Hinduism is rapidly growing and spreading throughout the world. According to www.religioustolerance.org, Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world after Christianity and Islam. It is also the oldest known religion.
As I scoured the Internet in search of facts and figures about Hinduism, looked through dusty books at the library and interviewed Hindu professors and students, I came to an understanding of the many different ways Hindus practice their religion.
Hinduism is considered a personal religion that allows its followers to worship the god with whom they identify.
Molecular biology and biochemistry professor Krishna Tewari, who has studied Hinduism as well as many other religions, explained the concept of Hinduism as a way of life.
‘In Hinduism, there is not one way to live,’ Tewari said. ‘To outsiders, it seems very complex because it doesn’t say this is the way one has to do it. [If] you do not believe in God, [it] doesn’t mean you can’t be Hindu. You might have everything against God, but that’s OK.’
Not only does Hinduism offer numerous deities, but there are many sacred texts as well.
The oldest of these texts are the Vedas, which were discovered by the Hindus about 5,000 years ago. The Vedas might be considered the bible of Hinduism.
The Vedas are made up of four books, each with four different sections. Once again, Hinduism may be considered a ‘personal religion’ because most Hindus have a favorite section which they believe suits them best.
Vinod Sastry, a fourth-year math and sociology major and Southern California Regional Coordinator of the Hindu Student Council, has practiced Hinduism all his life.
‘We view [the Vedas] like natural laws [in] that you gain knowledge of them through experience and other spiritual practices,’ Sastry explained.
Many of the terms, ideas, and concepts that are used in the Western world originated from Hinduism.
For example, yoga and meditation, both popular trends among Hollywood celebrities, came from Hinduism.Unfortunately, stretching, which is associated with basic yoga, does not even begin to describe the original form of yoga that is described in the Vedas.
‘Ultimately, yoga is a way of life, the actions you do, what attitude you have in life, the practices of meditation,’ said Sastry, who practices yoga every day. ‘The whole idea is to do the practices, to do the exercises, in order to transcend the body.’
Clearly, I haven’t been doing yoga properly because I definitely don’t ‘transcend the body’ when I do it.
We’ve also heard the saying, ‘What goes around goes around.’ Karma is another concept that originated from Hinduism. As Tewari put it, ‘Karma is doing without any reward.’
Karma fits into the Hinduism belief of nirvana and reincarnation. Nirvana is the state of being that one achieves after leaving the cycle of life and death. Tewari described nirvana as ‘merging with God and becoming one with God.’
Of course, achieving nirvana is difficult. One must live their life well and unselfishly to achieve it. When Hindus don’t achieve nirvana, they are reincarnated; their new life will depend on how well they lived their previous life, which is where Karma fits in.
Just like other religions, Hinduism has its fair share of religious celebrations. Each person I talked to had different ‘top three’ Hindu celebrations, but the one they all agreed on was Diwali.
Diwali is a five-day festival of lights in mid-November. Hindus put oil lamps around the house, exchange gifts and set off fireworks to celebrate the new year. For more information on Diwali, you can go www.diwalimela.com.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any mandirs, or temples in Irvine that one can go to practice Hinduism, but the Hindu Student Council at UCI is one way you can get involved. They meet every Monday in the Cross Cultural Center at 6:30 p.m. with a 30-minute ‘puja,’ or prayer session in Aldrich Park at 6 p.m. HSC also holds frequent group visits to various mandirs in Southern California, as well as visits to other places of religious worship.
Yagnesh Vadgama, a fifth-year psychology and social behavior major and external chair of HSC, explained the reason for these excursions.
‘We visit churches, mosques, Buddhist temples, so that we realize that just because we’re Hindus doesn’t mean we’re everything,’ Vadgama said.
They will also be holding Ahimsa Week, which is a celebration that honors Mahatma Gandhi, at the end of October. HSC prides itself on being a welcoming organization that does not try to convert or force their members with rules.
‘It’s an organization in which we try to give people, if you want to find religious sanctity or if you want to find spiritual relief. We’re mellow about it. In Hinduism, the key element is you can’t force anybody to be religious,’ Vadgama said.
Jay Shah, a second-year biological sciences major and co-president of HSC, summed up the Hindu philosophy in the way he lives.
‘People criticize religion because they think it limits them, but for me, I don’t think it limits me at all. I feel like I can do whatever I want and the consequences are right in front of me,’ Shah said.
Sastry explained why he is so devoted to the Hindu religion.
‘You need something to give you purpose and direction in your life beyond a career. There are so many dimensions to human beings that we have to develop and this is the spiritual, social, philosophical side of things,’ Sastry said.