Chapter 3 Hinduism

How has the climate of India promoted religious values?
India’s climate, except in the mountain regions, is generally warm for most of the year, allowing people to live outdoors much of the time. Indeed, some people may even claim that the climate has helped promote religious values that, at least for some, minimize the importance of material goods such as clothing, housing, and wealth.

What three things does Hinduism lack that one would expect in a unified religion?
Hinduism has no one identifiable founder, no strong organizational structure to defend it and spread its influence, nor any creed to define and stabilize its beliefs; and in a way that seems to defy reason, Hinduism unites the worship of many gods with a belief in a single divine realty.

How does the author think the name of the religion as Hinduism might be misleading?
In fact, the name Hinduism can be misleading.

Hinduism is not a single, unified religion; it is more like a family of beliefs.

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The name of the country and the religion come from the same source. What is it?
In fact, the words India and Hindu derive from Indus.

What are the Vedas?
The ancient scriptures of India are called the Vedas. They give a great deal of information about gods and worship during what’s often called the Vedic Period, generally thought to cover about 2000 to 500 BCE. The origin of the Vedas and of the religion they describe, however, is uncertain.

What does the common origins of Latin and Greek and the similar name for gods in these cultures indicate?
In the late 18th century, Western scholars recognized that Sanskrit, the ancient language of India and the language of the Vedas, was related to Greek and Latin. They also realized that many of the gods mentioned in the Vedas were the same gods who had been worshipped in Greece and Rome; they discovered, as well, that gods of similar names were mentioned in Iranian sacred literature.

Aryan Invasion Theory
Later scholars theorized that a single people, who called themselves, Aryans, moved from present-day southern Russia about 2000 BCE in two directions- westward into Europe and eastward into Iran and India.

Entering new lands, these people were thought to have carried their language and religion with them. Scholars initially believed that in India the outsiders imposed their social order quickly and violently on the older culture. According to this theory, the Vedas were believed to be the religious writings of this invading people.

Aryan Migration Theory
Next, a variant on the older theory arose: Instead of speaking of a single invasion, the newer theory held that there were repeated waves of migrations into Pakistan and northern India, and that from these contacts between foreign and indigenous cultures the religion of the Vedas emerged.

More recently, however, this second theory has been questioned.

What parts of the ancient Aryan religion remain a part of Hinduism today?
Although many of the Vedic gods are no longer worshipped, elements of the Aryan religion- such as the use of fire and some of the ancient chants by a priestly class, continue to be of great importance to Hindus today.

The Vedas: Rig Veda
“Hymn Knowledge”; Is a collection of more than a thousand chants to the Aryan gods

The Vedas: Yajur Veda
“Ceremonial Knowledge”; Contains matter for recitation during sacrifice

The Vedas: Sama Veda
“Chant Knowledge”; A handbook of musical elaborations of redic chants

The Vedas: Artharva Veda
“Knowledge from [the teacher] Artharva”; Consists of practical prayers and charms, such as prayers to protect against snakes and sickness

Which of the Vedas is most important? Why? How does it contain an element of uncertainty?
The Rig Veda, the most important of the Vedas, has an account of the origin of the universe. The universe is said to have emerged from a division and cosmic sacrifice of a primeval super person, Purusha. But the account includes an admission of uncertainty: “Who knows it for certain; who can proclaim it here; namely, out of what it was born and where from his creations issued? The gods appeared only later- after the creation of the world.

Who knows, then, out of what it has evolved?”

What does the more common usage of the term Veda entail?
The term Vedas sometimes indicates only these four collections. In its more common use, it also refers to some later material as well. Detailed ceremonial rules, called Brahmanas and Aranyakas, were added by later generations to each of the four Vedic collections. The Brahmanas, named for the priests who would use them, give details about the proper time and place for ceremonies, the preparation of the ground, ritual objects, and purification rites. The Aranyakas (“forest books”) allowed the rituals to be understood and practiced in nonliteral, symbolic ways by men who had left society and became ascetics in the forests.

What are the Upanishads?
The four Vedas end with even later works, called the Upanishads, which express philosophical and religious ideas that arose in introspective and meditative traditions.

What does the author mean by the Axis Age?
Around 500 BCE, Indian civilizations experienced such widespread and important changes that the period is known as the Axis Age, meaning that everything turned in a new direction at this time.

