1. Why talk of Hinduism?
Many people today practice yoga and numerous other disciplines of Indian origin which come under the banner of Hindu origin. The only color Yoga has is the color of true spirituality. In the same way many other Hindu practices too have a spiritual and scientific base, not a base of the gross sciences but that of the subtler ones. Since Hinduism is a set of ancient spiritual practices that precedes recorded dates, it becomes important to understand the people who were the great pioneers and base of these spiritual practices. It is equally important to understand the environment as well as the code of discipline, the background, the social values, practices and the culture of Vedic society. All of this comes under the umbrella of Hinduism.
If the modern man, today, is to succeed in the spiritual practices that the ancients left behind as a heritage for modern mankind, then the study of the circumstances, as well as a deeper insight into ancient spiritual practices, that lead to this enormous spiritual development, has to be of prime importance, to all such spiritual seekers. This makes the study of Hinduism important.
Hinduism has a large number of spiritual practices and philosophies that have developed over centuries therefore Hinduism has a well formed base that makes it easy for the spiritual seeker to arrive at answers to one’s spiritual quest without losing time, effort and money on unproven techniques. In Hinduism, a large body of the spiritual practices has stood the test of time and is therefore dependable.
2. What is Hinduism?
Hinduism is a general term for a basket of different spiritual practices and philosophies. Broadly speaking the term ‘Hinduism’ covers the entire Vedic Culture – its philosophies and practices. The term covers philosophies such as the Yoga Sutras, Samkhya, Purva Mimamsa, Vedanta, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Kashmir Shaivism, Shakta as well as the various forms of Yoga including Bhakti, Gyan, Kundalini, Laya, Dhyan, Raja, Mantra and Ashtanga. It also includes all tantric practices like goddess (Devi) worship, practices dedicated to Lord Shiv, Vaishnav practices dedicated to Lord Ram, Dattatreya, Hanuman and others; as well as Brahm worship , Advaita Vedanta and so on.
If one travelled around India, one would come across many varying traditions, temples, gods and goddesses, customs, practices, and sub cultures, basically due to the long time period over which Hinduism has developed over the centuries; from ancient times till today. These differences are due to the approaches, forms of worship, spiritual practices, gods, traditions and due to geographical locations.
Hinduism is vast system that has numerous traditions that may be even conflicting at times but yet the Hindu is tolerant of this, as he respects others and their traditions and considers philosophies and spiritual systems as complementary to each other and not competitive.
If one had to try to define Hinduism it would be extremely difficult as India has been a vast laboratory of spirituality, where all other faiths, even those of non-Indian origin have also co-existed. Often each faith, spiritual group, spiritual society or sampradaya has liberally borrowed from one another. Perhaps the best definition of Hinduism can only be that “Hinduism is the quest for spirituality”.
3. Is Hinduism a religion?
Hinduism is called Dharma. It is not the same as the term religion. Hindus term Hinduism as the Sanatan Dharma.
The term ‘Dharma’:Actually in the Sanskrit, Hindi and most Indian languages there is no equivalent term for the word religion. The term used by Hindus is Dharma. Sanatan Dharma. Sanatan means without beginning or end. The term dharma means the natural inherent qualities such as, it is the dharma of fire to burn. If fire does not burn it is not fire. If ice is not cold it is not ice. There is no English/foreign language equivalent for the term Dharma. It is best defined as natural quality/tendency/duty. Dharma can also be understood as living life by the doing right or righteous acts and duties.
Natureis governed by natural laws. These were called Rta. For example that which is born will die one day. Or the river will flow downwards or anything that has been released from a height will fall to the earth. Vedic philosophy followed the Rta. Later, by some accounts these Rta became a part and the basis for Dharma.
4. What is the real name of India?
The name ‘Bharat’: The actual name of India is Bharat. Bha means Knowledge and Rati is the wife of the God Kamdev, the god of love, hence Rati means lover. Therefore Bharat means Lover of Knowledge.
There is also some history behind the name Bharat. There was a King by the name of Bharat more than 5000 years ago. The King was mighty, kind and just. He is believed to have ruled over large parts of present day India and perhaps almost over the entire country. Most kings had sworn allegiance to him. He had eight sons however when the time came for him to choose a successor, he chose Bhumanu the son of a person named Bhardwaj who was a citizen.(It is unclear if Bhumanu is Sage Bhardwaj’s son however he would essentially be from the same ancestry). This act distinguished him from his predecessors as he gave precedence to ability and qualification rather than blood. In ancient Hindu society the rules during his period were rather well defined and the citizens had rights, perhaps in many ways even better than in modern days.
5. Who is the Founder of Hinduism?
Founder of Hinduism: There is no founder of Hinduism. There is no single philosophy neither is there a single religious structure (like the Church). It is the world’s oldest religion preceding recorded history. Hinduism can be very simply termed as the spiritual path.
