Hindus believe in four purushartha (aims of the living, or instrumental and ultimate goals): 1) artha (material prosperity); 2) kama (satisfaction of legitimate desires); 3) dharma (moral conduct and duties associated with one’s station in life); and 4) moksha (obtaining release from the cycle of deaths and rebirths). These aims are thought to apply to everyone, regardless of caste, from Brahmin to Untouchables.
1) Most Hindus believe in a Supreme God, whose qualities and forms are represented by the multitude of deities which emanate from him. 2) Hindus believe that existence is a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, governed by Karma. 3) Hindus believe that the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives and its next incarnation is always dependent on how the previous life was lived. [Source: BBC]
Hindus talk about the impermanence of relationships in the material world. In the Bhagavad Gita it is written that “the company of people who don’t believe in seeking eternal truth is bad company.” According to the Hindu view, there are four goals of life on earth, and each human being should aspire to all four. Everyone should aim: 1) for dharma, or righteous living; 2) artha, or wealth acquired through the pursuit of a profession; 3) kama, or human and sexual love; and, 4) finally, moksha, or spiritual salvation. Tripura Rahasya, 18: 89 reads: “Second-hand knowledge of the self gathered from books or gurus can never emancipate a man until its truth is rightly investigated and applied; only direct realisation will do that. Realise yourself, turning the mind inward.” [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art]
Vedanta, the basis of Hinduism, states that the individual human soul (atman) originates and merges with the Brahman (the all-in-one 'impersonal' God and the universal soul) . There are three different philosophies on this concept. 1) Advaita (non-duality), which implies that there is an identity of Brahman and atman; 2) Dvaita (duality), which maintains that Brahman and Jatman are united; and 3) Visistadvaita (qualified non-duality), which maintains Brahman and Jatman are fundamental united but have crucial differentiations. These view were were promoted by Sri Adi Shankara, Sri Ramanuja and Sri Madhva. Among other concepts which are not as widely embraced but still followed by some Hindus are dvaitadvaita (dual-non-dual doctrine), suddhadvaita (pure non-dualism), and acinntyaa bhedabheda (oneness and difference). These were promulgated by Nimbarka, Vallabha and Vidyabhusana. All the above philosophers have written commentaries on the prasthana-traya (triple canon) of the vedanta, which are the Upanishads, Brahma Sutra and Bhagavad Gita.
Monotheism and Hinduism, See Hindu Gods
Websites and Resources on Hinduism: Hinduism Today hinduismtoday.com ; Heart of Hinduism (Hare Krishna Movement) iskconeducationalservices.org ; India Divine indiadivine.org ; Religious Tolerance Hindu Page religioustolerance.org/hinduism ; Hinduism Index uni-giessen.de/~gk1415/hinduism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Oxford center of Hindu Studies ochs.org.uk ; Hindu Website hinduwebsite.com/hinduindex ; Hindu Gallery hindugallery.com ; Hindusim Today Image Gallery himalayanacademy.com ; Encyclopædia Britannica Online article britannica.com ; International Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Shyam Ranganathan, York University iep.utm.edu/hindu ; Vedic Hinduism SW Jamison and M Witzel, Harvard University people.fas.harvard.edu ; The Hindu Religion, Swami Vivekananda (1894), Wikisource ; Hinduism by Swami Nikhilananda, The Ramakrishna Mission .wikisource.org ; All About Hinduism by Swami Sivananda dlshq.org ; Advaita Vedanta Hinduism by Sangeetha Menon, International Encyclopedia of Philosophy (one of the non-Theistic school of Hindu philosophy) ; Journal of Hindu Studies, Oxford University Press academic.oup.com/jhs
Flexibility of Hindu Beliefs
Many Hindus view life, existence and cosmology as too complicated to be followed a simple creed. It is therefore up to an individual or group to pick the aspects of the religion that they feel applies to them. According to the advaita philosophy the world and everything in it is an illusion and is one. There is only one divine principle in Hinduism and all the different gods are manifestations of this cosmic unity. Hindus often say, "We believe God is everywhere...We believe God is you, too." The only essential truth and desire is the one that is possessed within. Other things found in life are generally distortions and untruths.
Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “From its beginnings, Hinduism has possessed a remarkable ability to assimilate rather than reject new ideas. It has developed complex overlays of beliefs, cults, gods, and forms of worship. Hindus recognize no single founder or prophet. There is no single holy book similar to the Bible or Qur’an; the religion is not supervised and interpreted by a hierarchy of priests, and its great texts were not inscribed but handed down as an oral tradition. Hindu worship is based on a one-to-one relationship between devotee and god rather than being congregational. This practice intensified beginning in the seventh century with the popularity of bhakti, passionate personal devotion to an individual god or goddess. Over the centuries, a number of important poets and musician-saints emerged from the bhakti tradition whose works, such as the Gita Govinda, became classics of Indian culture.” [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]
Hindu beliefs and scriptures are less monolithic and more diverse than Islam and Christianity and often yield contradictory arguments. On the issue of when life begins, Pankaj Mishra wrote in the New York Times, “The ancient system of Indian medicine known as Ayurveda assumes that fetuses are alive and conscious when it prescribes a particular mental and spiritual regimen to pregnant women. This same assumption is implicit in "The Mahabharata," the Hindu epic about a fratricidal war apparently fought in the first millennium B.C. In one of its famous stories, the warrior Arjuna describes to his pregnant wife a seven-stage military strategy. His yet-to-born son Abhimanyu is listening, too. But as Arjuna describes the seventh and last stage, his wife falls asleep, presumably out of boredom. Years later, while fighting his father's cousins, the hundred Kaurava brothers, Abhimanyu uses well the military training he has learned in his mother's womb, until the seventh stage, where he falters and is killed.” However, Early in "The Mahabharata," there is a story about how the hundred Kaurava brothers came into being. Their mother had produced a mass of flesh after two years of pregnancy. But then a sage divided the flesh into 100 parts, which were treated with herbs and ghee, and kept in pots for two years -- from which the Kaurava brothers emerged.” [Source: Pankaj Mishra, New York Times, August 21, 2005]
Hindu Universe and Creation
The Hindu universe is much larger and multidimensional that the Christian one. It is conceived as an egg with 21 different zones (made up of six heavens, one earth, seven netherworlds and seven hells) or a mandala with a square divided into a number of small squares around the Supreme Deity, which is the source of all existence and has been compared to a radioactive spider at the center of a web emitting energy that is absorbed by all other objects in the universe.
Western religion has traditionally divided the world into the mortal and non-mortal with a clear time line to the future or the past. Hindus see many more possibilities. According to Hindu philosophy the universe is eternal but always changing. Everything is continually being born, growing and dying and being reborn. All matter is composed of five basic elements: earth, fire, water, space and sky. Humans are part of nature and susceptible to the same rules as everything else. The thing that separates humans from animals is their sense of inner consciousness, and the ability to understand the cosmos.
"For the Hindu," the historian Daniel Boorstin wrote, "the creation was not a bringing into being of the wonder of the world. Rather it was dismemberment, a disintegration of the original Oneness. For him the Creation seemed not the expression of a rational benevolent Maker in wondrous new forms but a fragmenting of the unity of nature into countless limited forms...For the Hindu our very notion of creation was reversed. Instead of transforming nothing into everything the Hindu creation broke into countless imperfect fragments what was already there." [Source: Daniel Boorstin, "The Discoverers"]
The Vedas do not say much about a Creator or Creation. In one story the universe was prepared by a primeval Lord of Beings named Prajapati, who was sacrificed before the universe was created. How he was created and who sacrificed him is not clear. In the Upanishads the original human is an Adam-like man who asks for company and then is pleased when a female is made from his body.
Creation of the World According to the Upanishads
Cosmological Mandala with Mount Meru Creation of the World According to the Upanishads: 1) There was nothing whatsoever here in the beginning. By death indeed was this covered, or by hunger, for hunger is death. He created the mind, thinking 'let me have a self' (mind). Then he moved about, worshiping. From him, thus worshiping, water was produced. . . .
