Early History of Hinduism
Hinduism is derived from the Persian word for Indian. It differs from
Christianity and other Western religions in that it does not have a single
founder, a specific theological system, a single system of morality, or
religious organization. Its roots are traceable to the Indus valley
civilization circa 4000 to 2200 BCE. Its
development was influenced by many invasions over thousands of years. One of
the major influences occurred when Indo-Europeans invaded Northern India
(circa 1500 to 500 BCE) from the steppes of Russia and Central Asia. They
brought with them their religion of Vedism. These beliefs became
mixed with the indigenous Indian native beliefs.
During the first few centuries CE, many sects were created, each dedicated
to a specific deity. Typical among these were the Goddesses Shakti and
Lakshmi, and the Gods Skanda and Surya.
Hinduism grew to become the world's third largest religion, claiming about
13% of the world's population. They form the dominant religion in India,
Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Hindus totaled 157,015 in Canada's 1991 census.
The most important of all Hindu texts is the Bhagavad Gita which
is a poem describing a conversation between a warrior Arjuna and his
charioteer Krishna. Vedism survives in the Rigveda, a collection of
over a thousand hymns. Other texts include the Brahmanas, the Sutras, and
Hindu Beliefs and Practices
At the heart of Hinduism is the monotheistic principle of Brahman,
that all reality is a unity; the entire universe is one divine entity.
Deity is simultaneously visualized as a triad:
Simultaneously, many hundreds of Hindu Gods and Goddesses are worshipped as
various aspects of that unity. Depending upon ones view, Hinduism can be
looked upon as a monotheistic, trinitarian or polytheistic religion.
- Brahman the Creator who is continuing to create new realities
- Vishnu, the Preserver, who preservers these new creations. Whenever
dharma (eternal order, righteousness, religion, law and duty) is
threatened, Vishnu travels from heaven to earth in one of ten incarnations.
- Siva, the Destroyer, is at times compassionate, erotic and destructive.
The Rigveda defined five social castes. Ones caste determined the range of
jobs or professions from which one could choose. Marriages normally took
place within the same caste. One normally was of the same caste as one's
parents. In decreasing status, the five castes are:
Although the caste system was abolished by law in 1949, it remains a
significant force throughout India, particularly in the south.
- Brahmins (the priests and academics)
- Kshatriyas (the military), Vaishyas (farmers and merchants) and Sudras
(peasants and servants). The exact ranking of these three castes varied among
- Harijan (the outcasts, commonly known as the untouchables)
Humans are perceived as being trapped in samsara, a meaningless cycle
of birth, life, death and rebirth. Karma is the accumulated sum of
ones good and bad deeds. Karma determines how you will live your next
life. Through pure acts, thoughts and devotion, one can be reborn at a
higher level. Eventually, one can escape samsara and achieve enlightenment.
Bad deeds can cause a person to be reborn as a lower level, or even as an
animal. The unequal distribution of wealth, prestige, suffering are thus
seen as natural consequences for ones previous acts, both in this life and
in previous lives.
Meditation is often practiced, with Yoga being the most common. Other
activities include daily devotions, public rituals, and puja
a ceremonial dinner for a God.
Hindu Sects and Denominations
About 80% of Hindus are Vaishnavites, who worship Lord Vishnu. Others
follow various reform movements or neo-Hindu sects.
Various sects of Hinduism have evolved into separate religious movements,
including Hare Krishna,
Sikhism and Theosophy. Transcendental Meditation
was derived from a Hindu technique of meditation. The New Age movement has
taken many of its concepts from Hinduism.
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