Hinduism is not focused on one divine God as many other religions are; such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism. More importantly, Hinduism can be described as a way of life, or a culture; rather than an organized religion. The following essay is an analysis of the fundamental belief of Hinduism in contrast to Islam. The purpose of this essay is to analyze the Hindu beliefs as they pertain to the divine and the nature of human existence by comparing these characteristics to those of Islam. This comparison will support the theory that Hinduism should be considered a culture rather than a religion.
Many religions feel that the acknowledgement of one supreme god constitutes a religion. This monotheist concept is common in many religions; Hinduism, should it be considered a religion, would be polytheistic. American society views monotheism as being the only true religious practice. Beliefs and practices come first in most organized religions, whereas the acknowledgement of Hindus came first in the Hindu tradition and beliefs and practices are the contents of Hinduism (Encarta). Hinduism is the belief that truth comes through the direct consciousness of the divine; most often called Brahman; other religions call the divine god.
Some consider Hinduism a culture rather than a religion because it is polytheistic. The researcher for this essay does not claim to know the “right” theory; the goal of this essay is to simply state why this opinion is held by many. Hinduism is considered by many to be the oldest religion in the world (Jayaram V). It is not controlled by a church or other religious institution, nor is it controlled by any particular book or founder. Some consider Hinduism a group of religions and philosophies mixed with rich tradition, centuries old (Jayaram V).
Hinduism is open to discovering the many truths the universe has to offer and is continuously evolving. In order to understand the Hindu perception of the divine, one must understand the traditional meaning of the divine. Belief in the divine has traditionally meant a belief in god, as an entity. This entity has certain qualities such as it exists in a material sense and has the desire to control or make decisions (Shukla). The traditional divine god is one which possesses an overwhelming, supernatural power and effects the decisions made by those who worship him.
For example, followers of God may choose not to partake in a certain activity because they feel it is against His judgment. The divine god creates a basis for the life his followers lead. Islam’s live by religious law, passed on through centuries old scripture. There is no religious law that Hindu tradition follows. Hinduism acknowledges that there a several paths one may take to reach enlightenment and spiritual understanding and direction. Religious law mandates who may worship god; Hinduism believes anyone can reach enlightenment (Encarta).
Although not considered an organized religion by western civilization, those in India do consider Hinduism to be an organized religion. It is difficult to define Hinduism, which may be the reason why some from western civilization feels Hinduism is not a religion. The Hindus universal world-view goes against monotheistic religions such as Islam. Hinduism accepts and celebrates “diverse philosophies, deities, symbols, and practices” (II, Encarta). Rather than distinguishing believers from nonbelievers, Hinduism identifies with principles and practices that would make anyone a better human being.
Hinduism’s fundamental beliefs have been passed down through generations of Hindus’. The numerous deities found in Riga-Veda, for instance, stems from historical figures from centuries past, they are celebrated for their divine attributes, however none are seen as a supreme god (Shukla). There is however, the concept of Brahma which is considered the source of creation in Hinduism. This differs from Islam because Brahma did not create existence but existence was created out of Brahma (Shukla).
Brahma has no physical qualities or qualities in which a person would try to imitate; whereas Islam’s god has, what are believed to be positive qualities which are worshipped and imitated. Brahma has no form and is not conscious, makes no decisions and is not a person (Shukla). Hinduism attempts to understand Brahma rather than worship Brahma. Brahma is a concept; something in which “to be understood; realized and felt” (2). This is important for comparison with Islam since Brahma does not control human action. Hindus are not trying to please Brahma; Brahma has no control over the events or action taken place in life and does not judge.
Nature is represented in almost all religions and philosophies of life; in many cases, nature is attributed to life, human existence. Nature is not fully understood and is not controlled; essentially, it is what it is. Nature cannot predict the outcome of an action but it is the cause of an action, it is all around. Nature cannot be separated from an entity (Hindu Wisdom). Hindus believe in living harmoniously with nature; that the divine can be found everywhere in nature, even in animals (Hindu Wisdom). This demonstrates the key difference from Islam.
As an organized religion, Islam worships one divine God, who created nature; whereas Hinduism does not worship one divine god, the divine is all around them in nature. Islam’s god judges the actions of his followers’ earthly existence. Islamic belief in Allah controls the actions of Muslims and the choices they make in life. Unlike Brahma, Allah is understood as a material entity, something that exists within itself and is considered the cause of natural events and disasters. If good has come to a Muslim, it is because he has worshipped Allah and has been rewarded; if a bad event occurs, it is Allah who is punishing someone for a misdeed.