2 . . . .. That which was the froth of the water became solidified; that became the earth. On it he [i.e., death] rested. From him thus rested and heated (from the practice of austerity) his essence of brightness came forth (as) fire.
3) He divided himself threefold (fire is one-third), the sun one-third and the air one-third. He also is life [lit., breath] divided threefold, . . . (Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad, 1, 2, 1-3.) [Source: S. Radhakrishnan (editor and translator), “The Principal Upanishads” (New York: Harper & Row, 1953), PP. 151-2, 399, 447-9,, Eliade Page website]
1) The Sun is Brahman-this is the teaching. An explanation .thereof (is this). In the beginning this (world) was non-existent. It became existent. It grew. It turned into an egg. It lay for the period of a year. It burst open. Then came out of the eggshell, two parts, one of silver, the other of gold. That which was of silver is this earth; that which was of gold is the sky. What was the outer membrane is the mountains; that which was the inner membrane is the mist with the clouds. What were the veins were the rivers. What was the fluid within is the ocean. (Chandogya Upanishad, III, 19, 1-2.)
The sage Uddalaka presents another view: in the beginning was Being alone: 1 In the beginning, my dear, this was Being alone' one only
without a second. Some people say 'in the beginning this Was non-
being alone, one only; without a second. From that non-being, being
2) But how, indeed, my dear, could it be thus? said he [i.e., the sage Uddalaka], how could being be produced from non-being? On the contrary, my dear, in the beginning this was being alone, one only, without a second.
3) It thought, May I be many, may I grow forth. It sent forth fire. That fire thought, May I be many, may I grow forth. It sent forth water. . . .
4) That water thought, May I be many, may I grow forth. It sent forth food. . . . (Chandogya Upanishad, VI, 2, 1-4.)
Creation in the Rig Veda
In the Hymn of Creation the Brahma poets in the Rig-Veda raised doubts about how and what occurred at creation could ever be known:
But, after all, who knows, and who can say
whence it all came, and how creation happened?
The gods themselves are later than creation.
so who knows truly whence it has arisen?
Whence all creation had its origin.
he, whether he fashioned it to whether he did not.
he, who surveys it all from the highest heaven.
he knows?or maybe even he does not know.
The Hymn of the Primeval Man tells how the castes were created before the heavens:
When they divided the Man
into many part did they divide him?
What was his mouth, what were his arms.
what were his feet and feet called?
The Brahma was his mouth
of his arms was made the warrior
His thighs became the Vaisya.
of his feet the Sudra was born
The moon arose from his mind
from his eye was born the sun
from his mouth Indra and Agni
from his breath the wind was born.
From his navel came the air.
from his head there came the sky
from his feet the earth, the 4 quarters from his ear. thus they fashioned the worlds.
With sacrifice the gods sacrificed to Sacrifice
these were the first of the sacred laws.
These mighty beings reached the sky.
where the eternal spirits, the gods.
Creation of Self, Women, Cows and Animals
According to the Hindu creation myth, at the beginning of time, Self ( Atman ) sat alone. Looking around and seeing only himself, he said, "This is I" (That is why even today men and women identify themselves first as "I"). Since the Self had incinerated all the evil that had existed before, he therefore was a person ( purusha ). When faced with the thought of loneliness, Self said, "As there is nothing but myself, why should I fear?" [Source: Brihadaranyaka Upanishad]
With his fear gone, Self realized that a lonely man can feel no delight. Since he was as large as a man and woman together he divided himself in two and created his wife Yagnavalkya, who said after coming into being, "We two are thus (each of us) like half a shell." In the great void Self embraced his wife and men were born. [Ibid]
Afterwards Yagnavalkya said, "How can he embrace me after having produced me from himself. I shall hide myself." She then turned herself into a cow. Self then became a bull and embraced her, hence cows were born. She then became a mare and he stallion, producing horses. Asses, goats and sheep were created in a similar fashion, and so it went until all the members of the animal kingdom were created, even ants. [Ibid]
Hindu Cosmology Cycles
Hindus and Buddhist view life and time in a cosmological sense as an "unending universe of unending cycles." They generally do not have end of the world scenarios. Even creation is seen as something that occurs again and again. By contrast Jews, Christians and Muslims all have end of the world scenarios, foretold by natural disasters and other calamities, that feature the accession to heaven by the faithful. Cosmos , incidently, is a Sanskrit word for justice.
