Religions (very basic stuff here)
In ancient India, the entire life of an individual was subordinated to religious concepts, to the customs imposed by there concepts and to the superstitions which insisted that each single act, however unimportant, must unavoidably entail a good or bad consequence. The religious mentality of the people was highly developed, and is this state of affairs was not only freely tolerated but even actively insisted upon.
From the moment that he was conceived, an Indian belonged to a caste corresponding to a religious social structure. Furthermore, he belonged not only to a caste, but also a clan (gotra), this tie of kindred being ratified by a sort of ritual communion. From birth to death he received a whole sequence of sacraments: those of infancy, brahmanic initiation, marriage or the eremitic state. Even after his death, ritual, which made him a father or ancestor, still bound him to his gotra and integrated him into the family's religious system. Apart from these fundamental modalities, each person's daily life was lived within a framework of countless religious and magical acts, while the annual cycle of festivals provided the rhythm of collective life.
Hinduism differs from Christianity and other Western religions in that it does not have a single founder, a specific theological system, a single system of morality, or a central religious organization. It consists of "thousands of different religious groups that have evolved in India since 1500 BCE."
Hinduism is generally regarded as the world's oldest organized religion.
The many forms of Hinduism are henotheistic religions. They recognize a single deity, and view other Gods and Goddesses as manifestations or aspects of that supreme God. Henotheistic and polytheistic religions have traditionally been among the world's most religiously tolerant faiths.
This religion is called:
Sanatana Dharma, "eternal religion," and
Vaidika Dharma, "religion of the Vedas," and
Hinduism -- the most commonly used name in North America. Various origins for the word "Hinduism" have been suggested: It may be derived from an ancient inscription translated as: "The country lying between the Himalayan mountain and Bindu Sarovara is known as Hindusthan by combination of the first letter 'hi' of 'Himalaya' and the last compound letter 'ndu' of the word `Bindu.'" Bindu Sarovara is called the Cape Comorin sea in modern times. 1
It may be derived from the Persian word for Indian.
It may be a Persian corruption of the word Sindhu (the river Indus)
It was a name invented by the British administration in India during colonial times.
Beliefs about the early development of Hinduism are currently in a state of flux:
The classical theory of the origins of Hinduism traces the religion's roots to the Indus valley civilization circa 4000 to 2200 BCE. The development of Hinduism was influenced by many invasions over thousands of years. The major influences occurred when light-skinned, nomadic "Aryan" Indo-European tribes invaded Northern India (circa 1500 BCE) from the steppes of Russia and Central Asia. They brought with them their religion of Vedism. These beliefs mingled with the more advanced, indigenous Indian native beliefs, often called the "Indus valley culture.".
This theory was initially proposed by Christian academics some 200 years ago. Their conclusions were biased by their pre-existing belief in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). The Book of Genesis, which they interpreted literally, appears to place the creation of the earth at circa 4,000 BCE, and the Noahic flood at circa 2,500 BCE. These dates put severe constraints on the date of the "Aryan invasion," and the development of the four Veda and Upanishad Hindu religious texts. A second factor supporting this theory was their lack of appreciation of the sophisticated nature of Vedic culture; they had discounted it as primitive.
2 The classical theory is now being rejected by increasing numbers of archeologists and religious historians.
Emerging theory: The Aryan Invasion view of ancient Indian history has been challenged in recent years by new conclusions based on more recent findings in archaeology, cultural analysis, astronomical references, and literary analysis. One scholar, David Frawley, has established a convincing argument for this new interpretation.
3 Archeological digs have revealed that the Indus Valley culture was not "destroyed by outside invasion, but...[by] internal causes and, most likely, floods." The "dark age" that was believed to have followed the Aryan invasion may never have happened. A series of cities in India have been studied by archeologists and shown to have a level of civilization between that of the Indus culture and later more highly developed Indian culture, as visited by the Greeks. Finally, Indus Valley excavations have uncovered many remains of fire altars, animal bones, potsherds, shell jewelry and other evidences of Vedic rituals. "In other words there is no racial evidence of any such Indo-Aryan invasion of India but only of a continuity of the same group of people who traditionally considered themselves to be Aryans...The Indo-Aryan invasion as an academic concept in 18th and 19th century Europe reflected the cultural milieu of the period. Linguistic data were used to validate the concept that in turn was used to interpret archeological and anthropological data."
During the first few centuries CE, many sects were created, each dedicated to a specific deity. Typical among these were the Goddesses Shakti and Lakshmi, and the Gods Skanda and Surya.
