Hinduism - Frequently
Why there are so many gods in Hinduism ?
Generally Hindus believe in one Supreme God. But
there are many gods who are praised in the religion. These gods are
actually the life supporting powers. For example Sun (Surya),
Water (Varuna), and Air (Vayu) without which the life
cannot exist. In Hinduism these elements which make the life possible
are praised along with the Very Essential God. This gives the feeling
that Hindus believe in many gods. At the end God is still but in
differenr names as Vishnu, Ram or Krishna.
2.1. Is Hinduism
polytheistic (accepts many gods)?
Is Hinduism pantheistic (involves
worshipping nature - trees, hills, etc)?
Why do Hindus worship stones ?
Why do Hindu Gods have fancy forms like
elephant faced, monkey faced, with six faces, with four hands, etc ?
2.2. Who is the founder
of Hinduism ?
Which is the book of Hinduism ?
2.3. Who is a Hindu ?
Can I get converted into Hinduism ?
2.4. Should I know Sanskrit
to be a Hindu ?
2.5.Does Hinduism consider
monastic life better ?
consider vegetarianism better ?
2.7.What does Hinduism say
about polygamy, homosexuality, etc ?
2.8.What is the
Hindu concept of life after death ?
What is the Hindu concept of Heaven and
2.9.Is there the concept
similar to Satan in Hinduism ?
2.10.Is there a concept of sin
in Hinduism ?
2.11.Do all Hindu saints
perform miracles ?
2.12.Does astrology come
under Hinduism ?
2.13.There are many
contradictions in Hinduism. For example, Rama is hailed for monogamy,
but Krishna has many wives.
2.14.What is the Hindu
concept of creation ?
What is the Hindu concept of destruction ?
2.15.What does Hinduism
say about conversion ?
2.16.What does Hinduism say
about science ?
2.17.What is Hinduism's
stand on human cloning ?
2.18.What is Hinduism's
stand on euthanasia (assisted suicide) ?
2.19.What is Hinduism's
stand on abortion and contraception ?
2.20.How do Hindus pray ? What
is the Hindu prayer ?
2.21.Do Hindus say any prayer
before eating food ?
1.1. What is Hinduism ? When was Hinduism founded
The name 'Hinduism' is of a much recent origin,
coined by the Greeks and Arabians to refer to the religion of the people
living around and to the East of the river Indus. The earliest records
of this religion are in the Rig Veda, the oldest known human literature.
Some portions of the Rig Veda have been dated to before 6000 BC. This
implies that the religion was in vogue atleast a few centuries earlier
than that. Hinduism has been gaining increasing popularity due to its
high philosophy, broad outlook and non-dogmatic approach. Hinduism is
different from many other religions in that it does not have a founder
and does not claim exclusivity. It explicitly accepts all religions as
1.2. How has Hinduism survived for so long ? Is
the Hinduism practised today the same as that practiced a few millenia
Hinduism has stood the test of time much more
effectively than any other religion of the world. This is mainly because
of its clear separation of the essentials from the non-essentials. Every
religion has a few principles, which are independant of the cultural
context of the followers, and a few practices which need to vary with
time, place and cultural background. Hinduism has clearly separated
these two right since its known history. The principles are presented in
texts classified as 'Sruthis', which primarily comprise the part of the
Vedas called Upanisads. The changable texts are classified as 'Smritis',
which include various texts on etiquette, moral and ethical codes of
conduct, law and justice. The former form the universal principles and
the latter form their culture-dependant implementation. The essential
principles of Hinduism are the same as they were concieved of by the
sages who lived during the Vedic period. Even the Vedas have come down
to the present day unaltered. The Vedas are being chanted even today
with the same melody and rhythm as they were chanted during the Vedic
age. The social customs and values have changed to cater to the needs
and to utilize the means of changing times and culture, without altering
the basic principles and goals.
1.3. Why is there so much confusion about
Hinduism ? I see Hinduism as a mass of conflicting ideas.
