Friday, July 15, 2005
Hinduism - A differentiated system
( Note - This site is under constant revision . In addition this is a must for any serious student of Hinduism)
1. The Hindu society is held to ransom by Brahmans.
2. People in Hindu society interact with each other on unequal human terms.
3. The Sagun Bruhm ( Supreme God ) is limited by the Law of Karma which makes is limited . And there is no such thing as limited God hence it is a Godless society.
4. Existence of Nirgun Bruhm ( formless Supreme Entity ) leads to conclusion that there is no previous birth and no next birth. Thus the Law of Karma is not applicable.
The Hindu religion is one of the major existing religions of the world. It is also most ancient one. It is more than 3000 years old. It has such long history but it still defies any given definition. It is difficult to define Hinduism in terms of a single reference. The reason is that it contains multiple strands of different modes of worships, multiple strands of Dharmas as well as multiple Shastras. There is nothing in existence, which when taken in its singularity can define Hinduism.
The Hindu religion is composed of different modes of worship, which include fire-worship, idol-worship, animal worship and nature worship etc. Then there are four main Dharmas viz. Brahma, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Shudra for corresponding Varnas. In addition there is a belief in the existence of Atma and the law of Karma. Further, there is a prominent belief in the incarnation (avatar) of Gods in human form.
There are multiple sources from which one can acquire knowledge about Hindu religious thought. The thoughts of Hindu religion and its related aspects are enshrined and dispersed throughout several Shastras or scriptures. Some of the aspects of Hinduism are Varnas, Varna-Dharmas, complex worship rituals, law of Karma, nature of Supreme Being and Atma etc. Prominent among Hindu scriptures are Vedas, Vedantas, Manusmiriti,Bhagwat Geeta, Bruhm Sutras and Dharma Sutras etc. The emergence of these Shastras can be traced back to the teachings and discussions of numerous Hindu spiritual exponents and law codifiers.
However the word Hindu does not find any mention in wide collection of Hindu scriptures. There it is known as Sanatan Dharma which means it is an ever existing religion without any beginning or end. In other words it is an eternal religion
The earliest of Shastras are Vedas. The Vedas are known as word of God. Many religious references and details regarding important Vedic Gods and complex sacrificial worship rituals are found in Vedas. The earliest of these Vedas is Rig Veda. The Rig Veda is followed by three Vedas viz. Sam Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharv Veda. A strong belief that the four Vedas contain enormous amount of knowledge to them, is firmly entrenched in many a Hindu minds. The spiritual thoughts on Nirgun Bruhm or formless Supreme Entity and its nature are enshrined in Vedantas or Upnishids. A well-defined exposition of different Varnas and their corresponding Dharmas is found in Manusmriti and Dharm Sutras. Many regard Manusmiriti as an authority on ancient laws of Hindu society. The Karma-yoga is expounded and propounded in Bhagawat Geeta, which was revealed to Arjuna by Lord Krishna at the commencement of Mahabharata battle.
A significant and vital role is played by the mythology among the Hindus. There is a vast collection of mythology, which is part and parcel of Hindu society. The mythology is dispersed throughout various sources and enumerated at numerous religious gatherings. This comprehensive body of mythological literature makes a Hindu conversant with the ideas of Dharma, Atma, Varnas, Varna-Dharmas, Moksha etc. A prominent place is occupied in Hindu mythology by the RaMayana, the Mahabharata, several Puranas and various Kathas. A strong influence is exerted by the mythology on an individual, during his growth as a Hindu.
Separate Dharmas for different Varnas or segments of Hindu society have been prescribed in the Shastras. This is a distinctive feature of Hindu religion. These are known as Varna-Dharmas. Each Dharma is set of duties assigned to different Varnas by the Shastras. The Varnas of Hindu society are the groups or segments in which people are categorized by the Shastras. The Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras are four main Varnas of Hindu society in order of descending social status. These four Varnas are prescribed to be engaged in four distinct, mutually exclusive groups of occupations in the Shastras. It is the birth, which determines the Varna of an individual. The Varna in turn determines the group of occupations to be followed by him. This makes Varnas hereditary in nature.
According to Purusha Sukta in Rig Veda (this Sukta is stated to be later addition to Rig Veda) , the Brahamans were born from the head of Purusha , Kshatriyas from his arms , Vaisyas from his thighs and Shudras from his feet.
The social status of each Varna is in direct proportion to distance of its origin from the feet of Purusha.
The highest Dharma of acquiring knowledge of Shastras, acting as a mediator between God and people, performing complex rituals and appeasing Gods had been assigned to Brahmans. The invaluable guidance to the Kshatriyas in ruling kingdoms including the matters of Shastras, was also supposed to be provided by them. The Yagyas, Havanas and various Pujas were also to be performed by the Brahmans for the welfare of kings. Normally all the sections of the Hindu population depended on their guidance on various social and religious matters. The significant guidance provided by the Brahmans, by and large, emanated from the Shastras. The important role played by the Brahmans in Hindu society is emphasized by the general acceptance of their guidance. The number of people in whose opinions, the seers should have a significant say in politics, state and its governance, is still not ignorable.