Soon after Buddha's death or parinirvana, five hundred monks met at the first council at Rajagrha, under the leadership of Kashyapa. Upali recited the monastic code (Vinaya) as he remembered it. Ananda, Buddha's cousin, friend, and favorite disciple -- and a man of prodigious memory! -- recited Buddha's lessons (the Sutras). The monks debated details and voted on final versions. These were then committed to memory by other monks, to be translated into the many languages of the Indian plains. It should be noted that Buddhism remained an oral tradition for over 200 years.
In the next few centuries, the original unity of Buddhism began to fragment. The most significant split occurred after the second council, held at Vaishali 100 years after the first. After debates between a more liberal group and traditionalists, the liberal group left and labeled themselves the Mahasangha -- "the great sangha." They would eventually evolve into the Mahayana tradition of northern Asia.
The traditionalists, now referred to as Sthaviravada or "way of the elders" (or, in Pali, Theravada), developed a complex set of philosophical ideas beyond those elucidated by Buddha. These were collected into the Abhidharma or "higher teachings." But they, too, encouraged disagreements, so that one splinter group after another left the fold. Ultimately, 18 schools developed, each with their own interpretations of various issues, and spread all over India and Southeast Asia. Today, only the school stemming from the Sri Lankan Theravadan survives.
One of the most significant events in the history of Buddhism is the chance encounter of the monk Nigrodha and the emperor Ashoka Maurya. Ashoka, succeeding his father after a bloody power struggle in 268 bc, found himself deeply disturbed by the carnage he caused while suppressing a revolt in the land of the Kalingas. Meeting Nigrodha convinced Emperor Ashoka to devote himself to peace. On his orders, thousands of rock pillars were erected, bearing the words of the Buddha, in the brahmi script -- the first written evidence of Buddhism. The third council of monks was held at Pataliputra, the capital of Ashoka's empire.
There is a story that tells about a poor young boy who, having nothing to give the Buddha as a gift, collected a handful of dust and innocently presented it. The Buddha smiled and accepted it with the same graciousness he accepted the gifts of wealthy admirers. That boy, it is said, was reborn as the Emperor Ashoka.
Ashoka sent missionaries all over India and beyond. Some went as far as Egypt, Palestine, and Greece. St. Origen even mentions them as having reached Britain. The Greeks of one of the Alexandrian kingdoms of northern India adopted Buddhism, after their King Menandros (Pali: Milinda) was convinced by a monk named Nagasena -- the conversation immortalized in the Milinda Pañha. A Kushan king of north India named Kanishka was also converted, and a council was held in Kashmir in about 100 ad. Greek Buddhists there recorded the Sutras on copper sheets which, unfortunately, were never recovered.
It is interesting to note that there is a saint in Orthodox Christianity named Josaphat, an Indian king whose story is essentially that of the Buddha. Josaphat is thought to be a distortion of the word bodhisattva.
Sri Lanka and Theravada
Emperor Ashoka sent one of his sons, Mahinda, and one of his daughters, Sanghamitta, a monk and a nun, to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) around the year 240 bc. The king of Sri Lanka, King Devanampiyatissa, welcomed them and was converted. One of the gifts they brought with them was a branch of the bodhi tree, which was successfully transplanted. The descendants of this branch can still be found on the island.
The fourth council was held in Sri Lanka, in the Aloka Cave, in the first century bc. During this time as well, and for the first time, the entire set of Sutras were recorded in the Pali language on palm leaves. This became Theravada's Pali Canon, from which so much of our knowledge of Buddhism stems. It is also called the Tripitaka (Pali: Tipitaka), or three baskets: The three sections of the canon are the Vinaya Pitaka (the monastic law), the Sutta Pitaka (words of the Buddha), and the Abhidamma Pitaka (the philosophical commentaries).
In a very real sense, Sri Lanka's monks may be credited with saving the Theravada tradition: Although it had spread once from India all over southeast Asia, it had nearly died out due to competition from Hinduism and Islam, as well as war and colonialism. Theravada monks spread their tradition from Sri Lanka to Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos, and from these lands to Europe and the west generally.
