Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hinduism

Who is a Hindu? Is it necessary to go to a temple or practice anything in any special way to be Hindu? What is the position of conversion in Hinduism? What are the 4 stages of life recognized in Hinduism? What is "Karma" ?
Is Hinduism the right name for this religion? How did it get its name? Is Hinduism a religion or a way of life? What is the role of caste in Hinduism? What is the place of women in Hinduism? What is the place of rituals in Hinduism?
Who are swamijis? Why do they wear saffron colored robes? What is the sacred thread or Yagnyopavita? Why is a dot or stripe worn on the forehead? For how many years and in what manner are priests trained? Why do Hindus worship stones,trees, fancy forms of Gods etc?
CORE HINDU BELIEFS AND PRINCIPLES
SACRED TEXTS OF HINDUISM
VARIOUS SCHOOLS OF HINDU PHILOSOPHY
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1. Who is a Hindu?
Summary Answer: If a person has at least one Hindu parent or has chosen to adopt Hindu principles, and celebrates Hindu festivals, one may be considered a Hindu.
Detailed Answer: There are many views in this regard.
One way of looking at it would suggest that a Hindu would observe at least some Hindu traditions as being part of a community. For example: (a) in lifecycle events like marriage ceremonies, death ceremonies etc; (b) in annual and seasonal festivals like Navraatri (or Dusherra), Diwaali (or Deepaavali), Krishna Janmaasthami, etc; (c) general community practices, like temple worship, etc.
Some higher levels of criteria may include such characteristics as having worthwhile objectives (Purushaartha) in life (see question 6, principle iii), believing in rebirth and evolution of the soul, and working towards ultimate realization.
From a strict traditional sense, to be a Hindu, one must either accept the Vedas & Vedaangas and/or Aagama & Tantra.
2.Is it necessary to go to a temple or practice anything in any special way to be a Hindu? Can one stop being a Hindu?
Summary Answer: As long as one is praying at home, it is not necessary to go to a temple to remain a Hindu. One never stops being a Hindu.
While prayer at home is good, prayer at a temple is much better, because the temple is a specially consecrated place, and the idols are specially consecrated idols. The atmosphere and spiritual ambiance in a temple are more powerful and effective. Just as we do watch video pictures at home but, even so, go out occasionally to a theatre to see a film, we can pray daily at home, but need to visit a temple as often as we can.
Detailed Answer: While there is no one single practice required for a Hindu, a Hindu would be expected to follow at least one of the many Hindu practices. Since temple worship is only one such practice, others may be substituted. And one never stops being a Hindu unless one chooses to relinquish Hinduism by actively converting to a non-Hindu faith.
However, there is a special importance for temple worship in modern living, particularly outside India. Since the temple is a consecrated place, the effectiveness of any practice in the temple is likely to be more powerful. The energy of this consecration is described often by temple visitors as a feeling of peace, bliss, happiness, etc. This, combined with the opportunity to interact with Hindu culture (which may not be available in ones neighborhood), becomes a double incentive for Hindus outside India to visit a temple regularly.
3.What is the position of conversion in Hinduism?
Summary Answer: There is no traditional Hindu practice to convert others. However, historically Hinduism has spread to Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia and Indonesia in earlier centuries. Therefore, it would be reasonable to conclude that Hinduism does not actively seek to convert others, but there is room for anyone who wishes to become a Hindu.
Detailed Answer: There is no conversion ceremony prescribed in the ancient tradition, although some modern leaders have invented some. Since anybody can claim to be a Hindu by adopting the principles and practices, there is no prescription in the sacred texts to proselytize others into the faith. Therefore, it would be reasonable to conclude that Hinduism does not actively seek to convert others, but there is room for anyone who wishes to become a Hindu. An observation made by some scholars suggests that by a proper study of Hinduism, a Hindu would become a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian, a Jew a better Jew, and anyone a better human being.
4.What are the 4 stages of life recognized in Hinduism?
The four stages of life recognized in Hinduism are: i) Life as a student - Brahmacharya ii) Householder - Grihasta iii) Reclusive and meditative seeker away from crowd - Vaanaprasta iv) Renunciate (seeking Moksha) - Sannyaasa [Please review worthwhile objectives of life in Question 6, 3rd principle of Hinduism]
5.What is "Karma"?
Summary Answer: Karma is the result of thoughts, words and deeds that stay with us birth after birth until we live out their consequences - as you sow, so you reap. The law of Karma can be considered as a universal law of cause and effect.
Detailed Answer: Karma refers to both "act" (or action) as well as "results of thought, word and deed." In the context of rebirth, Karma refers to the latter - the idea of cause and effect. Any thought, word or deed, that is not performed dispassionately with no interest in the results, yields Karma. Well-intentioned acts yield positive Karma (or Punya) and ill-intentioned acts yield negative Karma (Paapa). Such consequences have to be lived out.
