| Next | Contents
is honored as a wise demigod and a son of Lord Shiva. He can remove
obstacles from the path to success. Businessmen are fond of him
and his picture is often found in shops and offices.
then is the truth: As from a blazing fire
there spring forth thousands of sparks like
little fires, so, my fellow seeker, from God the
Imperishable diverse life forms are produced
and indeed go back again to Him.
Mundaka Upanishad II .1.1
Hinduism is the religion followed by more than 650 million people
in India and 100 million in the rest of the world, and it encompasses
a huge variety of beliefs and rituals. Over the centuries this
religious tradition has slowly evolved to be practiced and understood
in many different ways, but it is intricately woven into the land
and culture of India. Although religious beliefs may vary, they
are not exclusive of one another and are accepted by Hindus as
part of the wide body of Hindu tradition.
is not the name that the people of India gave to this spiritual
tradition, but was a name given later by outsiders to describe
the people who lived east of the river Indus. Hinduism came to
be the term used by foreigners to describe the religion of India,
although Hindus refer to their religion as ‘ sanatana dharma',
‘the eternal truth' or ‘ancient religion'. The word
dharma is rich in meaning: it can refer to the natural, unchanging
laws that sustain the universe and keep it in balance, or it can
be translated as ‘law' or "social duty."
the Hindu holy books, there are traditional laws and duties that
have been handed down from generation to generation. For Hindus,
it is a religious responsibility to carry out the duties that
are associated with each stage of life and with the family and
part of society into which they are born. These include the duties
of a mother to her children, of a son to his father, of a teacher
to his students, and other spiritual and devotional duties. Members
of families and communities also carry a responsibility to participate
in important rites of passage such as birth, marriage and death.
For many Hindu's, secular and religious life are not separate,
since faith plays a vibrant part in everyday life.
are 750 million Hindus worldwide, the majority living in South
Asia. There are 700,000 Hindus in South Africa, 575,000 in North
America and 500,000 in the United Kingdom.
is impossible to be precise about when Indian civilization began,
but archaeologists have found evidence in North India of a thriving
culture based around walled cities from at least five thousand
years ago. However, there is evidence that at some time during
the second millennium BCE, a people called the Aryans came from
the north or west to conquer and settle in northern India. They
brought with them the Vedic teachings that over time gave rise
to what we now know as Hinduism. Their teachings were recorded
in an early form of Sanskrit.
There is great diversity in Hindu belief and practice, but the
idea of reincarnation based on karma is almost universal in Indian
religion. In Hindu teachings, all actions produce effects in the
future - this is the law of karma.
who carry out their religious duties faithfully and behave righteously
in ordinary life will be rewarded with a desirable rebirth, perhaps
into a high-caste family. Those who neglect their religious duties,
who cause suffering or act immorally, are liable to feel the effect
of these actions in the status and condition of their next life.
They may be reborn into a lower caste, into a life of poverty,
suffering or pain, or outside the caste system altogether.
Lakshmi and Brahma.
Hindus believe in one ultimate Supreme Being who has unlimited
forms. Some of these forms, such as Vishnu or Lakshmi, display
the full power of God, while some of them, such as Brahma or Sarasvati,
are only partial aspects of God. Ultimately, all living beings,
both human and animal, are tiny parts of God.
is a full manifestation of God. He creates each universe from
his breathing, then enters it to create Brahma, the first living
being. Vishnu is known as the Preserver of the Universe. Hindus
believe that if he were to withdraw even for an instant the whole
world would be destroyed. He also sustains the universe, giving
guidance and protection. He is loved by Lakshmi, the Goddess of
Fortune. She awards wealth and good fortune to her worshipers.
Vishnu blesses his devotees with love and freedom from material
desires, which releases them from the cycle of reincarnation.
Brahma works under Vishnu's direction to create the planets and
to fill them with created beings.
Hindu teachings there are male and female counterparts at every
level in the universe: the god Vishnu is accompanied by the goddess
Lakshmi, the god Brahma by goddess Sarasvati, and in the human
world there is man and woman. But in the eternal spiritual realm
the parts of God are beyond the duality of male and female - they
exist as perfect beings in full freedom, knowledge and bliss.
Everything in the material realm experiences the sufferings of
birth, disease, old age and death.
order to create and maintain the material world God assumes the
three forms of Vishnu the Preserver, Brahma the Creator and Shiva
the Destroyer. To protect truth and goodness, and to help people
learn who they really are and free them from material illusions,
God enters this world as avatar, "one who descends."
The best known avatars are the ten incarnations of Vishnu, among
whom are Krishna and Rama.
obtain assistance in the running of the universal affairs, Brahma
creates demigods such as Indra the rain god, Agm the fire god
and Surya the sun god.
The word brahman is the Sanskrit for spirit: it is the energy
that sustains the universe, present in all things. Brahman is
said to be impossible to describe. According to the Upanisha the
only accurate description of brahman that can be given is an awestruck
‘Ah'. Brahman has often been translated "world-soul"
or "world-spirit." Thus, a Brahmin is a priest who,
according to traditional Hindu thought, is imbued with the power
sacred writings of Hinduism come in many forms, from philosophical
texts to epic stories, and they span many time periods. The ancient
hymns of the Rig Veda were probably first written late in the
second millennium BCE, although they existed orally before then,
while the verses of the Puranas did not appear in their present
form until more than a thousand years later. The Hindu scriptures
are written in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India.
The Mahabhorata, the world's longest poem, includes both mythological
stories and philosophical discussions, and is sometimes said to
contain the whole of "classical Hinduism.". The Mahabarato
is thought to be around 2,000 years old but its authorship is
traditionally attributed to Vyasa, the divine poet, who himself
appears in the story.
