Hinduism is the third largest religion, next to Christianity and Islam. Hinduism is not just a religion, but a way of life that embraces many religions and traditions and has no set of teachings. The practice of Hinduism includes one whole life, family politics, the society and health (Lorentz 2008) It is popularly practiced in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka and globally it has about 900 million people who adhere to the Hindu believes. Though the date when Hinduism began is debatable, it is believed to have begun between 4000 and 2500 BCE. The faith is based on the unity of everything in a totality known as Brahman, who is the base under which Hinduism is based on. Unlike other religions, Hinduism has no founder and no scriptures (Professor Gavin Flood, 2009).
Historically, Hinduism has its link to social and political development, from the rising and falling of certain kingdoms and empires. The word Hindu originated from the Sindhu river by the people who were living around this river. The word was only put into use in the after the 15th century, to differentiate those who followed its traditions from other traditions such as the Muslim and Bengal. These people were united by common cultural practices like cremating the dead and their cuisine styles.
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Veda (Shruti), which is a body of text that they regard as the scripture, and Darma, which are values that are common, are what the Hindus look up to. Veda is ancient religious texts that are believed to have been received directly from God, and have been passed over to the generations by oral narrations. There are four compositions of Veda, the Samhitas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads. The Samhitas consists of ancient gods praise hymns, chants, spells and charms and is also used as a handbook for the priests. They are further divided into four categories, the Reg-Veda Samhita, which is the most ancient one, the Yajur-Veda Samhita, the Sama-Veda Samhita and the Atharva-Veda Samhita.
The Brahmanas are prayers and rituals that priest us as a guide while conducting their rituals (Hinduism, 2004). The Aranyakas relate to the Hindus methods of worship and meditation. The Upanishads which was named because it was taught to those who sat down and listened to the teachers contains the philosophical teachings of Hinduism. Other Hindu texts are Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord), and the Ramayana. The Bhagavad is a dialogue that took place during the Bharat wars. The Ramayana, which is applied as a good story applicable is situations where the good overcomes evil and applied in performance of one’s duties.
Hindus have a common system of values that is known as Darma which refer to duty, morality and virtues. Hindus believe that Darma is the power that keeps the society and the universe together as it gives people the opportunity to be good, morally. Darma though universal, is also particular for each individual, as each person has his/her own darma, the sva-darma, as illustrated in Bhagavad Gita. The sva-darma is also used as a way of serving God and humanity. For anyone not to act as per the sva-darma is wrong and is referred to as a dharma.
The Hindus practice of Varnashrama-dharma is the Hinduism development that dharma refers to a persons responsibility in relation with class and the stage of life (Ashrama). The Hindus have a class system and has four main classes, the Brahmans, the Kshatriya, Vaishyas and Shudras. The Brahmans otherwise known as Brahmins are the ones who perform Hindu religious rituals and are composed of the intellectuals and the priests. The Kshatriyas includes those who had the power traditionally and is composed of warriors and the nobles. The Vaishayas are the merchants and commoners and includes those who work to earn a living in farms and through trading activities. These three classes, Brahmans, Kshstriyas and Vaishayas are also referred to as “twice-born’, as they are believed to have been born twice, first through the normal biological birth and secondly through an initiation ceremony. The initiation is mostly for male but females can also be initiated.
The last class, the Shudras includes the workers who serve the higher classes and includes laborers, musicians, and clerks. There are four stages of life, (Ashramas) that the twice-born go through, Brahmacarya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha, and Samnyasa. At the stage of Brahmacarya which is for “celibate students’, the male is required to learn the Veda.
The “householder experience” is the Grihastha stage whereby the male is required to take on purushartha that is human responsibilities including wealth and sexual pleasures. At the Grihastha stage, the male becomes a hermit whereby, he together with his wife, retire from life and goes for a pilgrimage for religious observances. The Samnyasa is the final stage and the renunciation stage where the male gives up the world and takes on a saffron robe, and with a bowl and staff and is devoted to seeking liberation (Moksha).
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Practices and Deity
Karma is a word originating from Sanskrit and means “action”. It refers to accumulation of a person’s goods and bad deeds which are used to determine ones next reincarnation. If one is good, selfless and devotion to God the person is born at a higher level. If the acts are bad, one can be reborn at a lower level or as an animal. This reincarnation is known as Samsara where Hindus believe that life is a cycle, through the cycle of birth, life and then death. The caste, in which one is born into, is determined by the results of the karma in the previous life and Moksha is believed to liberate the person from the cycle of rebirth (Nicholson, 1855).