What does Upanishad mean and what notion lies behind its meaning?
Although several interpretations of the name Upanishads have been proposed, it is commonly thought to derive from words that mean “sitting near”.

If the term’s derivation is correct, it suggests disciples sitting near a master, learning techniques for achieving religious experience. In any case, primary to the Upanishads is the notion that with spiritual discipline and meditation, both priests and non-priests can experience the spiritual reality that underlies all seemingly separate realities. Unlike much of the earlier Vedic material, which dictates that only heredity priests can be religious masters, the Upanishads tell us that a person who has the necessary experience can be a spiritual master.

What is Brahman? Why isn’t it a “belief”?
The term Brahman originally stood for the cosmic power present in the Vedic sacrifice and chants, over which the priests had control. The Sanskrit word Brahman is neuter and comes from a stem meaning “to be great”. In the Upanishads, the word Brahman was expanded to mean a divine reality at the heart of things. The Upanishads insist that Brahman is something that can be known- not simply believed in.

The Shvetasvatara Upanishad, for example, says “I know that spirit whose infinity is in all, who is ever one beyond time.” Brahman, the Divine Spirit, is so real that it may be known directly, as the boy Shvetaketu learned, knowledge of it can be as immediate as tasting the flavor of salt.

What is it to know Brahman?
The Upanishads insist that it cannot be put fully into words, but they give hints. Brahman is the lived experience that all things are in some way holy because they come from the same sacred source. It is also the experience that all things are in some way ultimately one. This is an experience that seems to defy common sense, since the world appears to be divided into many objects and types of reality (Wood can become a boat)

Brahman is known by three words. What do they mean? Sat
Reality itself

Brahman is known by three words.

What do they mean? Chit

Pure consciousness

Brahman is known by three words. What do they mean? Amanda

Give a good definition of Atman.
The spiritual essence of all individual human beings; “Deepest self”

What am I at the deepest level?
I am clearly not just my body- my height and weight and hair color, all of which are subject to alteration. But am I then my tastes, thoughts, and memories? Or is there more? Is there not in me a reality more fundamental than those changing individual characteristics? According to the Upanishads, at the deepest level of what I am is divine reality, a divine spirit that everything shares. The Upanishads teach that it is true to say that I am God, because, for the person who understands reality at the deepest level, everything is God.

What is the distinction between Brahman and Atman?
Often the term Brahman refers to the experience of the sacred within nature and the external universe, while Atman refers to the experience of the sacred within oneself.

However, the same divine nature simply has two names, and both terms may be used interchangeably.

What does maya mean?
“Illusion”; What keeps us from seeking reality correctly; The world viewed inadequately; The Upanishads speak of the everyday world as maya

Is the whole world only an illusion in Hinduism?
To say that all reality is “maya” is not to say that the world does not exist or that the world is a totally false perception. The world is real, but not in quite the way most people assume. For one thing, human beings view the world as consisting of individual things and people, all separate. In reality, the world is one basic holy reality that takes on many different forms. The Shvetasvatara Upanishad advises us to “know therefore that nature is Maya, but that God is the ruler of Maya, and that all beings in our universe are parts of his infinite splendor.”

What then is the model of reality established in the Upanishads?
The model of reality set forth by the Upanishads is less like a machine made of individual moving parts; it is more like a great consciousness.

This view also produces a sense of amazement at the forms and shifts that the universe takes- it is all, ultimately, unexplainable magic.

What is reincarnation?
The belief that everything living has its own life force and and that every life force, when it loses one form, is reborn in another.

Why is the human stage of life considered dangerous?
The human stage is a dangerous one because each human being must make dramatic choices about how to live. If a human being does not live properly, he/she may be reborn into a very poor or cruel family- or possibly in a form of life that may be even more limited or difficult, such as a dog, a pig, or an ant. A human being can also make a spectacular leap upward beyond the human level to a superhuman existence or even beyond, to complete freedom.

What then is karma, and what well known expression captures its meaning nicely?
Karma: The moral law of cause and effect that determines the direction of rebirth; Comes from a root that means “to do”One well-known saying expresses nicely the nature of karma: What goes around comes around.

What does this term refer to? Samsara
Samara: The everyday world of change and suffering leading to rebirth; The term Samsara refers to the wheel of life, the circle of constant rebirth, and it suggests strongly that the everyday world is full of change as well as struggle and suffering

What does this term mean? Moksha
The term Moksha means “freedom” or “liberation” and comes from a root that means “to be released”. In the Upanishads, Moksha is the ultimate human goal.

