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 What is Hinduism?

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PostSubject: What is Hinduism?   Sat Jun 30, 2007 2:04 pm

From Wikipedia

Hinduism (known as Hindū Dharma in modern Indian languages[1]) is a religion that originated in the Indian subcontinent. In contemporary usage Hinduism is also referred to as Sanātana Dharma (सनातन धर्म), a Sanskrit phrase meaning "eternal law".[2]

With its origins in the Vedic civilization[3] it has no known founder,[4][5] being itself a conglomerate of diverse beliefs and traditions. It is the world's oldest existent religion,[6][7] and has approximately a billion adherents, of whom about 905 million live in India and Nepal.[8] This places it as the world's third largest religion after Christianity and Islam. Other countries with large Hindu populations include Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Fiji, Suriname, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

Hinduism contains a vast body of scriptures. Divided as revealed and remembered and developed over millennia, these scriptures expound on theology, philosophy and mythology, providing spiritual insights and guidance on the practice of dharma (religious living). Among such texts, the Vedas and the Upanishads are the foremost in authority, importance and antiquity. Other major scriptures include the Tantras, the sectarian Agamas, the Purāṇas and the epics Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa. The Bhagavad Gītā, a treatise excerpted from the Mahābhārata, is sometimes called a summary of the spiritual teachings of the Vedas.[9]

The Persian term Hindū comes from the Sanskrit Sindhu, i.e. the Indus River.[10] The Rig Veda mentions the land of the Indo-Aryans as Sapta Sindhu (the land of the seven rivers in northwestern South Asia, one of them being the Indus). This corresponds to Hapta Həndu in the Avesta (Vendidad or Videvdad: Fargard 1.18)—the sacred scripture of Zoroastrianism. The term was used for those who lived in the Indian subcontinent on or beyond the "Sindhu".[11]


Core concepts
Hinduism originates from ancient Vedic traditions and other indigenous beliefs, incorporated over time. Due to its diversity Hinduism can only be defined in terms of peoples and places.[12] It is possible to find Hindu groups whose beliefs have very little in common and nearly impossible to identify any universal belief.[13] Prominent themes include Dharma (ethics/duties), Samsāra (The continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth), Karma (action and subsequent reaction), Moksha (liberation from samsara), and the various yogas (paths or practices). Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism share traits with Hinduism, because these religions originated in India, focus on self-improvement and aim to attain personal first hand, spiritual experiences. They along with Hinduism are collectively known as Dharmic religions.

Concept of God
Hinduism can be considered as henotheistic,[14] but such a view tends to oversimplify a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism,[15] pantheism, monism and even atheism. For instance, the Advaita Vedanta school holds that there is only one causal entity (Brahman), which manifests itself to humans in multiple forms[16] while the Samkhya school has atheistic leanings.

Main article: Brahman
According to the monistic/panentheistic theologies of Hinduism, Brahman (the greater Self or God) is in the highest sense One and nondifferentiated from the world and its beings (hence nondualist). In connoting Brahman's absolutely unparalleled nature, it can be called Parambrahman, where the Sanskrit prefix param- denotes "ultimate". Brahman is sometimes seen as synonymous with the concept of Paramatma (Supreme Spirit). Beyond time and space, both immanent and transcendent,[17][18] Brahman is often described as sacchidananda, meaning 'Truth-Consciousness-Bliss', not only possessing the qualities but also being their very essence. The Advaita school declares that Brahman (the impersonal God) is beyond mere intellectual description and can be understood only through direct spiritual experience, where the 'knower' and the 'known' are subsumed into the act of 'knowing'. The goal is to realize that one's atman (soul) is really identical to Brahman, the uber-soul.[19][20]

On the other hand, monotheistic (for example, Dvaita Vedanta) and other (bhakti) schools, understand Brahman as a Supreme Being who possesses personality. In these conceptions, Brahman is associated with Vishnu, Shiva or Shakti depending on the sect. Brahman is seen as fundamentally separate from its reliant souls (humanity) so, in achieving liberation, individual beings experience God as an independent personality.

Main article: Ishvara
When God is viewed as the supreme personal being (rather than as the infinite principle) God is called Ishvara ("The Lord";[21]), Bhagavan ("The Auspicious One";[21]), or Parameshwara ("The Supreme Lord"[21]). Ishvara thus refers to the personal aspect of God in general but is not specific to a particular deity. Ishvara transcends gender, yet can be looked upon as father, mother, friend, child, or even as sweetheart.[16] Some schools of Hindu philosophy do not believe in Ishvara, while others interpret Ishvara in different ways.[22][16] Particular schools do not distinguish between Ishvara and Brahman. The Dvaita school holds that Ishvara is not incorporeal,[22] but is infinite and a personal being.