Due to the enormous time period through which
Hinduism has been practised, it has passed through a huge spectrum of
cultural environments. Due to this, the non-essential portion of
Hinduism has passed through so much changes in various places during
various times. This has resulted in a situation where even people who
have born and grown in Hinduism face a lot of difficulty in
understanding Hinduism. Many see Hinduism as a huge mass of conflicting
ideas. This is mainly due to two interrelated reasons.
Not distinguishing between the essentials and
Trying to apply the culture-dependant
non-essential concepts out of context.
This gives rise to a plethora of questions in the
minds of almost anyone who come in touch with Hinduism. This FAQ is an
attempt to answer a few of these questions.
1.4. What are the basic principles of Hinduism ?
The basic principles of Hinduism are in the
Upanisads. They have been collected, organized and explained in various
other texts, but the root source are the Upanisads. Hinduism has three
It is God who has become this Universe and
everything in it.
Whatever is seen, dreamed or imagined are nothing but manifestations
of God. God is beyond space, time, causation and all distinctions like
gender, race, species, living/non-living and form/formless. Since He
is beyond space, He is omnipresent. Since He is beyond time, He is
eternal. Since He is beyond the concept of form, He is with form,
without form, both and neither. Every form is His and yet He is
formless and beyond the concept of form. Similarly with all attributes
concievable by the mind.
The aim of life is to 'know' God.
God cannot be 'known' in the usual sense of the word. God is the
Knower of everything. We call it 'realizing' God. This is beyond the
mind. It is a direct experience of God. This is the ultimate goal of
life. Till we reach this goal, we will have to live again and again.
Till we reach this goal, we have to undergo birth, death and again
birth and so on. Everytime we are born, we continue our journey
towards the goal from where we left. So nothing is lost by death on
this journey. When the goal is reached, there is no need for anymore
death or birth. The person is said to have attained Immortality.
Actually the person goes beyond all limitations. Even the basic
limitations imposed by the concept of individuality and personality
There are intermediate milestones and targets set by Hinduism. They
are Dharma - righteousness, Artha - wealth acquired by righteous means
and Kama - quenching of desires within the limits of Dharma and Artha.
As there is a scope for lot of misconception about these intermediate
targets, there are several texts explaining them. These are
intermediate targets and not ends. The ultimate aim is Moksha -
freedom from limitations by God realization. Dharma, Artha and Kama
should be stepping stones and thus means to the end, which is Moksha.
But this does not mean that Artha and Kama are forbidden by Hinduism.
According to Hinduism, if people pursue and enjoy Artha and Kama
within the boundaries of Dharma, they will naturally develop the
maturity to enquire and aspire after Moksha in due course of time.
As many people, so many ways to God.
Every religion is a way to God. No way to God is superior to the
other. However, depending on the mental temperament and cultural
background of a person, one way might be better suited to him than
another. This is difference arises due to the difference in the
temperament of the person and cannot be used to judge the general
efficacy of a path. "All paths are true. Your path for you. My path
for me." This is the principle of Hinduism.
Everything else is secondary and should not
violate these three basic principles.
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Beginner Level Questions:
2.1. Is Hinduism polytheistic (accepts many
Is Hinduism pantheistic (involves worshipping nature - trees, hills,
Why do Hindus worship stones ?
Why do Hindu Gods have fancy forms like elephant faced, monkey faced,
with six faces, with four hands, etc ?