6.Is Hinduism the right name for this religion? How did it get its name?
Summary Answer: Hinduism is not the name given to their religion by the Hindus. It is thought the Persian pronunciation of Sindhu, the river, as Hindu, and calling the people of that region Hindus made their religion Hinduism for the westerners. Hindus call it Sanaatana Dharma or the Eternal Truth.
Detailed Answer: Hinduism is a name that was given to the religion practiced by those ancient people who lived in the banks of the river Sindhu, later called Indus, and pronounced Hindu by the Persians. And that gave the name Hindustaan or land of the Hindus. Hindus themselves do not attribute a name to their religion - especially unlike other religions there is no founder for this faith. It could be called the VAIDDIKA DHARMA or Vedic Religion as based on the Vedas. Sometimes it is referred to as the Eternal Truth or SANAATANA DHARMA.
But what is in a name as long as it serves recognition? So, indeed the practitioners of this faith are Hindus and the faith is called Hinduism.
7. Is Hinduism a religion or a way of life?
Summary Answer: Hinduism is both a religion and way of life, since religion involves beliefs and way of life involves our conduct in living.
Detailed Answer: Hinduism is both a religion and a way of life. Obviously there is some faith involved until one has the experience of the Ultimate. And there are prescriptions to follow, if one chooses to follow them. So, indeed it is a religion in whatever way one practices it. And, it is indeed a way of life, since every act one does, every moment of ones life, is considered part of the spiritual evolution. In other words both BELIEF (religion) and BEHAVIOR (way of life) are important and reinforce each other.
8.What is the role of caste in Hinduism?
Summary Answer: In its original form it was perhaps a functional arrangement within society. Society as a whole needs several types of work to be completed for organized living: the priests and advisors, the ruler and soldiers, businessman and workers. Everybody being the creation of God and having their own place of importance in society, all should be respected equally.
Detailed Answer: Caste can become a controversial question. In its original form it was perhaps a functional arrangement within society. Society as a whole needs several types of work to be completed for organized living.
From a Vedic perspective, the Purusha Sookta (a hymn from the Vedas) simply notes that everything that we see and beyond is the Ultimate Purusha or God, and each facet of creation is seen as part of God. In that context different body parts of God are described as being the different castes. (While some interpretations of the text actually ascribe the various castes as having emerged from the body parts, the Sanskrit text does not clearly deliver that meaning.)
Such a view of the Vedas leaves open the issue of whether castes are determined by birth (when profession is learned from father to son) or by profession in living (ability to change circumstances with a broader opportunity for education). However, there are many stories that indicate that castes should be viewed based on accomplishments and role in society and not by birth. Vishvaamitra, the great sage, while born in a Kshatriya family (having been a king before), was recognized as a Brahma Rishi. Vaalmiki, the revered saint, was a hunter before authoring Raamaayana.
If the Lord is viewed as the entire world, the intellectuals, opinion makers and teachers of the society constitute the Brahmana. Those who protect the society are the Kshatriyas. Those who control and move the economy are the Vyshyas. And finally those who support the entire society are considered the Shudras. And none of these roles are defined by birth.
9.What is the place of women in Hinduism?
Summary Answer: Hinduism regards all creation as divine. From a spiritual perspective there is a no higher or lower place awarded to women, although in the role of a mother who gives birth, a woman is compared to the Divine Mother (Shakti) who has given birth to all creation.
Detailed Answer: Hinduism regards all creation as divine. From a spiritual perspective there is a no higher or lower place awarded to women. There is evidence of women being given the Yagnyopavita (sacred thread) and being allowed to practice spiritual rituals.
However, there is also recognition that a woman is essentially different from a man in her ability to give birth (to a child). In this regard, a woman has been compared with the Divine Mother who has given birth to the entire universe.
It is with this symbolism of the Mother Divine that often Poojas are done to women during certain festival seasons.
From this respected place of women, the invasions of foreigners into India, their tendency to molest and kidnap women, and the consequent protective tendencies of the Hindus appears to have forced women indoor and in a less dominant role. All of this is slowly reversing, and the natural resilience probably ensured that India was one of the earliest countries in modern times to have had a woman elected as the Prime Minster/Premier of the country.
10.What is the place of rituals in Hinduism?
Summary Answer: Ritual is an essential part of human life, whether it is in the playing field or the protocol of the White House. Every religion has its rituals and so does Hinduism. And rituals create a mental discipline that is supposed to lead to spiritual elevation.
Detailed Answer: Rituals have a very special place in Hinduism from two perspectives:
First, the Mimaamsa school of Hinduism which appears to have mastered the art of managing cause and effect, had as part of its core various rituals that would provide temporal and spiritual upliftment and relief.
Second, from a more broad-based view of belief-based Hinduism, viewing the living process as an evolutionary process, rituals create the ability to live life as an observer - doing for the sake of doing. Modern day psychologists recommend rituals in life as a way of managing stress.
