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종교 탐방

VII. The place of Hinduism in world religions

세계 종교상의 힌두교


Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism originated out of the same milieu: the circles of world-renouncers of the 6th century BC. Although all share certain non-Vedic practices (such as renunciation itself and various yogic meditational techniques) and doctrines (such as the belief in rebirth and the goal of liberation from perpetual transmigration), they differ in the respect they accord to the Vedic tradition. Virtually all Hindus affirm the sacredness and authority of the Veda; Buddhists and Jains do not and therefore are regarded as less than orthodox by Hindus.

1) Buddhism.

Although Buddhism did not interfere with Hindu customs and usages, allowing its adherents to approach Hindu or local supernatural powers for immediate favours, Hindu criticism of Buddhism came mainly from Brahman philosophers who opposed its adherents because they rejected the authority of the Veda and the Brahmans and the doctrine of the atman (soul) and because they admitted persons of any age and caste to monastic life. The spread of Buddhism was often regarded as an indication of degeneration. In the course of time, the Buddha was recognized as an incarnation of Vishnu, but this was often qualified by the addition that Vishnu assumed this form to mislead and destroy the enemies of the Veda, and this avatar is rarely worshiped. Buddhist emblems also were often ascribed to Vishnu or Shiva. Some Buddhist shrines have remained partly under the supervision of Hindu ascetics and are visited by pilgrims notwithstanding their much neglected condition.

After the rise of Buddhological studies in the West and the archaeological discoveries and restorations beginning at the end of the 19th century had made Indians more aware of the Indian origin of Buddhism, the Republic of India adopted the Buddhist emperor Ashoka's lion capital, marking the place of Buddha's first teaching, as its national emblem. The Buddha jubilee in 1956 was an occasion for enthusiastic celebrations. The number of Indian Buddhists has again increased, due mainly to the conversion of persons of low social rank who hope for higher social status as Buddhists than they were afforded as Hindus.

2) Jainism.

With Jainism, which always remained an Indian religion, Hinduism has so much in common, especially in social institutions and ritual life, that nowadays Hindus tend to consider it a Hindu sect. Many Jains also are inclined to fraternization. The points of difference--e.g., a stricter ahimsa practice and the absence of sacrifices for the deceased in Jainism--do not give offense to orthodox Hindus (see BUDDHISM, THE BUDDHA AND ; JAINISM ).


Because Islam was so different from Hinduism in creed and institutions, it was neither absorbed nor powerful enough to make India a Muslim country. The religious situation created by the presence of its numerous adherents always had explosive potentialities: Muslims do not respect bovine life and regard Hindu cult practices as objectionable idolatry. Although Indian Muslims, with few exceptions, are of native descent, they are theoretically outcastes with whom dealings must remain restricted by formal rules; however, as with Christians, they are less polluting than the Hindu lower castes. The Islamic way of life meets with opposition, and orthodox Muslims and Hindus do not ordinarily intermarry or dine together. This situation has had acute and even devastating consequences, but it does vary somewhat from region to region, from village to village, and from class to class. Very often mutual differences are accepted. Although they repudiate caste, Muslims often observe it in practice, and some have even retained their original caste organization after their conversion to Islam.

Throughout centuries of close proximity and daily interaction, Hindus and Muslims have made efforts to accommodate the existence of the other religion within their own. One manifestation of such syncretism occurred among mystically inclined groups who believed that the one God, or "the universal principle," was the same regardless of whether it was called Allah or brahman. Various syntheses between the two religions, including Sikhism and other movements that emphasize nonsectarianism, have arisen in North India.

Those who, like Gandhi, could not understand the intolerance of orthodox Islam sympathized with the moderation and eclecticism of such groups. Most of the educated class, however, have always remained aware of the cleavage. To the Muslims--who, as part of an ecumenical community stretching over large parts of Asia and Africa, are concerned about the political and religious crisis of Islam since the late 19th century--the collapse of the Mughals after the Indian Mutiny (1857-58) was a severe blow that worsened relations with Hindus. This is particularly true because anti-Muslim tendencies had won ground since the renascent Hinduism of the Maratha movement and in later times in the Arya Samaj (see above Hindu reform movements: Arya Samaj ), while Muslims became self-assertive and even more determined to maintain their distinctive position. After the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan--partly based on religious differences--and independence (1947), the political controversies between India and Pakistan constituted a further complication for relations between the religions.


The relations between Hinduism and Christianity have been shaped by unequal balances of political power and cultural influence. Although small communities of Christians have lived in South India since the middle of the 1st millennium, Christianity was widely introduced into the Indic subcontinent only in modern times by missionaries working under the auspices of British colonialism and imperialism. Their denigration of Hindu beliefs and practices--such as image worship and widow burning--provoked a Hindu response. Beginning in the 19th century and continuing to the present, a movement that might be called neo-Vedanta has emphasized the monism of certain Upanishads, decried "popular" Hindu "degenerations" such as the worship of idols, and acted as an agent of social reform, modernization, and dialogue between other world religions.

The relations between Hindus and Christians, then, have been complicated. Many Hindus are ready to accept the ethical teachings of the Gospels, particularly the Sermon on the Mount (whose influence on Gandhi is well-known) but reject the theological superstructure. Many adherents of bhakti movements--the Christian influence on which has been grossly exaggerated--feel that the Christian conceptions, which are regarded as a kind of bhakti, do not realize in God the multiplicity of human relations of love and service. Educated Hindus, though assimilating some Christian ideas, often regard missionary propaganda as an attack on their national genius and time-honoured institutions and take offense at what they regard as the disrespectful utterances of Christian missionary literature. They are averse to the organization, the reliance on authorities, and the exclusiveness of Islam and Christianity, considering these as obstacles to harmonious cooperation. They subscribe to Gandhi's opinion that missionaries should confine their activities to humanitarian service. Since independence, conversion has indeed been viewed with disfavour by many influential Indians, who often also find in Hinduism what might be attractive in Christianity. Movements that advocate a Hindu theism designed to rival Islam and Christianity, like the Arya Samaj, make serious efforts to reconvert Christians to the Hindu community. People tolerate the proximity of Christian converts, even if they transgress Hindu taboos, provided they form a more or less separate community. Thus Christians often form castes or endogamous bodies analogous to castes. They sometimes are even admitted to temples to which untouchable Hindus have no entrance. In Malabar, due to their high economic position, Christians came to be practically equal with Brahmans. Nationalism has challenged the more serious-minded Indian Christians to express the genius of their faith in Indian modes and patterns. This has led, since 1921, to the emergence of Christian ashrams in the south. The dialogue between Hinduism and Christianity is more or less institutionalized at Bangalore in Karnataka state, where the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society is located. Its bulletin offers an opportunity for discussion between, for example, Christians and supporters of the Ramakrishna Mission.


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