The basic cycle in Hindu time is a kalpa “a “day” in the life of Brahma. Each kalpa lasts 4.32 billion earth years. A “night of Brahma'”lasts the same amount of time. A “year of Brahma” is comprised 360 such days and nights, and Brahma lives for one hundred such years. Each kalpa marks another Re-creation of the world. During each kalpa-night the universe is once again gathered up into Brahma's body, where it becomes “the possibility of still another Creation on the next day."
Each cycle begins with Vishnu lying asleep on the thousand-headed cobra Sesha . From his naval grows a lotus that give birth to Brahma, who creates the universe. Vishnu awakes and governs over the kalpa, which ends when he goes back to sleep and the universe once again is sucked into his body.
Yama and Hindu hell
Each kalpa contains fourteen smaller cycles, manvantara , each of which lasts for 306,720,000 years Within each of these cycles a new Manu, or presiding god, is created and he in turn re-creates the human race. Within each manvantaras , there are seventy-one aeons or mahayugas , a thousand of which comprise a kalpa. Within each mahayuga there is a cycle of four yugas , each of which is a different age of the world, including in turn 4,800, 3,600, 2,400 and 1,200 'years.' Each of the four yugas shows a decline in civilization and morality from the yuga just before, until finally the world is destroyed by flood and fire to be prepared for yet another cycle of Creation. [Source: Daniel Boorstin, "The Discoverers"]
Change on earth is slower than man can grasp. We are currently in the Kali Yuga, the last, darkest and most miserable cycle in Hindu cosmology. This cycle is said to have begin with the battle described in the Bhagavad Gita . Following it will be a period of light, expressed in the 1960s as the Age of Aquarius.
Hindu Heaven and Hell
Hindus believe that all living creatures---from bacteria to blue whales, and even some plants---have souls, which are essentially equal, and all these life forms are manifestations of the unity of the universe. This is why Hindus are vegetarians and abhor killing animals; and ahimsa , the belief that it is a sin to harm any living creature, is an important precept in Hinduism. The concept was eluded to in the Upanishads and contrasts sharply with doctrines of Western religions which holds that mankind is a special creation on a plane higher than other creatures.
Life and death are seen as meaningless cycles. Life itself is often characterized as a dream that has little to with relevance of the true nature of things in terms of the universe, cosmology and forces behind life. Reality is like an onion whose successive layers have to be pealed to reveal the universe eternal truth. On this subject Krishna told Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: Do not say God gave us this delusion.” You dream you are a doer. You dream that action is done. You dream that action bears fruit. It is your ignorance. It is your delusion That gives these dreams.
Hindus believe in Paramatman (the eternal, blissful self), which contradicts the Buddhist belief in the impermanent and transitory nature of things.
Kailash, Mt. Meru Reincarnation is the transmigration of the soul from one life form to another. It doesn’t just apply to humans but to all creatures and some non-living things too. Transmigration of the soul can take place from a human or creature into another human or creature up or down a scale based on good and evil deeds (See Karma Below). If a person has lived a virtuous life he moves up the scale, say, from a low caste to a high caste. If a person has lived an unworthy life he moves down the scale, say, from a low caste to a rat.
Reincarnation is a belief found in most Asian religions and is a cornerstone of all the major religions found in India except Islam. The Hindu idea of reincarnation is roughly the same regardless of which Hindu god an individual venerates most.
The Hindu concept of reincarnation first appeared in the Upanishads and is believed to have originated in the Ganges Plain and was absorbed b the Aryan-centered Hinduism as the Aryans moved into the Ganges Plain. Beliefs in reincarnation are not just found in India and Asia but are found in tribal cultures all over the world and were held by the ancient Greeks, Vikings and other groups in the West. Ideas about reincarnation are probably very old and were held by people who lived in Neolithic times.