Hinduism says that there is one God. Just as a man
is called "father" by this son, "husband" by his wife, "son" by this
father, and so on, God is called by various names and worshipped in
various forms depending on the mood and approach of the devotee. When
God is worshipped to remove hurdles, He is worshipped as "Ganesha". When
God is worshipped to bless with good understanding of art and science,
He is worshipped as "Saraswathi", and so on. Similarly, when a devotee
wants to worship God as mother, he may worship as "Kali". When a devotee
wants to worship God as a child, he may worship as "Krishna". If a
devotee wants to worship God as the formless, attributeless, transcedent
being, he may worship as "Brahman". These are all to suit the various
temperaments of the devotees. By all these various forms and names, the
devotee very well knows that He is worshipping God only. So Hinduism is
Hinduism also accepts that all religions talk
about the one God. It does not have concepts like the god of the
Egyptians and the god of the Jews, which basically implies that there
are many gods. Hinduism says that the god of the Hindus, Egyptians,
Jews, Christians, Muslims, Zorastrians, Aztecs, Mayans, Maoris, etc are
all the same God. Hinduism says that all are worshipping the same God in
different ways. Again, one way is not better than the other way. All
ways to worship God are accepted by God if performed with faith and
In fact, it goes one step ahead than other
religions. Not only that it says there is only one God; it says that
everything in this universe are manifestations of God. In Hinduism,
there is no the concept of "creation" in the literal sense of the word.
It is God who becomes or manifests as the universe. The universe is not
different from God. Everything is God. So, the devotee can take anything
which appeals to him as a form of God, and worship Him. The omniscient
God knows that the devotee is worshipping Him. The exact name and form
do not matter. The attitude and sincerity is what matters.
Similarly a Hindu does not worship a tree or a
hill just because it is a tree or a hill. The tree or hill is considered
a symbol of God and it is the transcendent God who is worshipped through
the natural objects. It is the Creator who is worshipped through the
creation. So Hinduism is not pantheistic.
An abstract idea is expressed in a concrete form
for the mind to grasp easily. For example, to depict the idea that God
protects the devotee from the forces of evil, God is depicted with
various weapons. Every small aspect of the forms of various Hindu Gods
and Goddesses have a meaning behind them. There is a technical
convention of symbology followed. For example, a bow indicated the mind;
arrows indicate the senses; noose indicates death; drum indicates time;
rosary indicates austerity. The symbology is very elaborate and quite
context independant. The picture with all this symbology indicate the
personality attributed for the particular form of God. If the devotee
also has similar aspirations, he chooses the form of God for his
worship. As he thinks about the various aspects in the form, he thinks
of the aspect of personality the symbol indicates. This way the form is
an excellent aid to think of God with certain attributes. For a person
who does not know the language of this symbology, it is a fancy picture.
But for a person who understands, it is an excellent aid for worship.
Also, there is a lot of myths, legends and nice stories associated with
every form of God. This allows the devotee to get a very good hold on to
the personality and also have a personal psychological relationship with
the personality. This offers great stability to the personality of the
devotee. The characters which he is aspiring for are deeply engraved in
his mind and provide a strong foothold. It is common in the
picturization to use various human, animal and even mixed forms. All
these have meanings. Any book on the particular aspect of God will give
you the exact symbology.
To give further aid to the devotee, even
historical characters like Rama, Krishna and various people who lived
exemplary lives are given a form with a lot of symbols added. A good
example is Hanuman, the monkey-faced. He was a highly self-controlled,
learned, wise and loyal devotee of Rama. His devotion to Rama was
outstanding. He was very strong in all aspects - physical, mental,
moral, emotional andd intellectual. He is worshipped by devotees to
grant them his qualities. The story of Rama has accounts of numerous
incidents where his hero has showed his covetable qualities. These
stories create a vivid picture in the mind of the devotees and
encourages them to develop the same qualities.
The ancient Hindus were highly advanced in the
science of psychology. There are numerous treatises on this subject.
Different forms are found to create different psychological effects. It
is by considering this that the various forms are given to various
aspects of God. For example, the forms of elephant and mouse seem to
arouse the security consciousness in the mind of man. These are used in
the form of Ganesha. Thus the form of Ganesha will increase the alerness
of the mind. So a worship of Ganesha is advocated before starting
anything new. These symbols come from the technical expertise of the
ancient Hindus in this field.
2.2. Who is the founder of Hinduism ? Which is
the book of Hinduism ?
Hinduism does not have a founder. It has been
there from prehistoric times. It is based on the spiritual concepts
discovered by numerous people. These concepts are impersonal like other
concepts in science. These concepts have been validated by innumerable
people. Hinduism invites everyone, irrespective of the cultural
background, to validate the truth of the spiritual concepts for
There is no single book for Hinduism. If you are
looking for a source where all the principles are given, then there are
three texts. They are called "Prasthana Traya" - the principal three.
