Hinduism is not a religion in the sense we Westerners think of a religion, such as Christianity. It is more a code of life (Dharma) that is practiced by hundreds of millions of adherents, mostly in India. A hinduism research paper will take a brief look at this complex practice.
Unlike most of the world's leading religions, Hinduism claims no one founder. It is called by its practitioners Santana Dharma, or The Eternal Faith. Dharma, the code of life, means "to hold". Thus Hindus hold to an inner law, which leads from ignorance to truth. As one expert on Hinduism said, one can take Hinduism as a whole, from its literature to its rituals to its art, and compress it into one affirmation: You can have what you want. Within that affirmation are three things all people want:
- Being, or the gift of life;
While Hinduism does not dismiss worldly possessions or worldly pleasures, they must be obtained and enjoyed within the context of life, knowledge, and joy.
Unlike other religions, Hinduism does not have one "right" way to believe, or one right code of ethics. While devout Hindus do practice certain rituals, especially family rituals, adult children in ritual-practicing families are free to worship privately in any way they wish. There are no church services or other community gatherings for regular worship in that sense.
The Hindu faith has a triad of supreme gods which rule over all things:
- Brahma (creation)
- Vishnu (sustenance)
- Shiva (destruction)
As told in the Vedas, Brahma was the creator of all things, and through him, the original Vedas were given to earth.
It is the job of Vishnu to watch over and direct the functioning of the universe. His depictions in art are of "a handsome, four armed man, whose erect posture and crown distinguish him as a righteous king". It is often the duty of Vishnu, as guardian of the universe, to descend to earth and battle evil. Often this evil is the result of man's own wickedness, and essentially, Vishnu saves mankind from himself.
The myths that surround the god Vishnu tell of him taking ten different avatars - or incarnations. The first of these is the incarnation of Krshna. Krshna is the embodiment of divine love on earth. This incarnation is one of the best known and effectual of Vishnu's forms. Krshna, much like Christianity's Jesus, was raised on earth as a human child - however his divinity was never questioned, and those in care of him were seen as foster parents.
The next of Vishnu's avatars is that of Rama. Rama holds a strong place in Hindu society in many daily routines, and funeral rituals. Rama represents the ideal man. His virtue and bravery are legions that are held tightly within Hindi tradition. As a ruler, Rama's kingdom became the idealistic golden age of Hindu history, and it the wish of many modern Hindus that his kingdom's wealth and happiness return.
Shiva, the destroyer, is the third in the Hindu triad of supreme gods. It is through Shiva that death is allowed, although Shiva also has the power of rebirth - and is a god of fertility - and thereby allows for reincarnation, and the rebirth of all things. Shiva's dual nature creates a binary opposition within his depictions. His destructive and ambivalent nature often creates a sense of fear - this is often depicted with Shiva in deep meditation and matted hair. However, his association with virility and fertility has him being seen in a softer light, and often with an erect penis.
Because of his nature, it is Shiva who drives the energies of the universe. It is through the tending of these energies by Shiva, that mankind, and all things in the universe are able to sustain themselves.
One of the lesser gods in the Hindu tradition is that of Ganesha. While his power and placement within the deity hierarchy is lower than that of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, Ganesha is probably the most identified outside of the Hindu culture. The look of Ganesha is of a human body with an elephant's head.
The position that Ganesha holds in the Hindu tradition is akin to the saints of Catholicism. "He is a member of the divine family" however, he is not a full god. Ganesha is seen as the "remover of obstacles and the lord of beginnings". He is a source of great wisdom to the people of earth, and therefore he is evoked at the beginning of every ceremony that takes place under the guides of Hinduism.
Because of its antiquity, Hinduism has evolved into a complex and deep set of philosophical beliefs. While its origins have been lost to time, its affect and placement in modern day society are very evident. It holds a strong structure of religious adherents around the world, and has also branched into some what of a novelty tradition in the west. Hinduism is arguably the oldest surviving religion in the world, with its roots being traced back to at least 3000 years before the common era. Its rich and diverse teachings offer hope and understanding to nearly every aspect of human life. And, while other religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have waged war through the world in a search for domination, Hinduism has maintained a steady course of self enlightenment through the teachings of the Vedas and the smriti.