Devas and devis
Main article: Deva (Hinduism)
The Hindu scriptures refer to celestial entities, called Devas ("The heavenly or shining ones",[21] also called devatās). Devas may be translated into English as gods,[21] demigods,[23] deities,[21] celestial spirits[24] or angels.[25] The feminine of deva is devī.

The scriptures depict the devas in their mythological stories. The latter lauds the Trimurti of Mahādevas ("Great Gods"), which are the three aspects of God, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.[26] Other devas have been worshipped throughout Hinduism's history. The devas are an integral part of Hindu culture and are depicted in art, architecture and through icons. Hindus can primarily worship one of these deities, known as their iṣṭa devatā, or chosen ideal.[27][28] The particular form of God worshipped as one's chosen ideal depends on individual preference and needs,[29] influenced by regional and family traditions.[30]

Main article: Avatar

Krishna, the eighth incarnation (avatar) of Vishnu, with his consort RadhaMany denominations of Hinduism teach that from time to time God descends to Earth in corporeal form to help humans along in their struggle towards liberation from rebirth (known as moksha) in the form of bhakti and restore dharma in society. Such an incarnation is called an avatar. The most famous avatars are of Vishnu. The two most popular are Rama, whose life is depicted in the Ramayana, and Krishna, who is a central figure in the Mahabharata and whose life is depicted in the Srimad Bhagavatam.

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PostSubject: Re: What is Hinduism?   Sat Jun 30, 2007 2:04 pm

Main article: Atheism in Hinduism
Mainstream Hindu philosophy talks about the existence of God, being heavily influenced by the Vedanta school, the dominant philosophical school of Hinduism. Nonetheless, there were earlier atheistic schools such as Samkhya, which did not acknowledge the existence of God.

Main article: Ātman
Most Hindus believe that the spirit or soul, the true "self" of every person, called the ātman, is eternal.[31] According to the Advaita (non-dualist) schools of philosophy, the atman and Brahman are not fundamentally distinct. Followers of Advaita argue that the ātman of every individual person is identical with Brahman. The Upanishads state that whoever becomes fully aware of the ātman as the innermost core of one's own self, realises their identity with Brahman and thereby reaches Moksha.[31][32] According to the Dvaita (dualist) school, (often associated with Vaishnavism), the ātman is not identical with Brahman, which is seen as being God with personality (though not limited); instead, the ātman is dependent on God. Moksha depends on love towards God and on God's grace.[32]

Karma, samsara and moksha
Main article: Karma in Hinduism
Karma translates literally as action, work or deed[33] and can be described as the "moral law of cause and effect".[34] According to the Upanishads, an individual, known as the jiva-atma, develops sanskaras (impressions) from actions, whether physical or mental. The "linga sharira", a body more subtle than the physical one, but less subtle than the soul, retains impressions, carrying them over into the next life, establishing a unique trajectory for the individual.[35] Thus, the concept of a universal, neutral and never-failing karma intrinsically relates to reincarnation as well as one's personality, characteristics and family. Karma threads together the notions of free will and destiny.

This cycle of action, reaction, birth, death, and rebirth is a continuum called samsara. The notion of reincarnation and karma is a strong premise in Hindu thought. The Bhagavad Gita states that:

As a person puts on new clothes, discarding old and torn clothes, similarly an embodied soul enters new material bodies, leaving the old bodies.(B.G. 2:22)[36]

Samsara provides ephemeral pleasures, which lead people to desire rebirth to enjoy the pleasures of a perishable body. However, escaping the world of samsara through moksha (liberation) is believed to ensure lasting happiness and peace.[37][38] It is thought that after several reincarnations, an atman eventually seeks unity with the cosmic spirit (Brahman/Paramatman).

The ultimate goal of life, referred to as moksha, nirvana or samadhi, is described as the realization of one's union with God; realization of one's eternal relationship with God; realization of the unity of all existence; perfect unselfishness and knowledge of the Self; liberation from ignorance; attainment of perfect mental peace; or detachment from worldly desires. Such a realization liberates one from samsara and ends the cycle of rebirth.[39][40] The exact conceptualization of moksha differs among the various Hindu schools of thought. For example, Advaita Vedanta holds that after attaining moksha an atman no longer identifies itself with an individual but as part of Brahman. The followers of Dvaita (dualistic) schools expect to spend eternity in a loka (heaven),[41] in the company of their chosen form of Ishvara. Thus, it is said, the followers of dvaita wish to "taste sugar," while the followers of Advaita wish to "become sugar."[42]

The goals of life
Main article: Purusharthas
Classical Hindu thought accepts two main life-long dharmas: Grihastha Dharma and Sannyasin Dharma.

