Sacred Practices in Hinduism
Present-day Hinduism is a mixture of various spiritual practices such as the study of religious texts, meditation and devotion to various deities among others. These practices ensure that individuals maintain active spiritual paths. Yoga that exists in various types is a common practice among Hindu worshippers today. Since Yoga means “union” it is perceived as a means for individuals to form a union with the divine. Karma Yoga or Action Yoga suggests that all work should be done unselfishly to achieve perfection. It prohibits the desire for reward while working.
Another type of Yoga is Jnana or Knowledge Yoga. This practice involves studying the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, which are ancient Hindu writings to bring insight to one’s divine nature. Hatha Yoga or Action Yoga involves physical exercises. This type of Yoga has become common all over the world and also involves breathing exercises. Bhakti or Devotion Yoga involves devotion to a saint or god who is represented by a painting or statue. The presence of many gods in Hinduism offers a good opportunity for devotion to its worshippers.
Raja or Royal Yoga focuses on meditation that is perceived to bring joy and inner peace to individuals practicing it. There are many types of meditation that include breathing and walking meditations and involves calming the mind and concentrating on one subject at a time. Kundalini Yoga is a combination of Raja yoga and hatha yoga practices. The physical exercises involved in hatha yoga and meditation in Raja yoga enable and individual lift their spiritual energy. Kundalini proposes that there are seven physic centers called chakras that exist along one’s spinal cord. The purpose of these various types of yoga is to help people live spiritually.
Many Hindus, however, practice devotion to a god or a saint (Michael, 2009, p. 96). Hindus worship daily to their gods in sacred shrines while some have particular days dedicated to particular gods. The singing of hymns as well as the offering of food, fire, flowers and incense to images and statues of gods are practiced in a devotional custom known as Puja. Though Hinduism has many gods, individuals tend to focus their devotion on only one god. Individuals prefer physical manifestations of divines since they are physically formless. This has given rise to physical manifestations such as statues and paintings. Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva are the three most popular deities that Hindus devote to.
Hindus also devote to animals by showing kindness to them. The Hindu belief of reincarnation encourages Hindus to devote to animals especially cows that are perceived as a symbol of fertility and economic value.
According to Harvey (2012), Buddhism is one of the world’s oldest religions and has its roots in India. The Buddha before dying at the age of eighty, taught various teachings that have been passed on for generations. Basic Buddhism is made of three teachings; Dharma, the Buddha and the Sangha. The Dharma is concerned with the Buddhist teachings on how to view the world and proper living. The Buddha considered practical solutions to life’s problems and hoped to minimize suffering and attain internal peace. The three marks of reality taught by Buddha consider reality to manifest itself in three forms, that is, a lack of permanent identity, constant change and the existence of suffering. These teachings foster the grounds for the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
According to Michael (2009), the Four Noble Truths is concerned with four truths about life that are; suffering exists, it has a cause, it has an end and there is a way to attain release from suffering. The first noble truth maintains that “to live is to suffer” and this means that in life individuals have to experience loss, nervousness and agony. This message though pessimistic is meant to be realistic and to help individuals familiarize with suffering. The second noble truth views suffering as originating from desire. The Buddha having analyzed suffering found out that it comes from wanting what one cannot achieve and being dissatisfied with what we do have. The third noble truth maintains that to end suffering we have to end desire. Contrary to modern beliefs, this view tries to foster restraint in pursuing the achievement of one’s desires. It maintains that the acceptance of life as it leads to inner peace and joy. The fourth Noble maintains that a solution to suffering can be achieved by following the Noble Eightfold Path. The eight steps were described by Buddha and form three main goals; to live objectively, to live in kindness, and to attain internal peace.
The first of the Noble Eightfold Path is “right understanding” that is interpreted as recognizing that life is not permanent and recognizing the cause of suffering. The second one is “right intention” is explained as keeping one’s thoughts pure. The third one, “right speech” translates to speaking honestly. “Right action” translates to one’s actions not conferring harm to other beings. The fifth one is “right work” and is viewed as one’s job not harming others. “Right effort” translates to improvement while “right meditation” refers to the use of meditation to achieve a better understanding of the world. Finally, “right contemplation” refers to maintaining a state of internal peace.
One of the Buddhist traditions that uses the above teachings is Zen Buddhism, which is a school of Mahayana Buddhism, which began in China. The name is acquired from the seventh step of the Noble Eightfold Path which is “right meditation”. In China, it is called Chan Buddhism and it has its roots to a monk called Bodhidharma who came from India to start a meditation school in China. Over the years, Buddhist teachers have encouraged the practice of meditation. Zen Buddhism has various techniques such as “sitting meditation” and “koan” that translates to public discussion (Harrington et al., 2013). Manual work is also essential in Zen training.
Harrington, A., & Dunne, J. (2013). Mindfulness Meditation: Frames and Choices.
Harvey, P. (2012). An introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, history and practices. Cambridge University Press.
Michael, M. (2009). Understanding the World’s Religions (5th edition). McGraw-Hill.