Good Example Of Essay On Hinduism: An Animistic Basic Religion With Monistic Philosophy, And Monotheistic Theology
Type of paper: Essay
Topic: Religion, Hinduism, God, Christians, Life, Worship, Literature, World
Hinduism is the oldest living religion with majority of members living in India. It is world’s most complex religion and have space of all forms of the religious concepts conceived by mankind. Religious practices in Hinduism includes simple animism as well as philosophical system like monotheism or polytheism. Worshiping spirits and animals like cows and trees are some of the many examples which shows animistic practices in this religion. However, Hindu texts which includes Vedas talk about many gods and shows the polytheistic nature of the religion. But when ones goes through Upanishads which are another Hindu texts, a totally contrast view of God as a single and universal entity has been emphasized. This philosophy sacrifices multiple Gods’ concepts of Vedas and talks about monotheism saying God is a single deity with consciousness.
Understanding Hinduism requires deep knowledge of its religious practices. As discussed above, Hindus worships spirits, animals and trees. This shows that this religion possesses some characteristics of animism which is based on natural powers of soul and breath for empowering life. Animism as a religion talks about spiritual forces into existence of physical world. It also includes change of season, rain or events like accidents, sickness etc. And for developing an understanding of the reasons for these events and their remedies, one has to pray the natural powers. So, everything has a spiritual significance behind its existence and for every cause there are spiritual forces.
Modern Hinduism goes further into worshipping stones, trees and animals. Cow is considered as sacred and worshipped and so, are snakes and stones. However, the most striking example is a seal found in the remains of animistic Indus Valley Civilizations. This seal emboss a person sitting in a posture similar to modern age yogic posture. Similar co-relations can be found in several history books. Similarities can also be drawn from religious elements found in pre-Harappan caves or Indus valley civilizations and current religious practices of Hindus. The Great Bath in Mohenjo-Daro is similar to a water tanks near Hindu temples of today. Also the Sarasvati River of Indus-Sarasvati civilization is now worshipped as Sarasvati, Goddess of learning and education. Let us see the belief of reincarnation. Hindus believe in reincarnation and after-life existence but it has got limited or no reference in Vedas and therefore doesn’t form the indigenous doctrine of Hinduism (Narayanan 39; O'Flaherty 1-4). But relationship of Hinduism with animistic religious practices of Indus Valley Civilizations is still a matter of debate as many school of thoughts refers Hinduism with Indo-European migrants not with Dravidians of ancient India.
Experts call Hindu Dharma a basic religion or indigenous religion because of the traditions followed by modern Hindus. Hindus consider land as sacred and they farm with a plow pulled by bullocks. They believe in Myths, Sacred times & places, Magic, Totems and Taboos. The religion is polytheistic and further proves that it has its roots in tribal or animistic form of worship. This logic comes out of similarities between rituals in Hinduism with that of any other tribal religion. Hindus believe in magic and sacrifice. In Atharvaveda, there is a collection of mantras for magic. Also there are taboos in Hindu society which is similar to other indigenous cultures. Hindus believe in class discrimination and untouchability. There are taboos around menstrual blood, childbirth and death. Hindus worship sun, water and land. These indigenous forms of worship is very much tribal in concept and later adopted by early Hindus.
But again it would not be right to say Hinduism is only an animistic basic religion. Actually it’s an extremely complex mix of traditions imbibing all possible theological perspectives. It is polytheistic as Hindus worship many gods like Indra who is god of rain and also the king of all other gods; Agni the god of fire; Varun the god of water and ocean as well as moral law and so forth. A worshiper has to be aware of the rituals that need to be followed while praying these Gods. Each of these Gods have their own set of stories. Puranas and epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata tells us these stories in form of poems. However, Hinduism also talks about one supreme God which actually enforces the thought that the entire universe is God with many lesser gods. Many gods concept actually shows the sectarian nature of Hinduism. Followers of Lord Shiva are into Shaivism while Vaishnavism is for those who follow Vishnu. Goddess Kali or Durga are symbols of Shakti (power) and follower are under Shaktism. Followers of each of the chosen deity believes that their God is ultimate form of absolute reality also called as Brahman. But the followers of a chosen deity also accepts the existence of other deity. For example, Shaivism scriptures tell stories about Shiva but the same scripture says Shiva and Shakti are two forms of one God or they are actually identical and as mentioned above, are Brahman. This is Vedanta monism, a tweaked version of monistic philosophy. Actually in philosophical sense, it is a bit different from actual definition of monism.
Monism is based on the philosophy which believed in unifying conception of nature. There is one absolute energy which forms the spirit of all things. Hinduism doctrine also talks about this absolute energy which it calls as consciousness or Brahman. In its clarification, it says all the separate gods of Vedic polytheism is actually different names of one God. One can believe in many gods which are separate and distinct or can also think of one god with different faces or names. Upanishads are the main source of monistic theories behind Hinduism. These scriptures are almost 600-500 BCE old and express different theologies. But the common theology in all the Upanishads is that of Absolute energy or the Brahman which forms the base of the universe. It is like one in many and many in one. This form of monism drives its roots from various school of thoughts within the Hindu society of medieval age.