The Grihastha Dharma recognize four goals as noble known as the puruṣhārthas. They are:

kāma: Sensual pleasure and enjoyment
artha: Material prosperity and success
dharma: Following the laws and rules that an individual lives under
moksha: Liberation from the cycle of samsara[43][44]
Among these, dharma and moksha play a special role:[44] dharma must dominate an individual's pursuit of kama and artha while seeing moksha, at the horizon.

The Sannyasin Dharma recognizes, but renounces Kama, Artha and Dharma, focusing entirely on Moksha. As described below, the Grihasthi eventually enters this stage. However, some enter this stage immediately from whichever stage they may be in.


Hatha Yoga traditionally includes meditation, pranayama, and right action—unlike the popular modern approach in the West that emphasizes the physical aspect.In whatever way a Hindu defines the goal of life, there are several methods (yogas) that sages have taught for reaching that goal. A practitioner of yoga is called a yogi. Texts dedicated to Yoga include the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and, as their philosophical and historical basis, the Upanishads. Paths one can follow to achieve the spiritual goal of life (moksha, samadhi, or nirvana) include:

Bhakti Yoga (the path of love and devotion),
Karma Yoga (the path of right action),
Rāja Yoga (the path of meditation) and
Jñāna Yoga (the path of wisdom).[16]
An individual may prefer one yoga over others according to his or her inclination and understanding. For instance some followers of the Dvaita school hold that Bhakti ("devotion") is the only practical path to achieve spiritual perfection for most people, based on their belief that the world is currently in the age of Kali yuga (one of four epochs part of the Yuga cycle).[45] Practice of one yoga does not exclude others. Many schools believe that the different yogas naturally blend into and aid other yogas. For example, the practice of jnana yoga, is thought to inevitably lead to pure love (the goal of bhakti yoga), and vice versa.[46] Someone practicing deep meditation (such as in raja yoga) must embody the core principles of karma yoga, jnana yoga and bhakti yoga, whether directly or indirectly.[16][47]

Main article: Bhakti yoga
The bhakti traditions emphasize cultivation of love and devotion for God as the path to perfection. Followers of bhakti typically worship God as a divine personal being or avatar, such as Rama or Krishna. Followers of the bhakti path strive to purify their minds and activities through the chanting of God's names (japa), prayer, devotional hymns (bhajan) and treating all living creatures with compassion. Bhakti followers seek to enjoy a loving relationship with God, rather than to merge their consciousness with Brahman.

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PostSubject: Re: What is Hinduism?   Sat Jun 30, 2007 2:05 pm

Karma Yoga

Swami Vivekananda, shown here practicing meditation, was a Hindu guru (teacher) recognized for his inspiring lectures on topics such as yoga.Main article: Karma yoga
Followers of karma yoga seek to achieve freedom by acting without attachment to the results of their actions. According to Hinduism, action is inevitable, and has one great disadvantage—any act done with attachment to its fruits generates karmic or psychological bondage.[48] Followers of karma yoga follow the injunction in the Bhagavad Gita:

Without being attached to the fruits of action, one should act as a matter of duty; for by working without attachment, one attains the Supreme.[49]

Many followers of karma yoga offer the results of every action to God, thus combining karma yoga with bhakti yoga. Karma yoga is supposed to bring purification of the heart, freedom from bondage to the ego, humility, and the growing understanding that Brahman is in all people.[48]

Main article: Raja yoga
Followers of Raja yoga seek to experience the spiritual truth directly through meditation. Raja yoga is based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,[50] which has eight 'limbs' that describe the stages a yogi must pass through to reach the goal of samadhi.[51] The eight limbs begin with right action (yamas and niyamas) and perfect meditative posture (asana), and continue with control of the body's life force (pranayama). From there, the yogi practices techniques of meditation that take him through the progressive stages of interiorization (pratyahara), concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana).[52][51] The final goal of the raja yogi—and the eighth limb of Patanjali's Sutras—is samadhi, or oneness with Brahman.[53]

Main article: Jnana yoga
Jnana yoga is the path of wisdom, or true knowledge, and appeals to people with an intellectual nature.[54] The jnana yogi typically practices the four interrelated means to liberation:

