One of the first things people want to know is what Hindus, or for that matter, Buddhists or Jains believe. It is important to recognize that belief and doctrine are extremely important for practitioners of Western religious traditions. This is not always the case with the traditions originated in India.
Hindus not only believe many different and sometimes contradictory things, the importance that they assign to belief itself widely varies. When we assume that the central aspect of a religion is its doctrine or theology we are imposing our own ways of understanding our religious phenomena.
There are ways of seeing the world and that they are largely determined by gender, ethnicity, nationality, class and social location. There is no way to escape this fact. However, we can at least recognize its potential hazards.
As Westerners we interpret Hinduism through Western ways of understanding. These ways are often different from Hindu ways of knowing. Indian thought is based on different assumptions about the nature of life. It comprises a different kind of logic.
For example, Hindus think about time very differently than Westerners do. The Hindu approach is to neglect chronology. In contrast, I’d like to follow a historical scheme to see how different ideas and practices developed in time and context. This would not be a characteristic Hindu approach.
Taking a Western approach to Hinduism is limited but it is not for that reason wrong. The insider knows things that the outsider will never know. The outsider knows things that the insider doesn’t and perhaps cannot know. The outsider sees patterns within and among traditions in ways that those who practice the religion do not.
How can one adequately describe and discuss the lived reality of nearly a billion people? We may deal with ideas and concepts, but Hinduism is so much more than that. To understand Hinduism it should not only be thought about but also it should be seen and felt.
These are some articles that may help you start to understand this complex tradition:
- Facts About Hinduism: Some facts about Hinduism and India.
- What is Hinduism?: What does the word Hinduism mean? What is its origin? Is it right to call it that way?
- Hinduism Religion: Is Hinduism really a religion? Hindus don't see themselves as religious or even as Hindus. Is it right to call them that way?
- India and Religion: Unlike other great religions like Christianity, Islam and Buddhism; Hinduism has not as yet taken root in a natural way outside the land of its origins. This is in part due to the importance of India itself for the Hindu traditions. Let's take a look at the environment in which Hinduism emerged.