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Aspects of the Hindu Religion

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Hinduism, the world’s third largest religion with almost a billion followers, is considered by many to be more a way of life and less of a religion. Unlike other religions, Hinduism supports different beliefs as opposed to one. “Hinduism embraces a great diversity of beliefs, a fact that can be initially confusing to westerners accustomed to creeds, confessions, and carefully-worded belief statements. One can believe a wide variety of things about God, the universe and the path to liberation and still be considered a Hindu” ("Hindu Beliefs,”). One of the best ways to describe the primary difference between Hinduism and other religions is that “Hinduism grants absolute and complete freedom of belief and worship. Hinduism conceives the whole world as a single family that deifies the one truth, and therefore it accepts all forms of beliefs and dismisses labels of distinct religions which would imply a division of identity. Hence, Hinduism is devoid of the concepts of apostasy, heresy and blasphemy”(De Lingen & Ramsurrun,). There are, however a handful of important uniting beliefs that all Hindus subscribe to; beliefs that generally identify the borders between Hindu and non-Hindu. They are the belief in the existence of a soul that is reborn upon death into a new life, the idea that your destiny is determined by Karma and the goal of one day obtaining enlightenment.

Reincarnation, also known as Punarjanma, is the “religious or philosophical concept that the soul or spirit, after biological death, begins a new life in a new body that may be human, animal or spiritual depending on the moral quality of the previous life's actions, is a central belief in the Hindu religion”(Taliaferro, Draper, & Quinn, 2010). Hindus believe that the soul goes through a transmigration cycle in the form of birth, death and then rebirth. The quality of the life that the soul is reborn into is determined by Karma. “Karma literally means "deed or act," but more broadly describes the principle of cause and effect. Simply stated, karma is the law of action and reaction which governs consciousness. In physics-the study of energy and matter-Sir Isaac Newton postulated that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Push against a wall. Its material is molecularly pushing back with a force exactly equal to yours. In metaphysics, karma is the law that states that every mental, emotional and physical act, no matter how insignificant, is projected out into the psychic mind substance and eventually returns to the individual with equal impact”("Karma and Reincarnation,"). Reincarnation will continue until a soul’s Karma allows them to finally be released from the cycle. This goal, called moksha, “is understood in several different ways: as the realization of one's union with God; as the realization of one's eternal relationship with God; realization of the unity of all existence; perfect unselfishness and knowledge of the Self; as the attainment of perfect mental peace; and as detachment from worldly desires. Such realization liberates one from samsara and ends the cycle of rebirth” ("Karma and Reincarnation,").

Some of the more interesting points about Hinduism are the effect it has on society. Hinduism is primarily practiced in India, where, according to a 2001 census, Hinduism was followed by around 80.5% of the country's population of 1.21 billion ("2001 Census," 2002). Hinduism is also practiced in Nepal, Bangladesh, Bali and Sri Lanka, among other places. Hinduism has no central doctrinal authority and many practicing Hindus do not claim to belong to any particular denomination. Traditionally, the human life is believed to be divided into 4 “stages”, known as Ashramas. The four stages are identified as follows:

“Brahmacharya - This is a period of formal education. It lasts until the age of 25, during which, the young male leaves home to stay with a guru and attain both spiritual and practical knowledge.
Grihastha - This period begins when a man gets married, and undertakes the responsibility for earning a living and supporting his family. According to the Laws of Manu, when a person's skin wrinkles and his hair greys, he should go out into the forest.
Vanaprastha - This stage of a man begins when his duty as a householder comes to an end: He has become a grandfather; his children are grown up, and have established lives of their own. At this age, he should renounce all physical, material and sexual pleasures, retire from his social and professional life, leave his home, and go to live in a forest hut, spending his time in prayers. He is allowed to take his wife along, but is supposed to maintain little contact with the family.
Sannyasa - At this stage, a man is supposed to be totally devoted to God. He is a sannyasi, he has no home, no other attachment; he has renounced all desires, fears and hopes, duties and responsibilities. He is virtually merged with God, all his worldly ties are broken, and his sole concern becomes attaining moksha, or release from the circle of birth and death”(Das)

The large majority of Hindus are vegetarian out of respect for the higher forms of life. This kind of diet is also believed to assist in purifying the body. Hinduism is a fascinating lifestyle that, according to a year 2000 census, is practiced by 13.4% of the world. The idea of flexibility in prayer and which god you pray to is unique from many of the other religions in the world. The belief that being a vegetarian assists in purifying the body has had a major effect on the culture of the countries in which it is practiced. References
2001 Census. (2002). Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/population/international/files/ppt/India92.pdf
Das, S. (). The Four Ages of Man - The 4 Stages of Life in Hinduism. Retrieved from http://hinduism.about.com/od/basics/p/fourstages.htm
De Lingen, J., & Ramsurrun, P. (). And Introduction to the Hindu Faith. In (p. 2). : Sterling Publishers.
Hindu Beliefs. (). Retrieved from www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/beliefs.htm
Karma and Reincarnation. (). Retrieved from http://www.himalayanacademy.com/resources/pamphlets/KarmaReincarnation.html
Religions of the World. (1993). In P. B. Clarke (Ed.), The Religions of the World: Understanding the Living Faiths (p. 125). USA: Marshall Editions.
Smith, W. (1962). The Meaning and End of Religion. San Francisco: Harper and Row.
Taliaferro, C., Draper, P., & Quinn, P. L. (2010). Reincarnation. In A Companion Guide to Philosophy and Religion. Retrieved from http://books.google.com…...

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