Early History of Hinduism

Hinduism is derived from the Persian word for Indian. It differs from Christianity and other Western religions in that it does not have a single founder, a specific theological system, a single system of morality, or religious organization. Its roots are traceable to the Indus valley civilization circa 4000 to 2200 BCE. Its development was influenced by many invasions over thousands of years. One of the major influences occurred when Indo-Europeans invaded Northern India (circa 1500 to 500 BCE) from the steppes of Russia and Central Asia. They brought with them their religion of Vedism. These beliefs became mixed with the indigenous Indian native beliefs.

During the first few centuries CE, many sects were created, each dedicated to a specific deity. Typical among these were the Goddesses Shakti and Lakshmi, and the Gods Skanda and Surya.

Hinduism grew to become the world's third largest religion, claiming about 13% of the world's population. It is the dominant religion in India, and among the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Hindus totaled 157,015 in Canada's 1991 census.

Hindu Beliefs and Practices

At the heart of Hinduism is the panentheistic principle of Brahman, that all reality is a unity. The entire universe is one divine entity who is simultaneously at one with the universe and who transcends it as well. Deity is simultaneously visualized as a triad:

Brahma the Creator who is continuing to create new realities

Vishnu, (Krishna) the Preserver, who preserves these new creations. Whenever dharma (eternal order, righteousness, religion, law and duty) is threatened, Vishnu travels from heaven to earth in one of ten incarnations.

Siva, the Destroyer, is at times compassionate, erotic and destructive.

Most Hindus follow one of two major divisions within Hinduism:

Vaishnavaism: generally regard Vishnu as the ultimate deity

Shivaism: generally regard Shiva as the ultimate deity.

Simultaneously, many hundreds of Hindu Gods and Goddesses are worshipped as various aspects of that unity. Depending upon ones view, Hinduism can be looked upon as a monotheistic, or polytheistic religion.

The Rigveda defined five social castes. Ones caste determined the range of jobs or professions from which one could choose. Marriages normally took place within the same caste. One normally was of the same caste as one's parents. In decreasing status, the five castes are:

Brahmins (the priests and academics)

Kshatriyas (the military), Vaishyas (farmers and merchants) and Sudras (peasants and servants). The exact ranking of these three castes varied among villages.

Harijan (the outcasts, commonly known as the untouchables)

Although the caste system was abolished by law in 1949, it remains a significant force throughout India, particularly in the south.

Humans are perceived as being trapped in samsara, a cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. Karma is the accumulated sum of ones good and bad deeds. Karma determines how you will live your next life. Through pure acts, thoughts and devotion, one can be reborn at a higher level. Eventually, one can escape samsara and achieve enlightenment. Bad deeds can cause a person to be reborn as a lower level, or even as an animal. The unequal distribution of wealth, prestige, suffering are thus seen as natural consequences for ones previous acts, both in this life and in previous lives.

Meditation is often practiced, with Yoga being the most common. Other activities include daily devotions, public rituals, and puja a ceremonial dinner for a God.

Hinduism has a deserved reputation of being highly tolerant of other religions. Hindus have a saying: "Ekam Sataha Vipraha Bahudha Vadanti," which may be translated: "The truth is One, but different Sages call it by Different Names"

Hindu Sects and Denominations

About 80% of Hindus are Vaishnavites, who worship Lord Vishnu. Others follow various reform movements or neo-Hindu sects.

Various sects of Hinduism have evolved into separate religious movements, including Hare Krishna, Sikhism and Theosophy. Transcendental Meditation was derived from a Hindu technique of meditation. The New Age movement has taken many of its concepts from Hinduism.

Sanskrit is the language of mantra, of spiritually empowered sounds. Its usage is to bring our minds back to the consciousness and power of mantra. Mantra is not just concerned with sound but with meaning. According to the view of the Yoga of sound, there is only one meaning in life, which is the Divine or our own Self. Each thing ultimately means all things. Each object is a symbol for the universe itself. Words represent this universal meaning broken down, fragmented and compartmentalized. To cognize any individual object we must first recognize its ground of being, which is the Divine. Yet we fail to notice this as it is immediate and before the activity of our thought and choice. If we hold to this primacy of being as the meaning of all objects, all things become doorways to the infinite.

Sloka us a verse, phrase, proverb or hymn of praise, usually composed in a specified meter. Especially a verse of two lines, each of sixteen syllables. Sloka is the primary verse form of the Sanskrit epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana

The Hindu Universe

The Hindu Universe presents the most comprehensive collection of Hindu dharma related material on the net. Pre-eminent authors such as Dr. David Frawley, Shree Bansi Pandit, Swami Harshananda, Shree Atmanandji, Dr. Gangadhar Choudhary etc. have agreed to put their work on this forum for the benifit of the readers.

