Understanding how individuals develop a sense of identity and belonging through faith or belief;
Exploring the variety, difference and relationships that exist within and between religions, values and beliefs.
The sense of belonging can come from subscribing to a particular religion or sectarian movement of a religion. The sense of belonging can be enhanced by participating in religious ceremonies and festivals. A bond can be built with a temple organisation or a religious teacher. Most Hindu families will subscribe to a particular sectarian movement and may have their personal gurus or swamis on whose guidance they lead their lives.
A Hindu may wear certain traditional dress, such as a sari for a woman, or a tunic and loin cloth for a man. A Hindu may also show his allegiance to a particular movement by marking his or her forehead with a mark called a tilak.
The sense of belonging is enhanced through family get-togethers to celebrate festivals, or participate at weddings or other religious ceremonies, also through visiting the temple for worship or special celebrations. Families travelling together for pilgrimages or visiting religious personalities create a sense of belonging.
It is through such shared belief systems and participating in rituals that the individual feels connected with his family, community and faith tradition. Performing certain activities together such as singing hymns or listening to religious discourses, helps enhance the sense of belonging. Religion is no longer seen as something abstract but something tangible.
The sharing of religious ideas and practices makes the individual feel part of a greater whole. It offers a sense of security in the here and the here-after. Sharing a religious ethos generates visible cohesion in the family and in the greater society. A sense of belonging comes naturally in the Hindu tradition which promotes the idea of seeing oneself in others. Swami Vivekananda said, ‘They alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive!
An individual is expected to put into practice the belief system he or she adheres to. This can be through:
1. ritualistic practices like daily worship, visiting temples, going on pilgrimage, celebrating festivals and participating in religious ceremonies like rites of passage;
2. adopting some of the recommended dietary practices,
3. living by the codes of conduct promoted by specific sectarian bodies.
Commitment can be identified by observing the extent to which the devotees put into practise some of these ideas. Most Hindu sectarian movements offer a great deal of flexibility on what they call externals: ritualistic practises, dress and dietary codes.
Hinduism is a flexible and adaptable religion which does not impose rigid prescriptions upon its followers. However, there are certain key beliefs that define a person as being a Hindu: A dharmic lifestyle is a spiritual and selfless rather than materialistic or ego-centred lifestyle. The acceptance of Pluralism, recognising that the path he or she has chosen is just one of the many pathways for making spiritual progress, would mean that the individual is open to the idea of others following different pathways including non-religious ones. Commitment can be recognised in the way these ideals become visible in the way they lead their lives. Leading a disciplined family life and showing care for the elderly; are some of the visible signs of commitment being put into practice. Codes of conduct are not set in stone in Hinduism, they continue to evolve with society so on issues like abortion, euthanasia or genetic engineering, Hinduism is open to a more evolved religious view.
Faiths promote spiritual teachings, the process requires set prescriptions. However these prescriptions must evolve to reflect the changing need of society, bearing in mind the central philosophic tenets of Hinduism. Even though the moral codes evolve they are recognised as valid instruments for infusing spirituality in society.
There are a variety of ways in which a person can express his personal allegiance or views on religious matters. This can be through outward signs of wearing a mark, or visiting a temple, gurus or swamis. The life-style they pursue reflects the status of their personal spiritual journey.
The Taitteriya Upanishad offers the Hindu insight on what constitutes a personality. Each individual has physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual sheaths. The thread that links all these sheaths is the ‘ego.’ The physical traits plus the impressions stored in the mind (mostly in the subconscious mind) become visible as the individual. The ego that helps coordinate these sheaths inadvertently shields from us our true nature which is spiritual.
Translating religious ideals into practice begins in the home. Householders are not only expected to look after their children, but also parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. They are expected to contribute towards the society in general. This is how they are expected to put religion into practice.
Hinduism states that our essential nature is not the body nor the mind, although we often mistake them as such. The religion teaches that our essential nature is the spirit that percolates through the body-mind complex. The Sanskrit term for the essential Self is Atman. Despite the appearance that we are acting in the world, we are essentially the witness and not part of what is being witnessed. There are certain famous Sanskrit aphorisms that capture the essence of this spiritual teaching like ‘Tattvamasi’ or ‘Thou art That’ (‘That’ referring to the Ultimate Reality or God).
