Finally I’m going to write this text about Hinduism, which I’ve attempted to write so many times before but never had enough patience and belief in myself to start. It’s an enormous topic to cover only in one blog text and I won’t even try to make it 100% covering and scientifically perfect. My facts and thoughts will mostly be based on my own knowledge and experiences, including one very interesting book I read here called “Hinduism, The Dawn of Civilization” by Dinesh Chandra. This book is written in a very pro-Hinduism manner and therefore isn’t very objective in it’s main topic. However, it contains very many good points about religions in general and points out how and why Hinduism distinguishes itself among the other world religions. In this little foreword of mine I just wanted to tell you not to read my text as the one and only truth about this religion, but as one perspective on it.
Already between 6000 BCE and 15000 BCE the Harappan culture flourished in the valleys of the rivers Sindhu (Indus) and Saraswati. It is not yet known what caused this complex and advanced culture to suddenly vanish, one of the speculated reasons have been the arrival of the Aryans. These fair and strongly built people were mixed with the indigenous inhabitants and also brought their holy scriptures, the Vedas. While the Indo-Aryans spread deeper in the subcontinent they also spread their religion and way of life. The teachings of the Vedas got mixed and modified when influenced by the indigenous religions and the early Harappan beliefs. It was not until other religions started to invade India when Hinduism got its status as a religion to be distinguished from the other religions.
Many people think that Hindus are polytheistic in their worship of so many different deities. This is a misconception since Hinduism is actually a pantheistic religion. All the numerous Hindu gods are avatars, incarnations of the Supreme Being, which can be found in everything. God is everywhere and in everyone. Mental images are required to keep the praying mind fixed and concentrated during worship. Idols, pictures, temples and other material objects are there only to help the people to learn about the Almighty. The different gods represent different sides and values of the Almighty.
Hinduism distinguishes itself from other world religions in being a personal religion. The Hindus have never tried to impose or force their own religion on others. Even among Hindus the religion is a very personal matter. Everyone should find their own way to reach the divine. There is a freedom to practise the religion in your own way and there are no fixed times for prayer or group gatherings. This leads to there being as many different variations of Hinduism as there are Hindus.
The Hindus are also quite open minded towards other religions since their philosophy tells that everyone has to find their own way to God. Also the turbulent history of India in which the Hindus have had to live and cope with so many different faiths and religions have contributed to the openmindness of the people.
Hinduism is probably mostly known for its terrifying caste system and the fatalistic belief in karma. Remembering my religion classes from five years ago when we discussed world religions I had exactly the above mentioned picture of Hinduism. Religious customs are very hard to understand when you just scratch the surface and learn things without knowing about the context they are applied in. Of course, dividing people into different castes and oppressing the lower ones is not nice, but it is not happening everywhere here and there was a reason for this too. Varna is a unique system of classifying a persons social status, caste is “hereditarily specialized and hierarchically arranged position” in the Varna. People were divided due to the work they did, priests, warriors, traders and workers, like we still have different society classes. But of course, many things went terribly wrong in this caste system and even though it’s banned it still plays an important roll in the society (that’s what they say). The strange thing is that you can’t really SEE it. It’s not like you immediately know when you meet people from which caste they are (and there are thousands of castes and sub-castes and so on). But to make it simple; poor people, people who do hard and dirty works are from lower castes (shudras or even castless dalits). The richer and the middle class have their roots in the warrior, brahmin or trader castes. Generalizing roughly now. It is very hard for me to actually understand how much these people care about the castes. It varies quite much from place to place. Things are totally different in urban areas compared to some poor villages. I’ve tried to ask the people here, my family and others, about the caste system but it’s sometimes very hard to get any clear answers from the Indians…so I gave up. It is as it is.
Karma karma karma. Your destiny is already decided and there is nothing you can do about it, so why even try to make any improvements in life? No, the Hindus are not fatalistic, tells the author of my beloved hindu-book. Lord Brahma tells that “One’s Karma are like seeds that have to be sown in the soil of destiny for them to take fruit”, meaning that nothing will be gained in the destiny unless you make some efforts for the desired results. Ones destiny lies in ones own hands. Punarjamma is the rebirth of the soul, dependent on past karmas. During your life you collect good and bad karma and when you die and your soul relieves itself from your body the karma will decide in what shape your soul will be reborn in. This explains why there are poverty and misery, why people are born in different social and economic strata of society. The religious beliefs help the poor people to accept and understand the suffering and not blaming others for it. Peace is restored in a society with so vast clashes between the poor and the rich. Sounds like a nice explanation..
So now I’ve represented some points on Hinduism that I myself thought interesting and important. There would be a lot more to tell and to learn too. It is not so easy to learn about Hinduism from the Hindus here. As I mentioned earlier, Hinduism is a personal religion. The Hindus don’t discuss their religion with others since they think that everyone has to find their own spiritual path, it’s a personal matter for them. Actually I think that this is the greatest teaching of Hinduism. If everyone would just have the liberty to think freely and to choose their own way of living without harming others, many things would be so much easier in this world.