Hinduism in a Nutshell

He is also known by His three main features: Some of these texts have been given or spoken by God, and others were composed by sages in their deepest super conscious state in which they were able to give revelations of Universal Truths while in meditation on the Supreme. There are ten basic avataras of God, with numerous other expansions. The soul incarnates through different forms until, by its own spiritual development, it reaches liberation moksha from the repetition of birth and death, when it attains its natural position in the spiritual domain.

Amongst these stages we focus first on Dharma , which is to develop ourselves morally and spiritually; then Artha , which is to develop a career or trade and prosper materially; then Kama , to enjoy and work out our basic material desires as is appropriate for our particular stage of life; and then retire from all that and focus on Moksha , or attaining Self-realization and freedom from any further rounds of birth and death in material existence. The Vedic tradition recognizes that the individual soul is eternal, beyond the limitations of the body, and that one soul is no different than another.

All living entities, both human and otherwise, are the same in their essential and divine spiritual being. All of them are parts of the eternal truth, and have appeared in this world to express their nature and also to gather experience in the realms of matter. For this reason, Vedic followers accept the premise of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam , that all living beings in the universe comprise one family, and that as such all beings are spiritually equal and should be respected as members within that family of the Supreme.

The ultimate purpose of human life is to shed all attachments to matter and attain moksha liberation from material existence and return to the transcendental realm which is not only our true nature but also our real home. The Vedic path is based on regaining our natural spiritual identity. The Vedic path offers personal freedom for one to make his or her own choice of how he or she wants to pursue their spiritual approach, and what level of the Absolute Truth he or she wishes to understand. This is the height of spiritual democracy and freedom from tyranny. Recognizing the value and sanctity of all forms of life, as well as the Eternal Divine Being that is their true Self, the Vedic principle is that we should therefore strive in every possible way to peacefully co-exist with all other species of living entities.

The Vedic path consists of ten general rules of moral conduct. The five rules of conduct for external purification are the niyamas —such as shaucha or cleanliness and purity of mind and body, tapas or austerity and perseverance, swadhyaya or study of the Vedas and self-analysis, and santosh or contentment, as well as Ishwara-pranidhana , or acceptance of the Supreme.

There are also ten qualities that are the basis of dharmic righteous life. These are dhriti firmness or fortitude , kshama forgiveness , dama self-control , asteya refraining from stealing or dishonesty , shauch purity , indriya nigraha control over the senses , dhih intellect , vidya knowledge , satyam truth and akrodhah absence of anger. These principles are part of the eternal, universal truths that apply equally to all living entities who can use them for progress regardless of class, caste, nationality, gender, or any other temporary qualifications.

These basic principles, as we can see, are not so difficult to understand and are the basis of the Vedic spiritual life.

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There are also four basic yoga paths for the spiritual development of the individual. These include the following:. This is not merely to acquire good karma, but to become free from it altogether to attain moksha. Jnana yoga pronounced gyana , the path of intellectual development and understanding of what is real and what is not. On a deeper level, jnana yoga is the process of discriminating between truth and non-truth, or reality and illusion maya , and understanding what is the Divine.

This is the knowledge of the soul and God, and the relationship between them. Therefore, the acquirement of jnana or spiritual knowledge is one of the first steps in spiritual development. Raja or dhyana yoga, known as the royal raja way, also called astanga yoga, is the eightfold path leading to liberation. From either hatha yoga, karma yoga, or jnana yoga, a person may go on to practice raja yoga. It is one of the most popular systems of yoga today. The process involves calming all mental agitation, which gradually helps the meditator to fuse with the objects of meditation by supraconscious concentration.

Patanajali defined in the Yoga Sutras the eight steps of this path, consisting of the first two steps as following the yamas and niyamas , or the essential moral commandments, which was briefly explained in item K above.


The third step is asana , which means a seat or postures for meditation that are often used in hatha yoga. The fourth step is pranayama , breath control for fixing the mind in concentration. Prana means life or energy, and also can mean spirit. Ayama indicates the length and retention of breath between inhalation and exhalation, and control of the prana within the body. Else, they will incur sin.

The deluding power of Shakti or Prakriti is known as Maya. Nature casts her spell of Maya on the entire world and keeps the beings deluded and ignorant so that they remain bound. Because of Maya they lose discernment and mistake the real for unreal and the unreal for real.

Thus, Maya is a binding and deluding mechanism. A guna is a mode of Nature, which is responsible for all the diversity and movements in creation. The gunas are three in number, sattva, rajas and tamas. Rajas imparts selfishness and vitality, and tamas imparts grossness, ignorance, and indolence. The predominance of gunas determines the nature and behavior of the beings. The divisions, parts or aspects of Nature manifest in creation as finite realities tattvas.