Also, monism and polytheism in Hinduism have lived and grown together in ancient times and therefore accepts each-other’s existence. For monists, a true god is without shape and quality often referred as nir-guna but for polytheists, Gods have qualities and shape and so many names and appearances. So, god for names and qualities i.e. sa-guna. With re-incarnation theories, monists and polytheists came more near to each other. Stories from Puranas of God Shiva reincarnation as Hanuman and God Vishnu as Rama and Krishna further cemented monistic school of worship with polytheistic. Similarly Goddess or Devi has many incarnations like Laxmi, Sita, Saraswati, and Parvati. Puranas also share stories of families of Gods along with their children but same Puranas accept the Upanishadic versions of one God by considering reincarnation as a another form of energy. These deities are also worshipped in modern times. Modern Hinduism still celebrate the stories of their God’s greatness. This shows the strong roots of polytheistic form of worship in Hinduism. Though this polytheism has its own set of limitations like superstition and extraordinary long list of worshipping many gods, monistic form of worship continued to help the people in realizing true self and eternal co-existence.
As Upanishadic form of Hinduism also led to the beginning of Bhakti Movement in the religion, music, poems, singing and poetry became an integral part of worship. This further strengthen the monistic concept of the religion among the masses. This form of worship has now become a way to learn the religion. God is praised through music and dance and stories of their greatness has become a tool of learning. With the use of modern technology, these songs and stories have widely spread across the world.
So, monistic concept based universal spirit or Brahman gets propagated to another level of universalism which says all living and non-living things in this world are one and so are the other religions. They all strive for the same universal God though they look different and are worshipped in different ways. So, technically wisdom of Vedanta, Upanishads, Puranas, Bible or Quran are meant for the same goal. It’s only the outward observance that differentiates them from one another but in real spiritual sense they breathe the same air and pray the same God.
Other debates in the recent times have started people to explore the monotheistic properties of Hinduism. Hindus under British Raj came under the influence of Protestant line of thought and drafted a new version of worship which was a bit different from polytheistic or monist line of thought. With Bhagavad Gita as the most sacred book, one can see Hindus with full devotion to one of the many Gods like Rama or Krishna. It is again quite different from other monotheistic religion like Islam or Christianity. This modern age Hinduism led to the growth of certain groups or sects which believes in just one way of self-realization or worship and denouncing any other form. It actually rejects religion which follows other paths. Monotheistic form of Hinduism doesn’t embrace all and rejects all other formulations of divinity. This exclusivity is in complete contrasts with what Vedic, Upanishadic or Puranic form of Hinduism beliefs. It rejects other religion, sect and view as inferiors or wrong. But this form of Hinduism is fiercely debated within the Hindu society which is known for its malleability and diversity. These debates have led to further divisions within the monotheistic Hindus. As monotheistic Hinduism doesn’t practice the religion is its true form, it couldn’t transform itself into a preset form of monotheism and hence the religion as a whole remained a polytheistic-monistic religion with complete faith in salvation and self-realization. A monotheistic Hindu system actually believes in complete devotion towards God for moksha or salvation through meditation or good work. Monotheism now lies in liberation approach resting on Yoga, meditation and worship. As there is no heaven or hell, one has to achieve salvation in its lifetime through good work.
If we go by definition, a monotheistic religion is based on the doctrine of one god, one scripture and uniformity among followers. No form or sect of Hinduism would categorically be called as monotheistic. It is actually a superset of all forms of religion with base being animistic and polytheistic forms of worships unified by monistic ideology. So, monotheism in Hinduism is relatively a new thing. It is more into institutionalization of Hinduism for instigating a sense of superiority over other religion. It has brought some new challenges for Hindu traditions. The concept of universalism and spirituality has been repackaged as a life style product instead of a religious practice. The constant modernization of Indian culture has also brought several rounds of reforms in the Hinduism. Modern Hindus consider the mixing of religion with politics as a necessity. These reforms are also meant to regroup the religion against the threat posed by other monotheistic religion like Islam and Christianity. Issue of conversion is now been projected as an assault on an individual’s religious. But this modern world has given Hinduism new ways to flourish. Religious commentaries, songs and serials are broadcasted through TV Channels. Stories from Puranas and epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata are being shared with common people in form of serials, songs and dance programs. It is total disregard of the monistic form of religion which talks of self-realization and spiritual approaches to knowledge.
So, Hinduism as a whole possesses almost all forms of religious practices. It offers high level of flexibility which means possibility of tempering in the rules of the religious texts is accepted without hesitation. Local customs gets diffused into the rituals suggested by the scriptures and gives it a unique identity. Hence, religious worship in Hinduism is not at all absolute and varies across regions. This justifies the inclusive nature of this religion and also the existence of animistic, monistic, polytheistic and monotheistic forms of worship under one holy umbrella. This religion has great respect for legitimate progressive action. Despite the fact that the religious scriptures talks about properly codified and well–defined traditions, there has always been room of reinterpretation which adds dynamicity to this religious concept. Therefore one can see a Hindu following almost all forms of religious methodologies. They believe in worshipping Cows, Trees, Idols, single absolute energy as well as Bhagavad Gita or one God like Rama or Krishna. There is an extraordinary level of malleability and diversity within one religious unit. A Hindu can one day be animistic; polytheistic on second day; monistic and monotheistic on some other day. Hinduism promotes all possible forms of worship as one time on an individual’s belief. This religion often called by Hindus as Sanatana Dharma is like a great Banyan tree that has actually no definition and can’t be limited to any imagination or school of thought. It is eternal and universal with space for all paths that could lead an individual to truth. It gives an individual a way of life based on concepts that includes religion, philosophy, science and local traditions.