Further, it was not deemed to be the Dharma of non-Brahmans segments to study Vedas and acquired knowledge. As a result, the knowledge or education was largely confined to the Brahmans only. This monopoly of Brahman segment was broken only when the non-Brahman segments of Hindu society came to acquire education in comparatively recent times, only when the modern system of education came into existence.
The second highest Dharma of ruling the land and state, defending the state and its subjects, defending and maintaining Dharma as also maintaining general law and order was assigned to the Kshatriyas. To rule according to Dharma as enshrined in the Shastras was also required of them. For this they had to look up to the Brahmans, as they were the only people with the knowledge of the Shastras and the ability to interpret them. This imparted the Brahmans with significant social power in Hindu society.
The third highest Dharma of being engaged in business and related activities was assigned to the Vaisya segment. The people belonging to Vaisya segment of Hindu society were deprived of state and social power. However, the economic power was assigned to them by the Shastras. They did not have any say in ruling and functioning of the society.
The fourth Dharma of providing services to other three Varnas was assigned to the Shudras. No power had been assigned to them by the Shastras.
Thus, the State had been by and large vested in the Kshatriyas and the Brahmans through scriptures and various complex rituals. Rests of the people were denied a role in the state.
Further, the Dharmas assigned to each Varna were immutable in nature. And no transgression by anyone on others Dharmas was permissible. Each Varna was supposed to follow its own Dharma and carry on with its activities without transgressing on Dharmas of other people. Shastras do no permit Varna to practice others’ Dharma. This non-transgression on other Dharmas had the effect of making Hindu society stable as well as inert.
In the fourth Varna there is one more category which comes at the bottom of the society. These are the Shudras who are engaged in doing supposedly impure work like skinning ,scavenging etc. Such people are known as Untouchables. The very touch of shadows these people was sufficient to pollute the higher Varnas. These people were known as Antyaj and lived out of villages and cities or at their edges. To show that the untouchability was never a part of Sanatan Dharma , it is necessary to show that the Dharma sutras like Mnausmirit and others were never a part of Hindu society.
The overall purpose of Shudras of any category was to provide menial services to other three Varnas.
The Hindu population cannot said to be composed of four homogeneous Varnas. Internal differentiations exist in all the four Varnas. There are segments within segments. There are wheels within wheels. The four Varnas can be divided into sub-Varna and further if required sub-divided into sub-sub-Varnas. One can keep on dividing till a segment is reached where people do not marry outsiders. Here an individual cannot marry into family which has the same gotra (paternal family name) as the one he is born into. Such a unit consists of many gotras which intermarry into each other. An individual in such a group or segment uniquely identifies with the other members on the basis of birth and marriage. This last undifferentiated segment has a unique position in social hierarchy of Hindu society or population. It is also known as caste ,sub caste or Jati. Each such segment or caste is an extended kinship. The Hindu society is made up of numerous such social units. These unique segments are social units in themselves. By and large these units conduct their social function without any help or interference from others. Various such units interact with each other depending on relative hierarchical position of each other in the Hindu society. Such unique segments of Hindu society do not interact with each other on the basis of equal social terms. A Hindu divides the society in two parts of kin and non-kin. The two individuals of same caste may have never known each other, however, when the come to know each other’s caste , a bond of kinship is formed without a deliberate wish from either of the sides.
Further, a Hindu divides the society in three parts. Part one consists of people belonging to higher castes with higher social status. The second part consists of people who are from the same caste and they have the same social status. The third part is made up of people who belong to inferior castes and thus have inferior status.
The Dharmas for four main Varnas have been prescribed in the Shastras. However, as stated earlier, numerous sub-Varnas are existing in Hindu society. For each unique Varna there exists a corresponding Dharma, which if not codified in the Shastras, has social sanction. This is known as social tradition or parampara or social convention. These uncodified Dharmas are subordinated to four main Varna-Dharmas which form an outer limit for such sub-Dharmas for various segments. Thus in practice many sub-Dharmas are prevalent in Hindu society.
There are times when the place of such a unique segment, in social hierarchy, is not well-defined, either in the Shastras or in practice. In such cases, claims and counter claims are made by different interested segments, for proving/disproving superiority or inferiority of one segment over the other.
As stated earlier ,the exclusive group of people who are bound together through birth and marriage and supposed to follow the same occupations, form a caste or a unique social segment. An element of Hindu society is that while a marriage outside the caste is not considered as p0ermissible, a change in occupation is considered to be somewhat less objectionable. The change in occupation is tolerated if it is not in conflict with the Shastras or social conventions or traditions of Hindu society. For example, the Chamars are supposed to be engaged in skinning and leather work but majority of them are agricultural labourers and it has no effect on anybody, whatsoever.
