Discussion topic paper
Hinduism (2 pages)

Required textbook:
Using Chapter 10 of WORLD RELIGIONS IN AMERICA (WRA) to frame your Discussion Topic Paper. Why does Smith talk about Hinduism in THE WORLD’S RELIGIONS (WR) as a tradition where people can get what they want?

(WRA=WORLD RELIGIONS IN AMERICA, 4th edition, edited by Jacob Neusner)

One of the most frequent comments about Hinduism, from those in the West who have not encountered it previously, is that they worship a lot of gods. Indeed Hinduism seems to have a wide diversity of deities. But if you asked a Hindu about this they usually say something like, all Hindu deities relate back to a single deity or divine reality, which they refer to as Brahman (see Smith). In the academic study of religion we refer to this position as POLYTHEISM, or the worship of several deities with the understanding that there is an underlying unity. For Hindu’s the supreme “godhead” has several or countless manifestations. As we discussed for Native religions, Hindus think that there are countless HIEROPHANIES of divinity. In fact each living being, including human beings, have this divinity within them.
In spite of its polytheism, however, there are three principle deities in Hinduism. They are: 1) Brahma (Creator); 2) Vishnu (Preserver); and 3) Shiva (Destroyer). Most Hindu temples have one of these three deities as the central deity of devotion.
It is important to point out that Hinduism has no single founder. Instead, according to Larsen, it grows up over the last 4000+ years as a “way of life” for ordering society in India. During the Classical Period, for example, important concepts were developed. These include KARMA (a cosmological process of merit and demerit), SAMSARA (a cosmological process of life-death-rebirth, or reincarnation), and MOKSHA (a method of one achieving release from Karma).
According to Smith the method of achieving Moksha is through YOGA. Yoga is more that exercises, as many of us in the US understand. Rather, there are several different yogas (i.e., “yokes” or disciplined practices) that have been developed by different YOGIS, or teachers, to help people attain moksha. Smith lists 4 main types of yogas. They are: 1) Jnana yoga, which is a way to release through knowledge; 2) Bhakti yoga, which is a way to moksha through love, or the constant repetition of God’s name (called japam); 3) Karma yoga, which is a way to moksha through work and is based in the understanding that human activity creates a different consciousness in the worker; 4 Raja yoga, which is the most familiar to Westerners as psychophysical exercises that emphasize the breath and bodily movement. Yoga is to result in SAMADHI, or the final unity of the human spirit with the cosmos.
These innovations were recorded in the sacred texts called the VEDAS, which are written in the language SANSCRIT. The Vedas are a series of ritual directions for priests and are used to direct life of Hindu communities. As with Latin for Catholics, Sanscrit is no longer spoken in daily life. It is a language used only in ceremonial occasions and is therefore regarded as a sacred language.
Thus Hinduism is more a way of life than a religion. During the Brahmanical Period the priests, or Brahmans, developed a system of order society. Through the course of every life there are a series of life stages which naturally lead to Moksha or release. This may take several lifetimes but will occur eventually. These life stages are (from youngest to oldest) the student, the householder, the retiree, and the sannyasin (i.e., the forestdweller, or life renouncer). The first three would be identifiable to most of you but the fourth is the final stage in the achievement of release from the cycles of life and death.
In addition the Brahmans developed a CASTE SYSTEM, which organized Hindu civilization. There are several castes but the four principle ones are 1) BRAHMINS–priests; 2) KSHATRIYAS–warriors, kings, rulers; 3) VAISHYAS–merchants; 4) SHUDRAS–servants or “untouchables.”
Larsen, in your textbook, says this,
“The most important thing to learn about Hindus and Hinduism is that being religious for Hindus has very little to do with what they think or believe; put another way, it has very little to do with ‘orthodoxy,’ or correct belief and doctrines….Being religious for the Hindu, rather, has much more to do with behavior and action, or what is sometimes called ‘orthopraxy’–correct action.”[178]
This indicates that in Hinduism there is very little emphasis placed of doctrine or codes which people recite and then follow. A daily example of a code would be the use of the Lord’s Prayer in some Protestant Churches as a pledge of a doctrinal position. Instead Hinduism emphasizes ritual action and devotion (orthopraxy) than it does belief (orthodoxy).
This is all to say that unlike our American definition of religion as individual belief, Hindu’s seem to understand it as a way of organizing all of existence. That is to say religion necessary includes ordering material life and not just the human mind and heart. Recently Hindu temples have sprung up all over North America. Until 30 years ago Hindu’s in this country were largely content with worshiping in their homes. Which increasing numbers of immigrants from Indian, however, communities have pooled their resources and built temples to shield their children from American culture. Near Syracuse a Hindu temple was dedicated two years ago. The temple is not just the center of religious life, but also cultural and ethnic identity.

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