Wednesday, 12 March 2014

HINDUISM - W O R L D R E L I G I O N

Religion is like the fashion. One man wears his doublet slashed, another
lace, another plain; but every man has a doublet. So every man has his religion.
We differ about trimming.

INTRODUCTION
Who am I? Why was I born? Does my life have a purpose? Does the world have a purpose? When I die will I no longer exist? What is the meaning of it all? Man has asked these questions almost from the beginning of his history, and for just about as long he has looked to religion for answers to these questions.
It is hard to define religion. Ten different people will give ten different meanings. For one person, religion is a complete way of life, determining what he eats, who his friends are, whom he marries, even his daily schedule. For another, religion means going to church or synagogue or temple and observing religious holidays. For another, religion is simply a way of living in the world; for another it is a belief in God. For still another, it is not a belief in God but a feeling of oneness with the universe. And for some, religion is just something practiced by other people, something that other people need to provide meaning for their lives.
Even those who would not call themselves religious agree that religion has played an important role in man's history. It has given mankind some of its greatest heroes and some of its greatest tragedies. The history of religion, like the history of man, is one of love and pride and joy and sorrow and paid and greed. As long as man survives, so will religion.
Five major religions are practiced in the world today and each is centuries old. Hinduism developed first, then Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and finally Islam. But they are not more or less important than other religions because they are older or newer. Their importance is that for centuries they have satisfied basic human needs and answered man's basic questions. The chief differences among them have to do with whose needs they satisfy and whose questions they answer. Within the human race there are many differences, and the most important difference, where religion is concerned, is the difference between Eastern and Western man.
Here the terms Eastern and Western do not really correspond to the Eastern and Western hemispheres, for the Western hemisphere wasn't "discovered" until well after all these religions had been born. Where religion is concerned, the terms Eastern and Western depend upon a man's view of life and his questions about it.
Hinduism and Buddhism are Eastern religions. Both arose in India, although Buddhism moved out of India and today is practiced chiefly in Southeast Asia. Hindus and Buddhists believe that there is no real meaning to human life and that the individual is not important. Their greatest fear is that life may continue in an endless cycle of births and rebirths on earth. Their greatest hope is that they will find a way to escape this eternal earthly life and unite with a universal spirit that is above both meaninglessness and meaning. Both Hinduism and Buddhism provide ways of escape for believers.
By contrast, the Western religions---Judaism, Christianity, and Islam---are found among people who believe there must be meaning to human life. Their fear is that human life and individual men's lives are meaningless. Their hope is that they will find meaning. Judaism, Christianity and Islam stress belief in One God with it is possible to communicate, who cares about those who believe in him, whose worship can give meaning to the believer's life, and who can reward the believer with continued life after he dies on earth.
All of these religions have moved outside their countries of birth through migration of peoples and colonization, and all have changed their ideas and practices over the centuries as the needs of their devotees have changed. Today, all of these religions are still in a state of change. Increased communication among the people and countries of the world, scientific discoveries and theories that have called into question some religious beliefs, philosophies that argue that religion is not necessary---all these things threaten the five established religions. Young people, especially, are turning away from the established religions in their countries and many are turning to religions that seem completely alien to their heritage. An understanding of the five major religions may help to explain why.
I
HINDUISM
Hinduism is the oldest of the world's living religions. The term Hinduism comes from the Persian word Hindu, meaning "Indian," and thus Hinduism is the "ism" or system of belief and way of life, of the Indian people. Actually, Hinduism is a Western term for the religious beliefs and practices of the majority of people in India. Hindus themselves call their religion the eternal law, which means both the divine law of the universe and the moral law of the human race.
Hinduism has no founder, and it does not depend upon the existence of any One God who created the world or who intervenes in the affairs of man. In fact, one can be a good Hindu and worship a number of gods or no god at all.
The main desire of a Hindu is not to become a perfect human being on earth or a happy dweller in heaven, but to become united with Brahman, the eternal, universal spirit. In Brahman there are no differences or separations, no time and space, no good and evil, no joy and sorrow, no desires of any kind. In fact, in Brahman there is no sense of individuality, but only pure being, consciousness, and bliss.