In rural areas, the people belonging to such units do not take part in each other’s religious and social functions. However, if such a thing happens then the people not belonging to the same caste are provided the status of guests and not that of participants. Further, in rural areas the people belonging to unique segments of the society live in the corresponding unique parts of the village. Each residential segment in village is clearly differentiated from the other. Similarly, there is differentiation among people for the purpose of inter-dining which, as logical as it can be, is again on the caste lines. Two individuals belonging to different segments are not supposed to eat with each other. There are separate wells as well. So in a village, there are segments of people who do not live among each other, do not dine with each other, do not have a common well and hardly communicate with each other. The affinities, if any, are extended to each other as a matter of grace or respect.
It is not necessary for a Hindu to have a formal education in Shastras in order to become acquainted with Varna, Varna-Dharma, Atma and law of Karma etc. The system is so much ingrained in Hindu population that while growing up, a Hindu comes to know caste, social status enjoyed on the basis of caste, occupation or work in which a man ought to be engaged and other such things. He also comes to expect a different kind of behavior from men from different castes towards him. He also comes to know the kind of behaviour which is expected of him towards individuals from different castes.
There are additional strands of Dharma which run together with Varna-Dharmas in Hindu society. An individual may have to follow different Dharmas depending upon his responsibilities and situation. These Dharma, based mainly on family and social duties, are necessary part of the Hindu society. But these are not a distinctive feature Hindu society. Again these Dharmas should not transgress on his Varna-Dharma. For example, a married Brahman has to follow the Grihasth (house holder) Dharma of providing material necessities to his family. But, this does not mean that he can do so by undertaking degraded job belonging to lower Varnas. This would be an infringement of Varna-Dharma and thus not permissible.
Many modes of worship have been prevalent in the Hindu society since ancient times. The unique single worship mode cannot said to be a feature of Hindus. The four main modes of worship are fire-worship, idol-worship, animal worship and nature worship. These modes of worship can be followed by a Hindu simultaneously. Following one mode of worship is no cause for the exclusion of others. An individual can worship the Hindu Gods, cow and the Ganga river without any problem. Normally, the multiplicity of faith embedded in a Hindu does not cause any problem. This is so because the spheres of influence of deities do no clash with each other. Either they are complementary or supplementary to each other but rarely inimical.
The Yagyas and Havnas fall in the category of the fire-worship. Many complex rituals prescribed in Vedas are part of the fire-worship. The homage is offered to fire and various other Vedic Gods amid chanting of mantras to appease them. The idols take no part in the Vedic rituals of fire-worship. The eligibility to perform fire-worship is available to people from Brahman segment only. The people from non-Brahman segments are not eligible to perform the fire-worship.
The idol-worship is the most prominent mode of worship for majority of Hindus. In this mode of worship, the Aartis and Pujas (prayers) are performed before the idols of Hindu Gods. This may be performed at temples or at homes. A small Puja room is found in some houses for such purpose. The Pujas performed at temples are more or less community congregation. In temple, a Brahman priest is assigned to carry out its religious activities. He performs the Puja before idols usually in presence of a gathering on appointed times and prasad is distributed to all the faithful. The faithful may make donations or offering at the temples, which is supposed to be a great dharmic deed. Only the Brahaman are ordained to be priests of the temples. They are the only ones to have knowledge and proficiency needed to perform specific complex rituals and Pujas which may vary from temple and deity to deity. These rituals may be very complex and may require a priest to undergo formal training. The Brahmans are the only people acceptable to all the people to perform the Pujas. A man from any other Varna, may not be appointed to perform the highly sacred job of Puja, at the temple, by the people looking after the affairs of temple. The appointment of a non-Brahman priest is one of those things which just do not happen in Hindu society. It may tried by some people but it would not have wider social acceptance. If a temple, for any reason, has a non-Brahman priest then it is likely to be accorded an inferior status.
Along with the fire-worship and idol-worship, the modes of animal worship and nature worship are also prevalent in the Hindu society. The cow-worship is an example of animal worship. The donation of a cow (gau-daan) after the death of man, is said to be helpful in attaining the Moksha. As a matter of fact, the cow has come to occupy a substantial sacred place in Hindu Society. The black hooded snake, the cobra (kala naag) is also worshipped by some people. The rivers and trees are also worshipped as part of nature worship. In fact, the Ganga river is the most sacred of all the rivers, a dip in this is said to be helpful in attaining Moksha.
The choice of a Hindu regarding modes of worship and Gods to be worshipped can be quite flexible. Liberty is available to the Brahmans regarding choice of Gods to worship as well as modes of worship. But he (or any other Hindu) does not have the liberty to choose his Varna which, by and large, decides his social status. He can follow all the four modes of worship at the same time. The fire-worship mode is not available to people from non-Brahman segments. For example, a man from the Vaishya segment can perform personal Puja at home, but he can never perform fire-worship with a wider social acceptance.
This liberty of choosing modes of worship and Gods normally does not infringe on the Dharma of people. For example, two Kashatriyas may have faith in different Gods of Hindu pantheon without having any mitigating affect on their Varna. The flexibility is permitted in the choice of modes of worship and deities but without any transgression on Dharma or without any infringement of Varna-Dharma.
All the Varnas are supposed to be engaged in their assigned group of occupations, as prescribed by the Shastras. However, if a person from higher Varna is engaged in an occupation below the one that is prescribed in the Shastras for him, he does not stand to lose his Varna. His Varna remains the same. If a person from a low Varna is engaged in an occupation higher than the one prescribed for him in the Shastras, he does not stand to gain anything in terms of Varna. His Varna remains the same. The Varna is permanent but a change in occupation is regarded as being incidental only.
Before we proceed further and venture into the spiritual matters, let us take the help of three postulates or actions. The tenability of these postulates is not claimed. The first postulate states that there is only one unchanging reality (the Truth is same forever and does not exist in duality). The second postulate states that every creation has its creator. The third postulates states that there is no cause for the cause which is the cause for all the causes.
The world is indeed a creation. The world is a creation because different life forms are created and destroyed in it. Also the jungles are created and destroyed. So, is the case with weather which appears and disappears. The mountains are created and destroyed. There must exist a creator of world. The creator of this world is one Supreme Being. It is also known as the God, Bruhm, Ishwar, Parmeshwar, Parmatma, Divine Being etc.
There is no creator for the Supreme Being. It is not a creation. Though always existing it has never been created. It exists now, it existed before the creation and it will exist after cessation of creation and after that and forever. The Supreme Being is ever existing.
The supreme being is the cause of the world. But there is no cause for the Supreme Being as it is itself the cause of all the causes.
According to Hindu religion thought, the body performs all the earthily functions from birth to death; however, there is a Jiv (life) residing in this body which is also known as the Atma or the self. Now we take the help from the fourth postulate (provided the postulates one, two and three hold good or supreme being exists) which states that the supreme being or God exists in everybody. (The tenability is also not claimed with regard to the fourth postulate). Or there is element of God in everybody. God is eternal so the divine element in the body does not die with it. It does not stay in the body after death. It is released from the body at the time of death. Whatever is released from the body is Jiv or Atma or God element. This Jiv (self) and the God might be the same or identical. Or the Atma may be a clause of God. Or thiks Jiv or Atma may not be the same or identical. Or may be, what it is, nobody knows.
The Atma is neither ever created nor ever destroyed. It does not die with the body, it is not born with the body. The Atma is immutable, it can not die, it cannot be burnt it can not be cut. When a body dies, the Atma relinquishes it and acquires is new body. Thus, it is always pre-existing to a body that it acquires. The Atma changes the body as a man changes into new cloths from old. The body is a transitory residence for Atma which may wonder aimlessly in this universe and the next until it receives spiritual guidance.
A pivotal feature of Hindu religious thought is the law of Karma. According to the law of Karma, one reaps the benefits of goods deeds performed in the previous life and suffers in this life due to bad deeds performed in the previous life. This law is integral to Hindu life. Further, the birth and death cycle keeps taking place forever. This life is full of sorrows. This painful cycle of birth and death continues till eternity or till the time the Moksha is attained. The Moksha or Mukti or Salvation is the state in which one is unified with the supreme being. In Moksha, the Atma is unified with God or it gets dissolved into Divine Being, or it disappears into Divine Being. An eternal cycle of birth and death is taking place, the Atma is destined to keep wondering in time and space forever. The thought of one’s Atma wondering aimlessly, can be quite unsettling to a Hindu. So, the aim of life for a Hindus according to Hindu religious thought, it the attainment of Moksha or Mukti. The recourse to salvation or Moksha gives a man peace bliss and freedom from the thought that his Atma will wonder forever aimlessly in the universe.
A common Hindu takes the Surpeme One as the creator of the world and also knows it as Ishwar, Bhagwan, Parmeshwar, Paramatma etc. It is worth nothing that this Supreme Being or Supreme One has no name attached to it. The Supreme One is referred to by common Hindu without any specific name. The Supreme One is all powerful, present every where, sees everything and watches everything. All the world is considered to be Leela or Maya of Bhagwan which means that the world is God’s creation which depends on whims and fancies of its creator. On more than one occasion the God can bring earthquakes, floods, droughts and epidemics without a moment’s notice and may earthlings can quickly depart from the world “Sab bhagwan kee leela/Maya hai” (“It is all God’s leela/Maya”) is the expression invoked to explain many untimely deaths. It is said that not a leaf moves without the will of God (bhagwan ki marji ke bina ek patta bi nahin hilta). The faith in existence in Supreme One is revealed in the sentences like Ekam Sat (One Truth), Sub ka malik ek (One Lord for all), Sub ka karta ek (One ultimate doer for all) etc. The existence of more than one Supreme One is denied and one and only one such Supreme One is said to be existing for all.
