Popular Hinduism
•Indus Valley civilization: 2500 – 1500 BC
•Aryan invasion – ca 1500 BC
–Vedic period (2300 – 600 BC) [Vedas are classed as “Shruti”]
–Classical period (Epics: 500 BC – 200 AD) [Smurti]
–Sutras 4th century BC – 5th century AD)
–Scholastic and sectarian (6th century AD – modern times)
•Epic period: ca 200 BC (Puranas and Epics)
•First, the Puranas: there are 18 of them
–6 are devoted to Brahma, 6 to Vishnu, 6 to Shiva (the Hindu “trinity”)
–They are collections of Indian myths and legends, cosmologies
–gods and goddesses, demons
–Ancestors, genealogies, descriptions of pilgrimages, rituals
–They illustrate the importance of caste, Dharma and Bhakti
•Gandhi believed the Bhagavad Gita to be the dictionary for life
–It systematically classifies the more important spiritual principles (to be seen soon)
•Then the Puranas are the encyclopedia of that dictionary for all of Hinduism
–If “Hinduism” (a Western term, remember) is a “jungle” of spirituality, containing just about
everything imaginable, then the Puranas are a helpful guidebook
–Hinduism does not have a nice, “clean” systematic theology (in the Western sense)
–It can become quite “confusing” for a Western-oriented researcher
– Puranas (one of the best known is the Bhagavata Purana)
• Early life of Krishna
• Glorification of the gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva
• Radha-Krishna (ideal love between the ideal husband and wife; like spring)
• This is similar to the Unification ideal
– Another is the Srimad-Bhagavatam (tells the story of Lord Krishna)
– Now the Ramayana and Mahabharata (the two great Indian “epics”)
– Ramayana
• Story of the righteous prince Rama and his virtuous wife Sita (ideal husband
and wife) - again, the theme of an ideal husband and wife
• Rama is the seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu
• Justification for worship of the monkey god, Hanuman
• Sita’s virtue is upheld at the end, p162 The Ramayana
• Young Oon Kim, p 6
– Mahabharata (Maha = great; Bharata = legendary first king of India)
• Ganesha, the elephant god, records the story as it is narrated
• 100,000 verses (larger than the Iliad and Odyssey of Greece)
• Includes as one chapter, the Bhagavad Gita (will be examined later)
• Elaboration of the orthodox social code, the four goals of life, and the four
stages of life
• Four castes (social classes)
Classical (popular) Hinduism
Four permissible goals (purusharthas) in life (you can have anything
you want):
– Path of Desire
• Pleasure (karma) – indulge, because “anything goes” [one comes to a limit]
The kama sutra is a well-known didactic text instructing one in erotic love-making
Some resemblance to the notion of “absolute sex”
• Success (artha) – you can reach the “top of the ladder” [one comes to a limit]
– Path of Renunciation
• Duty/righteousness (dharma) – following one’s conscience [life’s purpose?]
• Release (moksha) – liberated from this world of maya and union with the One
• World Scripture, 153b
Four stages in life (ashramas)
– Student (age 7), householder (most people), hermit, sannyasin (rare)
Four castes (varnas) – have actually subdivided into many sub-castes
“Twice Born” (physical birth, and birth into the study of the Vedas)
See the following for the four castes…
– Brahmins (priests)
• Teach and study the Vedas
• Offer sacrificial offerings
• Give and accept alms
• Many Indian university students (in America) are from this caste
– Kshatriyas (warriors/administrators)
• Protect the people
• Bestow gifts
• Study the Vedas
• Abstain from attachment to sensual pleasures
– Vaisyas (the “people,” artisans, shopkeepers, merchants, etc.)
• Tend cattle, bestow gifts, study Vedas, trade, lend money, cultivate land, etc.
It is only from one of these higher classes that one can even hope to achieve
ultimate liberation (moksha)
The great majority of people simply hope for a “higher level” rebirth, a rebirth into a
higher realm of existence, as they work their way up the spiritual ladder to ultimate
– Sudras (servants) – the lowest class of people
• They basically live in service to the three higher classes of people
• Their hope is to be “reborn” into one of the higher classes
• A certain acceptance of their “given” (poor) station in life: it is karma, etc.
– “Untouchables” (non-persons) – are not even considered to be human; are
ignored; are avoided; they “don’t exist”
The caste system is extremely deeply rooted in the culture
Ghandi hated the system, but it is very deeply ingrained and difficult to transform
Which caste one is born into is believed to be strictly determined by one’s previous
life, how one lived in one’s previous life. The law of karma has completely determined
one’s current situation. Karma and reincarnation are important beliefs in Hinduism
– Rarely is there marriage to someone of a lower caste; sometimes up (rare)
– Live, eat, work, and congregate with members of one’s own caste
– Basic acceptance of one’s “fate” in life (it is karma); focus on your caste duty
– Little impetus for “social activism” or “changing the world”
– A sense of determinism
– If one dutifully follows the way (Dharma) of one’s present caste, one can hope to
be reborn in one of the higher classes (often, many lifetimes are necessary)
Four orthodox paths (margas) to salvation
The recognition that all people are different, with different temperaments, etc.