As one approaches freedom, how does one’s view of life and one’s actions change?
As one becomes freer, one looks at life less from a selfish and egotistic point of view and more from a perspective that embraces the whole. The unity and sacredness that everything shares become a part of everyday experience. Kindness to all- to animals as well as people- is one natural result of this insight, and kind actions also generate helpful karma. Detaching oneself from pleasure or pain is another practice that leads to freedom from egotism.

What does Hindu practice for the layperson usually involve?
For the ordinary layperson, Hindu practice usually involves devotion to at least one deity. It recommends finding ones proper work and then doing it unselfishly. Hindu practice may also include the study of religious texts, meditation, and other specifically religious disciplines.

What does the Bhagavad Vita try to do?
“Divine Song”; “Song of the Divine One”; It recalls themes from the Upanishads, but it also tries to strike a balance between mysticism and the practical needs of everyday life. Action and adherence to duty are approved and can even be thought of as a spiritual path.

Who are Arjuna and Krishna?
The Bhagavad Vita, like the Upanishads, is written in dialog form. It occurs almost entirely between two figures: a prince Arjuna, and his charioteer and advisor, Krishna.

What is Krishna’s advice to Arjuna?
Contrary to the teaching of nonviolence, which was at the time of this epic’s creation growing strong in India in such religious traditions as Buddhism and Jainism, Krishna advices Arjuna to fight to protect his throne and the structure of society- to fight is his duty. At a moment of great revelation, Krishna shows Arjuna that a divine reality is a work within everything in the universe- in living and also in dying. Krishna even says that for the warrior “this is nothing nobler than a righteous war.”

What issues dud this raise for Mohandas Gandhi and how did he resolve it?
The recommendation that Arjuna should fight has posed a moral problem for some followers of Hinduism. Gandhi is typical of those who have solved this problem by saying that the Bhagavad Vita is religious allegory.

Gandhi held that the call to arms is not about real war but rather a call to fight against dangerous moral and psychological forces, such as ignorance, selfishness, and anger. This interpretation, though it seems to go against the literal intent of the text, has been influential.

Who was Purusha and how does he relate to the caste system religiously?
Purusha: The first person; A superbeingPurusha was divided up; His mouth became the brahman (priest); His two arms were made into the rajanya (warrior-noble; his two thighs the vaishyas (merchants); from his two feet shudra (peasant) was born

What control does the individual have over his/her place in the caste system?
Although an individual cannot change the caste into which he/she is born, it is believed that a good life in one’s present caste will guarantee rebirth in a higher caste or better circumstances. Thus, from the perspective of Hinduism, upward social mobility is possible- even if it takes more than one lifetime to accomplish.

Be able to recognize and define the five divisions of society: Brahmin
The priest; Traditionally performs Vedic rituals and acts as a counselor

Be able to recognize and define the five divisions of society: Warrior-noble
Kshatriya; Has the role of protecting society; This is the traditional caste of the aristocracy

Be able to recognize and define the five divisions of society: Merchant
Vaishya; Includes landowners, moneylenders, and sometimes artisans; Males of the upper three castes (brahmin, kshatriya, and vaishya) receive a sacred cord during a ceremony in their youth and afterward are called “twice-born”

Be able to recognize and define the five divisions of society: Peasant
Shudra; does manual labor and is expected to serve the higher castes; The origin of this caste probably goes back to the Aryan subjection of native people, who were forced to do the work of servants; The peasant is called “once-born”

Be able to recognize and define the five divisions of society: Untouchable
Dalit; Traditionally does the dirtiest work- cleaning toilets, sweeping streets, collecting animal carcasses, and tanning animal hides

How did Gandhi deal with discrimination against the Untouchable?
Untouchable’s low status prompted the Indian reformer Mohandas Gandhi to promote another name for the class- Harijan (“children of God”)- and he urged their inclusion in regular society.

Present-day India has laws and rules to help overcome discrimination against Untouchables.