However, this Supreme One is worshipped in many forms and names. It is significant to note that the ordinary Hindu is concerned with worshipping the God under various names like Vishnu, Shiva, Ram, Krishna, Durga etc. An ordinary Hindu is not overtly concerned with dualism or non-dualism. All the spiritual arguments about the nature of Supreme Being and Atma are left to the miniscule minority of learned Brahmans and various spiritual gurus. A common Hindu is at peace with the law of Karma and the concept of Atma. An ordinary Hindu has no particular knowledge of Hindu spiritual scriptures. The ordinary Hindu looks to mythology more frequently than to Shastras. The simple reason for this is that the mythology was made available to common man but not the Shastras. It is pertinent to note that the Brahma is never referred to, by an ordinary Hindu though it is extensively discussed in Vedantas. The Bruhm is not in the normal awareness of an ordinary Hindu who normally deals with mythology.
There are two main doctrines regarding the nature of Supreme Being in Hindu spiritual thought. A belief in Sagun Bruhm is known as dualism because it propounds the dual existence of Bruhm and Atma. A belief in Nirgun Bruhm is known as non-dualism because it propounds the non-dual existence of Bruhm and Atma.
According to non-dualism, the Nirgun Bruhm is infinite, eternal, immutable, formless and continuous. It is knowledge, consciousness and bliss. The Bruhm is not limited by anything, be it space or time. It is without attributes. It is non-doer. It is all pervading. It is witness to everything including the creation of the world. It is substratum of everything in existence in the world including space and time.
The Nirgun Bruhm is non-different from Jiv or Atma or Self. It is pertinent to note that Nirgun Bruhm doctrine is known as non-dualism and not as the identicalism. So, the Nirgun Bruhm is non-different from jiv or Atma or they are non-dual.
Both the Bruhm and Atma are said to possess similar characteristic. Both were never created and can never be destroyed. Both of them are ever existing. Both are not comprehensible in terms of space and time. Both are beyond the pains and pleasures. Both are conscious entities. Both exists in every being. However, both cannot be real or sat. But both of them are sat or real as never changing and forever existing. But there exists one reality. The really real does not exists in dual form. So, they are basically the same or non-dual or non-different from each other. So, the Bruhm and the Atma have non-dual existence.
The non-dual existence of Bruhm and Atma is not realized by people because of avidya or the ignorance about true nature of Bruhm. The removal of Avidya can reveal the true nature of Supreme Being. Not many people can said to be spiritual awakened as they are caught in the web of Maya or longing of this world. So, they are in a kind of material awakening and spiritual sleep. When, one is awakened from spiritual sleep and gets the spiritual awakening then the material world disappears like a dream. The seeker now realizes that there is only one reality which is Nirgun Bruhm. One more place where one can realize the existence of the Nirgun Bruhm, is deep sleep. In deep sleep, an individual is not aware of his own existence. His existence and Bruhm’s existence become one and same.
The Atmas prevailing in two different bodies are actually non-different from each other. Now, the Nirgun Bruhm is continuous. For example, one is born in it, one lives in it and dies in it. This can only be when Bruhm is continuous. Thus the Bruhm is spread everywhere or rather the world and space are also Bruhm. So, the existing distance between two bodies does not actually exists as space is also Bruhm. There is a continuation. Thus the Atmas in two different bodies are non-different from each and a continuing extension the of same Supreme Being. So all this world is Bruhm. Thus the question – Who are you (ultimately)? Answer - I am Bruhm (Aham Bruhm asmi). The question – Who am I (ultimately)? Answer – Tat twam asti (Thou art that -Bruhm). Everything is Bruhm but still nothing in particular qualifies to be Bruhm. So nothing can be truly pointed at as being Bruhm (Neti, Neti, Neti).
The world and Nirgun Bruhm are two entities which exist. Only one of these is real or Sat. The world cannot be Sat or really real because it is ever changing. The world is Mithya (false) according to non-dualists and it is a manifestation of Bruhm. It has no separate existence from Bruhm.
As opposed to Nirgun Bruhm, the Sagun Bruhm possess physical form. It is separate from Atma. The Sagun Brhum and Atma have dual existence. The dualists argue that whatever exit has attributes. The Sagun Bruhm has infinite auspicious attributes. Sagun Bruhm is omnipotent, omnipresent and ultimately reality or Sat. It is all powerful. It is awareness, knowledge and bliss. It has no imperfection. It has no limits with regard to space and time. This world is the body of Sagun Bruhm. It has unlimited mercy for its devotees. The God creates, sustains and destroys the world.
The Atma and God are same in nature but differ in scope. The God is all pervading as compare to Atma which is atomic in nature and prevails in body. Also, the Atma does not have attributes needed to create the world. It plays no part in creation of world which is a handiwork of God. In dualism the Sagun Bruhm or the God is the doer of all the things. Sagun Bruhm proponents prescribe Bhakti-Marg the for attainment of Moksha.
