- There are four main sections within Hinduism: 1. Shaivism (in which Shiva is worshipped as the main god); 2. Vaishnavism (in which Vishnu worshipped as the main god); 3. Shaktism (in which the female aspects of god are primarily worshipped); and 4. Smartism (in which six main gods are worshipped: Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Ganesh, Murugan and Surya).
- Truth is eternal: Hindus pursue knowledge and understanding of the truth: the very essence of the universe and the only reality. According to the Vedas, truth is one, but the wise express it in a variety of ways.
- Brahman is Truth and Reality: Hindus believe in Brahman as the one true God who is formless, limitless, all-inclusive, and eternal. Brahman is not an abstract concept; it is a real entity that encompasses everything (seen and unseen) in the universe.
- The Vedas are the Ultimate Authority: The Vedas are Hindu scriptures that contain revelations received by ancient saints and sages. Hindus believe that the Vedas are without beginning and without end; when everything else in the universe is destroyed (at the end of a cycle of time), the Vedas remain.
- Everyone Should Strive to Achieve Dharma: Understanding the concept of dharma helps you understand the Hindu faith. Unfortunately, no single English word adequately covers its meaning. Dharma can be described as right conduct, righteousness, moral law, and duty. Anyone who makes dharma central to one’s life strives to do the right thing, according to one’s duty and abilities, at all times.
- Individual Souls are Immortal: A Hindu believes that the individual soul is neither created nor destroyed. Actions of the soul while residing in a body require that it reap the consequences of those actions in the next life. The process of movement of the atman from one body to another is known as transmigration. The kind of body the soul inhabits next is determined by karma (actions accumulated in previous lives).
- The Goal of the Individual Soul is Moksha: Moksha is liberation: the soul’s release from the cycle of death and rebirth. It occurs when the soul unites with Brahman by realizing its true nature. Several paths can lead to this realization and unity: the path of duty, the path of knowledge, and the path of devotion (unconditional surrender to God).
Hindu Important Texts
- The Vedas are a large body of Hindu texts originating in ancient India, before about 300 BCE. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism
- The Upanishads are a collection of Hindu texts which contain some of the central philosophical concepts of Hinduism. The Upanishads are variously interpreted to mean either the "last chapters, parts of the Veda" or "the object, the highest purpose of the Veda.
- The texts that appeared afterwards were called smriti. Smriti literature includes various Shastras and Itihasas (epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata), Harivamsa Puranas, Agamas and Darshanas.
- The Bhagavad Gita is a 700–verse Hindu scripture that is part of the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. This scripture contains a conversation between Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide Krishna on a variety of philosophical issues.
- The Puranas are a vast genre of Hindu texts that encyclopedically cover a wide range of topics, particularly myths, legends and other traditional lore. Composed primarily in Sanskrit, but also in regional languages, several of these texts are named after major Hindu deities such as Vishnu, Shiva and Devi.
- The Tevaram is a body of remarkable hymns exuding Bhakti composed more than 1400–1200 years ago in the classical Tamil language by three Saivite composers. They are credited with igniting the Bhakti movement in the whole of India.
- The Nalayira Divya Prabandha (or Nalayira (4000) Divya Prabhamdham) is a divine collection of 4,000 verses (Naalayira in Tamil means 'four thousand') composed before 8th century AD , by the 12 Alvars, and was compiled in its present form by Nathamuni during the 9th – 10th centuries.
Hinduism has influenced the social structure of Indian society through the caste system. Reincarnation is a core belief of Hinduism, and Hindu doctrine states that death could enter a person into a higher caste based on virtuous behavior. A person had little social mobility in India, and the only way to move ahead was through the next life
The biggest societal effect Hinduism has had, however, relates to the caste system. Traditional belief holds that a person's life cycle has four stages, which are called Ashramas. A person begins life as a student, then is a keeper of a household, then retires and, finally, begins the stage of asceticism. Asceticism is an extremely modest lifestyle, devoid of all indulgences.
Hinduism has affected society in numerous ways, but perhaps the most significant is the emergence of the caste system in India. Almost all traditions, beliefs and practices that make up Hinduism predate recorded history and even the word "Hinduism" itself. It is often referred to as the oldest religion in the world
How Hinduism Has Spread
Hinduism is considered the world’s oldest continually practiced religion, although it is actually composed of many different practices with similar features. It began in the Indus Valley region of the Indian subcontinent as a mixture of the Brahmanic beliefs of the Aryan-speakers and local, indigenous beliefs. Although the largest population of practitioners have remained in India, it has spread throughout the rest of the world.
Hinduism is the major religion of India, practiced by more than 80% of the population. In contrast to other religions, it has no founder. Considered the oldest religion in the world, it dates back, perhaps, to prehistoric times.
Hinduism, commonly referred to as Hindu Dharma by the Indic traditions developed in the Indian Sub-continent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal) and today is mainly practiced in India, Nepal, parts of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Trinidad, Mauritius, Surinam, South Africa, Kenya, U.K., Canada and USA. Hinduism is, however, spreading throughout the world as the result of immigration, and as people in the west become increasingly interested in eastern religion and spirituality.