Hinduism is a diverse religion found primarily in India. There is variation in local practices and the worship of particular deities. However, there are central tenants that unify it as one religion. The core of Hinduism is the belief in Brahman, the underlying universal life force that encompasses and embodies existence. According to Hindu scriptures, one’s ignorance of the true nature of the self (atman) as one with Brahman is what traps one in the cycle of endless death and reincarnation (samsara). Thus, the highest goal of Hinduism is liberation (moksha) from the karmic cycle of death and rebirth. However, Hinduism is much more than an esoteric practice. For the millions of people who practice this religion, it is a way of life that encompasses all aspects of life including family, social life, politics, business, art, and health behaviors. The sacred scriptures contain instructions on these aspects of life and have a strong influence on art and drama. While the ascetic practices of yoga are a well-known aspect of Hinduism, family life is also considered a sacred duty.
Most households have a shrine to a particular deity. Women conduct a household puja, the offering of fruit, raw rice, flowers, incense, and other items to the deity, on a regular basis. People may be invited to join puja on occasion, making it a communal event. After the food has been offered it is considered to have been spiritually consumed and blessed by the deity’s power. It is redistributed as a way to share the deity’s blessings.
Hinduism is one of the oldest living religious traditions in the world. Unlike many other religions, Hinduism has no single founder,and there is no clerical hierarchy of the type found in the Roman Catholic Church. Hinduism looks to a large number of religious texts developed over many centuries that contain spiritual insights and provide practical guidance for religious life. Among such texts, the ancient Vedas are usually considered the most authoritative. Other scriptures include the eighteen Puranas, and the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. The Bhagavad Gita, which is contained within the Mahabharata, is a widely studied teaching that is said to contain, in distilled form, the highest truths of the Vedas.
There is no â€œone Hinduismâ€, and so it lacks any unified system of beliefs and ideas. Hinduism is a conglomerate of diverse beliefs and traditions, in which the prominent themes include:
- Dharma (ethics and duties)
- Samsara (rebirth)
- Karma (right action)
- Moksha (liberation from the cycle of Samsara)
It also believes in truth, honesty, non-violence, celibacy, cleanliness, contentment, prayers, austerity, perseverance, penance, and pious company.
The basic scriptures of Hinduism, which is collectively referred to as “Shastras”, are essentially a collection of spiritual laws discovered by different saints and sages at different points in its long history. The Two types of sacred writings comprise the Hindu scriptures: “Shruti” (heard) and “Smriti” (memorized). They were passed on from generation to generation orally for centuries before they were written down mostly in the Sanskrit language. The major and most popular Hindu texts include the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata.