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Distribution of Hinduism by country

Hinduism, which originated in India, is the third largest religion on Earth after Christianity and Islam, with around one billion followers (2010). However, it is not a uniform system, but stems from different traditions in which, however, the belief or knowledge of reincarnation and karma is firmly anchored. The caste system still plays a major role today. The followers of Hinduism are called Hindus; this comes from the Persian and refers in the singular to the river Indus (which in turn is called Sindhu in Sanskrit). The main branches of Hinduism are Vaishnavism (also called Vishnuism), Shivaism and Shaktism.

Concerning the Indian caste system, Rudolf Steiner remarks:

„We look back to this first period, and we must not take into account what history reports, but what was there in ancient pre-Vedic times. Everything that emerged later was prepared; above all, what we know as the division of people into castes was prepared. Europeans may have many objections to these castes, but in the cultural direction that existed at that time, these castes had their justification, for they were connected in the deepest sense with the karma of humanity. The souls that crossed over from Atlantis were really of quite different value, and in a certain way it suited these souls, some of whom were more advanced than others, to be divided into such castes according to the karma that had previously been placed in them. And since in those ancient times humanity was not left to its own resources as in our own time, but was really guided and directed in its development in a far higher sense than we can imagine today - since advanced individualities, whom we call the Rishis, had an understanding of what a soul is worth, what difference there is between the individual categories of souls - this caste division is based on a well-founded cosmic law. However much it may have seemed a hardship in later times, in those ancient times when the guidance was a spiritual one, this caste system was one truly suited to human nature. And just as it is true that, in general, in the normal development of man, he who lived over into the new epoch with a certain karma also came into a certain caste, so it is equally true that one could only get beyond the provisions of this caste if one went through an initiatory development. Only when one reached the stage where one threw off what karma had placed one in, only when one lived in yoga, could these caste distinctions be overcome under certain circumstances. Let us be aware of the spiritual-scientific principle that any criticism of evolution must be far from us, that we must only strive to understand things. May this caste division make an impression, however bad, it was justified in the fullest sense, only we must consider it in connection with a comprehensive, lawful determination in relation to the human species.“ (Lit.:GA 105, p. 182f)

Judged by its geographical distribution, which is predominantly limited to India, Hinduism is also called a folk religion or ethnic religion. Rudolf Steiner has also emphasised that the spiritual abilities and virtues cultivated in Hinduism originally arose out of certain select bodily dispositions, which in primeval Indian times were still associated with a widespread natural clairvoyance, which, however, was later increasingly obscured by the veil of Maya, i.e. by the veil of the sensual world. Because of these special physical prerequisites which prepared the ground for Hinduism, Steiner also speaks, in accordance with the expression of his time, of a "race religion" - a designation which is today rightly regarded as frowned upon, but which is by no means meant by him in a pejorative way, but only expresses the fact that the ancient, very highly developed spiritual faculties were based on a particularly highly developed physical body. Christianity, on the other hand, has its basis in the free I of man and is thus completely independent of the physical preconditions.

„Take Hinduism. Only the Hindu race can profess this. If we had developed a racial religion here in Europe, we would still have the Wotan service today; that would be the Occidental racial religion. The Occident has adopted a creed which does not arise from its own national substance, but which has come from the Orient. Something was accepted that could only work through its spiritual content. For no racial or popular religion could absorb the Christ impulse. The people, who saw the Christ between them, did not profess it. That is the peculiarity of Christianity: the seed lies in it to be a universal religion. There is no need to be intolerant of other religions, and yet one can say: the Christian mission is not to teach people dogmas. Of course, the Buddhist laughs at a confession that does not even have the doctrine of reincarnation. He sees such a confession as nothing right. But Christianity rightly understood presupposes that every man is a Christian in his inner being. If you go to a Hindu and say: You are a Hindu and I am a Christian - Christianity has not been understood. Only when you can say of the Hindu: In his innermost being this Hindu is as good a Christian as I am myself; he has only had no other opportunity at first than to make himself known with a preparatory confession, he has not yet come out of that; I must make it clear to him where his religion coincides with mine - then one has understood Christianity. The best thing would be for the Christians to teach Hinduism to the Hindu and then try to bring Hinduism further, so that the Hindu would find the connection to the general evolution. Only then do we understand Christianity, when we consider every human being to be a Christian in his innermost heart; only then is Christianity the religion that transcends all races, all colours, all classes. That is Christianity.“ (Lit.:GA 140, p. 309)


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References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.