Nature uses them as building blocks and mixes them with the gunas in various permutations and combinations to manifest beings and objects. The tattvas are 23 in number namely five sense organs, five organs of action, five subtle senses, five elements, the mind, ego, and intelligence. They are dependent realities and destructible. Some are causes, some are effects and some are both. The fruit of desire-ridden actions manifest as karma.

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Virtuous actions produce merit, while evil actions produce sin. Both keep the beings bound to the mortal world. Thus, Karma is a system of reward and punishment, which serves as a correcting mechanism, and as an arm of Dharma to ensure that beings remain within their bounds or face consequences.

Since karma is cumulative, beings cannot achieve liberation unless they are completely free from it. The cycle of births and deaths to which beings remain bound is known as Samsara. They cannot escape from it until they exhaust their karmas, purify themselves, suppress all modifications caused by the gunas, and achieve liberation. Since beings here are subject to death and rebirth, this world is also known as samsara. Crossing the Samasara to reach the other end is the purpose of any religious and spiritual practice.

The Vedas are the sacred texts of Hinduism and constitute the core of its principles, beliefs, practices and philosophy. They are considered to be revelations or heard ones sruti and therefore, inviolable.

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They contain hymns which are chanted during Vedic ceremonies to invoke gods. They are also considered verbal testimony to ascertain metaphysical truths. Puranas are large and voluminous texts, originally composed in Sanskrit, which are considered sacred by Hindus. They contain legends, ancient histories, creation theories, and heroic exploits and battles of Hindu deities. Hindu tradition recognizes 18 main Puranas and 18 ancillary Puranas, most of which are sectarian and belong to the principal sects of Hinduism. Apart from Puranas, the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are also popular as historic texts itihasa.

One of the unique features of Hinduism is the concept of avatar or the reincarnation of God. Hindus believe that whenever dharma declines and evil powers gain ascendance, Lord Vishnu, who is the upholder of dharma, reincarnates upon earth as a living being human, animal, or a mythical being and destroys the evil. According to the Puranas he had already incarnated several times. His last reincarnation will be at the end of Kaliyuga as Kalki. Apart from them, Vishnu has several partial manifestations and aspects. Hindus worship God in numerous ways.

Image worship and worship of symbols is one of them. The image or symbol may be either physical, diagrammatic, or mental. Physical images may be made of clay, stone, or any other suitable material.

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In most cases they are ritually installed prana-Pratishta before worship. In Vaishnavism the images are considered living embodiment arca of God. In Hinduism a temple devalayam is the abode of God where priests offer daily worship in the presence of devotees. Each temple is designed and built according to strict geometric calculations and specifications to resemble the model of the universe. They may however represent different architectural styles and construction methods.

Some of them are very ancient. The chief deity is housed in the inner sanctum and treated like a living god, with daily services from morning until evening or midnight. A temple may also house other deities, saints and associate gods, to whom devotees may offer regular worship. The Vedic sacrificial ceremonies are called Yajnas.

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They are fire-rituals in which ritual offerings of food are made to gods. They are elaborate and complex ceremonies, which require the assistance of trained and qualified priests to perform them. Some Yajnas may last for days or even weeks, and some like the Agnichayana are performed in stages, which may last for months. Some Yajnas are performed in public by groups of people, and some in private by family members.

The Hindu domestic worship is known as puja, which is performed every day or on specific occasions during which householders make offerings to deities to express their love, respect and devotion. In formal ceremonies, each deity is treated like a divine guest and made symbolic offerings of a seat, a bath, clothing, drinks, perfume, incense, light, prayers and food. In informal worship, devotees may light a lamp or an incense stick and offer prayers and food naivedyam.

At the end of the puja, devotees share the food offered to the deity. Hindus celebrate several festivals, some of which are local or regional, and some universal. They are celebrated to commemorate a historic event, a great victory, the manifestation of a deity, or the birth of a great saint or incarnation. The chief aims of human life are known as Purusharthas or the purpose artha of a human being Purusha upon earth. They are meant for householders to fulfill their obligatory duties and earn merit for a good life in the next birth.

The chief aims are four which they should pursue, namely obligatory moral duties dharma , wealth artha , sexual pleasure kama , and liberation moksha. They ensure that human beings lead a holistic life and fulfill both their material and spiritual obligations. Hindu law books suggest that householders should live their lives in four stages as designed by God himself, for the welfare and the order and regularity of the world.

They are the life of celibacy brahmacharya as a student, life as a householder grihasta after marriage, life as a forest dweller vanaprastha upon retirement, and life as a renunciant sanyasa in the old age. The law books prescribe a specific set of duties for each stage according to a person's caste or profession. The act of giving up anything for the sake of God or liberation is known as sanyasa.

