Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world, and the principal religion of India and the official religion of the Kingdom of Nepal. Here is a brief introduction to Hinduism. Click on for more ...
Hinduism is also referred to as Sanatana Dharma, the eternal faith. It is not considered strictly a religion in today's world because it is a complex mixture of philosophies, rituals, yoga, mysticism, occultism, cults, sects, customs and to top it off, belief in one God who literally exists everywhere.
There are many contradictions within Hinduism because Hinduism over time has tried to assimilate every belief it has come in contact with. It thus acknowledges that the Ultimate Truth manifests itself in infinite ways, and the human mind cannot fathom it. This is also why there has been no conversions by force as in other religions. This is also why it has stood the test of time in spite of many foreign attempts to wipe it out.
Hinduism is based on the practice of Dharma, the code of ethics in the course of one's life. Hinduism has no official founder, anyone who practices Dharma can technically call himself a Hindu.
The essence of Hinduism lies in the fact that one can question the authority of anything, be it the scriptures, or even the existence of the Divine self or the Brahman and still be a Hindu.
Broadly speaking, the Hindu Scriptures are classified into Shruti (meaning 'heard') and Smriti (meaning 'remembered') both based on the mode of transmission and Nyaya (meaning 'logic or truth") based on its origin.
Shruti refers to revelations which were heard (directly from the Gods) by the sages while Smriti refers to what was written down and remembered. Shruti is considered more authoritative than Smriti because the former is believed to have been obtained directly from God by the spiritual experiences of Vedic sages in the course of their meditations , and therefore has no interpretations.
Vedas constitute the Shruti while the rest including Itihaasas (epics), Puranas (moral stories), and Agamas (emanated scriptures) are known as Smriti .
The oldest Hindu scriptures are the Vedas. The Vedas are called Shruti because they stem from the inner spiritual experience of the ancient sages while in a trance or in meditation. Hindus believe that Vedas are timeless and eternal. There are four Vedas, namely Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda, and the Atharveda.
Each Veda consists of sections namely Samhita (containing the original hymns) and Brahmana ( significance of the hymns), Aranyakas (interpretations), and Vedanta (Upanishads, which essentially are a metaphysical dialogue).
The Vedangas and Upavedas are texts which augment the Vedas. There are six vedangas namely Siksa, Jyotisha, Kalpa, Nirukti, Kandas, and Vyakarana. Jyotisha (astrology) is the most famous among them. There are five upavedas namely Artha, Dhanur, Sthapatya, Gandharva, and Ayurveda.
Ayurveda which deals with health, medicine is probably the most popular of the upavedas.
Agamas are rules for the ritual, rites and the worship of Gods. There are five of them based for the worship of Ganesh, Shakti, Surya, Shiva, and Vishnu.
The Vedas show three clear paths to achieving true self realization or godliness or the Brahman state. The first path is the Karma-kanda using the vedangas, The second path is the Upasana-kanda using Agamas and the third path is the Jnana-kanda using the Upanishads .
Upanishads are called Vedanta, because they expound on the spiritual essence of Vedas and they are found at the end of the Vedas. The Upanishads are essentially texts, while Vedanta is a philosophy. Upanishads in Sanskrit means 'to sit down near' and are called as such because they were explained to students, who traditionally learnt it sitting near the feet of their teacher or guru.
Vedanta, the basis of Hinduism, asserts that there is only one entity, the "Brahman" , that is the Absolute Truth. The Brahman has multiple roles to play- the creator, the maintainer, and the destroyer, all in one. This can be viewed as the origin of the Hindu trinity of Gods namely Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, respectively.
Vedanta states that the individual human soul (Jivatma) originates and merges with the Brahman. There are three different philosophies based on this concept. All of them try to explain their version of the relationship between Man, God and the World.
Advaita (non-duality) implies that there is an identity of Brahman and Jivatma . This is the philosophy expounded by the great saint Sri Shankaracharya. For answers to more questions please check out the FAQ on Advaita Vedanta
Dvaita (duality) differs by maintaining an ultimate diversity between the Brahman and the Jivatma. This is the philosophy expounded by the great saint Sri Madhavacharya. For answers to more questions please check out the FAQ on Dvaita Vedanta
Vishista-advaita (qualified non-duality) maintains a crucial differentiation as well as a fundamental identity. This is the philosophy expounded by the great saint Sri Ramanujacharya. For answers to more questions check out the excellent site on Vishista-advaita.
There are six systems of Indian philosophy. The name of the sage who is its main proponent is listed before the system. They are Jaimini's Purva Mimansa, Patanjali's Yoga, Gautama's Nyaya, Kanada's Vaisheshika, Vyasa's Uttar Mimansa, and Kapila's Sankhya. All the six systems are written in aphorisms (sutras). Though each sutra is just a few lines, huge commentaries have been written on each one of them.
Besides all the philosophy which expound on the cosmic attributes of the Divine, there are epics (Itihaasas) and stories (Puranas) written which bring into light the human attributes of the Divine.
Itihaasas comprises of the two epics: Ramayana and Mahabharata, which are the stories of two incarnations of Lord Vishnu, Rama and Krishna, respectively. These epics are by far the most popular and widely read ones.
