Hinduism is referred as ‘Vaidik Dharma’ (“religion of the Vedas”) or ‘Sanatana Dharma’ (“universal religion”) in the ancient scriptures. Hinduism is not strictly a religion but a code of life, which is based on the practice of Dharma. The tenets of Hinduism cannot be easily defined as unlike other religions, Hindu Dharma did not originate from a single person, a single book, or at a single point of time. Hinduism can be regarded as a cumulative collection of communities, faiths, beliefs and practices that have come together over the centuries. The foundations of Hinduism were laid by ancient ‘rishis’ (sages), who taught their disciples the eternal principles of life, which they had discovered through sustained meditations. Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world with more than a billion followers.
Fundamentals of Hinduism:
Hindu religious thought is based upon the belief in the ‘Ultimate Reality’ (‘Brahman’ of the Upanishads), the spirit (‘atman’), and in the spiritual order of the world. The oldest Hindu scripture, Rig Veda, says: “Ekam sat vipraha, bahudha vadanti”, meaning “Truth is one; but the wise call it by different names.” As per this doctrine, the ‘Ultimate Reality’ possesses infinite potential, power and intelligence, and, therefore, cannot be limited by a single form or name. Thus, the Hindus view the ‘Ultimate Reality’ as having two aspects: impersonal and personal. The impersonal aspect of the ‘Ultimate Reality’ is called ‘Nirguna Brahman’ in the Hindu scriptures, which has no attributes. It is beyond conception, reasoning and thought, and, as such, is not an object of prayer but of meditation and knowledge. The personal aspect of the Ultimate Reality is known as ‘Saguna Brahman’ or the ‘Brahman’ with attributes, which is the creator, sustainer and controller of the universe. Saguna Brahman cannot be limited by one form and is therefore worshipped by the Hindus in both male and female forms. The male aspect is referred by various Sanskrit names like ‘Parameshvara’, ‘Paramatma’, ‘Ishvara’, ‘Maheshvara’ and ‘Purusha’. The female aspect of the Saguna Brahman is referred by various names, such as ‘Divine Mother’, ‘Durga’ and ‘Kali’. These male and female aspects are worshipped in many forms, called deities.
The Hindu scriptures teach that an individual is essentially ‘atman’ clothed in a physical body. The Sanskrit word ‘atman’ is usually translated as soul, self or spirit. ‘Atman’ is immortal and divine and is considered as the source of the mind, intellect and ego sense in a human body. In the Hindu view, therefore, an individual is potentially divine and eternally perfect. There are two states of existence associated with the ‘atman’, the bound state and the liberated state. In the bound state, the ‘atman’ is associated with a physical body. As a result of this association, the atman is subject to ‘maya’, which causes it to forget its true divine nature and commit evil deeds in the world. In the liberated state, the ‘atman’ is said to have attained ‘moksha’ or spiritual perfection and consequently enjoys union with the God.
The Hindus affirm that there is only one Supreme Being, who is the God of all religions. Hindus view cosmic activity of the Supreme Being as comprised of three tasks: creation, preservation and destruction, performed by the three deities, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva respectively, who together form the ‘Hindu Trinity’. It must be understood that Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are not three independent deities, but represent the same Supreme Being in three different aspects. Thus, the worship of several deities in Hinduism can be described as ‘monotheistic polytheism’ and not simple ‘polytheism’.
Principal Hindu Doctrines:
Hindu sages declare that there is no single religion that teaches an exclusive road to salvation. All genuine spiritual paths are valid and all great religions are like the branches of a tree – the tree of religion. This doctrine lays the foundation for the Hindu ideal of universal harmony. The Hindus believe in one Supreme Being, who is absolute existence, knowledge and bliss (‘satchidananda’). He can be worshipped and prayed in the form of a chosen deity (‘Ishta Devata’) in temples and homes.
The cosmic order is maintained by the law of ‘Dharma’, which states that right action must be performed for the sake of righteousness and good must be done for the sake of goodness, without any expectation in return. The Hindus also believe in the doctrine of ‘Karma’, according to which every human action (thought, word, or deed) inevitably leads to results, good or bad, depending upon the moral quality of the action. Karma is also the law of harmony and equilibrium, which provides an individual with an opportunity to change his past for a better future. The Hindus also believe in the doctrine of ‘predestination’, which postulates that everything happens only according to God’s will and individuals do not exercise any control over events. This doctrine appears to contradict the doctrine of Karma, but is accepted as equally valid in the Hindu dharma.
The four ends of human life are ‘dharma’, ‘artha’, ‘kama’, and ‘moksha’. According to the Hindu Dharma, when a person dies, his physical body is left behind and the soul goes to a different plane of existence called ‘loka’ in Sanskrit. Another important doctrine is the ‘reincarnation’, wherein it is possible for a soul to take more than one birth at the same time, either high or low.
In the Hindu view, the ‘atman’ (soul) is in an evolutionary stage and its goal is to merge with the divine and obtain freedom from the cycle of rebirth. This state has been referred by various terms like ‘nirvana’, ‘kaivalya’, ‘mukti’ and ‘moksha’.