Note the characteristics of each of the stages: Student
Brahmacharin; This first stage is spent laying a religious foundation for life; The young person, between the ages of 8 and 20, studies religious works; Celibacy (restraining for marriage/sexual relations) is a necessary part of the training

Note the characteristics of each of the stages: Householder
Grihastha; Marriage (traditionally, arranged by the parents) occurs at about age 20, and the person fulfills the demands of society by raising children

Note the characteristics of each of the stages: Retiree
Vanaprastha; When grandchildren arrive, the individual may retire somewhat from ordinary life to spend time once again on religious matters; The ancient ideal was to go into the forest to live, possibly with one’s wife, away from society; In reality, retirees often continue to live with their children and with other relatives in an extended-family setting, but they may eat separately from the rest of the family and spend time on religious pursuits with friends

Note the characteristics of each of the stages: Sannyasin
To enter this last stage is considered to be appropriate only after retirement; It is not expected of everyone but is simply an option; If one wishes to live entirely free from society, one is permitted to leave home; For such a person, the entire world is now his home; A man may leave his wife, although he must ensure that she will be supported; Celibacy is expected, and the sign of this devote, celibate state is an orange robe; The Sannyasin, considered to be outside the caste system, is free to wander, begging his food along the way, and many temples have endowments to feed such pilgrims; The purpose of this kind of life is to hasten mystical insight, to free oneself of all attachments, to end rebirth, and to attain Moksha

What is an ashram?
A spiritual community; The Sannyasin may remain a constant traveler, making pilgrimage to the sacred sites of India, or he may settle in ashram or even live in a cave

What are the three practical goals of life?
In order of increasing value these goals are pleasure (kama), economic security and power (artha), and social and religious duty (dharma). These life goals, which may be pursued simultaneously, are acceptable and even virtuous, as long as they are tempered by moderation and social regulation. Considered highest of the goals, however, is Moksha- complete freedom.

What does yoga mean and what does it hope to accomplish?
Methods that can be used to help people live spiritually; The word yoga means “union” and is related to the English words “join” and “yoke”; A yoga is a way for people to perfect their union with the divine, and because the yogas suggest roads to perfection, they are also called margas (“paths”); There is a tolerant recognition in Hinduism that different sorts of people need different spiritual paths, and an individual’s caste and personality type will help determine the appropriate yoga to practice

Knowledge Yoga: Who practices Knowledge Yoga and who was its greatest teacher and his school?
This type of yoga brings insight into one’s divine nature by studying the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita and by learning from teachers who have attained insight. Knowledge Yoga (Jnana Yoga) is particularly appropriate for priests and intellectuals. This yoga was highly refined by a school of philosophy that is still quite vital, the school of Vedanta (“Veda end”).

The term refers to the Upanishads- which come at the end of the Vedas- and to the fact that the Vedanta school has used the ideas of the Upanishads as its primary inspiration. The greatest teacher of Vedanta, Shankara, argued that everything is ultimately one- all is Brahman.

What analogy did he use to insist that “all is one”?
To show that sense perception can be wrong, Shankara used the example of a person who at dusk is frightened by a coil of rope- the observer mistakenly perceives the rope to be a snake. In the same way, Shankara would say, a person who perceives things as being ultimately separate and different from Brahman is mistaken.

In a novel, attributed to Shankara, the author likens Brahman to god, which can take many shapes. Like the gold of which many ornaments are made, it remains in itself unchanged. Similarly, the waves of the ocean and the drops of water in the waves may be considered separate entities; but the larger truth is that they are all just the same ocean in varied, changing forms.

What is monism and how did this belief raise problems for Hinduism?
Shankara thought that spiritual liberation was achieved when the individual personally came to understand the unity of all things. Shankara so emphasized monism- the oneness of everything- that his branch of the Vedanta school is called Advaita, which literally translated, means “not-two-ness”.

The significance of the term is very subtle. If I say that all reality is “one”, some “other” reality could also exist- something in contrast to the one. But the term “not-two” makes clear that ultimately there is no other reality. For Shankara, therefore, any devotion to a god or goddess who is thought to be different from the worshipper is also mistaken. This rejection of devotion, however, posed a great problem for those types of Hinduism that emphasized it. As a result, later thinkers of the Vedanta school, qualified or denied ultimate monism.

They emphasized passages in the Upanishads that seem to speak of Brahman as being separate in some way from the world. They could thereby create systems that made room for religious devotion.

