Monday, June 27, 2022

Hindus not polytheists

| June 14, 2022 1:00 AM

Continuing the series on minority religions, a glimpse of Hinduism.

With about 900 million followers (including 10% of Asian-Americans), Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam. Focused largely in native India, Hindus nevertheless are found all over the world — fitting for a religion which embraces diversity and preaches many paths to emancipation from worldly ills.

This ancient religion is henotheistic: Followers believe in one god, but recognize multiple manifestations of god's qualities. This is why Hindus are sometimes mistakenly thought to believe in many gods.

Think of it instead as many aspects of one god.

Hindus focus on practice over principle, so the line separating belief and ethic becomes indistinct. It’s a complex religion with a complex history, multiple levels of study, and seemingly endless theories of practice. For that reason Hinduism varies much by culture. Meditation, vegetarianism, yoga, and individually based lifestyle choices are a few exemplifying aspects.

Six themes are basic to the Hindu world view:

Diversity — of thought and class (the caste system)

Cyclical time — no beginning or end, so history is not significant

"Tension” — adding new ideas to old, rather than replacing them. This can make Hinduism seem ambiguous or conflicting

Tolerance — of other ideas, religions, peoples, cultures

Monism — reality is not dual (good/evil); it’s made of only one principle of thought or essence

Religious integration — religion can’t be separated from other aspects of life

Two widely used Hindu terms are "dharma" and "karma." Dharma loosely translated means duty, but the term represents more than that. It describes what people ought to do, and right living — a concept that is very individualized in Hinduism.

More familiar is karma. Karma describes a moral law of cause and effect, a belief that nothing happens by accident. Different from the American concept of fate, karma teaches that each thought or deed we produce effectuates something that happens to us in the future. Everything we do brings about some part of our destiny (and affects others).

Another concept in Hinduism is moksha, a term without equal in English. Moksha describes liberation, transformation and bliss — the idea that we seek to transcend our own egos into a conscious awareness, then intuitive realization, of the oneness of mankind’s and the universe’s spirit.

If we all shared that sense of oneness right now, America wouldn’t feel so divided.

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email

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