The Hindu religious thought gives a prominent place to Maya. This world is regarded as Maya of Supreme Being or God. The Maya is something, which does not have its own existence. It keeps changing its appearance, it appears and disappears on whims of its conjurer. The world is ever changing. One can not specify which world is real whether it is the world as it appears in the freezing winter or as it appears in the scorching summer or as it appears in the drenching rainy seasons or as it appears in the glory of morning or as it appears in the twilight of evening or as it appeared ten years ago or as it appeared few centuries ago.
Any illusion or Maya does not last forever. The world also will not last forever, it was created, it exists and it will cease to exist. Any illusion or Maya comes into existence, it exists and then it ceases to exist. Thus this world qualifies to be a Maya of the unchanging Nirgun Bruhm.
Maya also has the quality of distracting one from the real path. The real path is the one which leads to real goal. The real goal of life according to Hindu religious thought is attaining Moksha or unification with the Supreme God. Now when one goes to meet his creator he does not take along with him the materialistic possession of this world (like wealth, jewellery etc.) When one leaves this world he takes only his Karmas with him.
The Supreme God has no need for any worldly possession. So, if one gets into affairs of gathering worldly possession, one may forget about the attainment of Moksha. In such circumstances one may forget everything about real aim and real truth (that is Bruhm). Thus one may get lost in process of accumulation of wealth or Maya. The material wealth is unreal in relation to spiritual wealth. Thus the world, its affairs and wealth act as distracters for a common man. In this way the world acts as a Maya so as to lead one away from the God. The world is Maya because it acts as one. One might find that in the traditional Hindu society the accumulation of wealth was accorded a lower status than that of attainment of spiritual wisdom. As a result the mercantile segment (Vaisya Varna) of the Hindu population tried to fill the spiritual void by making various kinds of donations to temples and seers. So the making of donations to the temples and priestly segment emerged as an act of Dharma for people in general.
After the Shastras, there is a huge collection of Hindu mythology . The common Hindu acquires a great deal of knowledge about mythology from perusal of books and from listening to various gurus. The common Hindu did not have the reach up to the Shastras. His approach was only up to sermonized mythology.
It is the development of printing technology, its spread and the translation of various Shastras, which enable a common Hindu to acquire the required knowledge about the Hindu religious thought.
The mythology of Hindu includes epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharta among various sources like Puranas etc. The mythology makes one familiar with the importance of various Gods/ Goddesses, their spheres of influence and the tasks ordained to them.
The Gods in which a Hindu believes are numerous. It is quite common for a Hindu to have faith in multiple Gods simultaneously. All the Gods/Goddesses in Hindu pantheon, are headed by the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. Brahma is the creator of universe. Vishnu nurtures and sustains it and Shiva or Mahesh destroys it. So all the tree main tasks of birth, life and death are assigned to Holy Trinity. These Gods are worshipped for their divine power and the boons they can grant. Similarly, all other Gods are worshipped; and for the faith of the devotees. For example, Hanuman is worshipped as a protector and provider of strength, Ganesh for auspicious commencement of an endeavour, Lakshmi for acquisition of wealth, Saraswati for acquisition of knowledge etc. A Hindu may have faith in more than one God simultaneously. And this does not entail any problem or confusion or conflict. The reason for this is that the various Gods fulfill his various needs like the need of knowledge, strength, wealth, long life etc. Further, these Gods are not antagonists to each other, rather they are complementary. Each God has a definite place of importance in Hindu mythology. The Gods and Goddesses of Hindu pantheon have been ordained to perform different mutually exclusive tasks. These tasks are well defined as is evident in the division of tasks among the Holy Trinity. The assignment of tasks is in such a way that while performing them, no God encroaches upon the respective spheres of influence of rest of the God. In case an occasion for the clash of powers among Gods arises, it is normally settled amicably without any major friction. This is so because the spheres of influence of deities do not clash with each other. Either they are complementary or supplementary to each other but never inimical.
One also finds the existence of Asuras and Rakshasas in mythology as well as in scriptures. These were said to be opponent of those engaged in Vedic rituals and Dharma. They consistently harassed Rishis, seers and Brahmans. They were annihilated, many times by Gods, Goddesses and their incarnations in mythology.
Hindus also have a prominent belief in the incarnation (Avatar) or the birth of God in human form. There are times when the God assumes human form to eliminate adharmic forces, reduce suffering of people and establish Dharma according to Shsatras. The two most prominent Avatars of Lord Vishnu are Lord Ram and Lord Krishna. The incarnation as prince Ram, eventualized ultimately, to kill Ravana, the king of Lanka. It resulted in the establishment of Dharma. The incarnation as Krishna (the king of Mathura / Dwarka) eventualized ultimately, to kill Kansa and other demons and to establish Dharma. In terms of social status there are reference to Kewat and Shabri who belonged to lower Varnas but were still blessed by Prince Ram who was a Kshatriya by birth but actually an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The other epic of importance is Mahabharta. This is the story of comprehensive victory of the Pandvas over their cousins Kauravas. The Pandvas attained this victory with the help of Lord Krishna who was Lord Vishnu incarnated. This victory also resulted in the establishment of Dharma.