11.Who are swamijis? Why do they wear saffron colored robes? Why do some of them shave their heads?
Summary Answer: Swamijis are people who have renounced life and seek to reach God. The saffron colored robes they wear are the color of fire, symbolizing fire that has consumed and purified everything. Since they have to give up everything in life, shaving off the head symbolizes giving up one more element indicative of ego.
Detailed Answer: Traditionally Swamijis are renunciates (Sannyaasis) - the fourth stage of life noted in question 4. Such persons do not acquire or keep wealth, eat only the food offered as Bhiksha (donation of food), and are either supposed to be Realized Souls or on the path of actively pursuing Realization by shedding all attachments. Sannyaasis maintain no contact with their birth families since in their attitude they should see no difference between anyone (the whole world is their family) and are typically living in forests or retreats away from the average humanity. Living with the idea that everything other than the goal of Salvation is "TUCCHA" or NOT WORTHY, they would not see any association with anything - becoming "Udaaseena" or dis-interested.
While the roots of renunciation is a part of Hindu tradition, Buddhism appears to have had some influence on its later manifestation.
In this tradition of giving up everything worldly, it is common to shave off ones hair (a decoration is considered a mark of ego) - probably a Buddhist influence. It is probable that the Buddhist tradition created monastic living in and near urban centers with the goal of spreading the teachings, and was probably borrowed by the newer traditions of Sannyaasis of the 19th and 20th century.
Followers of the Mimaamsa school of Hindu philosophy are the only school of Hinduism who oppose monasticism of any kind. They consider such institutions as not consistent with the Vedas, since in their view anybody who cannot perform fire-sacrifice cannot be a follower of Dharma (or required conduct). (Sannyaasis of Monastic orders give up fire use as part of their initiation.)
From the viewpoint of the stages of life (see question 4), renunciation is a natural process in the last stage. Possibly from the Vedic Hinduism perspective, it is more internal and personal, and the type of clothing one wears, where one lives and how they wear the hair, and whether they use fire, etc. may actually be completely irrelevant.
A more innovative and modern view of Swamijis expressed by one Swamiji, is not that of a renunciate, but a scholar of Vedaanta. This is not the traditional or general view of one who wears saffron robes, although there may have been spiritual/religious teachers who are sometimes referred to as Swamis out of respect, who may be normal householders.
Given the age of Hinduism, Swamijis are probably the more recent creations in the last few millennia, although non-monastic Sannyaasis go back to more ancient times.
12.What is the sacred thread or Yagnyopavita?
Summary Answer: The scared thread or Yagnyopavita is for purifying ones thoughts, words and deeds in the course of living.Physically, it consists of three strands of thread, connected with a knot. The sacred thread is invested with the Upanayanam ceremony. After the investment, Sandhya-Vandanam is required three times every day - at sunrise, midday and sunset.
Detailed Answer: This is a Vedic Practice of controlling ones thoughts, words and deeds represented by the three strands of the Yagnyopavita.
From a yogic perspective, the process of controlling thoughts, words and deeds can be thought of in terms of the flow of Praana or energy in the body through the 3 principal energy channels called Sushumna, Ida and Pingala. The knot in the three strands is supposed to symbolize the point of control or the Aagnya Chakra where the three energy channels meet.
13.Why is a dot or stripe worn on the forehead?
Summary Answer: It is just a Hindu symbolism to remind us to use our head and be in control.
Detailed Answer: This is purely in Aagamic Hinduism. Vedic Hinduism has no such regulations. One view is that it is the reminder that the mind (in the Aagnyaa Chakra) is the seat of power and control and one should strive to move higher through the mind.
However there are other views as well. Different colors may have some symbolic significance and the way it is worn may signify castes and sects as well.
14. For how many years and in what manner are priests trained?
Summary Answer: Like all other professions, priests undergo rigorous training - traditional practice is for about 12 years from a very young age. They learn to chant the Vedas, learn Sanskrit and various other sacred texts and also learn the practice of various ceremonies.
Detailed Answer: Like any other specialized function, the work of a priest demands certain qualities like aptitude, including appropriate family background, many years of training, and a high level of commitment and faith. Selected youngsters go through a rigorous course of training for twelve years, usually under a dedicated teacher or in appropriate schools in India. The study includes a minimum knowledge of Sanskrit, ability to chant the Vedas, familiarity with Aagama Shaastras, temple worship methods, and temple ritual, as also a capacity to conduct poojas, samskaaras and religious programs in devotees' homes. Very often, a spell of work as an assistant to an established priest in a temple works out well as an initial apprenticeship.
Generally 12 years is considered an important period in the training of priests for a very special reason. The priest works as the medium to convey the needs of the beneficiary (Yajamaana). That is done in the form of energy or Praana. To have the ability to do that, practice of Sandhya Vandana thrice a day is required. Twelve years of practice of Sandhya Vandana is supposed to give every priest the ability to move energy, although some may attain it earlier.
