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Hinduism (Essay Sample)


I was to write a general paper about Hinduism

The term Hinduism is used to collectively describe several religious and philosophical traditions that are native to the Indian subcontinent. Hinduism does not have a specific founder or a specific moment of origin. According to its believers, Hinduism is timeless because it has always existed. The collection of sacred texts is known as “The Eternal Teaching” (Sanatana Dharma) reflects the timelessness of the religious beliefs. Hinduism encompasses several interconnected religious practices and doctrines. The philosophical and religious traditions within Hinduism share some similar characteristics but they lack unified systems of practices and beliefs. Hinduism comprises various sects and sub sects with regional and local variations. A study of Hinduism reveals that even though the distinct philosophical and religious traditions within Hinduism have specific ritual traditions and theologies; they use different means to achieve a common purpose.
Hinduism is the religion of most of the people in Nepal and India. Adherents of Hinduism are believed to be over nine hundred million worldwide. It is historically associated with other Indian religions such as Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism (Ross). Due to the diverse religious practices within Hinduism, it can be regarded as a family of religions. The main teachings of Hinduism are referred to as Vedic texts. The Veda is treated by most Hindus as the sacred scripture while the Dharma is the common system of values shared by Hindus.
Hinduism is believed to have originated near the Indus River around the Indus Valley in what is modern day Pakistan. 80% of the Indian population consider themselves to be Hindu (Ross). The majority of the Hindus believe in a Supreme God whose forms and powers are represented by numerous deities. Hindus believe in a cycle of rebirth, death, and birth governed by the rules of Karma. They believe that the soul goes through a cycle of consecutive and successive lives and that the next stage of the soul’s incarnation depends on how the person has lived the previous life. Hindus celebrate several holy days but the best known holy day is Diwali, the Festival of Lights (O’Malley).
There are various concepts shared within Hinduism. They include: the concepts of Brahman and God, Purushartha, Karma and Samsara, Varna, Dharma, and Atman. Atman refers to the existence of the “eternal self”. Hindus believe in the soul or spirit which represents the essence of existence (Flood). The belief in the existence of an eternal self supports the idea of reincarnation since it is believed that the eternal self can exist in different temporary bodies. The eternal self is regarded as a spiritual being rather than a material being. The belief in an eternal self explains the strong emphasis on detachment from the material world in Hinduism, and the promotion of unique practices such as asceticism (O’Malley). In the earthly world, the atman is a spiritual being that goes through the human experience.
The concept of Dharma is highly valued in Hinduism traditions. It refers to morality, virtue, and duty. It symbolizes the power which governs the society and the universe. Dharma is regarded as the universal code for righteousness which was revealed in the collective Holy Scriptures known as the Vedas (Nicholson). Dharma enables human beings to act morally and virtuously. It maintains society, makes the sun shine, and makes the grass grow. In Hinduism, acting morally does not have a similar meaning for everyone. People have different duties and obligations depending on their social position, gender, and age. Each person has a unique Dharma referred to as sva-dharma (Flood). What is correct for a child might not be correct for an adult and what is correct for a man might not be correct for a woman. Correct action is also understood in the context of serving God and humanity.
The concept of Varna refers to the responsibility bestowed on a person in accordance to the stage of life and the class. The concept resulted in the establishment of a hierarchical class system. The present day caste-system in India can be attributed to the existence of the class system in classic Hinduism texts. There are four main classes in Hinduism. The Highest class consists of priests and intellectuals who are mandated with the duty of performing religious rituals (Brahmins or Brahmans) (Ross). The second class consists of warriors and nobles who traditionally have the power to rule (Kshatriya). The third class comprises of merchants and commoners who trade to earn a living (Vaishyas). The lowest class consists of workers who perform duties for the higher classes. The lowest class consisted of clerks, musicians, artists, and laborers (Shudras). People in the top classes are referred to as “twice born” because of the natural birth and the sacred initiation ceremonies that boys undergo to symbolize their high status (Flood, Para 10). Certain females are also initiated.
The Varna concept goes hand in hand with the Ashrama system. The Ashrama system consists of four stages and it involves mostly males (Nicholson). The first stage is the “Brahmacarya” stage in which celibate males study the Veda. The second stage is the “Grihastha” stage in which the male is permitted to go through the human experiences of sexual pleasure, wealth, and responsibility. The third stage is the “Vanaprastha” stage in which the high status male is expected to retire from life in the world to go on religious observances and pilgrimage in the wilderness. The fourth stage is the “Samnyasa” stage in which the high born male is expected to renounce the world and wear a holy robe to develop devotion (Nicholson).
The Samsara and the Karma are important concepts in Hinduism. The literal meaning of the word Karma is action. It is believed that there is an equal reaction for every action. The reaction can be immediate or it can occur at some point in the future. Virtuous or good actions in accordance with Dharma attract virtuous responses or reactions. Bad actions against Dharma attract negative consequences. According to Hinduism, Karma does not only operate in the present lifetime, it operates across different lifetimes and its actions may be experienced after reincarnation (Flood). It is believed that human beings might reap the consequences of action in the present life through a future rebirth or through a hell or heavenly realm in which the rebirth of the soul takes place after a certain period of time. “Samsara” refers to the continuous process of reincarnation in which rebirth of the soul occurs repeatedl...
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