One of the great mysteries in the world today is the origin of the universe. Religious doctrines such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism have differing perspectives on universal origin based on the religious texts of their faiths. Science uses advanced technology to collect empirical evidence regarding the origins of the universe, which point to the event popularly known as the Big Bang. The issue with religious origin theories is that there is nothing backing up the theories; the faith-based aspect of religion causes religious arguments of universal origin to be dismissed by scientists as inconclusive theories. Science, for all its factual evidence, relies on man-made constructs to ascertain the mysteries of the universe. These constructs are no more perfect than the men that created them, and thus the empirical data collected by scientists using these constructs can be inaccurate as well. Thus, the scientists must also have faith, albeit faith in their calculations and machines. As such, there is no conclusive theory on the origin of the universe. Many religions and their doctrines assert that they are the only true religion; however, the nature of Hinduism describes a world in which multiple religions may exist. Hinduism also stresses the importance of the individual in his own salvation, leaving the exact practices up to the discretion of the individual. This makes Hinduism one of the most flexible and inclusive religions.
One of the most important concepts of Hinduism is the Supreme Being. This is commonly referred to as Brahman, a Sanskrit word which describes a transcendent power beyond the universe. It is sometimes translated as ‘God’ although the two concepts are not identical. Brahman is the power which upholds and supports everything. Although there are multiple gods, or devas, within the the Hindu belief system, they are viewed as divine aspects of Brahman. Rather than polytheism, Hinduism embraces pantheism. The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia defines pantheism as the following:
“Pantheism (păn′thēĭzəm) [Gr. pan=all, theos=God], name used to denote any system of belief or speculation that includes the teaching ‘God is all, and all is God.’ Pantheism, in other words, identifies the universe with God or God with the universe… While all pantheism is monistic, it is expressed in different ways according to what is meant by the one whole that gathers up in itself all that exists, or what is meant by God… Some forms of pantheism have had their beginnings in religion; others have been based upon a philosophic, scientific, or poetic point of view. Noteworthy among the religious forms is Hinduism, in which the only reality, the supreme unity, is Brahman” (Pantheism). ”
If the pantheist starts with the belief that the one great reality, eternal and infinite, is God, he sees everything finite and temporal as but some part of God. There is nothing separate or distinct from God, for God is the universe” (Pantheism). Such is the case in Hinduism. The main aspects of the Supreme in modern Hinduism are: Vishnu, the Preserver; Shiva, the Destroyer; and Devi, the Divine Mother. The veneration of these devas form the sects of Hinduism which exist today. Vishnu has 1000 names which reveal aspects of him. One of the most important names is Narayana, which means “resting on the waters” and “resting place of men.” In the Mahanarayana Upanishad, Narayana is recognized as the absolute deity cosmically and within the individual. This is synonymous with the concept of Brahman, making Vishnu (or Narayana) the Supreme. (Johnson, 217). As the soul of the entire cosmos, Vishnu continuously produces universes from his breathing and the pores of his skin. He enters each universe as the universal soul. From his navel springs a lotus flower, upon which is born Brahma, the Creator. Brahma then creates the material world, which endures for 100 of Brahma’s years. Each of these years is composed of 360 kalpas, or days of Brahma. According to the Puranas, each kalpa lasts for four billion three hundred twenty million human years (Johnson, 165). At the end of 100 years, Brahma dies, and Shiva destroys the universe as Nataraja, the lord of the dance. During this destruction, Vishnu leaves the universe that is being destroyed and enters another of the universes, and the cycle begins again.