They all present the same truth.
The first is the Upanisads. These are parts
of the Vedas. There are innumerable Upanisads. Ten of them were chosen
by Sri Sankara, a great saint and philosopher, as to contain the ideas
in all the Upanisads put together. This forms the first principal text.
These are unadultered, raw, first-hand observations of spiritual
phenomenon. They do not try to propose a model to fit the observations.
The observers have not imposed their ideas or even tried to classify the
The second is the Brahma Sutras. This was
authored by Veda Vyasa, who masterminded the current organization of the
Vedas and the same person who authored other great works like
Mahabharata and Bhagavata. Brahma Sutras present the concept in the
Upanishads in a logical and highly technical manner. It is a scholarly
work which establishes the concepts in the Upanishads on a strong
The third is the Bhagavad Gita. This is a
record of the conversation between Sri Krishna and Arjuna. This text
talks about the practical application of the concepts in the Upanisads
to everyday life.
Thus these three texts present the Hindu
philosophy and religion in a scientific and practical manner as -
observation, modelling and application.
2.3. Who is a Hindu ? Can I get converted into
A Hindu is one who believes in the basic
principles of Hinduism and applies them to everyday life. The principles
are explained above. To repeat, basically they are
There is one God, who has become everything in
this universe. This implies that everyone and everything has to be
considered with due regard. This talks about the basic unity of the
whole universe. This implies that one had to strive for the welfare of
the whole. There is no place for selfishness and narrowness.
The aim of life is to realize God. There is no
room for a desultory living. Life has a great divine purpose. It is to
overcome all limitations by realizing the divinity within.
Every path to God is true. Everyone has to
chose a path to God according to one's own temperament. There is no
conflict between various religions.
If you follow these principles, you are a Hindu.
It does not matter whether you worship Krishna or Christ or Allah. If
you believe in the inherent equality and divinity of the universe,
strive to realize the divinity in yourself and accept the plurality of
religion, you are a Hindu.
As Hinduism considers all religions as equally
valid paths to God, there is no concept of conversion. Hinduism is a
sort of meta-religion. It encompasses the basic principles of religion.
It helps you to fix your religious goal, choose any religion of your
choice and encourages you to follow the religion with all sincerity.
Understand the aim of religion. Weigh the pros and cons of various ways
of worship available in world. Choose one of your liking and follow it
with full zeal. In all probability, you are already worshipping God in
your favorite way. Hinduism helps you to follow you religion more
knowingly, with a clearer understanding of the goal and with more zeal.
2.4. Should I know Sanskrit to be a Hindu ?
No. Almost all the scriptures and traditional
prayers are in Sanskrit. So if you want to go to the source, you need to
know Sanskrit. But to follow the religion, you need not know Sanskrit.
There are good translations of almost all the major texts in several
other languages, from which you can derive benefit. What is important is
to understand and follow the principles. But, if you want to understand
and appreciate Indian culture, a knowledge of Sanskrit and other Indian
languages is necessary. Much of the culture is embedded in the word
formations and connotations. Also, you cannot have a direct first-hand
experience of the Indian culture without the knowledge of the language
in which the culture is implemented.
2.5. Does Hinduism consider monastic life better
No. During the course of Indian history, late
Buddhism brought in this idea, which led to the downfall of India. The
genius of Sri Sankara converted this downfall into the "downfall of
Buddhism in India" and put the society back onto the progressive track.
Hinduism considers the householders and monastics as two wings of the
bird called society. Whether to chose the life of a householder or a
monastic depends on the individual temperament. The aim of life - God
realization - can be achieved in both the ways of life. Just as there
are various duties to various people in the society, the monastics also
have their role and duties. The monks are the repositories of religious
knowledge and are teachers of religious life. The respect given to their
position is a psychological necessity to derive maximum benefit from
their knowledge. Also, they are supposed to expressedly and explicitly
follow the virtues like service, sacrifice and nobility which the
householders are supposed to implicitly follow. This way they are role
models for the rest of the society. But this does not mean that the
monatic way of life is better than the householders. The same virtues
are expected in both.