Both the epics depict a status of seers and Brahmans where they are respected and venerated by all.
One should remember that these mythology are integral part of growing up of a Hindu. Their effect on him cannot be considered as being insignificant.
At the same time, the Swarga (Heaven) and Naraka (Hell) are also part of Hindu life. One who performed good deeds goes to Swarga and the one who performs bad deeds goes to Naraka after death to pay for them . The Swarg and Narak are ruled by Yamraj. The Yamraj rules there with the help of Chitragupta who keeps accounts of all deed of lives of all the individuals. Yamraj is subordinated to holy trinity but they cannot do much there as who goes to Swarg or Narak is decided by one’s Karmas which even the Gods cannot change. After finishing its stint in the Swarg or Narak, the Atma comes back to earth to assume another body and take part in the eternal cycle of birth and death.
A temple is not the only place of worship for Hindus. The place of worship of a Hindu may be open air space (as in the case of Yagyas and Havnas) or home (Havnas can be performed at homes also as well as idol-worship) or the place where the deity is located. The other places of worship are temples where idols of Hindu Gods/Goddesses are installed. The personal idol worship is performed by the people, at homes before the idols of Gods.
In temple, as stated earlier, the community Puja is performed by a Brahman priest, at the appointed time, with an assembly of devotees. However, the admittance to the temples is not available to all the faithful. The people belonging to certain segment of Hindu society are not suppose to enter the temples. Their presence in a temple is supposed to defile it. This time tested social discrimination is a form of untouchability. It is pertinent to note that the practice of untouchability has been abolished by the law. Still there are instances when an attempt by these people to enter the temple requires police protection. By no implication this has stopped the people from unprivileged segments from worshiping Gods in Hindu pantheon. They remain ever faithful outside the temple. The faith is continued by performing worship, before the idol installed in their homes. Their further object of worship, is nature which they worship in the form of rivers, wells and trees etc. They also worship local deities.
As stated earlier the goal of life according to Hindu religious thought is attaining the Moksha or Mukti. The major factor is the strong belief in the law of Karma. The belief in law of Karma is so ingrained in Hindus that even those, from various Varnas, who claim to be non-believers in it, offer it as an explanation of somebody’s good fortune or suffering, at certain times, especially in the case of unavailability of a ready explanation.
Thus getting out of the cycle of birth and death and achieving unification with the God is an imperative in Hindu religious thought.
There are different paths for attaining Moksha or Mukti provided in Hindu Shastras. These are Gyan-Marg (path of knowledge), Karma-Yog (path of action) and Bhakti-Marg (path of devotion).
The Gyan-Marg or the path of knowledge is propounded by non-dualism (advait) doctrine. In non-dualism the Nirgun Bruhm and the Atma are stated to be non-different from each other. This truth is not realized by people because of avidya or ignorance about the true nature of Bruhm. When this avidya is removed and knowledge about the true nature of Bruhm is acquired then the Moksha is automatically attained. The Moksha is embedded in non-dual state of Atma and Bruhm. There is no need for a seeker to seek unification with Bruhm as he and Bruhm are the same. It is not necessary to depart from this world to attain the Moksha. And after death, no further birth and death take place. However, this Gyan-Marg; for attaining Moksha, was available to Bruhm-Gyanis only. This was not meant for majority of people in Hindu society.
The Karm-Yog marg has been prominently emphasized in Bhagawat Geeta. Here the seeker is expected to be engaged in performing action, according to Dharma, prescribed for him by the Shastras. The engagement in such actions has to be without any attachment and without any concern about the consequences of such action. The seeker must have total faith in the Supreme God. He must possess no ulterior motive in performing the action. One should be engaged in performing his assigned duties so as to maintain the Dharma as the God himself is upholder of the Dharma. In doing so the seeker becomes a medium or instrument through whom the God actually performs right action to uphold world order as enshrined in Shastras which are, in turn, said to be originated from him only. The Atma of such a Karm-Yogi, when released from body at the time death acquires no further body, instead it gets assimilated with the Divine Being. It is the only logical that the one who has been instrumental in performing the work of God (upholding Dharma) is, automatically, rewarded with Moksha without asking for it. The Geeta does not allow for transgression of Dharma. According to it, it is better to follow one’s Dharma imperfectly instead of following others’ Dharma perfectly. So an individual should not take any occupation which is not in accordance with his Varna-Dharma. If a man who is born to do the menial jobs , takes up the job of learning and teaching then it will be Adharmic or Anti-religion. Such an act being Adharmic is not permitted. In fact this is supposed to be a criminal act and as such severely punishiable according to Dharma Shastras.
