Worldview of Hinduism Term Paper

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Hindu Worldview

The Worldview of Hinduism

Of all the world's major religions, Hinduism stands out for a number of reasons. Not only is Hinduism truly ancient, it is not so much a religion as it is a loose compilation of individual beliefs concerning the universe and humankind's role in it. The research will show that Hinduism has experienced some fundamental changes over the millennia that have influenced the overall practice of its religious aspects, but the basic worldview embraced by its adherents remains essentially the same. To determine what worldview is espoused by Hindus today, this paper provides a review of the peer-reviewed and scholarly literature to determine what Hinduism is, what worldview is held by its practitioners and how these views have changed over the last 4,000 years. A summary of the research and salient findings are presented in the conclusion.

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Term Paper on Worldview of Hinduism Assignment

Hinduism is a religion that has historically been more concerned with human behavior than specific types of beliefs. For example, Shattuck (1999) advises, "There is great diversity in beliefs, there are different deities, philosophies, and paths, but all of these require adherence to particular rules of behavior" (15). While Hinduism is a global religion, it is most widely practiced in South Asia, and is the dominant religion of India and Nepal; in addition, Hinduism is practiced in Sri Lanka, and has adherents in Pakistan and Bangladesh as well (Shattuck 16). According to this author, "In Southeast Asia, there are a few Hindu enclaves, most notably on the Indonesian island of Bali, that are remnants of large populations who arrived in the medieval period. There are also new growing Hindu populations in urban centers like Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Outside of Asia, well-established Hindu communities exist in eastern and southern Africa, in the Persian Gulf states, on the island of Fiji, on the northeast coast of South America, in the Caribbean, in North America, and in Europe" (Shattuck 16). Notwithstanding the global nature of the Hinduism, the religion is inextricably related to the culture of South Asia and any understanding of the Hindu tradition must first start in India where fully 80% of the population today practices some form of Hinduism (Knott 37).

According to Basham (1987), "The traditional cosmology of the Indians differs very considerably from that of the Jews and ancients Greeks, on which the worldview of earlier Christianity was based. While in the Western religions, at least until comparatively recently, it was thought that the universe was geocentric, comparatively small in dimensions and brief in time, the Indians have for well over two millennia believed that such was not the case" (229). Indeed until fairly recently, many Hindus regarded the universe as being shaped like an enormous egg, known as "The Egg of Brahma" (Basham 229). Yet another fundamental difference between the world's other major religions and Hinduism is the fact that Hindus do not consider themselves "Hindus" from the perspective of Westerners, and do not assign such a name to their faith (Basham 230).

The religious beliefs and individual practices that are covered by the umbrella term of Hinduism represent some of the diverse religions in the history of mankind. As Shattuck points out, "This is a natural condition for a tradition that developed organically, over thousands of years, out of the interactions of the various peoples who have settled in South Asia. The wealth of human diversity is evident in the languages.... Most of these languages are associated with specific regions. This regionalism, which is one of the hallmarks of Hinduism, is a byproduct of South Asian geography" (16). According to Ramstedt (2003), "In Indian Hinduism, different local myths, habits, and cults have all become part of an organized worldview, capable of justifying the existing social organization on supernatural grounds. During the long process of Hinduization, for instance, of Southern India, local societies were integrated into Hindu kingdoms, i.e. political unities, with different roles and powers" (248). According to Findly (2002), the dogma of Hinduism is also extremely varied, drawing on textual materials including the Rg -- and Atharvavedas, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavadgita, Arthasastra, and Abhijnanasakuntalam, as well as the Ayurveda Samihitas, Brahmanas, Upanisads, Dharmasastras, and Puranas (925).

While there are countless individual interpretations and beliefs that exist within the general framework of what is termed "Hinduism" in the West, the worldview of modern Hinduism is considered a framework in which to interpret humankind and the world in which it exists, evolving in a modern nation-state that has experienced technological, economical, and socio-political modernization as well as fundamental demographic changes that resulted in some reinterpretations of the underlying philosophical foundations during the mid-20th century (Ramstedt 251). As Hatcher (1999) notes, these changes were due in large part to the socio-political state in which many Indians found themselves during this period in their history. "In the simplest of terms," Hatcher writes, "the goal of these Hindu intellectuals and religious leaders was to assert the dignity and meaningfulness of the Hindu worldview during a period marked by colonial subjugation and Christian missionary polemics" (13). According to Carmody and Carmody (1996), the overall philosophical context, or worldview, within which most Hindu mystics have historically lived and thought, has been dominated by concepts such as dharma, karma and yoga. Likewise, Knott (2000) reports that, "No discussion of Hindu views of the self would be complete without a consideration of two familiar notions, karma and yoga. They are household words, not only in India but also in the West, where karma is often associated with fatalism and reincarnation, and yoga -- usually hatha yoga -- practised to improve health and well-being" (32). These Hindu terms and concepts are discussed further below.

Perhaps the best known of the Hindu concepts in the West, dharma describes an individual duty to others. In this regard, Shattuck (1999) reports that, "To understand what constitutes dharmic behavior, one must understand the Hindu worldview. Foundational to this worldview is the belief that the sacred is immanent in the world. The natural world, social order, and family life all have correlations to divine order. Because of this, all actions, whether ostensibly secular or obviously religious, have religious implications. This means that one's place within the world order affects one's dharma" (15).

When Hindus perform dharmic behavior, they are fulfilling what they regard as their destiny in the universe in a fashion that is comparable to the practice of religious observations among other faiths. As Beck (2006) points out, such behaviors provide Hindus with the feeling that they are "specially protected, specially guided, and specially cared for while fulfilling a special cosmic destiny in a well-ordered universe is, viewed as a whole, a comforting worldview" (142). According to Knott, "In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna puts forward two innovative ideas: first, karma yoga, offering ordinary seekers the possibility of giving spiritual meaning to their everyday actions; and, second, the notion that there is not one way but many ways to liberation, with seekers finding the way most suited to their temperaments and stations" (35).

Discussion

In at least a superficial way, Hinduism shares some fundamental beliefs with Buddhism. Both religions maintain that desire for what cannot be obtained is the source of much human misery and acceptance of an individual's lot in life can go a long way towards promoting a sense of contentment and understanding of the world. In this regard, Vrajaprana (2000) reports that, "In the Hindu worldview, detachment is the honest recognition that the world is transitory and that it is not only fruitless but psychologically and spiritually damaging to attempt to view it otherwise. Moreover, it is only through detachment -- releasing our grip from what we cling to tightly, personally, exclusively -- that we can truly be available to and genuinely loving with others" (248).

Based on this type of worldview, humans have the capacity to control their destiny with the same type of free will that has historically plagued humankind from the Judeo-Christian perspective. For instance, as Vrajaprana emphasizes, "As long as our happiness is dependent upon external conditions -- and in the Hindu worldview everything that is not the Self is external -- we are subject to fear, loss, jealousy, anger, ambition, greed, and hatred. Identification with the flux creates selfishness and self-absorption since we will attempt to grasp whatever we think is necessary for our own well-being and happiness. In this condition we're not capable of thinking outside the narrow perimeter of our little body-mind world" (248).

This acceptance and firmly held belief that the world is dominated by forces outside an individual's control provide Hindus with an enlightened understanding of the cosmos that has been refined over the years but retains its original emphasis on providing its adherents with a framework in which to better understand the universe in which they exist. As Ramdstedt points out, "Hinduism seemed to provide a context conducive for adapting to the modern life, enabling its adherents to derive some cognitive and emotional support from its rituals" (252). Likewise, Rottenberg (2000) makes the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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