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Hinduism in the Modern World

   
Hinduism faced many challenges during the 19th and 20th centuries. Throughout much of this period of time, India was a colony of Britain. Two important individuals emerged to help renew Hinduism and India itself.
Ramakrishna (1836-1886) was a spiritual leader whose teaching helped to revitalize Hinduism. Although he was devoted to Kali, his example and teachings emphasized the universality of God and the validity of all religions. He teachings downplayed the role of ritual in religious practice.   In particular, he taught:
  • the oneness of existence
  • the divinity of human beings
  • the unity of God
  • the harmony of religions
Ramakrishna's movement continued after his death and helped to introduce Hinduism to the Western world.

 

Ramakrishna

Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) is best remembered for his advocacy of non-violent resistance to the injustices that the British imposed on India.  Gandhi drew his inspiration largely from the Bhagavad-gita. He based his non-violent, pacifist beliefs not only on the teachings of Hinduism, but also of other religions, including Christianity. Gandhi also worked to bring about an end to injustices within Hinduism.  Largely, due to his efforts, the Indian constitution banned discrimination against the "untouchables" whom Gandhi called harijans, the "children of God." Gandhi
Even during his lifetime, people throughout India began to refer to Gandhi as Mahatma, "the great soul." Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 shortly after India achieved its independence from Britain.

Hinduism's Global Growth

 
At least two movements exemplify Hinduism's global growth.  
The Transcendental Meditation movement was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi during the 1960's. The movement centers on meditation using certain mantras (verbal formulas).  According to its founder, even brief meditation with these mantras can produce dramatic results in the well-being of individuals and even communities. The impact of the TM on the West was heightened because several well-known celebrities, including the Beatles, became involved with the Maharishi and his teachings.
A second movement also emerged in the 1960's although its tradition in India goes back for centuries. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) was introduced to the United States by Swami Prabhupada in 1965. This movement focuses rejects the monism of Ramakrishna and teaches bhakti (intense devotion) to Krishna who is considered to be the embodiment of love. The group is often referred to as the "Hare Krishna" movement since one of their important practices is the chanting of an ancient mantra from Vedic literature:
HARE KRISHNA HARE KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA HARE HARE
HARE RAMA HARE RAMA RAMA RAMA HARE HARE

Chanting this mantra is thought to purify the soul and bring about a pure consciousness of God. Even though ISKCON experienced a number of scandals after the death Prabhupada it has continued to grow especially in eastern Europe and India itself.

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