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Hinduism, the Oldest Religious Tradition

This Fall 2018 semester, World Religions and Global Conflict taught by Professor Charles Chesnavage is a foundation course that introduces students to the complexity of world religions and the conflicts that affect our world today. The students in the class themselves come from diverse faith backgrounds. An excellent class presentation was given in the second week of semester on the cultural and spiritual background of one of the oldest religions in the world today, Hinduism from India. Aside from learning through our own personal experiences, one of the best ways in improving our knowledge is to simply learn it from one of the followers of the religion. The opportunity to have a guest speaker allowed us to hear it firsthand and not through a book or from someone on a screen. Our professor invited Guruji Dileepkumar Thankappan to tell us about Hinduism. Guruji is originally from India. He is a humanitarian, a yogi, an Interfaith minister and also a Hindu guru. He is the complete artist, who enchanted us with his myths, truths, and background for the legends behind this, the oldest of religions, whose practices were started way back, maybe 5500 BCE. Guruji studied science at Mahatma Gandhi University and Cochin College. From his school years onwards, Guruji was active in yoga, sports, games, martial arts, dance, music, singing, acting, drawing, painting, climbing, trekking, alternative medicines, gardening, organic farming, and interfaith spiritual discussion groups. 

Guruji explained that Hinduism is a fusion of different cultures. He explained Hindus believe that the essence of the Vedas (ancient Indian scriptures) is enshrined in the word Aum.  From the sound of “AUM” comes the origin of creation, which was initiated by Brahman, the one true God of the whole universe. However, Hinduism is also polytheistic; it has 33 Million recognized demi-gods which can be witnessed by attending their temples dedicated to multiple deities. Hindus believe that Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver and Shiva is the destroyer. Upon hearing of the four major aims of human life in Hinduism, we discover that Dharma (first major goal) referred to as Santana Dharma meaning the truth, religious duty, and moral responsibility and behavior to maintain social order. From this point of view we students discovered that the Hindu philosophy of ethics has a lot of resemblance in other religious teachings. 

Learning the different religious cultures and traditions is one of the core highlights of this class. Our first guest speaker brought us the wonderful customs of Hinduism and the inner beauty of their traditional culture. It is depicted in the colors of festivities (garbhadhana), rituals (puja), astrological forecasts, human care, weddings, and even in the care surrounding a baby’s birth. There is a lot of informed content which can be helpful if ever we choose to apply some of these practices in our own everyday life. Studying the authentic nature of Hinduism traditions, the World Religions class reflected that those practices might be an answer to the current crippled state of science and the blindness of religion. 

Chesnavage and students

Professor Chesnavage with students.

Guruji also taught us about the different castes. It is referred to frequently in the ancient Indian texts. The four classes are the Brahmins (priestly people), the Kshatriyas (also called Rajanyas, who are rulers, administrators and warriors), the Vaishyas (artisans, merchants, tradesmen and farmers), and Shudras (laboring classes) -at the bottom of the heap are the Shudras, who come from Brahma’s feet and do all the menial jobs. The main castes are further divided into about 3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes, each based on their specific occupation. Outside the caste system (literally “outcastes”) is the fifth and lowest class called the Dalit or “untouchables,” seen as untouchable because they are considered impure from birth. 

Finally, we heard a Hindu song from Guruji titled “I am the Universe.” The message was so deep, emphasizing that death will never exist in their life of faith. 

From the presentation, we were left with a strong impression about the importance of one of their main religious practices: practicing “Dharma.”  Dharma, the pathway of truth that deepens philosophical knowledge in ethics and moral values as well as the heavenly and external laws of peace and order. 

Our analysis after the presentation on the Hindu religion, confirmed the importance of this foundation course (LTR 5513) in “World Religions and Global Conflict” which is to help identify the major world conflicts and the central causes of world conflict, especially within and between religions. As students we will learn how to articulate the historical, cultural and spiritual background and the importance of world religions, as well as identify the specific founders of world religions and the historical and geographical context surrounding the birth of those religions.