The word ‘Hindu’ originally meant ‘those who live on the other side of the Indus River’, which, in the Sanskrit language was the Sindhu. Of utmost importance to Hindus, then and now, are the world’s most ancient scriptures – the Vedas – the ‘knowledge of God’.
In Hinduism, the one supreme Absolute and divine starting point of all reality is known as ‘Brahman’. While this overarching concept has no single manifestation, it is represented in the myriad gods and goddesses to which Hinduism has given rise. For every spiritual craving there is a vast array of deities to call upon. The diversity of nature is truly divine in Hinduism, and provides for everyone.
Hindu deities come in a dazzling array of forms, each displaying some aspect of the Absolute. Just as there are many different kinds of individuals, so are there many different ways to worship God. What is good for one, may not be good for the next. Hinduism allows for an almost infinite variety of ways to approach God and the Divine. Whatever temple, symbol, or image helps a person to realise the God within, Hinduism is open to it.
The ‘Big Three’ deities, known as the Trimurti, are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Their equally famous consorts are Saraswati, Laxmi and Parvati. Lord Krishna, known for his playfulness and great wisdom, is one of the best loved of all the Hindu deities. But gods and goddesses are not confined to human form. Many beloved deities display animal features – the monkey god, Hanuman, for instance, and Ganesha the elephant god, two of the most popular animal deities in Hinduism. Images and idols of these Hindu gods are found everywhere in India, from the humblest mud hut to the most magnificent temple.
With so many gods and goddesses, Hinduism has evolved the enlightened belief that all genuine religious paths are facets of God’s love. The religion, therefore, claims no monopoly on saving souls, which is an important aspect of the spirit of Hindusim.
To be nearer to God, this is the goal of Hinduism. In the search for God, a Hindu travels the path that best suits his or her nature. The various spiritual practices are called Yoga, practical methods designed to bring the body, emotions, will or intellect into union with the universal Soul. According to one’s nature, one style of Yoga will be prove more effective than the others. A person chooses the Yoga, which, from experience, best attunes oneself to the Divine. Whichever device best helps a person achieve the goal of Moksha, or freedom.
Hindu scriptures, which include more than just the Vedas, constitute a mass of sacred texts devoted to examining philosophy and spirituality. It is not surprising that many sects have arisen within Hinduism, each with its own interpretation. But belief in the divinity of the Vedas is not optional. These primordial teachings underpin the Hindu religion, which is believed to have no beginning and no end. Authorship of the Vedas aren’t credited to any individual. No one spoke them, nor did they arrive printed and bound, in fact, they were not considered to have been ‘created’ at all. They have existed since the earliest legends, infinite and eternal, like creation itself, that’s the Vedas.
Common to all Hindu sects is the belief in one all-pervading God. Other essential principles held in common form the core of the religion for all sects. Here are a few:
All Hindus believe in endless cycles of creation. The creative energy in the universe is always active, always has been and always will be. According to the ‘law of cycles’, the whole of existence is continually passing through states of creation, preservation, dissolution and then ‘projecting’ forth again. In fact, the Sanskrit word for creation, properly translated, is ‘projection’.
The power behind creation is Brahman, for which there is no accurate English translation. Brahman is the almighty, the all-knowing, all-merciful, omnipresent and formless. If there is a discrepancy among various people’s happiness or status, it is the result of having sown the seeds of our own situation, not only in this life but in previous incarnations as well. This cause and effect is known as Karma.
The law of Karma states that each of us is the product of an infinite past – that each of us creates his or her own destiny by thoughts, words, and actions. No one but ourselves are responsible for what we enjoy or suffer. Every lifetime is an opportunity for each individual to act more consciously and thereby ‘burn’ past karma. In this sense, we’re all the captains of our fate. Hindus believe that, by the grace of our infinite human will, we are free. Even nature must surrender to human will – or so says the law of Karma.
Hindus believe that the soul (Atman) reincarnates again and again and again until every soul has resolved its Karma and liberation (Moksha) is attained. The goal of the soul is liberation, and as long as a person is a slave to time and space, that freedom isn’t realized. But when ‘nature falls at your feet’, then there is no more life and no more death. No more enjoyment and consequently no more misery. One exists in a state not defined by attachment to pleasure and pain, and that state is bliss.
What is the soul? Hindu sects have various opinions, but all agree that souls are immortal. Furthermore, in every human being, and equally in every animal, there resides the same omniscient soul. They may have manifested differently, but the soul remains the same. From this philosophy comes a sense of brotherhood of all species, of all creation. All life is sacred. Some say that this philosophical concept is the single greatest idea ever to come out of India.
“Each soul is potentially divine,” said the late, great Swami Vivekanada. “The goal is to manifest this divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either through action (Karma Yoga), or worship (Bhakti Yoga), or meditation (Raja Yoga), or philosophy (Jnana Yoga). By one or more or all of these (techniques) you can be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines or dogmas or rituals or books or temples are but secondary details.”
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