Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sacred Elements of Hinduism

Author: suresh chandramohan

Sacred elements of Hinduism{spiritualityinformation.in}
The sacred elements of hinduism constitutes Hindu religious traditions, and their sublime meanings. It would be very difficult to completely list all the sacred elements of hinduism that make up the Hindu religious traditions because of the sheer vastness and depth of the Hindu culture and traditions that have evolved through thousands of years. Some of the sacred elements of the Hinduism religion are mentioned below.

Meaning of hinduism
Hinduism is referred to as Sanatana Dharma, the eternal faith. Hinduism is not strictly a religion. It is based on the practice of Dharma, the code of life.

Since Hinduism has no founder, anyone who practices Dharma can call himself a Hindu. He can question the authority of any scripture, or even the existence of the Divine. While religion means to bind, Dharma means to hold. What man holds on to is his inner law, which leads from ignorance to Truth. Though reading of the scriptures (Shastras)or vedas would not directly lead you to self-realization, the teachings of the seers provide a basis and a path for spirituality. Despite being the oldest religion, the truth realized by the seers proves that the Truth and path provided by the meaning of Hinduism is beyond time.

Main Characteristics and features of hinduism
• “Hindu”- ancient Persian term translating a Greek term (Indos) that translated the Sanskrit name for the Indus River – “Sindhu”. “
Hinduism” was applied to the religion
• The name was applied to the people
• Hindus themselves use the term “dharma” – duty for their religion
• Jainism & Buddhism came from Hinduism as reforms

History or origin for Hinduism
The Brief History or origin for hinduism can be explained by the following steps:
• Advanced civilization began to flourish in Indus River Valley ca 2500 BC (Abraham, ca 1800)
– Drainage systems, from houses to brick sewers
– Brick houses, several stories high
– Large city baths
– Well planned streets
– Irrigation ditches

Timeline
• Pre-Aryan to 1500 BCE
• Brahmanism to 450 BCE
– Vedas/ Upanishads
• Classical period to 600 CE
– Bhagavad Gita
• Medieval period to 1600 CE
• Modern period 1600 -

• Ca. 1500 the Aryans invaded (a fair-skinned people); “Aryans” – “the noble ones”
• Primarily shepherds
• Many Dravidians migrated south, which the Aryans never controlled
• Aryans considered the Dravidians inferior to them; established social barriers
• Beginnings of caste system
• Later the caste system became part of Hinduism

• Four Castes: (varnas)
– Brahmins – the priests and scholars
– Kshatriyas – rulers and warriors
– Vaishyas – merchants and professionals
– Shudras – laborers and servants
• Thousands of sub-castes, each has its own set of rules
• Every individual knows where they stand and how they are expected to act (duty)

• The “untouchables” existed outside the caste system for centuries
• The Indian constitution of 1950 outlawed untouchability and gave the group full citizenship
• Mohandas Gandhi (d. 1940) was influential in the struggle for this right
• The caste system has weakened some, but still very strong
The Aryans - “Noble Folk”
• Invaded from NW – dominated North & Central India
• The religion of the Aryans combined with the religion of the people of India (Dasyu) resulted in:
– Hinduism
– Jainism
– Buddhism

Beliefs for hinduism
• The Vedas – “Knowledge” - the Hindu scriptures
• Belief in one, all-pervasive supreme “being” who is both immanent and transcendent – represented by many gods
• The universe goes through endless cycles of creation
• Karma – the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words, and actions

• The soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until one “gets it right”
• Moksha – spiritual knowledge and release from the cycle of rebirth
• Divine beings exist in invisible universes and worship, ritual, sacraments creates a union with these gods
• Ahimsa - all life is sacred
• No particular religion teaches the only way to salvation
• No particular founder

Introduction to sacred elements of Hinduism.
Hindu Scriptures


The Hindu scriptures, written over a period of 2,000 years (1400 B.C-.500 A.D.) are voluminous. They reflect the practices and beliefs for hinduism which arose during the different long periods of Hindu history.

