RLG205 INTRODUCTION TO SOUTH ASIAN RELIGIONS
FINAL EXAM STUDY QUESTIONS
1. What role did colonialism and Orientalist scholarship play in shaping the modern understanding of Hinduism as
a unified religion? Prior to the advent of the British, how did Islamic conceptions of India contribute to
transformations of Hindu identity?
Orientalism is the concept of how westerners viewed the eastern part of the world. Essentially orientalism is a
misunderstanding of the east by the west. Colonialism is acquiring the control of another country, occupying it with
settlers. The British colonized India. These two factors played a huge role in unifying Hinduism as a religion.
Colonialists from British helped make the identity of the Hindu’s as a religion. When the British came to colonize
India they encountered the Muslims and the nonMuslims. This where the term Hindu arrived from as it was means of
dividing the two ethnic groups for the British. The roles colonialism and Orientalists scholarship played in shaping
the modern understanding of Hinduism was they put laws which forced people to choose if they are Hindu or not so
basically it forced Hinduism to define itself. It stopped the tradition of widows throwing themselves into fire after
their husbands died, it weakened the caste system to some degree and translated Hindu texts that were only in
Sanskrit, into local languages giving access to Hindus who didn’t know Sanskrit. Warren Hastings back in 1772
enforced a judicial plan, which divided the Muslims and Hindus. The British coming over had to make a distinction
between the different groups in India. Cast Disabilities Act in 1850 enforced personal law, which meant different laws
for different religions. Thus the Hindus who were Vaishnavas and Saivanas who read similar texts like the Vedas were
lumped together despite the fact they had different beliefs. That is how orientalism and colonialism shaped India and
the unification of Hinduism. Before this outlined in the David Lorenz article he talks about how Muslims are the main
reason for Hinduism being a unified religion. Both of these Muslims and nonMuslim groups had conflicts. David
Lorenz talks about Muslims and Hindus ridiculed the other’s religion. For example Muslims said how their God
Krishna was imprisoned. Also they said how thieves stole God’s wife (Sita from Rama) and how he needed the help
of the monkeys. The Hindu’s also attacked Muslims saying how could one creature kill another creature and go to
heaven. They also said how can God only be at Mecca? He is everywhere. They also said you want to convert
Hindus into Muslims does that mean God made a mistake in making Hindus? Clearly from these arguments it is clear
Hinduism existed and fought back against the Muslims. Showing evidence that the Muslims encounter enforced the
unification of Hinduism as a religion. When looking at Muslim sources Abd Al Malik Isami in his work clearly
outlines that Hindi means geographical sense and Hindu is related to religion. His text was written in 1350 showing
that Hinduism was constructed long before the British got there in the 19th century.
2. What are the two theories of karma? What does the relationship between these two theories tell us about the
nature of ritual analysis and philosophy in the Upanisads?
One theory of karma includes the practice of sacrifice. The theory of karma in relation to sacrifice was about how one
would sacrifice an animal for something in return by the Gods. Although this reward for sacrifice was not received
instantly. Most of the time it took time, like entry into heaven. It was not instantaneous, but the results would
eventually come. The other theory of Karma that is a more common belief is the cosmic principlegoverning rebirth.
The cosmic principle is about your good and bad actions. Karma is metaphorically like a bank account, where your
good actions helps your account grow, while bad actions take away from it and can result in you being in debt.
When you perform something good, you might not receive the results instantly, but you might later on in life. Same
with performing a bad action, you might get a payoff in a sense for the bad action you did. Everything has a way of
coming back to you. Ultimately the way you act is the way God treats you. If you do well you will go to heaven. It
might not affect in your current life and can affect you in your next life. Both of these theories are related to
reincarnation. If you behave poorly and perform bad actions you will most likely reincarnate to an unwanted species. Good actions will allow you to reincarnate into something positive. In both situations you might get the results in
later lives. The Upanishads encompasses the last part of the Vedas, which is a Vedic text. The Upanishads is very
philosophical and often incorporates themes like rebirth, liberation and asceticism. The theme of rebirth often comes
back to karma. Reincarnation, which is rebirth, has ultimate dependence on your karma. If you have good karma, most
likely you will be reborn into something positive instead of negative. In the Upanishads karma is expressed as a
principle of cause and effect. The Upanishads outline the importance of Karma for Hindus. The purpose of life in
Hinduism is thus to minimize bad karma in order to enjoy better fortune in this life and achieve a better rebirth in the
next. What the analysis of these two theories tells about the philosophy of the Upanishads is that it shows Hindus
how to reach ultimate liberation or as they would call it Moksha. The theories tell us that the Upanishads were
philosophical and helped Hindus toward the right path in showing them the goals in life. The Upanishads
encouraged good karma, as bad karma would be put you in a neverending cycle. Good karma would allow you to
separate from this cycle and be liberated. Which is one of the four main goals in life for Hindus.
