Hinduism is a religious tradition of Indian origin, and, with 900 million practitioners, is the third largest religious community in the world, after Christianity and Islam. Hindus are located primarily in India, Nepal, and Bali; 2% live outside India, and 1.5 million live in the United States. Hinduism clearly addresses pain and suffering, and the concept of acceptance, which is present in Hinduism, has been addressed in the pain medicine literature.
Although there are distinct schools within Hinduism, the concepts are common across these schools and underlie Hinduism as a whole.
As with any religion, patients who consider themselves Hindu may hold all the central beliefs. As such, there is not one single description of what every Hindu believes. Pain medicine practitioners must be culturally sensitive to patients of other religious traditions in general; as well, they must be sensitive to the unique beliefs of each individual they treat whether of a differing religion, or even of patients who share their own religious tradition. Likewise, individual Hindus will certainly approach their experiences with pain in different manners. Rather, having a grounding in how Hindu traditions view pain and suffering will give the practitioner a more solid footing on which to discuss these issues with their patients.
Table 1. Definitions of Terms
1. Attachment: Overinvolvement in this world, having desires for things that one does not have and clinging to things one has.
2. Detachment: Turning away from overinvolvement in the world and towards God/The Ultimate.
3. Dharma: Guidelines for living one’s life.
4. Karma: The principle that governs the unfolding of events and is based for a person on the integrity with which he has lived previous lives.
5. Moksha: Complete release from the cycle of rebirths.
6. Samsara: The process of successive rebirths until one reaches moksha, complete release from the cycle of rebirths.
Several concepts are central to Hinduism. Table 1 provides a list of terms and definitions. The first of these concepts is karma, which is the principle that governs the unfolding of events and is based for a person on the integrity with which he has lived previous lives. Karma is not imposed by an outside, punitive force, or God, but is rather an “exercise of the moral law in the universe”, these laws being inherently within the universe.
Karma is encompassed by God/The Ultimate, as is each person’s soul. As both karma and souls are part of God/The Ultimate, karma is not external to the individual, but each is a part of the same greater whole. (Many Hindus believe in a single deity. Aspects of this one deity may be personified or embodied as individual deities but are not worshipped as separate gods.
Other Hindus may use other words, for example, The Ultimate, for a nondeity force or unknown mystery. God/ The Ultimate is also referred to as Brahman in Hinduism.
A related belief is samsara, the process of successive rebirths until one reaches moksha, the complete release from the cycle of rebirths.
Hindu traditions promote living with integrity, causing no harm, and progressing further on a spiritual path by living according to dharma, stage-of-life–appropriate guidelines or “patterns of life”,or by one’s “sacred duty”.
A central life’s work is to become detached from overinvolvement in the world that is apparent to us, which is seen as illusory and temporary, and turn toward God/The Ultimate.
Many of these concepts are shared by or are similar to concepts in other eastern religions, for example, Buddhism. Four different paths to achieve life goals are present:
1) The path of devotion, in which “a devotee submits himself or herself to the will of God, and through devotional practices, such as prayer, aims to become one with God and attain spiritual liberation”.
2) The path of ethical action, in which “an individual chooses to perform work without attachment to its effects; this attitude purifies his or her mind so that he or she can attain a sense of God-vision”;
3) The path of knowledge, in which “he or she dedicates himself or herself to acquiring knowledge that reveals the impermanence and ineffectuality of things in the world, and thereby frees the self from the bondage of ignorance, leading to spiritual liberation”.
4) The path of mental concentration, in which “he or she practices disciplinary measures that involve physiological and psychological restraints to free the self from all impurities so that the Divine self of the person can then manifest itself, leading to spiritual liberation”.