The Hindu scriptures are divided into two classes -sruti and smriti. Sruti, or "what is heard," refers to the eternal truths of religion which the rishis or seers saw or heard. They are independent of any god or man to whom they are communicated. They are the primary and final authority of religious truth. Using the analogy of the reflection of an image in a mirror or on the surface of a lake, the intellect of the ancient rishis was so pure and calm that it perfectly reflected the entirety of eternal truth. Their disciples recorded this truth and the record of it is known as the vedas.

Smriti, or "what is remembered," possess a secondary authority, deriving their authority from the sruti whose principles they seek to expand. As recollections they contain all the sacred texts other than the vedas. These are generally understood to include the law books, the two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and the Puranas, which are largely collections of myths, stories, legends and chronicles of great events.

Also included are the aqamas, which are theological treatises and manuals of worship, and the sultras, or aphorisms, of the six systems of philosophy. There is also a vast treasury of vernacular literature largely of a bhakti or devotional type, which continues to inspire the masses of religious Hindus and which different sects accept as smriti

The Vedas
the Vedas form as the basis for sacred element of hinduism.The word veda literally means wisdom or knowledge. It is the term applied to the oldest of the Hindu scriptures, originally transmitted orally and then subsequently preserved in written form. The vedas contain hymns, prayers and ritual texts composed over a period of one thousand years, beginning about 1400 B.C.

The term vedas (plural) refers to the entire collection of these wisdom books, also known as the samhitas, which include the rig-veda, the samaveda, the yajur-veda and the athara-veda. Each of these texts consists of three parts: (1) the mantras, hymns of praise to the gods; (2) the brahmanas, a guide for practicing ritual rights, and (3) the upanishads, the most important part of which deals with teachings on religious truth or doctrine.

The samhitas are the basis of vedic Hinduism, the most significant of the group being the rig-veda. This collection of hymns, originally composed in Sanskrit, praises the various Hindu deities, including Indra, Soma, Varuna and Mitra.

The yajur-veda consists of a collection of mantras borrowed from the rig-veda and applied to specific ritual situations carried out by the executive priest and his assistants.

The sama-veda in the same manner borrows mantras from the rig-veda. These hymns are chanted.

The athara-veda consists of magical spells and incantations carried out by the priests.

The Upanishads
the Upanishads form an important sacred element of hinduism.The upanishads are a collection of speculative treatises. They were composed during the period 800 to 600 B.C., and 108 of them are still in existence. The word upanishad conveys the idea of secret teaching. Its treatises mark a definite change in emphasis from the sacrificial hymns and magic formulas in the vedas to the mystical ideas about man and the universe, specifically the eternal Brahman, which is the basis of all reality, and the atman, which is the self or the soul. The upanishads reportedly had an influence upon Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, as can be observed in some basic similarities between the upanishads and the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism.

Evidence that Hinduism must have existed even circa 10000 B.C. is available: The importance attached to the river Saraswati and the numerous references to it in the Rig-Veda (interestingly, Ganga appears only twice) indicates that the Rig-Veda was being composed well before 6500 B.C. The first vernal equinox recorded in the Rig-Veda is that of the star Ashwini, which is now known to have occurred around 10000 to substantiate this claim.

Unity Within Diversity
There are five sacred elements of hinduism, which contribute to the essential unity of Hinduism:
1) Common Ideals
2) Common Scriptures
3) Common Deities
4) Common Beliefs
5) Common Practices

Common Ideals
All the sects and offshoots of Hinduism beliefs share the same moral ideals:
· Ahimsa (non-violence)
· Satya (truthfulness)
· Brahmacharya (often translated wrongly as sexual continence, it actually means the state of incessant search for the ultimate Truth (Brahman). Note that it is not called God, merely the Truth, whatever it is)
· Maitri (Friendship)
· Dharma (a rather crude translation would be "fulfilling one's duty")
· KaruNa (Compassion)
· Viirya (Fortitude)
· Dama (Self Restraint - mental as well as physical)
· Shaucha (Purity - mental as well as physical)

The higher phase of self-control is detachment. Not only do we have to overcome what is evil in life, we must also become independent of what is good. For instance, our love of home and friends is good in itself, but unless we expand it to include everything in the universe, it will be a shackle, what if it is golden. Detachment does not imply disinterest in the changing world: it merely shifts a person's frame of reference to the Reality that endures forever, making his perception more objective, making him better equipped for life.