A man cannot achieve freedom from his sense of individuality and separateness from the universe merely by living a life of goodness, charity, and humility. He can achieve it only by completely changing his way of thinking and of seeing the world. This change cannot possibly be brought about in a single lifetime, and thus Hindus believe in transmigration of souls, the passing of individual souls form one life to another: the rebirth after death of a living being, as an animal or as a man or a woman, in a status either happier or much less happy than that of his previous existence. That status is determined by karma. Karma may be described as the sum of a person's thoughts and actions in all his previous lives. In each life he changes his karma for either better or worse. In the Christian Bible, Jesus describes the equivalent of karma, in the statement. "That which ye sow, that shall ye also reap."
According to these beliefs, when---for instance---a Hindu merchant dies, his soul enters another life in a new person. If the merchant has lived a life of good moral deeds and self-discipline, he is reborn in a higher station of life, in the warrior class, for example. If he has lived a sinful life, he is reborn as a servant or some other person of lower status. The final aim is not only to improve one's karma, but to escape from the endless succession of births and rebirths and to unite with Brahman.
THE HISTORY OF HINDUISM
The history of Hinduism extends over centuries, and its length and the lack of early documents about it makes it difficult to trace exactly. India's religious history can only be very roughly divided into ancient, medieval, and modern periods.
Ancient Hinduism
Hinduism probably arose in the Indus valley some time after 1500 B.C. The dark-skinned peoples of this region had a highly developed and urbanized civilization and unlike the peoples of surrounding areas, they were literate. They worshiped forces of nature, such as fire, wind, and rain.
About 1500 B.C. the Indus valley was invaded from the east by the Aryans. The Aryans were warlike, illiterate people whose religion was based on three classes of gods---of the heavens, the atmosphere, and the earth. In like manner, the Aryan population was divided into three classes each having special gods. In the highest class were the priests, whose special god was the fire god, Agni. Next came the warriors (including kings or tribal chiefs) whose special god was the warrior god, Indra. Finally, the common people (peasants and craftsmen) worshiped the "all-gods," the divine people. All these gods were worshiped through animal and sometimes human sacrifice.
After conquering the Indus peoples military, the Aryans the set about converting them to their religion. It is ironic that the chief means of this conversion was provided by the conquered peoples. The conquerors learned to read and write from the native population and used these new skills to write religious books, called Vedas, explaining their religion and instructing the people they had conquered in the proper ritual's of worship. The writings claimed to be eternal truths revealed by the gods to the wise men and prophets who wrote them down for the generations to come. They were called "that which is heard" and they are still considered so sacred that only Hindus in the highest classes are permitted to read them.
The Vedas also expanded the three-class or caste system of the Aryans to include the native population. A hymn tells of the primeval man from whom, by means of a sort or original sacrifice, the world was created. From the head of the original man came Brahman, the supreme basis of all existence; from his arms came the warriors; from his body arose the class of merchants and craftsmen. From his feet came the servant class, to which the conquered peoples belonged. Slaves and criminals were not included in this system and were designated by the terms outcaste and untouchable. This was the beginning of the Hindu caste system, which still exists today, although it is being discouraged by most Hindu leaders.
Naturally, it took centuries for this system to be imposed all over the Indus valley, and migration and intermarriage have always prevented absolute caste boundaries. But the freely developed caste system was remarkably strict and governed most aspects of life. Each caste was a self- contained community; members of one caste were not permitted to intermarry or even to eat, drink, or smoke with members of another. Each caste had its own rituals and customs and its members were not permitted to practice those of other castes. Each had certain occupations, those regarded as dirty or "polluting" (such as hair-cutting, delivering babies, and lavatory cleaning) being reserved for low castes. The outcastes or untouchables suffered most from this system. They were forbidden to enter public buildings used by their betters, had to draw water from different wells and often to travel on different paths and had to live in hamlets remote from the villages they served.
The life of each man in the three higher classes was divided by the Vedas into four stages, providing that he went through the ceremony of initiation. After the initiation, when he was a young boy, he became a student. Next he was a householder producing sons and fulfilling his family duties. In later middle age, when he had seen his grandchildren, he retired---ideally to a hut in the forest---and devoted his life to meditation. Finally, as an old man he became a homeless, religious beggar, giving up all earthly comforts. This life plan has always been more of an ideal than in actual practice, as it could never be enforced by law like the caste system.
The religion set forth by the Vedas was fine for the three higher castes. But for the servant caste, the conquered peoples, it contained no hope, no way to better themselves. Seemingly, in answer to their needs, the Upanishads were written about the fifth century B.C. It is the the Upanishads that the influence of the religion of the Indus valley group is first seen, and in fact, it is with the Upanishads that the foundations of Hinduism were truly laid.
