Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
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Hinduism is practiced by about 80 percent of India's population, and by about 30 million people outside India. But how is Hinduism defined, and what basis does the religion have? In this Very Short Introduction, Kim Knott provides clear insight into the beliefs and authority of Hindus and Hinduism, and considers the ways in which it has been affected by colonialism and modernity.
Knott offers succinct explanations of Hinduism's central preoccupations, including the role of contemporary gurus and teachers in the quest for spiritual fulfillment; and the function of regular performances of the Mahabharata and Ramayana--scriptures which present the divine in personal form (avatara) and provide models of behavior for everyone, from kings and warriors to servants and children, and which focus on the dharma, the appropriate duties and moral responsibilities of the different varna or classes. The author also considers the challenges posed to Hinduism at the end of the twentieth century as it spreads far beyond India, and as concerns are raised about issues such as dowry, death, caste prejudice, and the place of women in Hindu society.
Westerners were first introduced to Hindu spirituality at the end of the nineteenth century by a travelling teacher called Vivekananda (see also Chapter 6), what they encountered was a modern interpretation of Shankara’s ideas about vedanta. From him they learnt that the impersonal, ultimate reality was also the personal God that people worshipped, and that this God was also the higher self within each human being: ‘He is you yourself,’ said Vivekananda (echoing ‘Tat tvam asi’). This modern
also seen as expressions of the one great Devi, revered by many Hindus as their saviour and guide. Her story is told in the Devi-Mahatmya (part of the Markandeya Purana). There she is named as one who is prosperous, yet fierce and passionate, a great mother, a refuge, a divine destroyer, a benevolent goddess, a protectress. These qualities are manifest in her particular forms as Lakshmi, Durga, Amba, Kali, Parvati, and many others. But she is also given titles with universal significance. She is
lay people have generally been the facilitators rather than the officiants of public religious life, at times they have conducted worship and served the deities directly, showing that the desire to live the devotional life has sometimes been considered more important than orthodox brahminical practice. As we saw in Chapters 5 and 7, the bhakti tradition within Hinduism offers the precedent and context for this. We might say that these Hindus have been inspired more by the spirit than the letter
Tradition, vol. i, 2nd edn. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988). For further discussion on karma and yoga, see Rambachan, The Hindu Vision, Sharma, Hinduism for Our Times, Flood, An Introduction to Hinduism, and Klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism. Chapter 4 Retellings in English of stories of the gods and goddesses: Amar Chitra Katha, Rama, Tales of the Mother Goddess, Mahabharata (all India Book House); C. Rajagopalachari, Ramayana (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1962); Wendy
brahman 19, 24, 28, 33–4, 58, 77, 124 Madhva on 33 Ramanuja on 32 Shankara on 31 Brahmanas 16 Brahma-sutra 28, 30 brahmin 1–2, 13, 17–21, 28, 51, 65, 71–2, 81, 97, 99, 124 brahminism 16, 31, 37, 48, 80, 81, 92, 112 Brahmo Samaj 10, 71–2, 76, 120 Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 16 Britain 95, 96, 99, 100–1 British 4, 6, 7, 68, 69–71, 96, 98, 115 Buddha 36, 55, 119 Buddhism 1, 31, 32, 90, 91, 110–11, 113, 120 Burghart, Richard 96 Burma 95 C Cambodia 95, 97