Viveka: discriminating between what is real (the immortal Atman, or true self), and unreal (the physical universe)
Vairāgya, dispassion for material pleasures
Shad-Sampat, the six virtues, which bring about mental control and discipline.
Mumukshutva, intense desire for liberation.[55]
These practices lead to the unfoldment of wisdom (intuitive perception), rather than mere intellectual knowledge.[56] Through discrimination and introspection, the jnana yogi eventually realizes the highest truth, that "I am Brahman, the pure, all-pervading Consciousness."[55]

Main article: History of Hinduism

The earliest evidence for certain (minor) elements of Hinduism date back as far as the late neolithic to the early Harappan period (ca. 5500–2600 BCE).[57] The beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era (ca. 1500-500 BCE) are called the "Vedic religion". The oldest text of Hinduism is the Rigveda, which is dated to between 1700–1100 BCE based on linguistic and philological evidence.[58]

The Vedic period
Main article: Historical Vedic religion

Sacred Mount Kailash in Tibet is regarded as the spiritual abode of Shiva.Modern Hinduism grew out of the Vedas. The earliest of these, the Rigveda, centers on worship of deities such as Indra, Varuna and Agni, and on the Soma ritual. They performed fire-sacrifices, called yajña and chanted Vedic mantras but did not build temples or icons. Buddhist and Jain texts claim that animals were sacrificed in larger yajñas. The oldest Vedic traditions exhibit strong similarities to Zoroastrianism and with other Indo-European religions.[59]

Epic and Puranic periods
The epic poems Ramayana and Mahabharata were composed roughly from 400 BCE to 200 CE but were transmitted orally for hundreds of years prior to this period.[60] The epics contain secular and mythological stories about the rulers and wars of ancient India as well as on the avatars Rama and Krishna respectively. They are interspersed with various Hindu philosophical treatises. The later Puranas recount tales about devas and devis, their interactions with humans and their battles against demons.

The age of Mahajanapadas
Main article: Mahajanapadas
During the Iron Age in India, several schools of thought arose and developed in Hindu philosophy including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa and Vedanta. Three key events underpinned the nascence of a new epoch in Hindu thought. These were the spiritual upheaval initiated by the Upanishads, and the arrival of Mahavira (founder of Jainism) and the Buddha (founder of Buddhism). Charvaka, the founder of an atheistic materialist school, came to the fore in North India in the sixth century BCE.[61] The Upanishads, Mahavira and Buddha taught that to achieve moksha or nirvana, one did not have to accept the authority of the Vedas or the caste system; the Buddha went a step further and claimed that the existence of a Self/soul or God was unnecessary.[62] In this intellectual ferment, many Hindus became Buddhists and Jains while others were influenced by their teachings.[63] The arrival of new philosophies substantially changed the religion during the Maurya and Gupta periods.[64]

Islam and Bhakti
From the twelfth century, successive waves of armies from Muslim kingdoms invaded and to varying degrees, gained control over North India.[61] During this period Buddhism declined rapidly while many Hindus converted to Islam. Some Muslim rulers such as Aurangzeb destroyed Hindu temples and persecuted non-Muslims, while others such as Akbar, were more tolerant.

Hinduism underwent profound changes in large part due to the influence of the prominent teachers Ramanuja, Madhva, and Chaitanya.[61] Followers of the Bhakti movement moved away from the abstract concept of Brahman, which the philosopher Adi Shankara consolidated a few centuries before, with emotional, passionate devotion towards the more accessible avataras, especially Krishna and Rama.[61][65]

Indology and reform movements
The 19th and 20th centuries saw an unprecedented interaction between Hindu and European thought (in the form of Abrahamic religions and Western Philosophy). This intercultural correspondence catalyzed developments in Indology, formations of new schools of Hindu thought, the global spread of the religion and changes in Hindu society. Meanwhile, traditional systems of Hinduism witnessed revivals that flourished independently.

Indology as an academic discipline of studying Indian culture from a European perspective was established in the 19th century, led by Max Müller and John Woodroffe. They brought Vedic, Puranic and Tantric literature and philosophy to Europe and the United States. At the same time, societies such as the Brahmo Samaj and the Theosophical Society attempted to reconcile and fuse Abrahamic and Dharmic philosophies, endeavouring to institute societal reform.

An ISKCON temple, in New Delhi, IndiaThis period also saw the emergence of movements which, while sometimes highly innovative, were rooted in indigenous tradition. They were sometimes based on the personalities and teachings of individuals, as with Shri Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi. Prominent Hindu philosophers, including Sri Aurobindo and Swami Prabhupada (founder of ISKCON) translated, reformulated and presented Hinduism's foundational texts for contemporary audiences in new iterations, attracting followers and attention in India and abroad. Others such as Swami Vivekananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, B.K.S. Iyengar and Swami Rama have been instrumental in raising the profiles of traditional Yoga and Vedanta in the West.

Hinduism is still practised by the majority of India's inhabitants although the number in Pakistan and Bangladesh have dwindled after the Partition of India. Hinduism is the official religion of Nepal, which is the world's only Hindu state.[66][67]

Scriptures and theology
Hinduism is based on "the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times."[68] The scriptures were transmitted orally in verse form to aid memorization, for many centuries before they were written down.[69][70] Over many centuries, sages refined the teachings and expanded the canon. Most sacred texts are in Sanskrit. The texts are collectively referred to as Shastras and are classified into two classes: Shruti and Smriti.

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PostSubject: Re: What is Hinduism?   Sat Jun 30, 2007 2:05 pm

Main article: Śruti

The Rig Veda is one of the oldest religious texts. This Rig Veda manuscript is in DevanagariShruti (lit: that which is heard) refers to the Vedas which form the earliest record of the Hindu scriptures. While they have not been dated with much certainty, the most conservative estimates date their origin to 1200 BCE or earlier.[71][72][73]

Hindus revere the Vedas as eternal truths revealed to ancient sages (Ṛṣis) through meditation.[74] Many of these sages were women, called Ṛṣikās.[75] Many devotees do not associate the creation of the Vedas with a God or person. They are thought of as the laws of the spiritual world, which would still exist even if they were not revealed to the sages.[76][77][78]

There are four Vedas (called Ṛg-, Sāma- Yajus- and Atharva-). The Rigveda is the first and most important Veda.[79] Each Veda is divided into four parts: the primary one, the Veda proper, being the Saṃhitā, which contains sacred mantras. The other three parts form a three-tier ensemble of commentaries, usually in prose and are believed to be slightly later in age than the Saṃhitā. These are: the Brāhmaṇas, Āraṇyakas, and the Upanishads. The first two parts were subsequently called the Karmakāṇḍa (ritualistic portion), while the last two form the Jñānakāṇḍa (knowledge portion).[80][81][82]

While the Vedas focus on rituals, the Upanishads focus on spiritual insight and philosophical teachings. They constitute a major portion of the Jnāna Kānda.[70] The Upanishads discuss Brahman and reincarnation.[83][84] The Vedas are not read by most lay Hindus but are revered as the eternal knowledge whose sacred sounds help bring spiritual and material benefits. Theologically, they take precedence over the Smriti.[85] and local custom.

Main article: Smriti

The Naradeya Purana describes the mechanics of the cosmos. Depicted here are Vishnu with his consort Lakshmi resting on Shesha Nag. Narada and Brahma are also pictured.Hindu texts other than the Shrutis are collectively called the Smritis (memory).[86] The most notable of the smritis are the Itihāsa (epics), which consist of the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa. Bhagavad Gītā is an integral part of the Mahabharata and one of the most popular sacred texts of Hinduism. It contains philosophical teachings from Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, told to the prince Arjuna on the eve of a great war. The Bhagavad Gītā is described as the essence of the Vedas.[87]

The Smritis also include the Purāṇas, which illustrate Hindu ideas through vivid mythological narratives. There are texts with a sectarian nature such as Devī Mahātmya, the Tantras, Tirumantiram, Shiva Sutras and the Hindu Āgamas. A more controversial text, the Manusmriti, is a prescriptive lawbook which epitomizes the societal codes of the caste system.

Most Hindu scriptures are not typically interpreted literally. More importance is attached to the ethics and metaphorical meanings derived from them.[88] Hindu exegesis leans toward figurative interpretations of scriptures rather than the literal.

"Many scriptures, many paths"
In contrast to the scriptural canons of some religions, the Hindu scriptural canon is not closed. Hindus believe that because the spiritual truths of the Vedas are eternal, they continue to be expressed in new ways.[89] This openness means that there is little theological quarrel between Hindu denominations[90] although these denominations may view God and their notions in a different form or sense.[91]

Schools of philosophy
Main article: Hindu philosophy
The six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, which accept the authority of the Vedas, are Nyāya, Vaisheshika, Sāṃkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta.[92] Although scholars mainly study these philosophies, they influence the beliefs of most Hindus.

Hindu practices generally involve seeking awareness of God and sometimes also seeking blessings from Devas. Therefore, Hinduism has developed numerous practices meant to help one think of divinity in the midst of everyday life. According to Swami Vivekananda:

"The ideal of man is to see God in everything. But if you cannot see Him in everything, see Him in one thing, in that thing you like best, and then see Him in another. So on you go . . . Take your time and you will achieve your end."[93]

Main article: Puja
Hindus can engage in pūjā (worship or veneration),[21] either at home or at a temple. At home, Hindus often create a shrine with icons dedicated to the individual's chosen form(s) of God. Veneration may involve offering food, water, or flowers and may be expressed through the burning of incense, lighting of candles or oil-lamps, ringing a bell, waving a fan, or sounding a conch-shell. Other practices in Puja include meditation, chanting mantras, and reciting scriptures.