Hindu Holy Rivers
Hindus regard India as the Holy Land. There are seven holy rivers in India, of which the Ganges is the holiest and most well known. They are all associated with Shiva. According to one legend, Shiva leaped in the water of the Ganges as it fell from heaven to the earth. The water matted his hair and divided into the seven holy rivers.
Rivers are regarded as sacred and treated with deep reverence because of their purifying effect. Bathing in a sacred river and/or drinking its waters can wash away a lifetime's worth of sins and being cremated on the shores of holy river and having your ashes thrown in the river can allow you to escape the cycle or reincarnation of be delivered directly to heaven.
For many Indians the Narmada River is just as sacred as the Ganges. Lepers have claimed to be cured after taking a dip in it. Every year thousand of Hindu pilgrims perform a pradakshina of the Narmanda and walk every inch of both banks. The Brahmaputra in Hindu cosmology is the only male river.
Pouring Ganges Holy water The Ganges flows for 1,560 miles from the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south. It drains an area of 450,000 square miles and directly affects the lives of 300 million people. The Ganges Plain which was covered by a shallow sea as recently as 10,000 years ago. A third of India's people (200 million) live in the Ganges Plain, where the population averages over 1,000 people per square mile, one of the highest in the world.
On the banks of the Ganges and other river you will see dhoti-clad men doing yogic push ups, wrestling or swing huge stone-headed clubs over their head. At Hindu temples along the Ganges pilgrims bathe in the water, make offerings, touch the temple walls, ask advice of sadhus, receive blessing from priest and gather water in jugs to take home.
The Ganges is named after Ganga, a river goddess who descended from heaven and had her fall broken by Shiva’s hair. She is the second wife of Shiva. Her sisters are Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri. Prayers honoring all these holy relatives are recited in the holy river when the bathers submerge themselves to be purified. The Ganges is sometimes referred to as "the liquified from of God."
Ganges and Hinduism
For Hindus the Ganges is the sacred river known as Gangaji, or Mother Ganges. It is comprised of amrita (“the nectar of immortality”) that flows to earth from heaven. Hindus believe that bathing and/ or drinking it waters can wash away a lifetime's worth of sins. Being cremated on its shores and having one’s ashes thrown in the river can allow one to escape the cycle or reincarnation of be delivered directly to heaven.
Ganga represents fertility because she provides water for land and is considered a second wife of Shiva. She is often depicted with a bowl of water in one hand and lotus flower in another, sitting on a makara, a legendary sea monster.
Ganges Bathing Fair The Ganges is regarded as the link between heaven and earth. In one Hindu story, the Ganges fell from the foot of Vishnu, the preserver, and traveled across the Milky Way before getting lodged in the foot of Shiva, the destroyer and restorer. On top of mythical Mount Meru in the Himalayas, Shiva calmed the river and let it fall to earth.
In another story, the Ganges River was created by the goddess Ganga to wash away the condemned souls of King Sagar's 60,000 sons who had been burned to a crisp by the gaze of the sage Kapali. The sons had cursed Kapali of stealing their father's horse (which had placed in the sage’s ashram by the mischievous thunderstorm god Indra). Ganga was summoned by King Sagar and the god Shiva was called in to catch Ganga, lest she wash away the entire earth. Shiva ensnared her in his hair---the Himalayas---and she remained their until she managed to escape near Gangotri, where upon she dropped from the mountains and flowed to the sea redeeming the souls of the Sagar's 60,000 sons.
Bathing in the Ganges
Hindus bath in, drink and throw the cremated ashes of the dead in the Ganges. Sprinkling holy water from the Ganges over one's head is believed to wash away sins, purify unclean souls and heal the sick. Bathing in the Ganges even once is supposed to ensure salvation. If a person dies in the Ganges or a has a few drops of Ganges placed on his tongue as he breaths his last breath it is believed he will achieve absolute salvation, escape the toil of reincarnation and be transported to Shiva's Himalayan version of heaven.
