Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

How are Hindu religious leaders chosen and given authority?

Priesthood is generally a hereditary office, with families often tracing their sacerdotal lineages back many generations. Priests who serve in local temples are not typically Members of the Brahmin caste, but their religious roles are likewise hereditary. Spiritual guides and teachers called gurus are those who rise to local or wider prominence as a result of their proficiency in various facets of religious knowledge and practical wisdom. In this instance the classical system of training provides the equivalent of a license or seal of approval. But many famous teachers achieve wider notoriety as a result of popular acclaim. They set up shop initially, so to speak, with official sanction as products of the system, but their spiritual prowess spreads by word of mouth. Other religious figures gain prominence outside the system. An individual’s reputation for holiness begins when they are found to have extraordinary powers or qualities, and this reputation grows as seekers gather in hopes of sharing in the wisdom and sanctity.


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