Hinduism is the understanding that existence is abstract; Brahma is the cause of existence but it is a concept too complex to ever fully understand. Hindus do not seek to understand the question of existence; Islam does, which is why they seek the guidance of God. Islam is the religion of the universe (Brotherhood in Human Societies). Each part of the universe works together to for the good of the whole. The Islamic religion believes god is an active power which renews life in the universe. God is seen as the creator in which his creations must obey.
God’s creations are all around and cannot be separated. Islam is the belief that god, nature and humanity are one; that god can be seen in nature and in humanity. God is the creator of human nature; humanity has free will according to Islam and has the obligation to be harmonious with nature (Brotherhood in Human Societies). The Islamic religion strives to unite man and universe. The Qur’an tells of god’s desire for a unity among all nations. Muslims believe the words of god’s prophets however they do not worship them; they worship only the one divine god.
While Islam and Hinduism both strive to live harmoniously with nature; however the motivation is different. Hindus live harmoniously with nature because nature is spiritual in its own way; whereas the Islamic religion believes that all of nature is created by god and therefore must be celebrated and respected. In Islam, an expression of human existence (Tawhid), calls for the unity of all people in relation with god (Brotherhood in Human Societies). “Islam rejects legal, physical, class, social, political, racial, national, territorial, genetic, or even economic factors” (Brotherhood in Human Societies).
Islam is the submission to Allah and can be divided into two main sects, the Sunni and the Shi’a. Shi’ites believe in the authority and leadership of the continued line of religious teachers starting with Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali. Sunnis, on the other hand, believe in an elected line of rulers (the supremacy of the caliphs) and “guard the prophetic legacy in the administration of community affairs” (Islam, sect. 4). Human existence according to Islam was the result of god’s creation and is the basis for how Muslims live their lives, and their actions are a result of their religious beliefs.
Their existence on earth is for worshipping god and proving their faith. The goal is human existence is to live by the words of god, so that once they perish; their souls will be allowed into heaven. Human existence in Hinduism is quite different than Islam, primarily because Hindus believe in many lives; life after death or reincarnation. The life of a Hindu is a spiritual journey; with the goal of attaining self realization. Self realization is the liberation of one’s soul, thus freeing an individual from the cycle of birth and death (Vijay).
Hinduism celebrates human existence and the divine through many outlets; it does not credit any one god with the creation of life. According to Jayaram V; That Hinduism is not a religion in the strictest sense of the word, but an ancient tradition in continuity and in perpetual evolution is an unquestionable fact. To try to define Hinduism is like trying to put the waters of an unfathomable ocean into a small vessel, or to capture the essence of human life in a single word or phrase (sect. 6). Hinduism is very diverse. Some Hindus are vegetarian, some eat meat; some believe in one god, many gods or no gods at all.
If a practicing Hindu believes in a god, it is for the purpose of guidance through their spiritual journey. The diversity of Hinduism is one reason for many religious philosophers to disregard Hinduism as an actual religion. As previously discussed, many Hindus are on a search for salvation, or moksha; a “release from the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara)” (Hinduism, sect. 4). There are three ways paths to salvation according to Hindu belief; • Jnana-marga- the way of knowledge, which one attempts to release himself from reality through yoga and meditation.
• Karma-marga- the way of action which is most often met through obligation and performance in one’s life-tasks. • Bhakti-marga- the way of devotion which is usually an allegiance and worship of particular gods. The Hindu philosophy can be seen in various ways because of its long history of traditions and diversity. Monotheist religions are dictated by the laws and practices of their god; Hinduism however, does not have any one practice or belief, other than the recognition that the divine can be found all around them in nature and reincarnation.
Hinduism can be considered a way of life because it is a lifelong spiritual journey and is not focused on pleasing any one entity, or god. This can be demonstrated with the comparison of Islamic faith. Muslims spend their lives living according to Allah, striving to worship him. Hinduism is the practice of understanding, whereas, Islam has an understanding according to their god, and live life as their religion mandates.
Brotherhood in Human Societies.“Does Islam Have a View of Universal Peace and Solidarity and Brotherhood in Human Societies? ” 22 February 2007 <http://www. islamanswers. net/crossroads/peace. htm> Hinduism. Religion & Ethics Library. No date. 23 February 2007 < http://www. abc. net. au/religion/stories/s790133. htm> Hindu Wisdom. “Nature Worship”. (2006). 24 February 2007 http://www. hinduwisdom. info/Nature_Worship. htm Islam. Religion & Ethics Library. No date. 24 February 2007 http://www. abc. net. au/religion/stories/s790151. htm