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What is Hinduism?
What happens when someone asks you this question out of genuine curiosity? Do you find yourself hopelessly tongue tied or not in a position to give a crisp 5 minute brief on the topic?
Hinduism, like any other religion was created to allow societies to prosper while people forming indigenous cultural clusters followed certain value systems. It’s principles and testaments were laid out to help with practicing one’s self control and the enrichment of one’s intellect. By following a path of spiritual endowment, one stops attaching happiness to material possessions, value their blessings, be at peace with the self, and learn to accept others as they are, while finding divinity in the way of life and others and ultimately, learning to let go.
For Hindus, there are many ways to learn the best path to the truth of one’s existential drive that is the intrinsic angst of every human. “Why am I here? What is the purpose of this life?”
* The term Sanatana Dharma on which the philosophy of Hinduism is based on, loosely translated as “Eternal Law or Way,” is self-referential. The term “Hindu,” however, is a twelfth-century Persian abstraction referring to the Indic civilization they found espousing certain beliefs, practices, and a way of life on the banks of the Indus (therefore Hindu) river. Over the centuries, the diverse followers of Sanatana Dharma have adopted the references of Hindus and Hinduism.
Here are the postulates of Hinduism in a nut shell.
I. Hinduism is based on the Holy scriptures of the Hindus called the Vedas.
- The Vedas which lay the foundation for a Vedic life are the manuals of the ideal life.
- The philosophy of Vedanta that has been derived from the Vedas is available in The Upanishads.
- The Bhagavad Gita which is an essence of the Upanishads is like the executive summary of the Vedas.
II. Calling oneself a Hindu, means being able to accept the law of Karma in its totality.
Good actions will result in good result either in this life, or any future lives. What goes around comes around and it’s inevitable. Nothing or no one else can be blamed for the sorrows in one’s life. So the emphasis of the ideal life will be to do good actions without expecting anything in return.
III. Belief in reincarnation.
The soul existed long before this body came into being. In this birth, it has been given a name, a physical form and relationships which are all temporary. The body has a beginning and someday it’s physical journey will come to an end, but the soul’s journey is eternal. (Sanatana)
* Belief in karma goes hand in hand with belief in reincarnation, where the immortal soul, on its path of spiritual evolution, takes birth in various physical bodies through the cycle of life and death. Though karma can be immediate, it often spans over lifetimes and is one explanation to the commonly asked question, “Why do bad things happen good people?” or visa versa.
IV. The goal of the Hindu life is liberation.
Until the soul attains liberation, it will keep reincarnating as a body in a time and place. Freedom from the bondage of Karma is Liberation. Until that is attained therefore, the goal of the Hindu should be actions that lead to liberation.
V. Life is lived in these different stages.
* An Ashrama (āśrama) in Hinduism is one of four age-based life stages discussed in ancient and medieval era Indian texts. The four asramas are: Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retired) and Sannyasa (renunciation). The Ashramas system is one facet of the Dharma concept in Hinduism.
The final stage is the one of the highest order where withdrawal and leading a life of renunciation as mentioned in the Vedas is to be achieved.
VI. God incarnates in many forms or an all-pervasive Divine Reality that is formless (Brahman).
* By accepting the divinity in all beings and all of nature, Hinduism views the universe as a family or, in Sanskrit, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. All beings, from the smallest organism to man, are considered manifestations of God. Mankind carries a special responsibility, as it is believed to be the most spiritually evolved with the capacity to not only tolerate, but honor the underlying equality and unity of all beings. In line with this idea is the commonly heard Hindu greeting of Namastê, which means “The Divine in me bows to the Divine in you.”
The reason Hinduism depicts God with form is based on an acknowledgement that the average human mind finds it near impossible to meditate upon or develop a personal relationship with a Divine that is formless.
Almost everyday, we brood about the management of many aspects of our lives, like time, resources, money and security, but often overlook the aspect of management of our desires. We don’t realize that desires and expectations are in turn the root cause of all grief of humanity.
The essence of the Vedic life of Santana Dharma forces us to dwell on living a life of purpose and to treat this world as our own one big family. By learning about the attainment of liberation as our final destination, we are forced to do good deeds here and now to “relieve oneself” from the cycles of rebirth, grief and death. What and where you eat, what you wear, what you listen to (I for one, am a huge Hiphop fan) are all the outwardly aspects of our lives that may change over time but the values that are inherently characteristic of the Ideal Hindu will remain the same forever. This way of life and values based on the Vedas is thus Sanatana (Eternal).
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* Source: Hindu American Foundation