Icons of devas and devis are an integral part of most Hindu temples. Shown here are Ganesha and Lakshmi, heavily laden with garlands, taken during a Hindu prayer ceremony.
Devotional singing
Devotional singing is an important part of bhakti. Devotional singing occurs in temples, ashrams, on the banks of holy rivers, at home and elsewhere. Hymns are in Sanskrit or in modern Indian languages. Musical instruments accompanying devotional singing include the manjeera, tanpura, harmonium, and tabla. Another form of community worship is Satsang, the practice of gathering for study or discussion of scriptures and religious topics as well as chanting mantras.[94]

Main article: Yajna
Vedic rites of fire-oblation (yajna) are now only occasional practices although they are highly revered in theory. In a Hindu wedding ceremony however, the presence of sacred fire as the divine witness, the yajña and chanting of Vedic mantras is still the norm.[95][96] The same applies to death rituals.

Worship through icons
Main article: Murti
Hindus may perform their worship through icons (murti), such as statues or paintings symbolic of God's power and glory. The icon serves as a tangible link between the worshipper and God.[97] Another view is that the image is a manifestation of God, since God is immanent. The Padma Purana states that the mūrti is not to be thought of as mere stone or wood but as a manifest form of the Divinity.[98] A few Hindu sects, such as the Ārya Samāj, do not believe in worshiping God through icons.


Akshardham Temple, New DelhiMain article: Mandir
Hindu temples are a place of worship for Hindus. They are usually dedicated to a primary deity along with associated subordinate deities though some commemorate multiple deities. Most temples are constructed as per the āgama shāstras and many are pilgrimage sites.

Visiting temples is not obligatory.[99] Many Hindus only go during religious festivals but others visit more regularly. Temples are not used for funerals, or as social hubs but are sometimes used for weddings. Some view the four Shankaracharyas (the abbots of the monasteries in Joshimath, Puri, Shringeri and Dwarka) as the Patriarchs of Hinduism.

Main article: Hindu iconography

SwastikaHinduism has a developed system of symbolism and iconography to represent the sacred in art, architecture, literature and worship. These symbols gain their meaning from the scriptures, mythology, or cultural traditions. The symbols Om (which represents the Parabrahman), Swastika (which symbolizes auspiciousness) have grown to represent Hinduism itself, while other markings such as tilaka identify a follower of the faith. Hinduism associates many symbols with particular deities, which include the lotus, chakra and veena. These associations distinguish their physical representations in sculptures and pictures and are based on allegorical references in Hindu mythology. While most representations of deities are largely anthropomorphic there are exceptions. For instance, Shiva can be worshipped in the form of a pillar-like stone called a lingam.

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PostSubject: Re: What is Hinduism?   Sat Jun 30, 2007 2:05 pm

The guru-disciple tradition
Main articles: Guru-shishya tradition and guru
In many sects, spiritual aspirants adopt a personal spiritual teacher, called a guru. Traditionally, during brahmacharya (see Ashramas) a Guru taught a disciple all things necessary to lead a dharmic life. The student is expected to follow the instructions of the guru to have a spiritual life.

Japa and mantra
Main articles: Japa and Mantra
Mantras are prayers that through their meaning, sound, and chanting style help a devotee focus their mind on holy thoughts or to express devotion to God. Mantras are meant to give courage in exigent times and invoke one's inner spiritual strength. After the fundamental mantra of Aum, one of the most revered mantras is the Gayatri Mantra. Hindus are initiated into this most sacred mantra at the time of their Upanayanam (thread ceremony).[citation needed] Many devotees perform morning ablutions at the bank of a sacred river while chanting the Gayatri or Mahamrityunjaya mantras.

The epic Mahabharata extolls Japa (ritualistic chanting) as the greatest duty in the Kali Yuga (what Hindus believe to be the current age). Many adopt Japa as their primary spiritual practice. The Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition chanting the Hare Krishna mantra is one such example.


