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greg dahlen

Alumnus, academy of achievement

TEDCRED 50+

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is any one human being heavily associated with the founding of Hinduism?

In my mind there are five great world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Four of these have certain human beings heavily associated with their origin. Buddhism has Gautama Siddharta, the Buddha. Islam has Mohammed. Christianity has Jesus. Judaism has Moses, plus other figures like Abraham and David. But what about Hinduism, who is Hinduism's great central figure, if any? Or is it different from the others, and how, and why?

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    Jun 10 2013: Hinduism is not a religion in the same sense of meaning for religions of book or Abrahamic religions. It is interesting to note that Hinduism is an umbrella term for all faiths, ways of worship and spiritual practice of people of the Indian subcontinent excepting the followers of Islam and Christianity given by European scholars during 18th century. The word Hindu does not figure in any of the four canonical texts thought to be the basis of Hinduism : the Vedas.
    The majority of worshipers within this umbrella term have an unbroken continuity from prehistory and this practice is still known as Sanatana Dharma or Eternal Righteousness in India. The Supreme Court of India in a historical verdict has sentenced that Hinduism is a way of life and it is more a geographic contextuality than religious. It is analogous to Euopean or American in its significance.
    You are correct in your understanding that Hinduism has no founder, no central figure, no one central text and no one way of practicing. It can get no more secular for a religious expression than what Hinduism stands for.
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      Jun 24 2013: Theoretically, could one identify different "sub-religions" within Hinduism, then?
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        Jun 24 2013: If you mean denominations, yes and there are several.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_denominations
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          Jun 24 2013: Thanks, Pabitra. That's a long wikipedia article, I only started it, I believe it suggested that there were once smaller religions that got absorbed into Hinduism and became denominations of Hinduism.

          Are you yourself Hindu? What does that mean for you?

          The reason I started this conversation is I had an idea that even though most religions talk about God a lot, in most of them you will find real human beings who are giving much of the benefit for the religion's followers. For example, in Christianity the followers get a lot from thinking about Jesus, who we can all agree was a real human being who once walked the earth (some say a human being and a god also). Similarly for Islam, Islam talks a lot about God, but I think the followers get a lot from thinking about Mohammed, who was a real human being who once walked the earth. But Hinduism seems to contradict my idea, where is that human being who is benefiting the followers like in the other religions?
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        Jun 25 2013: You are right. What happened is something like this.
        Have you seen a banyan tree? An old banyan tree drops aerial prop roots which in time turn into auxiliary trunks. So after sufficient time what you see is a jungle of such trunks of many banyan trees and nobody knows which trunk was the real parent. For all practical purposes and botany, such a question lose meaning too because the whole colony of trunks becomes the banyan tree.
        In India, a vast majority of people used to practice a multi-god worship and a spirituality and morality free from a religious faith for millenia. Now the colonial rulers in 19th century found it difficult for administration. So, their scholars bracketed the whole colony of such people in an umbrella term of Hinduism leaving exception for followers of Christianity and Islam. Truth is : it is not a religion in the same sense of meaning as Christianity or Islam or any Abrahamic religion.
        Of course I am a Hindu. Any person living in the subcontinent for generations, belonging to the cultural ethos of the place and recognizing this piece of land as his/her urheimat is a Hindu. It is analogus to be known as an American who lives and belongs to the culture of that part of the world or an European. I am a Hindu agnostic and there are Hindu Muslims, Hindu Christians and Hindu Sikhs in India. There are also Hindu fundamentalists :)
        I shall come back on your question why there is no central figure in Hinduism.
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          Jun 25 2013: This is really interesting, Pabitra, it filled my head with a number of questions and conflicting thoughts. I'll medidate upon them later while taking a walk, a eurowalk given the location my auxiliary trunk (that is, my humble person :))

          In the meanwhile, since some of this this discussion seems to be about civilisations and their clash, religious or not, here's an interesting talk, really good:

          http://www.ted.com/talks/devdutt_pattanaik.html

          I guess I ranted a bit under it, but that doesn't mean that the talk itself is not full of great points.
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        Jun 25 2013: Hi Anna :)
        For now I shall give you what is known as an Indian head shake. Let me hear your questions and conflicting thoughts first.
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        Jun 25 2013: Hello Greg.
        On why there is no one human being heavily associated with founding of Hinduism (or in short why there is no founder of Hinduism).
        Hinduism has no single founder simply because it was not founded as a religion to start with. I shall not trouble you with long scholarly works and will try to keep it simple. Hinduism developed as a cultural ethos of people living east of the Sindhu river and that ethos contained a moral/spiritual ethics known as Sanatana Dharma (eternal righteousness), a huge collection of different ways of life and worship, a huge collection of philosophies and belief systems. It is the oldest known unbroken tradition of human belief model that is dynamic, assimilative and ever ready to change. Asking why Hinduism has no founder will be same as asking why Americanism, Afrikanism or Europeanism has no founder. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, ex-president of India and an oxford professor opined that in its root Hinduism is more of a geographical significance than credal. Historian Romilla Thapar agrees with it.
        As an example how far Hindu acceptance can go, I shall mention the Lokayata philosophy of Charbak in heterdox Hindu (Nastika) tradition that rejects Gods, afterlife, supernatural or anything outside of human experience through sensory perception. It became marginalized and despised by Hindu spiritualists because this Lokayata Philosophy (a philosophy that can be understood by commonfolk) believes that only real purpose of living a human life (a one time affair) is to seek pleasure of senses [jabad jibet sukham jibet, wrnam kriwa ghritam pibet - be merry as long as you live - have butter by loan if you cannot afford it]. This started Indian materialism and science later on. So Hinduism includes science/skepticism as well.
        I hope you will appreciate that such a diverse almost self contrasting idea cannot be founded by one person.
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          Jun 26 2013: But surely there have been many important human beings in the development of Hinduism, either in the separate religions before it was consolidated, or in the time since the 18th century after it was consolidated? The Charbak you mention, is he a human being? Who was Lord Krishna?

          Thank you, Pabitra, conceivably I could learn these things from books, but it's much faster and more interesting to talk to a living human being.
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        Jun 26 2013: Charbak or Charvaka is not a human being, it is the name of the philosophy also known as Lokayata. This philosophy is believed to have been founded by someone named Brihaspati whose name finds mention in the Rig Veda the oldest text in any Indo-European group of languages traced to as far back as 10th century BC.
        Lord Krishna is a mythological character from ancient Hindu texts, believed to be God incarnate in the form of one of the ten Avatars.
        There had been numerous important human beings in the development of Hinduism. They are basically revivalists of the ancient form of Indic tradition of worship. Adi Shankaracharya is believed to be the one who collated the different forms of worship and moralities on a clearly religious basis aligned with the Vedas. You can think of him as the first pope of Hinduism. After that there had been many. One of them in contemporary times visited your country, at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago in 1893.
        I am certainly human, don't be put off with my avatar :). Though I have no religious affiliation, by birth I am from an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family. You may be amused to know that Brahmanisim, an important branch of Hinduism, is quite akin to Catholicism in belief and practice. For example like baptization, Brahmins practice sacred rite of Upanayana, a second birth into enlightenment.

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