Common assumptions: authority of Vedas, idea of rebirth, ignorance brings bondage
All four exhort or encourage one to adhere to or follow moral preliminaries
• Yamas (abstinences): non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, no sexual
immorality, greed
• Niyama (observances): purity, serenity, asceticism, spiritual study, surrender to
The first orthodox path to salvation is Jnana Yoga (inner meditation: seeking
For people more intellectually or philosophically inclined; time for study & meditation
The way to god through knowledge
Representative is Shankara (the “Aquinas” of India): non-dualism
Nirguna Brahman (without qualities) and Saguna Brahman (with qualities)
Saguna Brahman (Heavenly Father, Allah, Jehovah, etc.)
Nirguna Brahman represents a higher level of understanding
Crest Jewel of Discrimination, p 70
Advaita Vedanta (Brahman-Atman)
Perception of plurality is due to “maya” or “ignorance”
World Scripture 282b, 382b
Ramanuja represents vishishta advaita vedanta, or qualified non-dualism
The second orthodox path to liberation is Karma yoga (unattached work)
– For active people who engage in daily work
– The way to god through work (works like: sacrifice, extreme asceticism, moral deeds, or
fulfillment of the dharma for one’s caste or social class)
– Work diligently at important or relevant tasks (don’t waste time, etc. but be “effective”)
– Have no attachment to the fruits of your action/s (compare UT and the theory of art)
– Laws of Manu (a guidebook for karma yoga; something like Leviticus: do’s and don’ts)
The third path - Raja yoga (health disciplines; includes kundalini yoga--chakras)
For people who have a scientific inclination
The way to god through psychological experimentation (on oneself)
Man is a layered being
Popular is Patanjali Yoga (the Yoga practiced in the West): willed introversion
• Ethical practices: 1) (yamas) abstinences 2) (niyamas) observances
• Physical practices: 3) asana (body postures) 4) pranayama (energy, breath control)
• Sensorial practices: 5) pratyahara (control of senses) 6) dharana (concentration)
• Mental practices: 6) dharana (concentration) 7) dhyana (meditation; S and O)
• and finally 8) samadhi (absorption) union; mystical union
Three “Heterodox” systems: Jainism, Buddhism, Carvaka (materialism)
– These systems do not accept the authority of the Vedas (fundamental in Hism)
– Interestingly, the Buddha is accepted as one of the avatars of Vishnu
– [True Father could also be accepted as an avatar – The Kalkin Avatar]
The final orthodox path - Bhakti yoga (one of the most important paths to god)
For people who are more emotional in nature
The way to god through love (love and devotion to a personal god)
Especially promoted by the well-known Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord)
Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord)
– A small scripture which emerges from (previously one chapter of) the great
Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata (p 21, Gita)
– Introduction, p 24, Gita
– 18 chapters (ca 500 BC; “preparation for the Messiah”) [National chart]
– Many believe it to be the highest point of Indian spirituality (ca 500 BC)
– Best known and loved Indian scripture (Ghandi read it avidly)
– A grand synthesis, the Gita tries to bring the different yogas or “paths to
salvation” in line with bhakti (devotion)
• Story (many levels of meaning): “the war between two families”
• Arjuna, a warrior, seeing family, falters in his caste duty to fight
• Krishna, the charioteer, counsels Arjuna and encourages him to fight
• Jnana yoga: the body can be killed, but not the Atman; it is eternal
• Karma yoga: your caste duty as a warrior, is to fight
• All paths (yogas) are valid ways to god, but Bhakti Yoga is the superior
yoga (path)
• The most perfect yogi is he who worships god full of faith
Song of the Lord: the manifested Krishna
– Expresses a deeply personal and devotional religious faith
– Includes a dramatic revelation of the nature of god & a loving relationship to him,
when Krishna takes his cosmic form (Varuna) in a theophany in chapter 11 p 89
– Krishna is an Avatar of the god Vishnu
– This revelation of Krishna is an act of grace (the god was affected or influenced
by human feeling)
Another level of meaning: Arjuna becomes the soul of man, Krishna is the charioteer
of the soul p 22 (this is a famous image regarding the “horses” which represent the
unruly senses which bind us to the sorrows of this world
Pre-Buddhistic p 23
Symphonic nature p 24
Essence p 34
Symbol of hope p 35
Avatar p 61 (4.5-8) (see 12 characteristics of an avatar)
– Krishna/Rama/Buddha/Kalkin
– World scripture 288a; 294a-b; 336a; 337a; 384a
A “Christian” spirit is expressed in the Bhagavad Gita (what Jesus would have
encountered had he gone to preach the Gospel in India)
6.47 p 73
9.26, 30-32, 34 p 82
12.19-20 p 98
18.64-65 p 121
High point of Hindu spirituality 400 BC, in preparation for the coming of the Messiah
Neill p 57
“Why, having come so far, did Hinduism not take the further step of
the acceptance of the idea of a living God, personally conceived and known through
his own revelation of himself, and accessible to the least of his worshippers? To this
question no certain answer can be given. It remains the fact that this step was not
God’s Will and the World p 341: “If Jesus had not been crucified, instead of
turning to the West and crossing the Atlantic to America, Christianity would have
gone the other way to India, China, and the Orient, and then over to the Western
world. However, because of the crucifixion, Christianity made a 180-degree turn
and moved toward Rome, England, America, and then back to the Orient.”
