What is Hinduism?

What is Hinduism?

Hinduism is an Indian religion, or a way of life, that originated thousands of years ago. It is widely practiced in South Asia mainly in India and Nepal.

Topics in this article:

Introduction
Central Values of Hinduism
Prominent themes for the Hindu
Shared Concepts for Hindus
The Gods
What is Dharma
2 Types of Dharma
Hindu Teachings
The 4 Margas (paths)
The Caste System
Reincarnation
Conclusion

Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world and is said to be the world’s oldest religion. It dates back to the times of the Vedas (2500 BC) and has central beliefs like: Belief in a Supreme Being (Brahman) and adherence to central concepts such as Truth, dharma, and karma.

We will talk about these further down below.

Central Values of Hinduism

hindu festival
Hindu Festival

Truth is a main concept for the Hindu religion. It takes the form of absolute knowledge, texts (scripture), spoken communication (wisdom) and dharma (the law.) Hinduism is a ‘whole life‘ religion (dharma) and covers many things.

Some of the central values are:

  • Truth is eternal
  • Brahman is Truth and the Supreme Reality
  • The Vedas are the highest authority
  • Individual souls are immortal
  • The goal of the individual is moksha (liberation/Enlightenment)
  • Everyone should follow dharma
  • Each man should practice ahimsa (non-violence)

Truth is eternal – For Hindus the Truth is eternal, one mass knowledge that never ends. It can be seen from different angles but remains true.

Brahman is Truth and the Supreme Reality – Brahman is the Supreme Being, the Lord of All. He is vast and beyond space and time, indestructible. Since He is beyond space and time nothing is higher than Brahman.

The Vedas are the highest authority – The Vedas are the most ancient teaching and offer knowledge that was ‘handed down from the Supreme Being.‘ These teachings differ from standard texts (scriptures) in that they are not spoken by man (Smriti/subject to error) but Shrutithat which has been heard” and is from the Gods, consisting of revelation and unquestionable truth, thus is considered eternal.

Individual souls are immortal – The Hindus believe that each soul is immortal, that this life is not the first or only life for him. This soul (atma) will live this life and then move on to the next life (reincarnation), only getting free by moksha (liberation.) This soul has been, it is, and it will be.

The goal of the individual is moksha (liberation/Enlightenment) – Each soul strives to attain moksha (liberation), the soul’s release from the cycle of death and rebirth. This occurs when the soul wakes up and is united with Brahman (the Creator.) This is done by realizing his own true nature by following the spiritual path. To do this he uses one of the 4 margas (paths.)

Everyone should follow dharma – Dharma is a central concept for the Hindu and is noted by right conduct, righteousness, moral law, and duty. It is sometimes translated as ‘the law.’

Each man should practice ahimsa (non-violence) – In following the dharma each man (soul) is requested to be peaceful, which comes under ahimsa (non-violence.) Living together and acting thoughtfully should come as one’s own nature. It sometimes appears as humble, modest or tolerant.

We should perform actions for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Prominent Themes for the Hindu

The Hindu way consists of several prominent themes like:

The four Purusarthas – These are dharma (duty, ethics), artha (prosperity, wealth), kama (pleasure, sensual gratification), and moksha (the pursuit of liberation.)

Other goals or aims in human life are:

  • karma (action, intent and consequences)
  • Samsara (cycle of death and rebirth)
  • The 4 margas or Yogas (paths or practices to attain moksha)
  • Moksha (liberation/freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth/salvation)

Shared Concepts for Hindus

Hinduism does contain a broad range of philosophies, but it has also central shared concepts like:

  • rituals such as puja (worship) and recitations
  • japa (repetition of the name)
  • meditation (dhyana)
  • family-oriented rites of passage
  • annual festivals
  • occasional pilgrimages to sacred sites

For people raised in other faiths, Hinduism may seem rather complex, but the core beliefs of Hinduism are actually quite simple to understand. These beliefs are held dear by Hindus and fit well into a life of systemic order.

The Gods

The Hindus have many Gods that are part of their world but primarily there are just three:

  • Brahma, the Creator
  • Vishnu, the Preserver
  • Shiva, the Destroyer

Of these 3 Gods there are 2 main sects:

  • Vishnu followers (Vaishnavas)
  • Shiva followers (Shaivas)

Both Gods are High and provide Auspiciousness.

fun fact:
Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion; its followers, known as Hindus, constitute about 1.15 billion, or 15–16% of the global population.

What is Dharma

All aspects of a Hindu life are part of dharma which encapsulates the “right way of living” and eternal harmonious principles in this fulfillment.

  • acquiring wealth (artha),
  • fulfillment of desires (kama)
  • attaining liberation (moksha)

Dharma can mean ‘duty’, ‘virtue’, ‘morality’, even ‘religion‘ and it refers to the power which upholds the universe and society (the law.) It is generally believed that dharma was revealed by the Vedas: it makes the grass grow, the sun shine, and makes people moral and encourages us to act virtuously.

