Hinduism as coined by European influence, is the world’s third largest religion with nearly one billion followers, about 14% of the Earths human population. There are many that theorize Hinduism is not like any other religion that encompasses a particular way of life; that Hinduism is without a defined founder, deity, nor is Hinduism stuck to a specific system of theology. However, there are those that argue Hinduism is monotheistic because it does recognize the one supreme being of Brahman. Then some view Hinduism as Trinitarian because Brahman is visualized as one God with the three persons of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Considering that Hinduism lacks a united belief system is a matter of scholarly theory based on the closest findings and perhaps the reason many people theorize that Hinduism is undefined religion. The makeup of Hinduism is of diverse beliefs and traditions of the 81% of Hindus residing in present day India translated from Vedic scripture that some scholars say date back to 10,000 BCE. The basic scriptures of Hinduism, referred as Shastras, are a collection of spiritual laws discovered by sages at different points in history.
The Two types of sacred writings, Shruti (heard) and Smriti (memorized) comprise the Hindu scriptures. The sacred writings were passed on from generation to generation orally for centuries before they were written down in the Sanskrit language dating far back as 6,500 BC. The major and most popular Hindu texts include the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, but there are fundamental core of beliefs shared by all Hindus. The basic core of Hinduism believes that there is only one supreme Absolute called Brahman, although it does not advocate the worship of any one particular deity.
The gods and goddesses of Hinduism can amount to millions, all representing the many aspects of Brahman that indicate Hinduism is characterized by multiple deities. The most fundamental of Hindu deities is the Trinity of Brahma (creator), Vishnu (or Krishna, meaning creator) and Shiva (destroyer). Yet, the supreme God of any sub-God or sub-Goddesses is that of Brahma, a monotheistic approach that can be compared with many carnations to God in the Christian Bible such as Moses, Abraham, and Jesus and perhaps ignites much debate on the type of religion Hinduism is.
However, there are other basic cores of beliefs that Hindus share. Amongst the core beliefs shared by Hindus is the desire for liberation from earthly existence in which Dharma, Samsara, Karma, and Moksha are facets in reaching liberation. Dharma encompasses ethics and duty within a Hindu’s life. Karma is the actions with in one’s life and the consequences for those actions. When Karma goes unfulfilled, Samsara is experienced through the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
The rebirth cycle is also known as reincarnation where a Hindu’s uncleansed soul cycles through life after life until the soul is cleansed enough to be with Brahman. While stuck in Samsara, the individual then becomes limited within time and space where monotony becomes a desire for escape from such misery. When a Hindu’s soul is cleansed enough to satisfy Brahman, Moksha is that escape from such earthly miseries. The desire for Moksha transformed Hinduism from a religion into a culture, but there is debate as to the cultural and societal influences that have made Hinduism vital to India.
The cultural and societal influences of Hinduism is in a state of constant flow with the never ending possibilities as life on the earthly plane continues to flourish, yet there is debate on the historical significance that makes a Hinduism what it is today. The Aryan theory argues that Hinduism traces back to the Indus valley civilization of 4,000-2,200 BCE and was influenced by many Aryan Indo-European tribes who brought with them the religion of Vedism around 1,500 BCE.
The Emerge theory challenges the Aryan invasion theory in stating the inconsistencies in timelines of Hebrew Scriptures and that of the Aryan invasion in comparison to the development of the four Veda that can be traced as far back as 6,500 BCE. Archeologists and religious historian have concluded through physical evidence of archeological finds along the Indus River and Indus valley show a continuality of the same group of people who traditionally developed Indian culture generation after generation with no evidence of Aryan influence.
Another debate that continues amongst the modern day quarrel over theory is the caste system that dates back to 500 BCE. The Rig Veda defined four castes, or Varna’s; Brahmins were for religious leaders and educators, Kshatriyas for rulers and military, Vaishyas for farmers, landlords, and merchants, and Shudra for peasants, servants and workers. A fifth Varna was known as untouchables and anyone castigated from the Varna’s were the Dalit who were denigrated to pollutant jobs. According to Religioustolerance. org (2011), “although the caste system was abolished in 1949, it remains a significant force amongst Hindus throughout India.
Aside from debate are the cultural rituals of the Hindu. According Living Religions by Mary Pat Fisher (2005), “there are sixteen rites prescribed in the ancient scriptures to purify and sanctify the person in his or her journey through life, including rites at the time of conception, the braiding of the pregnant mother’s hair, birth, name-giving, beginning of solid foods, starting education, investing boys with a sacred thread, first leaving the family house, starting studies of Vedas, marriage, and death. Sanatana Dharma is the current preferred title of what is better known as Hinduism where respect of one of the world’s oldest religions must be observed. The fact that there are many worshipped idols within Sanatana Dharma confuses the masses who contend that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion. Yet, it is the world overlooking the fact that other religions practice in denominations sectored by a difference of beliefs within the same core of beliefs.