Hinduism

Religions, Cults & Worldviews: Valuable Answers for Valid Questions.

Hinduism, Eastern Religions Historical Fast Facts:

This rather lengthy page will attempt to provide a thorough overview of Hinduism: History, Practices, Writings, Hindu gods, world view and views of the afterlife.

Adherents Of Hinduism
900 Million
Hinduism Founded
1500 B.C.
Hindu Philosophy of Religion
Pantheistic: All things constitute what a person would know as "god" - which is what Hindus refer to as Brahman.
Founders of Hinduism: Baltic Aryan nomads
Joined two religious systems: ancient civilization (animist) in the Indus River Valley (3000 BC) and their own polytheistic religious beliefs as they began to invade northern India approximately 2000 BC.
Founders of Hinduism: Baltic Aryan nomads (cont.)
Aryans also settled much of the area of modern day Greece which, perhaps, laid the foundation for Greek polytheism (mythology - Zeus, Aphrodite, Apollo, etc) which would then later serve as the basis for Roman polytheism (Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto, etc).
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Authoritatitve Writings for the Hindu Faith

The Vedas

      1. Shruti – that which has been heard from the Hindu gods by the Rishis’ and are considered of Divine origin
      2. (Knowledge or wisdom) 1400 BC – 500 AD comprised of:

Mantras

(hymns of praise)

Brahmanas

(guide for ritual rites)

            1. Contains: law books, Ramayana & Maabharata, Puranas, aqamas, sultras,and the bhakti (devotions to gods)
            2. Describes the religion of the Aryans via the writings of “Holy men” or rishis (seers). sruti: all that is heard; smriti: all that is remembered.
            3. Describes a number of deities who are mostly personifications of natural phenomena: storms, fire, etc. (c.f. animism)

The Upanishads

(secret teaching) 800-600 BC

            1. Teachings on religious truth or doctrine within Hinduism

            2. The “later” Vedas which reflect the development of Pantheism: Brahman also the concept of “Atman is Brahman”; and maya the creation of the unreal.

            3. Spoke of a multitude of gods

Bhagavad Gita

("New Testament" of Hinduism)

            1. Smriti (text based on remembrance of tradition)
            2. Inspired but of lesser authority because it is smriti and not shruti
            3. This writing records a conversation between the prince Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna (the incarnation of the god Vishnu) condoning personal devotion to deity
            4. This was a new development for Hinduism at the time because prior to this, Hinduism was more a mix of Animism and Polytheism whereby a pantheon of gods may have been worshipped by each Hindu practitioner.
            5. The Bhagavad Gita began to teach a doctrine of “pick your favorite” and honor that god above the other gods that you worship, which gave it a sort of Shintoist flavor whereby each house began to have its own “god” above other gods.

Hindu Religious Practices

Ahimsa

(so-called "non-injury" to all)

            1. Hindus are vigilant about the doctrine of ahimsa which means ‘non-injury’ to all living creatures and the protection of life in general (c.f. Mahayana Buddhism) It is for this reason that many Hindus are strictly vegetarian.

            2. This eastern ethos has been propagated into western thinking through film, documentary, yoga, etc. whereby many animal activists are unknowingly acting under the influence of the Hindu religious practice of Ahimsa.

            3. Despite the doctrine of “ahimsa” there are extremist factions of Hinduism which attack Muslims and Christians (and Sikhs for a time) in the name of their Hindu deities. Which appears to contradict the doctrine of Ahimsa’s “non-injury” to all living creatures.

            4. Despite the supposed practice of “ahimsa” Hindus still operate under a caste system which causes severe harm, poverty and sickness to the lowest caste in Hinduism called the Dalits or “untouchables”. This is an obvious contradiction which reveals the man-made nature of the Hindu religion. (see “Caste System” chart below.)

Caste System

Consists of social classes with thousands of sub-groups within each caste which are determined at birth by family, and/or by personal karma. (which is determined by the top caste)

Four Goals of the Hindu

(Called "Purusharth" in Sanskrit meaning “object of human pursuit”)

            1. Kama – pleasure/enjoyment particularly through love and sexual desire. The west will be familiar with this term via the distribution of the Hindu writing “Kama Sutra”.