Truth as a cardinal virtue in Hinduism is far more than mere truthfulness; it means eternal reality. Hinduism says that the pursuit of Truth, wherever it may lead or whatever sacrifices it may involve, is indispensable to the progress of man. Hence no Hindu scripture has ever opposed scientific progress or metaphysical and ethical speculations.

Main Deities
The common deities are derived form the common scriptures. The idea that every deity whom men worship is the embodiment of a limited ideal, and that the deity is a symbol of some aspects of the Absolute is one of the most fundamental elements of Hinduism. It is this idea that makes Hinduism the most tolerant of religions and averse to proselytization through religious propaganda.

The three important functions of the Supreme - Creation, Protection and Destruction - came to be established in popular imagination as the Hindu Trinity - Brahma (NOT Brahman of the Upanishads), Vishnu and Shiva. The power associated with these gods came to be personified as their respective consorts. So Creator Brahma's consort is Saraswati (the goddess of Speech and Learning), Protector Vishnu's consort is Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and prosperity), and Shiva's consort is Shakti (the goddess of power). Since Vishnu is the protector, he is the one who can take on an avatara, taking human form whenever the world order is disturbed by a colossal form of evil. The other two of the trinity do not have avatars.

Thus the law of spiritual progression is given as an unerring standard for us. It decrees the following values as of utmost importance:
· Spiritual Values: truth, beauty, love, and righteousness.
· Intellectual Values: clarity, cogency, subtlety, and skill.
· Biological Values: health, strength, and vitality.
· Material Values: riches, possessions, and pleasures.

This, then, is the key to understanding beliefs for Hinduism. For example, consider the Hindu view of History. Although it does not attach any importance to chronology, the sages had a correct view of historical progress and decline. Persons and wars were seen to be of less importance when compared with roles (played by the persons) and the lessons (of the war). The greatness of a civilization was judged not by the empires they possessed, nor by the wealth they accumulated, nor by their technological progress, but by the righteousness and justice did they cultivate.

The organization of the society was conceived as a corollary of the law of spiritual progress, whereby people were to be ranked not by wealth, numerical strength, or power, but by their spiritual progress and culture. The earliest reference to the Varnashrama Dharma, the caste system, is to be found in the Rig-Veda, wherein they are represented as parts of the body of the Creator. This is a poetic image indicating the organic nature of the society of the time. Caste was not to be determined by heredity: Virtue alone was the yardstick (Vajra Suuchika Upanishad is entirely devoted to discussing the Caste System;

Many Hindu religious leaders has pointed out the common features of hinduism which are as follows:
1) Belief in one supreme God of Love and Grace.
2) Belief in the individuality of every soul, which is nevertheless part of the Divine Soul.
3) Belief in salvation through Bhakti.
4) The exaltation of Bhakti above Jnana and Karma; and, also above, the performance of rites and ceremonies.
5) Extreme reverence paid to the Guru.
6) The doctrine of the Holy Name.
7) Initiation through a mantra and a sacramental meal.
8) The institution of sectarian orders of Sanyasins.
9) The relaxing of the rules of caste, sometimes even ignoring all caste distinctions.
10) Religious teaching through the vernaculars.

Ramayana
the Ramayana is one of the two major epic tales of India, the other being the Mahabharata. Authorship is ascribed to the sage-poet Valmiki. The work consists of 24,000 couplets based upon the life of Rama, a righteous king who was supposedly an incarnation of the god Vishnu. Although the story has some basis in fact, much of it is layered folklore added throughout the centuries. Besides Valmiki, other poets and writers have contributed to the complexities of the story.:

Rama, a warrior and wanderer in the great tradition (one might equate him to Gilgamesh and Odysseus), is faced with a series of challenges and tests, some of which involve battles with other kings, or with demons; his wife Sita is kidnapped by a demon king and carried off in an air chariot to Ceylon; his chastity and faithfulness are tested; great battles ensue; the ending is a happy one, with Rama restored to the throne of Ayodha, and eventually he and Sita, after more trials, are united, not on earth but in the celestial abodes.

