What is Hinduism?
Hinduism is a cultural ethos that developed and established itself in the Indian subcontinent and vicinity before the arrival of intolerant foreign monotheism, nothing more and nothing less. Structurally and historically, it has a Core Vaidika mesh: The most foundational and impactful contributions to the Hindu ethos came from sages of the Indo-Aryan vedic tradition, whose very-universal ideas (together with the Indo Aryan conservative ritualist class) penetrated and bonded various similarly pagan populations. This ethos, ultimately, has the following important features:
- Concepts particular to the core vaidika framework, such as:
- solid, systematic pursuit of philosophy
- brahman - Oneness of everything despite varying expressions, moreover the identity of each individual with it (in some sense).
- satya, rta (cyclic interconnectedness, interdependency)
- rNa (pitR deva rShi Atma manuShya), yajna
- varNa, including the ritualist conservative setup.
- rasa, refined arts.
- saMskAra (solid, systematic pursuit of refinement)
- adhikAra-bheda (right to exclusiveness)
- Adaptability: The Hindu ethos is extremely diverse, accommodating mutually opposite metaphysical/ ritual/ economic etc.. viewpoints peacefully (JM15). Hinduism has an "open architecture" - almost any philosophy can join in, unless it the kind that attacks the "open architecture" itself.
- This encompasses a huge variety of belief systems - ranging from vaidika orthodoxy to epistemological atheism with non-epistemological "faith", which have for the most part respected each others' right to exist. Indeed, various subversive ostensibly anti-vedic movements such as buddhism and jainism show a great deal of hindu influence in their epistemology, goals and practice.
- The polycentrism/ polytheism (- mAnasataraMgiNI article) inherent in the core vaidika system is an important contributor to this universality.
- Contrast with Abrahamistic monotheisms.
- Related articles:
- Sanjeev Sanyal has argued (here) that Hinduism is a complex adaptive sytem.
So, from the core to the periphery:
- shrauta / smArta beliefs and practices (especially those similar to the ones mentioned above) are at the core of hinduism
- while nAstika (veda-nindaka) systems loosely lie at the peripheri
- Sectarian Astika beliefs and practices (eg. mokSha-drive, pAncharAtra, shaiva, kaumAra) lie somewhere in-between.
The last section of chapter 36 of PV Kane's vol 5 a must-read for every hindu who wants to understand his background. The part that starts here, specifically.
An introduction to some of these concepts by shatAvadhAnI gaNesha here:
Is hinduism a religion? See here.
Who is a Hindu?
At a high level, for the purpose of this site, a Hindu is a person who is intimately connected with, and not antagonistic towards, the ancient cultural ethos of the Indian subcontinent, which was animated by the great vedic sagely tradition at its core with various mostly-friendly systems at the periphery. This excludes Indian converts to semitic religions, but includes non-Indians - say - Balinese Hindus and Thai brAhmaNas.
Other good introductions
Here is an introduction to Hindu India by the Hinduism Today magazine:
Problematic stereotyping and omissions:
- CA textbooks hearing 2015: Omission of women [YT], caricature of caste [YT]
- Suspicious terminology trends such as brahminical vs hindu (GTrends, FB).
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