Chapter 7 The Story of Hinduism Hinduism in Canada • The world is home to over 900 million Hindus. • Most live in India, but large numbers live in Nepal, Bangladesh, • • • • • • Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. Hinduism has spread with immigration to Canada and other countries. It is the third largest religion in the world, after Christianity and Islam. In Canada, the Hindu population is about 297 200, or just under 1%. – This makes Hinduism Canada’s fourth most followed religion, after Christianity (76%), Islam (2%), and Judaism (1.1%). The majority of Hindus in Canada were born elsewhere. Most live in Ontario, Québec, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. Hinduism is a tradition that means many things and has many variations. – It is not a unified, centralized religion like Roman Catholicism. – It has no formal church and no single authority. – It has no founder and no fixed doctrines. The History of Hinduism • Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world. • It can be described as evolving over three periods: Pre-Vedic, Vedic, and Upanishadic. Pre-Vedic Period (from about 2500 to 1500 BCE) • A civilization thrived in the Indus River valley. • Most people lived in complex cities. • It was a matriarchal society and people worshipped a mother goddess. Vedic Period (from 1500 BCE to 600 BCE ) • This period is named for the first sacred writings of Hinduism—the Vedas. • Scholars think the writings were collected at this time. • Rituals during this period focused on prayer, elements of nature, and animal sacrifices. Upanishadic Period (began around 600 BCE) • From about 600 BCE to 200 BCE, ancient India’s culture was unified, Hinduism accepted the Vedas and added the Upanishads, and worship began in temples. • The Upanishads are interpretations of the Vedas. • The Upanishads moved Hinduism’s focus from sacrificial practices to the inner self. Rituals Puja • Puja involves worshipping one or more Hindu deities. • The image of a deity is called a murti. • Puja usually takes place in the home, but it can also be conducted in a temple. Puja in a Hindu Home • Most Hindu families have a place of worship in their home. • Worshippers remove their shoes, ring a bell to summon the murti, light a • • • • • • lamp, and burn incense. The murti is washed and decorated with garlands or flower petals. A small amount of red paste is placed on the foreheads of the murti and the worshippers. Worshippers make an offering of fruit, light, flowers, or sweets to the murti. A lamp is moved around the murti to indicate the presence of God. Devotees place both hands above the lamp flame and touch their foreheads to receive the deity’s blessing. Any food that has been part of the puja is eaten by everyone present. Temple Worship • Hindus visit the mandir (temple) any time. • A Hindu temple is a complex of shrines, each devoted to a different deity. • As worshippers enter the temple, they remove their shoes and wash their hands. • They approach the shrine to make an offering. • As they approach, they ring a bell to announce their arrival to the murti. • • • • Puja in the temple is similar to the ritual in Hindu homes, but is led by a priest. The priest will perform puja while chanting verses from the scriptures. Worshippers sing and clap while the lamp is circled around the deities. The service ends with a sharing of the blessed food offering. • In another important ritual, havan, a fire offering, the priest lights a fire, then pours butterfat or oil into it while chanting from the Vedas. • The priest offers prayers for purity, dips his finger into water, then touches his ears, eyes, nose, mouth, arms, body, and legs. • Worshippers do the same to remind themselves that God lives within them. The Eternal Cycle of All Life • In Hinduism, all life is governed by a law of birth, death, and rebirth. • This law is called the Wheel of Life, or samsara. – It applies to all living things. – People may not end up being reborn as humans; they could be reborn as animals. • The goal of life for Hindus is to be freed from the wheel of life. – This liberation from the cycle of rebirths is called moksha. – According to this belief, Hindus can be reborn in a higher state of life, moving gradually upward from lifetime to lifetime. • How someone is reborn is determined by the law of karma: whatever one does in a life affects what one will be in the next. • The best way to ensure good karma is to do good deeds and follow one’s duty, or dharma. • Ignoring dharma builds up bad karma and increases the chances of an unfavourable rebirth. The Divine: Brahman, Atman, and Maya • Brahman is the power that sustains the universe and is its deepest reality. • With the Upanishads, Hindu belief shifted to think that: – Consciousness unites everything – The self that people experience in their consciousness is one with • • • • • • • Brahman, the reality of the universe. Brahman cannot be named, and many forms of the deities are needed to express the various aspects of Brahman. By going beyond their bodies, thoughts, and feelings, Hindus discover their true selves, or atman. – Each atman is a fragment of the divine Brahman - everyone is part of the divine. Hindus believe that coming to a consciousness of themselves as Brahman is the way to defeat death. What keeps humans from this consciousness is their many distractions. Humans see and sense that things are different from one another (and not One). – This is an illusion called maya. When people see things as separate from each other, they do not perceive the divine oneness (Brahman) of all things. Realizing that Brahman or atman is present in everyone and everything is to be set free. The Caste System • In traditional Hindu society, all life was arranged as a hierarchy. • Performing good deeds and following the assigned code of behaviour • • • • • • • • • determined whether people earned the right to be reborn at a higher level. These beliefs were expressed in Hindu society’s division into castes. Roles, jobs, social standing, and religious structures were organized according to the hierarchy of castes. The caste system is said to have come to ancient India around 1500 BCE, with the Aryans. The caste system had four groups: priests, warriors, business people, and farmers. More recently, another caste developed: the Untouchables or outcastes. – However, this caste is not part of the philosophy of Hinduism. Following one’s dharma means strictly following the rules of caste. Acting above one’s caste is ignoring dharma and generates bad karma. Today in India, discrimination based on caste or occupation is illegal, but some division among caste lines remains. Many Hindu teachers argue that the Hindu sacred writings never intended the social and occupational discrimination of the caste system. Traditional Hindu Caste System 1. Brahmans • the priestly caste • role is to study and teach in matters of faith • lead most key rituals 2. Kshatriyas • the warrior caste • role is to protect the people and run a fair government 3. Vaishyas • traders, merchants, farmers, artists, businesspeople • role is to take care of the economic needs of the community 4. Sudras • lowest caste • they serve the three higher castes • unskilled workers, servants, menial workers 5. Untouchables • also called outcastes • considered outsiders and may not interact in any way with members of the four castes • they did the dirtiest work in society and lived separately • this is changing; there are now quotas in place to ensure members have access to better jobs Marking Time • Celebrations throughout the year mark special moments in life and relate to certain stages in life. The Four Stages of Life • In Hinduism, what people need to enjoy a happy life changes as they grow older. • Life is divided into four main stages. – Stage 1: Student, age 7 to 20. Focus is on religious education and a willingness to search for the truth. – Stage 2: Householder, age 20 to 50. Focus is on duty to family, raising children, earning a living. – Stage 3: Semi-retired, when family is self-supporting. This is a retreat from worldly life to focus on spiritual matters. – Stage 4: Wandering ascetic, when ready. This is a holy, detached life, with no possessions or responsibilities. • These life stages have generally been followed only by males in the top three castes. • A Hindu man who moves through the stages performs his duty and comes to recognize that all life is ultimately illusion and that the ultimate goal is liberation (moksha). Life Milestones • Hindu scriptures note 16 life milestones. Naming a Baby • A baby naming usually takes place at home on the twelfth day after birth. • Precise traditional rules dictate the number of syllables, caste, and deity of devotion. • Modern Hindu naming practices are more flexible. Sacred Thread • This is an initiation ceremony for upper caste Hindu boys between 7 and 12. • It marks becoming a student—the first stage in life. • The boy is introduced to his guru and a sacred thread is draped over him. • The thread must be worn at all times as a sign of his responsibilities to his caste and to his study of the Vedas. Death • Traditionally, the family carries the deceased’s body to the cremation grounds. • The body is placed on the funeral pyre (fire). • The ashes are scattered on water, preferably a river. • In Canada, Hindus have had to adapt their funeral practices, and some communities have built their own crematoria to allow families to follow traditional practices as much as possible. Central Beliefs Hindu Scriptures • Hinduism is possibly the world’s oldest