Question 3 — Hinduism (15 marks) Hindus are expected to undertake a pilgrimage at least once a year, however many are involved in life-long daily pilgrimage (sannyasi). A pilgrimage is understood to be a religious holiday from routine life and the devotee hopes that the physical challenges they experience on pilgrimage will lead to spiritual benefits. For Hindus, the physical world is an expression of the divine and self-sacrifice and physical hardship endured will help them to focus on the purpose of their pilgrimage. Pilgrimage also offers the possibility of worshipping the most prominent Hindu gods, normally Vishnu and Shiva, in a much more concentrated manner than would be available in the normal ritual calendar of the village or town.
A major Hindu ethical teaching is the sacredness of life and the inter-connectedness of all living things. Hinduism speaks of harmony with nature and with the whole creation. In relation to environmental ethics, many Hindus believe that bad Karma produced by people in the past is the cause of many environmental problems today. Each person, by virtue of the fact that they are intelligent and linked to the whole of creation, is responsible in finding ways of improving the environment rather than destroying it. Because much of India’s Hindu population are farmers, it is acknowledged that cultivating the land will result in the killing of some creatures, so they are encouraged, as specified in the ‘Laws of Manu’, to seek forgiveness for the harm caused to these creatures. ‘A householder should regard deer, camels, donkeys, mice, snakes, birds and bees as his sons: for what difference is there between his sons and them?’ (Bhagavata Purana 7,14,9)
Shankara, a pre-eminent Indian philosopher, composer, writer and theologian, who lived in the 8th–9th century made very important contributions to Hinduism. He was a prolific writer and composer of many texts which have contributed to the development of Hinduism. His works primarily deal with establishing a firm doctrine of ‘adviata vedanta’ as he interpreted them from the ‘Upanishads’. This doctrine was founded upon an unwavering belief in the authority of sacred scripture. He tried to integrate his philosophy into a more comprehensive system that would accommodate existing Hindu theological positions and lay Hindu practices—including rites and forms of worship that would come to be called smarta Hinduism, which are widespread particularly throughout South India. In this sense he offers a vision of a unified Hinduism that integrates philosophy, devotion and lifestyle rules, including adherence to dharmic prescriptions and engagement in ritual performance. He was influential in drawing together the different schools and expressions of Hinduism that were developing in India and in combination with other influential figures (Madhva and Ramanuja), Shankara was responsible for the revival of Hinduism in India.