Action Yoga: What is at the heart of karma yoga?
This type of yoga proposes that all useful work, if done unselfishly, can be a way to perfection. Much of what we ordinarily do is motivated by money or pleasure or praise, but deeds performed without a desire for reward are the heart of karma yoga.

Devotion Yoga: How does Hinduism offer rich opportunities for this yoga?
Bhakti Yoga can involve various expressions of devotion- most commonly chants, songs, food offerings, and the anointing of status. Bhakti Yoga can extend also to acts of devotion shown to one’s guru (spiritual teacher), to one’s parents, and to one’s spouse.

Royal Yoga: What does this “royal way” promote?
Royal Yoga promotes meditation. The term Raja Yoga does not appear in the Bhagavad Gita but was introduced later to refer to the steps of meditation described in the box “Hindu Meditation: More Than Emptying the Mind.” Nonetheless, chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita describes basic meditation- sitting quietly, turning inward, and calming the mind. Done for short periods of time on a regular basis, meditation lowers stress and brings a sense of peace; done for longer periods of time, it can induce new states of consciousness.

What is a mantra?
A word or brief phrase; Often recited with each breath to help clear the mind of thought; The short mantra Om- which is sometimes called the sound of creation- is frequently used

Force Yoga: Why is Hatha Yoga so popular in the West?
When most of us in the West think of yoga, we think of the physical exercises of Hatha Yoga.

These exercises, which were originally developed to help make long periods of meditation easier, mostly involved stretching and balancing. Breathing exercises are usually considered a part of Hatha Yoga.

Kundalini Yoga: What does the lotus blossom have to do with it?
Combining elements of both Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga teaches that there are seven psychic centers, called chakras (“wheels”), that exist along the spinal column, one above the other.

Meditation and physical exercises help the meditator lift spiritual energy- called kundalini and envisioned as a coiled serpent- from one center to the next. Each chakra is like a gateway through which the kundalini passes, bringing increased insight and joy. When the kundalini reaches the topmost and seventh center of energy at the crown of the head, the practitioner experiences profound bliss. The topmost center of energy (sahasrara) appears in imagery as a lotus flower, and reaching it is compared to the opening of a lotus.

What is bhakti and why is it popular?
Devotion to a deity or guru; For the majority of Hindus, some of the spiritual disciplines just mentioned- study, meditation, and special physical exercises- have had limited appeal; Instead, the great majority of Hindus have followed the path of devotion (bhakti) to a god or gods; Hindus worship their gods in village temples and at home altars; Most worship daily, and there are special days dedicated to individual gods

What is Puja?
A devotional ritual commonly performed at an altar; Involves the offering of flowers, food, fire, and incense to images of a god or gods, as well as the occasional singing of hymns

Although Hinduism is seen as polytheistic, what is the reality that tempers this view?
Although Hinduism is often described as a religion that promotes a belief in many gods, in reality individuals tend to focus their devotion on only one of the gods. Sometimes that god is considered to be the greatest of all divine manifestations. There are also strong tendencies in Hinduism toward both monotheism and even monism, because all gods- and everything else as well- are considered, ultimately, to be expressions of a single divine reality.

Devotion to an individual god or goddess is often justified by saying that although the divine is ultimately formless, human beings must worship the divine through its physical manifestations. This belief gives rise to much painting, sculpture, music, and ceremony in honor of many gods.

Brahma: What is the Trimurti?
Means “triple-form”; Three gods have been particularly important in the devotional and artistic life of Hinduism. Although of differing origins, they have sometimes been linked together- particularly in philosophy and art, where they represent the three forces of creation, preservation, and destruction. The three gods are Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. When linked together, they are often called the Trimurti.

Brahma: What does Brahma represent and why does the author think that worship of Brahma declined?
Brahma represents the creative force that made the universe. He is considered the personal aspect of Brahman and has been thought of as the special patron of the priestly class, the brahmins. In India, worship of Brahma as a separate deity has declined over the past two hundred years, although he is still frequently represented in art, where he is pictured beside Vishnu and Shiva.

Perhaps this decline in interest resulted from the popular view of Brahma in India as grandfatherly, distant, and less powerful than either Vishnu or Shiva.

Vishnu: What does Vishnu represent and what is his popularity?
Vishnu represents the force of preservation in the universe. In the Vedas, he is a god associated with the sun, although his role there appears to be small. Thought of as light and warmth that destroys darkness, Vishnu grew in stature until finally becoming a major god of Hinduism. Today, Vishnu is the most important object of devotion in India, and about three quarters of all Hindus in India worship him or his manifestations. His followers are called Vaishnavites (or Vaishnavas).