The Hindu women are required to regularly conduct a Puja, which is an offering of goods such as flowers fruits and other items to the gods and other deity (Lorentz, 2008)
Though Hindus believe in a single divinity, Hindus subscribe to polytheism and believe in 330million gods and goddesses (Brodd, 2003). From these many gods there is the Trimurti, the trinity of God according to Hinduism, the Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver), and the Shiva (the Destroyer). Brahma, the creator of the universe is the first of the Trimurti Brahma unlike Vishnu and Shiva is rarely worshipped. He has four heads and four hands and it is believed that the four Vedas came from him (Professor Gavin Flood, 2009). Brahma has Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge as the consort. According to Hinduism faith, Vishnu, is the second in the Trimurti, is the Preserver and protector of life and the universe. His worshippers are called Vaishnava, and they believe he is the greatest of all the gods and others are just demigods.
They believe that he protects them and they consider him as the example of morality. Vishnu is considered as one of the most popular deity in Hinduism. Vishna is presented with four arms holding the four things which are a representative of his responsibilities, with Lakshmi, his consort next to him. In one hand is the conch, representing the ancient sound of creation. The second hand is holding the discus represents the mind. The third hand holds a lotus flower representing that life is glorious and liberation, while the fourth hand holds the mace which stand for strength, both mental and physical (Grant, 1991).
Vishnu is said to have nine avatars (incarnation) and the tenth reincarnation is expected before the world ends. Vishnu has reincarnated as, Matsya (fish), Kurma (turtle), Varaha (boar), Narasimha, (half man, half lion), Vamana (dwarf), Parashurama (hunter), Rama (prince), Krishna (metally advanced man or cowherd), Buddha (the all-knowing sage) and Kalki ( the horseman, expected), The incarnation of Vishnu is presented in the Bhagavd Gita where Krishna as an avatar of Vishnu speaks like Vishnu (Brodd 2003).
The third God in Hindu Trimurti is Shiva whose role is to destroy, maintain the world so that it can be recreated (Lorentz, 2008). Hindus believe that Shivas powers are used to destroy the universe imperfections in readiness for better changes. They believe that the destruction is beneficial as it is for the benefit of making it constructive. As per Hindus cosmology, destruction brings about recreation (Brodd 2003).
This destruction and recreation are as well depicted in the goddess Kali who is Shiva’s wife who violently destroys her enemies. There are Hindus who worship Shiva as their Supreme god and these are known as Shaivisim. Apart from destroying and recreating Shiva is also known as the master of dancing. Shiva is always represented smiling and in tranquility. He is also represented with a third eye (a sign of wisdom and insight), a cobra necklace (a sign of power of destructions, the vibhuti (as a sign of superhuman power and wealth), and the trident (the Hindu triumvirate).
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Buddhism faith, like Hinduism originated from India. Buddha the originator of Buddhism is said to have been a dasavatar who reincarnated from Vishnu. While Hindus believe in a gods and goddesses, Buddhists do not believe in a god as they do not believe in something or someone they cannot see. Hindus pray too many gods who may be in many forms, while Buddhists only pray to God. Hindus have several ways of seeking the union with god, Raja yoga (meditation), Karma yoga (doing what one is required in life), Bhakti (through devotion and prayer) and Jnana yoga (the path of knowledge). The Buddhists have the four noble truths and the eightfold path.
Comparison with Islam
While Hinduism does not have a founder, Islam faith is based on its founder, Prophet Muhammad. Hinduism is considered as a peaceful way of faith, through patience and tolerance, while Muslims believe in getting out there to convert others to their faith. Those who adhere to the Islam faith believe there is only one God while the Hindus believe in many gods and that God can take any form.
The Islam bases their faith on in four books, the Quran, the Psalms, the Torah and the Gospel, while the Hindus base their faith on the Veda and the Darma (Hinduism, 2004). While the Hindus believe in reincarnation, the Muslims believe in resurrection where at the end of the world everyone will be resurrected and will have to account for all the wrong deeds and the wrongdoers will go to hell while the good ones will stay in heaven.
Hinduism as described as a way of life is linked to various other ancient faiths. The practices vary from one locality to the other as Hindus believe in many and different deities. As such, the beliefs of Hinduism is still debatable right from it history to the scriptures and the supremacy of God. But the one thing that joins them is the belief in Brahman and the belief in self.