At present, we know of no facilities in the USA for training Hindu priests.
Hindu priests are allowed to marry and live life as householders.
15. Why do Hindus worship stones,trees etc ?Why do Hindu Gods have fancy forms like elephant faced, monkey faced, with six faces,with four hands, etc ? (This one is not from the SSVT series)
Hindus say that everything in this universe are manifestations of God. In Hinduism, there is no the concept of "creation" in the literal sense of the word. It is God who becomes or manifests as the universe. The universe is not different from God. Everything is God. So, the devotee can take anything which appeals to him as a form of God, and worship Him. The omniscient Godknows that the devotee is worshipping Him. The exact name and form do not matter. The attitude and sincerity is what matters.
Similarly a Hindu does not worship a tree or a hill just because it is a tree or a hill. The tree or hill is considered a symbol of God and it is the transcendent God who is worshipped through the natural objects. It is the Creator who is worshipped through the creation. So Hinduism is not pantheistic.
An abstract idea is expressed in a concrete form for the mind to grasp easily. For example, to depict the idea that God protects the devotee from the forces of evil, God is depicted with various weapons. Every small aspect of the forms of various Hindu Gods and Goddesses have a meaning behind them. There is a technical convention of symbology followed. For example, a bow indicated the mind; arrows indicate the senses; noose indicates death; drum indicates time; rosary indicates austerity. The symbology is very elaborate and quite context independant. The picture with all this symbology indicate the personality attributed for the particular form of God. If the devotee also has similar aspirations, he chooses the form of God for his worship. As he thinks about the various aspects in the form, he thinks of the aspectof personality the symbol indicates. This way the form is an excellent aid to think of God with certain attributes. For aperson who does not know the language of this symbology, it is a fancy picture. But for a person who understands, it isan excellent aid for worship.
Also, there is a lot of myths, legends and nice stories associated with every form of God. This allows the devotee to get a very good hold on to the personality and also have a personal psychological relationship with the personality. This offers great stability to the personality of the devotee. The characters which he is aspiring for are deeply engraved in his mind and provide a strong foothold. It is common in the picturization to use various human, animal and even mixed forms. All these have meanings. Any book on the particular aspect of God will give you the exact symbology.
To give further aid to the devotee, even historical characters like Rama, Krishna and various people who lived exemplary lives are given a form with a lot of symbols added. A good example is Hanuman, the monkey-faced. He was a highly self-controlled, learned, wise and loyal devotee of Rama. His devotion to Rama was outstanding. He was very strong in all aspects - physical, mental, moral, emotional andd intellectual. He is worshipped by devotees to grant them his qualities. The story of Rama has accounts of numerous incidents where his hero has showed his covetable qualities.These stories create a vivid picture in the mind of the devotees and encourages them to develop the same qualities.
The ancient Hindus were highly advanced in the science of psychology. There are numerous treatises on this subject. Different forms are found to create different psychological effects. It is by considering this that the various forms are given to various aspects of God. For example, the forms of elephant and mouse seem to arouse the security consciousness in the mind of man. These are used in the form of Ganesha. Thus the form of Ganesha will increase the alerness of the mind. So a worship of Ganesha is advocated before starting anything new. These symbols come from the technical expertise of the ancient Hindus in this field.
16. What are core Hindu beliefs/principles?
Summary Answer: Following are core beliefs/principles of Hinduism:
i) Law of Karma and Reincarnation - Each one of us is more than the body. Ourr true self does not die with the body. Based on how we live our life, we are born and reborn taking different life forms until we evolve to the point of no birth, where we become one with God or stay close with God. (See question 5 for more details on Karma.)
ii) Freedom of Practice - One can be a Hindu by being a good personn and following any type of worship practice that one finds appealing.
iii) Worthwhile Objectives of Life - Hinduism accepts that through life one can do many great things before one ultimately reaches God. Studying well, earning well, getting married, having children, being a good citizen and doing service to society, and then going beyond all of these and living life as a detached person ready to reach God, are all part of Hindu living and the path towards God.
iv) Divine Manifestation - Most Hindus believe that from time to timme God will manifest on earth to help us keep to the right path and make us better. Raama and Krishna are examples of such forms of God coming to earth in human form.
Detailed Answer: The following are considered core beliefs/principles of Hinduism:
i) Law of Karma and Reincarnation - That the body is only the carrier of the consciousness, which in turn is the carrier of the soul is a fundamental assumption of Hinduism. This requires the consciousness to undergo birth after birth in different bodies, carrying with it the "Karma" of previous existence, until the consciousness evolves to the point of melting away with only the pure soulful awareness remaining.
ii) Freedom of Path with the Ultimate Goal of Realization - Individuals may choose whatever path is natural to them. All paths are ultimately supposed to lead to soulful awareness (living life as an observer) culminating in salvation. The four paths generally recognized as broad categories that encompass all paths are the paths of seeking knowledge (Jnyaana Yoga), doing self-less service (Karma Yoga), practicing physical and mental exercises (Raaja/Dhyaana Yoga) and the practice of devotion (Bhakti Yoga). Within these four, one can conceivably fit every activity that one performs in a day - the attitude towards the activity making all the difference.