During this cycle, humans are created with individual and unique selves. This is known as the atman. Hindus believe that the atman, the real self, is unchanging and eternal. It is equivalent to the soul, as it is distinct from the mind and the physical body. It is the self-centered desire of an individual. The atman is contained in a physical body and is trapped by maya, or illusions. Because of these illusions, the atman identifies with the temporary physical body instead of the eternal Brahman. Rather than pursuing the Supreme, the atman becomes obsessed with controlling matter within the physical world. This causes the atman to undergo samsara, the cycle of continuous birth, life, and death. Each atman is unique, and creates a unique destiny governed by the law of karma. By the decisions that are made within the lifespan of the physical body, the atman accrues either good or bad karma. Following death, the atman will move throughout levels of creation to a realm corresponding with the karma accrued in the previous life. The supreme goal of Hinduism is moksha, the liberation from this continuous cycle through connection with the Supreme. Hinduism encourages that there are different paths to reaching this goal. Human beings are the only atman which can achieve moksha because of the ability to develop self-awareness. This process of
One major proponent of Hinduism is an eternal and cyclical concept of time. This is represented as the eternal snake Ananta, upon which Vishnu rests during the periods between destruction and reincarnation.Yugas, the eras within the Hindu concept of time, are divided into four groups: Satya Yuga, the Golden Age; Treta Yuga, the Silver Age; Dwapar Yuga, the Bronze Age; and Kali Yuga, the Iron Age. This cycle begins with Satya, the longest of the Yugas. As time progresses towards Kali Yuga, eras see a decline in the state of the world. A complete cycle has two of each ages, descending from Satya Yuga down to Kali Yuga and back up again. This progression is the span of a kalpa. This depiction of time is important for two reasons. Firstly, it is fundamental to the eternal nature of Hindu religion. Secondly, it d
“Divine Intersections” focuses on the flexibility of Hinduism in incorporating rituals and practices from other religions. The main idea is that because of Hinduism, different religions can coexist peacefully in India. “Hindus still incorporate ritual elements and divine beings from the religious traditions of their Others and that they exercise a wide personal choice in terms of spiritual activities, thus enabling spiritual paths that cross in and out of Hinduism. In a Hindu context rituals do not necessarily have an insulating effect; they may also provide points of intersection that open up toward the Other, thus fostering familiarity and recognition” (Intersections, 1).
Hinduism, or sanatana dharma as it is called by its practitioners, is one of the oldest religions in the world. It has its roots in the Indus Valley civilization, which dates back as far as 2600 B.C.E. While not much is known of the civilization’s culture, archeological evidence suggests correspondence to Hindu mythology.
While it is a non-traditional viewpoint, Christian theology can be mixed with Hinduism in fairly simple ways. “The incorporation of Jesus is interesting. Contrary to the common argument that contemporary Hinduism was modernised in a protestant fashion to better withstand competition from the religion of the colonizers, what we rather see in contemporary micro-settings is that Hinduism incorporates Christianity in an encompassing manner. Placing a crucifix on a shelf or in a house temple alongside Hindu deities is only one way in which this may occur. Another… is found in the legend that portrays Jesus as an incarnation of Vishnu, almost on par with Krishna. While the forms of incorporation differ, the principle remains that of encompassment, subordination and transformation” (Intersections, 16). Although I do not follow any specific religion, it is not because I don’t believe them. Looking at the world and seeing successful people with all sorts of backgrounds and beliefs led me to believe that there is no one path to God, Brahma, Allah, etc. Instead, each individual must find his own path to the Supreme. Being raised as a Christian and having Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Atheist friends, I am aware that it is nearly impossible to find someone who completely and flawlessly follows the guidelines of his religious text. However, the beauty of Hinduism allows everyone to adjust their practices in a way that is suitable for them. I myself use Islamic prayer beads in the Hindu style while using the method of prayer I was taught by Christians. This allows me to feel a greater connection to the Supreme because I no longer separate him into the aspects of each religion; rather, I have a better understanding of the limitlessness of the Supreme.
In an ideal world, religions could simply agree to disagree; however, this is often not the case. Numerous wars such as the Crusades have been fought because of differences in religious ideals. Religion has become one of the taboo subjects in present society because of the disagreements between different religions. Following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 and the media’s focus on Islamic terrorists, discrimination against Muslims has become an issue in America. These are only a few of the examples of problems that have arisen because of differences in religion. Although Hinduism does not directly support any other religion, it upholds that there are different paths to the central goal of moksha. This means that even if a person is not Hindu, if they can cultivate a connection with the Supreme, they can still achieve liberation from samsara. This is in stark contrast with most major religions, which assert their truths as the only truth Furthermore, it allows for the incorporation of elements from other religions by its pantheistic viewpoint. Anyone within Hinduism can freely choose who, what, when, where, why, and how they venerate. Hinduism allows human beings to be themselves more than any other religion (because Atheism is a philosophy). Rather than emphasizing rules that limit the freedom of the individual, Hinduism frees practitioners to live how they wish to live while seeking moksha. Although practitioners of Hinduism are not always as tolerant as they should be, the same can be said of any religion.
Frøystad, Kathinka. “Divine Intersections:, Hindu Ritual And The Incorporation Of Religious Others.” Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 4.2 (2012): 1-21. Academic Search Premier. Web. 1 Apr. 2014.
Johnson, W. J. Dictionary of Hinduism. New York: Oxford University Press Inc. 2009. Print.
“Other Religions.” Humanist 70.1 (2010): 16. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 3 Apr. 2014.
“Pantheism.” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition (2013): 1. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 May 2014.
Williams, George. Handbook of Hindu Mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc. 2003. Print.