Following the Flower of Hinduism:
Part I - The Mysteries
June 17, 2000
Hinduism is the major religion of India and Nepal, in fact it's the major
religion of Asia as a whole, and yet this religion remains a mystery to most people in
the West. A religion of blue idols, sacred cows and elephant-headed
gods...well, Hinduism is this and so much more.
Hinduism Alive and Well
Remember learning about the ancient religions of old civilizations like the
Egyptians? Well, when you visit an ancient temple or pyramid in Egypt, it's
an archeological site, dug up and appreciated for its history. In India, on
the other hand, the ancient temples of thousands of years ago are still houses
of worship. Whereas in Egypt the sun God Ra has long since been replaced by
Islam and Christianity, Hinduism continues to thrive and lead the way of life
for millions upon millions people here in India and Nepal.
Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world, some of its ancient texts
are over 3000 years old! During these thousands of years Hinduism has evolved
into a complex religion full of different practices and different philosophies
and each of the hundreds of millions of Hindu followers around the world have
a seemingly limitless choice of deities and paths to enlightenment to choose
from for their own individual interpretation of Hinduism. Perhaps it is because
Hinduism has continually evolved and adapted new trends, texts, and practices
throughout the ages that it has flourished longer than any other major religion.
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So you've seen the technicolor lunchboxes, the T-shirts with images of colorful
gods and goddesses, maybe you even caught a picture of Madonna painted blue
and singing Sanskrit prayers.... and now you must be wondering, "What's up with
this strange religion anyway?" Let's take a closer look at this mystifying
religion that controls not only the spiritual, but also the social aspects of
life for the majority of people here in Nepal and India.
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Hinduism began by evolving out of shamanistic religions that paid tribute to
a number of nature gods and goddesses. As long ago as 1600 BCE some of the
gods still worshipped today like Indra (the Goddess of the sky) and Surya (the
God of the sun) had appeared. Most of the foundation for what is practiced
as Hinduism today was laid out in the Vedas, or the Books of Wisdom, which were
probably written between the 12th and 8th centuries BCE.
A number of complex rituals and sacrifices were instated that helped ensure
a hierarchy of people. Those at the top were the ones who held the mysteries
of practicioning these rituals. This hierarchy of people continues to this
day through the caste system which still dictates social status in much of Nepal
and India. Contrasting this rather rigid and sometimes petty track of Hinduism,
the philosophical groundwork of Hinduism was recorded during the later Vedic
period in a series of teachings known as the Upanishads.
From here on out Hinduism has continued on in two very different but overlapping
levels which appeal to each person in different ways. Admit it: there are times
when you like to think, to ponder puzzling questions and look deeper in to
that interests or intrigues you...like questions concerning the universe or
how we ended up here. But hey, who are we kidding? There are MANY other times
when we would just rather not think so hard about such deep issues, when we
would rather escape in to an exciting story or celebrate a festival or do
mindless but rewarding. In just such a way, Hinduism developed in 2 levels:
one is its essential and profound insights for the philosophers amongst us,
and the other is its popular practices and pantheon of gods for the general
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First let's talk about the essence of Hindu philosophy to appease the deep
it'll help the rest of us understand the comic-like tales to come!) Hinduism
believes that the soul of every living thing is a part of the universal soul,
the brahman, or the ultimate reality. Everything in the material world is just
an illusion. Every soul's ultimate goal is to reunite with the brahman, but
to do that it must first go through a series of births and rebirths, or
Ideally a soul will move closer and closer with each reincarnation, but its
progress is kept in check by the soul's karma. Karma is the law of cause and
effect. Just as Christians find it important to lead a good life so they can
make their way to heaven, Hindus also must lead a good life to progress and
benefit from their karma. If they were to live in a dishonest or immoral way,
then their actions would not be forgotten. According to Hindu belief, karma
will make sure the soul gets what it deserves whether it comes in this lifetime
or the next. Ultimately a soul will break free from the impermanence and
of this world and attain moksha, or liberation, from the cycle of rebirths,
and rejoin the brahman.
archeological - the scientific study of past human societies
thrive - the scientific study of past human societies
thrive - to grow strongly
The 'Universal Soul' ? What?! This brahman thing is a bit vague to comprehend
I know, that's largely why the rich mythology of Hinduism first developed.
In an attempt to personalize the brahman for the general public to better
it, a number of gods and goddesses were created. Find out more about this level
of Hinduism, the fun and colorful, easily understandable side of Hinduism in
my next dispatch. You thought the Greek Gods were full of drama and intrigue?
Check out the Hindu Pantheon...
To Each Their Own
Despite some of its rigid ritual and social rules, Hindu philosophy is
open and individualistic. It admits many paths to enlightenment and
absorbed new doctrines rather than condemning them. One way in which this is
panned out is that, unlike other religions, Hinduism does not accept converts.
This is one of the primary ways Hinduism differs from Hare Krishnas. Although
Hare Krishnas follow much of Hindu philosophy and read Hindu texts, they also
actively try to seek converts which is contrary to Hindu belief. A religion
teacher from Nepal that I once met explained it to me like this: "We Hindus
believe that however you are born, whatever religion you may be, there is a
path to enlightenment there. Why convert and change to be something else, when
you can practice the way you were born to be? There is a reason you were born
as you were. Live the life given to you to its best potential and you will
be justly rewarded, whether that means heaven, or nirvana, or moksha."
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
Kavitha - Following the Flower of Hinduism: Part II Monkey - Headed Gods and All
Jasmine - Hug A Tree - It May Be Your Last Chance
Team - Making a Difference: Wanna Go To Burma? Think Again!
Team - Life in Tibet Could Be Better
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