Every morning Hindus gather on the shores of the Ganges to bathe and pray for liberation from the world. The pouring of marigolds into the Ganges is a traditional peace offering. The river carries the petals to the oceans and the far corners of the world, carrying the promise of peace with them. Many people collect water from the Ganges in bottles. Some devoted Hindu take Ganges water to drink when they travel abroad.
According to the maharajah of Varanasi. "It is only after my ritual bath and while I am eating that I cannot touch anyone other than members of my household who have performed the same purification rituals. To do so would make me ritually impure. But goodness does not come only by touching and eating with people; it comes from much more.” [Source: John Putman, National Geographic October 1971]
Hinduism and Science
Gadadhara Pandit Dasa, an author and meditation facilitator, wrote in the Huffington Post: “Some would comment that faith is only necessary when it comes to matters of religion and that science is based on empirical evidence. Although this sounds nice, it’s not 100 percent accurate. For example, we all believe in the existence of the atom. But how many people on the planet have actually seen an atom with their own eyes? I’m not in any way denying the existence of the atom. Nor do I dis-believe the people who have measured its existence. The point made here is that we are placing faith in those who have done the experiment and we are accepting their results. The masses are placing faith in the few who have done the experiment. [Source: Gadadhara Pandit Dasa, Huffington Post, September 20, 2011 <=>]
“Another item we place implicit faith in is the “Big Bang Theory,” which tells us that the universe began 15-20 billion years ago from a single point. Who can prove to us the reality of a phenomena that took place tens of billions of years ago? There’s no instant replay when we’re dealing with life and time. We can’t be shown what happened that far in the past. There may be some evidence and reason to believe that this is how it happened, but at the end of the day we can’t know for sure and that’s where faith comes in. <=>
“In a recent article, in the U.S. News and World Report, physicist Roger Penrose theorized that the Big Bang might be one in a cycle of such events, suggesting that the universe has had multiple existences. This is common knowledge to one familiar with Vedic philosophy and cosmology, which very clearly indicates that the universe has had many births and deaths. The centuries-old wisdom of the Vedic texts doesn’t stop there. They claim that our universe is just one of many universes, a concept entertained by modern science and referred to as “the multiverse theory.” The description given is that our universe is one mustard seed in a bag full of a practically uncountable number of mustard seeds. This concept is toyed with in famous Hollywood movies such as “Contact” and “Men In Black.” <=>
public prayer in Haridwar “In the West, Einstein is credited with the Theory of Relativity. However, one might be quite surprised to learn that there are multiple examples of it in the Puranic texts of India. Einstein’s hypothetical experiment known as the “twin paradox” suggests that if one of a pair of twins travels to outer space at high speed, while the other remains on earth, when the space traveling twin returns, he will be younger than his counterpart on earth. <=>
“The following passages from the Bhagavat Purana communicates the relativity of time: “One’s life endures for only one hundred years, in terms of the times in the different planets... Eternal time is certainly the controller of different dimensions, from that of the atom up to the super-divisions of the duration of Brahma’s life; but, nevertheless, it is controlled by the Supreme. Time can control only those who are body conscious, even up to the Satyaloka or the other higher planets of the universe.” <=>
“There is also a story from the Puranas which parallels Einstein’s hypothetical experiment. A yogi, upon exiting the earthly realm for the higher planetary realms, was informed by the inhabitants of these higher realms that millions of years had instantly passed on Earth in the mere moments since he had entered the higher realms. They also told him that all of his relatives and everyone he had ever known was deceased. We can pass this off as myth or fable, but one should ponder how these texts of ancient India are coming up with concepts that are so close to modern scientific theories. <=>
“There is a wonderful synergy between science and spirituality within the Vedic tradition, and I don’t believe there is a real border dividing them. It’s all just wisdom and knowledge, which is what the term Veda means. These are all truths that are meant to inform us of the world and universe we inhabit so that we can understand our place in it. These truths help us to ultimately transcend the realm of matter, shed the material body we inhabit and endeavor to re-enter the spiritual realm.” <=>
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 3 South Asia edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); The Creators by Daniel Boorstin; A Guide to Angkor: an Introduction to the Temples by Dawn Rooney (Asia Book) for Information on temples and architecture. National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018