Vishnu: What is an avatar?
An earthly embodiment of a deity; Because Vishnu is associated with loving-kindness, it is believed that he can appear on earth at different times and in various physical forms to help those in need. Ten major incarnations (or avatars) of Vishnu are commonly listed, of which one is still to appear.

Some previous incarnations were in animal form: a fish, a boar, and a tortoise. Another was Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha- an intriguing inclusion, which helped Hinduism partially reabsorb Indian Buddhism. The incarnation yet to come will be a savior figure on horseback who will judge the human race. Two incarnations of Vishnu are wildly popular- Rama and Krishna.

Rama: Who is Hanuman and what makes him a popular God?
Rama may have been a historical figure who later took on mythic proportions.

He appears in the great epic the Ramayana, whose stories have inspired dance as well as art. Rama and his wife, Sita, who are thought of as the ideal couple, are often portrayed together. One of the most commonly told stories concerns the abduction of Sita by Ravan (or Ravana), the demon king of Sri Lanka. Rama, a king, gains the help of Hanuman, a leader of the monkeys. Hanuman helps Rama in killing Ravan and in locating and returning Sita. Perhaps because of his image as a helper, Hanuman is today an immensely popular god in his own right. In northern India, Rama is so revered that the term Ram, or Rama, is really a synonym for “God”.

Krishna: What does his color represent?
In depictions of Krishna, his face and skin are often blue, the color of the sky and of heaven, indicating his true otherworldly nature.

Shiva: Although Shiva represents destruction, how do Hindus understand his/her role?
Shiva’s connection with destruction may be hard for many non-Hindus to appreciate. In some religions, destruction is associated with divine punishment for wrongdoing. In Hinduism, however, destruction is considered to be simply another part of the divine energy at work in the world. Destruction is a type of recycling, the necessary loss of form, which occurs so that new forms may appear; and death is always thought of as leading to new life. We know that the seed disappears when the tree grows, and the flower must die to make the fruit.

Thus Shiva is also associated with re-creation.

Shiva: What do Shiva’s four arms represent?
Shiva has four arms, which signify his many powers. In his upper right arm is a drum, symbolizing creation and the beginning of time; and in the upper left arm is a flame, symbolizing destruction.

His lower left arm is pointing to his upraised foot, suggesting that everyone should join him in his dance and be as free as he is. His lower right arm is extended in blessing, which in a symbolic way says, Don’t be afraid.

Shiva: What does Ganesha represent; what is his relationship to the other gods?
Fertility is further emphasized by Shiva’s companion animal Nandi, the bull, and by Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva, who has become a symbol of strength and abundance. Both are frequently found in temples dedicated to Shiva. Worship of Shiva is most common in Kashmir and southern India. We should note, too, that Shiva is closely linked with destruction only when he is viewed as part of the Trimurti. Among Shaivites, he is the sole God and is not exclusively related to destruction.

What is another name applied to Devi?
“Goddess”; the Divine Feminine; Also called The Great Mother

What Indian city is named after Kali’s temple?
Kolkata (“Kali’s stairs”) is named after her temple in this city.

What does the androgynous nature that Shiva at times take emphasize?
Shiva is portrayed with a variety of shaktis (“energies”), the best known being Parvati and Uma. Sometimes Shiva is himself portrayed as androgynous: half of his body is masculine, while the other side shows a female breast. This androgyny represents the unity that underlies all the apparent opposites of reality- a unity also spoken of in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.

From what meaning does the title guru derive?
Spiritual teacher; The etymology of the word “guru” is expressive: “the one who removes darkness”; Anyone who seeks spiritual growth- no matter what his or her caste or station in life- may seek a guru, whom the individual can visit regularly to seek advice. Even gurus who have taken vows of silence can offer advice and insight to their disciples by writing on tablets or simply by looking at them with love

What lies behind the practice of “presence” (darshan)?
Because people of spiritual accomplishment are thought to radiate their divine nature, disciples find opportunities to be in their presence. Sometimes a holy person will sit or stand silently, allowing devotees to come forward, one by one, to look into the teacher’s eyes and to experience the divine energy that shines out.

