By Vexen Crabtree 2015
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|Links: Pages on Hinduism, Other Religions|
|Afterlife||Reincarnation until escape|
|Area of Origin||India|
|Numbers in the UK (Census results)|
|2001||552 421||2011||817 000|
|Hindus Worldwide (Pew & WM)|
|World: 13.1%. Nepal (80.7%), India (79.5%), Mauritius (56.4%), Fiji (27.9%), Guyana (24.9%), Trinidad & Tobago (22.7%), Bhutan (22.6%), Suriname (19.8%), Qatar (13.8%), Sri Lanka (13.6%) 1|
Hinduism is the name given to the cultural religions2 of India and encompasses a wide variety of beliefs and practices3. It is polytheist, with many gods taking many forms3, and represented by many names in a kaleidoscope of symbolism and meaning. All living creatures embody a spark of the divine ('atman') which is carried into a new body after death3. There are many shrines, points of pilgrimage and places of reverence, such as the river Ganges, "especially where it flows through the city of Varanasi (Benares)"3. There are also many texts and scripts that are considered sacred, mostly written in Sanskrit3, one of the oldest written languages of mankind. In fact, most things about Indian religion are sourced from pre-history, and thus it represents one of the oldest traditions of belief that humanity possesses. Hinduism is counted as one of the great world religions4.
Historically, religion in India was decentralized and disparate rather than a single belief system. A process of cultural homogenisation had already centered along trade and pilgrimage routes5 but real change came under the influence of Western categorisers from the 18th century, who simplified all of India's culture under the single title of "Hinduism", an identity which Hindus now accept4. During the period of colonial rule Christian powers at first tolerated Hinduism but over time used harsher and harsher language towards it, labelling it as heretical6. Over the last decade or two a "Hindu-ness" movement, Hindutva, has seen a rise in intolerance of non-Hindu culture6 including physical attacks on Muslims and Christians7,8,9.
|Social & Moral|
(Lower is better)
|6||Trinidad & Tobago||22.7%||24.3%||61|
|19||St Vincent & Grenadines||3.4%||3.36%||26|
The population of 3 countries are mostly Hindu (2011)1. Comparing those 3 country(ies) to the rest of the world:
Hindu countries' average life expectancy at birth (71.0yrs) is close to the global average (71.3yrs).11
Hindu countries' average fertility rate is 2.25, compared with the global average of 2.81. Values above 2.1 cause population growth, putting further strain on the Earth's resources. See: The Overpopulation of the Earth and the Demographics Crises: The Impact on Pensions and Immigration.12
Hindu countries' are much poorer than the global average Gross National Income (per capita) of $17 240, with an average GNI of $8 650.13
When it comes to tolerance of homosexuality and LGBT rights, Hindus' countries are better than the global average, scoring 0 on the Social and Moral Development Index LGBT component compared with the global average of -7.3.
Counting the numbers of Hindus in each country is not actually as simple as you might think. There are so many related belief systems, especially given that Indian religious practices date from prehistory, that Hindus might call themselves by a wide number of names. It is up to statisticians merely to assume that these categories should also be counted amongst "Hindus". And the opposite problem occurs sometimes, as some members of more widely recognized groups, such as Jains, call themselves Hindus15.
The cultural practices and beliefs of ancient India were historically decentralized and disparate rather than comprising a single belief system. Before Western powers arrived on the scene, a gradual process of homogenisation had began due to the development of "shrines and pilgrimage centers [which] created a continent-wide network of transport and communication, over which people, goods, and ideas continuously flowed"17. Also, Muslim encroachment had already stimulated a more self-organized approach especially for military defence18. But real change came under the influence of Western categorisers from the 18th century, who simplified all of India's culture under the single title of "Hinduism", an identity which Hindus now accept4. Hinduism is counted as one of the great world religions4.