Each person has their own dharma, known as sva-dharma. What is correct for a man might not be for a woman or what is correct for an adult might not be for a child.

Following ones duty in life, correct action in accordance with dharma, is understood as service to humanity and to God.

2 Types of Dharma

There are two main types of dharma:

  • Sanatana dharma
  • Vaidika dharma

Sanatana dharma – What is known as sanatana dharma can be traced back to the puranas – texts of antiquity. Many practitioners refer to the “orthodox” form of Hinduism as Sanatana Dharma, “the eternal law” or the “eternal way.”

It refers to the “eternal” duties religiously ordained in Hinduism, duties such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings (ahimsa), purity, mercy, goodwill, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, generosity, and asceticism (renunciation.)

Those who adhere to this idea of one’s eternal dharma or constitution claim that it transcends other mundane (worldly) dharmas so it is the para-dharma, the ultimate dharma of the Self.

Vaidika dharma – This dharma is another view of true dharma which means a code of practice that is “based on the Vedas“, or “Vedic way of life.”

Adherants to vaidaka dharma hold that the Sruti and Smrti (texts) of the Vedas are universally and uniquely valid in their own sphere. Therefore they (Vedas) are man’s sole means of valid knowledge and liberation.

Hindu Teachings

The Hindu texts are possibly the best texts in the world, mainly the Vedas. These texts offer the product of the Vedas, known as Vedanta. When this teaching is practiced outside the pairs of opposites (duality) then it is called Advaita Vedanta (non-dual Vedanta.)

Besides the Vedas texts (ie Upanishads) there are numerable texts written by Gurus (Holy teachers) which offer teaching based on the Vedas or even commentaries of the Vedas.

Some of these great Gurus have been:

  • Adi Shankara
  • Ramana Maharshi
  • Sage Vashishta

All of their teachings postulate the Higher Power (Brahman) and the individuals relation to Him. He is timeless, formless and beyond measure.

The 4 Margas (paths)

In Hindu spiritual practice or yoga there are four main paths to Enlightenment (moksha.) These are:

  • Jnana (knowledge)
  • Bhakti (Devotion)
  • Karma (path of deeds or action)
  • Yoga (meditation)

When the seeker wants to pursue moksha (liberation) he would choose one of these four margas or be shown his path by the teacher (Guru.)

The Caste System

In all countries in the world there is a social class system where the people are grouped and classified by their level of education, social status, and income levels. India has such a system called the Caste system where people are organized in groups.

Travelers to India have commented on caste for more than two thousand years. The caste system, as it actually works in India is called jati.

The Castes are: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras.

Brahmins – A Brahmin is a member of the highest caste or varna in Hinduism. The Brahmins are the caste from which Hindu priests are drawn, and are responsible for teaching and maintaining sacred knowledge

A brahmin has qualities like serenity, self-restraint, purity, forgiveness, uprightness, knowledge, and belief in God.

Kshatriyas – Kshatriya is regarded as the second highest caste after brahmin. Traditionally, the kshatriya make up the ruling and military class.

They are known by qualities like physical prowess, courage, firmness, dexterity, strength in battle, generosity, and being lordly.

Vaishyas – Hindu religious texts assigned Vaishyas traditional roles in agriculture and cattle-rearing. Also they performed in trade and commerce, procuring goods and services so that the society could lead a life of plenty.

Modern vaishyas are primarily traders and entrepreneurs, though they came to also be landowners and money-lenders. It was their responsibility to provide sustenance for those of higher class since they were of lower class.

Shudras – The shudras do manual labor such as tilling the land, working the fields, or tending to cattle and crops. This caste was made up of everyone not belonging to the other three castes, except for the untouchables (lowly people.)

Shudras are not permitted to perform the upanayana, the initiatory rite of the study of the Vedas.

Reincarnation

Hindus believe that the soul is immortal, that it lives through many lives in an endless cycle of creation, preservation, and dissolution. It is believed that the soul is in the body and, when the body dies, the soul is placed by the Supreme Being into another birth.

Reincarnation is not only being reborn as human. You may have lived previous lives as animals, plants, or even as a divine being. The cycle of birth and death continues on and on until the soul is liberated (moksha) and merges with the Supreme Being (Brahman.)

With reincarnation the old saying, ‘You can’t take it with you‘ does apply. If you achieve riches, wealth, fame or other physical things in the current life you probably will not carry them into the next life.

There are more universes than there are grains of sand in the Ganges river

In 10,000 years you will not get another human birth

Conclusion

We see here all the marvelous traits and qualities that make up the Hindu religion. It is vast and complete and was created to satisfy all needs.

This is a good religion and has all the contents, concepts and values that you could think of. It is specific enough to adapt to yourself yet it is broad enough to serve the large masses.

It is a good religion and has all the parts for spiritual pursuit along with the four margas for choosing the route you take to the Supreme (Brahman!)


We hope you have enjoyed reading about Hinduism and if you have any questions or suggestions please add them in the comments section down below.

Feaured image credit: By Mbdortmund – Own work

Hindu festival photo credit: By I, G-u-t 2

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