The law of karma was first put forth in the Upanishads. It gave hope in the servant caste, for even though they might be servants in this life, if they led charitable and humble lives they could be reborn into higher castes. The idea was also put forth in the Upanishads that if a man led several good lifetimes he could escape the cycle of births and rebirths and unite with Brahman.
The Upanishads gave hope to the servant caste for only a short time, for soon most realized that they faced an endless cycle of rebirths. It would be practically impossible to go through several lifetimes without committing a sin that would cause a setback The idea of striving throughout eternity the soul never knowing peace or rest, was terrifying. At this time arose various sects, notably Buddhism and some of the other sects gained prominence in some of the Indian kingdoms for a while; however, Hinduism was not only a religion but a complete way of life and it had too firm a position to be driven out by other sects.
Hinduism gained additional strength when, beginning about 200 B.C., Indians went abroad and colonized Sumatra, Borneo, Java, Malaya, and Indochina. Colonization and the resulting missionary activity almost always brings new life into religion. Nonbelievers must be wooed into becoming believers. New cultures present new problems and new questions for the missionary religion to answer. New literature must be written to explain the religion in ways the nonbeliever can understand.
The great epics of Hinduism were written at this time. All the deepest values of Hinduism, the individual's duties to himself and to society, are treated in warlike narratives and mythological scenes. The chief value of the epics was that they brought the teachings of the Upanishads to a level that the common man could understand. In fact, they were chiefly for the common man. In contrast to the Vedas, "that which is heard," the epics and all later sacred writings were known as "that which is remembered." Since they were not considered as sacred as the Vedas which were forbidden to all but the three higher castes they were open to all. The Epics carried to the common people the message of the gods' love for all men, regardless of caste.
Hinduism now became more god-centered, and two gods, Vishnu and Siva, gained prominence over the other gods. Vishnu had been a minor god in earlier times and Siva was probably a fertility god in the Indus valley religion at the time of the Aryan conquest. By now the universal spirit Brahma, a remote and unapproachable god who created the universe and indeed was considered inseparable from it The three gods were said to represent the three important functions of the Supreme---creation (Brahma), protection (Vishnu), and destruction (Siva)---and were known together as the Hindu Triad or Trinity. The power that was associated with each of these great gods was also later personified as his female companion.
The common people could feel close to these gods, could feel that the gods knew and cared about them. Devotion to a personal god developed, along with the practice of worshiping these personal gods with prayers, offerings, incense, or music. Images of these gods were made, temples were built to house them, and festivals and pilgrimages to places associated with the various gods became common.
The most important of the epics is the Bhagavad-Gita ("Song of the Lord"). It is a kind of sermon addressed to the hero, Arjuna, by Krishna, a fellow warrior, who reveals himself as none other than an incarnation of the Supreme Being. It was important because it laid the foundation for the idea of divine incarnations, which made it possible for gods worshiped in the form of animals and heroic men to become incarnations of Vishnu. It introduced a completely new aspect of Hinduism, the love of God for man and man for God. Here, for the first time, God separates himself from the universe and meets man face to face on earth.
The epic writings ushered in what is considered the golden age of Hinduism. During this time (A.D. 300-750) the majority of Hindus practiced a strongly personal and devotional religion. Fantastic stories and legends, called the Antiquities, were written in order to bring the traditional doctrines to the Hindu masses.
Female companions of the three gods of the Hindu Triad came into prominence as figures to be worshiped. The companion of Brahma, the creator, was called Sarasvati, the goddess of learning and knowledge. The companion of Vishnu, the protector, was called Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. And the destroyer Siva's companion was Sakti, the goddess of power. Sakti was above all a mother goddess, a development of the fertility goddesses who had been worshiped by the conquered peoples. Later, sects devoted to the worship of one or another of these gods and goddesses would arise.
With the increased availability of Hinduism to the masses came the revival of the more primitive practices of worship that had characterized the earlier religion. Among these were animal and sometimes human sacrifices, the burning of widows on their husbands' funeral pyres, and committing suicide in the name of the gods.
In the face of such excesses, many Hindus from the learned classes began to preach against these forms of worship. One philosopher and religious teacher named Sankara traveled all over India urging the people to cease the barbaric practices of widow-burning and sacrifice. He preached a return to the Vedas and Upanishads, and establish four monasteries to continue his work. A man of great magnetism, Sankara was very successful, and toady a majority of Hindus are Sankara's followers.
