Why are brahmins considered superior in Hinduism

Encounters with Hinduism

Table of Contents

1. The essence of religion
1.1 Concept
1.2 Origin
1.3 Features
1.4 Forms of Expression
1.5 Statistics of the world religions

2. Hinduism
2.1 Hinduism at a glance
2.2 General information

3. History of Hinduism

4. What is Hinduism?
4.1 Nature of Hinduism

5. The belief of Hinduism
5.1 Brahman - the Absolute
5.2 The sound OM
5.3 Samsara - The cycle of birth and
5.4 The karma
5.5 Dharma

6. The gods of Hinduism
6.1 The great god Saguna Brahman
6.2 The Trinity - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva
6.3 Brahma - the world creator
6.4 Vishnu - The World Preserver
6.5 Shiva - The World Destroyer

7. Hindu scriptures

8. Society and Hinduism
8.1 The caste system
8.2 The status of women
8.3 Child marriage
8.4 The shaving of widows' heads
8.5 The widow burning (Sati)
8.6 The vegetarian way of life
8.7 The holy cow
8.8 Pilgrimages and holy cities
8.9 death and transition

9. Significant figures in Hinduism
9.1 Ramakrishna
9.2 Swami Vivekananda
9.2 Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

10. Christianity in India

11. Parallels to Christianity

12. What Christians Can Learn From Hinduism

13. Literature

14. List of figures

1. The essence of religion

1.1 Concept

The term "religion" can be interpreted in different ways.

- The Roman writer Cicero derived "religio" from the verb "religere" (= carefully observe) and understood by "religion" "the careful observation of everything that belongs to the cult of the gods".
- The Christian writer Lactantius derived "religio" from the verb "religare"

(= bind, reconnect), which makes it clear that for him the religion is about "reconciling and reconnecting the soul that has torn itself away from God".

Depending on the culture, other aspects of religion are emphasized: fear of God, piety, service to the gods, religious commandments, holy shyness, legal and doctrinal perspectives.

The attempt to summarize all conceptions in one definition could then look something like this:

"Religion is the belief in thinking, feeling, wanting and acting in the existence of supernatural personal or impersonal powers on which man feels dependent, which he seeks to win for himself or to which he seeks to rise." (Helmuth von Glasenapp).

This definition makes the following clear:

- Religion is the belief in otherworldly powers and is differentiated from other forms of belief, such as materialism, which contests the existence of supra-worldly powers.
- Religion is not only a matter of feeling, but also an object of thoughtful endeavors, with possibly considerable effects on political, social and ethical actions of the person who plans such action willingly.
- Religion represents the powers on the other side in different ways: belief in a single god (à monotheism), in many gods (à polytheism), in impersonal cosmic laws.
- Religion encompasses all possible forms of relationship with the powers on the other side: dependence, winning, elevation. For some religions, e.g. Christianity, all three provisions apply. In contrast to Buddhism. Actually only the first type of relationship applies here. The inner attitude of believers in different religions is therefore very different and cannot be reduced to a common denominator.[1]

Religion is not a “business that exists in itself that can be carried on separately from other businesses; rather, it is the inner spirit that pervades all of our… thoughts and actions ”.[2]

1.2 Origin

The study of the religions of so-called "primitive" peoples reveals a great deal about the origin of religions.

There are three major theories about origin:

Through dream experiences, the primitive came to the conclusion that there is a soul alongside the body. This idea was carried over to animals, plants and objects and later led to the idea of ​​spirits and finally of gods (animism).

Other researchers found in some primitives the idea of ​​the effectiveness of rather impersonal forces that humans must bring under control if they want to survive (dynamism).

In other primitives one has even found the idea of ​​a creator of all things in this world, so that animism and dynamism are to be understood as late and degenerative forms of an original one-god belief (primordial monotheism).

None of these theories has been scientifically established. The difficulty lies in the fact that one cannot necessarily infer the religious beliefs of people 600,000 years ago from the beliefs of indigenous peoples today.[3]

1.3 Features

There are two sides to religion when one considers its effects.

On the one hand, it can make people dependent and incapacitated. It can stabilize and justify unjust social and political conditions. It can make un-free in every way.

Such abuse cannot always be avoided because religion deals with people who can equally fail if religion didn't exist.

On the other hand, a whole range of positive effects of religion can be recognized:

- give meaning to life,
- promote self-realization,
- Cope with crises (suffering, guilt, injustice, death),
- accompany life turns,
- reduce anxiety,
- set up rules for social action,
- set norms and values,
- question dominance relationships,
- Form community,
- Keeping a longing for the better awake.[4]

1.4 Forms of Expression

Religious experiences urge objectification so that they can be communicated at all. Forms in which faith is embodied are related to the respective cultural level and can therefore be changed.

