Hinduism is a religious tradition of Indian origin. It comprises the beliefs and practices of Hindus. The word Hindu is derived from the River Sindhu, or Indus. The geographical term was Al-Hind, and the people of the land east of the Indus were therefore called Hindus. In Hinduism there are various schools of thought, which Hindu scholars have systematized in different ways. All of these schools have enriched Hinduism with their individual emphases: Nyaya on logic, Vaiseshika on atomism and materialism, Sankhya on numbers and categories, Yoga on meditation techniques, Mimamsa on the analysis of sacred texts, and Vedanta on the nature and experience of spirituality. Their teachings are usually summarized in texts called sutras or aphorisms. Here we discuss a sutra which is called Ashrama or Stages of Life.
Ashrama provides a roadmap for the journey through these stages and provides a clear sense of purpose for each stage, including old age. Hindus consider the last stage of life highly significant. Ashrama focuses on the four goals that establish a fulfilling life namely, dharma, artha, kama, and moksha.
The first stage focuses on the life of a celibate student (living as an adult without having sexual relations). It is the time when an individual acquires the values of dharma it which an individual undergoes a preparation and training for leading a proper life. Then it is followed by that of the householder, during which the individual seeks artha (the pursuit of material well-being, wealth, and power) and kama (the pleasure of the senses, both aesthetic pleasures and sensual and sexual pleasure) by marrying, working, and raising a family as a constraint to become an active member of the society. In the second stage, Hindu householders must carry out their responsibilities in consensus with dharma and having no debts owed to the gods, the sages, and their ancestors.
The third stage of life begins after the years of enjoyment and responsibility. Around age 50, when the children are grown, the individual gradually begins to give up acquisitions and worldly ties and to take up spiritual contemplation basically to prepare for the next stage which is the final stage. The fourth stage involves renunciation of the world to seek liberation in transcendent isolation. Renunciation permits the individual to be free of external responsibilities and to concentrate on an inner search. The life of the sannyasi (renunciant) focuses on achieving realization of the innermost self (atman) and union with the divine (moksha).
India's political history was surrounded with obscurity for many centuries after the arrival of the waves of migrants from Central Asia, but the Veda, a collection of sacred writings (1200 bc), which contains substantial information on social practices, religious beliefs, and cultural attainments. As portrayed in some Vedic hymns, the civilization that emerged during the early centuries after the intermingling of Indo-Aryan and Dravidian cultures on the subcontinent was notable in several respects. Tribal political organs functioned according to democratic principles, the social status of women compared favourably with that of men, and marriage was regarded as sacred. The Indo-Aryans had advanced skills in various arts and sciences, including livestock-raising, metal handicrafts, carpentry, boat building, and military science.
The Vedic hymns composed during this and later periods also depict the emergence and crystallization of key features of the socio-religious system known as Hinduism. Virtually all that is known with certainty of the political situation is that in the course of the 1st millennium bc, 16 autonomous states were established in the region bounded by the Himalaya, the southern reaches of the Ganges, the Vindhya Range, and the Indus Valley. Of these states, comprising both republics and kingdoms, the most important was Kosala, a kingdom situated in the region occupied by modern Oudh. Other important kingdoms were Avanti, Vamsas, and Magadha. The last-named kingdom occupied the territory of modern Bihar, and in about the middle of the 6th century bc it became the dominant state of India. During the reign of its first great King Bimbisara (reigned about 543-491 bc), Buddha and Vardhamana Jnatiputra or Nataputta Mahavira, the respective founders of Buddhism and Jainism, preached and taught in Magadha.
In 326 bc Alexander the Great led an expedition across the Hindu Kush into northern India. He won several victories during his march into India, climaxing in the Battle of Hydaspes that ended in the defeat of King Poros near the River Hydaspes (now the Jhelum). However, Alexander did not stay in India long, and the political and cultural effects of the invasion were insignificant, except in the opportunity provided for the Mauryan King Chandragupta to expand his empire westwards utilizing the political vacuum.