The Mahabharata
The Mahabharata is the second epic, an immense story of the deeds of Aryan clans. It consists of some 100,000 verses and was composed over an 800-year period beginning about 400 years B.C. Contained within this work is a great classic, the Bhagavad Gita, or the "Song of the Blessed Lord."

Bagavad Gita
This work is not only the most sacred book of the Hindus, it is also the best known and most read of all Indian works in the entire world, despite the fact it was added late to the Mahabbarata, sometime in the first century A.D. The story, in short, consists of a dialogue between Krishna, the eighth Avatar of Vishnu, and the warrior Arjuna, who is about to fight his cousins.

These two epic stories, the Ramayana and the Mahabbarata, depict characters who have become ideals for the people of India in terms of moral and social behavior.these two epics also form part of sacred elements of hinduism.

The Puranas
The Puranas are a very important source for the understanding of Hinduism. They include legends of gods, goddesses, demons and ancestors. They describe pilgrimages and rituals to demonstrate the importance of bhakti, caste and dharma. This collection of myths and legends, in which the heroes display all the desirable virtues, has made a significant contribution to the formation of Hindu moral codes.

Hindu Teachings (Doctrine)

To achieve a proper understanding of the world view held by the Hindus, it is necessary to present some of the basic sacred elements of hinduism they hold to be true.

Brahman
Brahman, the ultimate reality for the Hindu, is a term difficult if not impossible to define completely, for its meaning has changed over a period of time.

Moksha
Moksha, also known as mukti, is the Hindu term used for the liberation of the soul from the wheel of karma. For the Hindu, the chief aim of his existence is to be freed from sarnsara (the binding life cycle) and the wheel of karma with its endless cycle of births, deaths and rebirths. When one achieves this liberation, he enters into a state of fullness or completion. This state can be attained through death or preferably while one is still living.

Moksha can be achieved through three paths: (1) knowledge, or inana; (2) devotion, or bhakti, or (3) ritual works, or karma. One who achieves moksha before death is known as jivanmukta.

Atman
Atman is another Hindu term which is difficult to define. it refers to the soul or true self, the part of each living thing that is eternal. The Taittiriya Upanishad says atman is "that from which speech, along with the mind, turns away-not able to comprehend." Oftentimes, it is used synonymously with Brahman, the universal soul, seeking mystical union together, or moksha.

Maya
A central concept in Hindu thought is that of maya.

This word is often translated "illusion," but this is misleading. For one thing it suggests that the world need not be taken seriously. This the Hindu would deny, pointing out that as long as it appears real and demanding to us we must accept it as such. Moreover, it does have a kind of qualified reality; reality on a provisional level.

Were we to be asked if dreams are real, our answer would have to be qualified. They are real in the sense that we have them, but they are not real in the sense that the things they depict necessarily exist in their own right. Strictly speaking, a dream is a psychological construct, something created by the mind out of its particular state. When the Hindus say the world is maya, this too, is what they mean. Given the human mind in its normal condition, the world appears as we see it. But we have no right to infer from this that reality is in itself the way it so appears.

Karma
The word karma literally means action and has reference to a person's actions and the consequences thereof. In Hinduism, one's present state of existence is determined by his performance in previous lifetimes. The law of karma is the law of moral consequence or the effect of any action upon the performer in a past, a present or even a future existence. As one performs righteous acts, he moves towards liberation from the cycle of successive births and deaths.

Contrariwise, if one's deeds are evil, he will move further from liberation. The determining factor is one's karma. The cycle of births, deaths and rebirths could be endless. The goal of the Hindu is to achieve enough good karma to remove him from the cycle of rebirths and achieve eternal bliss.