The following forms of expression are particularly common in religions:

- Rites accompany important changes in life (birth, marriage, burial) and create a context of meaning.
- Prayers and sacrifices show ways of connecting with the divine and creating community.
- Religious festivals structure the annual cycle.
- Holy places (trees, mountains, springs, temples) provide space for ritual acts.
- Cleaning regulations regulate the contacts with the divine.
- Initiates (seers, priests, teachers, prophets) pass on religious knowledge and interpret it.[5]

1.5 Statistics of the world religions

The following groups are shown in this bar graph:

Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Anglicans, Muslims, non-denominationalists, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, Jews.

About a third of the world's population professes Christianity in its various denominations: these are the first four pillars. The largest denomination among them is that of the Catholics with about 50% of the total Christianity.

With around a fifth of the world's population, Islam is the second largest religious community.

Judaism is one of the most influential religions in the world, but only comprises about 1% of the world's population.

The number of those who do not confess and atheists will increase again in the next few years, as will the number of Muslims. The percentage of Christianity in the world population, however, will continue to decrease.[6]

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Fig. 2

In the following I will go into more detail on Hinduism, as I was very fascinated by the book “Encounters with Hinduism” by Horst Georg Pöhlmann.

During two long stays in India he had numerous conversations with believers, priests and gurus. Based on his observations, conversations and targeted surveys in 104 South Indian temples, he has drawn a vivid picture of Hinduism as it is really lived in everyday life.

It is about a theology from below, a theology of experience that does not arise at the desk, but in lively encounters with another religion or denomination. Pöhlmann speaks of the great vitality of this religion. Although it is already three thousand years old, it shapes people's lives at every turn and has almost become second nature.[7] Hinduism is an everyday religion, not a Sunday religion. People crowd into the temple, which is open every day, from morning to night. Everyone comes when they want. The Hindu faith is a private religion, not a community religion.[8] There is no division between fanum[9] and profanum[10], between religion and everyday life, like with us.[11]

Hindu identity is expressed in the sacred scriptures of their religion recognized by all Hindus (the Vedas[12], Upanishads[13], Bhagavadgita[14] etc.), the various gods as the incarnation of the highest God and the worship of their images in the apartments, the three ways of salvation, the way of action (karma-marga), the way of knowledge (jnana-marga) and the way of Devotion (bhakti-marga), to which special weight is attached, the belief in the cycle of rebirths (samsara) and in the liberation (moksha) from it through the union of Atman[15] and Brahman[16], the primal prayer OM[17] and much more.

Despite external differences, there are deep correspondences with the Christian faith. (see chap. 11)

2. Hinduism

He is the indivisible and the one. But he seems to divide himself into forms and creatures and appears in all the separate beings. All things are eternally born of Him, maintained in His eternity, and eternally taken back into His oneness.

He is the light of all lights, shining beyond all the darkness of our ignorance; He is the knowledge and at the same time the goal of knowledge; He dwells in the heart of everyone.

Bhagavat Gita XIII, 17-18

Excerpt from a speech by Mahatma Ghandi:

“The Hindu is the most tolerant and broad-minded person when it comes to religious matters. His religion does not proclaim a particular Hindu god or a particular Hindu heaven. God is one as good to Hindus as to non-Hindus. And any good person can go to heaven. You don't have to be a Hindu to be a good person, and not every Hindu is a good person. In Hinduism there is no dogma about 'the' way. There are different ways to get to the truth and to realize God. (...). "

2.1 Hinduism at a glance

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2.2 General information

Hinduism is the oldest of the great world religions. It is the most widespread Indian folk religion. For comparison: to the other religions is
Hinduism 82.6%,
the Muslim 11.4%,
Christianity 2.4%,
the Sikhs 2.0%,
Buddhism 0.7%
and other religious communities 0.9% of the proportion of the Indian population.
- Hinduism has no strict rules of belief
- Hinduism is influenced by Buddhism, Jainism and Islam
- In addition to their main god, Hindus also worship any other partial gods as required.

The term Hindu comes from the Persians, who used to describe the people living at the other end of the Indus. Modern Hindus refer to their religion as Sanatana Dharma, which means "Eternal Life". Some Indus believe that their religion can only be practiced in India. Crossing the Kalapani (Black Ocean), they believe, would make them impure and incapable to make life as Hindus. Others do not believe this.
In the past hundred years, many Hindus have emigrated from India mainly for economic reasons. The community of approx. 1,400,000,000 today stretches from East Africa to Canada, from Europe to the USA.

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Fig. 3

Spread of Hinduism:

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3. History of Hinduism

Hinduism is not a founder religion. Therefore, no date of foundation can be given. The beginning of Hinduism is settled today in the time of the industrial culture.

