I saw a news report yesterday about a division amongst Hindus over the appointment of a new head for a temple.
In the pilgrim town of Udipi, there is a temple dedicated to Krishna. A monk called Sugunendra Teertha is due to be appointed as the new head of this temple. Many Brahmins, however are opposed to his posting because they feel he is not worthy because he has been rendered permanently impure by a sin.
What is this terrible unforgivable sin?
He has travelled overseas.
No. That's it.
He has committed "sagarollanghana", the Sanskrit term for crossing the seas, an act that they said defied a centuries-old tradition and left him impure.
Although hardly practiced now, some conservative Hindu religious orders frown upon overseas travel because they claim religious scriptures make "crossing the seas" a sin.
Even Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India's freedom movement, was excommunicated by conservative Hindu members of his Bania trading caste when he went to Britain to study law.
So my first take on reading the story was "Hinduism - just as screwed-up as all the other religions" My scant knowledge of Hinduism certainly made me think it was more ludicrous than others, with its many gods, gods with lots of arms and gods with elephant heads. I thought the caste system alone was enough to condemn it as an oppressive theology.
But reading a bit about it in wikipedia it seems Hinduism is pretty complex. Still deluded and false, mind you, but there are aspects of Hinduism I knew nothing about.
The reasons for Hinduisms complexity are its great age. It's been going for so damn long that it has split into a myriad of denominations. It has a host of different scriptures. Some Hindus hold Vishnu
as the supreme being. Others go with Shiva or Shakti.
Hindus and scholars argue over whether the caste system is an integral part of the religion or just an outdated social custom.
On its positive side, Hinduism promotes the practice of ahimsa (non-violence) and respect for all life because divinity is believed to permeate all beings, including plants and non-human animals. In accordance with ahimsa, many Hindus embrace vegetarianism to respect higher forms of life.
Of course this respect for all life didn't prevent bloodshed between Muslims & Hindus during the separation of Pakistan from India!
Hinduism is also particularly interesting in the figure of Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, or Vishnu come to earth in human form. There are many parallels between Vishnu and Christ, and people who argue that Jesus Christ never existed will cite Krishna as one of the sources for Christ. The Hindu pantheon is too confusing for me, I can't seperate the Devas from the Avatars from the Gods (supreme, greater or lesser)
And then there is Karma, and Samsara - the circle of life. The wiki article says "Thus, the concept of a universal, neutral and never-failing karma intrinsically relates to reincarnation as well as one's personality, characteristics and family. Karma threads together the notions of free will and destiny."
Aaaargh! How does it do that?
It will take me months of study to get my head round this religion. And frankly, I can't be bothered. Because while the circle of life thing sounds cosy and warm, it is utterly unverifiable, and if it goes along with the multiple arms, elephant heads, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu, temple & pilgrimages, they can keep it.