For those interested, the specific place of each practice differs in different philosophies of Hinduism. For example:
A. In SAANKHYA-YOGA Lowest Path is KARMA Yoga Then BHAKTI Then JNYAANA Highest is DHYAANA/RAAJA Yoga
B. In MIIMAAMSAA Lowest Path is DHYAANA/RAAJA Yoga Then BHAKTI Then JNYAANA Highest is KARMA Yoga
C. In SHANKARA-VEDAANTA Lowest is KARMA Then BHAKTI Then DHYAANA Then JNYAANA
D. In RAAMAANUJA-VEDAANTA Lowest Path is KARMA Yoga Then JNYAANA Then DHYAANA Then BHAKTI Then PRAPATTI [Prapatti or Sharanaagati, although a new term here deserves special mention. It is specific to Raamaanuja Vedaanta and can be considered the highest level of Bhakti. It is complete unconditional surrender to the will of God. One flings oneself at the mercy (Dayaa) of the Deity and hopes for the gift of Moksha. Raamaanuja bases this doctrine on Shvetaashvatara Upanishad VI:18, Vaalmiki Raamaayana Yuddhakaanda 18:33 and Bhagavad Gita XVIII:66.]
E. In MADHVA-VEDAANTA Lowest is KARMA Yoga Then DHYAANA Then JNYAANA Then BHAKTI
In the path of devotion (BHAKTI), people have choice with respect to their worship practices as well as view of the divinity. God can be worshipped as formless (Unmanifest Brahman) or in any form (Roopa of deities) including idols, icons, statues, pictures (Bimbhas), Saligram (fossilized shell), Linga etc. in the firm belief God will present Himself in the form the devotee desires.
iii) Worthwhile Objectives of Living - Hinduism considers living with good conduct (Dharma), acquisition of wealth (Artha), enjoyment of love and pleasure (Kaama), and salvation (Moksha) as worthwhile objectives of living. One can glean a hierarchy in these objectives coinciding with the 4 stages (Aashramas) of life recognized in Hinduism and the 4 sections of the Vedas as follows: ARTHA = BRAHMACHAARYA = MANTRA (or Samhita) KAAMA = GRIHASTHA = BRAAHMANA DHARMA = VAANAPRASTHAA = ARANYAKA MOKSHA = SANNYAASA = UPANISHAD
iv) Avataar or Divine Incarnation - Vedaanta school of Hinduism, the most poppular school of these times, accepts the idea that the Divinity can be born in a body from time to time to show the path and liberate others. The ten Avataars are well known, and among them the story of Raama in Raamayana and of Krishna in Mahaabhaaratha are even better known. An Avataar is a step taken by God out of His free will, but a human being?s rebirth is due to prior karma.
The other schools of Hinduism ignore the entire aspect of Avataars. Even among the Vedaanta schools of Hinduism there are some differences towards the view of the Avataar, but they all accept the idea, unlike the other schools.
v) Variety in the View of Divinity - Hinduism accommodates the idea of a single God and no God with the ambiguity of multiple gods (polytheism). The view of it depends on the school of Hindu philosophy. (See question 7 for more details on schools of Hinduism)
Vedaantic & Nyaaya-Vaisheshika View: There is one God or Divine Power that is part of everything that we see and beyond. Beings can be within bodies or exist in pure spirit (consciousness) form, and are all part of or within the control of the Ultimate.
Yoga-Saankhya and Mimaamsa Views: While non-theistic, they accept the existence of gods (Devas) - more appropriately thought of as spirituaal beings with a portfolio in the governance of cause and effect in the universe - but reject the idea of one Supreme Being. The Samhita (Mantra) and Braahmana segments of the Vedas mention no Supreme Being, but praise many such spiritual beings, even though the Upanishads do speak of one Ultimate Divinity (Para-Brahman).
vi) Damnation or what? - The Vedas speak of no damnation. In generral, there is no idea of damnation in Hinduism, other than being dammed to be reborn until all Karmas are wiped out.
Dvaita-Vedaanta of Madhva is the lone dissenter among the Hindu systems in this regard. It does believe that certain souls go toward everlasting damnation. This doctrine of theirs is based on their interpretation of Bhagavad Gita (Ch XVI:20).
17. What are the sacred texts of Hinduism?
.Summary Answer: The most sacred of all Hindu texts are the Vedas. There are 4 Vedas. In addition, there are other texts that are to be read with the Vedas to fully understand them, which are called Veda-angas or limbs of the Vedas. Also, the texts related to Aagama and Tantra are integral to religious practices of the temple. There are also other texts like the Puraanas, and the Itihaasas (Raamayana and Mahaabhaarata), and various philosophical texts, and Bhagavad Gita (which is a part of the Mahaabhaarata) and Brahma-Sutras, which are considered sacred texts.
