Your Visit to Varanasi, India case study

59
Your Visit to Varanasi, India
I
magine that you’re on a visit to the city of
Varanasi (vuh-RAH-nuh-see) as a part of a tour
of India. You know that Varanasi, located on the
Ganges (GAN-jeez) River in north India, is unique
among the cities of the world, but nothing can
quite prepare you for its sights, sounds, and smells.
Your visit begins with a pre-dawn boat ride on the
Ganges. As your rowboat glides along the river, you see
Hindu pilgrims on the western shore of the river descending
the wide steps—two miles of them at Varanasi— leading
down to the water. They wash themselves
physically and spiritually, and pray toward
the rising sun. A man dressed only in a
loincloth and his sacred thread fi lls a
small copper kettle with river water and
then pours it out in a small stream while
saying a prayer in the ancient Sanskrit
language. After the boat ride, you walk
to the Golden Temple, the most sacred of
the city’s many shrines dedicated to
Shiva (SHEE-vuh), the patron deity
of Varanasi. You see Hindus making
off erings of fl owers to the black
stone emblem of Shiva. You also
visit the newer Hindu temple inaugurated by Mohandas Gandhi, the
father of modern Indian independence. You return to the hotel for
breakfast before taking a guided
tour of Varanasi.
As you walk with your
group through the narrow, twisting streets down to the river, you
pass several cows wandering
freely, and even a bull sacred
to Shiva. You notice many small
temples and even smaller shrines that seem to be everywhere.
You also notice many old, frail people, some in the doorways of
ashrams and others living on the street, who have come to die
in Varanasi in the hope of achieving liberation from the cycle
of endless reincarnation. You see human bodies, wrapped
and propped up on rickshaws, on their way to the water. As
you get close to the Ganges, you notice three men with
wild hair, squatting on a stone platform overlooking the river. You can’t tell if they are wearing
anything at all, and your tour guide explains that
their bodies are smeared with ash and dried cow
dung. They are smoking hashish in a pipe, praising
Shiva loudly as they draw on the pipe. (You wince
when one of your tour mates makes a pun about
“ganja on the Ganges.”) On the right you see a
large group of women bathing fully clothed
in the water near
the steps, and in
a separate but
close-by area a
group of men in
Indian loincloths. Both the men
and the women have come
to wash away their sins, and
perhaps even the necessity of
reincarnation. The river seems
polluted to you, but this means
nothing to the thousands of
Hindus who worship in it.
“Encountering Hinduism is like your fi rst visit to an Indian buffet. You can’t sample
everything, but if you choose a good variety you’ll have a good introduction.”
Hinduism is mostly about
escaping this material world.
Strongly Disagree Strongly Agree
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
What DoYOU Think?
A man who has renounced the world to
devote himself to Shiva smokes a drug.
© BHUVAN TRIPATHEE
< The Hindu god Shiva is often portrayed as the Lord of the Dance.
BONNIE VAN VOORST © CENGAGE LEARNING
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60 CHAPTER 3 ENCOUNTERING HINDUISM: MANY PATHS TO LIBERATION
As you keep walking up
the river, you notice a cluster
of large fi res and hundreds
of large logs stacked up
behind them, and you realize with a bit of a shock that
you’ve reached Varanasi’s
open-air cremation area. In
a scene that you’ll remember
for a long time, you see the
steps of the Hindu funeral:
piling wood into a pyre, laying on the wood a body
that has just been dipped
into the Ganges, a son lighting a pyre, priests intoning
ancient scriptures as a body
begins to burn, members of
the Dom group gently tending a body over three hours
of burning to burn it as fully
as possible, and Doms pushing cremated remains into the river to fl oat
away. To die and be cremated in Varanasi
is thought to bring automatic liberation from
the cycle of reincarnation. Your group must stand respectfully at the top of the steps, where you happily realize that
you have a better view and the odor is better, too.
In the evening, you join your guide at the shore of the
Ganges to witness the happy Aarti ceremony that is part of
the evening religious devotions to Shiva. The celebrative
music and dancing, and small candles lit on miniature “boats”
and put into the river to memorialize the dead, soothe your
spirits and make for a good, inspiring end to a challenging day.
If this is your fi rst encounter with the Hindu religion,
you may become bewildered by all its varied beliefs
and practices. Calling something a “religion” usually
implies a unifi ed system of belief and practice, but
Hinduism has little obvious unity. It has no personal
founder, defi ned core beliefs, common scripture that
guides all Hindus, standardized worship practice, or
central authority. This diversity has led to what you
may consider contradictions. For example:
● Hinduism has literally millions of gods, but many
Hindus typically see one god behind them all,
and some see only an impersonal Oneness in and
beyond the universe.
● Hindus often control their bodies to pursue a
hidden spiritual reality behind all physical things,
seeking liberation from the endless cycle of
reincarnation and pursuing the peace that
liberation brings here and now. At the same
time, they joyously affi rm bodily existence with
a striking affi rmation of sexuality, for example
with erotic statues in some temples.
● Many Hindus are strict vegetarians for religious
reasons, but others eat meat on occasion, and
some even sacrifi ce animals at Hindu temples.
● Hinduism teaches personal duties tied to one’s
place in a rather rigid social structure but allows
some people to “drop out” of ordinary life completely to pursue individual religious goals.
● Hindus number around 900 million today in
India, a number that includes some 220 million
Indian “outcastes.” The modern Indian state now
considers these 220 million as Hindus, but they
are not considered as such by most other Hindu
castes, nor do they often call themselves Hindus.
● Hinduism has a long history of at least three
thousand years but constantly combines old traditions with new elements to produce a richer, more
diverse faith and culture that bring ancient traditions into the twenty-fi rst century.
In light of all this obvious diversity, what is the hidden
unity of Hinduism that binds it together? Scholars have
argued about this for more than one hundred years, and
it’s not an easy question to answer. The most common
answer is this: Hinduism, and faithful Hindus, have a reverence for the ancient Hindu scriptures called the Vedas
and perform their caste duties. But this may seem a bit
IMAGE BY © ANDERS RYMAN/CORBIS
You realize, with
a bit of a shock,
that you’ve reached
Varanasi’s open-air
cremation area.
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
THE NAME HINDUISM 61
vague to you, and you should
keep the question open as you
study this chapter. In sum,
encountering Hinduism is a bit
like going to an Indian restaurant for the fi rst time. When you see a wide variety of
exotic dishes on the menu, or even if you go to an Indian
buffet, you realize that you can’t taste them all. But at the
end of the meal, you know that your experience in the
restaurant gave you a good introduction to Indian cuisine.
Religion usually implies a unified system
of belief and practice, but Hinduism has
little obvious unity.
LO1 The Name Hinduism
Like the names of a few other world religions, the formal name of Hinduism came from outside the faith.
Hindu fi rst appears around 500 B.C.E. as the ancient
Persian word for the
Indus River and the
inhabitants of its valley. From the 1300s
C.E., invading Muslim
rulers of northern
India used “Hindu”
for all non-Muslim Indians, whatever religion they
were, to distinguish them from Indian converts to
Islam. Beginning in the 1500s, European colonizers
coming to India used it in its current sense to mean the
members of the supposedly single religion to which all
Indians other than groups like Muslims, Christians,
and Zoroastrians belonged. Then, from about 1800 on,
Hinduism gradually became accepted by most Hindus
in India as a valid name for their religion, especially to
distinguish their religion from others. Thus, Hinduism
is an umbrella term gradually imposed on Hindus and
then accepted by them.
The approximately 2 million Hindus living in
North America and the sizeable Hindu communities in other parts of south Asia (especially Bali,
Indonesia), a few parts of Africa, and Great Britain
also embrace this name. However, more-upper-class
Om (Aum) [OHM] Spoken
syllable symbolizing the
fundamental hidden reality of
the universe
Symbols of Hinduism
Om
Although Hinduism has no offi cial symbol,
the religious symbol most sacred to most
Hindus is the mystical syllable Om. You will
also fi nd the spelling “Aum,” and in fact the
symbol is composed of the equivalent of
our letters a, u, and m. Although as a syllable it has no literal
meaning, Om symbolizes the fundamental hidden reality
of the universe and is the basic spiritual sound the universe
makes, particularly the sound of the world soul. Om is written daily in formal contexts and often pronounced at the
beginning of religious reading or meditation. Many Hindus
wear this symbol in jewelry, and it is found in family shrines
and in temples. Pronounced in a deep, lengthy way, it can
resonate throughout the body and the sound of Brahman
can penetrate to one’s center of being.
The Swastika
You may be surprised, even shocked, to
encounter the swastika as a common, ancient
symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
Svastika (SWAHS-tee-kuh) is an ancient Indian
word meaning “sign of good fortune,” and this symbol is widely
used as a good-luck charm. The swastika has “crooked” arms
facing in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction (both directions are common in Asia). Its arms extend in all directions,
suggesting to Hindus the universal presence of the world
soul. It is continually rotating like the wheel that it resembles,
symbolizing the eternal nature of ultimate truth. This symbol
is often found on Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist temples, and it is
worn on neck pendants. In 1935, the Nazi Party of Germany
adopted the swastika known in Europe, with no historical
connection to the Indian svastika, as its symbol of the party
and the nation—of course with no intent to endorse Hindu
teachings. It is still used today by some neo-Nazi groups. So we
have an odd situation: For people of many Asian religions, the
swastika is a much-loved symbol; for people in the Western
world, the swastika is much despised.
A Closer Look:
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62 CHAPTER 3 ENCOUNTERING HINDUISM: MANY PATHS TO LIBERATION
Hindus often refer to their religion as the “eternal
teaching” or “eternal way of life.” Some scholars of
religion also question the adequacy of Hinduism as
a name, preferring to speak of “Hinduisms.” On the
whole, it is fi tting that a vague term like Hinduism is
used today for a religious tradition that has so much
internal diversity.
LO2 The Hindu Present as
Shaped by Its Past
At dawn, a group of men in northern India sits around
an outdoor fi re pit and chants poetic hymns from
memory. Nearby, outside a boundary
rope that encloses the area of sacrifi ce,
their teenage sons sit studying the
sacrifi ce, quietly repeating the men’s
words and movements. Also outside
the rope, women are pounding rice,
cooking it, and shaping it into balls. The
men occasionally pour a bit of liquefi ed
butter from a wooden bowl onto the
fi re, which fl ares up momentarily. The
men are singing ancient hymns to Agni,
the Hindu god of fi re, comparing him
to the rising sun. After the sacrifi ce, the
rice balls will fi rst be off ered to Agni, and
then some will be eaten in turn by the priests, then by their
sons, the women, and the whole community. This ceremony
from more than three thousand years ago is carried out
with increasing frequency in India as interest in ancient
Hindu practices grows. However, some Hindus are not
happy about the re-creation of ancient sacrifi ces, preferring
instead the adaptations of these rituals that have arisen in
the course of Hindu history.
History is an important tool for those who study
today’s religions from a Western academic standpoint.
We understand the present of religions by way of their
past. Although Hinduism must be understood historically as well, history itself is not an important concept
in Hinduism. Most Hindus don’t think of their religion
in historical terms, preferring to look to the spiritual
truths beyond historical events. They often look to
cycles of change for individuals (for example, death
and reincarnation) and for the universe itself (repeated
creation and dissolution), not to the kind of linear
developmental process that “history” usually implies
to Westerners. Nevertheless, studying Hinduism’s past
is valid and helpful, particularly because in Hinduism
new developments reinterpret and update past practices
rather than end them. In Hinduism today, we can see
important beliefs and practices from the entire sweep
of Indian history.
The Vedic Period
(1500–600 B.C.E.)
Around 2500 B.C.E., an Indus Valley civilization thrived
in northwest India, in what is now the nation of Pakistan
(see Map 3.1). It centered in two city-states on the Indus
River, Harappa (huh-RAHP-uh) and Mohenjo-Daro
(moh-HEN-joh-DAHR-oh). The Indus Valley inhabitants were a dark-skinned people whom most scholars
connect with today’s Indians called Dravidians (druhVID-ee-uhnz). (About 25 percent of
Indians today are Dravidians.) This civilization traded internationally and had a
high material culture; its main cities of
Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were carefully planned and even had a sewage system connected to private houses. Their
system of writing has not yet been deciphered by scholars. The
religion of the Indus
Valley civilization
is also largely
unknown to
us. Many
female deity fi gurines have
been found by archaeologists, and the Indus Valley
people probably worshiped
goddesses of fertility in connection with their farming. The
cows on their offi cial seals—a
variety of stone objects probably used in worship—and
sculptures of people in seated
meditation may suggest religious practices that infl uenced Hinduism. But until
much more is known about
these and other features of
Indus Valley religion, its
effect on Hinduism must
remain uncertain.
Most Hindus don’t think
of their religion in historical
terms, but look to the
spiritual truths beyond
historical events.
WWW.CEPOLINA.COM
The Indus Valley people’s offi cial seals featured
the cows still venerated today in Hinduism.
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THE HINDU PRESENT AS SHAPED BY ITS PAST 63
The Indus Valley civilization was in decline around
1500 B.C.E., when nomadic
tribes who called themselves
Aryans (AIR-ee-unzs), or
“noble ones,” migrated into northwest India from
their home in the Caucasus area between the Black
Sea and the Caspian Sea. These Aryans must be distinguished from the modern Nazi misuse of this term,
which was identifi ed with Nordic-Germanic people as