What reasons does the author find for Hindu devotion to animals?
This devotion to animals in Hinduism has several possible origins: an ancient deification (worship) of powerful animals, such as the elephant and tiger; the desire to neutralize dangerous or mischievous animals, such as the snake, rat, or monkey; and even a sense that human beings and animals have the same origins (a belief also common in native religions).

Belief in reincarnation has undoubtedly also played a role. When they see animals and insects, many Hindus see prehuman beings who, in their spiritual evolution, will eventually become human themselves. This brings a feeling of closeness to nonhuman forms of animal life.

Why is the cow held sacred?
Among the animals, cows receive special veneration. This tradition may stem from pre-Vedic worship in the Indus River valley of the bull or cow, a symbol of fertility and economic value. In rural India, to have a cow is to have milk and butter, fuel (dried dung), and warmth and comfort associated with household pets.

With a cow, one is never utterly destitute (without the basic necessities of life). Affection for the cow may also arise from the strong thread of ancient devotion to the Divine Feminine- hinted at by the commonly used term gau mata (“mother cow”).

Why is Hindu art often “disappointing”?
Hindu painting can sometimes be disappointing, such as the rather garish devotional art sold at temple gates. Many fine paintings of the past have undoubtedly vanished because of the fragility of the paper and cloth on which they were done. The murals that remain, however, demonstrate the heights that Hindu devotional painting has sometimes attained; and some yantras- geometrical paintings used in meditation- are unforgettable.

What art form outshines painting?
Hindu sculpture, however, far outshines Hindu painting. Fine pieces of sturdy stone and metal are on display in India and in museums around the world.

What other art forms have religious connotations?
Popular Hinduism has made use of hymns to many gods as expressions of bhakti yoga. Their regular rhythm and repetition help produce a state of altered consciousness in the worshiper, however, bringing a sense of selflessness and union with the divine. Instrumental music- especially involving drums and the harmonium, a hand-pumped reed organ- has also been an integral part of religious celebrations for centuries. Classical Indian instrumental music is less obviously religious, yet much of it has an undeniable mystical quality. It makes use of ragas, elements of Indian music that blend features of both scales and melodies.

Frequently these ragas are played and musically developed over deep tones that are played as a drone. The drone suggests the underlying timeless world of Brahman, against which changing melodies- suggestions of the world of time- move. Musical pieces often begin quite tentatively, then gradually speed up to a vary quick pace, and suddenly stop, bringing the listener and players an experience of release and peace. Indian classical dance is more obviously tied to religion. It interprets stories derived from the tales of gods, such as Krishna and Rama. Much of it also originated as a part of religious ceremony, performed at religious festivals and in or near temples. Dance is meant to produce delicate states of feeling, some of which are thought to assist contact with particular gods.

What two waves of influence have washed over India?
In the past millennium, two additional waves of influence washed across India: Islam and the British. Islam first came into India from Afghanistan, and a sultanate was set up in Delhi in 1206. After invasions from Turkmenistan, the sultanate was supplanted (replaced) by the Mughal dynasty, beginning in 1398. The Mughal dynasty continued on into the eighteenth century, even as the British were consolidating their control over much of India.

What causes intense conflict with Islam?
There could hardly be two more dissimilar religions than monotheistic Islam and polytheistic Hinduism. The contrast has produced intense conflict, which continues today. The more than five centuries of Islamic rule began in 1206 were marked by a spectrum of attitudes toward Hinduism, moving back and forth between cruel oppression and complete tolerance.

The attitude of the state depended on the opinions of the ruler at the time.

What is an example of European pressure on Hindu practice?
Possibly as result of contact with European values, one practice that was made illegal in the early nineteenth century was that of sati (or suttee, named after the first wife of Shiva). While there is no evidence to suggest that this practice was common, in sati a woman whose husband died could volunteer, as a sign of her wifely devotion, to be burnt alive on her husband’s funeral pyre. Although the British found the notion of sati horrible, they were unwilling to intervene at first. Reform-minded Indians, however, worked with the British to make the practice illegal. Instances of sati still happen today, but they are rare.