Samsara
Samsara refers to transmigration or rebirth. It is the passing through a succession of lives based upon the direct reward or penalty of one's karma. This continuous chain consists of suffering from the results of acts of ignorance or sin in past lives. During each successive rebirth, the soul, which the Hindus consider to be eternal, moves from one body to another and carries with it the karma from its previous existence.

The rebirth may be to a higher form; i.e., a member of a higher caste or god, or down the social ladder to a lower caste or as an animal, since the wheel of karma applies to both man and animals. Accordingly, all creatures, both man and beast, are in their current situations because of the actions (karma) of previous lives.

The Caste System
The caste system is a unique feature of the Hindu religion. The account of its origin is an interesting story Brahma created Manu, the first man. From Manu came the four different types of people, as the creator Brahma determined. From Manu's head came the Brahmins, the best and most holy people. Out of Manu's hands came the Kshatriyas, the rulers and warriors. The craftsmen came from his thighs and are called Vaisyas. The remainder of the people came from Manu’s feet and is known as Sudras. Therefore, the structure of the caste system is divinely inspired. The Brahmins are honored by all the people, including the royal family. Their jobs as priests and philosophers are subsidized by the state and involve the study of their sacred books.

The Kshatriyas are the upper middle class involved in the government and professional life, but they are lower in status than the Brahmins. The Vaisyas are the merchants and farmers below the Brahmins and Kshatriyas but above the rest of the population in their status and religious privileges.

The Sudras are the lowest caste whose duty is to serve the upper castes as laborers and servants. They are excluded from many of the religious rituals and are not allowed to study the vedas.

The caste system became more complicated as time went on, with literally thousands of subcastes coming into existence. Today the caste system is still an integral part of the social order of India, even though it has been outlawed by the Indian government.
Swami Vivekananda gives the rationale for the caste system:

Salvation
Salvation, for the Hindu, can be achieved in one of three ways: the way of works, the way of knowledge, or the way of devotion.

1. The Way of Works. The way of works, karma marga, is the path to salvation through religious duty. It consists of carrying out the prescribed ceremonies, duties and religious rites. The Hindu believes that by doing these things he can add favorable karma to his merit. Moreover, if he does them religiously, he believes it is possible to be reborn as a Brahmin on his way toward liberation from the wheel of karma.

The performance of these practices is something non-intellectual and emotionally detached, since it is the mechanical carrying out of prescribed laws and rituals. A basic concept in Hinduism is that one's actions, done in sincerity, must not be done for gain but must be done unselfishly.

2. The Way of Knowledge. Another way of achieving salvation- in the Hindu sense -is the way of knowledge. The basic premise behind the way of knowledge is the cause of human suffering based upon ignorance. This mental error concerning our own nature is at the root of mankind's problems. The error in man's thinking is this: man sees himself as a separate and real entity. The truth of the matter, Hindus say, is this: the only reality is Brahman, there is no other. Therefore, man, rather than being a separate entity, is part of the whole, Brahman.
Selfhood is an illusion. As long as man continues seeing himself as a separate reality he will be chained to the wheel of birth, death and rebirth. He must be saved from this wrong belief by the proper understanding that he has no independent self. This knowledge is not merely intellectual but experiential, for the individual reaches a state of consciousness where the law of karma is of no effect. This experience comes after much self-discipline and meditation. The way of knowledge does not appeal to the masses but rather to an intellectual few who are willing to go through the prescribed steps.
The Way of Devotion. The way of devotion, bhakti, is chronologically the last of the three ways of salvation. It is that devotion to a deity which may be reflected in acts of worship, both public and private. This devotion, based upon love for the deity, will also be carried out in human relationships; i.e., love of family, love of master, etc. This devotion can lead one to ultimate salvation. The Bhagavad Gita is the work which has devoted special attention to this way of salvation. This path to salvation is characterized by commitment and action.*

The Sacred Cow
From early times the Hindus revered the cow and considered it a possessor of great power. The following verses from the atharva veda praise the cow, identifying it with the entire visible universe:

Hinduism and Christianity a comparison
A comparison between Hinduism and Christianity shows the wide divergence of belief between the two faiths.