Mahayana began in the first century bc, as a development of the Mahasangha rebellion. Their more liberal attitudes toward monastic tradition allowed the lay community to have a greater voice in the nature of Buddhism. For better or worse, the simpler needs of the common folk were easier for the Mahayanists to meet. For example, the people were used to gods and heroes. So, the Trikaya (three bodies) doctrine came into being: Not only was Buddha a man who became enlightened, he was also represented by various god-like Buddhas in various appealing heavens, as well as by the Dharma itself, or Shunyata (emptiness), or Buddha-Mind, depending on which interpretation we look at -- sort of a Buddhist Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
More important, however, was the increased importance of the Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is someone who has attained enlightenment, but who chooses to remain in this world of Samsara in order to bring others to enlightenment. He is a lot like a saint, a spiritual hero, for the people to admire and appeal to.
Along with new ideas came new scriptures. Also called Sutras, they are often attributed to Buddha himself, sometimes as special transmissions that Buddha supposedly felt were too difficult for his original listeners and therefore were hidden until the times were ripe. The most significant of these new Sutras are these:
Prajñaparamita or Perfection of Wisdom, an enormous collection of often esoteric texts, including the famous Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra. The earliest known piece of printing in the world is, in fact, a copy of the Diamond Sutra, printed in China in 868 ad.
Suddharma-pundarika or White Lotus of the True Dharma, also often esoteric, includes the Avalokiteshwara Sutra, a prayer to that Bodhisattva.
Vimalakirti-nirdesha or Vimalakirti's Exposition, is the teachings of and stories about the enlightened householder Vimalakirti.
Shurangama-samadhi or Hero's Sutra, provides a guide to meditation, shunyata, and the bodhisattva. It is most popular among Zen Buddhists
Sukhavati-vyuha or Pure Land Sutra, is the most important Sutra for the Pure Land Schools of Buddhism. The Buddha tells Ananda about Amitabha and his Pure Land or heaven, and how one can be reborn there.
There are many, many others. Finally, Mahayana is founded on two new philosophical interpretations of Buddhism: Madhyamaka and Yogachara.
Madhyamaka means "the middle way." You may recall that Buddha himself called his way the middle way in his very first sermon. He meant, at that time, the middle way between the extremes of hedonistic pleasure and extreme asceticism. But he may also have referred to the middle way between the competing philosophies of
eternalism and annihilationism -- the belief that the soul exists forever and that the soul is annihilated at death. Or between materialism and nihilism.... An Indian monk by the name of Nagarjuna took this idea and expanded on it to create the philosophy that would be known as Madhyamaka, in a book called the Mulamadhyamaka-karika, written about 150 ad.
Basically a treatise on logical argument, it concludes that nothing is absolute, everything is relative, nothing exists on its own, everything is interdependent. All systems, beginning with the idea that each thing is what it is and not something else (Aristotle's law of the excluded middle), wind up contradicting themselves. Rigorous logic, in other words, leads one away from all systems, and to the concept of shunyata.
Shunyata means emptiness. This doesn't mean that nothing exists. It means that nothing exists in and of itself, but only as a part of a universal web of being. This would become a central concept in all branches of Mahayana. Of course, it is actually a restatement of the central Buddhist concepts of anatman, anitya, and dukkha!
The second philosophical innovation, Yogachara, is credited to two brothers, Asanga and Vasubandhu, who lived in India in the 300's ad. They elaborated earlier movements in the direction of the philosophy of idealism or chitta-matra. Chitta-matra means literally mind only. Asanga and Vasubandhu believed that everything that exists is mind or consciousness. What we think of as physical things are just projections of our minds, delusions or hallucinations, if you like. To get rid of these delusions, we must meditate, which for the Yogachara school means the creation of pure consciousness, devoid of all content. In that way, we leave our deluded individual minds and join with the universal mind, or Buddha-mind.
The last innovation was less philosophical and far more practical: Tantra. Tantra refers to certain writings which are concerned, not with philosophical niceties, but with the basic how-to of enlightenment, and not just with enlightenment in several rebirths, but enlightenment here-and-now!
In order to accomplish this feat, dramatic methods are needed, ones which, to the uninitiated, may seem rather bizarre. Tantra was the domain of the siddhu, the adept -- someone who knows the secrets, a magician in the ways of enlightenment. Tantra involves the use of various techniques, including the well-known mandalas, mantras, and mudras. mandalas are paintings or other representations of higher awareness, usually in the form of a circular pattern of images, which may provide the focus of one-pointed meditation. Mantras are words or phrases that serve the same purpose, such as the famous "Om mani padme hum." Mudras are hand positions that symbolize certain qualities of enlightenment.
Less well known are the yidams. A yidam is the image of a god or goddess or other spiritual being, either physically represented or, more commonly, imagined clearly in the mind's eye. Again, these represent archetypal qualities of enlightenment, and one-pointed meditation on these complex images lead the adept to his or her goal.
