I’m reworking an “Introduction to Hinduism” handout, the kind of material that can be used in the World Religions class, but also in a church class setting. What follows is the first half of an outline. Most of this material comes from Dr. Dana Sawyer, Professor of Religion at the Maine College of Art, Portland, ME. The other source is the chapter on Hinduism in Warren Matthews, World Religions.
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1. Unlike Buddhism and Christianity, Hinduism has no particular founder.
2. The origins of Hinduism disappear into pre-history. According to prevailing theory, what came to be called Hinduism began sometime around 1800 B.C. Aryans migrating to modern- day NW India brought with them their religion, which is reflected in ancient Vedic texts. They met the spirituality indigenous to the Indus Valley Civilization. The blending of these two viewpoints was, evidently, the beginning of Hinduism.
3. For Hindus, the purpose of life is to find out the true nature of the self. That is, in Hinduism the big question is, “Who are you?”
4. Hindus believe that we reincarnate lifetime after lifetime because we are in ignorance (avidya) of our true nature. Knowledge of who we are will bring moksha, liberation.
5. Hinduism postulates two levels of the self: (a) There is the transitory self, bound by time and space and made up of the body, the mind, emotions, thoughts, and memories. (b) Underlying and implicit to the relative, transient self is an infinite, unbounded, eternal and unchanging self called Atman. The Atman, or higher self, was never more and never dies. It does not change because it is absolute according to its very nature.
6. The Atman is the essence of every human being. But this differs markedly from, say, the Islamic concept of the soul. For Hindus there is not a multiplicity of infinite Atmans. (In Islam, there are as many souls as there are people). Instead, there is one world soul at the base of all individual consciousness.