Hinduism: a cultural way of life and a belief system
As we continue to work through the 12 main world religions, our latest faith feature is on Hinduism. With just over one billion followers globally, Hinduism is the third largest of world religions, following Christianity and Islam.
Hinduism is believed to have originated in the Indus Valley, near modern day Pakistan, between 2300BC and 1500BC. It is considered by many scholars to be the world’s oldest religion. However, because the religion has no specific founder, it can be difficult to trace its origins.
Classifying it as an organised religion may be misleading as Hinduism does not have a specific doctrine or dogma. Instead, it is a compilation of many traditions and philosophies. For this reason, Hinduism is often considered a “way of life” or a “family of religions”.
Hinduism is a henotheistic faith meaning Hindus believe in and worship a single deity but also recognise other gods and goddesses. Its followers believe there are multiple paths to reaching God. Some of the most prominent Hindu deities include:
• Brahma: the god responsible for the creation of the world and all living things. Brahma is believed to be the supreme absolute god force present in all things;
• Vishnu: the god that preserves and protects the universe;
• Shiva: the god that destroys the universe to recreate it;
• Devi: the goddess that fights to restore dharma or the moral law;
• Krishna: the god of compassion, tenderness, and love;
• Lakshmi: the goddess of wealth and fortune;
• Saraswati: the goddess of learning, knowledge, art, and wisdom.
The full list of Hindu gods and goddesses include thousands of deities, each one representing a different aspect of the supreme absolute. These differ from the gods of ancient Greece or Roman tradition as each one is a manifestation of the same divine spirit.
It can be difficult for those who are not familiar with the Hindu faith to understand their belief in a supreme being along with multiple other deities. Professor Jeaneane Fowler, in the book Hinduism: Beliefs, Practices and Scriptures, explains the concept well. She writes:
“The relationship between the many manifest deities and the unmanifest Brahman is rather like that between the sun and its rays. We cannot experience the sun itself, but we can experience its rays and the qualities, which those rays have. And, although the sun’s rays are many, ultimately, there is only one source, one sun. So, the gods and goddesses of Hinduism amount to thousands, all representing the many aspects of Brahman."
In the same vein, Hindus value several writings as sacred. Their primary sacred texts – the Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda – are known as the Vedas and were composed around 1500BC. These are collections of verses and hymns written in Sanskrit, containing revelations believed to have been revealed to ancient saints and sages.
The period of time where the Vedas were composed became known as the “Vedic Period” and was characterised by rituals, such as chanting.
Hindu worship is known as puja and typically takes place in a temple. Many Hindus also worship at home and have a special shrine dedicated to certain gods and goddesses. The giving of offerings is an important part of the Hindu worship ritual. It is common practice to present gifts, such as flowers or oils, to a god of goddess.
Basic Hindu beliefs include karma – the universal law of cause and effect – and Samsara – the continuous cycle of life, death and reincarnation. A fundamental principle of the faith is the idea that people’s actions and thoughts will determine their current and future lives. Hinduism has no concept of sin, but it does believe that humans can create good or bad consequences for their actions.
Hindus strive to achieve dharma, which is a moral code of living that emphasises good conduct. This principle is closely related to the principle of nirvana in Buddhism.
But while Hinduism and Buddhism have many similarities, Buddhism arose out of Hinduism but rejects the use of rituals and the gods that are both very integral to the Hindu faith.
One of the most well-known Hindus was Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist, and spiritual leader. He referred to himself as a “staunch Hindu” and considered the Hindu faith to be the most tolerant of world religions.
Hinduism is not an evangelistic faith. It is not overly concerned with recruiting others into the faith. It is as much a cultural way of life as it is a belief system. Most Hindus are born into the faith and the majority, over 90 per cent, live in India.
As many Indians and Indian families migrate to the west, Hinduism is becoming more well known in other parts of the world. Today, there are records of practising Hindus in more than 110 countries.
Bermuda’s recent census reports do not include statistics on religion however, we can be fairly certain that there is a Hindu presence on island. I look forward to meeting members of the Hindu community, learning more about their faith and sharing their stories. If anyone is interested in talking, please send an e-mail: email@example.com