religion. • Hindu teachings and stories were not written down, but were memorized and passed on by word of mouth. • Eventually they were gathered into written collections. • These scriptures include “revealed” scriptures, which came from the deities through holy people, and “traditional” scriptures, mostly popular stories about the deities. Revealed Scriptures • The oldest Hindu scriptures are the Vedas, named for the Sanskrit word for knowledge. • The Vedas were written by and for the Brahmans (priestly caste). • Divisions within the Vedas result from various Brahman families becoming specialists in different areas of ritual. • Over the years Vedas came to include verses or liturgical formulas, prose that explains the meaning of the liturgy, explanations meant for learned practitioners, and the Upanishads. Revealed Scriptures (cont’d) • “Upanishads” means “sit down near.” • Each Upanishad is like a conversation where a person sits down beside a wise teacher to learn about the Vedas. • They were shared orally for more than 1000 years before they were written down. • For Hindus, all of the Vedas are revelations, but the conversations are seen as the heart of the Vedas and have had the strongest influence on Hinduism. Traditional Scriptures • Many of these are epic poems, including popular stories that give instructions and examples of how to behave. • Most Hindus are not concerned about whether these are historically accurate. • Many of these are stories of beloved Hindu characters who are role models of dharma living. • The best-known examples are – the Ramayana: the story of Prince Rama and his wife Sita – the Bhagavad Gita: a dialogue between a great prince, Arjuna, and his charioteer, Krishna Deities, Avatars, Epics • • • • Hindus believe there is only one God or Supreme Being. The Being is manifested in many different forms, called deities. Each deity is one of many different expressions of the divine. Each deity represents a different facet of the supreme deity or eternal soul, Brahman. • Many Hindus devote themselves to primarily one deity such as Vishnu or Shiva, as the highest and most perfect form of Brahman. • Almost all Hindus worship and honour other deities as well. The Hindu Triad • Brahman is said to manifest in the form of many deities. • According to some Hindu traditions, three of these deities together—Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva—symbolize the cycle of existence. Brahma: The Creator • Brahma is the creator of the universe. • He is most often shown with four faces looking in four directions. • He is usually wearing white and shown riding on a swan or peacock or seated on a lotus. • He is considered above worship, so there are few temples to him. Vishnu: The Preserver • He is most often dressed in yellow with blue skin. • He is often pictured with his partner, Lakshmi, riding on back of a huge half- • • • • • • bird, half-man. Sometimes Vishnu descends to the world in human form to maintain order and save the world from danger. These incarnations are called avatars. So far, Vishnu has appeared in human form in nine different avatars. His seventh and eighth avatars are Rama and Krishna, whose adventures are told in famous Indian epics. His ninth avatar is Gautama (the Buddha, founder of Buddhism). Hindus wait for the tenth avatar, the warrior Kalkin, who will rid the world of oppression. Shiva: The Destroyer/Redeemer • Shiva is both the destroyer and the redeemer. • He is the deity of the cosmic dance. • He is dangerous and destructive, yet is joyful and a creative force. • He destroys the sins of believers to lead them to redemption. • Shiva is often shown wearing a tiger-skin loincloth, a snake collar, and sometimes a necklace of skulls. • It is said that when he brings down his foot, the universe will end. – For Hindus, this ending may not be the worst fate because the universe has to be destroyed to be recreated. • Many believe ultimate truth is best experienced through Shiva because one must look at the evil as well as the good—pain and suffering as well as life and growth. Other Important Deities • Other important deities include Krishna, Ganesha, Parvati, Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. • Each deity has his or her own iconography: symbols and characteristics associated with a particular deity. Morality The Paths of Liberation: The Three Yogas • Hindus turn to the Bhagavad Gita to learn how to achieve the ultimate goal of moksha, or liberation from the eternal cycle of rebirths. • In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna describes three yogas (paths or disciplines) that lead to liberation: knowledge, devotion, and action. The Path of Knowledge • This path stresses the quest for spiritual knowledge and truth. • One goal is to understand that atman and Brahman are one. • Because the illusion (maya) of the world is powerful, Hindus train their minds through meditation to see the world as it truly is. • Meditation means concentrating and focusing the mind to control one’s thoughts. • Meditation allows Hindus to go beyond the conscious self and detach from the world of illusions so they can then see the true nature of atman. • Two meditation techniques are – using a mantra - a word, phrase, or sound that is repeated – using a mandala - a symbolic circle diagram that represents the universe or the self The Path of Devotion • In this path, Hindus choose a particular deity and spend their lives worshipping it. • They see their religious identity tied to one preferred deity, but it does not exclude worshipping other deities. The Path of Good Works • Also known as karma yoga • It involves Hindus doing their dharma, or duty, to the best of their ability. • The duty is different for everyone depending on caste, job, social status, stage of life, etc. • Hindus are not to act in the hope of being rewarded with good karma. • They try to act according to what is required by dharma. • This path stresses discipline, ritual action, and moral choices. The Laws of Manu • Another Hindu scripture that governs actions and virtues • It contains instructions for living according to caste and acting according to duty. • Some of its themes are the importance of patience, discipline, truthfulness, knowledge, and living according to the four stages of life. Family Life • Traditionally, men and women have separate roles in Hindu society. • In urban areas and Western countries, gender roles are less structured. • One aspect of traditional gender roles is the idea of a dowry: money or other valuables brought to a marriage by the bride. – Many Hindu families pay or require dowries, even though it is illegal in India. Marriage • • • • Hindu society has a tradition of arranged marriages, especially in India. Friends, neighbours, or paid matchmakers may arrange marriages. The couple does not date and they are never left alone. According to traditional Hindu beliefs, parents and others who arrange marriages – have greater wisdom into what it takes to have a successful marriage – know their own children well – consider character, education, caste, tradition, and background – give the couple a say in what happens; if either disagrees with the match, the search starts again – believe that love develops after marriage, not before • “Love marriages” are becoming more common; Hindus are also marrying Hindus of other castes and non-Hindus. Interreligious Dialogue Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi • Gandhi was born in 1869 in western India under British rule. • He studied law in London, England. • He went to South Africa to help Indian immigrants who were being • • • • • • • • • discriminated against and exploited. He helped improve their rights through public protests, work stoppages, use of media to promote his message, and non-violent resistance to unjust laws. Gandhi was often jailed for his actions. When Hindus, Muslims, and the British clashed violently, Gandhi would publicly stop eating as a protest until peace was restored. He began to see the treatment of women and Untouchables as discrimination. Gandhi simplified his life with plain clothing and few possessions, and practiced vegetarianism all his life—reflecting the principle of doing no harm. In January 1948, a Hindu extremist who was outraged by Gandhi’s position on religious tolerance shot and killed him. Nearly 3 million people took part in his funeral procession. He was given the nickname “Mahatma,” which means “great soul.” He is considered the father of India, and has inspired many social justice movements worldwide. Christian Missionaries in India • Christianity came to India in the 1st century, when the Apostle Thomas travelled to Malabar (now called Kerala). • In the 17th century, other missionaries went to India, including Robert de Nobili and Francis Xavier. • Because of their work, Goa (a small state on western shore) and Kerala became centres of Christianity. Catholic Monks Learning from the East • In the late 1940s, Benedictine monk Henri le Saux went to India to explore • • • • • Christian and Hindu spirituality. He became known as Swami Abhishiktananda. He spent the rest of his life seeking to understand the spirituality of Brahman and atman while remaining faithful to his Catholic faith. Both Hindus and Christians believe that God and the world are not separate. Both believe that at the core of the self is our human identity and God. – but Christians do not say that God is the self Many Western Christians have benefited from the teachings of the monks who were seeking the truth about God and themselves in other faith traditions.