a claimed superior race. Moreover, many Hindus dispute this migration/invasion, so Hindu scholars sometimes refer to it as the “Aryan Invasion Theory.” The
Aryans were light-skinned cattle-herding and warlike
tribes with horse-drawn chariots. They were a part of
the migration from central Asia into both India and
Europe; hence the term Indo-Europeans is much more
common than Aryans. They soon took over control of
the Indus Valley peoples. These Indo-Europeans spoke
Sanskrit, a language closely related to most European
languages, including English. They had oral collections called the Vedas, which form the foundation
of Hinduism. The Vedas represent a diversifi ed and
continuous oral tradition that extends from around
1200 to 800 B.C.E.; they were written down much
later. The earliest Vedas, four in number, were “books
of knowledge” compiling hymns to various deities,
instructions for sacrifi ce, songs to accompany sacrifi ce, and spells for everyday life to bring on blessings
and keep away evil.
The heart of Vedic religion was sacrifi ce by means
of fi re, accompanied by sung praises and requests to the
gods. Vedic gods living in
the skies or in heaven play a
role in human life as forces
of nature, forces that can
be infl uenced by sacrifi ce.
In general, Vedic sacrifi cial
Vedas [VAY-duhs] Hindu
“books of knowledge”
consisting of Rig, Yajur,
Sama, and Atharva Vedas
Map 3.1
Indus Valley Civilization and Aryan Migrations
The Indus Valley culture emerged in the city–states of the Indus River Basin. It was in decline
when the Aryan (Indo-European) peoples began migrating into India around 1500 B.C.E.
© CENGAGE LEARNING 2013
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
64 CHAPTER 3 ENCOUNTERING HINDUISM: MANY PATHS TO LIBERATION
rituals aim at aiding and strengthening the gods, who
then strengthen the world to remain alive and strong, so
that those who offer sacrifi ce may prosper. In this worldview the gods and humans are partners in a “circle of
life” that maintains the ongoing creative processes of the
world. Both need each other to thrive. The Vedic stage
of Hinduism affi rms the world, accepting the physical
aspects of the world as good and proper. At the daily
and domestic level, the simple Agnihotra ritual to the sun
was performed by the head of most Vedic households
three times each day and is still common in India. Even
given its adaptations over time, it is arguably the oldest continually practiced ritual in the world. The gods
to whom Agni (AHG-nee), the god of fi re, carried the
sacrifi cial offerings included Indra, the king of the gods,
with traits of both a war god and a thunder god; Varuna
(vah-ROON-uh), the god guaranteeing moral order; and
Brahma (BRAH-muh), the god of creation. Many other
gods, mostly male with some female, are also associated
with physical and spiritual forces of nature.
A key person of Vedic times
was the rishi, or “seer” of the
divine, a priest who was able to
commune directly with the gods.
The rishis achieved an altered
state of consciousness in which they could see and hear
the gods. To reach this state, they drank a drug called
soma, probably hallucinogenic, pressed out perhaps
from a mushroom. When
the rishi drank soma as a
part of Vedic sacrifi ce, he
took a trip to the realm
of the gods and experienced their
hidden truth. He then was inspired
to compose hymns in their praise,
hymns which came into the Rig
Veda. Soma even became a god, so
powerful were its effects. This quest
for a direct individual encounter
with ultimate, hidden truth has persisted in the Hindu tradition to this
day, although the encounter itself has
changed. No longer is it an encounter
with all the gods; it is discovery of an
ultimate reality hidden in one’s soul
or ecstatic devotion to one’s chosen god. The means of achieving it
have changed (no longer a drug, but
intense meditation), as have those
who can achieve it (no longer limited
to soma drinkers, but open to all).
“The sun would not rise if the priests did not
sacrifice.” —Famous saying of Vedic times
Near the end of the Vedic period, for reasons not
clear to us, the Vedic system of sacrifi ce grew into a
dominant power in Aryan society. The power of sacrifi ce was no longer dependent on the gods’ favor as
infl uenced by the humble prayer and household sacrifi ces of ordinary Aryans, but on the faultless priestly
performance of increasingly more elaborate sacrifi cial
rituals. At least sixteen priests, and many more assistants, were needed for the regular sacrifi ces. Sacrifi ce
was no longer just a means to the attainment of blessings such as children and prosperity, but a requirement
for the maintenance of the world itself. A famous saying of the time claimed that “the sun would not rise
if the priest did not sacrifi ce” (Satapatha Brahmana
1.3.1). Religious and social power collected in the
hands of one type of priest among many: the priests
who called themselves Brahmins. The books detailing sacrifi ce and its power are called the Brahmanas,
“Brahmin books.” This concentration of power in the
hands of the Brahmin priesthood, perhaps combined
with other factors such as the infl uence of indigenous
Indus Valley religious practices, would spark change
for Hinduism in its next period of history. It would
also catalyze the birth of a new religion, Buddhism,
which would change religion in all of ancient Asia
and, in modern times, the world.
The Great Bath at Harappa
© COPYRIGHT J.M. KENOYER/HARAPPA.COM, COURTESY DEPT.
OF ARCHAEOLOGY AND MUSEUMS, GOVT. OF PAKISTAN
rishi [REE-shee] “Seer” of
the divine, who collected
the sounds of the four
Vedas
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
THE HINDU PRESENT AS SHAPED BY ITS PAST 65
The Upanishadic Period
(600–400 B.C.E.)
In the fi rst millennium B.C.E., Hindus added another
dimension that has endured to this day. This is the quest
for knowledge so deep and sacred that to know it is to
bring eternal freedom from this world of appearances
and constant change. The Upanishads, philosophical
Hindu scriptures from this period, are primarily dialogues between teachers and young students who seek
this sacred knowledge in a withdrawal from ordinary
life. These teachers and students renounced the Vedic
value put on ordinary life and pursued extraordinary
truths. They criticized the Vedic rituals as unnecessary,
and they rejected the rising social and economic power
of the priesthood. Their criticism of Vedic sacrifi ce was
so effective that from this period through today the
only remnants of Vedic sacrifi ce that survive are the
relatively simple ones often incorporated into newer rites, especially weddings, funerals, other traditional rites
of passage, and simple daily sacrifi ces.
The Upanishads urge physical and
mental rigors that become increasingly important for Hindu practice.
Buddhism and Jainism, which will be
considered in later chapters, arose at this time
in India to fi nd a single
required way to enlightenment, but each one denied
key Hindu teachings and
practices. Most Hindus
gradually rejected these
new movements in favor
of Hinduism’s inclusive
approach.
The Upanishads teach
that underlying reality is
a spiritual essence called
Brahman, a single “world
soul” that is the foundation of all physical matter,
energy, time and space, and
b e i n g
itself—in
short, of
everything in and beyond this universe. (This term is not to be confused
with the Vedic creator god Brahma
or the Brahmin priests.) Although it
is cosmic, Brahman is present in all
people in the form of the atman, a
person’s innermost self or soul. In other words, each
person’s innermost soul is a part of the one world soul.
For most (but not all) Hindus, Brahman is not a personal
being, as “world soul” might imply; it is spiritual, but
it is not a spirit. The religious quest in the Upanishads
involves understanding that Brahman and one’s own
atman are one and the same. The realization of this
truth, which is the deepest form of self-understanding,
brings freedom from ignorance and misery, and release
from the endless cycle of reincarnations of one’s atman.
Unlike the Vedic hymns, the Upanishads do not affi rm
the physical world, but rather aim at transcending it.
This goal of liberating one’s soul by perfect knowledge of it, and the use of physical and meditational
techniques to achieve this knowledge, became permanent, important aspects of Hinduism. These techniques gradually coalesced into a system called yoga,
the Sanskrit word for “yoke.” Yoga is an ancient meditational practice that yokes the body and mind in the
quest for religious deliverance. (You may know it as
an exercise and meditation system, but it is much more
than that for Hindus.) Yoga
aims at removing humans
from the overwhelming mental fl ow of the material world,
© DINODIA PHOTOS/BRAND X PICTURES/JUPITER IMAGES
Statue in Bangalore, India, of the god Shiva
meditating in the lotus yoga position
Upanishads
[oo-PAHN-ih-shahds]
Literally, “Sittings Near a
Teacher”; philosophical
scriptures that spelled the
end of the Vedas
Brahman [BRAH-muhn]
“World soul,” the ground
of all matter, energy, time
and space
atman [AHT-muhn]
Person’s innermost self
or soul
yoga [YOH-guh] Ancient
meditational practice that
yokes the body and mind
in the quest for religious
deliverance
For most Hindus,
Brahman is spiritual
but is not a spirit.
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66 CHAPTER 3 ENCOUNTERING HINDUISM: MANY PATHS TO LIBERATION
if only momentarily, in order to recapture their original spiritual purity.
The Classical
Period (400 B.C.E.
–600 C.E.)
A growing number of conversions to Buddhism and Jainism
was a threat to Hinduism.
The Mauryan (MOHR-yuhn)
dynasty that governed north
India was pro-Buddhist, and its
most famous king, Ashoka (ahSHOH-kuh), extended Aryan
rule and Buddhist infl uence into
all of India. Hindus dealt with
this threat in a way that became
typical of Hinduism through
today, by integrating foreign
elements into the broader
Hindu tradition. The main
teachings of the Upanishads
were seen as compatible with
the earlier Vedas—whether
they were or not—and accepted
into the Vedic body of scripture.
In addition, they incorporated a variety of religious practices
of lower, non-Aryan classes that were
converting to new religions. To put it
another way, the Sanskrit tradition
of the Vedas, for the educated upper
classes and the “high” gods, took in
and controlled the tradition of the
lower, non-Aryan population and the
“low gods” of local village and tribal
deities. Local deities became a part of
the village shrines and temples. The local
gods were identifi ed with the older gods, or
regarded as their incarnations, or became one of
their “family members.” The non-Aryans were successfully taken into this system, some into the lower castes
and others into the “outcastes.” This development
solidifi ed Brahmin power
and religious teachings,
and eventually stemmed
the conversions of nonAryans to other religions.
However, mass conversions
to other religions, particularly
Buddhism and Christianity, are still
a diffi cult issue when they occur
today among lower classes in India.
Around 400 B.C.E., as the
wandering Aryans fi nally settled
into towns and cities, they built permanent homes for themselves and
temples for their gods. Before that,
all sacrifi ce was done outdoors,
with sites as nomadic as the Aryan
tribes. During the Classical period
the two great Hindu epics still
popular today were written, the
Mahabharata (MAH-huh-BAHrah-tuh) and the Ramayana (rahMAH-yah-nuh). Both relate royal
rivalries, perhaps refl ecting political turmoil during this period as
different clans struggled for territorial power when they settled
down. They feature a tension
between the aim of upholding
the world found in the Vedas
and that of isolating a person
from society in order to achieve
individual liberation found in
the newer Upanishadic tradition. Both epics emphasize that
social and moral obligation must
be maintained, and that rulers acting in
the Hindu tradition have a key role in
maintaining it. However, many characters in these epics have renounced
the world, live alone in forests or in
small settlements, and are said to possess extraordinary powers to bless or to
curse. The epics’ heroes almost always
treat these world renouncers, or sadhus (SAH-doos)—of whom we will speak
below—with great respect and learn much from
them even as they take up their social duties.
Another solution to this tension is found in the
Mahabharata, particularly the part of it known by the
separate title of Bhagavad Gita, “Song of Heaven”
or “Song of the Lord.” In the Gita, the god Krishna
appears to the warrior-class leader Arjuna (are-JOONah), to convince him to do his social duty of fi ghting,
but in a way in which he understands and controls its
effect on him. The Gita’s solution is a masterful blend
of world-affi rming action and world-denying detachment from the results of one’s actions. True renunciation © DINODIA PHOTOS/BRAND X PICTURES/JUPITER IMAGES
Goddess sculpture at a temple in Mathura,
northern India
Bhagavad Gita [BAHguh-vahd GEE-tuh] “Song
of the Lord”; a long poem
on religious duty in the
Mahabharata
True renunciation
does not mean
renouncing socially
responsible actions.
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
THE HINDU PRESENT AS SHAPED BY ITS PAST 67
does not involve renouncing socially responsible
actions. Rather, it involves renouncing desire
for the fruits of actions even as one fulfi lls one’s
social duty. Selfl ess action without desire for
reward is true renunciation for the Gita, and
no tension should exist between one’s dual obligation to support the world and to seek individual liberation. The Gita recognizes that this is
diffi cult and that most people must use yoga
and other disciplines
to accomplish it.
This ingenious
approach has
contributed to the Bhagavad Gita’s
status as the most infl uential of
Hindu scriptures today.
A different genre of literature also concerned with
society arose at this time,
the law codes, particularly
the Laws of Manu (MAHnew). What epics do in a literary way, the law codes do in a
formally legal way. They carefully restrict
renunciation of the world to older males. One
must earn the right to renounce the world by
fi rst being in the world as a good student, then as a
husband and father. Opting out of ordinary life can
only be done after one has successfully engaged in
it. Underlying all the law books is the strong Hindu
affi rmation that doing one’s duty for an orderly, stable society is necessary for this world and after one’s
death leads to better reincarnation. This social order
involves primarily the proper functioning of the main
social-religious classes that arose in Vedic times, as
well as the proper observance of interaction within
and among these classes. Women belong to the various classes even though their social roles are not as
determined by their class as their husbands’ roles are.
We will consider these classes more fully below.
The Devotional Period
(600 C.E.–present)
The next period in Hinduism is characterized by three
developments: the rise of devotional movements, especially the main three devoted to Shiva (SHEE-vuh),
Vishnu (VISH-new), and the Goddess; Tantrism; and
the rise of Hindu reform movements. Of these developments, the fi rst is so important and infl uential that it has
given its name to the entire period.
Devotion to one’s chosen god is a