These ideas would have enormous impact on Mahayana. They are not without critics, however: Madhyamaka is sometimes criticized as word-play, and Yogachara is criticized as reintroducing atman, eternal soul or essence, to Buddhism. Tantra has been most often criticized, especially for its emphasis on secret methods and strong devotion to a guru. Nevertheless, these innovations led to a renewed flurry of activity in the first half of the first millenium, and provided the foundation for the kinds of Buddhism we find in China, Tibet, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere in east Asia.
Legend has it that the Chinese Emperor Ming Ti had a dream which led him to send his agents down the Silk Road -- the ancient trade route between China and the west -- to discover its meaning. The agents returned with a picture of the Buddha and a copy of the Sutra in 42 Sections. This Sutra would, in 67 ad, be the first of many to be translated into Chinese.
The first Buddhist community in China is thought to be one in Loyang, established by "foreigners" around 150 ad, in the Han dynasty. Only 100 years later, there emerges a native Chinese Sangha. And during the Period of Disunity (or Era of the Warring States, 220 to 589 ad), the number of Buddhist monks and nuns increase to as many as two million! Apparently, the uncertain times and the misery of the lower classes were fertile ground for the monastic traditions of Buddhism.
An early colony of Christians was started by the Apostle Thomas (the doubter)
Kodungallur, known as Musiris in the whole ancient world, and where St. Thomas the Apostle first landed in our India, was till the 15th century the "Rome" of India both as the centre of the Indian Church and as its gateway to world-trade through its famous harbour at the mouth of the river Periyar.
more to come as this gets more organized.Non-Indian religion arrived in India as early as the Quick Facts about: 8th century
Quick Summary not found for this subject8th century CE. During the following decades, significant numbers of Indians converted to Islam. A spotted record of kingship followed the influx of several Persian dynasties, some devastating the Hindu landscape and others encouraging halcyon days of coexistence between Muslims and Hindus. In the Quick Facts about: 1500s
Quick Summary not found for this subject1500s, the primary Mughal Empire was formed. Muslims contributed greatly to the cultural enhancement of an already rich Indian culture, shaping not only the shape of Northern Indian classical music (Hindustani, a melding of Indian and Middle Eastern elements) but encouraging a grand tradition of Urdu (a melding of Quick Facts about: Hindi
The most widely spoken of modern Indic vernaculars; spoken mostly in the north of India; along with English it is the official language of India; usually written in Devanagari scriptHindi, Quick Facts about: Arabic
The Semitic language of the Arabs; spoken in a variety of dialectsArabic and Persian languages) literature both religious and secular. Among other monuments, the Quick Facts about: Taj Mahal
Beautiful mausoleum at Agra built by the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan (completed in 1649) in memory of his favorite wifeTaj Mahal is a gift of the Mughals. As of 2001, there are about 130 million Muslims in India, most of whom live in the north and west of the country.
A form of the ancient Quick Facts about: Persia
An empire in southern Asia created by Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC and destroyed by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCPersian relgion Quick Facts about: Zoroastrianism
System of religion founded in Persia in the 6th century BC by Zoroaster; set forth in the Zend-Avesta; based on concept of struggle between light (good) and dark (evil)Zoroastrianism continues to be practiced in India, where its followers are called Parsis.
A believer or follower of IslamMuslim rulers in what is now modern-day
A theocratic islamic republic in the Middle East in western Asia; Iran was the core of the ancient empire that was known as Persia until 1935; rich in oil; involved in state-sponsored terrorismIran, Zoroastrian immigrants were granted protection under a Hindu king in the Western section of India many centuries ago.
SikhismQuick Facts about: Sikhism
The doctrines of a monotheistic religion founded in northern India in the 16th century by Guru Nanak and combining elements of Hinduism and IslamSikhism The only Indian originated monotheistic religion was founded in India's northwestern Quick Facts about: Punjab
A historical region on northwestern India and northern PakistanPunjab region about 400 years ago. As of 2001 there were 35 million Sikhs in India. Many of todays Sikhs are situated in Punjab,the Largest Quick Facts about: Sikh
An adherent of SikhismSikh Province in the world and the ancestral home of Sikhs. The most Famous Sikh Temple Is the Quick Facts about: Golden Temple
Quick Summary not found for this subjectGolden Temple it is located in Amritsar
Many Sikhs serve in the Indina army. The current prime minister of India is a Sikh, (when I was taking notes on this country)
Punjab is the spiritual home of Sikhs and is the only state in India where Sikhs form a Majority.