07 December 2007

The Essence of Hinduism

The Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia has a brilliant article on Hinduism, by Arvind Sharma. Some excerpts:

"The Hindu tradition encourages Hindus to seek spiritual and moral truth wherever it might be found, while acknowledging that no creed can contain such truth in its fullness and that each individual must realise this truth through his or her own systematic effort. Our experience, our reason, and our dialogue with others - especially with enlightened individuals - provide various means of testing our understanding of spiritual and moral truth. And Hindu scripture, based on the insights of Hindu sages and seers, serves primarily as a guidebook. But ultimately truth comes to us through direct consciousness of the divine or the ultimate reality (Brahman).

"In many religions truth is delivered or revealed from a divine source and enters the world through a single agent: for example, Abraham in Judaism, Jesus in Christianity, and Muhammad in Islam. These truths are then recorded in scriptures that serve as a source of knowledge of divine wisdom: the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Quran. In the Hindu tradition, by contrast, there is no single revelation or orthodoxy (established doctrine) by which people may achieve knowledge of the divine or lead a life backed by religious law. The Hindu tradition acknowledges that there are many paths by which people may seek and experience religious understanding and direction. It also claims that every individual has the potential to achieve enlightenment.

"The difficulty of defining Hinduism arises from its universal world-view and its willingness to accept and celebrate diverse philosophies, deities, symbols, and practices. A religion that emphasises similarities and shared characteristics rather than differences has a difficult time setting itself apart - unless this very quality is considered its defining feature. This is not to say that there are no beliefs and practices that may be identified as Hindu, but rather that the Hindu tradition has concerned itself largely with the human situation rather than the Hindu situation. Instead of basing its identity on separating Hindu from non-Hindu or believer from nonbeliever, Hinduism has sought to recognise principles and practices that would lead any individual to become a better human being and understand and live in harmony with dharma.

"The distinction of dharma from the Western sense of religion is crucial to understanding Hindu religious identity. To the extent that Hinduism carries with it the Western meaning of being a religion the words distort Indian reality. In the West a religion is understood to be conclusive - that is, it is the one and only true religion. Second, a religion is generally exclusionary - that is, those who do not follow it are excluded from salvation. Finally, a religion is separative - that is, to belong to it, one must not belong to another. Dharma, however, does not necessarily imply any of these."


Sudhir said...

Excellent write up - well said.

Psomax said...

I must once again point out that this entire post is an excerpt from the encyclopedia :-)