One of the oldest religions in the world, Hinduism has no identifiable
founder because it is a religion that evolved and developed through ages from
the spiritual, religious and social practices of the people of the Indian
Unlike most other religions in the world, Hindu tradition has no single
founder and no specific book or even a path to follow. People are allowed to
choose their own path for enlightenment, which suits a person most in terms of
his/her current position, abilities and need, guided by a Guru or book or
tradition or purely conscience.
The word "Hindu" comes from the Sanskrit name for the river Indus
(Sindhu). Most likely the people from the Middle East used this term first to
indicate the people who lived on the eastern side of the Indus river. The term
India also has the same root, however, this may have been coined by the
Greeks. European colonists used Hinduism to indicate the spiritual and social
practices of the people of India. Hindus use Sanatana Dharma, or the
"eternal universal tradition of righteousness and duty" to describe
their spiritual and social practices. In this sense all Indic traditions such
as Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism – all are part of the
greater Hindu or Indic heritage and civilization. Concepts such as Yoga, Karma
and reincarnation, Ahimsa, Dharma, Mantra, Guru, Moksha, etc. are common for
all these paths.
According to many, Hinduism in its recognizable form first appeared in
about 1500 BCE (Before the Common Era, formerly BC, Before Christ), but Hindus
and some other scholars believe that it is much older than that (according to
some accounts it is between 5 to 10 thousand years old).
Hinduism, commonly referred to as Hindu Dharma by the Indic traditions
developed in the Indian Sub-continent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal) and
today is mainly practiced in India, Nepal, parts of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri
Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Trinidad, Mauritius, Surinam, South Africa, Kenya,
U.K., Canada and USA. Hinduism is, however, spreading throughout the world as
the result of immigration, and as people in the west become increasingly
interested in eastern religion and spirituality.
Who is God?
Hindus consider Brahman or Isvara the ultimate reality. There
are hundreds of gods and goddesses (devas and devis – meaning
"divine manifestation of the supreme") in Hinduism, and each is seen
as the personification of an aspect of Brahman. The three main gods
representing the Hindu Trinity are Vishnu, the force for preservation; Brahma,
the creator; and Siva the destructive force. And the main accompanying
goddesses (consorts) of each are: Lakshmi (wealth and prosperity), Saraswati
(knowledge), and Shakti or Durga (creative power), respectively.
Where Did We Come From?
All reality is an expression or manifestation of Brahman, the One that is
All. There are several different accounts in Hindu sacred texts about how the
universe was created. The main doctrine says that the Supreme Being, which is
one and only one, wanted to be many and thus created this universe to have leela
Why Are We Here?
Hindus believe in karma— the law of action and effect, which
states that what you do in this mundane life has either a positive or a
negative consequence in the realm of ultimate reality, which in turn affects
your earthly existence. Along with karma, Hindus believe in re-birth
(reincarnation). The goal of life for a Hindu is to escape this worldly cycle
of karma and rebirth by allowing his or her soul to become one with Brahman—the
One that is All. Moksha is the term for this final emancipation
(release) from mundane existence. Sometimes Hindus refer to this state as nirvana,
but nirvana is in fact mainly a Buddhist term. Hindus believe that worldly
objects distract and prevent a person from attaining oneness with Brahman. Moksha
is Self-realization or Yoga (meaning connecting with or discovering the
Self or the personal soul called Jiv-atma and thus communion the Param-atma
or the Supreme Being). A deeper meaning of Moksha is to free oneself
from all the human emotions (greed, anger, hatred etc.) and attachments, which
are causes of pain and suffering.
How Do We Know?
The primary Hindu religious books are called the Vedas, which means
"knowledge" in Sanskrit (the ancient language of the Hindus), the
oldest texts known to humans. Hindus believe the Vedas contains universal
truth. There are four basic Vedic books: the Rigveda is the most
important and contains mantras (hymns to the gods), where were composed
thousands of years ago and were memorized, chanted, and passed down orally
from one generation to the next before being written down in Sanskrit. The
other Vedic books are Yajur-veda, Sama-Veda, and Atharva-veda.
The Bhagavad-Gita (which means Song of the Lord) is also a very important
book for Hindus. It outlines the three paths (marga) to final release from the
mundane world: karma-marga (the path of action and duties) which outlines
deeds such as selfless service, which ultimately frees oneself, and also
various religious and social rituals; jnana-marga (the path of knowledge)
which encourages meditation, study, and yoga as a way to identify oneself with
Brahman; and bhakti-marga (the path of devotion) which calls for the worship
of a particular god.
There are literally hundreds of scriptures to be found in the Hindu
tradition. The other main books are the Upanishads, the Puranas, and two of
the world’s greatest epic-spiritual-historical works : the Ramayana and the
Mahabharata. Bhagavad-Gita is a part of the Mahabharata.
What Do We Have To Do?
Hindu people perform meditation, Yoga, sacrifices (mainly food), image
worship, rituals, fasting, sacraments, and sing or chant personal devotionals
(mantras, or hymns to the gods) to certain gods that have particular
meaning for them. Practicing Hindus perform these duties either at a temple,
or at a shrine in their homes or places of work. Adherence to these practices
allows a Hindu peace in this life, and the purity of mind, body, and spirit
required for communion (or contact) with the divine.
Tradition, order, and hierarchy are very important to the Hindu view of the
world. Part of being a faithful Hindu means fulfilling the dharma (law
and duty) of your particular social position, family, and profession. There
are four major varnas (or professional classes) of Hindu society:
Brahmins (people in the field of knowledge such as priests, teachers),
Kshatriyas (people in the field of defense and administration such as kings,
governance and army), Vaisyas (people in the field of trade and welfare) and
Shudras (people in the field of service and labor). There are thousands of castes
or a specific professional group in Hindu society. Fulfilling the dharma
or duties of your particular position is a key way of ensuring stability and
welfare of a person, a society and the entire creation in this life and the
What's Going On Today?
There are an estimated 746,797,000 Hindus in the world today (source: 1999
World Almanac). For detailed information about Hindus around the world
visit http://www.hindunet.org/world. Hinduism is
practiced around the world, but is focused in India, and Southeast Asia.
Millions of people around the world, especially in the West, are practicing
some aspects of the Hindu system, such as Yoga, Meditation, Vegetarianism,
Ahimsa or non-violence. Many of these aspects are currently being researched
and used in the fields of Health & Medicine, Management, Self-development,
Environmental issues, Human and animal rights, and Socio-Political issues
How Do We Recognize It?
Hinduism is often represented by the Om (or Aum), the
visual symbol of
the syllable which is spoken at the beginning and end of all prayers, mantras,
and meditation. The Om is comprised of three sounds, and thus represents the
perfect harmony of the three realms of the universe: earth, sky, and heaven. It
is the most sacred sounds of all which emerged first at the beginning of
creation and is still vibrating in creation now.
Kanchan Banerjee, Hindu Students Council
Dr. Seshagiri Rao, Editor, Encyclopedia of Hinduism.
Venkateswaran, T.K. (1995). Hinduism: A Portrait. In Beversluis, Joel
(Ed.). A Sourcebook for Earth’sCommunity of Religions. (pp. 40-44).
Ada: CoNexus Press.