Theology and Practice
Chapter 2: Hinduism: Dharma and Active Citizenship
OVERVIEW OF BELIEFS Introduction Hinduism is an ancient religion, with its origins dating back to 2000 BCE. This makes it older than Judaism (dating Moses’ life to between 1500 and 1350 BCE), Buddhism (the Buddha died in 483 BCE), Christianity (the start of the Common Era) and Islam (Muhammad died 632 CE). Hinduism is quite different from other religions in this book for two reasons: it has no founding figure and it contains an array of diverse practices and apparent beliefs within six major schools of Hinduism. It is therefore possible to find belief and practices in Hinduism that range ‘from stark monism to pure pantheism, from forms of agnostic ritualism to an apparently rampant polytheism, from ardent theisms to a dispassionate spiritual atheism’ (Lipner 2000, p. 117). While an argument might be made that each of these expressions are in fact distinct religions, it is more accurate to liken Hinduism to a banyan tree that is so ancient that all traces of its original trunk have been lost (Lipner 1994). Despite a long history and diversity there is sufficient commonality amid this confusing array of branches, roots and foliage to identify key beliefs that can be considered the essence of Hinduism. The genesis of Hinduism comes to us from the ancient Aryas, who called their religion Sanatana Dharma or the eternal religion, suggesting that it contained universal truths to the questions of human existence. Unknown ancient sages discovered these ‘eternal and supersensuous’ truths that form the religious beliefs now...
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