            2. Artha – wealth and success – this door is shut to the lower castes who are locked in a perpetual state of poverty and oppression by the upper light-skinned castes (see Hindu Caste chart above)

            3. Dharma – moral duty, renouncing personal power and pleasure to seek the common good of others brings personal fulfillment. This is not observed by the wealthier upper castes who use the lower castes as servants to bring them wealth and comfort.

            4. Moksha – liberation from the death and birth cycle “salvation” which never really happens for any person in Hindu and even if it did, the Hindu would/could never know it.

Who or What is god to the Hindu?

    • As Hinduism began as a polytheistic mix of the gods of the invading Aryans with the Animist spirits worshipped by the indigenous tribes of India, it has resulted in a world religion where over 33 million deities or “gods” are worshipped.
    • Some deities are favoured over others, often times according to caste while some homes might choose a family deity to favour in worship (c.f. ancient Polytheism of the Greeks).
    • We’ve chosen to focus on the overall pantheistic idea of “Brahman” which combines all ideas or notions of gods and creation into a single concept along with those primary gods which are most often worshipped in Hindu temples: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (Siva)

Brahman

      1. Brahman, to the Hindu is an ultimate reality beyond our comprehension. Impersonal “force” comprised of all living things it binds the galaxies together (c.f. George Lucas’ description of the New Age concept of “the Force” which finds its roots here in the Hindu concept of Brahman).

      2. Brahman is sometimes referred to personally as “Isvara” – generic name for “god” and a philosophical concept to be meditated upon, denoting a sort of “guardian force” over the universe. Not a specific deity to be worshipped or adored per se. (c.f. Taoism)

      3. Brahman is considered by the Hindu to be “he whom speech cannot express and from whom the mind, unable to reach him, comes away baffled – Taittiriya Upanishad

      4. Maya – Maya is the way by which Brahman chose to create the material world. It is a type of “relative” reality. Huston Smith – compared the concept of maya to the question posed “are dreams real?”. They are real in the sense that we have them but not in the sense that the events depicted in them actually take place. Maya is the concept that the world that the mind sees is real to the mind in its present state but it is not real as it truly is.13(cf. agnosticism)

Brahma

We've discussed "Brahmin" the priestly caste, "Brahman" the pantheistic philosophical concept of god and now "Brahma" who is doctrinally the preeminent of the 33 million Hindu gods and considered the creator of the world.

Vishnu

Vishnu, according to Hindu writings, is the second highest god of the 33 million gods of Hinduism - Vishnu is called the "preserver" – he is said to have had 10 creature incarnations over time called Avatars

                1. Matsya – Vishnu as a giant fish which supposedly saved the first man from a great flood – one of many worldwide references to a great flood which threatened the very existence of man (see Christianity’s Biblical account of the great flood)
                2. Kurma – Vishnu as a great turtle saved a mountain from sinking
                3. Varaha – Vishnu as a giant boar – saved the earth from primordial waters and married it (her) after her rescue
                4. Narasimha – Vishnu as half-man half-lion to save his son from an angry demon who could not be defeated by any previously created beings. It is considered the manifestation of divine anger.
                5. Vamana – Vishnu as a little man – the dwarf avatar – played a “3 foot” trick on an evil king whereby all heaven, earth, and the king’s neck became the dwarfed Vishnu’s
                6. Parashurama – Vishnu as a human guru to Bishma, Drona, and Karna of the Mahabharata – said to be the founder of Kalaripayattu – the Indian martial art.
                7. Rama – Vishnu as the perfect man who saved his wife from an evil demon. Along with Krishna, this is one of the most familiar avatars of Vishnu known to the west.
                8. Krishna – Vishnu as a god-like man who delivered the Bhagavad Gita which supposedly holds the key to escaping reincarnation and achieving moksha (see descriptions above) It is this avatar which spawned the cult-like Hindu sect known as the “Hare Krishnas” who believe that chanting the name of this avatar will make one’s life “sublime”.
                9. Buddha – Thought by many Hindus to be the “Ninth Avatar” or manifestation of Vishnu (strangely enough those same Hindus don’t follow his teachings although they believe him to be a manifestation of the god Vishnu). Buddha’s name was Siddhartha Guatama a young Hindu who achieved “enlightenment” whilst sitting under the Bo tree. He left Hinduism thereafter due to the improprieties he observed within the religion.
                10. Kalki – The last avatar or manifestation of Vishnu – He is to come in the last age (which many Hindus believe we are living in before the world is “reset”) Vishnu as Kalki will ride a white horse and carry a blazing sword to destroy darkness.
                • Eschatalogical note:
                  • Muslims await their “last Imam” who will accomplish much of the same things as the Hindu “last Avatar” and Judaism awaits the arrival of a “Messiah” who, to them, will be a powerful and influential politician which will orchestrate world peace.
                  • Christians believe that a man will come to supposedly fulfill all of the qualifications of the last Avatar, last Imam, and Jewish Messiah in that he will usher in a “world peace” of sorts and will be loved by all the world but he, along with his followers and supporters, will ultimately hate Christians who reject him as the Antichrist.

