Hinduism began in India approximately 4,000 years ago. Hinduism is known for being highly tolerant of other religions. The Rig Veda, Hinduism’s oldest sacred text declares, “God is one but men call him by many names.” Hinduism is so vast that it’s difficult to define, but here are a few main features.
Monism = All is one; all is Brahman. Brahman is the impersonal source and essence of everything. Brahman is also understood as a universal consciousness. (While Brahman is usually viewed as impersonal, some view Brahman with personal qualities.) Meditation leads to the realization that our eternal Self (called Atman) is Brahman, therefore we are divine. The concept of monism extends beyond physical things to immaterial concepts and that means good and evil are ultimately one.
Polytheism = the belief in many gods/goddesses. The traditional number of gods and goddesses in Hinduism is 330 million. The three main gods are Brahma – the creator, Vishnu – the preserver, and Shiva – the destroyer. Hinduism teaches that some gods have visited earth in physical form (i.e., they have incarnated themselves.) The name for these divine visitors in either human or animal form is avatar. Avatars are commonly of Vishnu such as Krishna and Rama. Gods and goddesses are extensions of the one ultimate reality and therefore they serve as points of contact with the divine (Brahman).
Samsara = the wheel of rebirth. Samsara is the reason why reincarnation continually occurs among all life forms. Reincarnation = rebirth in new life forms. The nature of each reincarnation (e.g. why a person is reborn as a frog or a cow) is determined by karma. Karma = the moral law of cause and effect. Karma teaches that our future lives are determined by how we live in the present life. Only humans have the ability to affect the status of their karma. But what is our karma based on?
Karma and Dharma
Our karma is based on our dharma. Dharma = the complete rule of life. Our dharma is like a handbook we must follow and it varies depending on our caste. If we have not followed our dharma we will receive bad karma and that will mean being reincarnated into a lower life form. Notice that in order to link reincarnation with karma, physical bodies must be ranked. For example, the body of a worm is more evil than the body of dog and the body of a dog is more evil than the body of a lion, etc.
The caste system is a continuation of the ranking scale. According to the caste system there are different levels of human status:
- Brahmin – priests
- Kshatriya – warriors and administrators
- Vaishya – producers
- Shudra – servants and laborers
In Hinduism’s most popular sacred text called the Bhagavad Gita, the avatar of Vishnu named Krishna encourages the warrior Arjuna to fight and not to grieve because ultimately Arjuna cannot kill anyone. As we put on new clothes, Krishna says, so we will put on new bodies.
In order to escape from samsara, one must have good enough karma to attain moksha. Moksha = release from finite existence into eternal union with the divine (Brahman). There are three main paths to attain moksha: the path of works, the path of knowledge, and the path of devotion.
Memory Tool: MPSM (Monism, Polytheism, Samsara, Moksha)
Recommended Youtube Video: “The Bhagavad Gita – Kids Animation Cartoon Movie” (16:46)