Every nation has its culture, its language and, of course, its own religion. For instance, in India the main religion is Hinduism. The main religion includes different religious traditions and so it is the same thing in India, where religions exist inside Hinduism such as Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Srauta. As about the traditions, Hinduism also, like any other religion, has its laws and prescriptions of morality that have to be used in daily life. This religion has no definite founder like it is in Christianity or Judaism and it is considered as one of the oldest religions of all times. Hinduism is the third largest religion after Christianity and Islam.
Hinduism includes about more than a billion followers. Its major texts mostly discuss philosophic, theological topics and moreover, they even contain rituals and mythology of this religion. The first time of mentioning Hinduism as a religion was noticed during the Aryan invasion in about 1500 AD (Insoll, 2001). According to the history of India, Aryans moved to the lands of this country and its religious caste, which is called Brahmins, brought their religious beliefs to India. Brahmins are considered as one of the sort of modest caste, whose sacrifices were very solemn than the sacrifices made by other wild castes in India. The rituals among Brahmin castes were re-told orally over and over for more than one century. The texts of their rituals were gathered in one of the oldest manuscripts of all times, Rigveda. In these texts Brahmins praise their gods, and for instance, their main god is Indra. Such name they gave to the god of war. Other main gods of Aryans were the god of fire called Agni, and the god of drinks called Soma. These three gods were the ones mostly praised in Rigveda and remembered in the rituals of Aryans. However, later in Hinduism none of these gods took an important role in prayers. Moreover, later in Rigveda Aryans started mentioning another god, the god of sun called Vishnu. Brahmins believed that this god was a demon slayer and that he protected India from other demons` attacks. Another god whose name later appeared in Rigveda was Shiva. This fact is not mentioned too often, but it is believed that Shiva was able to cause and cure diseases, however, at the same time he was taking care of mountains and, moreover, he could kill any human and animal, who would dare to harm them in any way. Due to Mahabharata, Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma, the sacred trinity of Hinduism appeared. According to the tales told by people, living in those times, these three main gods had the same powers, but used those powers for different things. For example, Vishnu took care of birth and creation, while Shiva was associated with damage and destruction. That what folks of those times declared as a life circle, they believed that after destruction it always the creation came and vice versa. The third main god, Brahma, was mentioned again in Rigveda in the 1st century BC. Brahma was considered as the major god in this trinity, who took the role of the creator (Lipnor, 1998). Vishnu, then, in his turn was re-named in the god of preservation. Being named in the honor of priest Brahman and having the major amount of followers, the central god even later did not have any popular cult. Brahma was the same god as other gods; he was considered as their father and still usually he was left in the shadows. Vishnu and Shiva became two main gods that were praised in Hinduism. Most temples in India that are preserved even till now were built in the name of either Vishnu or Shiva, not Brahma. However, one would never actually recognize the temples that were made in the name of Vishnu. Aryans believed that this god had too many reincarnation forms and each of them had different names. For example, some of his most famous reincarnation names are Krishna and Rama. In comparison to unknown Vishnu temples, the temples that were made in the name of Shiva can be easily recognized. In the most cases these temples had a sacred bull near the entrance and on the back of this bull there is Shiva. It was believed that this bull, Nandi, would carry his god anywhere he wanted. Nandi was usually put on the gorgeous platform, to which people could bring flowers, rice or fruits.
Aryans believed that Hinduism is naturally a faith of isolated, while, for example in such religions like Buddhism its followers have goals, meanings in life, a wish to be united while every religious Hindu wants to escape from this existence, wants to find his or her place or to believe that one could find it after all. Aryans also believed that the main thing, according to Hinduism, in one’s life is karma or one’s actions. According to them, karma is a sort of summary of good things and good deeds in everyone’s life. According to Hinduism, good karma would help everyone to reincarnate in their future lives. Moreover, it was believed that the better karma is the higher caste one would get and the luckier and more beautiful he/she would be in the next reincarnation. The ideal reincarnation or the ideal death according to Hinduism was called moksha, when after all good things a person had done in life, could leave this existence and break the eternal life circle, and could free his/her spirit (Weightman, 1998). What is a caste one would ask? As any other society, the society in India had its own division according to their religion, Hinduism, and the social occupational classes. For example, Brahmins or Brahmans were mostly the people sent by gods or in other words, they were priests; Kshatriyas were mostly soldiers, warriors always ready to fight; Vaishyas (or Vishnu people, according to the god they worshipped) were mostly farmers, traders; the people of Sutras or as they were called Harijhans were the representatives of the poorest caste, always discriminated and humiliated by society. It was believed that they descended from aborigines of those lands. In the Indian society the higher caste provided higher position in th society, better life and more benefits. However, this kind of division, according to the occupational class and caste, was cancelled in the middle of the twentieth century. It was initiated in the 1st century BC, when Indian traders spread Hinduism to other parts of the world (Lipnor, 1998).