We are also fortunate to have Shree Bansi Pandit host a forum What is meant To b e a Hindu on Hindu Universe, where he answers questions about Hindu dharma.

We have also provided links to some outstanding external resources on the net. We hope that you find our offering enriching in your quest to learn about Hindu dharma.

Ancient philosophy, earliest enlightened teachers (Tirthankaras) mentioned in Rig Veda

Modern Founder Vardhaman Mahavira (2500 years ago)

Major Scriptures : The Jain Agamas Siddhantas

Universe is neither created not sustained by a Supernatural being, it is beginning-less, endless and operates in accordance of natural law

Reality has two categories, jive (soul) and ajiva (without soul)

Ahimsa doctrine of non-killing, non-violence and non-injury

Belief in Law of Karma in the sense of cause and effect

Himsa (violence), nirdaya (lack of compassion), krodha (anger), mada (pride), maya (infactuation), lobha (greed), dvesha (hatred), trishna (craving) are the primary causes of suffering and injustice in the world.

Attachment to material objects is the primary cause of bondage and leads to greed and jealousy, which further leads to suffering and injustice

Renouncing attachment to material object is a necessary condition for attaining peace and joy in the world and thereafter

Rejects the ritualistic content of the Vedas but does not necessarily deny their higher teachings.

Does not believe in existence of God as creator, sustainer and moral governor of the world.

Goal of life according to Jain dharma is to attain kevala (liberation) whereas in other Hindu philosophies the goal is moksha. Both are similar, in that both emphasize transcending the world of names and forms to realize the truth.

Founded about 2,500 years ago in India by Guatama Sidhartha, the Buddha or "Enlightened One", it is one of the Heterodox schools of Hindu philosophy.

Major Scriptures : The Tripitaka, Anguttra-Nikaya, Dhammapada, Sutta-Nipata, Samyutta-Nikaya, etc.

Life's goal is Nirvana - the end of change, neither existence nor non-existence. No creator or God, thus no union with Him.

Buddha's teachings : Four Noble Truths ("chatvari arya satyani")

The Truth of Suffering : Suffering (dukha) is the central fact of life. Pain is being born, growing old, sickness, death union with what we dislike is pain, separation from what we dislike, not fulfilling desires

The Truth of Origin (Samudaya) of Suffering : The cause of suffering is desires (ichcha), craving (tanha) or thirst (tishna) for sensual pleasures, for existence and experience, for worldly possessions and power. This craving binds one to rebirth, samsara.

The Truth of Cessation (Nirodha) of Suffering : Suffering can cease only by complete cessation of desires

The Truth of the Path (Marga) To Ending Suffering : Suffering can be overcome by following eightfold path (arya ashtanga marga), right belief, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right meditation.

Rejects ritualistic aspects of the Vedas, but does not deny the higher teachings of the Upanishads. Rejects caste system.

Believes in theory of karma and rebirth, but holds that atman (individual spirit) does not transmigrate from one birth to another.

Holds that Self and World are both unreal.

Sikhism began about 500 years ago by Guru Nanak, word Sikh is derived from the word Sisya (disciple)

Scripture : Adi Granth (Guru Granth Sahib), Sikhs follow path of japa (recitation) of hymn, devotional prayers (kirtana) singing the names of God (e.g., Nam Simran)

Belief in ten Gurus - spiritual guide who dispels ignorance and darkness

God is creator of the universe and its existence and continued survival depends on His hukum (will)

Monistic or Non-dual, ultimate reality is unity of all existence, God is both Saguna (with attributes) and Nirguna (without attributes), and is called by names such as Sat (truth), Sat Guru (true Guru), Akal Purkh (timeless being), kartar (creator) and Wahi-Guru (praise to the God).

Sikh is immersed in God assimilated, identified with Him. It is the fulfillment of individuality in which man, freed of all limitation becomes co-extensive and co-operant and co-present with God.

Guru Gobind Singh (last living Guru) organized Sikh tradition of Khalsa (pure one). Male members traditionally wear 5 "k"s, uncut hair and beard (kesh), comb (kanga), traditional shorts (kacha), wrist ring (kada), sword (kirpan).

Attachment to material objects is the primary cause of rebirth on the basis of past karma (action)

Only way to achieve liberation (mukti) from the cycle of birth and death is by being God-conscious (gurmukh)

Does not believe in incarnation of God in human form.

Disapproves asceticism and self mortification as path to enlightenment.

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