Religion 21st Century

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  • Hinduism

    Hinduism refers to prolific, polytheistic expressions, symbols and celebrations common in India, the home to four “world religions:” Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam were imports to Indian culture. Islam arrived with invading Arab armies. There is no simple formula for India– it is a vast and prolific collection of different peoples, different languages, and different religions-- a pluralistic, multilingual and multiethnic society. India has long had a caste system that still keeps people in the lower castes, locked into poverty. A country of extremes living in close proximity, conflicts are as abundant in as celebrations.

    Colorful costumes, dancing, drumming and singing in the street are normal in Hindu India. A variety of gods and goddesses express local inflections of Hindu beliefs. One could argue that every village has its own version of the Hindu religion. Indeed the idea that there was one Hindu religion was an inappropriate invention of the British during their 19th-century occupation and rule of India. The notion that "Hinduism" was a discrete world religion was popularized by 19th-century missionaries and English- European Indologists. During the British occupation of India the separation of a majority Hindu population and a minority Muslim group became the basis of conflicts, mass migration and the formation of Pakistan, a new Muslim country. Hinduism eventually transcended national boundaries and became a world religion alongside Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. Hindu teachers emphasized social justice, peace and the spiritual transformation of humanity. They teach yoga and meditation.

    Some shared Hindu and Buddhist concepts are:

    1. Dharma the lawful path of self development that includes precepts, ethics and duties.
    2. Samsāra, the impermanent world of suffering, birth, life, sickness, death and rebirth.
    3. Karma the meshwork of causes and effects.
    4. Moksha, the liberation from suffering in samsara.
    5. Yogas, paths and practices required for self-discipline, health and self development. Meditations and yogas are different aspects of the practices required to study and tame a wild mind.

    The major Gods assembled under the title of Hinduism are Indra, Vishnu, Brahman, Shiva and Shakti. In the Trimurti version of Hinduism, three gods interact: Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the maintainer or preserver and Shiva is the destroyer or transformer. The Shaivism traditions view Shiva as the supreme deity. Shakti refers both to a goddess and a more abstract idea of feminine energy. She may be called 'The Divine Mother'. In some towns and villages, Shakti is worshiped as the Supreme Being.

    A more metaphysical version views Shakti as the female power of male deities such as Vishnu or Shiva. Vishnu's Shakti counterpart is Lakshmi. Parvati is the female Shakti of Shiva. Shakti takes the form of Parvati, whom Shiva lectures in the Tantras. At other places, Kali, the goddess of time, destruction and death, receives Shiva’s attention and praise. Kali is portrayed as a terrifying creature with either four or ten arms holding swords and accompanied by serpents. Some Indians worship Kali as a loving goddess, the Supreme Mother of the Universe. Offerings to Kali provide protection against harm.

    Krishna is another of the malleable Indian Gods who evolved through many forms. Krishna first appears in the Chandogya Upanishad as a man. Later Krishna is presented as an incarnation of Vishnu. In the Indian epic, the Mahabharata, Krishna is linked to another god, Vasudeva, to Vishnu and eventually, for some Hindus, he became the Supreme God. Krishna was born 3000 years ago, enjoyed a pastoral childhood and youth, and an emerged as a heroic warrior and teacher. In the Bhagavad Gita warrior Krishna teaches Arjuna on a battlefield just prior to the start of fighting. In the Gita, Krishna claims that he is God. He is antecedent to Jesus who made a similar claim.

    • Religion for the 21st Century is available as printed books and an eBook download. 332 Pages, The book is intended for an educated reader who is interested in a world view of religious expressions past, present and future. The main theme is that each religious group has its own claims and stories and will tend to reject others. A reader committed to one point of view may not accept the egalitarian review presented here. Innate tendencies are expressed as religions and in the past have created conflicts that hinder progress towards the real and true. The book examines paths for religious renewal in the 21st century.

      The author is Stephen Gislason

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