main way of being Hindu. Devotion,
or bhakti, enters the Hindu tradition as
early as the Bhagavad Gita, where devotion to Krishna brings a cognitive mental discipline to guide action in the world. Around
the sixth century C.E. in southern India,
advocates of devotional Hinduism led
movements praising Shiva and Vishnu
in emotional poetry and song. This
devotional experience involves
often-uncontrollable joy in one’s
god, sometimes with fainting,
frenzy, tears of anguish, and ecstatic
speech. By the seventeenth century,
this devotional movement spread into
most Hindu traditions, where it remains.
The devotional movement gradually coalesced into
three movements, one each for Shiva, Vishnu, and
Shakti (SHAHK-tee), the Goddess.
Devotion is typically described in its poetry and
song as deep love for one’s god. Devotees are willing to
sacrifi ce anything in order to revel with their divine lord
in ecstatic bliss. The best example of this is the devotees of the cowherd Krishna, married women who leave
their husbands and homes to frolic with Krishna in the
woods. Women have played an important role in the
rise of devotional movements. Two famous women devotees, Mahadeviyakka (MAH-huh-deh-vee-YAHK-uh)
and Mirabai (MEER-uh-bigh), were both unhappy in
traditional marriages and eventually left their husbands
to devote themselves entirely to a god. Hinduism fi nds
a way to balance devotion to a god and renunciation
of the world. The language of love that breaks Hindu
social rules is made a symbol of deep love within these
rules. Even holy men who have renounced everyday life
typically wear devotional marks to Vishnu or Shiva.
Hinduism finds a way to balance
devotion to a god and renunciation
of the world.
An actor in traditional clothing and makeup
performs part of an Indian epic. WWW.CEPOLINA.COM
bhakti [BAHK-tee]
Devotion, particularly in a
devotional movement or
group
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68 CHAPTER 3 ENCOUNTERING HINDUISM: MANY PATHS TO LIBERATION
The Tantras, the basis
of the second major development of this period, are
writings based on practices
that arose outside the elite
Brahmin tradition. Many
Westerners today associate
the Tantras with exotic sexual practices, but Tantrism
is much broader than that. The hundreds of Tantras
often criticize established religious practices and the
upholders of those practices, especially the Brahmins.
However, the Tantras also often express central, traditional Hindu ideas and practices. For example, an individual is a microcosm of the cosmos, and by learning
the sacred “geography” and life forces of one’s body
one may, by means of various yogic techniques, bring
about one’s own spiritual fulfi llment. The Tantras themselves distinguish between a right-handed path and
a left-handed path. The right-handed path is open to
most Hindus and uses mantras (short sacred words or
sounds used in prayer or meditation), sacred diagrams
called mandalas, and ritual techniques based on body
geography. The left-handed path, appropriate for those
with an especially adventurous, fearless temperament,
centers on rituals that engage in actions strictly forbidden in Hinduism, gaining liberation by transcending the
tension between good and evil. For example, by expressing lust in sexual intercourse with a forbidden woman,
a man may seek to overcome lust. Left-handed Tantrism
is highly controversial among many Hindus, but righthanded Tantrism is commonly approved.
We turn now to the next topic in the Devotional
period: Hindu reform or revisionism. Hinduism was
not, on the whole, so affected by Islam during Muslim
rule in India that it had to make adaptive changes.
However, with the arrival fi rst of European colonizers
and then of Christian missionaries in the nineteenth
century, their interaction with Hindus led to Hindu
movements for change. Attempts were made to renew
Hinduism spiritually and socially, ending practices that
most Hindu reformers found objectionable: the harshest features of the caste system, “superstitions” like
Vedic astrology, popular blessings and curses, the worship of images, and the like.
● Rammohan (RAHM-moh-hahn) Roy (1774–1833),
who was perhaps the world’s fi rst scholar of
comparative religion, had watched in shock as his
sister burned to death on the funeral pyre of her
husband. He was dismayed at what he saw as the
harmful effects of caste divisions. He founded the
Society of Brahmanism in 1828. Roy claimed that
the Upanishads reveal the one God of all people.
The One was to be worshiped through meditation,
quiet worship, and a moral life, not by the emotions of devotional Hinduism.
● Dayananda Sarasvati (DAH-yuh-NAN-duh SAHrahs-VAH-tee) founded the “Noble Society” (Arya
Samaj) in 1875. Dayananda found the pure, original essence of Hinduism in the Vedas centering on
monotheism and a reasoned morality. He opposed
much of devotional Hinduism and was opposed to
Islam and Christianity. His movement along with
Ram Roy’s gained little steady acceptance from
Hindus.
● Ramakrishna (RAH-muh-KRISH-nah), who lived
from 1836 to 1886, taught traditional Hindu
beliefs and spiritual techniques. He was a devoted
temple priest of the goddess Kali, but he worshiped other Hindu deities as well—even the
God of Christians and Muslims. He incorporated
selected Western ideas and religions into a Hindu
context and did not attempt to change Hinduism
by making it conform to Western ideas of religion
or rationalism. This program was widely effective
and led to Ramakrishna’s fame in Hinduism.
The twentieth-century Indian movement for
religious reform and independence from the British
Empire—particularly its religious and political leader,
Mohandas K. Gandhi (moh-HAHN-dahs GAHN-dee;
1869-1948)—shows once again the persistence and
adaptability of Hinduism. Gandhi is widely known by
his honorifi c name, Mahatma (“great soul”), and he
certainly was one of the great fi gures of the twentieth century. The civil rights movement in the United
States and South Africa is heavily indebted to him for
nonviolent resistance as a religious-political program.
Although Gandhi drew on different religious traditions, especially nonviolence in Jainism (ahimsa) and
Christianity (the teaching of Jesus on forgiving one’s
enemies while refusing to cooperate with them in evil),
he was thoroughly Hindu. He emphasized Hindu
teachings and practices that the masses could appreciate, such as devotion, prayer, and trust in divine
grace, and combined this with strong moral reasoning
and action. His favorite text was the Bhagavad Gita,
which provided the religious foundation for his system of “persisting in the truth.” This system involves
expressing the truth in every action, no matter what
the result, acting without regard for rewards. Acting
for social good without any regard for personal
Tantras [TAHN-truhs]
Writings in the Tantric
movement of Hinduism
mantras [MAHN-truh]
Short sacred formula used
in prayer or meditation
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
THE HINDU PRESENT AS SHAPED BY ITS PAST 69
reward is a main point of the Gita,
but Gandhi chose to read the Gita
as a text urging nonviolence, not
war. He forbade violence as a tool
in his political campaigns; instead,
he urged self-control, negotiation
and tactical compromises, and even
self-sacrifi ce.
Gandhi’s style of life drew on
the renouncer tradition in Hinduism.
At middle age he practiced the strict
poverty of a holy man and later in life
took a vow of celibacy. He wore little clothing and lived on a bare minimum of food, becoming very thin. This austere lifestyle built spiritual
strength for the liberation of Hindus from caste
hatred, domination by colonialists, and widespread
economic poverty. The nonviolent movement he led
secured independence from Great Britain in 1947,
but to his sorrow this independence resulted in not
one nation but two: India and the officially Muslim
nation of Pakistan, to which many Muslims migrated.
He was assassinated by a Hindu in 1948 after rising complaints that he was too much of a pluralist
and too accommodating to Muslims—some Hindus
had even mocked him as “Mohammed Gandhi.”
Unfortunately, his murder increased the tension
between Hindus and Muslims that challenges the
whole Indian subcontinent
even today, but his positive
legacy continues in India and
throughout the world.
The government of modern
India has tolerated all religions and has brought some
signifi cant improvement to
the lives of the lower classes
and the outcastes. This has
provoked a religious- political
reaction widely but controversially referred to as “Hindu
fundamentalism.” For the
members of Hindu fundamentalist groups, Hindu ism
is more a symbol of national
political identity than a religion. The main group to arise
is the Indian People’s Party,
often known by its Hindilanguage initials, BJP. Their
principal concern is the perceived danger to the Hindu
majority by conversions
among untouchables and other
Hindus, which they see as a threat
to what they call the “Hinduness,” Hindutva (hihn-DOOTvah), of India. They have enacted
laws restricting efforts at conversion by Muslims and Christians. In
1992, a Muslim mosque in the city
of Ayodhya was destroyed by a mob
of militant Hindus, and then rioting by
Muslims and Hindus killed more than a
thousand people.
From 1998 to 2004, the BJP was in control of the
Indian government, with a leader of the BJP as prime
minister. It was during this time that India openly
deployed nuclear weapons, prompting Pakistan to do
the same. Although they now are out of power in the
national government, the BJP and its fundamentalist
supporters still control a few Indian states and have a
strong infl uence on the nation. For example, in 2007
they got the Indian government to give up a plan to
build a shipping canal between India and Sri Lanka,
claiming that this canal would destroy an ancient, holy
“bridge” to Sri Lanka that Hindus believe was built
by the gods. Most Hindus see Hindu fundamentalism
as contrary to the generally inclusive, tolerant spirit of
Hinduism. This will probably
dampen its growth potential,
but Hindu radicalism remains
strong in several parts of India
today.
Ben Kingsley as Gandhi, and Martin Sheen as newspaperman
Vince Walker, in the acclaimed 1982 fi lm Gandhi
PHOTO BY KEYSTONE/GETTY IMAGES
he acclaimed 19
Some Hindus
mockingly
nicknamed Mohandas
Gandhi “Mohammed
Gandhi” because they
thought he was too
accommodating to
Muslims.
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
70 CHAPTER 3 ENCOUNTERING HINDUISM: MANY PATHS TO LIBERATION
LO3 Essential Hindu
Teachings
I
n central India, a woman off ers prayer and a sacrifi ce of
food in a temple dedicated to Santoshi Ma (san-TOH-shee
mah), or “Mother of Satisfaction.” Santoshi Ma is a goddess
of prosperity, especially the wife’s prosperity with modern
appliances in her home, and the woman in the temple is
asking for a more bearable load of housework. Santoshi Ma
was unknown before her existence was discerned by a few
devout Hindus in the 1960s. A few temples were then built
in her honor, and in 1975 she was featured in a blockbuster
Hindi-language fi lm, Hail Santoshi Ma. The fi lm presented
a mythology for Santoshi Ma’s divine birth and growth as
the daughter of Ganesha, and featured a simple devotional
ritual to gain her blessing. Santoshi Ma became an important, much-loved goddess practically overnight, the fi rst
time that modern mass media have infl uenced the rise of a
deity. Because the establishment of new deities has a strong
precedent in Hinduism, Santoshi Ma is now well integrated
into the pantheon of Hindu goddesses, and her many devotees
see her as one with all the other
goddesses.
In this section, we will discuss the main beliefs of
Hindus about the world,
human society, and the
individual. We will begin
with a treatment of the
main deities in the three devotional movements we encountered in the previous section.
Main Deities
in the Three
Devotional
Movements
Shiva. Shiva (SHEE-vah) is
the god who meditates in his
home in the Himalayas. He is a
fearsome god with matted hair,
with a body smeared with ashes
and clothed with animal skins,
and carrying snakes and human
skulls. He repeatedly burns the
god of love to ashes when the
god tries to distract him. In
the cosmic cycle of creation,
destruction, and re-creation, Shiva guides and empowers destruction. However, Shiva devotees today view
this destruction positively, as symbols of the removal
of obstacles to salvation; destruction is a necessary part
of re-creation. The destructive side of Shiva is depicted
in the popular bronze statues called Shiva Nataraja
(NAH-tuh-RAHJ-uh), “Shiva the Lord of the Dance” (see
the photo on the opening page of this chapter). Shiva is
surrounded by fi re, which destroys in order to purify. He
embodies the world-renouncing tendencies of Hinduism
and as such provides a model for this aspect of the
tradition. However, a good deal of Shiva’s mythology
concerns his eventual marriage to the goddess Parvati
(PAHR-vah-tee), mythology in which a feminine, lifepromoting side of Shiva emerges. His other consorts are
Durga, the goddess of death, and Kali, the frightening
destroyer of evil.
Shiva is also an appealing, attractive god. His son
Ganesha (or simply Ganesh), the elephant-headed
god who clears away obstacles to success, is one of
the best-loved Hindu divinities. Ganesha’s image is
found in nearly every Hindu shop and offi ce around
the world. Shiva’s most typical image in his temples is
the lingam (“sign”). The meaning of this is disputed;
it probably depicts the erect phallus, which celebrates
Shiva’s power, but for most Hindus this meaning is not
important. Shaivites often worship Shiva by pouring
milk over the lingam. Another main symbol of Shiva
is the bull Nandi, whose statue outside his temples
is venerated by worshipers. Shiva is also represented
by the trident, and his devotees often wear horizontal
The Taj Mahal, built in the 1600s as a Muslim tomb, has
become the architectural symbol of India and is widely
considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.
© AND INC./SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
lingam [LING-gahm]
Symbol of erect phallus in
Shiva’s shrines
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
ESSENTIAL HINDU TEACHINGS 71
stripes painted on their forehead and display a trident.
Vishnu. Vishnu, on the other
hand, is a cosmic king who lives
in blissful splendor in his heavenly palace. He supervises universal order and prosperity, protecting and
preserving the world. When needed, he descends to
the world in various incarnations to defeat enemies
of both humans and the gods. Vishnu is a royal, gracious god, revered by his devotees with loving devotion and surrender. His female counterpart is Lakshmi
(LAHK-shmee), the much-loved goddess of fortune
and wealth. Vishnu is often depicted with blue skin,
because he once killed a fi ve-headed snake, taking all
its poison into himself; his skin then changed color
due to the poison’s effect. To his worshipers, this blue
color is a symbol of his power.
Vishnu’s most familiar incarnations are Rama, hero
of the Ramayana, and Krishna, hero of the Bhagavad
Gita. Both Rama and Krishna are today among the bestloved Hindu gods, which has ironically led to Vishnu
himself being seen as too high to intervene directly on
behalf of the individual in trouble. Devotees of Vishnu
who have renounced the world typically wear two vertical markings on the forehead that come together on
the bridge of the nose.
Shakti and the Goddess. The cult of Shakti and the
mother aspect of the divine had its roots in the Vedas.
The Rig Veda describes Shakti as the powerful upholder
of the universe. She is the sister of Krishna and the
wife of Shiva. She is worshiped as Devi (DEHvee), “the Goddess,” who
is one with Brahman. The
literature of Shaktism
is found in the Tantras;
it gives a high place
to women and reacts
strongly against caste distinctions. In some regions
of India, the Great
Goddess (Mahadevi) is
revered as the supreme
divinity. Female power
in the Goddess alone is
seen as the ultimate cause
of the creation, preservation, and end of the
world.
Like Shiva, the Goddess
is venerated both in her
gentle, motherly aspects and in her cruel, dangerous,
and erotic aspects. Accordingly, she is honored under © DINODIA PHOTOS/BRAND X PICTURES/JUPITER IMAGES
The deceptively lovely Durga, goddess of death
Ganesha with Om on his forehead
© DINODIA PHOTOS/BRAND X PICTURES/JUPITER IMAGES
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
72 CHAPTER 3 ENCOUNTERING HINDUISM: MANY PATHS TO LIBERATION
a wide variety of divine
forms. The most well
known are Lakshmi, the
goddess of wealth and
consort of Vishnu; the
black goddess Kali (“dark
one”), riding on a lion;
and the demon-slaying
goddess Durga. The yoni,
a stone representation of
the human female genitalia
usually found in Goddess
temples, is a symbol of the
feminine power of the cosmos. The lingam is often set within the yoni to suggest
that the universe is powered by a combination of the
male and the female.
With Hinduism’s millions of gods—traditionally
put at 330 million!—and even with these three more
focused devotional movements, how do Hindus put
it all together in a way that makes everyday sense
for them? Whether a Hindu honors Vishnu, Shiva, or
Shakti, that god is for her or him the sole and the highest, whereas other Hindu gods are lower forms. Thus,
one god is thought to appear at various levels. At the
“top” is a nonpersonal absolute, Brahman, the
world soul that cannot be described.
Brahman is so comprehensive that
some Hindu scriptures describe
it as encompassing everything
that exists. Brahman manifests
itself in various personal high divinities
that create the world (Brahma), maintain
it (Vishnu), and destroy it again (Shiva). In
practice, however, followers of one god
will attribute all three functions to him or her, as our
treatment above suggests.
They see all other gods
as standing under their
god or as further manifestations of “their”
god. Although the
teaching of the ultimate
world soul plays little or
no role in the religious
everyday—it’s hard to
pray, sacrifi ce, express
emotion to something
that is unknowable—it
has the effect that most
Hindus see no problem
in acknowledging other Hindu
traditions, and sometimes even
other religions, as authentic
paths to the divine.
Hindu Doctrinal Concepts
Dharma is the most basic concept of Hinduism. It is a
wide-ranging term for righteousness, law, duty, moral
teachings, religion itself, or the order in the universe.
Dharma is also the god who embodies and promotes
right order and living. The ancient Vedas emphasize the
order of the cosmos, and dharma builds on it by emphasizing the correct ordering of human life. Dharma is
more than a set of cosmic-order ideas applying in the
same way to all Hindus. It’s specifi c to one’s place in the
world: one’s social position or caste membership, stage
of life, and gender. The dharma of a member of the warrior class is distinct from that of a laborer; the dharma
of a youth is different from that of the father of a family, and a husband’s dharma differs from his wife’s.
A Hindu needs to conform primarily to his or her
class and caste dharma. Most Hindu scripture teaches
this, and it is a particular theme in the most-read Hindu
scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. Following the social
and religious rules of one’s caste leads
to better reincarnation; neglecting it
leads to a lesser reincarnation. For a man
to leave his caste for a
higher one is unthinkable. Opposing the
caste system itself
leads to radically lesser
reincarnation. One could
fi nd oneself an outcaste,
a lower animal, or an
insect in one’s next life.
This has led to a remarkably conservative social
structure and explains
why, even today, traditional Hindu values often frustrate
attempts at social
change for women
and the lower castes.
Hinduism divides life
into four stages, each
with its own particular
dharma—what is seen as
right for each stage. Some
yoni [YOH-nee] Stone
or sometimes metal
representation of the
human female genitalia,
a symbol of the feminine
power of the cosmos
dharma [DAHR-muh]
Righteousness, law, duty,
moral teaching, order in
the universe; also, the first
goal of life in Hinduism
© GRIGORY KUBATYAN/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
Lingam set in a yoni, receiving worship to Shiva
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
ESSENTIAL HINDU TEACHINGS 73
classes and most women do not need to observe such
dharma, but the stages are an important aspect of what
a Hindu would consider dharma to be. These four
stages will be dealt with in more detail later.
Samsara is the cycle of reincarnation endured as a
hardship by the spiritual essence of all
living things. The jiva (individual soul)
is subject to reincarnation, because it is
only the jiva that earns reward or punishment in the next reincarnation (see
the next paragraph). One’s atman, the
deeper soul identical with Brahman,
is not subject to karma, but it goes
along with the jiva. It travels with the
jiva in reincarnation but is beyond it.
Because actions in life involve choices,
at every moment an individual is capable of making the choices to ensure a
good situation in one’s next life. The
Brihadaranyaka (bree-hahd-uh-RUNyah-kuh) Upanishad describes this
well: “An individual creates for himself
his next life as a result of his desires,
hopes, aspirations, failures, disappointments, achievements and actions performed during this life of his. Just
as a caterpillar gets its front feet fi rmly on the next leaf
before it leaves the one it is on, a soul creates its next
life before it departs the present one.” This leads us to a
fuller consideration of karma.
Karma is derived from the Sanskrit
for “deeds” and is related to one’s
behavior in preceding lives. After a person’s death, her or his spiritual essence
is reborn in another life if any karma is
attached to it. Whether one is rich or
poor, healthy or sick, male or female,
intelligent or not, talented or untalented, a member of a high or low caste,
a Hindu or not, and endowed with
many other life-defi ning traits depends
on the karma inherited from the lives
that have gone before. Karma explains
and justifi es all human inequalities.
Although the conditions of an individual’s life are determined in advance by
her or his deeds in previous lives, individuals must assume personal responsibility for their present actions and their consequences.
Moksha means “liberation” from rebirth that
comes with the entry of the individual soul (atman)
into the highest reality (Brahman). The idea of reincarnating without end, or even attaining eternal life as an
individual, is abhorrent to Hindus. The ultimate goal
is to merge one’s atman with Brahman, like a drop of
water enters the Indian Ocean. To be liberated from
samsara, one must be rid not only of bad karma but
also of good karma; any karma at all causes rebirth
after death. Although actions take place, if the self that
does them is not egoistic, karmic results cannot attach
to them. Paradoxically, one must even give up the
desire to achieve liberation
in order to reach it. (To
illustrate this from everyday life, if you’ve ever had
trouble falling asleep at
night, you may have found
that to fall asleep you must
give up trying to fall asleep
or even try to stay awake.)
Many Hindus, however,
fi nd that complete moksha is diffi cult to achieve,
especially in a time when
many Hindus believe that
their religion is in an era of
“Just as a caterpillar
gets its front feet
fi rmly on the next leaf
before it leaves the one
it is on, a soul creates
its next life before it departs
the present one.”—
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
samsara [sahm-SAHruh] Cycle of reincarnation
jiva [JEE-vuh] Individual,
personal soul that collects
karma and is subject to
reincarnation
karma [KAHR-muh]
Deeds or acts as they
influence reincarnation
moksha [MOHK-shuh]
Liberation from rebirth
and samsara
A soul, symbolized by a ray of light, travels to
enlightenment through seven diff erent lives
© ANANTASHAKTI
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
74 CHAPTER 3 ENCOUNTERING HINDUISM: MANY PATHS TO LIBERATION
decline. They are content to collect good karma and be
reincarnated to a better life.
Three main paths lead to moksha, whether one
fi nds it or not. There is a tendency among Hindus to
see one chosen path as the best, but the paths are often
combined as well. The way of active, obedient life,
called the path of deeds (karma),
is doing ritual actions of worship
and meditation, as well as carrying out daily conduct according
to one’s own dharma, but without a selfi sh intent that causes bad
karma. Second, those on the path
of knowledge see the central problem with human beings as their
inability to realize that they are
living in an unreal world and that
the only thing real is the spirit. The
path of knowledge brings personal
merging with the ultimate unity
behind the visible things of the
world, particularly knowledge of
the unity of the individual soul
and the world soul through yoga
and meditation. Third, the path
of devotion is a loving surrender
and service to one’s main deity. Some who follow this
path see their deity as a manifestation of the impersonal Brahman, but others see their god or goddess
as the Supreme Being, with no Brahman above him
or her.
© DINODIA PHOTOS/BRAND X PICTURES/JUPITER IMAGES
Garlands for the gods for sale outside a Hindu temple
Popular Misunderstandings of Karma, Mantra, Guru, and Avatar
Karma is not “fate,” as we often hear today in North
America and Europe. Fate is a random, uncontrollable
power that determines human actions and events. In fact,
karma is the opposite of what “fate” means in the Western
world. In karma, each person generates her or his own
reward or punishment, which comes in one’s condition
after reincarnation. Also, one hears muddled talk about
“group” karma—for example, Hollywood actress Sharon
Stone’s suggestion that the 2008 earthquake in China that
killed seventy thousand ordinary people was some sort of
karmic retribution for the Chinese government’s violent
crackdown on dissent in Tibet. Stone said, “And then all
this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and I thought,
is that karma—when you’re not nice that bad things happen to you?”
A mantra is not a slogan or proverb of “words to live
by,” such as “Her mantra is to enjoy life to the fullest” or
“The candidate’s mantra of change was very powerful.”
Rather, a mantra is a short mystical utterance of great
sacred power, as illustrated by the greatest of all mantras, Om.
A guru is not anyone who acquires followers in any
sort of movement, or a person who has wide authority
because of his or her secular knowledge or skills. Rather, a
guru is a private teacher of transcendent religious truth to
a student; a guru leads the student to full knowledge and
release.
An avatar is not only a computer user’s selfrepresentation in a three-dimensional model for computer
games or a two-dimensional icon for Internet communities. In Hinduism, an avatar is an incarnation (diff erent,
human form) of a god, as for example Krishna is an avatar
of Vishnu. This understanding of avatar was adapted by
fi lm director James Cameron in his blockbuster 2009 fi lm
by that name, in which a human mind is projected into the
body of a human-like being.
A Closer Look:
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HINDU ETHICS AND WAYS OF LIFE 75
LO4 Hindu Ethics
and Ways of Life
Krishnan, a thirty-year-old computer engineer in Illinois,
logs onto shaadi.com to begin the process of fi nding a
wife. This Indian website bills itself as the “world’s largest
matrimonial service.” Some of Krishnan’s friends have used
it and have urged him to try it, because his parents’ eff orts
at matchmaking haven’t succeeded. (Other young Hindus
rely on the more traditional means of getting a wife.) He
enters the search terms “Hindu,” his social-religious class, and
also his birthday for a “Vedic astrology horoscope” used in
traditional Hindu matchmaking. In his personal statement
for the website, he writes that he is looking for a traditional
Hindu young woman who can grow to love him after they
are married. His parents will always
come fi rst in his life, he says, then
his wife, and then his brothers and
other relatives.
Hindus often say that Hinduism is more a way of life
than a religion. For observant Hindus today, everyday life and religious life are not separated, because
Hindu ethics traditionally plays a leading role in
everyday life: caste and class, marriage and children,
career and retirement.
Hindus often say that Hinduism is more
a way of life than a religion.
The Caste System
You’ve probably heard about the Hindu caste system,
which divides people in society into economic and
social groups, giving all people their occupations, level
of income, and particular pattern of religious duties.
India has more than six thousand castes and subcastes,
and scholars have long debated the roles of color, economics, and power in the caste system. There is a long
history of dissent in Hinduism from the caste system—
and there are many activists working to reform it—but
for the most part it has endured as one of the main
features of Hinduism. Two words are used in Hindu
society to refer to this social system: varna and jati.
Varna means “color” (it is related to our word
varnish). It refers to a Hindu system of classifi cation
of people into four classes, dating back to Vedic times.
Some scholars have theorized that social classes are
based on color, with the lightest at the top and the
darkest on the bottom. This is probably an oversimplifi cation, and is controversial in Hinduism, but even
today in India there is a general cultural preference for
the lighter skin tones found in the upper varnas. Also,
class is generally related to economic standing: The
lower one’s class, the lower one’s income. But there are
many exceptions to this; some upper-caste Brahmins
are of modest means, and one can fi nd members of
the common-people Vaisya class who are wealthy
merchants. As a rule, outcastes are desperately poor,
existing on the equivalent of a few dollars a day.
A well-known hymn in the Rig Veda (10.90) tells
of how the four main classes arose from the sacrifi ce
of Purusha (POOR-oo-shuh), a man as large as the
universe. “The Brahmin was made from his mouth;
his arms were made into the Prince; his thighs became
the common people; and from his feet the servants
were born.” The Brahmins are the priests who spring
from the mouth, and it is the mouth that one needs for
chanting the sacred scriptures. The Purusha myth suggests that some people are born with the capabilities