Detailed Answer: There are several sacred texts of Hinduism and there are different ways of categorizing them. The first category noted is non-controversial and is accepted as the most important and most sacred of Hindu texts. It is the other texts that have variations in their classifications.
CATEGORY 1: The 4 Vedas (Vedas literally mean Knowledge): Rig, Yajur, Saama and Atharva, including the 4 segments within each Vedas (Braahmana, Samhita, Aranyaka and Upanishad) which include well over 100 texts. These are considered the Shrutis -- literally meaning what was heard, but really refers to the laws and nature of the universe and all existence, that can be felt by yogis in their highest level of awareness. These are considered the TIMELESS and UNCHANGING TRUTH, and therefore THE MOST SACRED OF ALL HINDU TEXTS.
All the other texts are considered Smriti - literally meaning what was remembered, and therefore have a lower standing than the Vedas, the timeless and natural truths of existence.
CATEGORY 2: The other Holy Texts of Hinduism
The 6 Veda-angas (limbs of the Vedas) include the following segments with many associated texts in each sub-category: 1) Sheeksha - science of phonetics 2) Kalpa - practical manuals for personal and temple practices 3) Vyaakarana -grammar 4) Nirukta - etymology 5) Chandas - prosody 6) Jyotisha - astronomy and astrology
In addition, Aagama and Tantra texts need to be noted here. The practice of the Vedic religion requires the knowledge of these ?limbs? of the Vedas. But temple worship practices require Aagamas and Tantra as well.
Without knowledge of grammar and etymology one cannot understand the interpretation of the texts. Without the science of phonetics or prosody, one cannot chant properly. Without understanding the principles of astronomy and astrology, one cannot apply the elements of the practical manuals, which deal with the elemental forces. And the Aagamas and Tantra guide the methods and flow of temple religious practices.
Within the KALPA SUTRAS noted above are: a) Grihya Sutras [Veda based domestic rites] b) Shrauta Sutras [Veda based public rites] c) Dharma Shaastras - Codes of conduct for living, like Manusmriti, etc. Some of the thoughts presented in a number of these texts, especially related to the place of women, castes, etc. may be related to past ages, and may be understood from a historical perspective.
Text of Aagamas and Tantras, connected with temple religion in Hinduism, include Shaiva, Vaishnava, and Shaakta. Among the Vaishnavas there are two Aagamic rites, i.e. Vaikhaanasa and Paancharaatra.
The Itihaasa-Puraanas have a special place in Hinduism. a) Raamaayana, Mahaabhaarata [including the Bhagavad Gita] b) The 18 Mahaa (Big) Puraanas, 18 Upa (lesser) Puraanas,
The Brahma-Sutras, along with the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads are called Prasthaana-Trayi, of 3 views or angles (literally departure points), and have a special place among Hindu texts.
The texts related to the various schools of Hindu philosophy are also considered part of the holy texts. In addition to the texts of the regular schools of Hindu philosophy (see question 7), two other groups of texts worth mentioning here are: the Tamil compositions of the 63 Shaiva Adiyaars and the Naalaayira (meaning 4,000)-Prabandham of the 12 Vaishnava Aalvaars [also known as the Tamil Vedas].
Other fields of knowledge are also considered part of the texts of Hinduism. These include the science of life and medicine (Ayurveda), science of martial arts (Dhanurveda), fine arts (Gaandharva-veda), the art of politics and governance (Arthashastra) and the science of building and architecture (sometimes called Sthaapatya-veda).
Since Hinduism views every moment as spiritual and life itself as a spiritual journey, there is nothing that cannot be considered sacred. In the context of the sacred texts, the Vedas have a very special place, being considered the TIMELESS TRUTH.
18.What are the different schools of Hindu philosophy? What is their basis to be called different schools of Hinduism? Are they important to understand?
Summary Answer: Nyaaya-Vaisheshika, Yoga-Saankhya, Mimaamsa and Vedaanta are the recognized schools of Hinduism. Within Vedaanta there are three major schools: Advaita Vedaanta of Shankaraacharya, Vishishta-advaita Vedaanta of Raamanujaacharya, Dvaita-Vedaanta of Madhvaachaarya. Within Mimaamsa, there are two schools of Prabhaakara and Kumaarila respectively. All schools of Hinduism accept the Vedas as the Ultimate Truth. Vedas and other holy texts are terse and hard to understand. So great sages and teachers of the past have interpreted the Vedas and other holy texts differently. Therefore there are many schools. While it is important to understand these schools to understand the different Hindu traditions, one can be a good Hindu without learning the details of these schools.
