Hindu Religious Traditions
Hinduism is a religious tradition that has Indian origins. It is made up of the beliefs and practices of Hindus. The word Hindu comes from the river Sindhu or Indus. The from a geographical term that referred to India or to a region of India near the Sindhu as long ago as the 6th century. The word Hinduism is an English word that has a more recent origin. Hinduism became part of the English language in the early 19th century to describe the beliefs and practices of those residents of India who had not converted to Islam or Christianity and did not practice Judaism or Zoroastrianism. In this religion beliefs and practices come first, and those who subscribe to them are acknowledged as followers. In the case of the Hindu tradition, however, the acknowledgment of Hindus came first, and their beliefs and practices constitute the contents of the religion (Hinduism, 2009).
Hindus prefer to use the Sanskrit term san-tana dharma to describe their religious traditions. into English as eternal tradition or eternal religion. But this translation of dharma as tradition or religion often gives an extremely limited, even sometimes a mistaken, sense of the word. Dharma has many meanings in the sacred language of Hindu scripture, including moral order, duty, and right action. The Hindu tradition supports Hindus in seeking spiritual and moral truth wherever it might be found. It also acknowledges that no creed can contain such truth in its fullness and that each individual must realize this truth through his or her own systematic effort. A persons experience, reason, and dialogue with others especially with enlightened individuals provide various means of testing our understanding of spiritual and moral truth. Hindu scripture is based on the insights of Hindu sages and seers, serves primarily as a guidebook. In the end the truth comes to people through direct consciousness of the divine or the ultimate reality. In other religions this ultimate reality is known as God but Hindus refer to it by many names, but the most common name is Brahman (Hinduism, 2009).
Most of the religious life of Hindus is centered on the devotion to God. This interpretation of God often differs from person to person. Many rituals are used to help each person to separate the divinity from the rest of their daily lives. Those who are more philosophically oriented will ignore the idea of gods and seek realization through different forms of meditation. Others will perform their duties towards society while keeping their moral values and seek the divine. There are three possible paths to liberation and all the recognized as being equally valid. The three paths are:
Karmamarga which is the path of work and action
Jnanamarga which is the path of knowledge and;
Bhaktimarga which is the path of devotion
All the stages in the life of a traditional Hindu involve religious rituals and practices (Hindu Traditions, 2005).
Puja or worship is a religious ritual which most of the Hindus do. Puja is considered to connect one to the domain and actions of the divine. Puja can be seen in many different forms. The simplest of these is called darshan or gazing up on an image. This image is seen as symbolizing the of God. The follower symbolically offers the God certain items. These can be food, water or flowers. Sometimes they light a candle or incense and ring a bell on this occasion. Other practices that might be done include chanting the name of the God and reciting certain scriptures. The food that is offered is considered to be sanctified. Taking the food is supposed to be spiritually beneficial. It is not mandatory that Hindus visit temples as some people do the worshipping in their own homes. Some believe that the worship can also be done by performing every action as an offering to God. Doing work without seeking personal benefits out of it is considered to be considered higher than the formal worship (Hindu Traditions, 2005).
According to Hindu religious traditions, the spiritual hopeful takes studentship under a personal spiritual teacher called a Guru. The disciple stays with the Guru and follows his instructions in order to attain the ultimate goal of spiritual life. Even though the Guru never asks any money for the guidance he has given, the student may give gifts (as a token of appreciation.
Pilgrimage is not something that is mandatory in Hinduism, as it is in other religions. A large number of holy places exist in India. Varanasi, Kedarnath and Rameshwaram are some of the places which are considered to be holy in nature (Hindu Traditions, 2005).
Significance and Meaning
Hinduism has a universal world view and willingness to accept and celebrate diverse philosophies, deities, symbols, and practices. It is a religion that emphasizes similarities and shared characteristics rather than differences. It has a itself apart because of this fact. It is often thought that this in itself if what sets it apart. It should not be said that there are no beliefs and practices that are solely identified as Hindu, but rather that the Hindu tradition has always concerned itself with the human situation rather than the Hindu situation. Instead of basing its identity on separating Hindu from non-Hindu or believer from nonbeliever, it has sought to recognize principles and practices that would lead any individual to become a better human being and understand and live in harmony. The difference of dharma from the Western sense of religion is crucial in understanding the Hindu religion. Hinduism carries with it the Western meaning of being a religion but the words often distort Indian reality. In the West a religion is understood to be conclusive, meaning that it is the one and only true religion. Secondly a religion is generally exclusionary, meaning that those who do not follow it are excluded from salvation. And finally, a religion is thought to be separating, in that to belong to it one must not belong to any another. Dharma does not necessarily imply any of these. Having made this point, this article will bow to convention and use the expression Hinduism (Hinduism, 2009).
The Hindu Religion has a very long history that is based on many traditions. These traditions are very sacred to those that believe in them. A vision of Hindu nationalism known as Hindutva has gained a lot of force over the years. The Hindu majority has been alienated by a perception that Hindu political parties courted Muslim voters as the swing vote in tight elections. In the modern age there are challenges for humanity and for the various religions that engage humanity. The aim of Hinduism has always been to enlighten rather than to convert people. “The Hindu world-view of pluralism and respect for multiple paths points to one model for reconciliation of religious conflicts, without calling for conversion to any one creed and with each religion maintaining its unique identity and practices” (Hinduism, 2009).
The Hindu religious traditions were just as powerful and followed in their beginning as they are today. They have always been used to enlighten and teach people rather than to convert them to a particular way of thinking. They have always believed that each individual should make up their own mind and follow what they believe in their hearts. This has what has separated this religion from many of the others over the years.
Hindu Traditions. (2005). Retrieved October 16, 2009, from YGo Hinduism Web site:
Hinduism. (2009). Retrieved October 16, 2009, from MSN Encarta Web site: