..The Intuitive Times
Spiritual Practices



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Ganesh 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.

This 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.

‘Hinduism' 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."

In 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.

There 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.


It 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.

People 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.

Vishnu, 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.

Vishnu 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.

In 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.

In 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.

To 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 of brahman.

Hindu Sacred Literature

The 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 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 Rig Veda
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.

Who 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

The Upanishads
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

In 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.

The 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 to God.

The 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.

The 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 harm.

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.)


Throughout 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.

Bhagavad-Gita 10:20

Within 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.

The 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.

The sacred cow

For 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.

This 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.

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