Midieval Hinduism
By the year 1000, the basic doctrines of Hinduism had been formed, and the ancient period of Hinduism gave way to the medieval period. The most important event of this period was the conquest of parts of India by the Muslims, whose religion, Islam, will be discussed in a later chapter. The Muslims considered it their sacred duty to convert the Hindus and in their zeal for saving souls often resorted to force, although many outcastes or untouchables converted voluntarily. Nevertheless, the Muslims conquest did not bring about any basic destruction of Hindu life and religion. Islam was absolutely alien to the Hindus; it challenged everything Hinduism had stood for throughout the centuries. In the face of this threat, and unable to assimulate the Muslims into its caste system as it had assimilated all previous invaders, Hinduism drew into itself. Rather than trying to fight the invaders, the Hindus decided instead to make their own religion stronger.
First in the south then in the north, teachers and philosophers appeared, preaching love of God and absolute surrender to God as the quickest way to salvation. Many sects arose, and a mass of devotional poetry was written, in all the regional languages. It stressed simple faith and devotion to a personal god and urged brotherhood and friendship.
But by the end of the seventeenth century the devotional movement had lost much of its popularity, and the old ritualism and rigidity had begun to dominate Hinduism again By the time British rule in India began, little life seemed to be left in Hinduism.
The Modern Period
The modern period of Hinduism began about 1800 with the introduction of British rule into India. These first European conquerors found a sterile religion with a thousand restrictions and customs looked upon as laws of God, including child marriage, no intermarriage between castes, the burning of widows, few rights of women, untouchability, and a ban on travel to foreign countries. It was such a rigid system that when a British broke the isolation of India and brought it into contact with European customs and ways, many Hindus, awed and excited by what seemed to be the complete freedom ways of Bristish ways, began to imitate them. In fact, it was widely expected that India would become Christianized. But in the end, the threat of assimilation into Western culture revitalized Hinduism.
This revitalization was due to the work of several religious philosophers and poets, but it is Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) who is considered the greatest savior of the Hindus and of India. Gandhi saw that his country was slowly being destroyed by the British, who controlled all of India's natural resources and kept all the profits, instead of using them to help the Indian people. He felt India must win its independence, but at the same time he realized that the Indian people would not unite against Britain, divided as they were by strong caste lines. He also realized that the Indians had not the arms or the power to fight the British by force.
Gandhi used the same technique against both the caste system and the British---nonviolence. Nonviolence has long been considered a virtue in Hinduism; it had been preached as one method that would help bring about rebirth into a higher caste. Bit in the past it had been applied only to individual action. Gandhi preached and practiced it as a collective action. According to Gandhi, truth is God, and nonviolence is the means of attaining truth. He developed a technique which he called "soul force" nonviolent defense of what one considers the truth.
In attacking the rigid lines of the caste system, Gandhi, born of a servant caste, organized the outcastes or untouchables in various towns and led them in nonviolent actions that crossed the rigid caste boundaries, such as using the well or road in a village that was taboo to them. The other castes countered voilently, but under the leadership of Gandhi, the untouchables did not resist, willingly taking beatings and imprisonment. After all, they had nothing to lose. Eventually many in the higher castes could no longer justify their own violence in the face of the willing, even joyful manner in which the outcastes received it.
Against the British, Gandhi had to begin his nonviolent protest alone, for the Indians of the higher castes were fearful of jail and punishment by the British. In 1930 he began a "salt march" to the sea where he intended to make salt, an activity prohibited to anyone except the British. He was arrested and imprisoned, but he called for other Indians to continue his work. Gradually, the people began to answer his call. Within two years it was almost a disgrace for an Indian not to have been arrested and jailed for noncooperation with the British. Nevertheless, it took seventeen years of nonviolent protest and non- cooperation before India secured its independence from Great Britain.
Nearly all India had united against the British, but many Hindus still resisted the abolishment of the caste system. A year after the independence Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu who believed in the established Hindu doctrines and did not want to see them changed. All his life Gandhi insisted he was a mortal man, but most Indians worship him as a divine incarnation.
Ever since India gained ins independence from Britain, its religious leaders have devoted great effort to teaching the basic Hindu doctrines to the masses of illiterate Indians The Song of the Lord is widely read, and most of the other great books have been published in all the languages of India. The government has introduced many democratic reforms, with the result that the caste system is slowly being abolished. India is becoming a highly industrialized society, and the restrictions that accompany the caste system can no longer survive.
