Introduction to Hinduism.
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Hinduism is the name given to a family of religions and cultures that began and still flourish in India. Like other Eastern religions, it doesn't fit comfortably into the same box as Western religions like Christianity. Hindus do not separate religion from other aspects of life. For Hindus in India, Hinduism is an inextricable part of their existence, a complete approach to life that involves social class, earning a living, family, politics, diet, etc., in addition to the things Westerners view as religious. The word "Hindu" comes from the name of the river Indus, which flows 1800 miles from Tibet through Kashmir and Pakistan to the sea. Originally the name referred to people living in a particular region of the world, regardless of their faith; so in the 18th century someone could quite sensibly be described as a "Hindu Muslim". There are 750 million Hindus in the world, and most of them live in India. In the UK there are 400,000 Hindus, 160,000 of whom are active in their faith. Hinduism includes a very wide range of beliefs and practices, so there aren't many things that are common to all Hindu groups. However they all have a "family resemblance" to each other. Hinduism has no founder, no creed, and no single source of authority. The things most often common to Hindus are a belief in a single Divinity or supreme God that is present in everything, belief in other gods who are aspects of that supreme God, belief that the soul repeatedly goes through a cycle of being born into a body, dying, and rebirth, belief in Karma, a force that determines the quality of each life, depending on how well one behaved in a past life. Most Hindus worship at home and have a shrine there. Hindu temples are the focus of religious life, but there is not a strong tradition of corporate congregational worship.
Hinduism has not had a significant tradition of seeking to convert people, although some modern Hindu sects now do seek converts. Hinduism is very different from religions like Christianity, Islam, or Judaism. Hinduism is more an approach to the universe, and a way of living in the universe than an intellectual system of philosophy. There are many misconceptions about Hinduism which are the result of Westerners trying to force it to fit their ideas of what a religion should be like, and trying to push a lot of different but related faiths into a single box. Hinduism includes a far wider range of beliefs and practices than any of the faiths above. Hinduism does not offer the same insistence on being the only "truth" as the faiths above. There is no eternally dominant or "correct" form of Hinduism, (although old text books will tell you that there is). Hinduism has no individual who is, or has become, central to the faith and its practice-as Jesus, Muhammad (pbuh), and Moses are for the faiths elsewhere on the site. Hinduism doesn't have a central creed. The Hindu concept of the "good life" is not based on instructions from God. Hinduism doesn't have a single scripture that is regarded as uniquely authoritative. Hinduism gives more prominence to the oral tradition than Western scholars traditionally accept. (The Western portrait of Hinduism can overemphasise the written tradition.) Hinduism doesn't have a personal god at its heart (although individual Hindus may). Hinduism does not have a strong tradition of corporate worship. Hinduism is not, at heart, a set of beliefs. Hinduism is inextricably entwined in everyday life. Hinduism continues to develop through the teachings of modern people of wisdom It's very difficult to separate the religious elements of Hinduism from the political, racial, social, and other elements which also make up the Hindu culture. But that's not surprising; as Hindus believe that God is in everything, it would not make sense to separate religious things from everything else.
For many Hindus, religion is a matter of practice rather than of beliefs. It's more what you do than what you believe. Behind Hindu practice is the belief that every soul is trapped in a cycle of birth and then death and then rebirth. Every Hindu wants to escape from this cycle. Hindus aim to live in a way that will cause each of their lives to be better than the life before. Their ultimate aim is escape from the cycle altogether. Living or acting in the right way is known as dharma, so the Indian name for their religion is sanatana dharma, (meaning "everlasting dharma"). Hindus believe the universe doesn't have a beginning and an end. It's a cyclical pattern, so once it ends, it begins again. Samsara: The Cycle of Lives All Hindus believe that the individual soul exists in a cycle of birth into a body, followed by death and then rebirth. The quality of the next life depends on the soul's Karma-the goodness or badness of their deeds in this life. Hinduism is about the sort of life one should lead in order to be born into a better life next time and eventually become free from rebirth altogether by attaining Moksha (liberation) So when someone dies, their soul is reborn into a new body (although not necessarily a human body). The cycle is called Samsara. The process of the soul being reborn into a new body is called Reincarnation. The ultimate aim of the soul is to be freed from this cycle. The quality of a life that the soul is born into depends on the previous life. Whether one is reborn into a better life, a worse life, or even to live as an animal., depends on Karma, which is the value of a soul's good and bad deeds. Karma is not the same thing as judgement in Christianity. It is automatic and impersonal. A good analogy is a moral force of gravity. Hindus aim to live in a way that will earn them a better life next time around, and eventually free them from rebirth altogether.
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