Shiva (Siva)

Shiva (the destroyer) – is really THE primary god worshiped due to the overwhelming fear of his wrath among Hindus. He has many temples built for him11and in the many times I visited India, I witnessed more worship and incense burned to Shiva than any of the other 33 million gods of Hinduism. Shiva has a wife goddess named “Kali” who is also an angry destroyer like her husband-god Shiva. She currently has a large, violent, cult-like following in India that has been known, along with other militant Hindu groups, to persecute Indian Christians for their belief.

                  • Rigveda 8.90.15-16 says,  that the Cow is the very mother of the god Shiva who commands his followers to worship the cow (Mahabharat, Anushasana Parv 145).  Other Vedas say that the “Mother cow” is incomparable, should not be killed or harmed and that those who harm the cow will be thrust into poverty or even killed. “One should not kill Mother Cow, the people with small intelligence only do so.”
                  • This cow-protective stance has made its way into western culture with biased documentaries which use every means possible to convince people that eating a cow is “bad” whether from a health standpoint or from a population sustainability standpoint. Both positions have been debunked and ultimately, it is for religious reasons that the cow is not eating in India or among Hindus anywhere in the world

Hindu World View

Polytheistic – Millions of gods are worshipped within Hinduism – Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Kali, Cows, Human Gurus, etc.

Pantheistic – All things seen and unseen (including the millions and millions of gods) all make up Brahman (god above all)

Metaphysical – Nature of Man – Hinduism embraces the idea of evolution in that they feel that it coincides with their core beliefs that man is progressing steadily over time. This, despite the fact that rape and violence are on an ever-increasing climb within Hindu society, and have been for thousands of years. (ref. “Death of A Guru”)

The Hindu Approach to the "Problem of Evil"

Karma

Karma is the action or process by which an individual is either rewarded for his/her good deeds and also the process by which they are punished for their bad deeds. This karma is usually expected to be carried out in the individual’s next incarnation, however, it seems there is a tendency among Hindus to believe that karma can be effected in this life as well.

  • The present is determined by the past, however the present, if acted out properly can determine the future.

Karma is ultimately a perpetuation of evil and doesn’t solve it. In order for an individual to get their “evil” karma worked off, evil things must be carried out against them in this or the next life, which in turn requires that THAT individual’s karma must ALSO be worked off by someone ELSE and so on and so on.

  • Rabi Maharaj, a former Hindu Brahmin priest, points out that ultimately, Hindu society is supposed to be progressing and getting better after thousands of years of this karma practice. However, he notes that it only seems to be getting worse!

Caste System

The Caste System – social classes with thousands of sub-groups in each caste. and the laws of karma make social reform or improvement nearly Determined at birth by family, and/or by personal karma. (see our caste system chart on this page) 

The caste system and the laws of karma make social reform or improvement nearly impossible. One can’t help a person in need for fear of jacking their karma. One cannot improve his/her social position because it is contrary to the caste system. Whatever caste you were born into is the one you die in.

Samsara

Samsara or “reincarnation” is the method by which bad karma is purportedly worked off and good karma rewarded.

