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Hindu Religious Tradiitions

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Hindu Religious Traditions

Hinduism is easily the oldest major world religion that is still in use today. It has not only survived countless attacks but has also thrived and has changed little to none in the last 2500-3000 years. "The Aryans are said to have entered India through the fabled Khyber Pass, around 1500 BC. They intermingled with the local populace, and assimilated themselves into the social framework. The Aryans did not have a script, but they developed a rich tradition. They composed the hymns of the four vedas, the great philosophic poems that are at the heart of Hindu thought" (The Aryans and the Vedic Age, 2004, par. 2).

The Aryans began to write down their ideas and methods of worship that were originally orally passed. In order to pass these lengthy stories orally, they had been put into rhymes and hymns. The first book of the Vedas, the Rig Veda, consists of 1028 hymns to various deities.

Other books began to join the Rig Veda in the set of the Vedas. Books such as Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda showed that the Aryan culture was changing the way that it viewed its gods, as well as the way that they viewed themselves. The final addition to the Vedas in the classical period, the Upanishad, was added around 800 BCE. This is where terms like samsara, moksha, dharma, and karma first emerged in writing.

"In Hinduism, salvation is achieved through a spiritual oneness of the soul, atman, with the ultimate reality of the universe, Brahman. To achieve this goal, the soul must obtain moksha, or liberation from the samsara, the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. As a result of these basic teachings, Hindus believe in reincarnation, which is influenced by karma (material actions resulting from the consequences of previous actions), and dharma (fulfilling one's duty in life)"(Teachings and Beliefs, 2004, par. 1).

The idea of samsara is roughly that of reincarnation. All souls are trapped in a cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The goal of each of these souls is to escape the cycle of samsara and obtain moksha. Moksha is a reincarnation with a god. In recent Hinduism the moksha that you obtain is with the god of your choice, or whomever you worshipped as your patron deity. The terms of dharma and karma are the tools that we must use in order to obtain moksha and escape samsara. Your position in life is due to the karma that you had in your previous life.

In ancient times, to create order the rajas, or kings, of villages and towns would assign jobs and positions to everyone in the area. This was the original idea behind the system to caste. "There is the intelligent - the priestly Brahmins, the advisories, the heads of society" (Indian Culture in the Modern World, 2002, par. 37). They could be referred to as the head of the body of Hindu culture.

The next class were the kshatriyas. "They were the kings, warriors, the vassals" (Fisher, 2003, p. 87). The kshatriyas could be called the "arms of the body of Hindu culture"(Indian Culture in the Modern World, 2002, par. 37). They contained the strength of the warriors and vassals, and had the ability to use it.

The third class was the class of the vaishyas. This class was constituted of farmers, merchants, and other important industry men. "The vaishyas are the stomach of society, acting as providers"(Indian Culture in the Modern World, 2002, par. 37).

The last class was that of the shudras. This was the lowest class and was eventually looked upon with great disdain. "A shudra enjoyed no rights or privileges. He was not permitted to perform any sacrifices or homa, read or learn the Vedas or recite the mantras. A shudra could marry only another shudra. He was not allowed to enter temples and could only serve the upper three castes as a slave, barber, blacksmith or cobbler" (Beliefs and Concepts, 2004, par. 3). The shudras "are the legs and feet of society, supporting the three other castes in service" (Indian Culture in the Modern World, 2002, par. 37).

There are also many different ways that a Hindu can find moksha. Some of the most popular paths, or yogis, to find liberation are jnana, raja, karma, and bhakti.

Jnana yoga is a knowledge-based yoga. It is based loosely upon learning the Upanishad. "The seeker just also develop spiritual virtues (calmness, restraint, renunciation, resignation, concentration and faith) and have an intense longing for liberation" (Fisher, 2003, p. 99).

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