Hinduism (सनातन धर्म; "Sanātana Dharma", which means Eternal Religion) is thought to be the oldest major world religion that is still practiced today. It was the first religion that had a concept of reincarnation.
struggle that will help him for all his doings.
God's energy is Devi, the Divine Mother. For worshipers of Vishnu (or "Vaishnavas") who follow Ramunjacharaya's philosophy, Devi is Lakshmi, the Mother of all, and who pleads with Vishnu for mankind. For worshipers of Shiva (or "Shaivas"), Devi is Parvati. For Shaktas, that is, worshipers of Devi, Devi is the personal form of God to attain the impersonal Absolute, God. For them, Shiva is personified as God without attributes.
A brief overview.
Hinduism lays on the spiritual foundation of the Vedas, the Upanishads, as well as the teachings of many Hindu gurus through the ages.
Many streams of thought come from six main Vedic/Hindu schools. Bhakti sects, and Tantric Agamic
schools are very common paths within Hinduism, the first of the Dharmic religions. See Schools of Hinduism.
The Eternal Way.
"The Eternal Way" (in Sanskrit सनातन धर्म, "Sanātana Dharma"), or the "Perennial Philosophy/Harmony/Faith", is the one name that has represented Hinduism for thousands of years. According to Hindus, it speaks the idea that certain spiritual principles are true for all time, past man-made beliefs, representing a pure science of consciousness. This consciousness is not merely that of the body or mind and intellect, but of a soul-state above the mind that exists within "and" beyond our existence, the pure Self of all. Religion to the Hindu is the native search for the divine within the Self, the search to find the One truth that really never was lost. Truth looked for with faith shall give itself in blissful light, no matter the race, or what is believed. Indeed, all existence, from vegetation and beasts to mankind, are subjects and objects of the eternal "Dharma". This inner faith, therefore, is also known as "Arya"/Noble Dharma, "Veda"/Knowledge Dharma, "Yoga"/Union Dharma, "Hindu Dharma" or, simply, the "Dharma".
What can be said to be common to all Hindus is belief in "Dharma", reincarnation, "karma", and "moksha" (liberation) of every soul through a variety of moral, action-based, and meditative yogas. Still more basic principles include "ahimsa" (non-violence), the importance of the Guru, the Divine Word of "Aum" and the power of "mantras", love of Truth in many manifestations as Gods and Goddessess, and an understanding that the essential spark of the Divine ("Atman/Brahman") is in every human and living being, allowing for many spiritual paths leading to the One Unitary Truth.
An example of the pervasiveness of this paramount truth-seeking spirituality in daily life is the "bindi", which is a common marker for Hindu women. It symbolizes the need to cultivate supramental consciousness, which is achieved by opening the mystic "third eye." Hindus across the board stress meditative insight, an intuition beyond the mind and body, a trait that is often associated with the ascetic god Shiva. Men, too, will bear on their foreheads the equivalent "tilak" mark, usually on religious occasions, its shape often representing particular devotion to a certain main deity: a 'U' shape stands for Vishnu, a group of three lines for Shiva. It is not uncommon for some to meld both in an amalgam marker signifying "Hari-Hara" (Vishnu-Shiva indissoluble).
The way to do all these have been described in the two principal texts of Hindu Yoga: the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras. The Upanishads also contain important texts about yoga.
Hinduism believes in four main goals of life. They are "kama", "artha", "dharma" and "moksha". It is said that all humans seek "kama" (pleasure, physical or emotional) and "artha" (power, fame and wealth), but soon, with maturity, learn to govern these legitimate desires within a higher, pragmatic framework of "dharma", or moral harmony in all.
Historical origins and aspects of society.
Relatively little is known about the origins of Hinduism, as it predates recorded history. It has been said to derive from beliefs of the Aryans. The
hundreds of faith and beliefs of Dravidians, and Harappans living in the Indian subcontinent, before the Aryans came to India, was combined
under the Hindu term during the British Raj. Subsequently Buddhism and Jainism, were also drafted in to Hinduism. Varying ideas of the origin
of the Veda and understandings of whether or not the Aryans were native or foreign to Indian soil can change estimates of Hinduism's age from
Historically, the word "Hindu" predates the reference to Hinduism as a religion; the term is of Persian origin and first referred to people who lived on the
other side (from a Persian point of view) of the Sindhu or Indus river. It was used as a signifier not only of ethnicity but of Vedic religion as
far back as the 15th and 16th centuries by such figures as Guru Nanak (the founder of Sikhism). During the British Raj, the term's use was
made standard, and eventually, the religion of the Vedic Hindoos was given the appellation 'Hinduism.' In actuality, it was merely a new signifier for a
culture that had been thriving for millennia before. See the Hindu (ethnicity) page for more discussion.
