WHAT DOES A HINDU BELIEVE?
One feature is a belief in reincarnation- the transmigration of the soul (the movement of the soul from one body to another – samsara). A person’s soul (atman) lives on and on through a continuous cycle of birth death and rebirth. This belief in the rebirth of the soul may have encouraged the further doctrine of non injury/violence (ahimsa.) If you thought that your life continued beyond the present one you might consider very carefully the warning contained in an inscription that reads that anyone who interfered with certain rights would:
” suffer rebirth for 8,000 years as a worm in dung”
A way of life not a theory. S. Radhakrishnan( a former President of India and a philosopher) said that for a Hindu, religion:
“is not an idea but a power, not an intellectual proposition but a life conviction. Religion is consciousness of ultimate reality not a theory about God. “
For many Hindus there are four goals in human life (purusharthas);
This is the ultimate goal. It means the release of the soul from the cycle of rebirth. The individual soul (Atman) unites with Brahman the universal soul. There are different ways to Moksha. There is the spiritual. This involves acquiring spiritual knowledge through yoga and meditation. The second way is by devotion to god and the third is by working selflessly for the good of society.
This is the code for leading one’s life. What one’s duties are depends on ones age and position. Respect for elders is considered important and many consider marriage as a son’s religious duty. This requires three sorts of order/ harmony. One at a spiritual level with the universe. A second that requires order/ harmony in society and revolves around the caste system and a third which requires order/harmony of the individual by obedience to a moral code. The 10 embodiments of Dharma are listed in the Mahabharata.
This is the pursuit of material gain by lawful means.
This is a sort of snakes and ladders. Through pure acts, knowledge and devotion, you can reincarnate to a higher level. The opposite achieves the contrary result.
There are four different paths to achieve Moksha which a Hindu can take. The Hindu can choose one or all four of the paths they are:
1 The path of knowledge – Jnana-Yoga
Spiritual knowledge -leading to the knowledge of the relationship between the soul (atman) and God (Brahman)
2 The path of meditation – Bhakti-yoga
The idea is to concentrate so you can reach the real self within you and become one with Brahman
3 The Path of Devotion – Bhakti-yoga
Choosing a particular god or goddess and worshipping them throughout your life in actions, words and deeds.
4 The path of good works – Karma-yoga
This involves doing all your duties correctly throughout your life.
This is an integral part of the faith. Offerings (puja) are usually made to representations of the gods.
The dead are burnt not buried
3 Compliance with the rules of the caste system
The caste system is a complicated division of society into different groups. Each group has rules of conduct to be obeyed. Caste is a matter of birth. You cannot apply to become a member of another caste and a change of job won’t affect it. Change can only come about by re birth and the caste into which you are born depends on the acts committed in your previous life. The caste system is known as the Varnas, there are four varnas and they consist of:
· Brahmins – the priests and intelligentsia
· Kshatriyas – the administrators and military
· Vaishyas – shop keepers, traders, farmers
· Sudras – labourers and service workers
Another group known as the ‘untouchables’ were below the other four groups. They would do all the dirtiest jobs. The Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi in the early part of the 20th century worked tirelessly to try and integrate them into Hindu society. He called them ‘Harijans’ – the children of God. They preferred to be known now as Dalit – oppressed.
The Varnas are then broken down into Jatis which are subsections of the main Varna such as:
· Rarhi Brahmins – traditionally priests
· Baidyas – traditionally doctors
· Patidars – traditionally traders
Elaborate taboos evolved around everyday matters such as diet or travel. It was once the case that if a high caste Brahmin worshipped at the same temple as a Dalit he would have to go through various rituals afterwards, to cleanse himself. Many of these rules disappeared after Indian Independence as the government sought to remove discrimination on the basis of caste. Now it is impossible to tell caste by a person’s occupation. A poor peasant may well be from the Brahmin caste. It remains however an important aspect of the social culture. Many marriage arrangements are dictated by caste rules.