The Industal Culture (4000-1700 BC)

In the Indus valley in today's Pakistan ("Punjab" - five rivers country) a highly developed culture emerged around 6000 years ago. Centers of this culture - carried by the indigenous people of India (Dravida) - were the cities of Mohenjo Daro (capital) and Harappa. Excavations show an advanced irrigation culture (water pipes, sewers), a highly developed craft and remarkable architectural achievements (fortifications). The finds also show that a cult of images (fertility goddesses, phallic cult) may have developed during this period.

Immigration of the Aryans

From around 1750 BC. This high culture of antiquity fell into disrepair. There were waves of immigration from belligerent, fair-skinned nomadic peoples - the Aryans. They immigrated to the Punjab via the passes of the northwest. As followers of a polytheism that primarily favored male deities and a simple warrior ethic, they brought with them a world- and life-affirming, image-free religion with a focus on sacrifice. Wherever they advanced victoriously, they first destroyed the old culture. Thanks to their mobility (on horseback) and their superior art of war - they had weapons made of iron - they quickly succeeded in subjugating the sedentary, agricultural population. The further they moved to the east, the more they came under the influence of the native religion, so that Hinduism can be viewed as a mixture of two different cultures, the pre-Aryan religion of the indigenous peoples of North India and the Aryan Veda religion.

But the Aryans did not form a unified empire. Rival kingdoms emerged. The meeting of the different races and cultures (Dravida and Aryans) resulted in the development of a multitude of - often contradicting - religious ideas and beliefs. This interaction, mutual penetration and fertilization contributed decisively to the development of Hinduism.

The time of the Vedas (1500 - 500 BC)

The Indo-European Aryans brought their own religious tradition with them. They had their sacred language, Sanskrit, and believed in a multitude of gods.

For the time being, religious knowledge was only passed on orally. Between 1500 and 500 BC It was recorded in writing in the Vedas. Veda means knowledge or "holy knowledge". This was passed down exclusively in priestly families. The religious practices of the Aryans centered around a fire sacrifice. It was a sacrificial cult that was originally performed by every householder in front of a holy fire. Offerings were given to the flames. Certain formulas were spoken for this purpose. Over time, however, the ritual became more and more elaborate and complicated. The performance of the sacred rites was increasingly reserved for a group of people. It was the priesthood that acquired a monopoly on sacred knowledge. For the time being "technicians of ritual" the priesthood became the caste of the Brahmins. Non-Aryans were excluded from this.

Between 800 and 600 BC In the 2nd century BC the importance of the gods and their appropriate veneration took a back seat. The members of the aristocratic caste ensured that other topics came to the fore:

- Doctrine of rebirth ("samsara")
- Doctrine of retribution ("karma)
- Doctrine of the source of all being ("atman" and "brahma")
- Doctrine of salvation ("moksha")

In the 19th century important reforms were carried out that wanted to combine traditional Hinduism with the political ideals of the present. Based on the basic rule of Ahimsa (= not violating), Ghandi developed his theory of passive resistance in the 20th century. His goal was to bring the Untouchables caste out of their contempt and to achieve independence for India.


[1] Cf. Jürgen Schwarz: “Learning to understand religions. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism ”. Lichtenau 2002. p. 6.

[2] "The instruction to the blessed life" (1806). In: "Fichtes Werke", ed. by I. W. Fichte, V, p. 183f. In: Horst Georg Pöhlmann: “Encounters with Hinduism. Dialogues, observations, surveys and fundamental considerations after two stays in India. ”Frankfurt 1995. p. 15.

[3] Cf. Jürgen Schwarz: “Learning to understand religions.” Lichtenau 2002. p. 7

[4] see Jürgen Schwarz: “Learning to understand religions.” Lichtenau 2002. p. 7.

[5] Cf. Jürgen Schwarz: “Learning to understand religions.” Lichtenau 2002. p. 8.

[6] See ibid. P. 50.

[7] See Horst Georg Pöhlmann: “Encounters with Hinduism.” Frankfurt 1995. p. 10.

[8] See ibid. P. 11.

[9] lat. The sanctuary

[10] lat. the unholy

[11] See Horst Georg Pöhlmann: "Encounters with Hinduism". Frankfurt 1995. p. 11.

[12] Earliest St. Fonts. Originated around 1000 BC Chr. And later.

[13] Holy Scriptures. Originated around 800 to 500 BC. Chr.

[14] "Song of God", originated in 200 BC. To 100 AD

[15] The divine self in man, the individual soul, which is identical with Brahman, the world soul.

[16] The absolute, the one without a second, the world soul, the one God, the divine, in contrast to the personal God.

[17] spoken: [Aum]. Symbol for god.

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