Hinduism is not a religion but a basket of philosophies as well as methods of worship having no central founder such as Christ in Christianity, Buddha in Buddhism, or Mohammed in Islam. However broadly speaking, Hinduism has a number of beliefs that are common to all philosophies. The entire aim of Hinduism is to experience the divine, to become divine. There are different paths, numerous teachers and many gods, all of which will lead to the same final underlying universal truth. Hinduism has a hydra headed structure.
6. Who were the originators or the source of Hinduism and Vedic culture?
Rishis the seers of Hinduism: The original wise men who were the source of the Hindu spiritual system were called Rishis. The term “Ri” means to leave or give out or expel, such as the breath, “sh” means yellow and “e” means knowledge. The colour yellow signifies Vairagya or non-attachment and hence also liberation. Hence the term Rishi means “Those that teach that knowledge that has the power to liberate (from this cycle of birth and death).
By some other accounts the word ‘Rishi’ originated from the word ‘Drish’ meaning to see. The Rishis were regarded as the ‘Dhrishtas’ or the seers of mantras, that is, they saw these mantras or richas during their meditation. These were a revelation to them, not a creation by them. Hence the Vedic richas are revelations. (A Vedic mantra is called a richa).
7. Who is the Spiritual Head of the Hindus?
Spiritual Head of Hinduism: Hinduism does not have any single Spiritual head such as the Pope in Christianity or the Shahi Imam in Islam. Hinduism has numerous different Spiritual Heads prominent among which are the Shankracharyas and MahaMandaleshwars. However, depending on the tradition, there are many other spiritual heads, such as the Nimbarkacharya of the Nimbark Sampradaya, the Ramanujacharya of the Ramanuja Sampradaya and the other acharyas who are the heads of each of their Sampradaya’s or spiritual schools or movements.
8. What is the concept of God in the Hinduism?
Concept of God: The concept of God is also varied. God to the Hindu was an exploration of the truth. Termed by different names in different philosophies. Purusha in Samkhya, Brahman in Adviata, Atman in the Bhagvad Gita and Advaita, Shiv in Kashmir Shaivism, Kaivalyam in Yoga Sutras, Satchidanand in the Upanishads, Shunya in the Vigyan Bhairav, Shakti in Shakta philosophy, and so on. However Hindus believe that there is one truth that is called by different names. To the Hindu’s God is both transcendental as well as immanent. Unmanifest as well as manifest.
God in Hinduism is best understood as the spirit in each one of us that is really one but appears to be different. As the Paramatman, the permanent all pervading spiritual self and as the jivatman or as the spiritual self in each being.
In the Hindu system there are almost 33 Billion gods, however Hindu’s believe that there is only one unified god. (Over a period of time practices relating to some of the forms as well as the history and significance of certain forms has been lost. Some other forms have partial texts and prayers that are available today, however a majority of the forms as well as the related traditions are preserved. Many of the forms and practices are restricted and are not available to the general public.).These 33 Billion gods are looked upon as the different forms of energy of the one divine. Each of them is a doorway to perfection. Depending on the personality, qualities, past impressions and tendencies of the mind of each individual, each individual will choose the form of divinity that attracts him the most. However in the end each path leads to the same final truth.
9. What is the attitude of a Hindu to other faiths?
Attitudes of the Hindus: The Hindus consider other philosophies and faiths as complementary to each other and not competitive. Each Hindu’s aim is to experience god himself.
Hindus believe that no one person, faith or system is the sole way to experience god or to liberation or salvation. A Hindu believes that one system suits me and that I believe in it but a different system may suit you and that you are free to follow the means or path of your choice.
Hinduism is a tolerant philosophy being ancient. One is free to choose, experiment, understand and evolve. Yet it has a strict code of practice.
10. What differentiates Hinduism or what is the uniqueness of the Hindu system?
Uniqueness of the Hindu System: The system of Hinduism is unique to the world for two reasons.
Firstly it is a system that has evolved its philosophies for over 5000 years. It has numerous philosophies and methods of worship. India or Bharat can easily be termed as the spiritual laboratory of the world where each was and is free to experiment different approaches to reach the divine or become divine. All these philosophies and approaches that are an enormous spiritual wealth are actually a world heritage that is a gift to the entire world.
Secondly Bharat or India is one of the few geographical areas or maybe the only area in the world where different systems of worship, methods of transmission of spiritual energy have been preserved in their proper form, in an unbroken ancient tradition through these five thousand plus years. Unlike in other traditions where many of the links were lost and thus the tradition was broken.
11. What are the pre- requisites for studying Hinduism?
The main requisites are an open mind, and a desire to transform one’s personality. Additionally, a keen intellect, and a desire for god or for higher consciousness. One must essentially study under a spiritual master or a Guru. Also necessary are devotion to the Guru, discipline, regular practice, study of the scriptures, developing noble qualities, good company and the habit of introspection.