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A Hindu perspective on Church

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Dharma (the word equivalent to religion) in Hinduism

Dharma is a word common to all Indic religions. It is derived from the Sanskrit Dhar which means that which upholds. The basic interpretation of Dharma is the study and practice of that which upholds society and civilisation. The esoteric interpretation of Dharma is to examine the principle that underpins and holds the whole of creation together. Dharma asks us to make sense of the world we live in and our role in it. Discerning and harnessing the laws that underpin everything is the way of putting Dharma into practice. Strange as it may sound, the definition of Dharma does not make any reference to God. 

Hinduism is a family of Sectarian movements

Hinduism accepts that spiritual progress is possible through a variety of different approaches. The Rig Veda declares: Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti (1).  Meaning: Ultimate approached differently by different sages. Hence the teachings promoted by ancient and modern sages sit side-by-side as different sectarian movements promoting different spiritual approaches within Hinduism.

Theistic approaches

The most common theistic movements are: The Vaishnavaites who adopt a monotheistic mode of relating to the ultimate reality as a super personality called Vishnu. The Shaivatas view the ultimate reality as Shiva and the Shaktas view the Ultimate Reality as Shakti - the Mother Goddess.


Non-theistic approach

Apart from the theistic approaches for spiritual progress, Hinduism also promotes a non-theistic approach which views the Ultimate Reality as Brahman, a principle rather than a super-personality underpinning everything and everyone. It is Brahman that manifests or projects itself as the whole of this creation. All living things are viewed as a clearer manifestation of Brahman. Men and women are considered to be the most transparent manifestation of Brahman and are referred to as Atman. This approach gives the highest dignity to men and women as it accepts them as the clearest vision of God here and now. This conclusion of Hinduism is defined as Spiritual Humanism which is in sharp contrast to Materialistic Humanism which is in vogue in modern society.               


Non-religious approaches for spiritual progress

Hinduism recognises that spiritual progress is also possible in a non-religious mode. Every disciplined human endeavour in any field like: Arts, Music, Dance, Drama, Poetry, Literature and Science will invoke our spiritual dimension. An agnostic or even an atheist is not considered to be any less spiritual than a religious person.


Reconciling these differing approaches in spirituality (Religious Pluralism)

Professor Ninian Smart in his book Worlds Religions comments on how these vastly differing approaches of Hinduism are reconciled through the teachings of two modern proponents of Hinduism ~ Ramakrishna & Vivekananda through their use of Pluralism. This is a very radical idea because not only does it reconcile various approaches within Hinduism but also accepts that spiritual progress is possible through other religions as well as in a non-religious mode.      


The caste system

The idea of caste mentioned in the scriptures of authority like the Purush Shukta (2) or the Bhagavad Gita (3) comment on the need for the division of labour based on age and aptitude called Varnashrama Dharma. This idea is endearing and used by almost all modern societies to stream their youngsters to choose a profession suited to their age and ability. Unfortunately in the medieval period the concept of Caste in India degenerated into an oppressive hereditary hierarchical caste system. Dr Radhakrishnan, the ex-president of India, commented: The caste system was paradoxically an outcome of tolerance and trust but  degenerated into an instrument of oppression and intolerance. Various modern proponents of Hinduism such as Swami Vivekananda or Gandhi have classed the hereditary hierarchical caste system as an atrocity committed in the name of religion. Modern India has criminalised discrimination on caste grounds and has put into place regulations promoting positive discrimination to draw back many disadvantaged people from the lower castes into mainstream society.


The function of caste today

Caste discrimination does still exist, but today most adherents regard their identity as Hindus as taking precedence over caste distinctions and are seeking to draw different groups together.  As hereditary caste is a social stratification rather than a division promoted by strict religious injunctions, it cannot be preached out by religious leaders. The fast altering socio-economic landscape of modern India is gradually removing the caste divide. In the UK, in just one generation, the caste system has turned into a benevolent clan system. There will still be a preference to marry within the same clan but this is to do with convenience and preference to marry within a familiar social grouping.  


(1)      Rig Veda I.164.46

(2)      Rig Veda  X.90

(3)      Bhagavad Gita (18.40-41-42)


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