The four collections of scriptures that make up the Vedas are
the most ancient sacred texts of India. The oldest and best known
of these is the Rig Veda, which is a collection of hymns. The
Rig Veda is concerned with the Hindu pantheon of gods and divine
beings (known as devas), and with the earliest form of Hindu ritual,
which involved huge public ceremonies.
truly knows? Who can declare it?
Whence it was born, whence is this manifestation ?
On this side of the manifestation are the gods.
Who then knows where it has arisen?
Whence has this manifestation arisen
Whether created or not?
Only He who is its overseer in the highest abode
Knows or Knows not. Rig Veda X.129.6-7
These are a later group of writings that reflect a decline in
the importance of the sacrificial rituals and a shift toward a
more personal, internal style of religious practice.
The Paths and Stages of Life
Hinduism there are four commonly recognized religious paths or
ways of living a spiritual life, all of which can be called yogas.
They are ways of understanding and coming closer to the divine,
and it is up to each individual to choose the paths appropriate
to them. Many are guided along their chosen paths by a guru.
path of bakhti (devotion)
The idea of the universal spirit, or brahman, is very abstract
and philosophical, and it is therefore simpler and more direct
for most Hindus to worship brahman in the form of a personal god
instead of a universal force. The follower of hhakti devotes himself
or herself to the love of one of the gods (usually Krishna, Rama
or Shiva), surrendering personal will in the faith that the god
will keep his devotees safe. The bhakti worshiper hopes ultimately
to make the whole of life, in every respect, a loving sacrifice
path of karnia (action)
Karma means actions themselves, from the most trivial to the most
extreme, and it Aso means the results of those actions, which
keep the atman trapped in the cycle of death and rebirth. Those
who follow the path of karma perform good works in order to counteract
the negative karma that keeps them in the cycle of birth and death;
in this way, the path of karma benefits society as well as the
individuals spiritual progress.
path of jnana (knowledge)
Jnana does not really mean the kind of knowledge that can be gained
from the study of books, although followers of the path of jnana
do study the scriptures carefully. More importantly, it means
knowing the truth that lies behind the philosophical ideas of
Hinduism. This can be achieved not only by reading about it, but
also by experiencing it directly for oneself. The path of Jnana
is perhaps the most difficult path since the follower must be
guided by a guru at every step.
The path of meditation and spiritual discipline
This path involves spiritual discipline of many different kinds,
and often involves the body as well as the heart and mind. The
training is very systematic, the disciple moving from one stage
of practice to the next.
The word ahimsa means "non-killing" or "noninjury,"
and has sometimes been translated as "harmlessness."
All life, whether human or animal, is sacred in Hinduism, and
the follower of ahimsa affirms this by not eating meat and by
never killing or harming any living thing. Although ahimsa forbids
killing or causing harm, it does not necessarily mean that one
must go out of one's way to prevent someone religious from causing
Editor's Note: (There are lots of sites on-line
to learn more about Hinduism. A good start is www.hindunet.org.
Sources: Religions of the World, 1997, Transedition Limited and
Fernleigh Books, New York and The world's Religions by Huston
Smith, 1991, Harper San Francisco.)
India there are hundreds of pilgrimage sites, from sacred mountains
and rivers to temples and small shrines. Some, such as Benares
on the river Ganges, Mount Kailas in the Himalayas, or Vrindavan
(which is associated with Krishna) attract Hindus from all parts
of India and beyond, while other sites have strong regional popularity.
Pilgrimage takes place at all times of the year, and each site
offers its own benefits. Some are associated with healing illnesses
or aiding the conception of children, others are said to bring
prosperity and blessing and many pilgrims make the journey simply
because it brings them closer to the divine.
the Mahabharata is a section called the Bhagavad-Gita, or "Song
of the Lord," which is the most famous and popular of all
Hindu religious wrifings. The Bhagavad-Gita records a conversation
between the hero Arjuna, who is preparing to go into battle, and
his charioteer, Krishna. Arjuna is unwilling to participate in
the horrors of war but Krishna gives him hope and teaches him
the meaning and purpose of life. Krishna points out that, even
though Arjuna may Will the bodies of his enemies, their souls
are immortal and indestructible. Furthermore, he explains, if
Arjuna accepts that it is his duty (dharma) to fight, and if he
seeks no reward from fighting, then despite the chaos of the battle
around him, his mind will remain as calm and detached as that
of a yogi in meditation. Krishna then describes his own nature
as God, and reveals himself to Arjuna in his divine form. Finally,
the doctrine of the love (bhakti) between God and humanity is
explained, as a more desirable goal even than moksha.
Gita is a very complex piece of philosophical writing, and it
has influenced almost all later developments in Hindu thought.
The present text is thought to be around 2,000 years old.
centuries the Hindus have honored and protected the cow, and cow-killing
has been considered to be a terrible crime. According to ancient
Hindu writings, killing a cow is as sinful as killing a Brahmin.
The importance of the in indian life is economic as well as religious.
Cows eat vegetable matter and from it produce milk, which in turn
becomes yogurt, cheese or ghee. Oxen pull the plow, allowing the
planting of grain. Indian village agriculture depends heavily
on the role of the cow and bull, and they are therefore treated
as mother and father.
symbol represents the sacred syllable "Aum" (sometimes
spelled "Om'), which is spoken at the beginning of Hindu
prayers and worship. According to the scriptures, Aum was the
first sound, out of which the rest of the universe was created.
| Next | Contents