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Orthodoxy

Hinduism

Hindu tradition has always privileged diversity, and at first blush, discovering any form of orthodoxy in Hinduism may seem to be impossible. Indeed, there is no institutional form that the majority of Hindus would consider the orthodox group. Nevertheless, there are ideas within Hinduism that fulfill the notion of orthodoxy, such as those designated by the word astika, or assenting to the authority of the Vedas. Almost all Hindus would acknowledge the singular importance and basic religious authority of the collection of texts known as the four Vedas. Moreover, the ordinary believer would probably insist that the most important marker of orthodoxy is the religious activity and interpretation approved by the local Brahman; he defines normativeness for the common folk.

Scholars acknowledge that some rituals are not propounded in the Vedas—rituals such as cremation, for example. Yet cremation acts are certainly smriti ("that which is remembered"); they are required acts that go beyond the Vedic record but are held to be essential for an acceptable Hindu life. Such requirements may be found in writings such as the Laws of Manu, a work that provides evidence that local custom can also be a source of the true dharma (duty). Yet once again such teachings are likely to be defined for the faithful by the most respected local authority. Those of a more philosophical bent might insist that the system of belief known as Vedanta is likely the most orthodox "theology," even where some of the notions of the philosophical system pose serious problems.

Finally, in Hinduism, even if orthodoxy is not enshrined in any one particular sect or group, it does take a social form. An orthodox Hindu social form is represented most plainly by the caste system. Following one's designated caste in everything, from how and with whom one associates, to the minutia of life (i.e., what caste the person is who prepares lunch) indicates a marker of special gravity in Hindu tradition. Hindu women are deeply affected by the traditional stance of the dharma on caste, for it has defined women's roles almost completely within the role of marriage. The subordination of women to their husbands is most graphically expressed in the rite of suttee (from the Sanskrit sati, "faithful wife"), in which the widow immolated herself on her husband's funeral pyre. Modern Hindu women struggle with the implication of an identity tied to husbands and not to their own dharma. Still, for many Hindus, whether male or female, proper caste interaction is a true measure of one's orthodoxy.

The method of final salvation that I have propounded is neither a sort of meditation, such has been practiced by many scholars in China or Japan, nor is it a repetition of the Buddha's name by those who have studied and understood the deep meaning of it. It is nothing but the mere repetition of the "Namu Amida Butsu," without a doubt of his mercy, whereby one may be born into the Land of Perfect Bliss. The mere repetition with firm faith includes all the practical details, such as the three-fold preparation of mind and the four primordial truths. If I as an individual had any doctrine more profound than this, I should … be left out of the Vow of the Amida Buddha.

SOURCE: Honen's Pure Land Buddhism. In Ryūsaku Tsunoda, Wm. Theodore de Bary, and Donald Keene, compilers, Sources of Japanese Tradition. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), p. 208.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Octadecanoate to OvenbirdsOrthodoxy - Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Jewish Orthodoxy, Hinduism, Buddhism, Bibliography