for leading others in important religious ritual. When
Aryans fi rst arrived in India, their scriptures were not
written down but memorized by the priests, who were
seen as the only class of people capable of learning,
memorizing, and reciting them with precise correctness for the purpose of carrying out religious rituals
that mediate between humankind and the divine.
The myth also relates that the arms formed the
“Prince.” This is the class of Kshatriyas, the people in
society who are rulers, such as rajas (kings), government administrators, and, because rulership always
involved protection of one’s subjects and expansion of
one’s kingdom, warriors in particular. The strong arms
of Purusha are needed for
action, for an active way
of life, so the myth shows
us that it is the dharma of
some people in life to be
the protectors of others.
A Brahmin could not perform this duty, because he
would not have the right
ingredients (of Purusha) in
his personality to be a warrior. (However, Brahmins
have often been advisors to
rulers.)
varna [VAHR-nuh]
“Color,” a system of
classification of people in
Hinduism into four main
classes
Brahmins [BRAH-munz]
The top priestly class in
the varna system
Kshatriyas [kshuhTREE-yuhz] The warrior
and princely varna class
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76 CHAPTER 3 ENCOUNTERING HINDUISM: MANY PATHS TO LIBERATION
The thighs of Purusha form the
large class of the common people, the
Vaishyas, who provide the necessary
semiskilled labor for society to function. The thighs of the body are strong,
so Vaishyas have the temperament and
ability to work at manual tasks. They
are merchants, small farmers, and artisans. Finally, the servant or peasant is
born from the feet of Purusha. The task
of the Shudras, people in the fourth
class, is to support the rest of society
by acting as a servant. Religiously, it
is only men in the top three classes
who are “twice-born” and are able
to go through a ceremony to initiate them into the stages of Hindu
religious life. Shudras and women of
the top three varnas are not generally
thought to have the personal qualities to be twiceborn Hindus. But Shudras can do well economically,
and women (not men) are allowed to marry a person of one class above them. If Shudras follow their
dharma well, they can be reincarnated into a higher
jati or even varna.
“Outcastes” are those outside the caste
system, not those “cast out” of it.
Below the class system are
the outcastes, a term not legally
accepted in India today. (Note
that this term means “those outside of the caste system,”
not “those cast out.”) The
Indian government calls
them “scheduled classes,”
but others call them
Harijans (HAHR-ee-jahns),
“Children of God,” a positive term with an unfortunate negative connotation
in that “Harijans” is also
a Indian euphemism for
illegitimate children. They
prefer today to call themselves Dalits, “oppressed
ones.” Their sheer size—an
estimated 160,000,000—means that they can wield
considerable political power in elections. Some rise to
political fame, and there have been a number of cabinet
ministers and even one prime minister from the Dalit
class. Despite affi rmative action programs for Dalits
that give some a higher education and well-paid government jobs, strong discrimination against Dalits persists.
In June of 2007, a group of Shudra shepherds petitioned to be offi cially downgraded into the Dalit class,
hoping to gain access to preferential treatment afforded
by the government; their attempt was met with rioting
by other Hindus. Most Dalits are still confi ned to the
most menial, ritually polluting jobs such as street cleaning, manual scavenging, and handling bodies of dead
animals or humans. They cannot drink from the same
water pumps as the twice-born
castes or eat in restaurants with
them. In some villages, occasional violence is used to keep
Dalits “in their place.” Hindus
of the four classes do not consider them to be Hindus, and
their rights and political status
have been problematic in modern India. They are today the
poorest of Indians.
Jati means “birth,” and this birth caste is more important than varna for Hindus because it affects so many aspects
of daily life. (Modern scholars disagree about how to translate varna and jati. Here we render varna as “class” and jati
as “caste.” Both comprise the caste system.) Although there
are only four varnas in Hinduism, there are thousands of
jatis. Caste is not a religious institution as the varna system is, but is economic and geographical in origin, now
Vaishyas [VIGH-shuhs]
Third Varna class, the
“common people”
Shudras [SHOO-druhs]
Fourth Varna class,
“servants”
Dalits [DAHL-its]
“Oppressed ones,” the
outcastes below the four
Hindu castes
jati [JAH-tee] Caste into
which one is born
REUTERS
Dalits in northern India protesting the caste system, 2009
/Munish Sharma
Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s).
Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
HINDU ETHICS AND WAYS OF LIFE 77
© DINODIA PHOTOS/ BRAND X
PICTURES/JUPITER IMAGES
Indian wedding ceremonial plate, with a
variety of foods and spices
combined with varna into an overall religious system.
Most Hindus today refer to jati when they talk of caste,
and it is one’s jati that really dictates the life of the average Hindu. Each jati has its own special caste regulations
in terms of food, occupation, marriage, social interaction,
and the like. From each caste come a number of subcastes,
making the whole system even more complicated. Castes
may often be occupational, but this does not preclude a
member of one caste working at the occupation of another,
for example in agriculture, adding even more complexity
to the system. The Brahmin class is subdivided into many
castes, just as there are many castes in the Kshatriya,
Vaisya, and Shudra classes, and even among Dalits. Just
as the four varnas are hierarchically organized, so also are
the various castes within a particular varna. A male is obligated to marry within his jati. Expulsion from the family
and caste as a whole is likely to result should this obligation be broken, but if this and other caste obligations are
kept, the individual is provided a strong network of support and protection.
The Four Stages
of a Man’s Life
The life of a Hindu male is traditionally divided into
four stages of time. In modern India, fewer people than
in previous centuries observe the system completely and
formally, but even today it is an infl uential pattern for
a man’s life. However, Shudras, Dalits, and women of
all four classes rarely follow the stages. Passage through
these represents the realization of the necessary stages of
life, through which one travels to success in sustaining
this world and to ultimate liberation from this world.
Most Hindu males do not go through the four stages;
many never advance beyond the second.
A Hindu man today
averages age twenty-three
at marriage; a woman,
eighteen.
The fi rst stage of life is that of
a student. A male is taught by his
elders from childhood, sometimes by
a single guru as well. His education
will not only fi t him for a future profession appropriate to his caste, but will equip
him also for family, social, and religious life in a
way appropriate to his varna and jati. In older times,
this period could last for twenty years or more, but
today the fi rst stage has shrunk to between twelve and
fi fteen years, except for those few who obtain higher
education in a university.
The second is the householder stage, in which the
Hindu male must marry and raise a family. Marriages
are often arranged by parents while their children are still
young—marriage is much too important to family and
society to leave it up to young people! In villages “child
marriages” often occur, but after the marriage the child
bride and child groom are separated until puberty sets
in. On average, a young man is around twenty-three at
the time of marriage, a young woman around eighteen.
Hindus have always felt it important to raise a family, and
even today poor Hindu couples will continue to have children until a boy or two are born. During the householder
stage a man works at a trade or profession appropriate
to his caste, primarily to support his family, but also to
contribute to the welfare of the community. He engages
in public and private religious
duties appropriate to his caste.
The third stage of life is that
of retirement, traditionally called
the “forest dweller.” When a man’s children have grown up,
when he sees signs of aging like gray hair and wrinkles, his
duty as a householder can end. In this third stage—if he lives
to see it, which in most of Hindu history isn’t a given—the
man is expected to retire not only from his job, but also from
family and social life and much (but not all) of his wealth
and possessions. Sometimes men in this stage retreat to the
forest to live a more spiritual life, either alone or in a small
group of retirees, but this is rarer today than in the past.
Most pleasures are renounced, although in some cases a
wife could accompany her husband into retirement. His life
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78 CHAPTER 3 ENCOUNTERING HINDUISM: MANY PATHS TO LIBERATION
would be that of the celibate
recluse. In view of the hardships
that this kind of life brings, it is not
diffi cult to see why the stage of partial renunciation of the world has
become obsolete for all but a few.
The fourth stage is that of
the “renouncer” or sannyasin
(sahn-YAH-sin), when a Hindu
renounces the world and his previous life completely.
This stage traditionally does not follow after the third;
a man can enter it directly from the householder stage.
All cares and pleasures of life are abandoned, and his
concentration is devoted to achieving moksha before he
dies. The renouncer engages in intense study and meditation, typically with yoga and austerities like solitude
and a sparse diet. He is treated with greatest respect in
Hindu lands. But this respect is mingled with a certain
degree of fear and skepticism, because some holy men
can be hostile, even ferocious, in their words, and some
can be frauds. On taking up the life of the renouncer,
men will often burn an effi gy of their body to show
that they have died to the world. When a renouncer has
achieved moksha, at his death his fellow renouncers tie
stones onto his body and throw it in a river. He needs
no funeral with cremation, for the soul has already been
released from the dreaded cycle of reincarnation.
The Kama Sutra is often seen as
a sex manual, but kama is much
more than that.
The Four Goals of Life
Most Hindus hold to four main goals in life and connect them roughly with the stages of life. The fi rst
goal of life, dharma, a term we have seen above, is a
comprehensive religious concept that governs all stages
of life. A good Hindu must know the truth of Hinduism,
particularly the truth that relates to his or her caste status, and practice it. This practice includes both social
morality and ritual duties. Without this fi rst goal, the
others cannot be met. The second goal of life is artha,
material success and prosperity, especially for the sake
of one’s family. A householder is expected to become as
prosperous as possible, while observing the bounds of
proper dharma. This ties into the world-affi rming side
of Hindu tradition and helps to explain the entrepreneurial drive and economic success of many Indians in
modern times.
The third goal of life is kama, aesthetic pleasure
both of the mind and the body, obviously also worldaffi rming. This goal is restricted to the householder
stage. Kama is a comprehensive term for all types of
spiritual, intellectual, artistic, and physical pleasures.
The Kama Sutra (SOO-trah), or Scripture on Pleasure,
is often seen as a sex manual, but both kama and the
Kama Sutra are much more than that. Hinduism is perhaps unique in teaching that the pursuit of pleasure and
wealth is a valid and important religious goal. Though
this may seem either strange or appealing to you, remember that in Hinduism the pursuit of pleasure and wealth
is always subject to the retributive laws of karma. The
fourth goal of life is moksha, which we defi ned above.
It means “release” from life, particularly from the continuous cycle of death and rebirth. This goal is best
practiced in the retirement and renouncer stages of life,
although it can be sought in all the stages of life, particularly in the two paths of deeds and devotion.
LUCA GALUZZIWWW.GALUZZI.IT
artha [AHR-thuh]
Material success and
prosperity, the second
goal of life in Hinduism
kama [KAH-muh]
Spiritual, mental, and
physical pleasure, the
third goal of Hindu life
Two renouncers in Katmandu, Nepal
Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s).
Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
HINDU ETHICS AND WAYS OF LIFE 79
Hindu Dress
No particular type of religious dress is required in Hinduism,
as you might expect, and regional cultural styles in India
diff er considerably. The traditional dress for most Indian
women is the sari, a piece of material fi ve or six meters
long that is wrapped and pleated around the waist and
then drawn round over the shoulder so that the free end
is left loose. In diff erent parts of India, and among Jains,
the sari is wrapped in diff erent ways. Underneath the sari,
an ankle-length skirt and a blouse are worn, often with a
bare midriff . In northern India, women prefer light, baggy
trousers called “pyjamas” (from which we get our term) and
a long, loose-fi tting shirt. In mixed company outside the
home or when worshiping in the home or temple, women
will normally cover their hair with the loose end of their
saris or with a separate piece of material. Covering the head
is a sign of respect to the gods as well as to other people.
Indian women of all classes typically love jewelry. Long
earlobes are an ancient Indian sign of nobility, so heavy earrings are often
used to stretch
the earlobes
slightly. The
most distinctive decorative mark of
a married
woman is the
bindi (“little
drop”) on her
forehead. The
bindi may be a
circle of colored
paste, or it
may be a circle
of felt with
an adhesive
backing, which
can more easily
be put on and
decorated
with sequins.
Unmarried girls
often have a small black spot on their forehead; it is not a
bindi, but rather a protection against the “evil eye.”
Although Hindu women most often dress in traditional Indian ways, Hindu men very often wear Western
clothing, especially in Indian cities. Typical Indian village
dress for men has traditionally been the dhoti. This single
piece of usually white cloth is worn wrapped around the
waist and tucked up between the legs. The kurta (called
a “panjabi” in the U.K. and Canada) is a loose shirt coat
falling around the knees and is worn by both men and
women. It can be worn with a dhoti, with pants and jeans,
and is both casual and formal. The wearing of a turban is
usually associated with observant Sikh men (see Chapter
6), but in India some Hindu men will also wear turbans.
The most important item worn is the sacred thread, a thin
cotton cord worn on the body by men of the upper three
classes, symbolizing full Hindu status. It is given in a special ceremony near the age of ten. The traditional garb of
Hindu men, long disdained by the Indian
upper classes in favor
of more-Western-style
clothing, is now making a strong comeback
