“World Religions: Hinduism”

June 30, 2019


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
June 30, 2019

World Religions: Hinduism
Bhagavad Gita quotes

If you are planting a garden, you know the difference between an annual and a perennial. An annual is a plant that flower and die in one season. Perennials, on the other hand, come back for many seasons. While the top portion of a perennial dies back in winter, new growth appears the following spring from the same root system.

Today’s world religion can be compared to a perennial. While many religions are focused on your life as a single season – from your birth until your death; Hinduism is focused on your spiritual journey as long as it lasts (perennially, so to speak). I’ll tell you more about that in a moment.

Hinduism is the oldest known religion in the world. It goes back as far as 2300 BCE. There is no single known founder of Hinduism. And Hinduism is not the real word for the religion. That was made up by the Greeks and Arabs for those who were living by the Sindhu River. The real name for Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma. This means eternal truth.

Hindus believe that the purpose of life is to attain self-realization or enlightenment. Christians are often surprised to learn that Hindus believe in one God, most often referred to as Brahman. It is confusing because Hindus speak of a variety of “deities”. But Hindus say that all of these deities (as many as 330 million by some accounts) are only manifestations of one supreme God who created all things. Hindus speak of God in the singular; and Hindu texts say that there is only one true God. If you witness worship in a Hindu temple, you’ll see a number of statues of important Hindu deities. You may hear the sound of chanting and the ringing of a bell. You will see a fire offering made to the deities, waved in front of the faces of their statues. You’ll smell incense, and you’ll see food offered to the deities. After worship, the people will eat the food they’ve offered. The statues help people comprehend and connect with God – but they are not actually God – so it is acceptable to eat the food that is offered to the statue.

Hinduism embraces a great diversity of beliefs. This can be confusing to us because we like to carefully word our belief statements and have unending committee meetings to craft documents. But Hindus can believe a wide variety of things about God, the universe, the path to liberation, etc. and still be considered a Hindu. This attitude toward religious belief has made Hinduism one of the more open-minded religions when it comes to evaluating other faiths. Probably the most well-known Hindu saying about religion is: “Truth is one; sages call it by different names.”

15.1% of the world population is Hindu; it is the world’s 3rd largest religion. Almost 80% of India’s population is Hindu.

In Hinduism, every creature – humans and animals – have souls. The soul is called the atman. The atman is the true self – beyond the ego or false self – and it is part of God… it is divine. It originates with God before its journey on earth. Its ultimate desire and destiny is to be completely reunited to God.

To be reunited with God, the soul needs to gain the spiritual knowledge to let go of ego and of this life and to fulfill its duty to God. The Hindu world for that duty is dharma. It includes acts of kindness, compassion, mercy, and love. Even souls in animal form have this duty. If the soul lives out its dharma, it has a chance to be reincarnated as a higher life form.

Hindus don’t believe that humans are born as sinners, rather we struggle with ignorance. We may be ignorant of the divine spirit within us. Because of our ignorance, we cling to this life, act in ways that are not according to our duty, and bring pain upon ourselves and others. The human struggle is not to overcome sin – but to overcome a lack of knowledge – a process that may take many lifetimes. We are born, we learn, we die, and then we are reborn. We are perennials. Our souls strive to gain knowledge and fulfill their duty to move ever close to God. Hindus call this long, nearly endless cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth samsara. And one day, after many lifetimes, your finally reach a state where you have shed your ego and your clinging to the things of this life, and you are reunited with God upon your death. Hindus call this final release moksha. Some describe it as a drop of water being reunited with the ocean. Others simply see it as being reunited with God. The word for this final state is nirvana – which is being absorbed by or being one with God. Listen to these words in the Bhagavad Gita which describe nirvana:

“He who has let go of hatred
who treats all beings with kindness
and compassion, who is always serene,
unmoved by pain or pleasure,

free of the “I” and “mine,”
self-controlled, firm and patient,
his whole mind focused on me —
that is the man I love best.”

I have friends who practice Hinduism. I admire them greatly. One of the things I appreciate about their faith is that they don’t struggle with forgiveness as much as I perceive Christians do. I attribute this to their religious philosophy. When we talk about someone and the hurt they may have caused to my friends, they wave it off and comment, “I hope he will deal with that soon, or he will have to come back and deal with it later.” Or, “Oh, goodness, if anyone needs a life do-over, it’s her!” They don’t say it with bitterness or in a judgmental way… just as an acknowledgment that it is completely the other person’s issue. Recently, they learned something very difficult about their own adult child. They readily accepted it without much consternation or drama because deep in their hearts they believe that she belongs to the universe and that she has within her a piece of divinity and that this difficult thing is part of what she is to work on in her lifetime.

Another very important concept in Hinduism is the idea of ahimsa. There are varied interpretations of the meaning of this idea, but the general idea is “noninjury”. Hindus are not to injure other living things, including themselves. This is why many Hindus are vegetarians. Ahimsa also leads many Hindus to be pacifists.

Hinduism holy writings include the Vedas – hymns, liturgies, and direction for the ritual sacrifices of ancient Hinduism. The Vedas were passed on orally from around 2000 BCE and written down about 1000 BCE. The Rig Veda is the oldest known book in the world. Starting about 600 BCE and continuing for many years after, the Upanishads were written. They are Hindu philosophy and commentary. The best-known section is called the Bhagavad Gita. It is the longest poem in human history – about 100,000 verses. It records a conversation between Arjuna, a young prince, and his charioteer (who is an incarnation of the divine Krishna). Arjuna is the rightful heir to the throne, which has been safeguarded by Arjuna’s uncle until he becomes of age. Now Arjuna’s uncle wants to place his own son on the throne rather than giving it to Arjuna. Now, Arjuna is in the dilemma of waging war against his uncle. Arjuna would rather give up his claim to the throne than go to war with his uncle. But Krishna encourages him to do his duty and fight for his throne.

Arjuna poses questions about the meaning of life. In response, Krishna offers answers that call Arjuna and all humanity to self-sacrifice and the pursuit of wisdom. In this way, the beautiful poetry of the Bhagavad Gita encapsulates some of the central tenets of Hinduism. No Hindu home would be without a copy of this sacred book. Our son, Adam, had one at his bedside along with his Bible for many years.

One of the most recognizable items in Hinduism is the bindi, a dot worn on women’s foreheads. Traditionally, the bindi is worn on the forehead of a married Hindu woman. It symbolizes female energy. It can be made with the sandalwood, sindoor or turmeric, but is most commonly a red dot made with vermillion. In addition, the bindi is a way of accentuating the third eye, the area between the eyebrows where the attention is focused during meditation. It is a place on which to focus or concentrate when meditating. Recently, bindis have become more decorative and are worn by unmarried girls and non-Hindu women.

Much like our 10 commandments, Hindus have 10 commitments. They are listed in your bulletin. Some of them are overlapping our own (don’t lie, steal, or be greedy); while some are different than ours (study; do no harm).
1. Do no harm (ahimsa)
2. Do not lie (satya)
3. Do not steal (asteya)
4. Do not overindulge (brahmacharya)
5. Do not be greedy (aparigraha)
6. Be clean (saucha)
7. Be content (santosha)
8. Be self- disciplined (tapas)
9. Study (svadhyaya)
10. Surrender to God (ishvara Pranidhana)

Here’s your challenge this week… choose one or more of these Hindu ideas:
*Pick one or two of these commitments that challenge you and put it into practice this week.
*Pick up a Bhagavad Gita at the bookstore and take time to read it this week. It is terrific ancient wisdom.
* Take a yoga class with Emily Hurt.
* Use 10 minutes a day to meditate on your soul’s journey.