The sterile and ritualized Hinduism that the British found when they first began to rule in India has been found when they first began to rule in India has been discarded. In its place, the earliest from of Hinduism---in which unity with Brahman, the universal spirit, is the ultimate goal, and liberation from time, space, and matter is the means to achieve that goal---is being revived. In addition, Hinduism not only is enjoying renewed strength in India but also has gained much influence in the Western world. Yoga, Indian mysticism, gurus (Hindu spiritual teachers), and the Hare Krishna cult are particularly popular among the youth in the United States and Europe. Hinduism, unlike Western religions, is an individual matter; it is a quest for liberation, a tendency to renounce material and worldly things, and an intensive concentration on problems which in other cultures are more often reserved for religious scholars and philosophers. All these elements attract Western young people who have rejected what they feel is the alienation, materialism, and worldliness of Western society.
The Hare Krishna movement is the best and most serious example of the adoption of the Hindu religion by young Westerners. It is a devotional movement dedicated to the service of God, or Krishna, the eternal all- knowing, and all-powerful. It is based on the Bhagavad-Gita, or Song of the Lord, the Hindu epic written two thousand years ago. The epic told of Krishna who, disguised as a warrior, revealed to fellow warrior Arjuna that he was an incarnation of the Supreme Being. It thus introduced into Hinduism the idea of the love of God for man and man for God.
The Hare Krishna movement is another name for International Society for Krisha Consciousness. The society was founded by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is looked to as a disciple of Buddha in an unbroken chain of spiritual teachers. In 1966 he came to the United States on the order of his spiritual master to preach to the people of the West.
The movement is simply a modern version of the devotional movements that have arisen in Hinduism throughout its history. Its basic belief is that people are born and live their lives without ever understanding who they are. Because of this "impure consciousness," a person is content to think of himself as a student or a parent or a businessman. But these are only temporary answers to the question "Who am I?" The devotees of Krishna Consciousness seek out "absolute truth," which they believe is contained in all the great scriptures of the world, in the Bible, The Torah, the Koran. But the oldest known revealed scriptures are the Vedas, especially the Bhagavad-Gita, which is the record of God's actual words.
The "absolute truth" is that all people are servants of Krishna. Everyone has had countless births in the past and will have countless births in the future unless he can break away from birth and death by regaining his eternal status as a servant of Krishna Understanding of the absolute truth qualifies one to enter Krishna's society, the spiritual kingdom that lies beyond the material universe.
The easiest way for most people to achieve this consciousness is to chant the Hare Krishna: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare
Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. But this chant is not to be performed in privacy to gain salvation for oneself alone. The duty and obligation of the devotee is to go out into the streets where people can hear the chanting and see the dancing.
By now, in most major cities across the United States, young Americans dressed in saffron robes, the boys with shaved heads, the girls in braids or with their hair pulled back, chanting the Hare Krishna and swaying to the music of their bells and mirdanga drums, are familiar sights along major avenues. They can also be seen in some major European cities as well as in Delhi, Hong Kong, and Tokoyo. But the Hare Krishna movement has spread most quickly in the United States, where young Americans have responded with great eagerness and intensity. It is strange that so many converts have been found in the United States and indeed in the West as a whole, for the Hare Krishna movement's rejection of individual identity, its strict regulations, etc., are so basically Eastern. But for these young people, Western religion and Western society have failed.
HINDU RELIGIOUS PRACTICES
Four definite sects exist in Hinduism today. Three of them, Vaishnavism, Saivism, and Saktism, have existed since ancient Hinduism. The fourth sect, called the Smartas, consists of worshipers who do not belong to these three sects but who follow the ancient traditions and worship all the gods without distinction. The majority of Hindus do not belong to any sect, but their religious practices do not differ basically from those of other Hindus.
For all Hindus, religious activity centers chiefly in the home. Each home has at least one image, idol, or picture before which prayers, hymn singing, the offering of flowers, and the burning of incense are performed. The symbols used as objects of worship are, for Vishnu, a fossilized ammonite shell taken from the Gandake River; for Siva, a stone found in the Narmada River; for Surya, the sun, a round marble stone. Worship may also be offered to books, as at the time of the festival devoted to Sarasvati, the goddess of learning.