Ramayana was first written by Valmiki while Mahabharata was written by Sage Vyasa. The Bhagavad-Gita is an integral part of the epic, Mahabharata. Due to its content, Bhagavad-Gita is sometimes considered to be a Gito-Upanishhad. There are also Kaavyas which are based on stories derived from the Itihaasas Puranas. Among them, Raghuvamsa, Meghadoota and Shakuntala are very famous and are the literary creations of Kalidas. Besides the scriptures, there are stotras and bhajans (devotional songs).
The Cosmic Being or "Brahman"
The Cosmic Being is made up of two parts: an inactive male component, and a female component, called nature (Prakiti). These 2 elements combine to form one entity: the Purusha who is a considered a macrocosm of the Universe or the microcosm of our body.
The Hindu Trinity
Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva form a triad or trinity of 3 gods, ( Trimurthi), and are the 3 fundamental principals gods of Hinduism .
Brahma is comparable to the God of Original Creation.
Shiva, determines the destiny of human beings and judges their souls. He can take away their life or lead them to reincarnation. His symbol is the Lingam or the organ of procreation.
Vishnu is the center of the universe, the symbol of union, love, truth and light. He also represents the positive forces of matter - the roots of life. He penetrates everything; even our most intimate and innermost thoughts. He surrounds everything, infiltrates everything and spreads everywhere by dividing himself, yet remaining whole.
Vishnu has two faces ; his positive face manifests itself as Vishnu and his negative face is symbolized by Shiva, the destructive principal.
The wives or consorts of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are Saraswati, Laxmi, and Parvati, respectively.
Collectively, they are sometimes referred to as Divine mother (or Shakti). Two of Parvati's forms worshipped are Durga and Kali. The 'sons' of Shiva are Ganesh and Kartikeya (or Muruga) and they are also widely worshipped.
A Hindu worships all the above deities. This process of worship is referred to as the puja. It is conducted to an idol made of gold, silver, bronze or even clay. Those who can not even afford these, worship the Gods in paintings/pictures. The significance of the idol worship is symbolical. It brings us in contact with God at a personal level. Every Hindu has a personal God which is usually a deity that has been worshipped by the family for generations. In addition Hindus worship a multitude of Gods.
Before the puja, one bathes to signify the outer purification. Mantras and stotras are then recited for inner purification.
An avatar is an incarnation of God on earth at an important time in history. He fights and destroys evil and enlightens the consciousness and wisdom of the world of that time. To do that he manifests himself in different forms; as a king, saint, prophet and even as an animal to guide the human race every continent.
The Varaha-Purana mentions 10 and the Bhagavata Purana 22, incarnations of Vishnu.
There are four incarnations at the beginning of the world, considered to be the age of truth
1) The boar Varaha, one of the myths of creation. Vishnu in the form of a boar brought the earth out of the waters and laid it upon a lotus flower.
2) The fish Matsya who saved Manu, from the deluge and restored to Brahma the sacred texts stolen by the demon with a horse's head or Hayagriva.
3) The tortoise Kurma who came to aid Indra, and helped conquer the Asuras (demons).
4) Narsimha, who killed , the king of the wicked spirits who threatened the life of his pious child Prahlada.
The three incarnations of Vishnu in second age
5. Vamana who in 3 strides restored to the gods the three worlds which had been usurped by Bali. Vishnu then gave him the underworld or "Patala".
6. Parashurama, the sage warrior who fought and won 21 times the warrior caste or "Kshatriyas" who then were oppressing the Brahmins.
7. Rama the son of a King , star of the epic Ramayana, who basically shows the world how to be perfect under all circumstances.
The later incarnations of Vishnu
8. Krishna, or the incarnation of love. Krishna, was the one who destroyed evil and also epitomized in Mahabharata and Bhagwad Gita.
9. Buddha. The ninth incarnation of Vishnu. Although, Buddhism could be interpreted as a religion in itself,
it has been integrated into Hinduism, and Buddha is considered an incarnation of Vishnu.
Krishna, Buddha and Kalki were in the 4th age, the age of conflict. The
incarnation of Vishnu as Buddha is rather different from the Buddhist concept,
where Buddha is the incarnation of Illusion (Maya) and of the sin of Vishnu. Buddha lived between
10. Kalki. This is an incarnation of Vishnu that is still awaited. It is said that "At the beginning of the present age, when kings become thieves, the Lord of the Universe will incarnate under the name of Kalki . He will appear seated on a white horse, and holding a sword in his hand, he will cross the sky like a comet. He will re-establish a Golden Age, punishing the wicked and comforting the just, then he will destroy the world." After this, there will appear a "new human race." This prophecy has not come to pass yet.
For answers to more questions on the Advaita Vedanta Philosophy, please check out the FAQ on Advaita Vedanta
For answers to more questions on the Dvaita Vedanta Philosophy, please check out the FAQ on Dvaita Vedanta
For answers to more questions on the Vishista-Advaita Vedanta Philosophy, please check out the excellent site on Vishista-advaita.
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