Hinduism, due to its proteanness, is more a way of life rather than a creed. The Hindu tradition recognizes the Vedas as its foundational scripture, Hinduism itself being indigenously known as Vaidika Dharma. Sruti and Smrti are the primary sources of Hinduism, where the former connotes the Vedas that stand for the revealed wisdom and the latter for tradition. Smrti texts include law books like the Manusmrti, epics (Itihasa) like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, Puranas, Agamas, Darsana literature (philosophical system), sometimes Buddhist and Jaina works, other than the numerous religious works in regional languages.
Hinduism was challenged by the rise of heterodox in the sixth century BCE especially Jainism and Buddhism. Their prolonged encounter and interaction led to the development of the philosophical schools of Hinduism. The advent of Islam and Christianity, and the origin Sikhism, led to further developments in the Hindu thought system.
This book defines and surveys Hinduism, and elaborates its keywords. It consists of two parts. The first part is a general survey of Hinduism It describes its primary sources of information and the historical trends within its study; the Great Tradition with its basic teaching and practices; the Little Tradition; and modern developments. Many terms which appear in the first part are elaborated in the second part, along with some addition terms.
This volume enables readers to grasp the fundamentals of Hinduism.
Arvind Sharma, formerly of the I.A.S, is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He has also taught Australia and the USA, has published extensively in the fields of Hinduism and Comparative Religion, and is currently engaged in promoting the adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the World’s Religions. His recent books include Gandhi: A Spiritual Biography (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013) and A Sourcebook of Classical Hindu Thought Thought (New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2012).
This book consists of two parts, the second being more substantial than the first. The first part provides a general survey of Hinduism. Many of the terms which appear in this survey, along with some additional terms, are then elaborated in the second part. The preponderance of these terms in the books is reflected in the title Hinduism: On Its Own Terms.
A survey of Hinduism can only be suggestive, given the vast area to be covered, and the terms can only be illustrative, given the large number of items which could potentially be included.
We hope that, despite these limitations, the reader will find the book useful.
What is Hinduism?
Though now accepted by Hindus, is not a Hindu word. It gained international currency in the eighteenth century, mercifully over an earlier form Gentoo, as an omnibus term to describe an adherent of the major religious tradition of India, with which the West was coming into increasing contact after the establishment of British Raj over Indian. The word itself goes back at least to the sixth century BCE and, after various philological adventures, now seems fairly well-established as indicating an Indian citizen or a person of Indian origin who is not a Muslim, Christian, Zoroastrian or Jew, and at a second order of negation, not a Jaina, Buddhist or Sikh. The ultimate reality is often described via negative by the Hindus: it seems that the reality about the Hindus themselves may also have to be so described. The fact that, at least initially, one identifies a Hindu as an Indian who is not a non-Hindu, serves to indicate the close bond that exists between the Hindu religion, as a religious entity, and India, as a geographical entity. Which virtually makes Hinduism an ethnic religion. Over 90 per cent of the Hinduism of the world reside in the Republic of India and over 80 per cent of the citizens of this Republic itself are classified as Hindus, though there also exist significant Hindu communities in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bali South-East Africa, and in the islands of the Caribbean and oceania. But these have resulted from migration rather than conversion, though this is less clear in the case of Bali. The Hindus do not seek converts as such, but now accept them, so that a Hindu may identified finally as a person of Indian origin who does not claim to be non-Hindu, and a person of non-Indian origin who claims to be one.
The reader would have noted that the use of the word Hinduism has hitherto been avoided, and for a good reason. Scholars have long given up the attempt to define Hinduism as an ism, on account of its doctrinal proteanness, and because it is more a way of life rather than a creed. Instead, they feel more confident of identifying a Hindu (as the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 tries to). Once the Hinduism been identified, Hinduism may then be defined as the religion of the Hindus.
It is the corpus of literature Known either collectively in the singular as the Veda, or in the plural as the Vedas, which must be regarded as the earliest accessible primary literary source for the study of Hinduism, as the inscriptions on the seals of the Indus Valley have not yet been deciphered. The Hindu tradition recognizes the Vedas as its foundational scripture, Hinduism itself being indigenously known as Vaidika Dharma.
What are the Vedas? Like the Bible or the Qur ‘an, the Vedas are the sacred books of the Hindus. The word itself means Knowledge or perhaps better still, wisdom, the latter word sharing with the word veda the Indo-European root (vid in Sanskrit, which means “to know”) In the abstract, the word means wisdom or spiritual wisdom par excellence; in the concrete it refers to the four collections which bear the names of Rg-,Sama-, Yajur-and Atharva-Veda. Of these Rg-Veda is the oldest, also supplying, in varying degrees, the source material for the other three. The Atharva-Veda is qualitatively different from the other three Vedas, being concerned with household rather than sacrificial religion.
Not only are the Vedas four in number, it is useful to look upon each as possessing a fourfold division, which seems to correspond roughly to the evolution of Vedic religion, as it passed through different phases of growth. The first phase (c. 1500-1200 BCE), which corresponds to the Mantra or Samhita division, was marked by simple hymnal prayers addressed to the various gods. In the second phase, which corresponds to the Brahmana division (c. 1200-1000 BCE), these hymns came to be accompanied by complex ritual. The third phase (c. 1000-800), which corresponds to the Aranyaka division, marks the beginnings of that investigation into the meaning of ritual which initiated a trend towards philosophical speculation, of which we get intimations even in the Rg-Veda (RV), as when the question is asked: What was the wood, what was the tree out of which they fashioned heaven and earth? (RVX.31.7). This reached its climax in the Upanisads, the last section of the Vedas (c. 800 BCE). The dates here are only shrewd guesses, but the sequence of the development of religious priorities is reasonably clear.
The emergence of the Upanisads represents a decisive moment in the history of Hinduism. Gradually, by way of informal consensus, the tradition felt that answers to the probing questions raised early in the hymns of the Rg-Veda were to be found in this class of literature-the Upanisads-and Vedic development was seen as fulfilled. Such an understanding of the development also came to be conveyed, in due course, by the term Vedanta, as a synonym of the Upanisads. As pointed out earlier, the word veda has the twofold meaning of (1) a literary corpus, and (2) spiritual knowledge The word Vedanta is formed by combining the word anta with veda, which carries the twofold meaning in Sanskrit, of (1) end, and (2) conclusion (perhaps because a conclusion comes at the end of a discussion or disquisition). The word Vedanta then, in all its fullness, means conclusions about spiritual knowledge contained in the last section of the Vedas, i.e. the Upanisads.
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