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Hinduism

Hinduism

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This lesson discusses Hinduism from a historical and religious standpoint, with emphasis on its distinctive characteristics in general and its religious practices in general.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello, and welcome to this tutorial on Hinduism. Hinduism is originally a geographic designation. Hinduism refers to a number of religions on the Indian subcontinent that share some common features that are really only loosely organized. Hinduism has no single founder. And it can be traced back to oral traditions that date to prehistory-- even some of the same rituals most likely that date back to prehistory.

Let's take a look at some of the Hindu scriptures. Hinduism has a vast scripture. We'll start with these two major divisions-- the Sruti, which means that which is heard or revealed, and Smriti, which means that which is remembered.

The Sruti side is the more authoritative branch of scripture. This includes the four Vedas, which pretty much all Hindus recognize as the central text of Hinduism-- the Rig Veda, the Sama Veda, the Artharva Veda, and the Yajur Veda. Appended to the Vedas are somewhat later texts--the philosophical commentaries on the Vedas.

On this Smriti side, that which is remembered, the Itihasas-- the epic poetry-- Puranas-- mythology-- and the Tantras-- the later scriptures-- and other sutras-- the Yoga Sutra and the Manu Smriti collection of laws.

The Vedas themselves include several different types of literature-- Samhitas-- the collection of mantras, which are prayer hymns or poems. The Brahmanas, which are prose discussion of rituals. And the Aranyakas-- the forest dialogues-- conversations between sages on different aspects of ritual.

And finally, those Upanishads-- the philosophical commentary that is appended to the Vedas, which is of later origin. The Upanishads tend to sum up in a philosophical sense the contents of the other Vedas. They really emphasize the notion of a higher self that resides within each person and the soul's journey of union back to God.

Let's talk about one of the most famous Hindu scriptures-- the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita comes from a branch of Itihasa, or epic poetry-- the Mahabharata, which is the story of the Great Bharata War between two feuding families. The Bhagavad Gita is known as the song-- that means the Song of God.

So the Pandavas and the Kauravas are fighting it out on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. And one of the princes, Arjuna, is feeling very uncomfortable with the war because he sees that his own family members on the other side. Little does he know that his charioteer is actually the god Krishna. And Krishna gives him a series of pieces of advice that lead him to have the courage to fight the battle.

And here's some of the advice that he gives to Arjuna. First of all, renunciation of the fruits of action. We should undertake our actions without regard for the consequences. And if we renounce the fruits of the action, we'll be able to find bliss in life. So avoid attachment to action but equally avoid attachment to inaction. So don't be overly attached either to performing your duties or to not performing them, but simply perform them in an unselfish manner without regard for the result or without regard for reward.

So Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu, who is the preserver god in the Hindu Trinity. So, Krishna reveals himself as God in of course of the Gita. So there's a focus on duty as the highest ethical and spiritual principle.

Lets take a look at the four divisions of Hinduism-- Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, and Smartism. We can say that, first of all, that the Shaivites worship Shiva, the cosmic meditator and the god of destruction, as the Supreme Being. You can see Shiva sitting in a meditation posture-- the river Ganges flowing out of his head, or sometimes in a dancing posture where his dance creates and destroys the universe.

Vaishnava Hindus worship Vishnu, the goddess of preservation, as the Supreme Being. Shakti Hindus worship the divine mother. And her forms, such as Durga, Kali, or Lakshmi, as the Supreme Being. So this is Hindu goddess worship. And they believe that the goddess is the Supreme Being.

Going down to Smartism-- Smarta Hindus worship an ishta devata, the chosen divinity as the Supreme Being. And they also worship five principal deities-- Ganesha, Shiva, Krishna, Devi, and Surya, the sun.

A look at the theology of Hinduism-- there are monotheistic forms of Hinduism, which fall under the category of Advaita Vedanta-- nondualism. Or polytheism-- sometimes Hindus will say, look, each god has a different department. And depending on what you want-- if you want money, you should pray to Lakshmi. If you want spiritual advancement, you should pray to Shiva. So sometimes they'll talk about departments that each of the deities cover. And it sounds a lot like polytheism.

Or maybe there's a third option of henotheism, where there's a lot of different gods and goddesses. But one of them is regarded as being more important. In my experience, Hindus regard whichever deity they happen to be worshipping at that time to be the supreme deity. But that doesn't mean that on another day they might find another god to be the supreme deity.

Hinduism doesn't have an official theology. So it can be animistic. It can be monotheistic. It can be polytheistic. So we might have to say all of the above. But a lot of scholars of religion have said, yes, Hinduism is really a henotheistic religion, where there's lots of gods, but one god is the most important.

There are four aims that Hinduism seeks to bring about-- first of all, kama, which is pleasure or affection or love-- love and attachment for one another. Next, artha we could say is true wealth-- covering all of our material necessities-- food and clothing and so forth. Next, dharma, which is a complex idea. But it includes things like right conduct or duty-- the right way of behaving in the world.

And finally, Moksha, liberation from rebirth and union with God. The way to get to Moksha-- this is what the Hindus would call nirvana. The way to get to Moksha, or release, is by recognizing that there's a law of karma that's in effect-- that there's always cause and effect taking place. And if we want liberation, we have to stop doing the bad actions and start doing good actions-- and so, good karma.

And if we continue to sow that good karma over a long enough period of time, we can escape Samsara, which is the cycle of rebirth. So most Eastern religions teach a cyclical notion of time in which you just keep getting reborn until you get it right. The rituals of Hinduism are supposed to accelerate that process because the devas-- that is, the gods-- are sort of cosmic helpers along the path to escaping Samsara and eventual Moksha.

We said that Hinduism is an umbrella term for a number of religions that originate on the Indian subcontinent. We also said that Hinduism doesn't have a single founder or a shared set of theological beliefs but is handed down by guru disciple lineage.

Hindu scriptures can be divided into two major categories-- Sruti, which means revealed, and Smriti, that which is remembered. We discussed the Vedas as the most authoritative Hindu text and that there are also Upanishads appended to the Vedas, and that there are also other forms of Hindu literature, like the epic poems such as the Mahabharata, of which the Bhagavad Gita, or the Song of God, is one part.

We discussed the major divisions of Hinduism today, including Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, and Smartism. And we said that some facets of Hinduism are similar to monotheism. And we also discussed henotheism as an alternative to monotheism.

We also said that the goal of Hinduism is to be liberated from the cycle of rebirth, known as Samsara, and to reach Moksha, which is liberation. Important in that process is the overcoming of negative karmas and the practice of the dharma, or right living.

Notes on "Hinduism"


Source: Intro. music and images by David Dillard-Wright

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Scripture

    Any text or groups of texts held to be sacred and/or divinely inspired.

  • Henotheism

    A religion in which one god is venerated while others are recognized as either actual or potential deities.