Most people may question about the nature of religion itself. Often the answer will be that Religion is the belief in God, the soul and afterlife. Religion may be also described as a set of rules or the way which a member in that religion should act throughout his life. Besides a number of rituals and symbols which address the psychology of human beings, religion is a way of life. Hinduism and Judaism are mothers of all modern religions in the world. Further on from Judaism came Islam and Christianity. Hinduism, which is the world’s oldest organized religion, is the dominant religion in India. In fact, the origins of Hinduism can be traced back to at least 2500BCE. Hinduism consists of “thousands of different religious groups that have evolved in India 1500 BCE”. This religion managed to survive and even thrive in modern times.
Hinduism is different from other religions, such as, Christianity. It has no Pope and it has no hierarchy. Unlike any other religion, Hinduism has no particular founder, for instance, the founder of Christianity is Jesus Christ. This religion is more viewed as the research of various men throughout the years, who were called Rishis, which were Christ like masters.
Originally, before the Persians gave the name Hinduism to this religion it was called Sanatana Dharma meaning Righteousness. Besides its name, Hinduism has gone multiple changes and developments throughout the years. There are two attempts which explain how Hinduism started to develop in India. For a particular reason both of these theories draw on the famous verse “Ekam Sat, Viprah Bahudha Vadanti” for their effectiveness. The first theory is the “Indo-Aryan Migration Theory”, which began started after the relationship between Sanskrit, Greek and Latin was discovered. This theory states that at the end of the Indus Valley Civilization (around 1700BCE) a number of Aryans immigrated into northern India from central Europe and Minor Asia. According to this theory the Aryans began to mix with the Indigenous Dravidian. Eventually the Aryans religious stream together with the Indigenous stream is what formed and started Hinduism.
The second theory is the opposite of the first theory. It is the “Out of India Theory”, where it states that Hinduism began out of India. There are even passages in the Mahabharata and other Hindu texts which support this idea. According to this theory the Aryan culture was not developed by migrants or outside invaders, but it was introduced through the Indus valley civilization. This theory has two beliefs. First is that Hinduism’s religious development was completely original and new. Its second belief is that the similarities between Sanskrit, Greek and Latin languages are the effect of the Aryan migration, out of India and into Europe. At this point Aryan tribes from India started bringing their culture, language and religion to spread throughout Europe.
Eventually it is not very important whether the Aryans came from outside or inside of India. Hinduism should be seen as a religion which was born 3,000 years through the Aryan culture, according to the rule of “Ekam Sat, Viprah Bahudha Vadanti”. The unifying force of this verse is what created the Hinduism of today.
Hinduism has a lot of scriptures. The scriptures consist of the history and culture of India. All Hindu scriptures are considered as revealed truths of God. In fact Hindu scriptures state that all Hindu Scriptures were written by God. Vedas, meaning knowledge, are the first sacred books of Hinduism. There are four Vedas, which are supposed to teach men the highest aspects of truths which can lead them to God. Vedas and Upanishads are Shruti scriptures. According to Vedas “Self Realization” is one and the goal of human life. Vedas contains a detailed discussion on rituals and ceremonies which lead to attain self-realization. There are 4 Vedas, which are; Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.
The very first important book of Hindu, Rig Veda, states; “Ekam Sat, Viprah Bahudha Vadanti”, which means that there is only one truth even if men describe it differently. Hindu believes that There is One and only God and One Truth. This book is a collection of prayers and praises. All the four Vedas describe different knowledge. For instance rig Veda describes the knowledge of hymns, Yajur Veda describes the knowledge of Liturgy, and Sama Veda describes the Knowledge of Music, while Atharva Veda describes the Knowledge given by Sage Athrvana.
Hindus believe in One and Only God, who is Brahman which can be expressed in various forms. According to the Hindus God has no human or any other form. However they believe that there is still nothing wrong to believe in a God with a name and form. In fact in the Shruti scriptures of Hinduism, Brahman has been described both as Saguna Brahman as well as Nirguna Brahman, God with attributes and God without attributes, respectively. In the Upanishads, God is described as Neti. Despite this, Hindus still believe that there is only One God. Lord Krishna stated, “Call me by whatever name you like; Worship me in any form you like; All that goes to One and Only Supreme Reality.” Therefore when a Hindu worships any God form he is actually worshiping the One and Only God Brahman. Even in Christianity although we believe in one and only God, He expresses himself in three different forms, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
Language and religion are inseparably related, like Hinduism and Sanskrit. From the very beginning, Vedic thought has been expressed through the Sanskrit language. Thus, Sanskrit forms the basis of Hindu civilization. Sanskrit literally meaning “cultured or refined” is one of the richest and most systematic languages in the world, which is older than Hebrew and Latin. The first words in English language came from Sanskrit. For instance, the word mother came from Sanskrit word ‘mata’ and father came from Sanskrit word ‘pita’. Forbes Magazine, (July, 1987) wrote: “Sanskrit is the mother of all the European languages”. The literature and philosophy expressed in this language have a beauty and profundity, which is unsurpassed.