In a 1966, Supreme Court of India defined the Hindu faith for legal purpose. The Court's ruling gave a number of conditions to be considered a
Current geographic distribution.
The nations of India, Mauritius, and Nepal as well as the Indonesian island of Bali are predominantly Hindu; significant Hindu
There also exist strong Hindu communities in the countries of the ex-Soviet Union, especially in Russia and Poland. The Indonesian islands of
Java, Sulawesi, Sumatra, and Borneo also have significant native Hindu populations. In its Yoga stream, Hinduism is
even more widespread all over the world with 30 million(less than one percent can not be 30 million for US population) practitioners in the United Dharma in orthodox Hindu society: caste.
According to one view, the caste system shows how strongly many have felt about each person following his or her dharma, or destined path. A
perversion, according to many Hindus, of dharma's true meaning, caste plays a significant role in Hindu society, although it is now losing favor and is
In early Vedic periods, the established Brahmins began discriminating against young candidates for priesthood based on caste. This became more
ingrained over centuries until social mobility all but became a thing of the past. In spite of centuries of numerous reform movements, notably within
Vedanta, Bhakti Yoga and Hindu streams of Tantra, and reformers, with recent stalwarts like Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi, caste is so deeply ensconced in the Indian consciousness that even Christian converts have been known to separate church meetings for
different castes. A number of Muslim communities have retained caste practices as well. What was first an injunction to living one's dharma in
surrender to God became an oppressive mandate to surrender to Man. See caste for more.
Hindu philosophy: the six Vedic schools of thought.
The six "Astika" or orthodox (accepting the authority of the Vedas) schools of Hindu philosophy are Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga,
Purva Mimamsa (also called just 'Mimamsa'), and Uttara Mimamsa (also called 'Vedanta'). The non-Vedic schools are called
Nastika, or heterodox, and refer to Buddhism, Jainism and Lokayata. The schools that continue to affect Hinduism today are Purva Mimamsa, Yoga, and Vedanta. See Hindu philosophy for a discussion of the historical significance of Samkhya, Nyaya, and
Purva Mimamsa.
The main purpose of the "Purva Mimamsa" line of thought was to give an upper position to the Vedas. In the long term, this line of thought showed the
way to better understanding of the Vedas. Adi Shankara and Swami Vivekananda followed this line of thought to explain the meaning of Hindu
The Yoga system is generally considered to have arisen from the Samkhya philosophy. The "yoga" referred to here, however, is specifically Raja
Yoga (or meditational union). It is based on the sage Patanjali's extremely influential text entitled the Yoga Sutra, which is essentially a
compilation and systematization of meditational Yoga philosophy that came before. Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita are also indispensable
literature in the study of Yoga.
The most significant difference from Samkhya is that the Yoga school not only incorporates the concept of Ishvara (a personal God) into its
metaphysical worldview but also that it holds Ishvara as the ideal upon which to meditate. This is because Ishvara is the only aspect of purusha (the
infinite Divine Ground) that has not become entangled with prakrti (the temporal creative forces). It also utilizes the Brahman/Atman terminology
and concepts that are found in depth in the Upanishads, adopting Vedantic monist concepts. Realization of the goal of Yoga is known as
moksha or samadhi. It, like the Upanishads, seeks realization of the Atman as being nothing other than the infinite Brahman through ethical
(mind), physical (body) and meditational (soul) practices of one-pointedness on the 'one supreme truth.' See Yoga for an in-depth look at its history.
Uttara Mimamsa: The Three Schools of Vedanta.
The Uttara ("later") Mimamsa school is perhaps one of the cornerstone movements of Hinduism and certainly was responsible for a new wave of
philosophical and meditative inquiry, renewal of faith, and cultural reform. Primarily associated with the Upanishads and their commentary by
Badarayana, the Vedanta Sutras, Vedanta thought split into three groups, initiated by the thinking and writing of Adi Shankara. Most Hindu
thought today in some way relates to changes affected by Vedantic thought, which focused on meditation, morality and centeredness on
the one Self rather than on rituals and meaningless societal distinctions like caste. See Vedanta for greater depth.
Pure Monism: Advaita Vedanta.
Advaita literally means "not two"; thus this is what we refer to as a monistic (or non-dualistic) system, which emphasises oneness. Its consolidator was
Adi Shankara (788?-820?) expounded his theories largely based on previous teachings of the Upanishads and his own guru Govinda Bhagavadpada.
By analysis of experiential consciousness, he exposed the relative nature of the world and established the non-dual reality of Brahman in which Atman (the individual soul) and Brahman (the ultimate reality) are identified absolutely. It is not merely philosophy, but a conscious system of applied ethics and meditation, all geared towards attaining peace and understanding of truth.
Adi Shankara denounced caste and meaningless ritual as foolish, and in his own charismatic manner, exhorted the true devotee to meditate on God's love and apprehend truth.