Bhakti, a Sanskrit term derived from the verb bhaj, meaning "to love, adore, enjoy, eat, or make love to"; it denotes passionate devotion to a Hindu god, primarily Krishna, Rama, Shiva, or Devi. In this sense the word appears in the Bhagavad-Gita, Bhagavad-Gita is the high point of Hindu religion. Here the long history of Hinduism culminates in a great devotional poem, teaching complete surrender to the will of Krishna, the God. Although it is tied closely to the Hindu religious tradition, Bhagavad-Gita moves out beyond this to a deeper and more universal religious consciousness. It took form near the beginning of the Christian era from the work of many Hindu religious minds and gathered together their thinking and many traditional beliefs and doctrine in which had come from far back in Hindu history. In it we find a definite doctrine of the immortality of the soul, the idea that the God is able to assume the form of man to teach men His ways, an offer or universal salvation to sinners, even to low-caste women, and the same time strict adherence to the ancient caste system.
Under the influence of vernacular sectarian movements, particularly in southern India and Bengal, the word assumed connotations of intensity and self-abandon. The Alvars and the Nayanars, 7th- to 10th-century ad hymnists, poured out their love in ecstatic hymns that challenged the very basis of the Hindu social and religious order. For them, the body was the only temple and the inspired words of their saints the only canon. During this period bhakti became widespread, inspiring much splendid religious poetry and art. In Bengal, bhakti was subdivided into the love of parent for child, child for parent, friend for friend, brother for brother, woman for lover, and servant for master. Although devotion to the guru, or spiritual teacher, was important to all bhakti sects, the love of God, to the exclusion of all other social concerns, was and is the mark of the true devotee, or bhakta (Microsoft ® Encarta ® Premium Suite 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved).
China had been religious long before Confucius. In fact, from its earliest days, about 2356 bc, Chinahas had an official religion. During the later part of the sixth century bc, however, the government was falling into decay and the moral life of the people was not good. It was at that time that the young Confucius became famous as a teacher. This success was followed by success in political office and then as an itinerant preacher. As a result of his works and life, the relgion of China, which had existed for centuries unnamed, became known as Confucianism (The Sacred Writings of Great Religions by J.E Frost).
For Confucius, social and political order were the same, and the personal virtue of rulers and gentlemen ensured the health of the state. His keys to good order were rites (li) and music, for Chinese music of the period was central to religious and official rites, and Confucius valued both its ritual function and its power to move men's hearts. He also valued the poems of ancient Chinese literature (most of which were sung to music) as civilizing and edifying influences. Allied to this was his emphasis on the rectification of names, ensuring that the correct social and other distinctions were maintained by using only the appropriate words for them. A state provided with the most fitting rites and music, selected from the various available traditions, would automatically produce virtuous and happy citizens; laws would be almost unnecessary because disputes would never arise. Confucius roamed China seeking in vain for a sympathetic ruler to adopt his scheme.
The keynote of Confucian ethics is run, variously translated as "love", "goodness", "humanity", and "human-heartedness". Ren is a supreme virtue representing human qualities at their best; in Confucius's time it apparently was associated with the ruling class and had a meaning more like "nobility", but its usage soon broadened. In human relations, construed as those between one person and another, men are manifested in zhong, or faithfulness to oneself and others, and shu, or altruism, best expressed in the Confucian golden rule, "Do not do to others what you do not want to be done to yourself". Other important Confucian virtues include righteousness (yi), propriety (li), integrity (xin), and filial piety (xiao). One who possesses all these virtues becomes a junzi (perfect gentleman). Politically, Confucius advocated a paternalistic government in which the sovereign is benevolent and honorable and the subjects are respectful and obedient. The ruler should cultivate moral perfection in order to set a good example to the people and to attract subjects to swell his realm. In education Confucius upheld the theory, remarkable for the feudal period in which he lived, that "in education, there is no class distinction" (Microsoft ® Encarta ® Premium Suite 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved)
Confucianism views the nature of a human being as a creation of Heaven. Heaven has made man good. His original nature is good, but many depart from it. The earthy in man pulls him down and away from Heaven. Those who follow the Heavenly part of themselves are great, while those who follow the earth are evil (The Sacred Writings of Great Religions by J.E Frost).
Taoism is the oldest of personally founded religions of China, being one of the "Three Religions" of the vast land. However, there are many who maintain that it should not be classed as a religion at all. Others point out that it was originally simply a way of ethical living and was not organized as a religion until late in its history, near the opening of the Christian era. According to tradition it was founded by a humble Chinese known as Lao-tze(604-51 bc). He was born fifty years before Confucius.
