Transcendental Meditation is a Hindu-based movement that finds popularity in the United States. Other offshoots of Hinduism increasing in attention due to the New Age philosophy are the Vendata Society, Self-realization Fellowship, Theosophy, Ecknakar, and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna).
Transcendental Meditation: The Roots of Hinduism
In order to understand Transcendental Meditation and other extensions of Hindu philosophy, it’s important to investigate the foundation of Hinduism itself. Hinduism began in India around 1500 and 2500 B.C. It is the world’s oldest organized religion. Hinduism is a massive and eccentric group of divisions founded on more than 2000 years of diverse philosophical and religious writings. Included are the Bhagavad Gita, Vedas, Puranas, and Upanishads. Adherents of Hinduism differ in belief systems, with no dominant doctrine or overarching truth. Hinduism has its background in ancient paganism, in which nature, animals, and humanity are represented by various gods and goddesses.
Although Hindus believe in many gods, they believe in Brahman as the one definitive, impersonal, spiritual actuality over all existence. Sectarian Hinduism personalizes Brahman as the following separate and distinct entities: “Brahma” (the Creator; the god with four heads representing creative energy), “Vishnu” (the Preserver; the god of stability and control), and “Shiva” (the Destroyer; the god of endings). Most Hindus also worship “Krishna” and “Rama,” two of Vishnu’s ten incarnations. Actually, it gets very complex, as Hindus claim the existence of millions of gods. Throughout the year, Hindus worship a variety of regional, family and individual gods. Hindus also focus a great deal on astrology and the spirit world.
Transcendental Meditation: The Diversity of Hinduism
Transcendental Meditation is just one example of the wide variety of Hindu worship, integrating diverse symbols, offerings, fasting, and dance. On a daily basis, most Hindus worship an image of their chosen deity, with chants (mantras), flowers, and incense. Worship, whether in a home or temple, is primarily individualistic rather than congregational. Hinduism is typically separated into two divisions. The first, “popular Hinduism” is articulated by worshipping gods, making offerings, ritualistic practices, and prayers. The second, “philosophical Hinduism” is comprised of a multifaceted system of meditation, yoga practices, and the study of early philosophical writings. Traditional Hindu movements include the Ramkrishna Mission and Vedanta Societies, Sri Aurobindo Society, Satya Sai Baba Movement, Self Realization Fellowship, and International Sivananda Yoga Society. Recent estimates state that there are roughly 850 million Hindus in the world today. Of these, approximately 780 million live in India, 20 million in Bangladesh, 20 million in Indonesia, 20 million in Nepal, 3 million in Sri Lanka, 2 million in Pakistan and 1.5 million in the United States. In addition, it is estimated that Hindus comprise approximately 20% of the following populations: Mauritius, Fiji, Surinam, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago.
Transcendental Meditation: An Endless Life Cycle
Hinduism rejects the biblical account of divine Creation and instead accept forms of pantheism. Hindus believe that only Brahman exists, and all else is illusion (maya), including all creation. According to Hinduism, there is no start or finish of creation, only continuing successions of life and death. The soul (atman) of man is a “spark” of Brahman trapped in the physical body. Repeated lives or reincarnations (samsara) are required before the soul can be liberated (moksha) from the body. An individual’s present life is determined by his efforts in previous lives (the law of karma), and the physical body is ultimately an illusion (maya). Bodies are usually cremated, and the soul goes to an intermediate state of punishment or reward before rebirth into another body. Reincarnations are experienced until karma has been removed and the individual soul is reabsorbed into Brahman. Freedom from infinite being and final self-realization of the truth (moksha) is the goal of existence. Yoga and meditation (especially raja-yoga) taught by a religious teacher (guru) is one way to attain moksha. The other paths for moksha are the way of works (karma marga), the way of knowledge (jnana marga), and the way of love and devotion (bhakti marga). Hinduism‘s fundamental goal is to escape the cycle of reincarnation, and thereby to erase the illusion of personal existence – eventually becoming one with Brahman.