Hinduism (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion)
Unlike the Western religions, Hinduism does not have an easily identifiable beginning. Although records of its early history are not available, Hinduism dates back at least three thousand years in the subcontinent of India. However, within Hinduism there is a great diversity of practice and belief so that it is difficult to identify a distinctive essence. Hinduism contains many traditions that share distinctive characteristics such that they are identifiable as members of the same cultural family. Some traditions share more of these characteristics, making them more strongly Hindu. Over the centuries one such characteristic has been the practice of caste distinctions. Another is seeing Hinduism as a religious way of life that in one way or another reaches back to scriptures, the oldest of which is the Veda.
The term Hindu derives from the Indus River in the northwest part of the Indian subcontinent. Flowing some three thousand kilometers from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea, the Indus served as a natural boundary for those attempting to enter India through the passes of the Hindu Kush. During the period 1500 to 1000 B.C.E., people known as the Aryans, who may have come through these mountain passes, began to dominant the Indus River area of northwest India. Their view of the world was described in the Veda, spoken and written in the Sanskrit language. In the oldest portion of the Vedas, called the Rg samhita, there are references to a river called the Sindhu, which may have been the Indus. By association, the word Sindhu seems also to have been used to refer to the people who lived in the Indus valley. The later term Hindu seems to have derived from Sindhu.
From the earliest historical times, military invasions and trade have flowed through the mountain passes of the northwest, such as the Khyber. Those who invaded India from the Mediterranean area (e.g., the Persian Darius I and Alexander of Macedon) used the term Hindu to refer to those who lived on or beyond the Sindhu River boundary. Over the centuries the term Hindu has increasingly been used to refer to those Indians who share some connection with the Veda as a basis for their way of life. Within the Vedic scriptures are found the overarching concepts of caste, karma, and rebirth that knit together the many diverse Hindu groups. Karma is the idea that each action or thought leaves behind a seed or memory trace that predisposes one to a similar action or thought in the future. These karmic traces, stored up in one's unconscious, as it were, originated not only in this life but also from previous lives, and cause one to be reborn in a future life. This cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is held to be beginningless (anandi) and is seemingly endless. However, for those wishing to escape from this cycle of rebirth, the Hindu scriptures offer three general paths or disciplines (Yogas) by which release may be realized: the paths of knowledge, work, and devotion. In orthodox or Brahmanical Hinduism, the source of these paths, and indeed of all knowledge, including science, is said to be the Vedic scriptures.
Cosmology and the concept of God
In the Hindu view, the whole of the universe is held to have existed beginninglessly as a series of cycles of creation going backward into time infinitely. Although the Hindu scripture is spoken anew at the start of each cycle of creation, what is spoken is identical with the scripture that had been spoken in all previous cycles. The very idea of an absolute point of beginning for either creation or the scripture is not present in Hindu thought. A close parallel to this Hindu notion of the eternal presence of scripture is found in the Western idea of the Logos, especially as expressed in the Gospel of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (1:1). The rsis or seers, identified as speakers of particular Vedas, are understood to be channels through which the divine word passes to make itself available to humans at the start of each creation cycle. The same rsis are said to speak the same Vedas in each cycle of creation, and the very language in which the Vedas are spoken, Sanskrit, is itself held to be divine.
This view of the Vedas and Sanskrit as being divine had important implications for the traditional Hindu understanding of all forms of knowledge, including science. The rsi's initial mystical vision is of Brahman's consciousness, God's omniscient knowledge. This unitary vision is broken down and spoken as the words and sentences of the Veda so that through this revelation people will be enabled to realize release. In addition to this ultimate spiritual goal, the Veda, as the authoritative speaking of divine omniscience, contains in seed form the fundamental knowledge of all the disciplineshe arts, medicine, and science. This is why the Grammarian philosophers of India argue that correct word use (following Sanskrit rules) is essential for science for two reasons. First, it is essential because only when language is spoken and heard correctly will the seeds of scientific ideas inherent in the Veda be able to manifest themselves. Second, correct word use is essential in formulating and communicating scientific knowledge so that it does not become confused but is clearly conveyed.
Such thinking lies behind the traditional Hindu notion that all knowledge, including science, comes from and through the Vedas. It is just this kind of thinking that anchors the claim of the modern Hindu reformer Swami Vivekananda (1863902) that science and religion are complementary, cross-validating, and are both based on experience of the same Brahman. Just as science is based on the empirical experience of the outer world (whose essence is Brahman) so also religious knowledge arises from the direct experience of the Vedic word; at base both are experiences of the same ultimate reality.
See also KARMA
Coward, Harold G. and Raja, K. Kunjunni. The Philosophy of the Grammarians. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990.
Coward, Harold. Scripture in the World Religions: A Short Introduction. Oxford: Oneworld, 2000.
Klostermaier, Klaus K. A Survey of Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.
Rambachan, Anantanand. The Limits of Scripture: Vivekananda's Reinterpretation of the Vedas. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.
Hinduism (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
HINDUISM. Hinduism is a religion, a philosophy, and a way of life. It guides people along paths that will ultimately lead to the individual soul (Atman) becoming one with the Universal Consciousness.