Lao-tzeheld various public offices, chief of which was keeper of archives at the court ofthe Chinese dynasty of Chou. However, his chief concern was teaching and attaining to the virtues of the Tao. Fundamental to all his teaching was the idea that the highest life consisted in the following the divine Way, or Tao, of the universe. He was constantly emphasizing, both through his teachings and his living that a person should return good for evil at all times. But, though passionately concerned with the Tao, Lao-tze did nothing about the world, seeking rather to retire from it and spend his time in contemplation (The Sacred Writings of Great Religions by J.E Frost)..
Taoism or Daoism is a major strand of Chinese philosophy, advocating living in harmony with nature and responding spontaneously to circumstances as they arise, following the "Way" or mystical whole. A key text of Daoism, Zhuangzi is named after its alleged composer, the second founder of the Daoist school after Laozi, but is an admixture of his parables, his followers' work, and other writers. This excerpt demonstrates Zhuangzi's use of parables and imagery to expound his beliefs. "Confucianists" or Confucians are adherents of the Confucian school of philosophy, which is opposed to Daoism in that it stresses the importance of history and the interaction of an individual and society. "Mo-ists" are followers of Mohism, a philosophy of "universal love" and rationalize behaviour. American spelling has been retained.
The essential Daoist philosophical and mystical beliefs can be found in the Daodejing (Classic of the Way and Its Power), a book dating from about the 3rd century bc and attributed to Laozi, and in the Zhuangzi, a composite text of parables and allegories also dating from the 3rd century bc but attributed to Zhuangzi. Whereas Confucianism urged the individual to conform to the traditional standards of "the Way of the Ancient Kings", Daoism maintained that the individual should ignore the dictates of society and seek only to conform with the underlying pattern of the universe, the Dao ("way"), which can neither be described in words nor conceived in thought. To be in accord with Dao, one has to "do nothing" (Huawei)—that is, nothing strained, artificial, or unnatural. Through spontaneous compliance with the impulses of one's own essential nature and by emptying oneself of all doctrines and knowledge, one achieves unity with the Dao and derives from it a mystical power (De). This power enables one to transcend all mundane distinctions, even the distinction of life and death. Later Daoists often took this as some kind of magical force, but it appears that Laozi and Zhuangzi simply used the term for the general strength and competence of the perfectly spontaneous individual. Zhuangzi in particular attacked the claims of the Confucians and the school of Mo Zi that human reason could uncover the Dao; he regarded the artificial distinctions of conceptual thought to be the essence of human departure from the Dao.
The Daodejing ("Classic of the Way and its Power"), written in the 6th century bc and attributed to Chinese philosopher Laozi (Lao-tzu), is one of the most influential works in Chinese literature and philosophy. Dao, the key term and the subject of the entire work, is translated as "the way" The language of the Daodejing sets it apart from other works of Chinese philosophy of this period; it frequently employs poetic devices such as rhyme and parallel sentences. Its many paradoxical statements reveal a mysticism that contrasted with the more secular and practical focus of Confucianism, the other major system of thought in China at that time.
At the socio-political level, the Daoists called for a return to primitive agrarian life. In Zhuangzi's case this was simply distrust of anything which could interfere with the direct participation in life's natural cycles, but for Laozi it had an authoritarian cast. In the Daodejing, "do nothing" applies as much to the ruler, who need not act to make his subjects naturally benefit themselves and him, as to the private citizen. As wary of artificial concepts as Zhuangzi, Laozi counseled that the ruler should fill his people's bellies but empty their minds so that they know and desire nothing. He notoriously compared the common people to the straw dogs used in sacrificial ceremonies, treated with reverence before the rites but thrown away once their usefulness had passed. Laozi's ideal state was clearly a dictatorship by a philosopher-king over an obedient and passive populace. His influence is apparent in the very different totalitarian philosophy of Legalism developed by Han Fei (Microsoft ® Encarta ® Premium Suite 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved)
Daoism basically deems that "Man is both human and divine. The divine in him is eternal and of infinite worth. The human nay passes away, but the divine is everlasting. His goodness comes from God" (The Sacred Writings of Great Religions by J.E Frost).
Buddhism, a major world religion, founded in north-eastern India and based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who is known as the Buddha, or Enlightened One. Originating as a monastic movement within the dominant Brahman tradition of the day, Buddhism quickly developed in a distinctive direction.
