Q1. Is it mandatory for all Hindus to be vegetarians?
A. The concept of Ahimsa, non-violence, encourages Hindus to refrain from eating meat . However, there is no Hindu commandment against meat eating; it is a matter of common sense and wisdom. It is believed that you are what you eat. In other words, the quality of your character is shaped by the type of food you eat. However, many Hindus eat meat, but there are more vegetarians among Hindus than in any other religious group.
Q2. Is the concept of Ahinsa not impractical and unworkable? Even the simplest action can kill millions of germs and insects !
A. Indeed, the death of millions of germs and creatures is unavoidable as one goes about one’s daily business. It is necessary to kill insects, rodents and germs that threaten life and health. However, the purpose of Ahinsa is to prevent the intentional killing and suffering of harmless, innocent living creatures. It is senseless, and cruel to destroy life for fur hats, coats and entertainment, or torture animals in laboratories in order to test cosmetics.
Q3. What is the status of women in Hinduism?
A. Hindu scriptures accord women a place of equality, honour and dignity. Hindus conceive God in both male and female manifestations. Many worship God through female deities. No Hindu ceremony or sacrament in a family is considered complete, unless husband and wife perform it together. The ancient Hindu society produced many illustrious female sages, seers and intellectuals; Lopamudra, Urvashi, Yami, Ghosha, Gargi and Maitreyi, just to name a few. They are remembered with great reverence.
Q4. What is the role of a Hindu woman in the family.
A. Hindus call an unmarried girl a Kanya, meaning radiant, illustrious or brilliant, which implies that a girl must acquire all such qualities that can make her excel in every field. During the stage of girlhood, she must develop herself physically, intellectually and spiritually in order to enter the life of a homemaker.
Hinduism gives equal status to both husband and wife. It compares the family to a chariot, and considers the husband and wife a team like two wheels working in unison. Hindu scriptures refer to the wife as “Ardhangini” which means one-half of the whole body. In a traditional Hindu family, the husband earns a living for the family, while the wife’s sacred responsibility is to nurture virtuous children, and manage the household.
Q5. Why does a Hindu woman have to be a homemaker? Why does Hinduism not allow her to work?
A. According to Hinduism, women are the teacher of mankind. They build the foundation of society and shapes the destiny of a nation. Since the future of a nation depends upon the quality of the children it produces, motherhood occupies an exalted position in Hindu society. women are more qualified for this crucial role than men because they are regarded as possessing the gentler qualities of patience, tolerance, nurturing and caring attitude. She is a natural teacher and possesses superior managerial skills. Being a homemaker, therefore, is not an inferior status for Hindu women. The concept of a husband earning an income, and a wife managing the household and raising children is simply an equal division of responsibilities.
Hindus who follow the traditional family system believe that the high quality of family life, conducive to raising virtuous children is a fulltime responsibility, and this task is too crucial to be entrusted to baby-sitters and nannies.
Q6. If Hinduism promotes equality of man and woman, why has the status of women declined in Hindu society?
A. Women’s status gradually declined, as Hindu society decayed over the centuries. Some Hindus would rather say that the Hindu society decayed because of the decline in the status of women. There are many reasons for the devaluation of women’s status: Hindus moved away from their traditional Hindu values; women’s education was totally neglected; men’s control over power and money corrupted them, and they made women subservient to them. Foreign occupation of India for over seven centuries has also contributed to this decline.
Q7. Has there been any improvement in the status of women in modern Hindu society?
A. Reform movements that have swept across India emphasized that restoring to women the prestige they once enjoyed was the key to the betterment of Hindus society in general. After independence in 1947, with the spread of mass education, this awareness has gathered momentum. The progress made in less than fifty years by urban Hindu women in every field has been phenomenal. Hindu women have become doctors, lawyers, managers, engineers, elected politicians, scientists, pilots, police officers and joined every other field that was previously man’s domain. However, the progress in the rural India has been much slower due to the low level of education.
Q8. Why do Hindu women wear the dot on the forehead?
A. Traditionally, the dot called “Bindi” worn by married woman signifies her marital status. It serves the same purpose as the wedding band on the finger. The Bindi also has a spiritual connotation. It represents the third inner eye, a metaphor for spiritual awakening. However, to many modern Hindu women, the Bindi is simply comsmetic.
Q9. Is the custom of dowry a part of Hinduism?
A. No, it has nothing to do with Hinduism. Dowry, called “Dahej”, is a social custom, as old as the institution of marriage. It simply refers to the wedding gifts parents willingly give to their daughter. This custom is common throughout Asia.
Q10. How did the dowry custom become a social evil in India?
A. Dowry was never mandatory nor demanded by the groom. Over the centuries, however, this custom became distorted as most parents started making dowry compulsory in order to maintain their prestige in society, while some greedy parents of the groom started demanding it. In this manner, a perfectly reasonable custom became a serious social problem, as many poor parents had to incur heavy debts in order to meet the dowry demands of the groom’s family. Demanding dowry is illegal in India.
Q11. How does Hinduism view human sexuality?
A. The purpose of sexual union of husband and wife is to express and nurture their intimate love for each other, which draws them together for procreation. Hinduism does not dictate specific codes for sexual behaviour except that adultery and abortion, except to save a mother’s life, are prohibited by scriptures. Hinduism neither condones nor condemns, birth control, sterilization, polygamy, homosexuality or masturbation. The only rigid rule is wisdom, guided by virtue and traditions.
Hindu traditions and wisdom demand that the intimacies of sexual intercourse remain within the confines of married life. Hindus believe that marriages that are free of pre-marital and extra-marital sex seldom end in separation or divorce. Hindu parents strongly advise their children to value and preserve their chastity as a sacred treasure for their spouse.
Traditionally, Hindus do not practise polygamy, which is forbidden by law in India
Q12. People in the Western world hear a lot about the Hindu caste system. How did it come about?
A. When the ancient Western world was in the primary stage of socio-economic development, the Hindus in India had evolved into a highly civilized society. In order to ensure social order, the ancient social scientists classified Hindus into four occupational groups: those who imparted knowledge and pursued religious or intellectual work were called Brahmin; rulers, administrators and soldiers were known as Kshatriya; merchants, farmers and industrialists were called Vaishya; labourers and artisans were called Shudra. This social framework, called “Varna Vyavastha” meaning classification system, had nothing to do with one’s birth, race, colour, creed or economic status. According to Hindu scriptures, all four Varnas are equal and must work in unison for the welfare of the whole society.
Unfortunately, the four Varnas degenerated into countless castes, called Jatis, based on occupations. Every Hindu belonged to a Jati which can be compared to the trade guilds in Europe. Each Jati developed its own social norms and customs. The caste system became very rigid, exclusive and hereditary. It was not possible for a member to switch over to another caste. Inter-caste marriages were not allowed and each caste had its own deity. The upper castes with money and power exploited the weaker castes to the extent that a perfectly practical social order became a curse for Hindu society.
Over the ages, many Hindu saints and social reformers started aggressive movements to abolish the caste hierarchy. With the spread of education, modern influence and the correct interpretation of the Scriptures, the caste system is fading away. Most Hindus who have settled outside India no longer practise it.
Q13. Does Hinduism prescribe a dress code?
A. No. However, many Hindus prefer to wear traditional attire when visiting a temple, performing or attending a religious ceremony.