in social circles and in
fashion design.
Holy men have
a distinctive but not
uniform look. Their hair
is often wildly matted,
and they sometimes
cover their body in
light-colored dust or
powdered cow dung,
giving them the look of
death. Some go around
only in a thong, to symbolize their full control
of the senses and bodily
desire. They can sometimes be seen with their
sacred thread, but not
wearing one shows
that they have left
the distinctions
of once-born and
twice-born behind.
Man in dhoti and
sacred thread
Woman in sari, with bindi
on her forehead
A Closer Look:
BONNIE VAN VOORST © CENGAGE LEARNING
BONNIE VAN VOORST © CENGAGE LEARNING
Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s).
Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
80 CHAPTER 3 ENCOUNTERING HINDUISM: MANY PATHS TO LIBERATION
The Lives of
Hindu Women
The vast majority of Hindu
young women get married.
The Hindu wife is responsible to bear children, raise
them, and run the home. Motherhood is so important
that a woman is considered to be a failure if she is without children, especially a son; this is true even of modern
Hindu women who may work outside the home. On the
other hand, being a mother of sons brings great pride and
auspiciousness. The wife performs worship in the home
at the household shrine, often leading worship there.
However, no woman who is menstruating is traditionally
allowed at the shrine or in the kitchen. She is considered
ritually unclean, and her husband will not touch her during this time. After ritual bathing at the end of her menstrual
period, a woman resumes normal life in the home.
Despite the value placed on
motherhood, abortion is legal and very frequent
in India, even among Hindus. Prenatal testing
by ultrasound is now used widely to ascertain
the sex of a fetus in the womb, even though this
has been outlawed in India since 1994, and if it
is a female, it is often aborted. Some parents
think it better to abort a female than to
support a second or third daughter
and pay for her expensive dowry.
Contraception is encouraged by the
Indian government, but having sons
is necessary for economic support
in one’s old age because India has
no national pension system. One
also needs a son to perform one’s
funeral rites. The use of selective
abortion to obtain sons has led
in some parts of India to an
ominous imbalance between
the proportion of males and
females. As a result, in 2007
the Indian government and
private agencies launched a “Save
the Girl Child” campaign.
Divorce for a woman is diffi –
cult to obtain, especially for women
of the higher classes, despite the
Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 that ostensibly made it possible for any woman to get
a divorce. Although divorce and remarriage are quite
common among the lower castes, there is still a general
feeling in village life that a wife
is to blame if divorce occurs
or even if the husband dies
fi rst. The divorced or widowed woman is regarded as
“unlucky” by her family and friends, and life can be
diffi cult for her. Widows rarely remarry and are often
socially ostracized. The suicide rate for widows is high,
even if the ancient (if irregularly practiced) “widow
burning”—when widows climbed onto their dead husband’s funeral pyre to go to heaven with him, an act of
great merit—is now almost unheard of. In urban areas
women do have more status today; for example, they
can now own property, keep their own salary, and open
bank accounts in their own name. Many young Hindu
women go to college, get a job, and delay marriage. Yet
marriage is important, and a woman’s self-esteem and
social standing still have much to do with her husband.
By serving him faithfully, just as she serves a god, good
karma will come to her.
LO5 Hindu Rituals
As you drive up to the new Hindu temple in
Omaha, Nebraska, you notice its traditional
Indian architectural design. Inside, the richness of
the Hindu tradition is refl ected in the many diff erent
deities represented there. Most large temples in
India are dedicated to one god, but this temple
has twelve separate sanctums, or holy areas with
altars, each with one or more statues representing a diff erent god. People from various parts of
India have certain deities that they honor, so
Hindu immigrants from all parts of India can
feel comfortable in the Omaha temple.
You are struck at once by the many
colorful sights, unusual sounds, and
fragrant smells of the temple. Women
are dressed in traditional Indian
saris; men are in Western clothing,
except for the two priests, whose
upper bodies are half bare and
who have a sacred thread visible
over the shoulder. You see diff erent
sorts of worship activities: people bowing
and prostrating themselves in front of the
statues and people sitting quietly in meditation,
some in a yoga position. In a side room, men and
women are practicing sacred songs to be sung at a service later in the week. You also notice that in some areas of the
temple, men tend to be separated from women and children.
In 2007 the Indian
government and
private agencies
launched a “Save
the Girl Child”
campaign.
© STEVE EVANS
bindi [BIHN-dee]
Forehead mark of a
married Hindu woman
Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s).
Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
HINDU RITUALS 81
Your guide for the tour is a University
of Nebraska professor, a member of the
temple’s leadership. As he skillfully leads
you around, he tells you that the temple
was built primarily as a center of worship, teaching, and Indian cultural life for
people from India who live in Nebraska
and Iowa. The temple is open for Hindu
festivals, for a main weekly service on
Sunday morning—an adaptation to
American religion, he says—and for traditional ceremonies marking the life stages
of Hindus, from birth to death. He adds
that an important part of the temple’s
purpose is the education of people of
other religious backgrounds, visiting or
participating in prayers and rituals.
As you might expect, worship
and meditation in Hinduism
are diverse. Worship is a daily
event for observant Hindus,
whether performed at home,
at a temple, at an outdoor
shrine, or on a pilgrimage.
Worship is most commonly
called puja, a word suggesting “honor” and “veneration.” Ritual is important to the Hindu, and much of it
is ancient, although with regional and devotional-group
variations.
Images
Most people associate Hinduism with many gods, all
of them represented by images. Westerners, especially
Protestant Christians who look upon images as objects
that encourage false worship, often use the term idol,
but image is more appropriate. Idol suggests that it
is the statue or picture alone that is worshiped, and
it is generally a pejorative term, although one will
hear Hindus using it happily. Image suggests something beyond the visible form that receives the worship
offered to the visible form. Hindus use the term murti
for the image of a deity, whether three-dimensional
(as in a statue) or two-dimensional (as in a picture or
poster). The murtis are representations of the deities,
rather like a photograph represents a person. A murti
draws the mind of the worshiper to the greater essence
of the god. However, an image can be more than just a
symbol. The power or essence of the deity is believed
to be in the murti, either temporarily, as for some
festivals, or permanently, as in the case
of some temple images that are treated
as the gods themselves, with the god
thought to reside inside the statue.
Shiva has both an anthropomorphic form in an image and the
powerful symbols of the lingam and
the trident. The female side of
the divine, the Goddess, is represented by the yoni, the symbol
of creative female power that is
the counterpart to the lingam.
Hindus of the lower castes and
those Hindus outside caste do
not worship the “high” gods
of Hinduism, but the “low
gods,” especially village and
localized urban deities. The
high gods such as Vishnu
and Shiva are generally considered to be uninterested
in the daily events of the
ordinary man or woman;
their avatars and related
lower gods do that duty
for them.
Worship in the Temple
and the Home
Temples large and small are present in India, from great
pilgrimage centers to humble huts along a side street.
At many of these temples a great variety of deities are
worshiped. Generally, however, the deity and the temple belong to one of three strands within the Hindu
pantheon—Shaivite, Vaishnavite, and Shakta, including
all their avatars and family members.
The deity, represented by a statue, picture, or other
symbol, is the central part of the temple. The god is
considered to be a royal guest and is treated as such
throughout puja with adoration, attention, care, and
entertainment. Purifi cation
is essential for the worshiper, and one usually
bathes in running water
and sips a little water
three times to indicate
purity. Washing the murti
is essential, but often the
washing is symbolic—a
fl ower or a small piece of
© DINODIA PHOTOS/BRAND X PICTURES/JUPITER IMAGES
An image draws the mind to the
greater essence of the god.
puja [POO-juh]
Devotional actions of
worshiping a god or
venerating a human
person
murti [MUHR-tee] An
image of a deity
Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s).
Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
82 CHAPTER 3 ENCOUNTERING HINDUISM: MANY PATHS TO LIBERATION
cotton is used to touch the deity. Dressing the deity is
also important, and the clothes chosen are bright, beautiful, and often embroidered with gold-colored threads.
Ornaments are also placed on the murti, as well as
fl ower garlands, perfumes, and oils. Because the deity
remains at a temple, it is both woken up in the morning and put to rest at night with equal care. At many
temples, sculptures help to teach about the gods and
their stories, and they both shape and direct devotion.
Larger temples will have priests who act as teachers.
The offering of food is also important— usually
cooked rice, fruit and vegetables, liquefi ed butter,
and sugar. The Hindu women of Bali, Indonesia,
make elaborate pyramids of food (the wealthier
they are, the higher the pyramids) that they carry
to the temple on their head as a sacrifi cial offering to the deity. A cooked chicken may be put in
the pyramid, surrounded by rice dishes and
many kinds of fruit. The deity is believed to
take the essence of the food, and the “leftovers” are given back to the worshiper as
what is known as prasad (PRAH-sahd).
Whatever the offering, both the gods
and the worshipers eat the food and
benefi t from its richness. Fragrance
and light are also offered the
deity—fragrance in the form of
incense sticks and light in the
form of a burning lamp usually made from a burning wick
placed in ghee (clarifi ed butter),
which is waved before the deity. By
applying a tilak (TEE-lahk)—a mark
made with crushed fl owers sometimes mixed with another
substance—to the forehead
between the eyebrows of the
deity, the worshiper indicates
awareness of the spiritual purity and
power of the deity, which in turn is passed
to the worshiper. The worshiper may also entertain
the deity with hymns that offer praise and of course
increase the devotion of the worshipers. Groups of
people— usually males, but sometimes with women,
who sit separately—can be seen singing hymns informally on the temple verandas in the evening.
Bowing is the traditional way of showing respect to
someone in India. The more respect one wishes to show,
the lower one bows. In the case of a god or a royal person,
lying fl at on one’s face is in order. Combined with bowing, bringing the palms together and raising them to the
forehead are actions normally used in greeting in India,
and they are used to greet the gods as well. The Hindi
word namaste (NAHM-ahs-tee) or its equivalent in other
Indian languages, “I bow to you,” are spoken as this is
done. Because famous gurus are also honored with puja
that sometimes approaches the worship of a god, people
might touch the guru’s feet in respect or remove by hand
the dust from his feet before touching their own head,
indicating that the dusty feet of the guru are holier
than the head of the one paying respect.
For worship in the home, nearly
every Hindu household has a home
shrine, frequently in a special devotional room or in the kitchen, which
is considered ritually pure. In this
shrine, the family god, together
with the gods and goddesses honored by individual family members,
has the central place as images
done in brass; often, photographs
of a guru or saint and the family ancestors are in the shrine.
To begin daily worship in
the home, the believer
purifi es himself or herself by bathing. Then,
with the help of mantras, the place of ritual
is purifi ed, and any evil
spirits lurking to interfere with the puja are
driven away. A small bell
is rung to honor the gods
and get their attention as the
ritual begins. On occasion the
gods are washed, clothed, fed,
and given gifts, but worshipers
always stand reverently with
palms joined. At the climax
of the ritual, a lamp is swung
before the shrine: the divinity resides in the fi re, and the faithful receive it within
themselves by holding the palms of their hands over the
fl ames for an instant and then touching their eyes.
Pilgrimage
Pilgrimage is an aspect of ritual life important for many
Hindus, although most Hindus do not have the time or
money to engage in it. The destination of a pilgrimage is
often a river, the ocean, or a spring. But temples built on
sacred mountains or in sacred cities are also places of pilgrimage. Worshiping in a place with a stronger connection
© DINODIA PHOTOS/BRAND X PICTURES/JUPITER IMAGES
South Indian bride making namaste
Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s).
Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
HINDU RITUALS 83
to the divine brings purifi cation from sin and
ritual impurity, gains merit, fulfi lls vows,
leads to the betterment of
one’s next lives in this
world, and even brings
deliverance from
the cycle of rebirth.
Millions of pilgrims
come to Varanasi
on the Ganges
River every year
to wash their
sins away in the
water. The largest pilgrimage
event in the world
is the Kumbha Mela
(KOOM-buh MEHL-uh), held once every twelve years,
when tens of millions of pilgrims gather near Allahabad,
where the two sacred rivers—
the Ganges and the Yamuna—
merge. Pilgrimage is often “big
business” in cities that host it.
Funerals
Despite all the emphasis in Hinduism on karma and
reincarnation, its death rites still emphasize the deceased
happily joining dead ancestors rather than achieving
a good reincarnation or release from all moksha. (A
period of refreshment in heaven is often thought of as
a prelude to being reincarnated.) Death is considered
so ritually polluting and inauspicious that the images of
deities in the home shrine are removed while the body is
in the house. Unlike Western funerals, no one partakes
of food or drink in any part of a Hindu funeral ritual.
The body of the deceased is washed soon after death,
wrapped in a new cloth—white for men and red for
women—and carried on a stretcher from the home to the
cremation ground in a procession led by the eldest son.
(Of course, funerals are held all over India, not just at the
cities on the Ganges River, such as Varanasi.) Cremation
on a wood fi re is the traditional Indian method of disposing of human remains. Cremation is thought to separate