The largest religious gathering on Earth. Around 70 million Hindus participated in the Kumbh Mela at Prayag, India.Pilgrimage is not mandatory in Hinduism though many adherents undertake them. There are many Hindu holy places in India. One of the most famous is the ancient city of Varanasi. Other holy places in India include Kedarnath and Badrinath in the Himalayas, the Jagannath temple at Puri, Rishikesh and Haridwar in the foothills of the Himalayas, Prayag, Rameshwaram in the South and Gaya in the east. The largest single gathering of pilgrims is during the annual Kumbh Mela fair held in one of four different cities on a rotating basis.[citation needed] Another important set of pilgrimages are the Shakti Peethas, where the Mother Goddess is worshipped, the two principal ones being Kalighat and Kamakhya. Vaishno Devi, the Shakti temple near Katra, Jammu and Kashmir is the second most visited religious shrine in India, after Tirupati Balaji Mandir.[100]

Hindu festivals
Hinduism has many festivals throughout the year. The Hindu calendar usually prescribe their dates. The festivals typically celebrate events from Hindu mythology, often coinciding with seasonal changes being a predominantly agrarian society. There are festivals which are primarily celebrated by specific sects or in certain regions of the Indian subcontinent.

Some widely observed Hindu festivals are,

Dussera, or Durga Puja, celebrates events from Hindu mythology concerning the triumph of good over evil;
Diwali, the festival of lights;
Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival celebrating Ganesha;
Maha Shivaratri, the festival dedicated to Shiva;
Ram Navami, celebrates the birth of Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu;
Krishna Janmastami, celebrates the birth of Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu;
Holi, a spring festival of color and light;

On death, cremation is considered obligatory for all except sanyasis, hijra, and children under five. Cremation is typically performed by wrapping the corpse in cloth and burning it on a pyre. Manikarnika Ghat, in Varanasi, is a famous site where bodies are cremated by the side of the river, in full view of the public. Those not cremated may be simply wrapped in cloth, weighted with stones and cast into a river.

Hinduism obliges the closest male relative (son, father, husband, etc.) of the deceased to immerse the cremated remains in the holy river Ganga (Ganges), preferably at the holy city of Haridwar, India. The cremated remains may also be entombed, in case the deceased was a well-known person.


Main article: Hindu denominations

The Pashupatinath temple in Nepal, regarded as one of the most sacred places in Shaivism.Hinduism has no central doctrinal authority and many practising Hindus do not claim to belong to any particular denomination.[101] However, academics categorize contemporary Hinduism into four major denominations: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism. The denominations differ primarily in the God worshipped as the Supreme One and in the traditions that accompany worship of that God.

Vaishnavas worship Vishnu; Shaivites worship Shiva; Shaktas worship Shakti (power) personified through a female divinity or Mother Goddess, Devi; while Smartists believe in the essential sameness of all deities.

There are movements that are not easily placed in any of the above categories, such as Swami Dayananda Saraswati's Arya Samaj, which rejects image worship and veneration of multiple deities. It focuses on the Vedas and the Vedic fire sacrifices (yajña). The Tantric traditions have various sects, as Banerji observes:

Tantras are ... also divided as āstika or Vedic and nāstika or non-Vedic. In accordance with the predominance of the deity the āstika works are again divided as Śākta, Śaiva, Saura, Gāṇapatya and Vaiṣṇava.[102]

As in every religion, some view their own denomination as superior to others. However, many Hindus consider other denominations to be legitimate alternatives to their own. Heresy is therefore generally not an issue for Hindus.[103]

Main article: Vedic ashram system
Traditionally the life of a Hindu is divided into four Āshramas (phases or stages; unrelated meanings include monastery).

The first part of one's life, Brahmacharya, the stage as a student, is spent in celibate, controlled, sober and pure contemplation under the guidance of a Guru, building up the mind for spiritual knowledge. Grihastha is the householder's stage, in which one marries and satisfies kāma and artha in one's married and professional life respectively (see the pursuits of life). The moral obligations of a Hindu householder include supporting one's parents, children, guests and holy figures. Vānaprastha, the retirement stage, is gradual detachment from the material world. This may involve giving over duties to one's children, spending more time in religous practices and embarking on holy pilgrimages. Finally, in Sannyāsa, the stage of asceticism, one renounces all worldly attachments to secludedly find the Divine through detachment from worldly life and peacefully shed the body for Moksha.[104]

Main article: Sannyasa
Some Hindus choose to live a monastic life (Sannyāsa) in pursuit of liberation or another form of spiritual perfection. Monastics commit themselves to a life of simplicity, celibacy, detachment from worldly pursuits, and the contemplation of God.[105] A Hindu monk is called a sanyāsī, sādhu, or swāmi.[106] A female renunciate is called a sanyāsini. Renunciates receive high respect in Hindu society because their outward renunciation of selfishness and worldliness serves as an inspiration to householders who strive for mental renunciation. Some monastics live in monasteries, while others wander from place to place, trusting in God alone to provide for their needs.[107] It is considered a highly meritorious act for a householder to provide sādhus with food or other necessaries. Sādhus strive to treat all with respect and compassion, whether a person may be poor or rich, good or wicked, and to be indifferent to praise, blame, pleasure, and pain.[105]