The essential Self is called Atman. When Atman is embodied or linked with a body and mind it is called Jiv-atman which is equivalent to the concept of Soul in Abrahamic religions. The Jiv-atman experiences the cycle of rebirth. The soul transmigrates during reincarnation. The process is repeated again and again until the individual gains moksha, literally meaning giving up the delusion of being the body and the mind complex and recognising its nature as the spirit. Hinduism does not have an eschatology as it insists that the resolution of the human condition has to happen here and not in the hereafter.
Hindu families usually have a shrine area within their homes. An image of the family deity is kept on a raised and decorated platform, and one of the family members usually carries out a daily puja or worship ceremony.
Young children in the family are told the colourful stories of Hinduism as a way of introducing them to the religion. Families may also visit the mandir or temple to catch darshan or sight of the deity, particularly during festival times. This is one of the ways in which the community comes together to practise its faith and create a sense of collective identity. All can participate in communal singing and chanting, listen to recitations from the scriptures and perform or watch plays that re-enact stories of various deities and saints.
The performance of rites of passage, such as the wedding ceremony and the naming of a child, is a way of sanctifying and celebrating transition in life. These are called samskaras and are another way that families express their religious commitment.
Putting religious ideals into practice within the family or community will no doubt have impact on the wider society. Values that arise naturally within Hinduism such as the importance of family, respect, disciplined life-style, when put into practice will impact the greater society. They are bound to be acknowledged, appreciated, and adopted by the greater society.
As well as providing the individual with a sense of identity, belonging to a family and community of faith can help nurture spiritual values which can be integrated in daily life. Religion can become a source of strength and guidance during his lifetime. It can give the individual direction in life and comfort in death. It nurtures higher ideals and aspirations in life.
Family and community faith have been passed down the generations through tradition. The preservation and practice of various elements of faith give it a great deal of authority and importance and fosters continuity. When these traditions and rituals become mechanical and meaningless they lose their potency. It is necessary to recognise that as society evolves, many of these practices need to evolve with time in order for them to continue to benefit its practitioners.
An individual who belongs to a particular faith tradition or sectarian movement within his faith may use outward signs, symbols and practices to reflect the ethos of that movement. Outer signs like clothing, or symbols marking the forehead, give a sense of identity, belonging, and offer a kind of comfort zone to the individual. This is not to say that external identity is the sole criterion of belonging to a particular faith tradition. At a deeper level, it is essentially the realisation that a particular system suits the spiritual needs of an individual. The ethos of the movement becomes the guiding principle in the way that individual lives his or her life. The need for external symbolism gradually diminishes as the individual makes greater spiritual progress.
Because Hinduism gives freedom to the individual to choose the belief system that suits him or her best, the Hindu religion accommodates a vast variety of perceptions and prescriptions for the spiritual journey. Diversity of ways reflects diversity of temperaments in Hindu society. This is the reason why Hinduism is the host of a vast variety of different sects and movements. The acceptance of diversity of approaches is inherent in the pluralistic tradition of Hinduism.
Hindus in the UK come from vastly varying backgrounds. They come from different parts of India and the world. The largest Hindu community migrated to the UK from East Africa. Many have come from the Caribbean or Sri Lanka. They speak different languages and observe varying religious customs. They bring with them a vast range of Hindu belief systems and practices. The interaction between these different groups is visible at many levels from education to social enterprise. Overall the relationship is warm and receptive to each other’s ways. Different sectarian movements build their own temples or community halls. There is a preference to marry within their groups; this is more to do with convenience than discrimination. The world is now a much smaller place and we no longer have the luxury of living in our own exclusive framework of beliefs. We have to accommodate for and give equal recognition to those whose belief systems differ from ours. Unfortunately, a great deal of strife is caused in the name of religion because of the exclusivist agendas of each tradition. The idea of religious pluralism ingrained in Hindu thinking can be extended further to cultivate fruitful interfaith dialogue.
Hinduism challenges exclusivism of every kind including scientific as well as secular ones. Exclusivism promoted in the name of any religion amounts to claiming a monopoly on spirituality. The very act demolishes the potency of spirituality. Insistence on a secular world view too, is an imposition of exclusivism using a different guise.
The secular approach promoting good citizenship sits well with Hindu teachings. Hinduism views this as essentially a spiritual prescription operating in the guise of working for the greater or common good. According to Hindu teachings spirituality has a habit of showing up at the heart of every disciplined human endeavour. In the field of social sciences it springs up as the ideal of promoting good citizenship.
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