In the Upanisads the philosophy of karma as a sacrifice/ritual evolved to more abstract functions with the ultimate
questions. At first the rituals were to appease the Gods to give you what you want: a son, heaven or rain etc. it may
even seem shorttermed and materialistic. There is an offering to the Gods – hymns etc. they would sacrifice a goat or
a cow in a very specific alter. There is a reciprocal relationship between their sacrifice and the God. They would
memorize the vedas and recite the appropriate hymns to appease to a certain God. The two types of karma are the
same process because they both have that unseen aspect and both offer rewards eventually. The Upanisads made it
all more ethical because it redesigned karma as not just an instant procedure but instilled it in everything one does.
The texts talk more about the absolute, ultimate questions like the metaphysical relationship between the universal
spirit and me. It appointed karma as the law of nature, which would decide a person’s rebirth. Ritual analysis: rituals
brought good karma, if done properly at the appropriate alter. Philosophical: Karma became more than a reward of a
sacrifice, it became a daily practice that brings you closer to God.
3. How does the relationship between the householder ideal and the renouncer ideal (as developed in traditions such
as Buddhism and Jainism) represent a basic tension in South Asian religions? In what ways does the ashrama
(lifestages) system and classification of four goals of life domesticate renunciation within Vedic society?
The relationship between the householder ideal and the renouncer ideal is complicated. The relationship represents a
basic tension in South Asian religions. In Buddhism and Jainism, renunciation is the ultimate goal in life when it
comes to being liberated. Renunciation is key if wanting ultimate liberation. A renouncer is someone who gives up all
attachments and has nothing to their name. They live on the streets and beg. In contrast in Vedic society the
householder like the name indicates has possessions. The householder often has a house, a family, a fire and
participates in sacrifice. These conflicts with the renouncer as renouncers don’t participate in sacrifice, have no
house, must remain celibate and just meditate. In Vedic society marriage is encouraged and in Buddhism and Jainism
celibacy is. Ultimately Buddhism and Jainism reject Vedic ideals. The concept of having a home and having
attachments is the total opposite of what a renouncer is. The ashrama system accepts renunciation in Vedic society.
The four stages of life include the student, the householder, forest dwellers, and the renouncer. In Vedic society the
renouncer is the final stage of life. The student’s main goal is memorize the Vedas. Next the householder is married
and owns a house. Next the forest dweller stage involves meditation in the forest and a watered down version of a
renouncer. The forest dweller still owns a house and still lives with his wife. The final stage is the renouncer where it
is like retirement. You live separate of your family and perform no rituals. This accommodates renunciation as you live
with non attachment. The difference is it is not the goal in life like in Buddhism and Jainism. When looking at the four
goals in life: wealth, sexual desire, moral duty and liberation, this is direct conflict of what renunciation is depicted as
in Buddhism and Jainism. Renouncers do not have anything to their name so wealth is irrelevant. Renouncers are
celibate to sexual desire is also irrelevant. Moral duty of a Buddhist is renunciation. Finally liberation. These four aspects encompass the goal in life, which contradict the renouncer lifestyle. Although Vedic society does
incorporate renunciation, it is the not the goal in life like in Buddhism and Jainism.
4. Summarize the central narrative of the Ramayana.
Sage Valmiki’s Ramayana is one of the two most important religious epics of Hinduism, the other being Mahabharata.