The Bhagavad Gita (and its spirituality) was a preparation for Jesus Christ
Popular Hinduism (The current religion of the masses)
– Home worship (puja) – especially in the upper (Brahmin) classes
• Husband and wife must worship together
• Preparing the altar & removing the god from its abode and “giving it a bath”
• Feeding the god food and water; Replacing the god back into its home (altar)
and closing with a bow
– Cow veneration (the cow represents the creation and is of great use to the people)
– Pilgrimage (to holy rivers: Ganges, Benares, etc.)
• People will bathe in the water to wash away their sins and be healed
– Bhagavad Gita (most popular scripture)
– A variety of gods (henotheism): pre-eminent is the Trimurti (trinity)
• Brahma – creator; Vishnu – preserver; Shiva - destroyer
– The gods have consorts, or wives (masculine and feminine in Reality)
• Shiva –destroyer; vast mythology; # of wives/consorts; shakti (female power)
– Dance of Shiva (famous sculpture) [see image]
• Vishnu – the preserver
• Avatars of Vishnu: fish, tortoise, boar, man-lion, dwarf, Rama, Krishna,
Buddha, Kalkin
• The future avatar – Kalkin - is now being awaited [that is True Father]
Hindu concept of time (vast) [bird pecking; chart, as seen here]
Night of Brahman; day of Brahman (kalpa); alternate
Day of Brahman: 1,000 cycles of Great Yugas (4,320,000 human years)
One Great Yuga:
Krita Yuga (4,800 years)
Treta Yuga (3,600 years)
Dvapara Yuga (2,400 years)
Kali Yuga (1,800 years)
We are now in the Kali Yuga (= the last days)
Dharma starts strong, but erodes as time passes
In the last days, it is very difficult to keep the Dharma
In the last days, evil and iniquity is very strong
Bhagavad Gita on the avatar; “from time to time I come into being…”
Significant Individuals in Hinduism
Ram Mohun Roy (1772-1833)
Swami Dayananda Sarasvati (1824-1883)
Sri Ramakrishnan (1836-1886)
Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902; Chicago Parliament of the World Religions speech)
B.C. Chatterjee (b 1838)
B.K. Tilak (1856-1920)
Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950)
Mohandas Ghandi (1869-1948)
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)
Jawaharlal Nehru
Uinoba Bhave
Reform movements:
Brahmo Samaj
Arya Samaj
Ramakrishna Mission
Sri Aurobindo, Ghandi, and Tagore
Worldview of Popular Hinduism
Deity: In practice, polytheistic (henotheistic); Krishna, Vishnu and Shiva are very
popular; as preserver, Vishnu manifests avatars or descendings at certain intervals of
time (when evil is strong, and help is needed)
Cosmos: The universe is vast; many worlds, heavens and hells; cycles of creation of
vast time durations (4,321,000,000 years)
Human being: on the basis of past karma, people are reborn into a particular caste.
A person is (truly) an Atman having a body of three threads or gunas (qualities):
sattva or intelligibility or brightness; rajas or activity or passion; tamas (dullness or
Human plight: entrapment in a body (repeated rebirth into this samsaric world).
Failure to observe the dharma associated with one’s given caste.
Salvation: Predominantly, realization of the Brahman/Atman. There are four paths to
salvation, designed for different kinds of people. A person may follow more than one
Conduct: One should follow the dharma of one’s class. Bhaktas serve their Lord
through loving devotion.
Destiny: Predominantly, union with the One (Brahman), once rebirth is no longer
necessary. No clear description of the eternal state of the Atman, however
History: is cyclical, ever recurring, playing over and over again, unless ultimate