As any other religion, Hinduism also had its own sacred writings or the first manuscripts. The oldest manuscripts in Hinduism were called Veda. In Hindu language Veda means knowledge, that is why they mostly contained anthems, prayers, songs to gods, the texts of rituals collected within a thousand years. Another collection of texts of those times was called Upanishads. These texts are not exactly texts but mostly teachings, which contain the explanation of what is man, what is reality, what is the meaning of existence. Next collection of old manuscripts was called in the name of one of the gods, or exactly one of his reincarnations – Ramayana. This manuscript is also one of the two most sacred texts in the history of Hinduism. This manuscript consists of thousands of couplets that tell the story of Rama’s life. Rama was the king in the Indian history and as it was believed he was also the reincarnation of Vishnu. The second major and one of the most meaningful manuscripts in Hinduism, which contains more than one hundred thousand verses, was called Mahabharata. This manuscript is telling the story of Aryans and their clans. Mahabharata is also one of the most readable manuscripts not only in India but also in the whole world. The most important part of this manuscript is based on bhakti or the sacred texts that were devoted to Hindu gods. Sometimes bhakti were even considered as not just texts but the means of salvation for all Aryan clans. The most important story from Mahabharata that later was presented in a separate book is called Song of the Blessed God. This story and the whole manuscript even nowadays are the great examples of morality and the principles of behavior for Indian people. Other texts that are considered as the most important in Hinduism are called the Puranas. These manuscripts contain myths and legends about gods and demons, the stories about sea trips made by ancestors, and they even contain the texts of old rituals which were made by Aryans. The Puranas also explain the importance of bhakti; they explain the meaning of castes and why they were so important, and moreover, in these manuscripts one can find an explanation of human existence and the existence of all Hindu gods. (Dowson, 1888)
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In the Medieval era Tantra or the beliefs about the needed division in Indian society gained its prosperity. A lot of poets, who were considered saints, created among Indian people the devotion to their roots and history; they wrote a lot of religious and ritual songs, which later were spread among all castes of Indian society. This fact about poets is really important because it played one of the main roles in modern Hinduism. For example, it became very popular to make trips to some sacred places and to worship gods there, to pray there. Some people in India and not only in India even lead this sort of life – the life as pilgrims. The most popular idols-gods and their temples among pilgrims are Vishnu with his reincarnations, the temples of Shiva, the god-destroyer, and also the temples of the goddess, which has not been mentioned previously, but whose statues are very popular among pilgrims and Hinduism worshippers – Kali. All these gods and goddesses with their reincarnations are sculptured always in different forms but all of them are considered a part of the Universe and its Supreme Being. However, later such famous people and spiritual leaders like, for example, Mahatma Gandhi, created movements, the main goals of which were to unite the spiritual part of the existence with its social one. For instance, when India became independent in 1947 the role of Hinduism in social life was not only lessened but it became moderated by the Congress. This fact caused many other conflicts in India such as a conflict between Muslims and Hindus (India participated in creation of Pakistan as a country); the conflict or better to say the fight for Kashmir with other countries; tensions among the minorities in India after independence etc. The conflict that exists even nowadays concerns not only Hinduism but also Christianity (Miles, 2010). Some people believe that there is a certain connection between these two religions. However, what are the similarities then? What are the differences? What is Hinduism from the Christian view?
First of all it has to be said that Hinduism is an essential sort of religion. It believes in the divinity that this life has and also in the secrecy of it. In everyone’s mind Hinduism is just another religion that gave people an opportunity to get to know this world and its traditions better. Moreover, considered as the oldest religion, Hinduism contains many other religious groups. The main feature of Hinduism is the freedom and no matter whether it is a freedom of spirit or a freedom of belief. In comparison to Christianity, as it was mentioned previously, Hinduism does not have a founder. However, Christianity, as it is believed, takes its roots from the man, whose name was Jesus Christ and from his spiritual father, God. As well as Christianity and any other religion, Hinduism has its theology and beliefs; however, their variety is larger in Hinduism than in Christianity. Another difference between these two religions is that Hinduism accepts Christianity as a definite religion that does have a right to exist, while Christianity and the Bible do not do allow such a thing. Hinduism is a very justified religion. Its teachings are mainly about tolerance. Hinduism explains everyone that there are many different religions in the world with their own beliefs, paths, history and their own explanations of evverything. It does not teach everyone that only Hinduism is an exclusive religion, but it teaches that every religion is an exclusive one in its own way and has a right to exist (Hedrik, 2008). Christianity in its turn teaches that Christ is the only way to heaven and to God. Even in the Bible it is said that Jesus is “…the only way and the only truth. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Holy Bible, 2004). Of course, one can find contradictions here like Christ is right or wrong in his statement, but it would not be correct. Every religion should be considered as a valid one.