See Advaita Vedanta for more.
Qualified Monism: Vishistadvaita Vedanta.
Ramanuja (1040 - 1137) was the foremost proponent of the concept of Sriman Narayana as the supreme Brahman. He taught that Ultimate
reality had three aspects: Isvara (Vishnu), cit (soul) and acit (matter). Vishnu is the only independent reality, while souls and matter are dependent on
God for their existence. Because of this qualification of Ultimate reality, Ramanuja's system is known as qualified non-dualism.
Dualism: Dvaita Vedanta.
Like Ramanuja, Madhvacharya (1199 - 1278) identified god with Vishnu, but his view of reality was purely dualistic in that he understood a
fundamental differentiation between the ultimate godhead and the individual soul, and the system is therefore called Dvaita (dualistic) Vedanta.
The Bhakti schools.
The Bhakti (Devotional) school is takes its name from the Hindu term that signifies a blissful, selfless and overwhelming love of God as
the beloved Father, Mother, Child, or whatever relationship finds appeal in the devotee's heart. The philosophy of Bhakti seeks to tap into the universal
divinity through personal form, which explains the proliferation of so many Gods and Goddesses in India, often reflecting the singular inclinations of
small regions or groups of people. Seen as a form of Yoga, or union, it seeks to dissolve the ego in God, since consciousness of the body and limited
mind as self is seen to be a divisive factor in spiritual realization. Essentially, it is God who effects all change, who is the source of all works, who acts
through the devotee as love and light. 'Sins' and evil-doings of the devotee are said to fall away of their own accord, the devotee shriven, limitedness
even transcended, through the love of God. The Bhakti movements rejuvenated Hinduism through their intense expression of faith and their
responsiveness to the emotional and philosophical needs of India. They can rightly be said to have affected the greatest wave of change in Hindu
prayer and ritual since ancient times.
The most popular means of expressing love for God in the Hindu tradition has been through "puja", or ritual devotion, frequently using the aid of a
"murti" (statue) in conjunction with the singing or chanting of meditational prayer in the form of mantras.
Devotional songs called bhajans (written primarily from the 14th-17th centuries), kirtan (praise), and arti (a filtered down form of Vedic fire
ritual) are sometimes sung in conjunction with performance of puja. This rather organic system of devotion attempts to aid the individual in connecting
with God through symbolic medium. It is said, however, that the "bhakta", through a growing connection with God, is eventually able to eschew all
external form and is immersed entirely in the bliss of undifferentiated Love in Truth.
Altogether, bhakti resulted in a mass of devotional literature, music and art that has enriched the world and gave India renewed spiritual impetus, one
eschewing unnecessary ritual and artificial social boundaries. See bhakti yoga for more.
According to the most famous Western Tantrik scholar, Sir John Woodroffe (pseudonym Arthur Avalon): "The Indian Tantras, which are numerous,
constitute the Scripture (Shastra) of the Kaliyuga, and as such are the voluminous source of present and practical orthodox 'Hinduism'. The Tantra
Shastra is, in fact, and whatever be its historical origin, a development of the Vaidika Karmakanda, promulgated to meet the needs of that age. Shiva
says: 'For the benefit of men of the Kali age, men bereft of energy and dependent for existence on the food they eat, the Kaula doctrine, O auspicious
one! is given' (Chap. IX., verse 12). To the Tantra we must therefore look if we would understand aright both ritual, yoga, and sadhana of all kinds, as
also the general principles of which these practices are but the objective expression." (Introduction to Sir John Woodroffe's translation of "Mahanirvana
The word "tantra" means "treatise" or "continuum", and is applied to a variety of mystical, occult, medical and scientific works as well as to those
which we would now regard as "tantric". Most tantras were written in the late Middle Ages and sprang from Hindu cosmology and Yoga. See
Ahimsa and the cow.
A note of the element of ahimsa in Hinduism is vital to understanding the society that has arisen around some of its principles. While Jainism as it
was practiced was certainly a major influence on Indian society, what with its exhortation of strict veganism and non-violence as "ahimsa", the term
first appeared in the Upanishads. Thus, an ingrained and externally motivated influence led to the development of a large section of Hindus who
grew to embrace vegetarianism in a bid to respect higher forms of life, restricting their diet to plants and vegetables. About 30% of today's Hindu
population, especially in orthodox communities in South India, in certain northerly states like Gujurat, and in many Brahmin enclaves around the
subcontinent, is vegetarian. Thus, while vegetarianism is not dogma, it is recommended as a sattwic (purifying) lifestyle.