What is ahimsa?
Refers to nonviolence; Gandhi believed nonviolence was fundamental; He not only believed in nonviolence for his own sake, but he felt that it gave a great moral power to its adherents and that it could sway those who were cruel, thoughtless, and violent

What does Mahatma mean?
Means “Great Spirit”; The title given to Gandhi following the Salt March

What are the issues faced by Hinduism today?
The issues that moderate Hinduism faces, as it is evolving today, come from three sources: the conservative social teachings of traditional Hinduism, the centuries-old conflict with Islam, and the challenges of the contemporary world

What two issues are challenging traditional Hindu practices?
The caste system is weakening in large cities and the role of women has expanded in modern India

What are the international ramifications of the Islam-Hindu struggle?
A concern facing modern-day Hinduism is the intrusion of contemporary values, particularly individualism, women’s rights, sexual freedom, modern fashion, and consumerism. Globalization has made instant some of the conflicts that once arose more slowly. There is now quick communication through e-mail and cell phones, and television is an irresistible conduit of new values. The international world of banking and finance has moved some of its operations to India, where English-speaking graduates are plentiful and the costs of employment are favorable. American consumers making routine calls for technical help with their computers are often connected with computer specialists in Mumbai and Delhi. These jobs provide greater economic opportunities for women as well as men, inevitably raising the potential for conflict between traditional values and new freedoms.

In what nation is Hindu the national religion?
Hinduism is the dominant religion of Nepal, where about 80 percent of the population is Hindu.

Where in Asia does Hindu culture thrive?
Hinduism was once widespread in Indonesia, where it was introduced by Indian traders.

During the Muslim invasion, however, the Hindu court culture was forced to retreat from the main island of Java and settled to the east on the small island of Bali, where a fascinating example of Hindu culture thrives. Here, Hinduism lives on in a complicated, beautiful form that is mixed with folk religion and Buddhism. Each village has Hindu temples, where dances based on Indian tales (especially about Rama) are performed. Shadow-puppet plays tell Hindu stories, and Balinese wood carvings reproduce images of Hindu gods, goddesses, and heroes. The central temple of Bali, a complex of buildings on the volcanic Mount Agung, is dedicated to the Trimurti. Although the rest of Indonesia is primarily Muslim, some Hindu elements remain in Indonesian dance and puppet plays.

What American literature and American authors show the earliest influence of Hinduism in the west?
Hinduism has had some influence on the West since the nineteenth century. The earliest impact was intellectual, when translations of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita became available in Latin, French, German, and English. The translations generated great interest among philosophers, scholars, and poets. In the United States, the New England movement called Transcendentalism owes a good deal to its literary contact with Hinduism.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman all spoke in their writings of the sacredness of nature and the ultimate unity of all things, and they sometimes even used terms demonstrating Indian influence, such as Brahma and Oversoul (another name for Brahman).

When and where did the second wave of influence occur?
The next wave of influence occurred when Indian gurus began to travel to the West. The first of these gurus was Swami Vivekananda, who represented Hinduism at the first World Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago in 1893. He was the successor to Ramakrishna, the noted mystic and devotee of the Great Mother. Vivekananda began the Ramakrishna Mission and set up Vedanta societies and Ramakrishna centers across Europe, India, and the United States.

A Vedantist center has existed in Hollywood since the 1930s, and British writers such as Christopher Isherwood, Aldous Huxley, and Gerald Heard all practice meditation there. Isherwood, under the influence of his guru, Swami Prabhavananda, became a Vedantist and translated the Bhagavad Gita into English.

What is International Society for Krishna Consciousness and how is it better known?
The movement called the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) was founded in New York in 1967 by Swami Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada to spread a form of devotional practice among westerners. Commonly known as the Hare Krishna movement, ISKCON has succeeded in attracting westerners to live a traditional form of Hindu religious life. Its practitioners worship Krishna as the highest incarnation of the divine, chant daily, eat a vegetarian diet, and if celibate, wear the traditional orange robe. The impact of this movement in the West has been particularly strong in the area of cuisine, prompting the opening of vegetarian restaurants across Europe, the United States, and Canada.

What is the largest recent influence of Hinduism in the west?
The impact of Hinduism on Western thinkers, musicians, and poets was in large measure achieved by non-Hindus inspired by Hindu culture. Now Hindus themselves, in and out of India, are producing internationally acclaimed works, especially novels and films. Their particular points of view result from experiences accumulated across centuries in one of the world’s richest cultures. Those experiences will in time help global citizens, whatever their origins, to see themselves with an understanding that has been enriched by the Hindu worldview.