Understanding Hinduism – A Misunderstood Worldview Part 1

At the outset, it is important to point out that Hinduism does not follow the typical structure of an organized religion. Hinduism is a collection of many religions, schools of thoughts/philosophies and belief systems that may seem contradictory but are somehow held together as a mysterious whole. Consequently, when we talk about Hinduism, it is really Hinduisms.

Hinduism has no founder, no central doctrine, no central book, though many have attempted such feats and often either failed or ended up getting absorbed in the ocean called Hinduism as another expression within its vastness. We will also only address most of these topics below from our own points of view, experiences and understanding and without fail will be unable to exhaustively cover other arguments or counter-arguments therein.

Hindus are capable of holding contradictory views without conflict. For a Western mind, this seems illogical to our linear patterns of thinking, but hold onto your seats – as we explore Hinduism very briefly.

One way to think about Hinduism is “diversity, diversity, diversity.” How can 1 billion people with multiple languages, traditions and no central doctrine possibly be defined under one religious label?

1) What do Hindus believe about the afterlife?
The diversity in the Hindu worldview doesn’t have one answer to this question. If you ask 10 Hindu people what they believe about the afterlife, you will most likely get a range of three or four different responses.

Theoretically, Hindus believe in the cycle of reincarnation, but many also ascribe to the concept of heaven and hell or being united with God after death. There is also a mixing of beliefs stemming from Buddhism about the concept of nirvana or being freed from the cycle of reincarnation and being united with God. Some people also hold to an atheistic or agnostic views or mixtures of the above concepts.

Given the diversity of beliefs and traditions, it is best to say there is no agreed central answer on this one. However, we can generally say that for a Hindu some sort of being morally good or bad is involved in how the next life or stage of existence will turn out to be.

2) What are the commonly celebrated Hindu festivals?
This is as varied as the thousands of castes and people groups in India. Generally, most states have their own festivals, but there are some commonly celebrated Hindu festivals which are celebrated across most of India. These widely celebrated festivals are Diwali, Holi and Navaratri. Most festivals in India tend to have some religious attachment with certain gods and goddesses, but some festivals have agricultural or seasonal roots as well.

3) Do Hindus speak different languages than the people of other religions?
The two official languages of India are Hindi and English, but not all Indians speak these languages. There are 22 recognized languages and 720 official dialects. Many Indians speak a regional language such as Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, Gujarati, Telugu, Panjabi or Assamese with Hindi as a second or third language. The prevalence of tribal or local village languages sometimes adds complexity to the linguistic makeup of India. Generally speaking, each state tends to have their own language, but multiple states in Northern India share Hindi as their most widely spoken language.

Hindus often revere Sanskrit as sacred language and use it in many religious chantings and worship, although it is not a spoken language and neither is widely understood by the masses. It would be comparable to Latin- not a language that common people speak or understand, but a root language in which religious materials and terminologies were created.

The linguistic makeup of India is ever-changing as people migrate, intermarry, and assimilate to other parts of the world. Most Indians speak more than one language and in the last few decades, the push for fluency in English is steadily increasing.

By: Worker, Serving in Asia
We know we haven’t even begun to uncover the vastness of Hinduism as lengthy discourse on each of the above topics is called for if one wants to provide an exhaustive treatment. We acknowledge our limitations here.