On the subject of God, Hinduism's Supreme Being is the undefinable, impersonal Brahman, a philosophical absolute. Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that there is a Supreme Being Who is the infinite-personal Creator. The God of Christianity, moreover, is loving and keenly interested in the affairs of mankind, quite in contrast to the aloof deity of Hinduism.
The Bible makes it clear that God cares about what happens to each one of us. "And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me" (Psalm 50:15 NASB). "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28 NASB).

The Hindu views man as a manifestation of the impersonal Brahman, without individual self or self-worth. Christianity teaches that man was made in the image of God with a personality and the ability to receive and give love. Although the image of God in man has been tarnished by the fall, man is still of infinite value to God. This was demonstrated by the fact that God sent His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die to redeem sinful man, even while man was still in rebellion against God.

The Bible says, "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6

Common Beliefs of hinduism
The common beliefs underlying all schools of thought in Hinduism are beliefs concerning
· the evolution of the physical world
· the law of karma and rebirth
· the four-fold goal of human life
The four-fold goal of human life is the
1) Purushharthas - Dharma (Righteousness)
2) Artha (Worldly Prosperity)
3) Kama (Enjoyment), and
4) Moksha (Liberation)

Beliefs of Hinduism
Hindus believe in many gods and goddesses. Some of them are human (e.g. Krishna, Rama, some animals (e.g. fish, monkey, rat, snake), (some animal-humans as in the case of Ganesh who has the head of elephant with trunk and the body of a human), and some others are natural phenomena (e.g. dawn, fire, sun). Their number is generally believed to be 330 million. According to Hinduism beliefs, god incarnates, i.e., takes the form of human being and other animals and appears in this earth in that form. Gods and goddesses were born like human beings and had wives and children. No god possesses absolute power; some of the gods are weaker than the sages and some others even weaker than the monkey (e.g. Rama).
Another aspect about Hindu gods is that the status of their godhood is not fixed. One finds that some gods were worshipped for a time and then abandoned and new gods and goddesses were adopted instead. The gods and goddesses worshipped now-a-days in Hindu homes and temples are not Vedic. The Vedic gods like Agni (fire), Surya (sun) Usha (dawn) are completely rejected and the gods and goddesses mentioned in the Puranas are worshipped by modern Hindus. Similarly, Rama who is currently receiving increasing acceptance among Hindus in India because of the wide propagation of the official and other media was never worshipped as a deity until the eleventh century.

Hinduism's complexity stems from the many forms of three primary deities: Shiva, Creator and Destroyer of all Existence, Vishnu, Protector or Preserver of the Universe and Shakti, the Divine Feminine. Each sect views its deity as the "Supreme Personified Godhead," surrounded by a mythology that includes the texts, rituals and social and cultural observances. Depending on their needs, worshippers may appeal to many different deities, but all acts of devotion have the common goal of summoning the universal.the above facts clearly explains the sacred elements of Hinduism and beliefs of Hinduism.

iam suresh from chennai having 2 years experience in writing articles relating to religion and other things

2 comments:

Pablo Hindu said...

This is a lot of information, congratulations. Very informative and interesting. I think that these could be called a mini-encyclopedia of Hinduism. It is not just about the elements of Hinduism.

the said...

Here you can find all hindu God Goddess Photo of Shiva, Laxmi Picture, Indain Rama Wallpapers, Sai Baba, Ganesha, Kartike, Krishna Picture, Goddess Parvati, Goddess Sarswati Wallpapers, Sri Ganesh Snaps, Vishnu, Brahma Snaps, Indain Sri Shirdiwale Sai Baba, Shri Hanumanji, Shri Ramji, Vishnuji, Brahmaji, Kartikeya, Buddha, Tirupati Balaji, ShrinathjiGanesha, Kartike, Krishna Picture, Goddess Parvati, Goddess Sarswati Wallpapers

counter