2.6.Does Hinduism consider vegetarianism better ?
No. The concept of vegetarianism is recent (less
than 2000 years old). The historical accounts recorded in the Ramayana,
Mahabharata and the Puranas depict people as non-vegetarian. Hinduism
accepts the law of nature that one life is the food for another.
However, Hinduism accepts that just as the mind affects the body (you
want to lift your hand and your body does it), the body also affects the
mind. The food eaten affects the organization and type of thoughts. For
example, eating stolen food has been found to make the mind morally
weak. Similarly, different types of food cause different effects in the
mind. Non-vegetarian diet has been found to cause a condition called "rajotamas"
- a mixture of delusion and hyperactivity. This is an undesirable
condition for aspirants of God. A vegetarian diet aids control of the
mind and religious study. For this reason, modern Hinduism advises a
vegetarian diet to most spiritual aspirants.
2.7.What does Hinduism say about polygamy,
homosexuality, etc ?
The aim of life according to Hinduism is God
realization. Social issues like polygamy are outside the jurisdiction of
religion. If the question is "What does Hinduism say about lust?", then
there is a prompt and vehement reply that "Lust has to be overcome."
Social rules will change with time and place. Some societies consider
polygamy as normal. There are Hindu societies in North Eastern India,
which consider polyandry as normal and anyone opposing it as "selfish".
Nevertheless, they are good Hindu societies. Majority of today's Indian
society is monogamous. A few years before polygamy was accepted. It may
again get accepted after a few centuries. Hinduism is not bothered about
these. It has higher goals for life.
2.8.What is the Hindu concept of life after death
? What is the Hindu concept of Heaven and Hell ?
Hinduism believes in the law of cause and effect
applied to all spheres of phenomenal existence. Since different people
are born to different people in different environments (which is an
observed effect), a previous cause has to be assumed. The only logical
explanation possible is a previous life very similar to this. And by the
same argument, since different people are involved in different thoughts
and activities till death, the effects of these must occur in an
after-life very similar to this. Hinduism says that everyone is
responsible for his life. There are no extraneous causes for one's
condition in life. If a person is facing hardship in life it has to be
due to his earlier thoughts and actions in this or previous life.
2.9.Is there the concept similar to Satan in
Hinduism does not have a concept similar to Satan.
Hinduism says that all that happens are due to the power and will of
God. Whatever happens is neither good nor bad. It is human beings who
attribute those ideas to events. We call something which we think will
cause intended effects, within the purview of our understanding, as
good. All understanding is limited and hence the very concept of good
and evil is relative and depends on time, place and people involved.
2.10.Is there a concept of sin in Hinduism ?
No. Hinduism says that one has to reap what he
sows - good or bad. If a person makes mistakes, he will have to face the
consequences. If a person does good, he will enjoy its fruits. Hinduism
opens the door fully for a person to form his own life and future. No
one is eternally glorified or eternally doomed. It accepts that people
make mistakes whose logical effects have to be faced, its lessons need
to be learnt, and life has to continue with more knowledge and
2.11.Do all Hindu saints perform miracles ?
No. Miracles are considered mere dynamics of
Nature which are not understood fully by the observer. Miracles are
nothing different from regular events. If something is not expected, it
is a miracle. They are not worth to be sought after. The goal of
Hinduism is to realize God. Miracles are considered objectionable
hinderances towards that goal. No teacher of Hinduism advises his
disciples to attain the power to do miracles. Seeking after miracles is
considered a sign of spiritual weakness.
2.12.Does astrology come under Hinduism ?
No. Astrology is just another science like
agriculture or metallurgy. It is well developed in India, just like
religion and philosophy. The theory behind astrology is based on the
Indian view that everything in this universe originate from one source.
So by a reasonable understanding of the dynamics in one part of the
universe, one can expect a particular pattern of events in another part
of the universe. Beyond that there is no relationship.