As language changes, so does religion. Although the bass of Hinduism was formed the vocabulary and syntax of Sanskrit, modern languages such as Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali, Telugu, Kannada and others, are now the primary carriers of Hindu thought within India. The shift from Sanskrit to these languages formed not only a change in the meaning of words but also a change in how religion was interpreted.
However in the last century, Hinduism started to emerge in two various forms. One is from 1896, in Chicago where Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu religious teacher, traveled to England and other countries in Europe and created several followers. Swami was a trailblazer for most of Hindu teachers who came to the west and are still coming today. Hindu holy men have brought a new set of Hindu vocabulary and thought to the western culture. The second significant transplantation of Hinduism into the West has occurred through the increase of immigration oh Hindus who were born in India and moved to the West. These members are actively engaged in building Hindu temples and other institutuin in the West.
As the popularity of Hinduism increases in the west, the emerging forms of this ancient tradition are being reflected through the medium of western language, mostly English. However the meaning of words is not easily moved from one language to another. It is said that the more distant two languages are separated by geography climate and latitude the more the meaning of words shift and eventually the more worldview shifts. There is not a lot of difference between Sanskrit and the Indian regional language when compared to the difference between a western language, for instance, Sanskrit and English.
The problem of “Christianization” of Hinduism is the difficultly of bringing Hinduism to the West. It is a natural mistake which we make to approach Hinduism with Christian, Jewish or Islamic notions of God, soul, heaven, hell and sin in mind. We translate these notions, to notions in Christian thought, such as, Brahman as God, atman as soul, papa as sin and dharma as religion. However this is not correct, Brahman is not the same as God, atman is not the same as soul, papa is not sin and dharma is more than simply religion. When one is reading sacred writings of a particular religion, for instance, Upanishads or Bhagavad-Gita, one must read them on their own terms and not from the perspective of some other religion. Because Hinduism is being reflected through Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the theological uniqueness of Hinduism is becoming completely lost.
Ideally anyone who is interested in Hinduism and would love to understand he must first have knowledge of the Sanskrit language. However even the first generations of Hindu immigrants did not know Sanskrit. The Hinduism of these immigrants is through the regional languages. In fact Hinduism is still related very closely to its Sanskrit roots through the regional languages. The problem is that these languages are still not being taught to the new generation, and eventually this will lead the regional languages of India will die after one or two generations. Thus, this means that the second generation will lose their regional ethnic roots and become more westernized.
This problem of religious and cultural change can be resolved by identifying and creating a dictionary of religious Sanskrit words. This will eventually stop us to translate words as Brahman, dharma and papa, thus, these words will become part of the common spoken language when speaking of Hindu issues. However this is already happening with the words karma, yoga and dharma. They became part of common English speech, but not with their ultimate religious meaning. These words are terms taken from the sacred scriptures of Hindu, such as, the Bhagavad-Gita and the ten major Upanishads.
Some of the translations of Hindu terms are:
Brahman refers to the Supreme Principle. Everything which is created and absorbed is a production of Brahman. The word Brahman must not be confused with Brahma. Brahma God of creation.
Dharma is also derived from Sanskrit meaning to hold up, to carry or to sustain. The word dharma refers to that which upholds or sustains the universe. Human society, for example, is sustained and upheld by the dharma performed by its members. In philosophy dharma refers to the defining quality of an object. For instance, coldness is a dharma of ice. In this case we can think that the existence of an object is sustained or defined by its essential attributes, dharma’s.
Yoga also derived from the Sanskrit means to join, to unite or to attach. We can think of yoga as the joining of the atma with the paramatma, the soul with God. There are numerous means of joining with God: through action, karma-yoga; through knowledge, jnana-yoga; through devotion, bhakti-yoga; through meditation, dhyana-yoga, etc. Yoga has many other meaning. For example, in astronomy and astrology it refers to a conjunction (union) of planets.
Papa is what brings one down. Sometimes translated as sin or evil.