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Notes on Hinduism

by Paul Williams
via Truth Magazine, January 2, 2003

Hindu Idol: Lord ShivaHinduism is the religion of the vast majority of people who live in India. About 70% of the millions of Indians who live in South Africa are Hindus and there is an increasing number of Hindus in America. The influence of this religion is seen in the lives of popular movie actors and pop singers. Who has not heard the chant, "AHare Krishna"?

The following are notes taken from the book on Hinduism which is one of six volumes on "The Great Religions of the World." This volume is edited by Louis Renou, copyrighted 1961.

Definition

"Hinduism, then, may be characterized as a system of the means appropriate for the attainment of
Liberation" (42).

"Liberation ... is conceived sometimes as absence of rebirth and at others as fusion with the Absolute" (40-41).

Hell

"The non-liberated man is subject to common destiny: enslaved by his actions which follow him indefinitely, 'as the calf follows its mother,' he is condemned to be reborn; and as most human actions are tainted by malice, the risk of being reborn in a lower condition, ultimately as an animal, is greater than the possibility of achieving an exalted state. ... Man suffers passively the necessity of death in order that he be born and die, again and again. This is the basis of Indian pessimism, this frightful retributive accountability" (43).

"True hell is rather a return to earth" (39).

The idols

"To fashion the idol of a god, to install it in the sanctuary, to treat it as 'animated,' to anoint it: all of these became major rites ... The rite consists of welcoming the god as a distinguished guest. Bathing the god, dressing him, adorning him and applying scent, feeding him, putting flowers round him and worshiping him with moving flames accompanied by music and song: such are some of the essential features of the rite. ... For some, perhaps the majority, the idol is the god himself, and we can classify this as idolatry; for others, symbolical values are true values and the idol is nothing more than what it is in any form of cult in which the sacred is incarnate in some concrete form" (30-31).

"Hinduism is fundamentally polytheistic" (35).

"From this diversity the believer selects his chosen god. . . The number of gods is considerable. India could, in fact, be considered saturated with the divine, a land with an undeniable tendencey toward pantheism" (36).

"The temple is dedicated to a particular god . . . spiritual teachers (guru) . . . the 'renouncing individual' holds himself aloof from social life and does not participate in religious practices" (32).

(The "renouncing individual" is the "holy man.")

Prayer

"Prayer consists of the silent recitation of sacred formulae (mantra) which are repeated indefinitely. ... This type of prayer is an aid to mental concentration and is thought to bring about the desired effects of protection, fulfillment of promise or expiatory virtue ... Strengthened by Yoga exercises, meditation can lead to such a paroxysm of tension that the exercitant can accomplish the ultimate aim proposed in all Indian religious thought: a state of union with the Absolute" (32-33).

Ancestors

"Those religious practices performed at home are the only ones which are relatively obligatory. Prayer three times a day ... is accompanied by offerings to the gods, to sages and to ancestors. ... According to the periods, more elaborate ceremonies are held in memory of ancestors (of three direct generations on the male and female side) with offerings of water and sesame; the object of this is to transform an indifferent or even pernicious dead soul into one who is useful and helpful" (33).

Sacred places

"From time immemorial crowds of pilgrims from one end of India to the other have assembled at certain privileged places ... The Ganges is considered the most sacred place" (34).

Worship of things

"It is scarcely necessary to recall that Hinduism includes certain elements typical of a popular cult: worship of trees, of serpents and of special 'genii' (which are often of demoniacal nature as in the case of the goddess of smallpox). Magic, too, is widely practiced as are astrology and other forms of mantics (divination)" (34).

Sects

"A sect adheres to a specific part of tradition: it recognizes a special basic text as its own; it adopts a particular speculative system; but it neither isolates itself from the totality of the system nor rejects the common postulates" (45).

"In some ways the sect is the reality of Hinduism and shapes its history" (45).

Inclusiveness

"All religions are true, we are told, but Hinduism condenses them all by preserving such of their characteristics as may be acceptable to all" (51).

Castes

"Dharma (which roughly means 'life') is fragmented according to castes and 'stages' of life: there is a dharma for each individual" (52).

"More important still is the gradation of society into four classes" (53).

"The Brahmins, who exercise spiritual power, the Ksatriyas, who wield secular power; and the Vaisyas, or artisans, cultivators, etc. . . . Apart from these three groups are the Sudras, somewhat like serfs who nevertheless maintain certain rights. Below these, and one might say, apart from society is the mass of the 'impure' or untouchables" (53).

"On the religious level, the existence of classes signifies that the formal relation of each individual with the Divine is esablished by birth" (53).

"... the multiplicy of castes — approximately three thousand in modern times" (53).

"If the caste theory is observed, there are few details of existence which are not affected by membership in a caste and few traits of caste which are not definitely of a religious significance" (54).

"The caste system has been held responsible for social stagnation" (55).

" ... deplorable customs such as the burning of widows in past time and child marriage, which is still sometimes practiced" (55).

Charity

"Hinduism lacks something of that spirit of charity which abounds in Buddhism, for example. In his concern for purity the Hindu tends rather to keep aloof than to give himself" (56).