In addition to illustrating ideal roles and relationships of characters in the story, Ramayana essentially stresses on
the significance of dharma, or duty and virtuous conduct, in an individual’s life. The Ramayana is a story about Rama
who is the son of the king of Ayodhya, and who is claimed to be a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. Rama is not an
ordinary human as he is a divine being. Rama is the heir to the throne. Rama’s father Dasarantha at first could not
have a son, so his wives eat porridge and engage in coitus with the Gods. Then Rama is born. Rama and his
halfbrother Lakshama become heroes while only in their teenage by fighting off various demons. In his adulthood,
Rama marries Sita by winning a competition that required demonstration of immense power, thus displaying qualities
of an ideal husband who is wellcapable of protecting his wife. Later he portrays himself as the ideal son by
renouncing the throne of Ayodhya for the sake of his father’s dignity, ignoring the injustice set forth by his
stepmother. Here, Rama’s father too represents an ideal king by not going back on his word to his wife, even though
he had to be unfair towards his eldest son. Sita is presented as the ideal wife by her way of renouncing all luxuries of
the palace and following her husband Rama into exile for fourteen years, while Laxmana shows himself as the ideal
brother by choosing to renounce with his brother. Hence, the illustration of humbleness and respect is a key
characteristic of the Ramayana. Moreover, it emphasises on the fundamental principle of dharma – working for the
benefit of humanity in order to sustain a peaceful and harmonious world; by depicting the choice of renunciation
made my Rama, Sita & Laxmana. While in the forest, Sita is abducted by a powerful and dangerous demon Ravana,
but is later rescued by her husband and brotherinlaw with the help of a clever monkey Hanuman. Rama at this point
clearly displays mortal human emotions such as doubt, when he puts his wife through a firetest in order to prove her
purity after rescuing her from the demon Ravana. Thus, in the Ramayana, Valmiki does not portray Rama as a
supernatural being, rather as a human who encounters various shortcomings and moral dilemmas, and overcomes
them by adhering to the righteous ways of dharma, inspite of struggling with moral flaws and prejudices. Ramayana
therefore illustrates and emphasises on respect for others, selflessness, and virtuousness.
5. What are the principal arguments used by Krishna in the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita to convince
Arjuna of the propriety of fighting against the Kauravas? How are these arguments both contextually situated
within the Mahabharata and yet of broader philosophical significance?
King Shantanu falls in love with a fisher girl and has two sons. Shantanu promises to his father in law that his
grandchildren will be kings. Bhisma hears this and leaves renouncing everything. Shantanu has two sons Pandu and
Dhritarashtra. Pandu is white and Dhritarashtra is blind. Dhritarashtra has 100 Kavravas and Pandu has 5 Pandavas.
Pandu is cursed and then killed because he has sex. Dhritarashtra is blind and cannot be king, so the kingship is
divided in half between the cousins. Pandavas are successful with the throne, but the Kavravas try to kill them, as
they are jealous. Then in a game of dice Yuddhistra loses his kingdom and his family. The 5 brothers are sent to the
forest to live for 13 years. Then the Pandavas engage in war with Kavaravas. Before they start Arjuna sees all his
cousins and sees Bhisma and is overwhelmed. He renounces the world and does not want to fight anymore. Krishna,
a God on Earth sides with the Pandavas. Krishna then tries to convince Arjuna to fight. Krishna makes three
arguments: First he says the war will not destroy Arjuna’s family, they will continue to live because their souls are
eternal and to not associate body with soul. Souls are eternal as the body dies the soul does and they are reborn, so
not to worry about killing them. Secondly he argues that it is Arjuna’s duty, to fight, as he is a warrior not a
renouncer. Krishna explains that one should always act with the intention of keeping the order of the world, if one is acting to simply maintain social order they are acting correctly, regardless if it goes against the ideas of renunciation.
Lastly he says that Arjuna must not to dwell on the consequences of fighting the war, but instead to concentrate on
the action. He claims it is his duty to fight. These arguments are situated with the Mahabharata as the Mahabharata
stresses action with nonattachment just how Krishna is stressing to Arjuna to act. The Mahabharata represents the
four goals of life, and an important goal in life for Arjuna is moral duty. Krishna tries to convince Arjuna that is his
moral duty to fight. A renouncer in Vedic society is for someone who is old and retired, and he is not at that stage
yet. Krishna tells him that he is a warrior and not a renouncer. He tells him that it is his duty to fight. One of the goals
of the four includes dharma, which is moral duty. These arguments stress the same themes that the Mahabharata is.
Krishna’s arguments emphasize the importance of the Mahabharata and its teachings, which include the four life
6. How do Hindu traditions reconcile the apparent contradiction between a multiplicity of gods (e.g., 350 million)
and the omnipotence and transcendence of Vishnu or Siva as paramount deities?
Hindus worship 330 million gods meaning they are pol