Thursday, January 25, 2007

Some more notes on Hinduism

Although Hinduism is referred to as a religion, it is often difficult to figure out just what is or is not Hindu. There is no gate-keeping institution that determines what is or is not a form of Hinduism. The religious perspectives of the Buddha, for example, seem clearly to stem from the Indian religious tradition, but are thought to be a distinct religion. Yet Hinduism seems not to define itself doctrinally. Hinduism seem to be defined as the religion that emerges from the subcontinent of India, and is formed around the Indian social system. (Buddhism’s deviation seems not to have been doctrinal, but rather has to do with the Buddhist rejection of the caste system).

However, there seems to be a certain flavor of character to Hindu religion, having to do with the doctrine of reincarnation. Old joke:

Christian: I’ve been born again.
Hindu: That’s nothing. I’ve been born again, and again, and again, and again, and again!

Exactly why Hinduism acquired the characteristics that it did is mysterious to me. What we know is that there was an indigenous culture in the Indus river valley, and that the Aryans invaded and became dominant. The features of the religion of the Vedas seem to be an unremarkable form of polytheistic religion, not much different from the Greek mythology. Vedic ritual included:

1) Sacrifices to nature gods
2) A hereditary priesthood
3) Outdoor fire altars
4) Memorized Vedic chants
5) Offering of food, drink, and animals to the gods

Yet, there seems to be a strand of critical reflection on this religious heritage even in the original religious writings of the Hindus, the Vedas. Rather than a confident statement about how the world was created, such as the biblical “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”, we instead get a passage about how the universe was formed from the God Purusha. But it is then stated that no one knows how this happed except Purusha, or perhaps, he doesn’t know either!”

The Axis was around 500 B. C. E. This was the time of the Buddha, Confucius, the Hebrew prophets, and the earliest Greek philosophers. In any event, a polytheistic world-view was beginning to be questioned. There were questions about the value of the Vedic sacrifices, and even the belief in many gods. Instead they sought a single divine reality that might be the source of everything. They spent a lot of time alone in the forest contemplating.
Also, these Hindus develops methods of altering consciousness (sitting for long periods of meditation, breathing deeply, fasting, avoiding sexual activity, practicing long periods of silence, going without sleep, using psychedelic plants, and living in dark caves).

The Upanishads were written at this time. The word means “sittings near a teacher” and were filled with teacher-student dialogues.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Victor,

I love your writings, posts, and your book, but I suggest you take this one, specifically, off your site.

Your post demonstrates a deep-rooted misunderstanding and (albiet unintentional) strawman of Hinduism and Vedic beliefs. Have you even talked to any other Hindus about what you've said here?

For the sake of your integrity, and the integrity of your other (wonderful) writings, do some more research before you tread on Eastern religions

In Christ,

Kevin

JD Walters said...

Kevin,

Just where does the misunderstanding lie? What is he wrong about? I'm genuinely curious because it doesn't seem like a caricature to me.

Victor Reppert said...

This is all pretty standard textbook stuff. It's not an attempt to attack them at all.

Anonymous said...

Kevin,

I am also a bit perplexed as to what you meant when you said "straw man". Many authors and publishers came together and agreed upon the information that Victor is commenting on, and I do not see it as a misrepresentation of the Hindu religion.

I do not mean to bring this up for the sake of argument, and I am not trying to make you feel as if you need to defend your opinion. I like Mr. Walters am sincerely curious about your opinions, and would like to hear back from you.

Chris

universalhindu said...

Hindus believe in many gods and godesses, some worship only a particular god or godess, while respecting the existence of others. some Hindus believe in no gods. In addition to the Trimurtis there are many many avtars Hindus bow to. Some worship their localised regionalised forms also. Some believe in idols, some not. Number of Hindu holy books are large. Some Hindus cremate deadones while others bury. Some go for the public crematorium and some in private holdings. Hindu priests rarely preach of religion. They act as intermediaries between devotee and god, While lot of sanyasins and swamis discuss and enlarge upon vedas, upanishads, puranas, Bhagavad Gita and epics. One of the main theory in Hinduism is called 'Advaida' Vedanta, in simple meaning 'not two but one'.

Ed Vis said...

Namasthe Victor: I agree with you that Hinduism has cannot be bottled up in a test tube since Hinduism is a CULTURE without anyone to police it.

Hinduism is a culture with many religions in it. It has no heiracrchy or governing body.

But there are many things abundantly clear, if one research deep into it.

1. If you research Rig Veda, you can see HINDUS BELIEVE IN ONE AND ONLY GOD BRAHMAN WHICH EXPRESSES ITSELF IN TRILLIONS OF FORMS. That God has NO NAME and NO FORM [nama –roopa]

2. Hindu scriptures state, God is nameless and formless and ordinary man cannot conceive that NAMELESS & FORMLESS GOD.

3 So scriptures allow man to wrorship that God in any form with any name he wants. By worshiping God with any form and any name, man ultimately end up with a God who has NO NAME & NO FORM.

4. That is the reason why Hindus have no problem worshiping that ONE GOD as Krishna, Jesus, Kali, Jehovah or Brahman or Allah or any name you can think of.

5. Hindu scriptures do NOT profess monopoly on God or Truth. God and truth are universal.

5. salavation is for all, irrespective of one is a Hindu or not. As long as one obeys the spiritual laws one will attain salvation.

6. Salvation in Hinduism is known as SELF-REALIZATION. Scriptures state man’s problem is his belief that he is the physical material perishable body.

The moment he REALIZES that he is the immortal soul or Atman within he will attain salvation. You do NOT have to be a Hindu to achieve that. Even the atheists have the right for salvation.

7. The concepts of UTMOST FREEDOM OF THOUGHTS And ACTIONS is the best aspect of Hinduism. Hinduism never forbids any one to question its fundamentals.

Even atheists can call themselves as Hindus. That is very true. In fact the CHARVAKA philosophy or NASTIKA philosophy, [existed during the Vedic period] founded by CHARVAKA rejected the existence of God and considered religion as an aberration.

Voltaire in Essay on Tolerance wrote:

I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it.

Hinduism is the symbolic representation of what Voltaire wrote.