Religious practices in the home involve worship three times daily: in the morning before dawn, any time after sunrise, and in the evening. Rituals always are preceded by bathing, and always involve prayers; offerings are made to the family deity and food is offered to animals and guests. No meal of any form can be taken in the household before the family deity is offered food.
Milestones in the individual's life are observed by rites, all requiring the help of a trained priest and a chaplain serving a family or group of families. At a birth the father or nearest male relative rubs the newborn's tongue with clarified butter and honey, sometimes also with powdered gold dust. Prayers for long life, intelligence, diligence, and concentration, but not for worldly gain, are offered.
The initiation is the most important ceremony, because it is the ceremony of entry into the Hindu religion. It is performed on adolescent boys only; females occupy a lowly place in the Hindu religion, although this, too, is changing in modern India. The boy is shaved and bathed, dressed in garments newly dyed with red chalk, a waist girdle of sacred grass, and a deerskin, and is provided with a staff. Prayers are offered don his behalf and he is given his first lessons in making offerings to the gods.
The marriage ceremony involves the worship of the bridegroom by the father of the bride. The bride is then given, with ornaments and presents for the groom. The groom accepts the hand of the bride and a fire offering is performed. The most important part of the ceremony is the Seven Steps, in which the bride and groom take seven steps around the fire, or go around the fire seven times. The ceremonies are begun with a formula of good intent (the bride and groom both wish a happy marriage) and ended by a prayer for peace.
The final sacrament is performed at death, ideally on the bank of a sacred river. Cremation occurs as soon after death as possible, accompanied by prayers. Some of the bones are thrown into the river or collected to be taken to a sacred river if there is none nearby. Monthly ceremonial prayers occur afterward, and at the end of the lunar year a ceremony is held at which the dead man is admitted to the company of his forefathers.
In the temples, trained ministrants perform regular ceremonies of worship---in the larger temples, several times a day. There is merit for a Hindu who attends these ceremonies alone or with his family, but he is not obligated to attend the temple, and congregational worship hardly exists in Hinduism. Much more important are the various methods of individual worship, especially meditation. Strengthened by yoga, meditation can lead to such a release of tension that the worshiper can accomplish the ultimate aim of union with Brahman, the Absolute.
At least once a year every important temple holds a festival. In the south of India these festivals always include a procession in which the god of the temple is pulled a round the city or village on a cart or the back of an elephant. In the temple, dancing, singing, and the telling of religious stories goes on. Even festivals in small villages attract worshipers from far away who use them as the reason for pilgrimages. Pilgrimages, together with ceremonial baths in sacred rivers or temple tanks, are considered symbolic of the individuals self's pilgrimage to the Supreme Spirit and its purification from all wrong deeds.
General days of festival are many, but only the more devout Hindus celebrate all of them Probably the most common celebrated festivals occur in the autumn. The first ten days of the month Asin (September-October; Hindu months overlap those of the Western calendar) are especially sacred to Sakti, the mother goddess. For nine days she is worshiped in her destructive forms, and some sects sacrifice animals to her on the ninth day. Then tenth day is celebrated by all sects with processions and merrymaking.
At the beginning of October-November, Diwali is celebrated. A New Year's festival, it is observed by the ceremonial lighting of lamps, the illuminating of house fronts, and the exchanging of presents.
Holi is a spring festival, occurring in February-March, which is dedicated to Krishna. During Holi, people celebrate the advent of spring by throwing colored water and powder on each other.
Many objects in nature are considered sacred in varying degrees, the most sacred being the cow. Worship as the representative of Mother Earth, the cow is divine in her own right, and the killing or eating of cows is forbidden in India. Among other sacred animals are bulls, monkeys, Indian tree squirrels, and snakes, which are especially associated with Siva. Two of the largest trees in India, the banyan and the pipal, are also sacred. All rivers and hills are to some extent divine, but the Ganges River is extremely holy, for it is believed to flow from the head of Siva. Any stream of water may symbolically stand for the sacred Ganges----even water poured from a jug.
In a limited sense, parents are divine to their children, as is the husband to the wife, the teacher to the student, tools to the worker, etc. Awareness of this divinity is not expressed through formal "worship" but simply through considerateness and respect.
Divinity is everywhere and all around every Hindu, and Westerners find such beliefs hard to understand. Yet the all-pervasiveness of divinity is the source of much of the dignity and humility of the Hindu culture----an attitude that many young Westerners are finding more and more attractive.





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