  • The more the Hindu overcomes evil in his/her own life, the better chance of being reincarnated in a higher caste or life form and eventually achieving enlightenment – the knowledge that there is no ‘self’ just ‘Brahman’.
  • It is this tenet that the young Hindu Siddhartha Guatama rejected when breaking off from Hinduism to form what would later become known as Buddhism.
  • Samsara reveals the man-made nature behind Hinduism in that this principle only perpetuates evil forever rather than “solve” it: to work off bad karma someone must come back and commit evil against you and for that person to work off their bad karma someone must come back to commit evil against them…and so on and so on evil is required to work off evil which would continue for all eternity.

Sects of Hinduism

Saivism

Saivism – Worship Siva (Shiva) the god of destruction and seek to be one with him by disciplined philosophy via following a Saivist guru or “satguru” practicing yoga and worshipping in a Saivist temple.

Shaktism

Shaktism – Worship Shakti – the “supreme mother” or Divine Mother by way of chants, magic, diagrams, yoga and religious rituals to summon the kundalini power within one’s body. This is deceptively masked within many yoga practices particularly in Southern California. Many participants in yoga have no idea whatsoever that they are partaking in Shaktism in addition to their “yoga workout”.

Vaishnavism

Vaishnavism – Worship Vishnu as supreme god along with his avatars (see above) or incarnations. The primary avatars for Vaishnavists are Krishna and Rama. They worship in temples, attempt to adhere closely to Hindu scriptures but maintain a dualistic worldview (spirit is good and the material is evil and both are completely separate at all times)

Smartism

Smartism – worship six of the 33 million Hindu gods as supreme. Those six are Ganesha, Siva, Sakti, Vishnu, Surya, and Skanda. This group is quite different from the other main sects of Hinduism in that they accept all major Hindu gods and reject sectarianism. They are very similar to Confucianists in that they emphasize a meditative, philosophical pathway to achieving oneness with god. Understanding Hindu gods, man, life, afterlife, etc is the chief pursuit of the Smartist Hindu

Of note: Yazdanism – Kurdish form of polytheism/pantheism is VERY similar to Hinduism in its infrastructure of multiple deities vs multiple bad deities. What makes it unique is that it incorporates Christian, Islamic, and ancient near east polytheism.

Hinduism and the Afterlife

Moksha
The process by which a Hindu achieves true salvation - escaping the cycle of reincarnation and becoming “one with all things seen and unseen” (Brahman). This has also been referred to by some Hindus as “Nirvana” (c.f. Buddhism). Three possible paths to moksha:
Moksha: Karma Yoga
The first form of Moksha is Karma Yoga, the way of works. moksha may be obtained by fulfilling one’s familial and social duties and ultimately overcoming bad karma accrued. The rules are listed the “code of Manu”
Moksha: Inana Yoga
The second form of Moksha is Inana Yoga or "The way of knowledge". Overcomes the avidyya or ‘ignorance’ that brings on the bondage of rebirth cycles. Achieved via deep meditation, a state of consciousness that we are one with Brahman. Selfhood is an illusion, there is only one reality: Brahman (cf Buddhism)
Moksha: Bhakti Yoga
The third form of Moksha is Bhakti Yoga or "The way of devotion". Personal devotion to deity is considered (in the Bhagavad Gita) as a way of salvation for all classes of people. It is the most popular in Hinduism due to its emphasis on personal relationship to a god or many gods. The acts of worship at the temples is called puja which seeks the aid of a god to help one escape samsura.
Brahman
The idea of Brahman is such that until Moksha is attained there is no afterlife…just “life after life after life”. Once Moksha is attained, the Hindu believes he goes into a being/non-being state of oneness with all the universe (Brahman) or it is believed that the Hindu has a closer and more personal relationship to a particular god.
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What Happens When We Die?

