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Hinduism Essay, Research Paper

Scholars cannot say when Hinduism began, but they believe that it started about the year 1000B.C. Hinduism finds its roots from the Aryan people who migrated to Greece and India around 1000B.C. Many of their customs, traditions, rites, symbols, and myths contributed to Hinduism. Hindus view the world as arising through divine activity. Hindus believe there is one main god, Brahman, who is the highest deity or the Absolute, but they also believe there are lesser gods with other powers. Due to their beliefs, there are divisions of among Hindus on the paths of their devotion. Hindus agree that the human soul becomes more attached to redeath and rebirth according to its thoughts and deeds. One is born into a life according to one s merits in former lives. Escaping from the endless turning of the wheel of rebirth, known as the samsara, is an individual quest, which all Hindus share. The paths of salvation may differ but the goal they are reaching for is the same. This paper will contain the beliefs, culture, and lifestyle of Hinduism and its followers.

Reincarnation can be defined as when the soul leaves one body at death and is reborn into a new body. Although bodies are replaced, the soul remains essentially the same. One of Hinduism s greatest beliefs is in reincarnation, namely in the Law of Karma. The Law of Karma is the inexorable principle in Hinduism that a person s thoughts and deeds are followed eventually by deserved pleasure or pain. Hinduism emphasizes that people get exactly what they deserve in life. Humans cannot change the fact that they are exactly what they are supposed to be in life. In this life, however, people can change what they will become in future lives. A person s Karma resides within the soul. The idea is to accumulate good Karma so that when the body dies the person s Karma determines whether they are reborn and in what caste he or she will be reborn. According to Hinduism, the Law of Karma is a reliable system of justice in life.

A Hindu is not required to seek the highest goals of relief in this lifetime. Hinduism permits four major goals: karma, artha, dharma, and moksha. If a person chooses a life in search of pleasures, they would be considered following the path of karma. Those who seek the pleasure of the literary arts can turn to the Natyasastras for guidance. The Kamasutra can guide the more suggestive pleasure of making love. Pursuing politics or the materialism of commercial competition is the goal of artha. All Hindus are expected to follow the goal of dharma and live according to the duties of their caste. Moksha, release, is the goal of those who have grown tired of the other pursuits in previous lifetimes, and now seek release from the wheel of rebirth. The Law of Karma is intricately bound with samsara, the wheel of rebirth, and the caste.

There are many documents and laws that Hindus seem to read and follow: the Veda, known as the old scriptures of knowledge and wisdom, and the Bhagavad Gita which consists of 700 verses and presents a variety of options for those who would find a release from rebirth. Hindu philosophers follow the Gita to provide spiritual insight. The whole idea of life after death is stated in this quote from the Gita:

He who thinks this self a killer and he who thinks it killed, both fail to understand;

it does not kill, nor is it killed. (19) It is not born, it does not die; having been, it

will never not be; unborn, enduring, constant, and primordial, it is not killed when

the body is killed. (20) Arjuna, when a man knows the self to be indestructible,

enduring, unborn, unchanging, how does he kill or cause anyone to kill? (21)

In this passage of the Bhagavad Gita , the Lord Krishna assures the young Arjuna that he can neither kill his family in warfare nor be killed by them. Each soul is indestructible. Inevitably it will endure the death of the present body and be reborn in another body. In Hinduism, the soul changes bodies as a person changes worn-out clothes. This quote from the Gita supports the concept of reincarnation or, in Hindu terms, samsara. Samsara can be translated as what turns forever. Hindus find many pleasures in life, but at times they tire of samsara s cycle of rebirth, life, death, and rebirth. At this point, a Hindu may seek release from samsara where his or her soul would then be united with the Brahman, the Absolute.

Hinduism has different duties according to his or her stage in life. The first stage is student. A young man between the ages of eight and twelve, but no later than the age of twenty-four, is introduced to the study of the Veda. A sacred cord is then placed over his shoulder, signifying that as a member of one of the three highest castes, he has been reborn as a spiritual person. Studies with his elder may last through his twenty-fourth year. When the former student marries and becomes a householder, at the age of twenty-five, he lives as closely to the ideals of wisdom that are possible. He tries to observe the rituals required of householders and, at the same time, tries to avoid unnecessary injury to living things. His main duties consist of observing caste duties in marriage, in his occupation, and in raising children. He is also expected to meet the obligations of entertaining guests and supporting holy men. Only when he has a son whom he can turn over responsibilities can he cease being a householder and move to the last stage in life. The Law of Manu, which is part of the Smriti tradition, can describe the fourth and final stage; it is a code of conduct that was complied about 200B.C.E. to 200C.E. The code allows readers to understand the duties and responsibilities of ancient Hindus as their leaders envisioned them. The Law of Manu consists of five great sacrifices, which the Hindus believe greatly in. Firstly, after he has lived in the householder s stage of life in accordance with the rules in his way, a twice-born Vedic graduate should live in the forest, properly restrained and with his sensory powers conquered. Secondly, but when a householder sees himself wrinkled and grey, and he sees the children of his children he should take himself to the wilderness. Thirdly, renouncing all food cultivated in the village and all possessions, he should hand his wife over to his sons and go to the forest- or take her along. Fourthly, taking with him his sacrificial fire and his fire-implements for the domestic sacrifice, he should go out from the village to the wilderness and live there with his sensory powers restrained. Fifthly, he should offer the five great sacrifices with various sorts of the pure foods of hermits, or with vegetables, roots, and fruits, ritually prepared. This last stage of life enables the aging householder to reflect on earlier studies and duties without having to engage in them.

