Hinduism is a religion and a philosophy. It is quite possibly the world’s oldest religion. Officially recognized as the world’s third largest religion Hinduism is far more complex than its description implies. Hindu holy books contain epic mythological tales from the beginnings of civilization and cascade through the ancient world to the present day. Rigid is one thing that Hinduism is not; it is far more flexible than the western religions and is more of a moving framework for believing in the multi-faceted nature of the divine rather than a set of principles or dogma towards reaching a singular divinity that the community shares. This is quite a bit different from a religion like Catholicism, which is rich in theological dogma, hierarchy, and has a streamlined and specific rules for following the faith.
Hinduism is a diverse religion, having main influential sects with different moral and virtue systems and overall being a flexible and philosophical point of view rather than rigid, common beliefs. The major scriptures of Hinduism are rich with detail and expound upon stories that were passed down for hundreds if not thousands of years. The major Hindu books and scriptures are: the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Puranas, the Manusmrti, and the Agamas. Part of the name Hindu comes from them living near the powerful Indus River, which was also home to the most ancient civilization known to man, the Indus Valley Civilization.
Hinduism is extraordinarily unique. This is because it is mostly a compilation of Indian traditions, rituals, ideals, worship, and pilgrimages. There are several sacred texts that have the classification of Sruti (“revealed”) and Smriti (“Remembered”) and the texts include the Vedas, Upanishads (both Śruti), Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas, Manusmṛti, and Agamas. It is also unique because of its multileveled approach to spirituality and inconsistent internal conflicts. For instance, there are sects of the religion who worship Shiva as the supreme deity and others who worship Vishnu as the supreme lord of the universe, and yet others who view the supreme being of the universe as Krishna.
I love to learn about different religions, especially the mythology behind the traditions. Edward Trafton, an excellent teacher at Jesuit High School, introduced me to the Hero’s Journey when I was eighteen and I tend to follow that framework to examine the different religious beliefs and practices of the world. I grew up Catholic, so I went to church when I was young. Lots of church. I still find I can almost recite the entire mass, though I end up at a church about once every two years. Usually for Easter. I was thoroughly exposed to the various religions of the world with my Jesuit education, which concluded at Gonzaga U. After a long time, the Catholic traditions stopped resonating with me, and in high school I questioned my belief in god because I saw all the problems with the church. I regained a personalized version of faith by the end of high school and then college helped to strengthen my conviction in a customized belief system. Hinduism is the most interesting religion in the entire world, in my opinion. There is so much room for gray area, interpretation, and it in no way claims to be dogmatic. I’m drawn to the metaphysical concepts that tell about life and the explain how to avoid suffering in the events that occur in our lives. The stories mean something different to each person, so having thousands of people making their own translations and interpretations makes things pretty complicated. Hinduism is a puzzling spiritual practice and is so fragmented that claiming to be “correct” or “right” about god would be silly.
It has been my experience that rigidity in anything causes suffering. This includes belief systems and religions. I think that religion is really about community and spirituality, learning how to co-exist with one’s self and with one another. Religion is no longer a necessary aspect of our world, though people tend to believe that it is. Contemporary French culture helped to drive the Catholic out of me, and replaced it with a mindset of existential choices that spreads across multiple religions, and draws the best concepts into my belief system. Hinduism has become the most prominent of these simply because of the focus on internal dialogue, the connection of the body and mind (which in Catholicism is non-existent. Even church is a labor on the spine and pastors look to be anything but healthy and alcohol is prevalent in everything), and on the cultivation of internal awareness. I am critical of religion because I believe that we are evolving beyond it.
Religion, really, is about community. It’s about learning to share what we have and co-operate our minds and bodies together. Directing focus internally creates so much awareness that it forces people to become more aware of their surroundings and of their behaviors. It is extremely powerful and any way to cultivate internal focus tends to be good. Catholicism definitely has benefits and I see them in people who I love so I respect the religion, but I also believe that we, as a species, will evolve beyond organized religion in the future. You could even say that certain parts of the world are going to have to let go of their religions if they want to prosper and live in peace. But humanity still has many core differences in belief that we have to work through until we can become a global community, rather than separated and organized into countries, states, governments, etc. Once we realize that we are all the same (I think we all share 99.999999 of our DNA…not positive on that figure), everyone will be a lot better off. We have to stop creating in-groups and isolating ourselves with the people around us to truly enjoy the global community.