the immortal soul from the body in a good way, reminiscent of fi re sacrifi ce. At the funeral ground, Dalits of
the Dom caste handle the body and incur the ritual pollution of burning it. Fresh, fl owing water is usually near
the cremation grounds, and the body is dipped in it for
ritual purifi cation. The body is then placed on the wood,
with the feet facing south toward the home of the god
who rules the dead. It is covered with a layer of wood
and then clarifi ed butter, and scriptures are chanted over the
body by a priest as the family circles the body. The
eldest son then lights the
funeral pyre, which
will burn for two to
three hours. After
cremation begins,
the youngest son
leads the procession
home.
The Doms
tend the fi re for
several hours to
keep it burning
hot, occasionally
turning the body with long poles to consume it more
fully. The ashes and remaining bones (the larger and
denser bones of the human body cannot be consumed by
a natural cremation alone) are fi nally put by the Doms
into fl owing water and left there, for a cooling and purifying effect. When the period of death rites is over, a Dalit
is given all the household linen to wash. On the twelfth
day, four balls of rice are offered to symbolize the happy
union of the deceased with his or her forebears, the point
of the funeral rites. Only when the house has been thoroughly cleaned can the household deities be returned.
Although cremation is the desired method of disposal
of the dead, burial is not uncommon. The poorer classes
usually practice burial because it is cheaper. Young children of most castes who die are buried, or sometimes put
into a fl owing river, rather than cremated. In the cities
of India, cremation in modern crematoriums is now the
norm, with ashes scattered later in sacred rivers. Customs
are slightly different in North America. The body will be
washed and dressed in new clothes, placed in a coffi n, and
surrounded by fl owers. Cremation has to take place a day
or two after death because of the necessary legal arrangements. At the crematorium the priest will talk about the
life of the person, and after returning to the house after
cremation has begun, prayers are said for the departed
soul in front of the sacred fi re or
household shrine. The ashes of
the deceased would preferably
be sent to a relative in India to be
scattered in the Ganges, or sent
to one of the businesses recently
sprung up to receive and scatter
ashes, or if that is not possible
cast into a fast-fl owing river in
North America.
© DINODIA PHOTOS/BRAND X
PICTURES/JUPITER IMAGES
Worship at a home shrine
Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s).
Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
84 CHAPTER 3 ENCOUNTERING HINDUISM: MANY PATHS TO LIBERATION
Yoga
Yoga, with its emphasis on fi tness for the body and
mind, has become a main tool for achieving liberation, or at least the mental discipline that can lead to liberation.
Buddhists, Christians, and
people of no formal faith have
adapted yogic methods to help
them on their own paths to peace
and freedom, or just to physical fi tness. As said above, yoga means “yoke,”
which its spelling resembles. This refers
to the path of union with, or yoking to, a
god or Brahman. The most popular type of
yoga in India and the West is
hatha yoga, which emphasizes breathing and physical
posture as a way to ultimate
knowledge of Brahman in one’s atman; karma
yoga is the path of active service that breathing
and postures assist; jnana yoga is refl ective, philosophical yoga; and bhakti yoga is the path of devotion
to a god. Bhakti yoga is the
simplest form, using repeated
chanting of a mantra in a fi xed
posture to focus on a god and
offer one’s life to a god.
The most popular form of yoga in the
West is hatha yoga, with its emphasis on
breathing and physical posture.
Most yogic practices draw, at least in signifi cant measure, on these eight steps.
1. First following fi ve ethical guidelines on behavior
toward others, avoiding violence, untruthfulness,
stealing, lust, and covetousness
2. Following guidelines on behavior toward oneself:
cleanliness of body and mind, contentment, sustained
practice, self-knowledge, study, and surrender to God
3. Learning and using formal yoga postures
4. Practice of breathing exercises, coordinated with
physical postures
5. Withdrawal of the senses, meaning that the
exterior world is no longer a distraction from
discovering the interior world within oneself,
particularly the atman within
6. Concentration,
meaning the ability
to focus on a single
thing, uninterrupted
by external or internal
distractions
7. Meditation no
l onger focused on a
single thing, but all
encompassing
8. Finally, achieving
samadhi or “bliss.”
Building on meditation,
the self transcends itself
through meditation
and discovery of the
atman that brings one to
Brahman.
LO6 Hinduism in North
America Today
Shortly before the 2008 release of the Hollywood fi lm The
Love Guru, written by and starring Mike Myers, self-styled
North American Hindu leader Rajan Zed complains about it to
mass-media outlets. Zed charges that its portrayal of Hinduism
is inaccurate and insulting. The potential for damage to North
American Hindus is great, Zed argues, because Hinduism is not
widely understood here. Despite Zed’s eff orts, the consensus
among Hindus living in North America seems to be that they
feel comfortable laughing at themselves and even laugh at
well-meaning stereotypes like Apu the convenience-store
merchant on television’s The Simpsons. However, some portrayals of Hinduism in the mass media—such as the 1984 fi lm
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, with its false, brutal
depiction of worship of the Hindu goddess Kali—have caused
concern to many Hindus. Any concern over The Love Guru,
however, fades rapidly as it is harshly reviewed in the press and
then fails miserably at the box offi ce. © PHOTOSINDIA.COM RM 4/ALAMY
A Bharatnatyam dancer shows yoga expertise
Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s).
Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
HINDUISM IN NORTH AMERICA TODAY 85
Although Hinduism had moved beyond its own borders before the modern period, it was primarily a result
of Indian emigration to other countries and the resulting establishment of Hindu culture in such places as
Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bali. Sometimes, as with Nepal
and Sri Lanka, it was the result of Indian conquests that
brought along principal aspects of Hindu culture and
belief. In the main, Hinduism has been the religion of
only the Indian people, and converting other peoples
has not been done. However, in the last two centuries
various Hindus have indeed sought to spread Hinduism
outside of India, particularly in North America.
Hinduism has been viewed in widely differing ways
in the West during the last two centuries. Customs
such as widow burning (rarely done these days) and a
caste system that resists reform have made many North
Americans resistant to Hinduism until more recently.
However, some Westerners were attracted by Hindu
ideas of life in harmony with nature on the outside and
the spirit within. Vegetarianism and Hindu philosophy,
particularly Vedanta, have also attracted Westerners to
Hinduism, especially in the more intellectual echelons
of North America.
Hindu Movements in
North America
In the last century or so, varied expressions of Hinduism
have found their way to the West in movements led
by Hindu gurus. Ramakrishna’s favorite disciple,
Vivekananda (VIH-veh-kah-NAHN-duh; 1863–1902),
was the fi rst successful Hindu missionary to the West.
In 1893 he addressed the fi rst World Parliament of
Religions at Chicago; he was enthusiastically received
there and in his other travels throughout the United
States. In 1906, Vivekananda established the fi rst
Hindu temple in North America, in San Francisco. He
returned to India as a national hero. The Hinduism
of Vivekananda was much less devotional than
Ramakrishna’s own piety and stressed the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads. Vivekananda believed
that the Vedanta was the sum of all world religions, and
he was one of the world’s fi rst advocates of religious
pluralism. After Vivekananda came the Self-Realization
Fellowship of North America, founded by Paramahansa
Yogananda (PAR-uh-mah-HAN-suh YO-guh-NAN-duh)
in 1920 and based in Los Angeles, where it still has its
headquarters. It teaches a form of yoga to enable members to realize “the god within.” The Self-Realization
Fellowship has more than one hundred local meeting
places in the United States and Canada today.
Two recent gurus who have gained wide popularity in North America are Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
(MAH-ha-REE-shee MAH-hesh YOH-gee; 1911–2008),
founder of the Spiritual Regeneration Movement better
known as Transcendental Meditation (TM), and Swami
A. C. Bhaktivedanta (BAHK-tee-veh-DAHN-tuh; 1896–
1977), founder of the International Society for Krishna
Consciousness, or ISKCON. Both movements have
emphasized how their teachings align with Western
science and the mental or emotional benefi ts obtained
from them. TM is based on Vedanta, emphasizing each
person’s inner divine essence and the liberating powers that may be harnessed when one knows one’s true
identity. Yogic meditation practiced in the morning and
evening is the way to tap into the transcendent and its
calming, directing power. When the English musical
group the Beatles took continued instruction in Great
Britain and in India from the Maharishi in the late
1960s, Transcendental Meditation became even more
popular. The popularity of yogic meditation today in
North America, severed from its deep religious connections, is due in large part to the TM movement.
ISKCON is more commonly known as the Hare
(HAHR-ee, “divine lord”) Krishna movement after
its main mantra. A part of the devotional movement,
it emphasizes enthusiastic devotion to Lord Krishna.
Many academics regard it as an authentic (true to
Indian roots) form of Hinduism practiced in the West,
but at times it has been dogged with charges that it is a
dangerous “cult.”
Some Hindu parents in North America
send their children to a Hindu
summer camp.
Hindu Migration and Life
in North America
In the past few decades, especially since a liberalization
of immigration laws in the 1960s, an increasing number of Indians who practice Hinduism have moved to
the United States and Canada. This Hindu “diaspora”
(dee-ASS-pohr-uh), a “spreading” from its native land,
has brought hundreds of thousands of Hindus to North
American cities, especially on the east and west coasts.
Some of these more recent immigrants are merchants,
but many of them are highly skilled professionals who
Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s).
Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
86 CHAPTER 3 ENCOUNTERING HINDUISM: MANY PATHS TO LIBERATION
are eager to integrate into North American civic life.
They also want to preserve basic Hindu beliefs and
behaviors in an environment not conducive to them.
Every home of observant Hindus has a shrine to the
god(s) the family serves, and worship is conducted at
the shrine a few times a day. In 2001, the American
Museum of Natural History in New York City opened
an exhibit, “Meeting God,” that documented the
home and business shrines
of several Hindus in the New
York area.
Many Hindus join cultural organizations to keep
traditions like music and
cuisine alive. Some Hindu
parents have started to send
their children to summer
camp—but camp that provides teaching and experience
in Hindu life. They also build
Hindu temples in which to practice Hindu worship, and
at times these temples are built in authentic ways by
workers brought from India. Finding Brahmin priests
from India to staff these temples is diffi cult, so activities like singing devotional songs that can be practiced
by all Hindus become even more important than in
India. Having many different Hindu groups worshiping
under one roof, something not done in India, can be a
challenge.
Hindus typically view marriage within one’s caste
as a necessity, and because most marriages are often still
arranged to some extent, Hindu parents may network
for suitable spouses living in North America or even in
India. As with most immigrant groups in North America,
intergenerational tension often springs up as second- and
third-generation Hindu young people take on the values and practices of their non-Hindu peers. Dating and
mating are often diffi cult for Hindu young people with
Western ways; this is the theme of several fi lms, such as
Mira Nair’s excellent “Monsoon
Wedding” and “The Namesake.”
Over time, Hindus, like other
religious groups, will probably
reach a workable, if uneasy,
compromise between their religion and life in North America.
Hindu Faith and Indian Food
India has considerable regional variations in food, many of
which have come to North America, but the most important aspect is a preference for vegetarianism. Because all
animals are sacred to Hindus due to a general reverence
for life, and particularly for the souls incarnated in animals,
it is most often considered wrong to kill animals for food.
Vegetarianism is believed to benefi t the body, the mind,
and the soul. Even so, many Hindus are not strict vegetarians, and those who can aff ord it will eat meat occasionally.
The sacrifi ce and subsequent eating of animals, the goat in
particular, is common enough in India and Nepal. Brahmin
priests are rarely involved in such sacrifi ces, which are done
by lower-caste priests mainly in the smaller village temples.
The cow is the most sacred of all animals to Hindus,
and no observant Hindu would ever eat beef. (You should
never look for a beef dish at any self-respecting Indian
restaurant!) Although meat from a cow is forbidden, cow’s
milk and the products made from it are considered very
healthy. To put it in our terms today, vegetarianism is common, but a vegan diet that excludes all animal products
would be unthinkable to most Hindus.
Foods high in protein are important in a basically
vegetarian diet, and dal, a lentil dish, is popular throughout India. Vegetables cooked in spices are common, as are
foods that are quickly fried in butter. The Bhagavad Gita
(17:8-10) teaches that healthy foods are “tasty, soothing
and nourishing.” It describes unhealthy food as things that
are “acidic, sour, and excessively hot.” (The strong curries
of Indian food often make Westerners’ eyes water, but of
course what makes food “excessively” hot is a matter of
acculturation. The Gita notes foods that will give an Indian
indigestion.) The particular balance of having both hot
and cool foods in a meal is also important for bodily and
spiritual health.
The males of the family traditionally eat fi rst and
separately from the women, and then the females eat what
remains. Because all food in Hindu sacrifi ce is fi rst off ered
to the deities and then received back by the worshiper, the
practice of eating the males’ leftovers as a sort of sacrifi cial
food enables the wife to pay honor to her husband. This custom is still maintained in traditional India today, though it is
not so common among Hindus living in the Western world.
A Closer Look:
Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s).
Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.