Detailed Answer: Although most Hindus today have grown up in the Vedaantic school traditions, contemporary Hinduism recognizes the historical development of 7 schools of Hinduism, which started as 6 schools before Shankaraacharya.
The seven schools that formed between 400 CE and 1300 CE are: A. Nyaaya-Vaisheshika B. Saankhya-Yoga C. Prabhaakara Mimaamsaa D. Kumaarila Mimaamsaa E. Shankara Vedaanta (Advaita) F. Raamaanuja Vedaanta (Vishistha-advaita) G. Madhva Vedaanta (Dvaita)
[It must be noted that while the three major schools of Vedaanta are recognized here, there are other minor schools as well with small following.]
Previous to that between 100 CE and 400 CE, the six schools were Nyaaya, Vaisheshika, Saankhya, Yoga, Mimaamsaa and Vedaanta. Later some of these paired off, while others developed different branches.
Essentially, a philosophy would be called a Hindu philosophy if they accepted the Vedas as the Ultimate Truth.
Even though all these schools accept the Vedas as the Ultimate Truth, there is a difference in their approach. For instance, any school will be called a school of Vedaanta only if the founder/s wrote a commentary on the Upanishads, Brahmasutras and the Bhagavad Gita (all three together called Prasthana-Trayi) to establish their point of view - the basis of differentiation and establishment of a separate school of Vedaanta. The other schools don?t require these commentaries. Mimaamsa schools give importance only to the Samhita and Braahmana sections of the Vedas and are focussed on rituals. Nyaaya-Vaisheshika emphasizes reasoning to understand God. Yoga-Saankhya schools emphasize direct experience through meditation.
Each school has its view of the place of knowledge (or personal evidence) in understanding God, the nature of reality, the idea of God, the nature of the universe, the nature of souls, and the idea of Moksha or salvation. Accordingly, each school has its preferred spiritual approach. The table at the end of this answer provides clear distinction based on these academic analysis criteria: Epistemology, Ontology, Theology, Cosmology, Psychology and Soteriology.
For the ease of the general reader, the following comments are noted with special emphasis on the Vedaanta schools which most Hindus follow:
A. Nyaaya and Vaisheshika believes in one Supreme God and considers reasoning (knowledge or Jnyaana) as the way of knowing God.
B. Yoga and Saankhya does not accept the idea of a Supreme God. In fact, this school alone accepts Vedas, not by faith like the other schools, but as the verifiable truth. The focus of this school is on direct experience.
C. & D. The Mimaamsa schools, like the Saankhya-Yoga philosophy, do not accept the idea of a Supreme God. They do, however, accept that there are exalted and powerful, limited beings without gross bodies like ours. These beings can help to deliver well-being in the temporal world and the after cycles of birth and death, and salvation as well. It is debatable whether these exalted beings should be referred to as gods (indicating polytheism) or spirits. Mimaamsa philosophy considers the practice of various rituals (karmas) as very essential. They believe that the karmas (rituals) themselves yield the results, and there is no Supreme God or Ishvara dispensing the results.
E. Shankara Vedaanta, also called Advaita or Non-dualism thinks of the Supreme God as Para-Brahman and even in Bhakti mode feel free to visualize this Ultimate as any Ishtha Devata (favorite deity). The philosophy is that each one of us is the Ultimate God, but yet unrealized. It is Maayaa or illusion that makes one feel distinct from others. All is one - there is no two: is the Advaita philosophy. In South India, Advaitins are sometimes referred to as Smaartaas or non-Vaishnavas or Ayyars (sometimes written as Iyers, which is a Tamil corruption of "Arya"). Much mistakenly they are also referred to as Shaivites, which is a popular misnomer. Shankaraacharya was truly very broadminded. Even though he believed in the ultimate supremacy of reason and knowledge (Jnyaana), he attached great importance to devotion (Bhakti), temples and rituals. Accordingly, he incorporated the Shanmatas or six worship practices [of Ganapati, Kumaara or Subramanya, Surya (Sun), Shakti or Divine Mother, Shiva and Vishnu] under the aegis of his Advaita-Brahmavaada and introduced the Smaarta-panchaayatana Pooja system for his followers.
F. Raamanuja Vedaanta called Vishishtha-advaita or Special Non-dualism think of Vishnu as the Supreme God according to the tradition of the founder. The philosophy considers each being?s soul as part of the body of the Ultimate God, which upon attaining salvation or Moksha stays eternally in heaven. Each soul is not considered the complete God in itself - as suggested by Advaita - and never really becomes part of God, even though philosophically they are considered part of the body of God. This confusion results from the followers of Raamaanuja trying to fuse the Puraanas with the philosophy of the Upanishads.
Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, the famous scholar and the second President of India, recognizes this inconsistency in the following terms: "Raamaanuja walks with olympian assurance like Milton through the halls of heaven."
Vishistha-Advaitins are sometimes referred to as Sri-vaishnavas or Ayyangars (sometimes spelt Iyengars) in South India.