Hinduism has welcomed all the ways of salvation set forth in the Bhagavad Gita . The ways suggested by the Bhagavad Gita have developed into well-established paths that many Hindus walk today. The four ways of salvation consist of karma yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, and raja yoga. Karma yoga, the Way of Works, is valued in part because it is praised by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Although not the highest road to salvation, it nevertheless leads to the goal of release. The Veda sacrifices are the heart of the path of works. For men and women there were distinctive duties. The most essential duties for men came from the shraddha rites to ancestors. Besides keeping the rites of funeral pyre, a male descendent is required to make additional offerings to nourish the souls of ancestors and keep them from the wheel of rebirth. Women s duties are to prepare the food that is used in sacrifices or offerings to the gods in daily remembrance and on the special yearly religious festivals. The second way of salvation is jnana yoga, which is the way of knowledge. It is a method developed in the Upanishads and was refined through the centuries. They believe that the Way of Knowledge in the Upanishads indicates that knowledge can overcome ignorance. Salvation lies in a person s recognizing that his or her identity is grounded not in the world but in Brahman-atman. In this realization lies the homecoming of the soul, the release from rebirth. The third salvation, bhakti yoga, known as the Way of Devotion means for helping overcome the vicissitudes of human existence and gaining release from them. Those who serve god through bhakti passionately embrace him, in love. A person needs only love and trust for god in order to be preserved in eternity. A person who trusts the ultimate deity cannot perish. The fourth way of salvation is raja yoga, also known as the Way of Physical Discipline. The goal of raja yoga is training the physical body so that the soul can be free. A person who is serious about approaching God must concentrate on cleanliness and strong control over bodily desire. Raja yoga teaches Hindus how to control and use their bodies in a spiritual manner.

Indian philosophy is a way of perceiving the universe. The Hindu philosopher is one who intuits reality, who knows the basis of the universe and the purpose of human life. From intuitions, the philosopher reasons a systematic understanding of the universe and humanity. The six orthodox philosophies of Hinduism direct human contact. The first principle Sankhya is a system of philosophy attributed to Kaplia, who lived at the beginning of the period of the Upanishads. The Sankhya system is dualistic and explains the universe without employing gods; it argues that there are two irreducible realities in the universe. Prakiti is matter; it is real and not an illusion. Purusha is the stuff of souls or spirits. The purpose of Sankhya philosophy is to free souls from bondage to matter. The second philosophy is Advaita Vendanta, part of the Vendanta system, refers to itself not as monism but as nondualism, advaita. The system rests on Brahman. It teaches that the phenomenal world is not as we experience it, what we experience is maya; things, though real, are not what they seem to be. Appearances are not ultimate reality; it is ignorance that keeps individuals from the reality of Brahman. The main belief is that the key to release is recognition that atman and Brahman are not ultimately separate. The other four philosophies are also concerned with knowing how humans can best attain spiritual maturity. Yoga the third philosophy is often allied with the Sankhya system, is the choice of people who experiment in liberating the soul from the body. The fourth philosophy known as Nyaya focuses on intellectual analysis and logic in understanding obligations for humans. The fifth philosophy Vaisheshika studies the external world and understands it in terms of atoms. Kanada its founder believed that atoms and souls are both eternal. The entire process of souls entering or leaving the world is governed by the power of Advishta, an unseen force or deity. The last philosophy Purva-Mimamsa emphasizes the literal truth of the Veda, which sets forth the duties of humans. They believe the Veda is uncreated and eternal. This philosophy is closer to the priestly interests of the Brahmanas than to the speculations of philosophers. All of these six orthodox philosophies of Hinduism aim to release humans from the suffering involved at the animal level of life.

In conclusion, Hinduism represents the way most people of India have viewed the world. In its richness, the Hindu tradition has offered attractive paths of devotion for every type of personality and every social level. Hinduism has combined the most sophisticated philosophies and theologies with the most practical directions for fulfilling practical duties. Non-Hindus are welcome to draw on its ideas and practices, but a Hindu is born as such, not converted. This study of the historical development and believes of Hinduism help us understand how its beliefs and practices of today represent a mixture of permanent and changing ideas of how best to live in the world.

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