The study of Hinduism has been a source of consternation for Western scholars for more than 200 years. It is a faith whose adherents appeared to arbitrarily worship any one of a dozen Gods as the Supreme, and a religion that is widely different in its doctrines, rituals, and modes of worship. As a result of their research, some Indologists characterised the Hinduism they discovered as polytheistic; others developed new terminology, such as henotheism, to represent this bewildering diversity of spiritual traditions.
Few, however, are aware of, and even fewer have written about, India’s Sanatana Dharma, or “eternal faith,” which is today known as Hinduism and has nearly a billion adherents. Hinduism is actually a family of religions with four major denominations: Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, and Smartism, each with its own set of beliefs and practises. This singular point of view is critical to comprehending Hinduism and effectively communicating it to others who do not know it. Contrary to popular belief, Hindus all worship the same Supreme Being, though they may refer to him by a variety of names.
Lord Vishnu is considered to be God by Vaishnavites. God, in the eyes of the Saivites, is Siva. Goddess Shakti is the greatest deity for Shaktas. Smartas are liberal Hindus who believe that the choice of Deity should be left to the devotee. The world’s religions are diverse, with thousands of guru lineages, religious leaders, priesthoods, holy books, monastic communities, schools, pilgrimage hubs, and temples in their midst, to name a few. They have a plethora of artistic and architectural treasures, as well as philosophical and scholarly knowledge. These four sects maintain such disparate ideas that each can be considered a whole and separate religion in its own right.
They do, however, share a huge history of culture and belief, including karma, dharma, reincarnation, an all-pervasive Divinity, temple worship, sacraments, a plethora of Deities, the guru-shishya tradition, and the Vedas as the ultimate source of scriptural authority. Using material from Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami’s Dancing with Siva, we present an overview of each of these four denominations, followed by a point-by-point assessment of the differences between the denominations.
Each of Hinduism’s ideologies, schools, and lineages is united by a common goal: to aid the soul in its journey toward its divine destinies. Nowhere is this process more vividly illustrated than in the development of the world-famous lotus, which emerges from the muck in search of the sun and blossoms into a gorgeous flower. Purity and perfection are promised by the flower of this plant.
Saivite Hindus believe that the Supreme God is Siva, the Compassionate One, and that he is the source of all compassion. Saivites place a high value on self-discipline and philosophy, and they adhere to a satguru. They do rituals in the temple and engage in yoga, aiming to become one with Siva within themselves.
Shaktas believe that the Supreme is represented by the Divine Mother, Shakti, or Devi. She manifests herself in a variety of ways. Some are friendly, while others are ferocious. To summon cosmic energies and activate the enormous kundalini strength that resides deep within the spine, Shaktas employ a variety of techniques including chants, genuine magic, holy pictures, yoga and rituals.
Vaishnavites worship the Supreme as Lord Vishnu and His incarnations, particularly Krishna and Rama, and as the Supreme as the Supreme. Vaishnavites are mostly dualistic in their outlook. They have a strong sense of dedication. Their religion is a treasure trove of saints, temples, and sacred texts.
Intelligentsia venerate the Supreme in one of six different forms: Ganesha, Siva, Sakti, Vishnu, Surya, and Skanda. Ganesha is the patron deity of Smartas. They are said to be liberal or nonsectarian since they acknowledge all of the major Hindu deities. Following a philosophical and meditative path, they stress the importance of understanding in order for man to be one with God.
What Is the Saiva Sect, a Mystical Religious Order?
Saivism is the world’s oldest religion, dating back thousands of years. God Siva is worshipped as the loving One, and it emphasises powerful disciplines, high philosophy, the guru’s primacy, and bhakti-raja-siddha yoga, which results in oneness with Siva within the practitioner. Aum.
Lord Siva is seated on Nandi, his bull mount, who is the perfect devotee. He is holding japa beads and the trident, which is a sign of love, wisdom, and action, and he is offering blessings of protection and bravery. Mount Kailas, His heavenly dwelling in the Himalayas, represents the apex of human consciousness.
Saivism is a very old religion that is genuinely ageless because it has no beginning. It is considered to be the forerunner of the multifaceted religion that is now known as Hinduism. The origins of Siva worship may be traced back more than 8,000 years to the ancient Indus Valley civilization, according to scholars.
However, according to sacred writings, there has never been a moment when Saivism did not exist. Saiva Siddhanta, Pashupatism, Kashmir Saivism, Vira Saivism, Siddha Siddhanta, and Siva Advaita are the six major schools of thought recorded in modern history: Saiva Siddhanta, Pashupatism, Kashmir Saivism, Vira Saivism, Siddha Siddhanta, and Siva Advaita. In a practical culture, an educated vision of man’s place in the universe, and a complex system of temple mysticism, as well as siddha yoga, one can find the grandeur and beauty of the Saiva religion.
It imparts knowledge of man’s journey from God to God and back again, as well as the unfolding and awakening of the soul, which is directed by enlightened sages. As with all sects, its majority is comprised of devout families, led by hundreds of orders of swamis and sadhus who follow the fiery, world-renouncing route to moksha, as do all other sects.
To quote from the Vedas: “By understanding Siva, the Auspicious One who is hidden in all things, extremely fine, like film that has formed by separating clarified butter, the One embracer of the cosmos,” and by comprehending God, one is freed from all shackles. Aum Namah Sivaya, or “Om Namah Sivaya.”
What Is the Magic and Power of Shaktism? What Is the Meaning of Shaktism?
