Essay: Religious Reasons Why Purity and Pollution

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¶ … religious reasons why Purity and Pollution are issues for Hindus and discuss ways these concepts influence behaviour.

Hindus feel that Purity and Pollution are important issues because the concepts are related to the idea of good and evil. In many ways, Hindus see purity as an absence of evil, and ritualistic ways of cleansing or purifying oneself are the symbolic means by which one gets rid of evil in the body. This evil is pollution. Therefore, the concepts of purity and pollution are, in essence, concepts of the sacred and the profane. Many of their rituals focus on getting rid of the profane and embracing the sacred. Moreover, the concept of reincarnation and the idea that one becomes less polluted through successive reincarnations is very important to the foundation of Hinduism.

It is difficult to understand Hinduism without delving into the related notions of caste and reincarnation. To many non-Hindus and non-Indians the concept of caste has become synonymous with the concept of racism, which is, in many ways, accurate, but also inaccurate in many ways. The notion of caste is both racist and classist, but inherent in that classism and racism is the idea of purity and pollution. Lower castes are dirty, not simply because they tend to be poor and have horrific lives, but because they are considered polluted. As people are reincarnated and become more pure and less polluted, they join successively higher castes. Therefore, they are considered inherently more pure than members of lower castes. In addition, it is only the members of the highest castes who are able to participate in the most elevated of the purification ceremonies, so that there is some idea that Pollution and Purity are in ways fixed, so that there is a threshold beyond which people are unable to escape Pollution if they are born in a caste that is considered polluted.

Although only members of the highest castes are able to attain a state of Purity, it is still the responsibility of all Hindus to strive for the greatest amount of purity that they are able to attain on an individual level. There are samskaras, or life-cycle rituals, aimed at helping people attain the greatest level of purity possible in light of their personal station at birth. "As in other cultures, the most important ones cluster around birth, puberty, marriage, and death, crucial events in the human life cycle that mark significant transitions for the individuals and families involved" (Kinsley 1982, p. 107).

Hindus are also able to strive for Purity though the idea of pilgrimage. As in other religious traditions, a pilgrimage refers to a travel to a spot with religious or spiritual significance. However, in Hindu tradition, these travels themselves provide an opportunity for a type of spiritual rebirth. When placed in the context of a religion that believes in the concepts of reincarnation and individual rebirth, the idea of being able to achieve rebirth during one's lifetime represents the ultimate in movements towards purity. Furthermore, the idea of pilgrimage becomes even more important within the context of Hinduism because so many of the sites where people journey are natural sites, so that, in many ways, India itself becomes a sacred place. This gives India a Purity that is removed from any actual physical Purity or Pollution.

2. How can Buddhists find a path between "quietism" and "social action"?

One of the principles of Buddhism is the idea of non-harm to the world, which is frequently seen as a type of quietism. In a generic sense, quietism refers to the idea of withdrawal from the earthly world so that one may concentrate on spiritual matters. All religions have their versions of quietism, so that the holy people of each religion, such as monks, priests, and nuns, are expected to remove themselves from worldly concerns and pursuits so that they can focus on the spiritual. However, most religious also have a strong impetus towards good works, so that doing good for others is considered to be an obligation of devout adherents to the religion. When the idea of quietism becomes a defining part of the religion, not simply for those who are considered the most wholly and the most spiritual, but for any devout practitioner of the religion, then this tension between quietism and social action becomes more pronounced.

For Buddhists, with the religious emphasis on, not just spiritualism, but individually-directed spiritualism, this problem is particularly noticeable. Buddhists are encouraged to withdraw from worldly concerns, although the degree to which this is true differs according to the particular subtype of Buddhism being practiced. Certainly not all Buddhists are expected to withdraw from the family relationships and social groups structures that are considered indicative of a high degree of spiritual devotion for other Buddhists. Moreover, this is not the challenge that some people may consider it to be. Most religious traditions have different degrees of spiritual devotion. For example, a devoted and faithful Catholic husband with a wife and a large number of children is not any less of a devoted member of his religion than a Priest who, by eschewing sexual and romantic relationships has made a choice to remove himself from worldly concerns. In many ways, the tension between Quietism and social action is the same type of false tension. Some Buddhists may find their best path to spirituality in withdrawal from the world, while others may find their best path to spirituality in participation in the world.

However, one is left with the idea that, for Buddhists, the goal is still transcending the sorrow-laden world. The fact is that Buddhists have often been involved in social activism, particularly in civil rights movements. In fact, civil rights leaders have drawn upon Buddhists principles, such as non-violence, in furthering social action. What this suggests is that social engagement is actually an important part of Buddhism, at least some of the practices of Buddhism. Traditional Vietnamese ideas emphasizing "1) awareness in daily life, 2) social service, and 3) social activism" This acknowledgment of the three Vietnamese bases for socially engaged Buddhism is important because it captures not only the association of the term with social, political, economic, and ecological issues, but also a general senses of involving the ordinary lives of families, communities, and their inter-relationship" (Prebish & Keown 2006, p.209).

Furthermore, although social engagement seems very focused on the individual, which seems to suggest it would be anti-Buddhist, that is a very Western viewpoint. However, Buddhism has long focused on the doctrines of compassion and dependent origination (Prebish & Keown 2006, p.209). These are critical components to any type of social action. Therefore, it may not be that Buddhists have to reconcile activism with quietism, but more that they have to challenge Western viewpoints of Buddhism.

3. Explore the significance of the Torah for Judaism

In order to understand the significance of the Torah for Judaism, it is important to understand that the Torah actually refers to two different things. The Pentateuch refers to the first five books of the Old Testament. This is considered the written Torah, which is considered to be the result of divine revelation. It is the Jewish holy book and is considered the source of Talmudic law. However, the Torah is also more than the written document. The oral Torah is composed of the oral tradition of the Jewish people, and there is significant controversy, both currently and historically, about whether the oral Torah, like the written Torah, is the result of divine revelation or is actually more of an oral history of the Jewish people.

The written Torah is important because it is the holy book for the Jewish religion. This is important, not simply because it is a holy book, but because Judaism is a law-based, living religion. In… [END OF PREVIEW]

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