What is the relation, if any, of the concept of varna to the concept of karma?
Two major concepts of the Hindu religion are varna and karma. While at first glance it may not appear that they are related, they in fact do have a direct correlation. The combination of the caste system and the concept of karma have an important part in explaining the consequences of life for the Hindu followers.
Varna refers to the caste system. The caste system was divided into four categories. The Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaisyas, and the Shudras. There were also the untouchables. The Brahmins were the priests. The leaders were the Kshatriyas. The Vaisyas were the common people and the Shudras were the servants. Your membership in a particular caste was derived at your birth. If your mother was a Brahmin then you were a Brahmin for the remainder of your life. You could not marry someone unless they were in the same caste that you belonged to and in some cases they had to belong to the same sub caste.
The Law of Karma assumes that everything one does, each separate deed of one’s life, weighed along with every other deed, determines destiny. (Noss) Whatever you do in your life will have consequence in a later life. These consequences could be good or bad. With enough good deeds one may become a Brahmin. On the other hand if your deeds were not so great you might end up being a rock or a worm. Thus the Law of Karma and Varna relate with one another.
With the caste system installed it was quite easy to discriminate against another person of a lower caste, which also meant discrimination against color because varna can mean class and color. Obviously a Shudra had done things in his previous life that had caused him to be born in a lower caste. This gave the Brahmins incredible power. They believed that they had earned their position through great deeds in previous lives and deserved to be on top.
With only varna or only the Law of Karma there would be no way to judge yourself and your progress in samsara. No one would be able to know if they were becoming closer to moksha or drifting farther away into eternal death and re-birth. The junction of the two concepts helped people’s beliefs and led on to the principles of modern day Hinduism.
Explicate each, and compare and contrast with each other the concepts of animism, polytheism (paganism), and (mono)theism.
Religious beliefs have existed since the beginning of man. Whether they wanted answers to make themselves feel secure or to explain natural wonders man had to create something to make it all make sense. While there are many different religious concepts three are very prominent and include almost all of the world’s religions. These concepts are animism, polytheism, and monotheism. While they are very different there are some similarities.
Animism is considered the most ancient belief. Animism is the belief that all objects and even storms have an individual spirit within. (Noss) When you dream it is because your soul left your body and then returned. Every object was an individual. If you hurt a tree then you were hurting an individual spirit. You could worship anything because everything had a supernatural power within it. This led to other things such as totemism. Tribes broke into groups who were set to worship one object while another group worshipped another object. This kept everything that the tribe needed plenitful.
Polytheism is the belief in more that one god. An example of polytheism is the Greek Gods. They had a ruler in Zeus but there were many gods and people could worship whomever they wanted to.
Monotheism, also known as theism, is the belief in one single god. Many religions today are monotheistic including Christianity and Judaism.
In animism the people can worship anything from another human to a certain tree. In polytheism the people worship certain gods but animism could be interpreted as a polytheistic religion because they worship more than one thing. The thought of philosophers was that the history of religion started with first animism, then polytheism, henotheism, monotheism, and finally atheism. A discerning voice was A. Wilhelm Schmidt. He thought that monotheism was first.
Animism, polytheism, and monotheism do have their major differences. Through science many of these religions have been eliminated. It will be interesting to see what religion comes next.
Hinduism, in contrast to Western monotheism, has historically afforded to women a place of high honor in its doctrines. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement? Please elaborate, and defend your answer.
In Hinduism women’s roles have changed little throughout time. In the mean time women in the West have sought equal standing with men and religious organizations. While women do have a place in Hindu doctrine men seem to be placed higher and have more liberties than women.
Women are thought of very highly as mothers to their children. Men take care of their wives and their offspring. However, women are supposed to worship their spouse as if they were a god. Hindu wives are supposed to do whatever their husband says no matter what the task is or how he treats her. If he is unfaithful or a drunk she still must worship him. In Hindu teaching a women is supposed to go so far as to jump in the fire with her husband when he dies.
While western monotheism did not place a high honor on their women they were not expected to do and act as Hindu women are. Western women have worked to obtain a great deal of independence and equality with men. In some western religions women have highly appointed positions and in many religions women want to receive the priesthood.
Many Hindu families may not want females due to the dowries that must be paid when they are to be married. They tend to marry at a very young age. Once they are married they can never marry another man again no matter what happens. Men on the other hand can marry again and this has risen to questionable deaths. Men will kill their wives so that they can marry again and receive the dowry. It has also caused infanticide and murder of young girls so fathers won’t have to pay a dowry. Another advantage of being a male in Hinduism is the fact that to reach Moksha you have to be a Brahmin and you also have to be a male. This seems to show that Hindus see men superior to women because the women must have done something or not been good enough in a previous life so they were not born a male Brahmin.
While women may not have been regarded high in Western Monotheism they were perceived much closer to being equal to men than the Hindu women. Though not all Hindu women act this way it is what is expected and many to this day worship their husbands as if they were gods.
What is sati (or suttee)? Did the British have a legitimate moral basis on which to prohibit its practice.
Sati is the traditional Hindu practice of a widow immolating herself on her husband’s funeral pyre (www.kamat.com). The British had control of India in 1829 and banned the practice. Due to the religious background of the British Government they had a legitimate moral basis on witch to prohibit it.
Sati existed in ancient India. Women thought that there was honor to die with their husbands and many Hindus praised them for it. You did not have to undergo Sati as it was not obligatory but some women did it. It has been speculated that one reason is that remarriage was not available for women and they would rather die than to be a widow and taking orders from the senior women of the house for the rest of her life. The practice is so praised by the Hindus that they erected hero statues in memory of women who had committed sati and they worship them. In 1828 Rajaram Mohan Roy fought to stop the practice of Sati (www.kamat.com). The British banned it in 1829 but it still was occurring. Mahatma Gandhi played a big role in finally stopping the practice but even he could not totally eliminate it as throughout time fanatic followers have continued to practice the idea. A recent case took place in 1987. Roop Kanwar kills herself and set off a large debate. The people who helped her were arrested but many Hindus praised her and she attained a deity status (www.kamat.com). In 1996 the Indian Court ruled the event as a tradition and free the people who had helped the late Roop Kanwar.
The British Government had in my opinion and easy and morally justified reason to ban the practice of Sati. The British come from mostly a Christian background. They also ruled the land. Nobody wants to see life wasted, especially a Christian government. Not only did it make the Brits look bad but also it was wrong to them. No one should commit suicide and waste their life. There is so much more that a woman could do to help society and her family if she lived. And if she had children then how could she abandon them. In Christianity suicide is looked down upon and some organizations say that you will go to hell if you commit it.
When the British were faced with the decision they knew that it was tradition but to them it was wrong and so they were to themselves right to ban it. And I am sure that many Hindu wives were relieved to not be faced with that decision when the time came.