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To complement this article, which was taken from the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent recommends a prayerful reading of "Nostra Aetate" from the Second Vatican Council.
Hinduism in its narrower sense, is the conglomeration of religious beliefs and practices existing in India that have grown out of ancient Brahminism, and which stand in sharp contrast to orthodox, traditional Brahminism today. Hinduism is the popular, distorted, corrupted side of Brahminism. In its broad sense, it comprises those phases of religous, social, and intellectual life that are generally recognized in India today as the legitimate outgrowth of ancient Brahmin institutions, and hence are tolerated by the Brahmin priests as compatible with Brahmin traditions. Far from being a uniform system of worship, Hinduism, in this large sense, comprises, besides orthodox Brahminism, the numerous sectarian developments of cult in honour of Vishnu, Siva, and their associates, in which for centuries the great mass of the people have found satisfaction for their religious cravings. In Hinduism, as distinguished from the heretical sects of India, it is of minor importance what sort of worship is adopted, provided one recognizes the supremacy of the Brahmins and the sacredness of Brahmin customs and traditions. In the pantheistic all-god Brahma, the whole world of deities, spirits, and other objects of worship is contained, so that Hinduism adapts itself to every form of religion, from the lofty monotheism of the cultivated Brahmin to the degraded nature-worship of the ignorant, half savage peasant. Hinduism, to quote Monier Williams, "has something to offer which is suited to all minds. Its very strength lies in its infinite adaptability to the infinite diversity of human characters and human tendencies. It has its highly spiritual and abstract side suited to the metaphysical philosopher its practical and concrete side suited to the man of affairs and the man of the world—its esthetic and ceremonial side suited to the man of poetic feeling and imagination—its quiescent and contemplative side suited to the man of peace and lover of seclusion. Nay, it holds out the right hand of brotherhood to nature-worshippers, demon-worshippers, animal-worshippers, tree-worshippers, fetish-worshippers. It does not scruple to permit the most grotesque forms of idolatry, and the most degrading varieties of superstition. And it is to this latter fact that yet another remarkable peculiarity of Hinduism is mainly due—namely, that in no other system in the world is the chasm more vast which separates the religion of the higher, cultured, and thoughtful classes from that of the lower, uncultured, and unthinking masses" (Brahmanism and Hinduism, 1891, p. 11). Hinduism is thus a national, not a world religion, it has never made any serious effort to proselytize in countries outside of India. The occasional visits of Brahmins to countries of Europe and America, and their lectures on religious metaphysics are not to be mistaken for genuine missionary enterprises. Not to speak of its grosser phases, Hinduism, even in its highest form known as Brahminism, could not take root and flourish in countries where the caste system and the intricate network of social and domestic customs it implies do not prevail. Nor has Hinduism exercised any notable influence on European thought and culture. The pessimism of Schopenhauer and his school is indeed very like the pessimism of Buddhism and of the Vedanta system of philosophy, and seems to have been derived from one of these sources. But apart from this unimportant line of modern speculation, and from the abortive theosophic movement of more recent times, one finds no trace of Hindu influence on Western civilization. We have nothing to learn from India that makes for higher culture. On the other hand, India has much of value to learn from Christian civilization.
According to the census of 1901, the total population of India is a little more than 294,000,000 souls, of which 207,000,000 are adherents of Hinduism. The provinces in which they are most numerous are Assam, Bengal, Bombay, Berrar, Madras, Agra, and Oudh, and the Central Provinces. Of foreign religions, Mohammedanism has, by dint of long domination, made the deepest impression on the natives, numbering in India today nearly 62,500,000 adherents. Christianity, considering the length of time it has been operative in India, has converted but an insignificant fraction of the people from Hinduism. The Christians of all sects, foreign officials included, number but 2,664,000, nearly one-half being Catholics.
