Key terms for Hinduism (four points per term)

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27 Sep 2011

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Defined by Hasnain Dharamshi
RLGA01H3 2010 Fall
Key Terms for Hinduism:
sanatana dharma- has a literal meaning of eternal faith , and is common in a few parts
of India and in some classes of society. It is the spiritual laws for which human
existence is governed. Since Hinduism was a term invented by the British
colonists sanatana dharma is the closest thing to represent the hidden meaning
behind what is presently known as Hinduism. Sanatana dharma to human
existance is like natural laws of physics to the earth, they existed before they were
discovered and were placed there from before our knowledge, just as scientists
discovered physical laws rishi’s discovered the spiritual laws of sanatana dharma
tilak (or tilaka) – has a literal meaning of a forehead mark and is a popular visual sign in
Hinduism. There is a specific mark like this called the bindi which is worn by
married women. In some parts of India even men where a forehead mark such as
priests at temples and even normal people in context of their religious beliefs.
Some people wear it in affliction with a particular deity, for example for Vishnu it
is a vertical mark and for Shiva it is a horizontal mark of a white powder. It is
used as a sign of Hindu belief just as Muslims use a scarf for women or a prayer
hat for men, this mark on one’s forehead is a symbol of belief in the specific deity
or in the religious culture as a whole.
Bharata – This is the original name for the region known as India in present times and
has a literal meaning of ‘the cherished’. King bharata was the first to conquer all
of greater India, uniting it into a single entity named after him Bharata. The origin
of the word comes from the scriptures Mahabharata which is very famous in the
culture of Hinduism. The word is derived from King Bharata who was the father
of the two descendents that were fighting for power. The Bhagavad Gita is the
specific part that is popular among Hindu followers as it involves the God
Krishna as its hero having a conversation between Arjuna , who is known to
resemble the soul or Atman. It is also originally a Persian word meaning land of
the Hindus.
Samsara Refers to the term that is used for the birth-and-death cycle that is believed in
by Hindu followers. They believe that everyone has their own soul known as
atman and has a connection with the Supreme Being Brahman. One must achieve
a higher level of knowledge and understanding about the world in order to break
free of this cycle of samsara and achieve moksha or liberation. The concept of
karma is closely related to samsara as your actions in each of your lives including
this one is an account of what actions you did and if you commit certain acts you
can be subject to certain rewards and punishments. Your actions in this life will
determine what you will be born as in your next life.
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Defined by Hasnain Dharamshi
Indus Valley Civilization , Mohenjo Daro and Harappa – Refers to one of the origins
of the Hindu religion as we know it today. It is said that the Hindu practices can
date back to this ancient civilization that flourished between 3000 to 1500BCE.
Two of the well known developments of this civilization are the towns Harappa
and Mohenjo Daro which were roughly 480 km apart and yet had so many
cultural and lifestyle similarities. Both of these towns are collectively known to
have the ‘Harrapan culture’, which is what modern Hinduism is derived from.
This culture consisted of many things such as perhaps a ritual bath area as was
found in the sites as a possible area where ritual ceremonies were done. There
were also fire altars within the houses where possible fire prayers were done.
There were few graves in which multiple bodies were found which suggests the
practice of sati was done (culturally accepted suicide of a widow after her
husband’s death). There were also signs of cremation as not enough graves were
found. There were sculptures found of apparent goddesses which suggest that
women were considered a higher status in that society. This civilization laid a lot
of foundation for some of the beliefs followed by Hinduism today. It is through
this civilization and the Indo-Europeans that the modern Hinduism cultures are
what they are today.
Aryans and Sanskrit – Refers to the people who lived in the Indo – European
civilization that is known as one of the origins for the popular Hindu religion
today. The Aryans were not highly organized as they moved from one place to
another constantly. They were nomads rather than settled agriculturalists. The
Indo Europeans also known as Indo Aryans are known to have a literal translation
of family of languages of which Sanskrit is one. The language Sanskrit is known
to have been spoken by Aryans. Sanskrit has a lot of similarities to English and a
lot of words from English may have been derived from there. Such as Knowledge
which in Sanskrit is ‘jnana’ or ignorance which is ‘ijnana’. The words for mother
and father are also known to have come from Sanskrit dialect. The Aryans
initially handed down scriptures orally from generation to generation making sure
not to mix it with beliefs and practices of other cultures. But at some point they
needed to record the scriptures and at that time Sanskrit was the major religion at
the time and was mostly spoken and so the hymns were compiled which is when
the four Vedas came into existence.
Puranas and Bhagavad-Gita – Is one of the scriptures written after the Vedas which
were also important in the Hindu tradition. It is one of the three types of smrti
which is the term used for the literature after the Vedas written about 500BCE.
The puranas is a collection of ancient stories that include Ramayana and the
Mahabharata. The paranas is a new collection of texs composed to extol the
glories of the deities and specify the forms of worship. The puranas were
considered the fifth Vedas. These scriptures make up a great part of classical
Hinduism as it is the mythology that is the basis of how one should act and follow
the spiritual laws of Hinduism. For example the story of Mahabharata includes
Krishna who is a reincarnation of Vishnu and a specific part is the Bhagavad Gita
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Defined by Hasnain Dharamshi
which is a specific part of the story in which a long conversation over 18 chapters
goes on between Arjuna who is known to symbolize the human soul or Atman,
and Krishna. Krishna tells him how he should act and what ways one should go
about fulfilling their dharma or duty in society. It is through this scripture that a
lot of Hindus follow how they should act in accordance with achieving moksha
and fulfilling their dharma in life.
Vedas , Rig, Sama, Yajur, Atharva, Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads
The Vedas are a very popular scripture that are collectively known as
shruti.Veda literally means in English ‘to see’. It is said that the Vedas were
revealed to ancient seers called ‘rishis’. These Vedas have four parts known as the
Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva Vedas. Each of these four parts have their own
subdivisions which are the Samhitas (The earliest parts), the Brahmanas (The
direction for performance of rituals) the Aranyakas (The compositions of the
forest) and Upanishads (philosophical works). The Sama and Yajur Vedas are
largely borrowed from the Rig Veda. The Sama Veda was a scripture meant to be
sung. The Upanishads are the most recent scriptures. The Atharva Veda is the
most unique as it has material that some scholars consider non-Aryan. Such as
incantations and remedies to ward off illness and evil spirits and even chants that
were used for purposes other then sacrificial rituals.The Rig-Veda includes Indra
which is the most important Veda within it and talks about how the universe
began and introduces a lot of gods and goddesses. The Vedas are not a book that
you keep in your home in fact only a certain privileged people were allowed to
learn the Vedas in classical Hinduism. The castes of Brahmans, Ksatriya and
Vaisyas were the only ones allowed to learn the Vedas and the Brahmins alone
allowed to teach it. These scriptures are more of ritual texts representing eternal
sounds/words passed through generations without change. Some Vedic verses are
recited regularly at home and at temples.
Atman and Brahman – The heart of wisdom is knowledge of relationship between
human soul atman and the Supreme Being Brahman. Brahman is something that
transcends human thought and it is said to know Brahman is to enter a new state
of consciousness. Brahman is the single source for all things. Brahman is
associated with existence of truth, knowledge, infinity, consciousness and bliss.
Brahman is described as hidden inner controller of atman (human soul) and frame
over the entire universe. In a famous tale in the Upanishads a father and son have
a conversation in which the father shows that Atman and Brahman is like salt
dissolved in water, as they both become one so is Atman and Brahman. This idea
of Atman and the human soul relates to the idea of karma in which we must
achieve moksha, liberation, in order to transcend our soul from the cycle of life
and death (samsara).
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