Varnas and the caste system
Main article: Varnashrama dharma
Hindu society has traditionally been categorized into four classes, called Varnas (Sanskrit: "color, form, appearance");[21]

the Brahmins: teachers and priests;
the Kshatriyas: warriors, nobles, and kings;
the Vaishyas: farmers, merchants, and businessmen; and
the Shudras: servants and labourers.
Hindus and scholars debate whether the caste system is an integral part of Hinduism sanctioned by the scriptures or an outdated social custom.[108][109] Although the scriptures contain passages that clearly sanction the Varna system, they contain indications that the caste system is not an essential part of the religion. Both sides in the debate can find scriptural support for their views. The oldest scriptures, the Vedas, strongly sustain the division of society into four classes (varna) but place little emphasis on the caste system, mentioning it rarely and in a cursory manner. A verse from the Rig Veda indicates that a person's caste was not necessarily determined by that of his family:

"I am a bard, my father is a physician, my mother's job is to grind the corn." (Rig Veda 9.112.3)[110]

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PostSubject: Re: What is Hinduism?   Sat Jun 30, 2007 2:06 pm

In the Vedic Era, there was no prohibition against the Shudras listening to the Vedas or participating in any religious rite, as was the case in the later times.[111] Mobility and flexibility within the varnas challenge allegations of social discrimination in the caste system, as has been pointed out by several sociologists.[112][113]

Many social reformers, including Mahatma Gandhi and B. R. Ambedkar, criticized caste discrimination.[114] The religious teacher Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) taught that

"Lovers of God do not belong to any caste . . . . A brahmin without this love is no longer a brahmin. And a pariah with the love of God is no longer a pariah. Through bhakti (devotion to God) an untouchable becomes pure and elevated."[115]

Ahimsa and vegetarianism
Main articles: Ahimsa, Sacred cow, and Vegetarianism and religion
Hindus advocate the practice of ahiṃsā (non-violence) and respect for all life because divinity is believed to permeate all beings, including plants and non-human animals.[116] The term ahiṃsā appears in the Upanishads,[117] the epic Mahabharata[118] and Ahiṃsā is the first of the five Yamas (eternal vows/restraints) in Raja Yoga.

In accordance with ahiṃsā, many Hindus embrace vegetarianism to respect higher forms of life. While vegetarianism is not a requirement, it is recommended for a satvic (purifying) lifestyle. Estimates of the number of lacto vegetarians in India (includes inhabitants of all religions) vary between 20% and 42%.[119] The food habits vary with the community and region, for example some castes having fewer vegetarians and coastal populations relying on seafood.[120][121] Some Hindus avoid even onion and garlic, which are regarded as rajasic foods. Some avoid meat on specific holy days.

Observant Hindus who do eat meat almost always abstain from beef. The largely pastoral Vedic people and subsequent generations relied heavily on the cow for protein-rich milk and dairy products, tilling of fields and as a provider of fuel and fertilizer. Thus, it was identified as a caretaker and a maternal figure. Hindu society honors the cow as a symbol of unselfish giving. Cow-slaughter is legally banned in almost all states of India.[122]

Since the Hindu scriptures are essentially silent on the issue of religious conversion, the question of whether Hindus should evangelize is open to interpretation.[123] Those who see Hinduism mainly as a philosophy or a way of life generally believe that one can convert to Hinduism by incorporating Hindu beliefs into one's life and considering oneself a Hindu.[123] Some view Hinduism as more of an ethnicity than a religion and believe being born a Hindu makes one a Hindu for life. These people tend to assume that one is Hindu when they come from India.[124] The Supreme Court of India has taken the former view, holding that the question of whether a person is a Hindu should be determined by the person's belief system, not by their ethnic or racial heritage.[125]

There is no formal process for converting to Hinduism, although in many traditions a ritual called dīkshā ("initiation") marks the beginning of spiritual life. Most Hindu sects do not actively recruit converts because they believe that the goals of spiritual life can be attained through any religion, as long as it is practiced sincerely.[126] Nevertheless, Hindu "missionary" groups operate in various countries to provide spiritual guidance to persons of any religion. Examples include the Vedanta Society, Parisada Hindu Dharma, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Arya Samaj and the Self-Realization Fellowship.

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