It was not till towards the end of the eighteenth century that Europeans—excepting Father de Nobili and a few other early missionaries—acquired any knowledge of Sanskrit and allied tongues in which the sacred literature of India was preserved. The extensive commerce which the English developed in Bombay and other parts of India gave occasion to English scholars to make extensive studies in this new field of Oriental research. Sir William Jones was one of the first European scholars to master Sanskrit and to give translations of Sanskrit texts. He translated in 1789 one of Kalidasa's classic dramas, the "Sakuntalã", and in 1794 published a translation of the "Ordinances of Manu". He founded, in 1784, the Royal Asiatic Society, destined to prove a powerful means of diffusing the knowledge of Indian literature and institutions. An able, but less famous, contemporary was the Portuguese missionary, Father Paulinus a Sancto Bartholomeo, to whom belongs the honour of composing the first European grammar of the Sanskrit tongue, published at Rome in 1790. The first important study of Indian literature and rites was made by Henry T. Colebrooke. His "Miscellaneous Essays on the Sacred Writings and Religion of the Hindus", first published in 1805, became a classic in this new field of research. The collection was reedited in 1873 by Professor E. B. Cowell, and is still a work of great value to the student of Hinduism. Other distinguished scholars of England who contributed to the knowledge of Brahminism and Hinduism were Horace H. Wilson, author of a Sanskrit dictionary and of a translation of the Vishnu Purana (1840) and other Hindu texts; John Muir, author of the great work "Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the People of India, their Religions and Institutions" (5 vols., London, 1858-70), and Sir Monier Williams, whose work "Brahmanism and Hinduism, Religious Thought and Life in India" (4th ed., London, 1891), is a masterly exposition of Hinduism. With these may be associated Professor Max Müller, though whose exertions the most important sacred texts of India as well as of other Oriental lands have been made accessible to English readers in the well-known collection, "The Sacred Books of the East". In America Professor William D. Whitney made valuable contributions to the understanding of the Atharva Veda and other Brahmin texts. His labours have been ably supplemented by the studies of Professors C. R. Lanman, M. Bloomfield, and E.W. Hopkins. The contributions of Continental scholars to the knowledge of the literature and religions of India are of the very greatest importance. The distinguished Orientalist Eugène Burnouf, in the midst of his studies on Buddhism and Zoroastrianism, found time to translate in part the "Bhagavata Purana" (Paris, 1840). R. Roth and F. Kuhn made valuable studies on the early Vedic texts, while Chr. Lassen produced his "Indische Alterthumskunde" in four volumes (Bonn, 1844-61), a monument of erudition. A. Weber, among other works in this field, published a "History of Indian Literature" (English translation, London, 1892). Eminent modern Indianists are A. Barth, author of the excellent "Religions of India" (London, 1882), H. Oldenberg, and G. Bühler, whose valuable translations of sacred texts may be found in the "Sacred Books of the East". Among those who have made valuable contributions to the study of Hinduism are a number of Catholic priests. Besides Father Paulinus, already mentioned, are the Abbé Roussel, who was chosen to assist in completing the translation of the voluminous "Bhagavata Purana", begun by Burnouf, and who has besides published interesting studies on Hinduism; the Abbé Dubois, who published a masterly exposition of Modern Hinduism under the title "Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies" (Oxford, 1897); and Father J. Dahlmann, S.J. Finally, it is but fair to note that considerable excellent work is being done by native Hindu scholars in translating and interpreting sacred Hindu texts. One of the most diligent is Nath Dutt, author of the following works: "The Mahabharata, Translated Literally from the Sanskrit Text", Parts I-XI (Calcutta, 1895-99); "The Bhagavadgita" (Calcutta, 1893); "The Vishnu Purana Translated into English Prose" (Calcutta, 1896). F. B. Pargiter has translated into English the "Markandeya Purana", Fasc. i-vi (Calcutta, 1888-99), and E. P. C. Roy, besides giving an English translation of the Mahabharata (Calcutta. 1883-96), has published the "Sree Krishna" (Calcutta, 1901). M. Battacharya has published an interesting work entitled "Hindu Castes and Sects" (Calcutta, 1896).
Ann. du Musée Guimet (Paris, 1885); HOPKINS, The Grand Epic of India, its Character and Origin (New York, 1901); India Old and New (New York, 1901); Religions of India (Boston, 1895); MITCHELL, The Great Religions of india (New York, 1906); WILLIAMS, Hinduism (New York, 1897); DAHLMANN, Das Mahabharata als Epos und Rechtsbuch (Berlin, 1895); IDEM, Genesis des Mahabharata (Berlin, 1899); ROUSSEL, Légendes morales de l'Inde empruntées au Bhagavata Purana et au Mahabharata (2 vols., Paris, 1900-01); IDEM, Cosmologie hindoue d'après le Bhagavata Purana (Paris, 1898); DE TASSY, Histoire de la littérature hindoue et hindoustanie (3 vols., Paris, 1870-71); WILKINS, Modern Hinduism (2nd ed., London, 1887); COLINET, Les Doctrines philosophiques et religieuses de La Bhagavadgita (Paris, 1884).
APA citation. (1910). Hinduism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07358b.htm
MLA citation. "Hinduism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07358b.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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