          • If one is of the Hindu or Sikh discipline, the afterlife exists in the eternal future and not necessarily as one dies but rather as one dies a determined number of times to work off perpetual karma (perpetual suffering).
            • That is to say, when one dies, they come back in a new life as a creature that is properly indicative of the ‘level’ of good (righteous) living that individual experienced in the recently expired life.
            • If one was a complete dolt and utterly unworthy of humanness in a current life, they might expect to come back in the next life as a donkey.
            • Or, if one was particularly good (which to a Hindu means to observe the structure of ‘caste’ society – avoiding and neglecting the ‘untouchables’, worshipping as many Hindu gods as I could when I could – offering constant sacrifice in their temples, and didn’t steal, kill, or destroy from anyone) then one might expect to come back in their current caste level or maybe even a higher caste.
            • These castes continue up and up until the Brahman (priestly) caste is reached.
          • At which point, one might attain enlightenment in this life and upon death attain to Nirvana (transmutation into the Brahman of the universe to become one with god and the universe).
          • Each life is worked out through good and bad karma and when enough bad karma is worked off and when one has stored up enough good karma, then one stands the chance of being reborn into the higher castes and eventually one might become a ‘guru’ or ‘brahman priest’ which is to be worshipped as god incarnate: i.e. Baghwan Shree Rajneesh or Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. and after which, when one dies they attain to ‘Nirvana’.

A Final Analysis of the Hindu idea of Afterlife

Hindu, Eastern Religions: If I am a Hindu or Sikh, I will never have any idea when I've attained enough 'good' karma and worked off enough 'bad' karma.

                • No one seems to know who is determining whether a person is working off enough karma or if they are accruing bad karma.
                • There is no god in control, just a bunch (33 million to be exact) that exist sometimes at odds with one another.
                • So there is no one in charge and since I don’t know about my karma accounting, I am also not in charge.
                • Also, I am keenly aware that the idea of ‘reincarnation’ which is described above, does nothing to solve the problem of evil, in fact it only perpetuates it.
                • My bad karma must be worked off by a constant victimization at the hands of another human to work it off me.
                • But now that person’s bad karma must be worked off by another, and so on, and so one to eternity.
                • Also, I must agree with Rabi R. Maharaj, the author of “Death of a Guru” who, as a Hindu guru, made an astonishing observation about his own Hindu society: After thousands of years of reincarnation and people being born and reborn, his society should have, theoretically, been getting better and better.
                • But Hindu culture is not improving, it is only growing worse and worse. More and more overcrowding and increase in theft, murder, & destruction along with a greater level of poverty led Maharaj to abandon the idea of reincarnation and karma and instead embrace the truth of the Gospel that Jesus Christ, God Almighty, died for all his many sins that he could be forgiven by placing his faith in Jesus for that forgiveness. He prayed for Jesus to save him of his sins and never had to worry about karma or moksha again.

References

          1. Johnstone, Patrick Operation World 2001
          2. Mcdowell, Josh & Don Stewart Handbook of Today’s Religions 1983
          3. Geisler, Norman Christian Apologetics 1983
          4. Lehmann, Arthur C. and James E. Myers, Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion: An Anthropological Study 1993
          5. Tylor, Edward Burnett Primitive Culture 1871
          6. Hefner, Alan G. & Virgilio Guimaraes Article: Animism www.themystica.com
          7. Bird-David, Nurit. Animism Revisited: Personhood, environment, and relational epistemology” 1991
          8. Hallowell, A. Irving Culture in History 1960
          9. Frazer, James G. The Golden Bough 1922
          10. Maharaj, Rabi Death of a Guru 1984
          11. Rood, Rick article: Hinduism, A Christian Perspective Probe Ministries & www.leaderu.com
          12. Smith, Huston The Religions of Man 1958 as reprinted in Handbook of Today’s Religions
          13. Offner, Clark B. The World’s Religions 1976 as reprinted in Handbook of Today’s Religions
          14. Noss, John B. Man’s Religions 1969 as reprinted in Handbook of Today’s Religions
          15. Hume, Robert E. The World’s Living Religions 1959 as reprinted in Handbook of Today’s Religions
          16. Wordsworth, Encyclopedia of World Religions 1999
          17. Smith, Huston Great Religions of the World, National Geographic Society 1971
          18. www.adherents.com: created circa January 2000. Last modified 28 August 2005.