The Moksha may also be attained by following the parth of devotion or Bhakti-Marg. This requires that the God is worshipped by a devotee as form of Sagun Bruhm or ultimate reality. This God has infinite auspicious attributes, a conscious will to create the world, is infinite, all powerful and omnipresent etc. This God has the power to bestow the Moksha on its devotees, if please with their devotion or Bhakti. This God has sympathy and ears for all being. It is believed that the God can be pleased through pure and intense devotion by a Bhakt. He should immerse himself totally in God with total surrender of self. The Moksha could be bestowed by the God when pleased with the devotion of a Bhakt. In such a case further birth and death do not take place after the release of Atma from the body when this life time ends.
From above, it would seem that the Supreme Being or Sagun Bruhm or Nirgun Bruhm or Supreme One is all powerful, all pervading and capable of performing anything because it is the creator or cause of the world. And also because it has no limitation of past, present and future. Its extensions are beyond any knowable extensions. However, such is not that case in Hindu religious thought, it is powerless against the immutable law of Karma. The non-interference with the law of Karma helps in maintaining Varna-Dharma which depends on birth which in turn depends on the actions of past life. The Varna in which this birth takes place is determined by the deeds performed in previous life. So, the Varna-Dharma can not be changed in this life. The person once born in a low Varna has no escape from the suffering of this life due to social discrimination. The Supreme Being can not help in this regard. It cannot change his Varna, it can not raise his social status. Nothing can be done by Supreme Being even when it has the advantage of being all powerful and unlimited with regard to space and time. The unlimited has a limitation, its infiniteness does not go beyond the law of Karma.
The Nirgun Bruhm is non-doer (akarta) along with the Atma. So, it can not alleviate the sufferings of a man that are due to his Varna. However, it has its own problems. If Nirgun Bruhm and Arma are non-dual then one is automatically released from the cycle of birth and death because becoming one with Bruhm is Moksha and such state is inherent in non-dualism. As a result, the Moksha is embedded in non-dualism; so it is available to everybody automatically. No amount of Avidya which ever existed or exists or will ever exist can have any effect on the truth of Bruhm being same or non-dual to Atma or Jiv. There is no need for seeking Moksha because one is already in the state of Moksha even though one may not be aware of it. The Moksha is, automatically, available to everyone whether one believes in Nirgun Bruhm or not. The existence of such a state is real and independent of belief of an individual in Nirgun Bruhm.
If each and everybody had attained Moksha, then nobody would have a previous birth because the individual attained the Moksha in the previous life. Thus, there is no previous life. And there will be no next life as Moksha is attained in this life. Thus there is no previous life and no next life. Thus there is no cycle of birth and death and law of Karma is not applicable.
A significant contribution in religious life of Hindus was made by the Bhakti movement. A Bhakt or devotee could please the God who, in turn, could reduce his suffering and even grant Moksha. The Moksha could be bestowed on a deserving devotee by the Almighty God. The idea of Gods granting boons to their devotees when pleased with their bhakti or tapsaya (penance), was not new. There are numerous references in mythology where a God has granted boons to his devotee after being pleased with his bhakti or tapasya. What was new was that the people from lower Varnas or even untouchables were now thought to be capable of attaining Moksha or Mukti. It was earlier denied to them. The Bhakti movement also brought about a change in the role of mediator between the God and people. Earlier the Brahman priest was the sole mediator between people and God. The priest’s role was to offer prayer to Gods on behalf of kings, his clients (yajmans) and gathering of people in temples. The Bhakti Movement’s pivotal tenet is that it is possible for devotee to attain the God directly. One may worship a personal God who represents ultimate reality or Sagun Bruhm, without bringing priest in the picture. The Bhakti Movement also emphasized the duty of obedience to spiritual guru who show the path of devotion to devotees towards realization of God. The Bhakti Movement s saw many prominent proponents or Gurus who were responsible for its spread.
Some of the leading proponents of the Bhakti Movement were Ramanand, Kabir Dass, Raidas, Nanak, Tukaram, Tulsi, Jnaneshwer, Purunder etc. Many leaders of the Bhakti Movement came from non-Brahaman segment, thereby, breaking the monopoly of priestly segment over the religion. Moreover, the God could be realized without transgression on Dharmas of the other Varnas. This was a welcome change for the people with some liberty and freedom in the field of worship and Moksha. The Bhakti Movement spread among large segments of the Hindu population..
Still, as the goal of life was the attainment of Moksha, people did not aspire for a better social status or occupations or life which was throught to have already been preordained in the previous life. So, anything which could be done to in this life was to improve the next life; which could be done through bhakti. The devotion could either lead to Moksha or a better next life. Any of these, was welcome by the devotee. The bhakti did not being about a change in social setup or arrangement of Varnas and their Dharmas. The movement did not face much objection from the higher Varnas as it did not endanger their social status and related interest.
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How do you view a woman of a low caste?
I have heard that Hindu society is very repressive about sex. This finds itself expressed as sexual harrasment of women in public places that is discreet. India is a free republic, but are women truly free?
A free society has to be based on "equality" of human beings - not just in law but in people's attitudes. Do you think Hinduism, allows this "equality" in thinking to emerge, considering the kind of importance it gives to brahmins v/s low caste.