The religion recognizes that everyone is different and has a unique intellectual and spiritual outlook. Therefore, it allows people to develop and grow at their own pace by making different spiritual paths available to them. It allows various schools of thought under its broad principles. It also allows for freedom of worship so that individuals may be guided by their own spiritual experiences. This freedom of worship permits individuals to worship in any place, be it a church, mosque, or gurudwara. The tolerance shown by this religion to other faiths is unmatched. Hinduism has never been imposed on anyone, whether on a subjugated people through wars, or by offering spiritual or economic benefits to the poor.
The strength of Hinduism lies in its adaptability to the infinite diversity of human nature. It has a highly spiritual and abstract side suited to the philosopher, a practical and concrete side suited to the worldly individual, an aesthetic and ceremonial side suited to the person of poetic feeling and imagination, and a quiescent and contemplative side suited to the lover of peace and seclusion.
Hinduism is also unique in that it has adapted itself to include numerous ideals and precepts of other religions, such as those of Jainism and Buddhism. For instance, among many communities, offerings of rice and ghee (or clarified butter) took the place of animal sacrifice compromise with Vedic ritualism. Many of the early Aryans had been meat eaters, but under the influence of Buddhist and Jain ideas, numerous groups of Brahmins and non-Brahmins became vegetarian.
Another feature unique to Hinduism is its belief that liberation or deliverance (moksha) can be achieved in this life itself: one does not have to wait for a heaven after death.
Hindu Beliefs as Reflected in Food
Rebirth or reincarnation. The Hindus believe that one must go through several births and rebirths before attaining liberation. The hardships of the current world are a result of the actions of a previous life that have to be atoned for in the present life.
Karma. The law of karma (or action) also supports the above theory. It suggests that every action has a similar or related reaction. Although it is not possible to change one's past life, it is possible for one to shape the future and to pave the way for a better life in rebirth through the actions of the present.
Dharma. Dharma refers to duties that have to be performed at different stages of one's life. These must be completed without a thought of possible rewards or benefits and should also be accomplished to the best of one's ability. They are responsible for the prevailing social order in the world. There are four stages of Dharma:
- Student or Brahmacharihis first phase involves living and studying with a guru.
- Householder or Grihasthahis next phase starts with marriage.
- Retirees or Vanaprasthahe third phase occurs when the duties of child rearing and work are over.
- Sanyasihis is the final phase when all worldly desires are renounced and the individual spends all of his or her time in meditation.
Hinduism is based on the Eternal Truth as it has been explicitly defined in the scriptures:
- The Srutis come from the Vedas, of divine origin and unchangeable. They encapsulate the greatest truths.
- The Smritis, referred to as the Dharma Shashtras, are of human composition. They govern the daily conduct of people, including the actions of the individual, the community, and the nation, and may change over time.
- The epics are those stories or fables in which the philosophy of the Vedas is told. The most important epics are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
- The Puranas are the Hindu scriptures that convey the truths of the Vedas and the Dharma Shashtras in the form of tales. These stories form the basis of religious education for the common man.
- The Agamas record the doctrine for the worship of different deities, including Shiva, Vishnu, and Shakti.
- The Darshanas encompass the six schools of Hindu philosophy; they guide scholars.
Hindu Gods and Goddesses
Hinduism has many gods and goddesses, some of whom were worshipped by early peoples who later came into contact with this faith. The aim of Hinduism is not the worship of any one of these deities, but rather the means with which the individual soul or Atman will become one with the Brahman, or the Universal Soul. Among the most commonly worshipped gods are:
- Nirguna Brahmanhe Universal Soul who transcends time and space and is formless.
- Saguna Brahmanhe concept of Ichwara, the Great God, with a form upon which the individual mind may fixate during prayer and meditation.
- The Trinitys personified by the three attributes of Ichwara, including their feminine dimensions: creation (Brahman), preservation (Vishnu), and destruction (Shiva).
There are essentially three paths to attain oneness with the Universal Consciousness:
- Bhakti yoga (the path of devotion)he vast majority of people choose this path of single-minded devotion to a favorite god.
- Karma yoga (the path of action)hose who choose this path believe in the dictum "work is worship." No job is too menial or too low for this devotée, as all work is a means of realizing God.
- Jnana yoga (the path of knowledge)his is perhaps the most difficult of the three paths and therefore chosen by very few, usually scholars. Knowledge of the Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita is essential.
See also Buddhism; Fasting and Abstinence: Hinduism and Buddhism; Festivals of Food; Hindu Festivals; India; Religion and Food; Weddings.
Khare, R. S., ed. The Eternal Food: Gastronomic Ideas and Experiences of Hindus and Buddhists. SUNY Series in Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.
Morgan, Kenneth William. Asian Religions: An Introduction to the Study of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, and Taoism. New York: Macmillan, 1964.
Ross, Nancy Wilson. Hinduism, Buddhism, Zen: An Introduction to Their Meaning and Their Arts. London: Faber & Faber, 1968.
Toomey, Paul M. Food from the Mouth of Krishna: Feasts and Festivities in a North Indian Pilgrimage Centre. Delhi, India: Hindustan, 1994.