The Buddha was an oral teacher; he left no written body of thought. His teachings were transmitted as an oral tradition for several centuries, and were subsequently systematized and interpreted by various individuals and schools within India and elsewhere. At the core of the Buddha's enlightenment was the realization of the Four Noble Truths. (1) Life is suffering. This is more than a mere recognition of the presence of suffering in existence. It is a statement that, in its very nature, existence is essentially painful from the moment of birth to the moment of death. Even death brings no relief, for the Buddha accepted the prevailing Indian idea of life as cyclical, with death leading to further rebirth. (2) All suffering is caused by ignorance of the nature of reality and the craving, attachment, and grasping that arise from such ignorance. (3) Suffering can be ended by overcoming ignorance and attachment. (4) The path to the suppression of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path, which consists of right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right-mindedness, and right contemplation. These eight are usually divided into three categories that form the cornerstone of Buddhist faith: morality, meditation, and wisdom.
Buddhism analyses human existence as made up of five aggregates or "bundles" (skandhas): the material body, feelings, perceptions, predispositions or karmic tendencies, and consciousness. A person is only a temporary composition of these aggregates, which are subject to continual change. No one remains the same for any two consecutive moments. Buddhists deny that the aggregates individually or in combination may be considered a permanent, independently existing self or soul (atman). Indeed, they regard it as a mistake to conceive of any lasting unity behind the aggregates that constitute an individual. The Buddha held that belief in such a self results in egoism, craving, and hence in suffering. Thus he taught the doctrine of anatman or the denial of a permanent soul. To the Buddha, all existence was characterized by "the three universal truths": impermanence (anitya), suffering (dukkha), and non-substantiality or no-soul (anatman). The doctrine of anatman made it necessary for the Buddha to reinterpret the Indian idea of repeated rebirth in the cycle of phenomenal existence known as samsara. To this end, he taught the doctrine of pratityasamutpada or dependent origination. This 12-linked chain of causation shows how ignorance in a previous life creates the tendency for a combination of aggregates to develop. These in turn cause the mind and senses to operate. Sensations result, which lead to craving and a clinging to existence. This condition triggers the process of becoming once again, producing a renewed cycle of birth, old age, and death. Through this causal chain, a connection is made between one life and the next. What is posted is a stream of renewed existences, rather than a permanent being that moves from life to life—in effect a belief in rebirth without transmigration.
Speculation about the eternal Buddha continued well after the beginning of the Christian era and culminated in the Mahayana( The Great Vehicle) doctrine of his threefold nature, or triple "body" (trikaya). These aspects are the body of essence, the body of communal bliss, and the body of transformation. The body of essence represents the ultimate nature of the Buddha. Beyond form, it is the unchanging absolute and is variously spoken of as pure consciousness or the absolute voidness, the essential nature of all things, and so on. This essential Buddha nature manifests itself, taking on heavenly form as the body of communal bliss. In this form the Buddha sits in godlike splendour, preaching in the heavens. Lastly, the Buddha nature appears on Earth in human form to convert humankind. Such an appearance is known as a body of transformation. The Buddha has taken on such an appearance countless times. Mahayana considers the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, only one example of the body of transformation.
The new Mahayana concept of the Buddha made possible such concepts as Buddha's interventions in the world and ongoing revelation that are lacking in Theravada. Belief in the Buddha's heavenly manifestations led to the development of a significant devotional strand in Mahayana. Some scholars have therefore described the early development of Mahayana in terms of the "Hinduization" of Buddhism.
Another important new concept in Mahayana is that of the bodhisattva or enlightenment being, as the ideal toward which the good Buddhist should aspire. A bodhisattva is an individual who has set out to achieve perfect enlightenment but delays entry into final nirvana in order to make possible the salvation of all other sentient beings. The bodhisattva transfers merit built up over many lifetimes to less fortunate creatures. The key attributes of this social saint are compassion and loving-kindness. For this reason Mahayana considers the bodhisattva superior to the arhats who represent the ideal of Theravada. Certain bodhisattvas, such as Maitreya, who represents the Buddha's loving-kindness, and Avalokitesvara or Kuan-yin, who represents his compassion, have become the focus of popular devotional worship in Mahayana.
The ultimate goal of the Buddhist path is release from the round of phenomenal existence with its inherent suffering. To achieve this goal is to attain nirvana, an enlightened state in which the fires of greed, hatred, and ignorance have been quenched. For those unable to pursue the ultimate goal, the proximate goal of better rebirth through improved karma is an option. (Microsoft ® Encarta ® Premium Suite 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. )
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