Polytheistic religions such as Hinduism are naturally more inclusive towards others' beliefs and practices and this bears out in international statistics, and is an argument seized upon by Hindus to argue that their religion does not have a problem with extremism19. Indeed it tends to get ignored by the Western press and Hindu fundamentalism is simply "less well known than Christian or Muslim fundamentalism"20. But over the last few decades Hindu revivalism in India has shown fundamentalist tendencies21. "Some among India's Hindu nationalist reformers have also insisted on the need to establish a nation-state grounded on Hindutva, or 'Hinduness', presented as the authentic culture of the majority"6 and "Hindu nationalists have at times taken violent action against Muslims and Christian missionaries, in defiance of official state policies"7. Recent years have seen this trend continue. When a 2007 Indian film was released covering incidences of communal riot, it wasn't shown in one state (Gujarat) for fear of retaliation by Hindu activists22. Take, for example, an incident in 2015 that saw a mob of 1,000 Hindus attack a small family of Muslims in India: A rumour had broken out that a cow had been slaughtered. Vigilantes from Save the Cow prompted a mob to appear on site, and proceeded to, amongst themselves, blame a nearby Muslim family (no slaughtered cow was found). They appeared at the house, where the family were sleeping, and beat the husband to death and left his boy in critical condition in hospital. The press got involved and Save the Cow explained their religious duty as Hindus to protect cows, which are sacred. A local politician from the Bharatiya Janata Party, Lakshmikant Bajpayee, defended the mob saying that there had a been a failure of local police to respond to the rumour adequately23. The issues are (1) that the slaughter of a cow - even if it had actually happened - is none of the business of local Hindus. It doesn't matter that they consider it sacred - other people do not. And (2), they should not be trying to force others to follow their own superstitions. Likewise, politicians should not be encouraging them - they should be representing all citizens including those with non-Hindu beliefs. Entire communities and cultures are being negatively affected by religious nonsense. Jack Donnelly in "Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice" (2013) highlighted that Hindu extremism has become "an impediment to the exercise and enjoyment of internationally recognized human rights"8 ”
“Karma is an important concept in a range of Vedic religions and cultures, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, all stemming from Indian beliefs. Karma is a universal principal and cosmic law, like the Tao of Taoism25. Unlike Taoism, individual beings (and the entire universe) go through a large number of incarnations. It is closely linked to the concept of continual rebirth (reincarnation)26. Original Jain beliefs had it that all actions had negative karma and only complete serenity and detachment could help the situation27. Later Jain beliefs came closer Hindu and Buddhist ideas: Acts of merit such as pilgrimages and worship can improve your next fate28. Eventually, beings can break free from the cycle. In Hinduism and Jainism this liberation is called moksha and in Buddhism the result is the attainment of enlightenment and nirvana. Western New Age movements have also taken on the concept "though sometimes with a degree of misunderstanding"28. All in all, more people on Earth believe in Karma through a series of rebirths than in any other religious principle.26,27,28,3,29”
“Hindus believe that very action, good or bad, hurtful or compassionate, has an effect on this life and on future lives. This is called karma. By accumulating positive karma Hindus can eventually break free from the cycles of birth and death to achieve liberation or moksha, which is complete union with God.”
"Religions of the World" by Breuilly, O'Brien & Palmer (1997)3
Some held that karma was so strict a scorecard that all action caused accumulation that had to be overcome and then removing all desire was the only recourse. Some believe that beings undergoing the cycle of rebirth make automatic progress (more or less) towards Moksha (liberation) but that this is a very, very slow process.
“[Often] there is a belief that the incarnated being automatically makes progress towards liberati(Moksha) through learning the lessons of rebirth in different bodies. Indian thinkers either reject this idea, or regard such a process as impossibly slow: the way to liberation for them involves swimming upstream, against the current of karma. [...] Although Hindu texts such as the Puranas seem to describe the law of karma in terms of strict cause and effect [...] in practice their views are less fatalistic. [...] Acts of merit, such as pilgrimages (Tirtha-Yatra) or acts of worship (Puja), [can] wipe out the effects of bad karma.”
Over time, opinions changed. Hindu scribes told stories of Krishna lightening the mood, and arguing that in order to progress, ...
“... it is the results of actions that have to be renounced, not action itself - one should not desire particular rewards, nor think proudly of oneself as the doer of great deeds. One should be satisfied in the self, offering action and its fruits as a sacrifice... [t]his is the discipline of karma yoga. Krishna goes on to explain other worthy paths which, pursued steadfastly, will bring a seeker to equanimity and, finally, liberation. Jnana yoga, the path of knowledge, and bhakti yoga, the way of devotion. [...] The Bhagavad-gita transforms the earlier pessimistic notion - that the results of action lead to continual rebirth and transmigration of the self - into a positive discipline for personal transformation.”
More modern Hindu philosophers have argued for a clearer way of understanding karma:
“Arvind Sharma's contemporary solution goes as follows. To think fatalistically about karma is unhelpful when, in fact, as human beings we have the power at any moment co change our own behaviour, and thus its consequences for our future. Free will rather than fatalism characterizes the operation of karma.”
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