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Indian Sub-Continent Origins
There are 4 traditions called Dharmic Religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Most people have heard of Hinduism and Buddhism. They may not, however, have heard of Jainism and Sikhism, which are also religions common to India and the subcontinent.
“Dharma is a concept of social order and duty that sustains the whole universe. A person’s placement in a caste (varna) and birth group (jati) is one element of dharma.”
Although in many ways these traditions are similar in beliefs, there are surprising differences between them as well, and the source of each of the other three traditions is Hinduism. Because Buddhism has spread so widely to East Asia, it is covered in the section of this book that deals with traditions from that part of the world, even though it is one of the four Dharmic traditions and did, in fact, originate in the Indian sub-continent. But the Jains and Sikhs are still primarily located in the Indian subcontinent, and it is these, along with Hinduism, that we will consider in this unit.
Hinduism developed out of the beliefs brought to India by Aryan invaders from Central Asia in the 2nd millennium BCE. The earliest written formulation of these beliefs and religious practices is found in the Vedas, collections of hymns and rules for the performance of rituals.
Hinduism later absorbed many different philosophies and practices. The three main deities, called the Trimurti, are Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. They represent the universal concepts of creation, destruction and preservation. Hindus believe in dharma, a universal law that defines the right conduct in life, and karma, the power of actions to determine the form of one’s future rebirth. The ultimate goal in life is to break the endless cycle of incarnations (saṃsāra) and achieve mokṣa, union with the Divine.
Both Jainism and Sikhism were born out of Hinduism and include in their ideas a rejection of the Vedas, the main scriptures of the Hindu faith.
Jainism was founded by Vardhamana Jnatiputra or Nataputta Mahavira (599-527 BC), called Jina (Spiritual Conqueror). The Jains believe that there is no real god, and that everything has always been and always will be, without a beginning and an end. No one really knows how many Jains there are in the world, since many Jains identify themselves as Hindu.
For Sikhs, Guru Nanak founded Sikhism in the late 15th century CE based on universal love. Sikhism has ten gurus, or people who created the texts and beliefs of the religion. Their beliefs are codified in the writings called the final guru, the Guru Granth Sahib. Sikhism is based in the Punjab region of India. Sikhs believe in one God, also sometimes referred to as Allah, just as the divine is referred to in Islam.
Sharma, O.P., and Carl Haub. “Change Comes Slowly for Religious Diversity in India.” PRB, Population Reference Bureau, 2021, www.prb.org/resources/change-comes-slowly-for-religious-diversity-in-india/.
Dharma: The Social Order.” The Pluralism Project, Harvard University, 2021, pluralism.org/dharma-the-social-order.