not only do we reap in this life the good or evil we have sown; they also follow us after physical death, affecting our next incarnation. Ethically, this is a strong teaching, for our every move has far-reaching consequences." (pg 87) In order to
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According to the Vedic ways there are four distinct castes; the Brahmins who are priests and philosophers, Kshatriyas were the nobility, Vaishyas were the farmers and merchants and the Shudra were the manual laborers. There is one more group that was considered the outcastes or untouchables. These people "carried on work such as removing human wastes and corpses, sweeping streets, and working with leather from the skins of dead cowsoccupations that made their bodies and clothing abhorrent to others." (pg 87) The caste system was hereditary until Mahatma Gandhi challenged the social injustices that came with caste system. Harijans or the "children of God" was the name given to the untouchables by Gandhi.
Two major epics; were stories and poems that taught devotional and spiritual myths and legends. The two main epics were Ramayana and Mahabharata. These stories show the supreme coming down to earth to intercede in various critical times on earth. The epic of Ramayana deals with good vs. evil. Mahabharata is a Sanskrit poem that has over 100,000 versus and explains the struggle between two sons of a royal family wanting control of a kingdom. "The story teaches the importance of sons, the duties of kingship, the benefits of ascetic practice and righteous action, and the qualities of the gods. In contrast to the idealized characters in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata shows all sides of human nature, including greed, lust, intrigue, and the desire for power. It is thought to be relevant for all times and all peoples." (pg 93)
In addition to the above mentioned, yoga plays an integral part in Hinduism and its followers. It teaches discipline and helps clear the mind in order to reach a state of serene and separate consciousness. There are four main yoga paths that attract different personalities. They are; raja, jnana, karma and bhakti. Raja yoga is the practice that brings the physiological and psychological paths together through breathing exercises. Jnana yoga uses the rational mind and teaches to think about the relation between the inner and outer self. Karma yoga "is the path of work or action." (Class notes) Bhakti yoga is an emotional devotion to a deity.
With all the various deities worshiped by Hindus, there are three major groupings. Vaishnavites, who worship the god Vishnu, Saivites who worship the god Siva, and Saktas who worship a Mother Goddess. Each devotee has his or her own "chosen deity," but will honor others as well.
Hinduism is a beautiful and complex religion. Although they have many deities, they teach love, respect and hold all living things precious in life. Granted, the caste system seems unfair and cruel, yet in some ways for their culture it works. We can only hope that in time it will disappear. Through their teachings, Hindus have found a way to reach eternal peace with meditation and yoga. Ethical behavior is the backbone of their society as they believe very strongly in Karma.
Finally, "The Indian Supreme court has formally defined Hindu beliefs in a way that affirms universality rather than exclusiveness. According to the Court's definition, to be a Hindu means:
1. Acceptance and reverence for the Vedas as the foundation of Hindu philosophy;
2. A spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate others' points of view, recognizing that truth has many sides;
3. Acceptance of the belief that vast cosmic periods of creation, maintenance, and dissolution continuously recur;
4. Acceptance of belief in reincarnation;
5. Recognition that paths to truth and salvation are many;
6. Recognition that there may be numerous gods and goddesses to worship, without necessarily believing in worship through idols;
7. Unlike other religions, absence of belief in a specific set of philosophic concepts.
Fisher, M. P. (2003). Living religions (5th ed.). [University of Phoenix Special Edition Series]. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
University of Phoenix (2007). Week two content notes for REL 133. Retrieved February 5th , 2007 from University of Phoenix Student Web Site: Course Materials.