Those Hindus who do eat meat predominantly abstain from beef, some even going so far as to avoid leather products. This is most likely
because the largely pastoral Vedic people and subsequent generations of Hindus throughout the centuries relied so heavily on the cow for all sorts of
dairy products, tilling of fields and fuel for fertiliser that its status as a willing 'caretaker' of humanity grew to identifying it as an almost maternal
figure. Thus, while most Hindus do not worship the cow, and scriptural injunctions against eating beef arose long after the Vedas had been written,
it still holds an honored place in Hindu society. It is said that Krishna is both Govinda (herder of cows) and Gopala (protector of cows), and Shiva's
attendant is Nandi, the bull. With the stress on vegetarianism (which is usually followed even by meat-eating Hindus on religious days or special
occasions) and the sacred nature of the cow, it is no wonder that most holy cities and areas in India have a ban on selling meat-products and there is a
movement among Hindus to ban cow-slaughter not only in specific regions, but in all of India.
Hindu symbols.
Hindus use many symbols and signs. The two most important symbols used by Hindus are the "Aum" and the "Swastika (Hinduism)".
Forms of worship: murtis and mantras.
Contrary to popular belief, practiced Hinduism is neither polytheistic
nor strictly monotheistic. The various Hindu Gods and avatars that are worshipped by Hindus are understood as different forms of One truth, sometimes seen as beyond a mere God and as a
formless Divine Ground (Brahman), akin but not limited to monism, or as one monotheistic principle like Vishnu or Shiva.
Whether believing in the One source as formless (nirguna brahman, without attributes) or as a personal God (saguna Brahman, with attributes),
Hindus understand that the one truth may be seen as different to different people. Hinduism encourages devotees to describe and develop a personal
relationship with their chosen deity (ishta devata) in the form of a God or Goddess.
While some censuses hold worshippers of one form or another of Vishnu (known as "Vaishnavs") to be at 80% and those of Shiva (called
"Shaivaites") and Shakti at the remaining 20%, such figures are perhaps misleading. The vast majority of Hindus worship many gods as
varicolored forms of the same prism of Truth. Among the most popular are Vishnu (as Krishna or Rama), Shiva, Devi (the Mother as
many female deities, such as Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kali and Durga), Ganesha, Skanda and Hanuman.
Worship of the said deities is often done through the aid of pictures or icons ("murti") which are said not to be God themselves but conduits for the
devotee's consciousness, markers for the human soul that signify the ineffable and illimitable nature of the love and grandeur of God. They are
symbols of the greater principle, representing and are never presumed to "be" the concept or entity itself. Thus, Hindu image worship is a form of
iconolatry, in which the symbols are venerated as putative sigils of divinity, as opposed to idolatry, a charge often levied (erroneously) at
Hindus. For more details on this form of worship, see murti.
Hindus use several prayers and group of words. Some group of words are called mantras.
These words are said to give the speaker a deeper concentration and understanding, thus coming closer to Brahman.
A wellknown mantra is om or aum. It symbolizes Brahman, and is often the opening word in many prayers.
To pronounce a mantra well, you should say it slowly, and in a deep voice.
Hindu texts.
There are many texts relating to Hinduism. Most of them have been written in Sanskrit. These texts are called Hindu scriptures. Important texts of
The Vedas are considered scripture by all Hindus. While most Hindus may never read the Vedas, the reverence for the more abstract idea of
eternal knowledge ("Veda" means knowledge) is etched deep into the hearts of all those who follow Veda Dharma. Classed with the Vedas (which
specifically refer to the Rg, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas) are their famous commentaries, the
Upanishads. While the early Vedas lay the foundation for subsequent Hindu ritual, cosmology and developing philosophy, the Upanishads built
the edifice of mystic insight and abhorrence for ritual at the expense of spiritual insight. Forming the core of the Vedanta ("End of Vedas"), they
streamline the excessive litany of praise to Vedic gods and capture the essence of the Rig Vedic dictum "Truth Is One." They set Hindu philosophy
apart with its embrace of a single transcendent and yet immanent force that is native to each man's soul, an identification of micro- and macrocosm as
One. It can be said that while early Hinduism is most reliant on the four Vedas, Classical Hinduism, from the Yoga and Vedanta to Tantra
and Bhakti streams, was molded around the Upanishads.
The post-Vedic Hindu scriptures form the latter category, the most notable of which are the "Mahabharata" and the "Ramayana", major epics
considered scripture by most followers of Sanatana Dharma, their stories arguably familiar to the vast majoriy of Hindus living in the Indian subcontinent, if not in other places also. Other texts considered important by today's Hindus include the Devi Mahatmya, an ode to Devi, the
Divine Mother, and the Yoga Sutras, a key meditative yoga text of Shri Patanjali. There are also a number of revered Hindu Tantras and Sutras that command the respect of various Hindu sects of different persuasion, some including the Mahanirvana Tantra,
Tirumantiram and Shiva Sutras.

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