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We boast of having some of the most experienced statistics experts in the industry. Our statistics experts have diverse skills, expertise, and knowledge to handle any kind of assignment. They have access to all kinds of software to get your assignment done.

Law

Writing a law essay may prove to be an insurmountable obstacle, especially when you need to know the peculiarities of the legislative framework. Take advantage of our top-notch law specialists and get superb grades and 100% satisfaction.

What discipline/subjects do you deal in?

We have highlighted some of the most popular subjects we handle above. Those are just a tip of the iceberg. We deal in all academic disciplines since our writers are as diverse. They have been drawn from across all disciplines, and orders are assigned to those writers believed to be the best in the field. In a nutshell, there is no task we cannot handle; all you need to do is place your order with us. As long as your instructions are clear, just trust we shall deliver irrespective of the discipline.

Are your writers competent enough to handle my paper?

Our essay writers are graduates with bachelor's, masters, Ph.D., and doctorate degrees in various subjects. The minimum requirement to be an essay writer with our essay writing service is to have a college degree. All our academic writers have a minimum of two years of academic writing. We have a stringent recruitment process to ensure that we get only the most competent essay writers in the industry. We also ensure that the writers are handsomely compensated for their value. The majority of our writers are native English speakers. As such, the fluency of language and grammar is impeccable.

What if I don’t like the paper?

There is a very low likelihood that you won’t like the paper.

Reasons being:

  • When assigning your order, we match the paper’s discipline with the writer’s field/specialization. Since all our writers are graduates, we match the paper’s subject with the field the writer studied. For instance, if it’s a nursing paper, only a nursing graduate and writer will handle it. Furthermore, all our writers have academic writing experience and top-notch research skills.
  • We have a quality assurance that reviews the paper before it gets to you. As such, we ensure that you get a paper that meets the required standard and will most definitely make the grade.

In the event that you don’t like your paper:

  • The writer will revise the paper up to your pleasing. You have unlimited revisions. You simply need to highlight what specifically you don’t like about the paper, and the writer will make the amendments. The paper will be revised until you are satisfied. Revisions are free of charge
  • We will have a different writer write the paper from scratch.
  • Last resort, if the above does not work, we will refund your money.

Will the professor find out I didn’t write the paper myself?

Not at all. All papers are written from scratch. There is no way your tutor or instructor will realize that you did not write the paper yourself. In fact, we recommend using our assignment help services for consistent results.

What if the paper is plagiarized?

We check all papers for plagiarism before we submit them. We use powerful plagiarism checking software such as SafeAssign, LopesWrite, and Turnitin. We also upload the plagiarism report so that you can review it. We understand that plagiarism is academic suicide. We would not take the risk of submitting plagiarized work and jeopardize your academic journey. Furthermore, we do not sell or use prewritten papers, and each paper is written from scratch.

When will I get my paper?

You determine when you get the paper by setting the deadline when placing the order. All papers are delivered within the deadline. We are well aware that we operate in a time-sensitive industry. As such, we have laid out strategies to ensure that the client receives the paper on time and they never miss the deadline. We understand that papers that are submitted late have some points deducted. We do not want you to miss any points due to late submission. We work on beating deadlines by huge margins in order to ensure that you have ample time to review the paper before you submit it.

Will anyone find out that I used your services?

We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.

How our Assignment Help Service Works

1. Place an order

You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.

2. Pay for the order

Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.

3. Track the progress

You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.

4. Download the paper

The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.

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550 words
We'll send you the first draft for approval by September 11, 2018 at 10:52 AM
Total price:
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The price is based on these factors:
Academic level
Number of pages
Urgency
Basic features
  • Free title page and bibliography
  • Unlimited revisions
  • Plagiarism-free guarantee
  • Money-back guarantee
  • 24/7 support
On-demand options
  • Writer’s samples
  • Part-by-part delivery
  • Overnight delivery
  • Copies of used sources
  • Expert Proofreading
Paper format
  • 275 words per page
  • 12 pt Arial/Times New Roman
  • Double line spacing
  • Any citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, Harvard)

Our guarantees

Delivering a high-quality product at a reasonable price is not enough anymore.
That’s why we have developed 5 beneficial guarantees that will make your experience with our service enjoyable, easy, and safe.

Money-back guarantee

You have to be 100% sure of the quality of your product to give a money-back guarantee. This describes us perfectly. Make sure that this guarantee is totally transparent.

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Zero-plagiarism guarantee

Each paper is composed from scratch, according to your instructions. It is then checked by our plagiarism-detection software. There is no gap where plagiarism could squeeze in.

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Free-revision policy

Thanks to our free revisions, there is no way for you to be unsatisfied. We will work on your paper until you are completely happy with the result.

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Privacy policy

Your email is safe, as we store it according to international data protection rules. Your bank details are secure, as we use only reliable payment systems.

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By sending us your money, you buy the service we provide. Check out our terms and conditions if you prefer business talks to be laid out in official language.

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