June 4, 2013

A Brief Explanation of Hinduism {Part 2}. ~ Drew Cauthorn

Literature and Symbols

When approaching Hindu text, one must first learn to distinguish between the two different types.

The first type is known as sruti—what is heard, and the second is called smrti—what is remembered. Instead of one canonized text, such as the Bible or Quran for example, Hinduism (due to the wide-spread influence over ten or more millenia) has a multitude of religious doctrines and scriptures.

However, for our purposes, there are three noteworthy texts of Hindu origin: the Vedas, Upanishads and the Mahabharata (specifically the Bhagavad Gita).

The Vedas, the oldest texts of ancient India (and subsequently Hinduism) were directly revealed through universal mediums and are therefore considered sruti. The Vedas texts are over five thousand years old. “Hindus believe that the Vedas existed since the immemorial [,the beginning,] as vibrations in space” (Mullangi, sec. Vedas). The Vedas are comprised of four books and pertain to ancient religious rites and rituals.

The Upanishads, of sruti nature, are a collection of over two hundred philosophical texts which form the basis of orthodox Hindu religion. The Upanishads range in origin and date from 800 BCE to early centuries CE (King, 52). These teachings were often oral traditions passed down from teacher to student for centuries and pertained to insights regarding people, the world they lived in and the universe.

The Mahabharata is so highly regarded because of the prolific text it contains within, the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita (as it is also known) is so renowned because of its compelling imagery, beautiful craftsman ship, relatability to Hindus and philosophical prose. Because the Mahabharata is passed down by Krishna, one of the many forms of Vishnu, the text is widely considered as sruti. The Bhagavad Gita symbolizes selflessness and was a major launching point for Mohandas Gandi, who purportedly considered the Gita his own “spiritual dictionary.”

Regarding symbols: no symbol is more significant than that of aum.

Just as the cross offers significance for Christians; so too does aum offer importance for Hindus. Spiritually, the aum symbol connotes a deep resonance and importance to the universe and subsequently to Brahman; it is therefore widely considered the source of all existence.

Physically, Hindus consider the symbol to represent all the sound and vibrations in the universe.

Everything that ever was, is or will be, can be manifested in this single note. “Aum is the standard sign of Hinduism,” claims Mullangi, “and is prefixed and sometimes suffixed to all Hindu mantras and prayers” (sec. Religious Symbols). From yogic exercises to meditations and chants, such practices are spiritual and religious in nature.

These practices therefore encompass spirituality, the power and awe associated with aum.

So What?

So why does all of this matter, why should we care about Hinduism? I certainly didn’t write this to convince you to abandon your own religion, or to become a Hindu.

I merely set out to educate those curious enough to explore; to provide a lighted pathway through the dark. There is so much information at our disposal.

Often times, we feel overwhelmed and are unable to sift through the wealth of knowledge at our fingertips. This somewhat terse (but necessary) introduction into the world of Hinduism will hopefully inspire readers to pursue other avenues of interest, areas and cultures of the world that you may not understand.

There is plenty of housework to be done down here on earth and our commitment to it must be steadfast. If we (as denizens of earth) are going to solve the modern intractable social issues, then we must learn to live amongst one another. Old prejudices, endemic hatreds and maintaining traditional territories are not beneficial for society.

The survival of the human race—of life on earth, is extremely fragile. If we hope to thrive in the coming century, we must abandon our ancestor’s bigoted and fascist nature. We must, then, adopt a more ardent appreciation and understanding for all the cultures, nations and peoples of earth.

For the first part of this article, please see Part 1.


Works Cited:

1.) King, Richard (1995), Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism, Suny Press

2.) Smith, Huston (1991), The World’s Religions, Harper One

3.) Mullangi, Samyukta (2005) Hinduismi, http://www.umich.edu/~aamuhist/smullang/pubspeak.htm



Drew received his degree in East Asian History and Religion from Trinity University. He is an avid reader, writer, debater, and contrarian. Apart from writing, Drew is a yoga instructor and swimmer, cyclist, runner, and climber. He believes in furthering the global conscience, through scientific, philosophic, and historical literacy. Drew’s inspiration for writing comes from individuals such as Carl Sagan, Richard Feynmann, Christopher Hitchens, C.S. Lewis, Alan Watts, Joseph Campbell, and a number of other philosophers, scientists, and free thinkers. “Humanity gazes out, from the promontory, into a new darkness we have never before faced:” says Drew, “My aim has been to provide, through the limits of writing, a terse and succinct light in that darkness.” Drew believes that only by recalling the deeper philosophies of our old world view, can we hope to gain the understanding necessary to deal with our present dilemmas.

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Assistant Ed: Dusty Ranft/Ed: Bryonie Wise

{Pictures: [top] Mostly Peculiar via Jodi H on Pinterest, [middle] bbc.co.uk, The Upanishads (podcast) via Yoddha on Pinterest}



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