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.
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."
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 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.