Despite all such differences between Christianity and Hinduism, the main similarity between ancient religions has to be admitted – these religions are mainly teaching people that everything good is hard to gain and has to be gained through sacrifices; that the way to God or as according to Hinduism the way to freedom of spirit has to be gained through challenges. The difference is that in Hinduism, as well as in Judaism, for example, this sacrifice is done through the sacrifice of an animal. However, in Christianity the sacrifice has to be made spiritually and it depends only on human’s deeds. In Christianity one needs to be convicted of sins. Both religions, Hinduism and Christianity, teach people what is right and what is wrong; they teach how to do only right things and make less mistakes in life; how to find life’s divinity. When Christians try to observe and make a decision to change bad things into good ones, they put their faith and beliefs mostly in God’s help than in their own strengths. Christians think according to their religion and believe that everything bad that happened to them is like the mirror to everything good they have, and vice versa. They state that everything good made by God exists to be compatible with everything bad. However, Hinduism is even more ironic; according to its beliefs everything is an illusion, including a religion itself. However, due to Hinduism and in comparison to Christianity, gods are not the ones made of absolute goodness. They are humans’ illusions of goodness. Moreover, the conclusion from all of this is quite ironic because if everything, including gods or God, is an illusion, where is the line then between good and evil, right and wrong? According to Hinduism there are certain rules of morality, however in the same time, as it appears, it is just an illusion of existence. All in all, each argument defeats another (Ridenoir, 2001).
Christians are very strict towards other religions. They think that despite all the differences in nations’ history, everyone should have only one religion and only “right”, according to them, beliefs. Christians state that it does not matter whether your religion is Buddhism or Hinduism, all people are descended from one true God. According to Christianity and its followers, all Hindu people must turn into Christians and trust Jesus Christ and the only true God and if they are not willing to do it, after all, they will perish and spend their existence in hell for their sins and wrong beliefs. The funny thing is that Christians are often judging Muslims for being that strict and rude towards others’ religions, while at the same time they are doing quite the same towards Hindu people. They state that only being turned to their “right” religion, Hindu people will find their peace: “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…” (Holy Bible, 2004).
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Another major difference between Hindu and Christian worldview is how both these religions see a Supreme Being. For example, Hinduism is the impersonal religion, while Christianity, as it was said, has its sort of creator Jesus Christ. In Hinduism, people believe in their sacred trinity – Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma, while in Christianity people believe just in one God, the absolute Supreme Being (Grudem, 2005). For that reason, some Hindu people are even atheist because in this religion one can prove anything and that will not be considered as wrong. As it was mentioned earlier Hindus believe that every person has a right for his/her own choice and that one can choose whatever religion he or she wants to believe in. The arms of Hinduism are opened very widely. One can only hope that they would never close because it would mean the end of Hinduism and its total destruction. In Christianity everything is otherwise. The Christian Supreme Being exists in the image of God, Son, Father and, of course, the Holly Spirit. All of these images create a perfect Supreme Being of every Christian, where God is the creator. Christians believe that God contains everything in the world: everything knowing, everything true and everything existing. In comparison to Hinduism, where the sacred manuscripts tell about its history, its creation, the lives of gods, in Christianity there are certain religious teachings, but all of them are collected in the only book – the Holy Bible. In comparison to Hinduism, Christianity is based on relationships with God, while Hinduism is based upon a person’s life. Moreover, the relationship between God and his followers is very close. According to Hinduism, a person can and need to operate his/her life himself, needs to believe that one can do it, while in Christianity everything, including people’s lives can be operated only with the help of Holy Spirit. (Piper, 2010)
One could mention more and more differences between these two religions, where Hinduism would after all accept the existence of Christianity and people’s right to believe in whatever they want, while Christianity would admit and accept only its own religion, dreaming that one day everyone in the world would unite under the name of one true, according to Christians, God.