A compendium of book reviews on common texts in Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism.
By Mark D. Harris
Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world, emerging out of a mix of Aryan and Dravidian animism in about the second millennium before Christ. Its earliest forms, as described in the Rig Veda (Samhitas), were polytheistic. Such polytheism was consistent with the religious practices of Rome, Greece, Egypt, the Nordic peoples, and most other nations at that time. By the time of the Upanishads, Hinduism had morphed into a pantheistic monism. The caste system divided people in four classes: Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors, kings), Vaisyas (merchants, landowners), Sudras (servants, later Dalits – untouchables). Accepting this system and performing the duties of one’s class was the primary evidence of being a Hindu. In the Christian era, Hinduism became more monotheistic, with Vishnu, Shiva and other gods being perceived as manifestations of the One God. Adherents were called to love Vishnu or Shiva as Christians are called to love God, as revealed in Jesus Christ. This monotheistic view, too, is evolving. Liberal pluralism in the past two hundred years has attacked the caste system, emphasized the spiritual aspects of Hindu belief, but denied that any part of Hinduism, or any religion, is objectively true.
The Jain religion began around 600 BC with the teachings of Mahavira, the twenty-four and last in a series of “fordmakers”. The primary principle of Jainism is non-violence; ascetics and lay persons alike go to great lengths to avoid harm to any life form. The two primary Jain sects are the Svetambaras (white robed monks and nuns) and the Digambaras (naked monks, robed nuns). There are up to five million Jains worldwide.
The Sikh religion was founded in the 15th century AD by Guru Nanak (1469-1538) and its greatest political era was in the early 1800s under Ranjit Singh (1780-1839). Sikhs are known for the five Ks – kesh (uncut hair), kara (steel bracelet), kirpan (short sword), kanga (wooden comb), and kachehra (cotton undergarment). Male Sikhs are given the name Singh and women the name Kaur for their first or last name. There are an estimated 25 million Sikhs worldwide.
The reader will find some information and reviews of key works about these influential faiths below. They will also discover differences with the Truth of Christ.
Book Review – A Brief History of India
Book Review – Sources of Indian Tradition