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The Importance of Enlightenment and Religion in Indian Society

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To Accept Reality is to Reach Enlightenment

Ancient cultures are characterized by key components that help to contribute to their level of overall sophistication. In order to attain a status of "civilization," a culture must have several practices set in place. These include systems such as writing systems, codes of law, organized agriculture, a monetary or economic system, social hierarchies, and religion and spirituality. One of the most interesting components to civilizations is their spiritual practices, as in ancient times, the ideologies tended to be very unique. In particular, the practices surrounding the ancient Indian civilizations, including the Aryans, are particularly distinctive. Philosophies surrounding topics like karma, reincarnation, reaching enlightenment, and nirvana are very specific to the Buddhist and Vedic religions originating in this region. Spirituality itself can be defined as an inner calling to discover one's purpose of existence within an ultimate reality; in essence, one who is spiritual is indicative of one who is trying to understand the ultimate reality in the surrounding world. Spirituality through religion tends to inspire people to attain a goal, such as enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition, and gives an individual a sense of direction in life. These spiritual practices and the concept of spirituality, which lead to the creation of myths and spiritual texts to follow, answer many questions posed from day-to-day life. In the ancient Indian tradition, texts such as the Myth of the Sacrifice of Purusha (Rigveda), The Buddha Obtains Enlightenment, On the Nature of the Soul (Upanishads), and Selections from the Bhagavad Gita (Mahabharta) all provide a spiritual lens in order explain why certain people experience more difficult lives than others, why the caste system exists, and the importance of one to understand the nature of their soul; with an understanding of all of this, one has the opportunity to reach nirvana and complete enlightenment.

The Myth of the Sacrifice of Purusha comes from the Rigveda from the Aryan civilization, which migrated to India from their Indo-European homeland. This particular myth describes the sacrifice of the god Purusha; through his sacrifice, he created the world and his people. In the text, Purusha "...formed the creatures...both wild and tame...[and] the Brahmin was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rajanya [warrior caste]...his thighs became the Vaisya [merchant and artisan caste]...[and] from his feet the Sudra [laborer caste] was produced" (Myth of the Sacrifice of Purusha). This particular segment of text is important to Indian culture because it gives the basis for the social hierarchy in India, otherwise known as the caste system. Through spiritual texts and accepted myths, the caste system is essentially justified as a holy institution given to humans by the gods. Also, "...all creatures are one-fourth of him..." (Myth of the Sacrifice of Purusha), which in a way adds to the justification of the caste system in the latter part of the myth. Essentially, the myth teaches the religious people that follow it that the caste system were ideologies institutionalized from the mandate of the gods and that since each person is made in the image of Purusha, that they are all blessed in some right. This spiritual lens aids to the fact that every person has a place in society that was predestined by the gods, but that because each person has a piece of a god in their souls, all people are important. This, essentially, acts as a type of coping mechanism for the lower classes, who had much harder lots in life; through spirituality, the lower castes had an easier time accepting their place within the social hierarchy.

Buddhism was a religious ideology that was created by the life of Siddhartha Gautama, the first Buddha. In the story of the Buddha in The Buddha Obtains Enlightenment, the Buddha is tempted by the god Mara, who is a tempter and a representation of ignorance. In this story, the Buddha overcomes the challenge and through his struggle, he reaches a state of enlightenment. Through this, he states a mantra that is characteristic of Buddhism. The Buddha states that "ignorance depends on karma...on contact depends sensation; on sensation depends desire; on desire depends attachment...on birth depend old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, misery, grief, and despair" (The Buddha Obtains Enlightenment). Essentially, the Buddha claims that life is full of suffering because of the mere fact that people exist. If people have no desire, they reach enlightenment and nirvana, where they will not have to go through the cycle of reincarnation repeatedly. Buddha also claims that if one has an understanding of these principles, they cannot fall prey to ignorance. Ignorance of the problems with desires and wants hinders one's chances at reaching a better understanding of the world around them. The spiritual message that the Buddha sends to his followers guides them toward a path of less suffering and desire; this is popular among the lower castes because in essence, the Buddha is telling these people that they have the ability to escape the circle of karma and reincarnation by following his prescribed path to enlightenment.

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