An introduction to Hinduism. Though it seems ideal, this is how it is believed to once have been.
Religion is a way of life. A simple statement, but one who’s value has been lost in today’s world. What do you mean when you say that a religion is a way of life? it means that by following its path, you raise yourself above your circumstances and fears, and discover what is truly important and to dedicate yourself to this goal.
Hinduism has no creator, and was named centuries after people practiced it. One of the core principles behind Hinduism is renunciation, or sanyasa. Contrary to common belief, it does not refer to living in the wild, considering wine, women, wealth and comfort as sin. It focuses on raising the mind from these pleasures, to partake of them without becoming their slave, to clear the mind’s eye from the fog of the senses. Hermits in India have left the comfort of home for the bare earth and frugal life of the mountains, but only because they saw true peace can only come from within. Those hermits who actually managed to conquer desire were respected, and when they requested food from any house, it was given with respect and honor, because they played the most important part of all in society: of teaching the world the essence of life. The holy scriptures known as the Bhagavat Gita, and the Upanishads are said to contain their wisdom. However, not anyone who seeks their secrets finds them.
There is a caste system in India; this is true. It divided people into the Brahmanas, the Khatriyas, the Vaishyas, and the Shudras. Contrary to popular belief, it was not meant to divide based on birth. It was to divide them based on their understanding of wisdom.
The Brahmans, who have imbibed knowledge the most, were meant to teach, and guide others along the path. It is said that true Brahmans were so learned, that they managed to surpass the greatest fear of them all: the fear of death. They embraced death as they would embrace their God. The word Brahman is said to also mean ‘the one god’. When one conquers the senses, and thus gains true knowledge, he commands the respect of god himself. This is portrayed in many Hindu stories.
The Kshatriya are ones who have not reached the learning of Brahmans, but have adequate learning to rule and take care of his subjects, who has lost the hold of selfishness.
The Vaishyas are merchants, traders and artisans, who have gained freedom from greed and desire, to trade fairly, and desires to raise himself to a Kshatriya or a Brahman not for riches, but for enlightenment, a state of knowing. The meaning behind this statement is not easy to grasp.
Finally, a Shudra is one who is still clouded by his existance, senses and desires. It is said that the first man, Manu decreed that Shudras should not read the Bhagavat Geetha or the Upanishads. This is because they simply would not grasp their true meaning, and might misguide others. This system might seem rather ideal, but it lasted for a period known in Hindu mythology as the Satya Yuga, or the golden age. It was also predicted that it would one day end, going on to the Treta Yuga, the Dwapara Yuga, and finally the Kali Yuga, when greed, desire suspicion and hate would cloud the inner eye. The Yugas are cyclic, However, and it is believed that the Satya Yuga will once more return.
Hindus do not, again contrary to common belief, worship many Gods. They worship the one God through his many forms. The requirements of so many forms? There are numerous stories behind these forms, for they show how a God, or anyone for that matter cannot remain static. When creating, God is the kind and selfless Vishnu, while sustaining, the wise teacher Brahma, and while destroying the embodiment of fury and remorseless Shiva. They did not see the forms of these Deities as they did now, but saw the qualities within them. Imagine a stern teacher giving birth to a child, while death taught a student the secret of life, and a loving mother dragging her child beyond this life. That ought to give you a picture of what I mean.
Hinduism does not force its followers to simply follow a god, or a brahmin. There are countless stories where a mere mortal abuses the Gods when he feels he has erred, an example being the dialogue by Daksha Prajapati, the father of Sati, the first birth of the Goddess Parvati, Shiva’s wife. Dakha held a large Yajna, a grand ritual of offerings. When Daksha arrived, all except for Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva rose out of respect for him. These three Gods are hierarchically superior to Daksha, yet he fumed at the sight of his son-in-law sitting, and let flow a string of abuses: poiler; mental dwarf; a refuge of the refuse, destitute and poor; boorish demigod; monkey’s eyes; a Sudra unfit to learn Vedas; a crematorium-dweller; wearer of a garland of skulls and bones; sloven. Sure, not quite the sort of abuses you expect today, however they are truly insulting. Shiva, the destroyer remained calm, showing meagre respect towards his father-in-law, but holds his words, valuing their worth.
Hindus do not believe in a seperate creation of the universe. Not only do the legends describe Vishnu as taking forms of a fish, a tortise, an animal, a midget, human beings, and finally as a Divine, the stories are meant to guide people in values, and not to be taken at face value.
Hindus do not worship Idols. Similar to the worship of many Gods, idols are meant to act as a medium, though even many followers have lost awareness of this fact. There have been many incidents in history where true devotees have expressed their regret in giving a form to god, for it limits perception. However, just as one may not be able to sprint without first learning to crawl and then walk, (I say may not, because I do not want to be bombarded by examples proving the contrary), one may have to pray using an idol before recognizing that existence itself is but a part of God. One does not simply jump from being a Sudra to a Brahman.
Hinduism happens to be one of the most tolerant religions in the world as well, conceding that the path to salvation or enlightenment is not single. It tells its followers to remember their successes, their failures, their joys and sorrows, and even their sins, but not to be clouded by them. It tells followers that penance is not punishment, but a way of life that leads to greater fulfillment. It does not force devotees to go to temples, but advises them that the true temple is always within and around them, in not just things, but in actions and intentions as well. It tells them to do their duty, no matter how unpleasant, and expect no rewards, a perfect formula for inner peace.
There are depictions in Hindu mythology referring to asuras, or deamons and their vanquishing. These depictions represent desire and other negative influences, and how righteousness always triumphs, and were not meant to promote wars, or other negative inferences.
Hinduism denies women rights: another misconception. Did you know that during a fire ritual, the constant utterance of the word ‘Swaha’ calls upon Agni(the Lord of fire)’s wife? Not only this, almost all the major Gods are said to be invoked through their wives. Women have been portrayed in many stories as besting men, whether it be in intellect, or in the art of war. Women have become rulers as well. Hinduism as a religion has always encouraged equality beyond gender or race.
I know this seems pretty ideal, but this was the true vision, and as I initially stated, it is a way of life, connected to everything around you, and not something to be pushed off as simply one aspect of what you are.
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