G. Madhva Vedaanta called Dvaita or Dualism, also thinks of Vishnu as the Supreme God. However, this school views each soul as distinct from God and is not considered part of the Supreme God. They believe that good souls ultimately come close to the Supreme God and reside in heaven. They accept that some bad souls would be damned forever in hell. Dvaitins are sometimes referred to as Maadhvaas or Vaishnavas.
It is important to understand these distinctions and realize that for most of us the real Ultimate Truth about the nature of divinity will never be individually experienced during our lifetime. Understanding these differences becomes a cohesive factor for all Hindus to come together, realizing that these differences are unverifiable for most people, practically irrelevant for daily living in contemporary society, with no difference in normative values of living. They do not upset or contradict the core values of Hinduism.
For those interested in the distinct differences of these schools, the following chart provides the details.

Schools of Hinduism
A. Nyaaya-Vaisheshika
B. Saankhya - Yoga
C.Prabhaakara Mimaamsaa
D. Kumaarila Mimaamsaa
E. Advaita Vedaanta
F. Vishishtha-Advaita Vedaanta
G. Dvaita Vedaanta
ANALYSIS CRITERIA
1. Epistomology - Nature of Knowledge or Proof>
# of sources of knowledge
Valid sources of knowledge:
Vedas
Perception
Inference
Analogy

Implication
Non-apprehension

Author of Vedas
GOD
Nature of Vedas
2. Ontology - Nature of Reality
Monistic, dualistic, pluralistic?
Elements of Reality
God, Souls, Material atoms, Space, Time, Minds
Primal Matter, Souls
Souls, Material atoms, Space, Time, Minds
Souls, Material atoms, Space, Time, Minds, Vedas
God
God, Souls, Matter, Time
God, Souls, Space, Matter, Time, Vedas
3. Theology - Nature of God
Single Supreme God
YES
NO
NO
NO
ONLY GOD
YES
YES
Limited spirits (gods)
ignored
YES
YES
YES
Illusion
YES
YES
Role of God
Karma enforcer
-
-
-
-
Karma enforcer
Karma enforcer
4. Cosmology - Nature of Universe
Creator of Universe
GOD
Self-evolve
None
None
GOD
GOD
GOD
Nature of Universe
Periodic creation & dissolution from and to material atoms, which are external to God
Evolution and Involution of Primal Matter by own inherent force
It is uncreated and eternal
It is uncreated and eternal
God, which is the whole Being, appears as God, Souls and Matter (snake-rope analogy)
Periodic creation & dissolution from and to Matter, which is part of God's Body (spider-web analogy)
Periodic creation & dissolution from and to Matter, which is external to God (mason-building analogy)
5. Psychology - Nature of Soul
# of Souls
Infinite
Infinite
Infinite
Infinite
Infinite
Infinite
Infinite
Unique or Identical?
Unique
Identical
-
-
Irrelevant
Identical
Unique
Nature of Souls
No consciousness
Has consciousness
No consciousness
Conscious non-conscious substance
Consciousness equals Soul
Consciousness and Bliss are the essence of Soul
Consciousness and Bliss are the essence of Soul
6. Soteriology - Nature of Salvation
How obtained? Thru:
Knowledge
Meditation
Vedic rituals
Vedic rituals
Knowledge
Devotion
Devotion
(Yoga)
(Jnyaana)
(Dhyaana/Raaja)
(Karma)
(Karma)
(Jnyaana)
(Bhakti-Prapatti)
(Bhakti)
Nature of Salvation or Moksha:
Consciousness
NO
YES
NO
Possible
NO
YES
YES
Bliss**
NO
NO
NO
Possible
NO
YES
YES
Other remarks about soul achieving salvation
Soul merely exists without consciousness or bliss** - i.e. no self-identity, but for external observer there is identity
Souls exists and has consciousness, but no bliss**
Soul merely exists without consciousness or bliss** - i.e. no self-identity, but for external observer there is identity
Soul has option to possess both consciousness and bliss**- which are always potential to the soul
Soul disappears as God without trace
Souls alike and equal - dwell in heaven forever serving God with consciousness and bliss**, both equal to God
Souls dwell in heaven serving God forever. There is a hierarchy based on level of consciousness and bliss***
*Vedas are accepted as the verifiable truth in Saankhya-Yoga as opposed to acceptance by faith.
**Bliss is joy as associated with pleasure as opposed to pain
***In Dvaita philosophy alone, there may be souls who may be damned forever. All other philosophies give souls endless chances for salvation.
Position Statement: Hinduism covers a vast field, with many differing aspects of faith, varied philosophical systems, numerous paths to follow, and interesting varieties of ritual. There is a popular adage that if you ask the same question to a dozen learned Hindus, you may very well get twelve different answers and all of them would be true. The truth is one, but the wise talk of it in differing ways. Our answers and opinions are given according to our best understanding

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