Those who practise Shaktism honour and respect the Supreme as the Divine Mother, Shakti or Devi, in all of Her manifestations, both gentle and fierce. Shaktas invoke cosmic forces and awaken kundalini power through the use of mantra, tantra, yantra, yoga, and puja, among other practises. Aum.
Shakti, who is shown in Her green form, exudes beauty, vitality, compassion, and protection to those who seek her guidance and protection. She rewards devotees who shower her with rosewater, hold an umbrella, and bow themselves at Her feet while wearing the tilaka of the Shakta sect on Her forehead.
While the veneration of the heavenly mother dates back thousands of years, Shakta Hinduism emerged as a formal religious movement in India about the fifth century. Today, it can be found in four forms: devotional, folk-shamanic, yogic, and universalist, all of which invoke the ferocious might of Kali or Durga, or the benign grace of Parvati or Ambika, respectively.
Shakta devotionalisms use puja ceremonies, particularly those performed in front of the Shri Chakra yantra, to develop a personal relationship with the Goddess. Shamanic Shaktism is a spiritual practise that uses magic, trance mediumship, firewalking, and animal sacrifice for the purposes of healing, fertility, prophecy, and empowerment. Shakta yogis strive to awaken the sleeping Goddess Kundalini and connect her with Siva in the sahasrara chakra, which is the seat of the divine feminine.
Shakta universalists adhere to the reformed Vedantic tradition, which is embodied by Sri Ramakrishna and his followers. Tantric ceremonies performed with the “left hand” surpass established ethical codes. Advaitic in nature, Shaktism defines the soul’s destiny as total identification with the Unmanifest, Siva, as the soul’s destiny.
The Vedas, Shakta Agamas, and Puranas are the three most important scriptures in Hinduism. “We prostrate ourselves before the universal soul of all,” the Devi Gita declares. We bow to you, Mother of the Universe, from above and below and in all four directions.” Aum Chandikayai Namah is a Hindu invocation.
What Is the Devotional Vaishnava Sect and How Does It Work?
Lord Vishnu and His incarnations, particularly Krishna and Rama, are the focus of Vaishnavism, an ancient Hindu faith that has existed for thousands of years. It is largely dualistic and passionately devotional, and it is replete with saints, temples, and religious texts. Aum.
Vishnu is the limitless ocean out of which the world emerges, according to Hindu mythology. In this image, he is standing on the waves, surrounded by the many-headed Seshanaga, who signifies agelessness and is said to be an extension of divine energy as well as an incarnation of Balarama, Lord Krishna’s brother.
The devotion of Vishnu, which literally translates as “all-pervading,” dates back to Vedic times. Prior to 300 BCE, the Pancharatra and Bhagavata sects were widely practised. Vaishnava schools such as the ones that exist now were formed throughout the Middle Ages by Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarka, Vallabha, and Chaitanya.
Vaishnavism emphasises prapatti, or single-pointed surrender to Vishnu or one of His ten or more incarnations, known as avataras, in order to achieve salvation. Japa, as well as frenzied chanting and dance, known as kirtana, are important components of devotional sadhana. Temple rituals and festivals are observed with great care and detail. Vaishnavism encompasses a wide range of philosophical perspectives, from Madhva’s complete dualism through Ramanuja’s qualified nondualism to Vallabha’s almost monistic vision. God and the soul are inseparable from one another.
The soul’s destiny, as a result of God’s grace, is to worship and enjoy Him for all eternity. However, despite the fact that Vaishnavism is largely nonascetic and advocates bhakti as the highest path, the religion maintains a significant monastic population. The Vedas, Vaishnava Agamas, Itihasas, and Puranas are considered to be the most important scriptures. Those who focus on Me and worship with an undivided heart will be granted what they do not have and will have what they do have preserved, according to the Bhagavad Gita. Aum Namo Narayanaya (I am Narayanaya).
What Is the Universalistic Smarta Sect, and How Does It Work?
Intelligentsia is an ancient brahminical tradition that was reformatted by Shankara in the 9th century. This liberal Hindu path is monistic, nonsectarian, meditative, and philosophical in nature, and it worships six different manifestations of God. Aum.
Adi Sankara lived from 788 to 820 ce, a span of only 32 years, but he was responsible for the creation of the liberal Hindu sect Smartism. With his writings in hand and flanked by the six Deities of the Smarta altar (Surya the Sun, Siva, Shakti, Vishnu, Kumaran and Ganesha), he sits on the Smarta altar with sacred marks on his body.
In Sanskrit, smarta refers to someone who adheres to traditional smriti, specifically the Dharma Shastras, Puranas, and Itihasas. Smartas hold the Vedas in high regard and respect the Agamas. As a result, the teachings of Adi Shankara, the monk-philosopher known as Shanmata sthapanacharya, or “creator of the six-sect system,” have come to be associated with this faith. Throughout India, he worked to unite the Hindu faiths of his time under the umbrella of Advaita Vedanta.
He popularised the old Smarta five-Deity altar, which included Ganapati, Surya, Vishnu, Siva, and Shakti, as well as Kumara, in order to unify the worship. Devotees can select their “preferred Deity,” also known as Ishta Devata, from among these options. Each God is only a mirror of the one Saguna Brahman, which is the source of all creation.
A ten-order, dashanami system, established by Shankara and today comprising five pontifical centres, was organised from hundreds of monasteries by him. He published numerous commentaries on the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita, among other texts. In his words, “It is the one Reality that seems to our ignorance as a diverse cosmos of names and forms, changes, and transformations.” It is similar to gold, which is used to create various ornaments but which remains intact in its own right. ‘Such is Brahman, and such is Thou.'” Aum Namah Sivaya, or “Om Namah Sivaya.”
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