Householders are advised to renounce doership in actions and the desire for the fruit of their actions to avoid the accumulation of karma. Ascetics are advised to renounce worldly pleasures and possessions as part of their vows to practice yoga, austerities, and self-discipline to purify themselves and experience oneness with God.

Hindu spiritual teachers and adepts who teach the knowledge of the scriptures, the secrets of liberation, or lead the initiates on the path of liberation are known as gurus. Literally speaking, a guru is one who removes darkness from the minds and hearts of their students by shining the light of God upon them.

The tradition holds that they are equal to God, and those who aspire for liberation should seek their help and treat them with utmost respect. The concept of Yoga has a great significance in Hinduism. For Hindus, yoga means a state or condition such as happiness or sorrow , a school of philosophy, and a specific set of spiritual practices to get rid of impurities, neutralize karma and achieve liberation.

Karma yoga, jnana yoga, sanyasa yoga, atma samyama yoga, ashtanga yoga, kriya yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga, hatha yoga are a few important and popular yogas of Hinduism. The spiritual discipline which follows the texts known as Tantras instead of Vedas is known as Tantra. Followers of Tantra practice magical and mystical rituals and formulas for the worship of the deities, usually the fierce and pleasant forms of Shiva and Shakti, to attain supernatural powers siddhis or achieve liberation.

Their methods are known as left hand practices vamachara , which are unconventional and shocking to a conservative mind.


Find here a brief summary of the essential beliefs and practices of Hinduism in a nutshell, for the beginners and novices who want to known what Hinduism is. At its core, Hinduism represents a very broad spectrum of beliefs and Hinduism in a Nutshell. Hinduism is probably the most unique religion in the world. Why?.

Some practices involve the use of sex. A Darshana is a system or school of philosophy, a view point, doctrine, or theory. Some of the schools do not acknowledge God, but acknowledge souls as eternal and indestructible. Apart from the six schools, there are others which are part of the sects of Hinduism or the sub-systems of the six, which make Hinduism complex.

Moksha means liberation from the cycle of births and deaths. Hinduism considers the liberation of the embodied souls as the highest and ultimate purpose of human life. Upon attaining liberation, the liberated souls travel to the world of Brahman and stay there forever.

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Avatar, Incarnation One of the unique features of Hinduism is the concept of avatar or the reincarnation of God. Upon attaining liberation, the liberated souls travel to the world of Brahman and stay there forever. In the end he dissolves them and withdraws them all. Of the seven continents, Jambudvipa is the innermost concentric island, where the land of the Vedas is situated. Doctrines and Rituals 5.

Hinduism prescribes numerous methods and approaches to attain liberation. Of them, devotion is considered the most supreme. Hindu scriptures suggest that upon death, beings may go to three worlds, according to their karma. Those who achieve liberation go to the immortal world of Brahman, never to return.

However, those who do not achieve liberation but earn merit for their good deeds go to the world of ancestors and return after exhausting their karmas to take rebirth. The rest go to the underworld of Yama and suffer from numerous punishments for their sins. Hinduism is a loosely organized religion with sects, teacher traditions, folk traditions, customs and practices, which can be grouped as the sub sects of Shaivism, Vaishnavism, and Shaktism respectively.

Historically the three sects are also the most popular. Even now they enjoy a large following. Each sect regards their principle deity as the highest Supreme Brahman and lord of the universe.

Hinduism in a Nutshell For the Beginners

Hindus believe that all living beings upon earth are born with a certain fate or destiny known as Vidhi, which is determined by lord Brahma at the time of their birth according to their karma and the destiny of the world and which he imprints on their foreheads. No one can escape fate, except through expiation or through divine intervention. However, Hinduism is not fatalistic since fate is determined by karma or the actions of beings and not by God.

Birth based caste system is one of the distinguishing features of Hinduism, which is also one of its chief weakness because of the social and economic distinctions and divisions it creates. The original castes were four, but currently there are many due to the intermixture of original castes and admission of several new people into the Vedic fold. Hinduism is not a dogmatic religion. Believers enjoy a lot of freedom in choosing their deities and methods of worship. The tradition explicitly prohibits coercive methods, suggesting that one should not try to unsettle the faith of another and one should give instructions in scriptural knowledge or religious practice only to those who are eager to know, who are qualified and who are ready.

Hinduism is also not a missionary religion. People are admitted into Hinduism by birth, through family, by marriage or by initiation.

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However, they are not explicitly encouraged. The tradition encourages debates and discussions with the followers of other faith, but not forceful conversions or conversions under inducement. Hinduism is an artificial amalgamation of numerous, divergent traditions, beliefs, and practices that originated in India. For millenniums, India had been home to multiple faiths and diverse racial and ethnic groups. People speak numerous languages, worship numerous gods and follow many spiritual paths. Since it emerged out of the medley of that ancient world, it cannot strictly be called a religion in the western sense.