Facts about Hinduism
Posted 14th November 2010 by Swami Muktanand Puri
1. Origin of the term 'Hindu' and 'India': The term "Hindu" in written records was used by the Arabs in the 1323 C.E. and was used to differentiate with Islam and Islamic beliefs. They also referred to India as "Al-Hind". The term was derived from the river Indus. Later the British used the term Hindu commonly and the name India too was used and popularized by the British. The name India is also derived from the same river Indus.
2. 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.
3. 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 truth. Hinduism has a hydra headed structure.
4. 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.
Nature is 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.
5. 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).
6. Protectors of Hinduism: The perpetual protectors of the Hindu faith are considered to be the Sapt Rishis. Sapt meaning seven. Their names are Brahmrishi Vashisht, Maharishi Gautam, Maharishi Bhardwaj, Maharishi Jamadagni, Maharishi Kashyap, Brahmrishi Vishwamitra, and Maharishi Atri.
There are also seven other protectors who are called the "long living one's" or the "Sapt Chiranjeevi". They protect the spiritual balance of the world and are believed to live in their bodies on earth at all times except for one of them. Each of them has many perfected powers. Their names are Prince Ashwatthama, King Bali, Sage Vyas, Lord Hanuman, King Vibhishan, Acharya Kripa, and Lord Parshuram. There is also an eight one. He is Maharishi Markandeya. Of these King Bali lives in the lower world and rules over it. The lower world in Hinduism is simply the lower world, it is not equal to the western equivalent of hell. It is actually called PaTaal meaning world under the surface.
7. 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. 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. Attitudes of the Hindus: The Hindus consider other philosophies 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. 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.