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Hinduism J O H N CLARK ARCHER THE term Hinduism is both broad and vague but for want of something better we may use it to designate the religion of the Hindu. The word Hindu itself is an abstract designation of a class more than of any given persons, for there is scarcely any concrete person readily to be identified as Hindu, though we shall have much to say of "Hindus." There are about two hundred and sixty-five millions of them among the nearly four hundred millions counted in the latest government census of the homeland India, and their two-thirds' majority is fairly evenly distributed throughout the land. While numbers may be a matter of the census, Hindu qualities are not fully to be known from written records. Hinduism in its vagueness is first of all an item of the Stone Age, it is so ancient. It comes in fact mostly from the time of man's long infancy, however vast and varied it may be as an accumulation. Although it is a comprehensive sum of things, it is nevertheless to be distinguished ultimately by some process of exclusion which leaves it as a residue after Indian Moslems, Christians, Parsis, and Jews are counted, as well as Sikhs and Jains. Hinduism as a residue left by this process of exclusion is nevertheless the qualifying substance of all Indian religion. The term as a title and a total represents in the whole field of religion something peculiarly symbolic. A large part of our task is to find whatever unity inheres in the vast and vague Hindu variety in India alone, even though it be often scarcely more than that of the saying, "The camphor and the cotton are 'one,' in being white." To which we must add immediately that Hindus are not even one in color, and Hinduism finds coherence and consistency chiefly by sheer abstraction. Hinduism has had no founder to furnish it a basic message, no early leader comparable with Zoroaster, Jesus or Muhammad —although Muhammad counted himself only a restorer, 44 JOHN CLARK ARCHER Jesus declared his mission to be fulfillment, and Zoroaster felt called upon to purge and to summarize what he knew of earlier religion. These at least, each in his turn, inspired a "book of wisdom," a "gospel," and a "writing." Hindus have had no one even like Confucius to edit fully a long, inherited tradition. Strictly speaking, they have had for themselves no such figure as the Jains have in their Vardhaman Mahavira, as Buddhists have in Gotama Sakyamuni, or as the Sikhs have in Nanak. In a sense, the founders of Hinduism are legion, their figures as shadowy as "cloud-messengers" of changeful constitution and fitful errand. Distinguished persons do indeed appear in later times, but the early scenes are conspicuously impersonal. In the earliest deposit of Vedic wisdom no inspired singer stands out clearly as does the psalmist David of the Hebrews. The Indian Kautilya, giver of the Law, is a wraith compared with Moses, and Yajnavalkya, the priest who took to speculation in Upanishadic times, was no such sage and personality as his Greek contemporary Plato. This kind of survey gives us a valid introduction to the indefinite incoherence which has settled down from precedent to precedent. Consider for a moment how Hinduism has won its way by conversion in a most peculiar sense. It is easier for a non-Hindu to comprehend the faith than to be converted to it. There is almost no provision within Hinduism for conversion as a personal experience, and its expansion has come as a whole rather than by the addition of separate individuals. It represents the sum of penetration, absorption, and accommodation rather than the result of creative evolution, and its totality has been itself exclusive even to the extent of a sloughing-off of variations which disturbed inordinately the loose balance of the general framework. At the same time variants innumerable have occurred within the whole, which being retained have made Hinduism the most confused, confusing, and distinctive of all the world's religions. We hasten, however, to say that we shall in time pick up a clue by which to comprehend the whole. This clue is the major, controlling theory of transmigration which has posited in a universe peculiarly and altogether ani45 HINDUISM mate a fixed number of items, entities, or agents known as souls. The Hindu, accordingly, thinks of change within his universe as relative and compensatory. For the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781400877638
Related ISBN
9780691623238
MARC Record
OCLC
967589483
Pages
396
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-05
Language
English
Open Access
No
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