2.13.There are many contradictions in Hinduism.
For example, Rama is hailed for monogamy, but Krishna has many wives.
This again is the result of applying today's
social norms like monogamy to people who lived a few thousand years
back. Rama is hailed for monogamy today. But during his time, polygamy
was not considered objectionable.
2.14.What is the Hindu concept of creation ?
Hinduism considers that the world is a
manifestation of God. There is no concept of Creation and a Creator. The
world came from God, exists in God and will return back to God, just
like waves arise from the ocean, exist in the ocean and subside back
into the ocean. And this happens in cycles, again and again.
As there is no concept of creation in the literal
sense, there can be no concept of destruction also. There is a concept
of unmanifestation. God withdraws Himself and creation vanishes.
Manifestion is instantaneous, if the word can be used, because even time
is a part of manifestation only. Similarly unmanifestation is also
instantaneous. It is like a dream. How was the world in your dream
created ? The dream world, including its own timeline were created
instantly. When you wake up, the world just vanishes. Same is the case
with this world too.
There are graphic and poetic descriptions about
God creating the world, maintaining it and then destroying it. These are
only figurative to explain the above concept. They should not be taken
2.15.What does Hinduism say about conversion ?
There is no concept of conversion in Hinduism.
Hinduism believes in one God. If you read the Bible, you can see
expressions like "God of the Egyptians", "God of Israelites", etc.
Hinduism does not believe in many Gods like this. Hinduism believes in
one God, whom everyone of every religion call by various names and
worship in their own way. It is said in the Vedas that "God is one. The
wise men call Him by various names." You should note here that the
people who call God by various names are called "wise men". In the
Bhagavat Gita, it is said that in whatever way a man worships God, God
being Omniscient, knows that He is being worshipped and responds to the
sincerity of the worshipper. Hinduism accepts diversity of religions and
accepts the validity if several paths, and so there is no concept of
Hinduism cares only about vertical conversion.
Hinduism encourages and helps a Christian to be a better Christian and a
Muslim to be a better Muslim. Any Hindu saint will ask a Christian to
have faith in Christ and go to Church regularly. He will ask a Muslim to
have faith in Allah and perform the religious duties ordained in the
Koran sincerely. Hinduism does not support horizontal conversion from
one faith to another.
Hindus consider claims that "if you do not believe
in Christ, you will be doomed" as a disparaging remark on Christ. Christ
is a personification of selflessness. His love is unconditional. Putting
conditions like this on Him is blasphemy.
2.16.What does Hinduism say about science ?
Science and Hinduism do not contradict. They
complement each other. Science and technology cater to the meterial
needs of man. But man does not live by bread alone. The psychological,
emotional and spiritual needs of man are catered to by arts and
religion. They have entirely different domains of operation. So there is
no way they can be compared. Both are needed for a balanced life.
2.17.What is Hinduism's stand on human cloning ?
Hinduism considers the cloned persons to be
different from each other. Hinduism sees the soul and not the body. Even
if the body is cloned, the soul is different. So from the religious
point of view, there is absolutely no difference between a normal human
being and a cloned human being. Biological issues like dangers of
genetic disorders, etc are left to the biologists to discuss.
2.18.What is Hinduism's stand on euthanasia
(assisted suicide) ?
According to the Doctrine of Karma, a person
cannot escape from his/her Karma by commiting suicide. Whatever has to
be faced has to be faced. If one tries to escape from a problem in this
birth, it will have to be faced in a higher proportion in a subsequent
birth. Also, committing suicide adds a big Karmic burden on the
Coming to Euthanasia, assisting the suffering
person by giving moral and other form of support to bear with the
difficulties and if possible to alleviate the difficulties is the best
thing that his/her well wishers can do. Taking away the life is only
postponing the problem. If the suffering person is not a party in the
decision, then it is a mere postponement of the manifestation of the
Karma for the suffering person. Whereas for the people involved in
making the decision, the mental attitude is what counts.
To summarize, in the best case, it does not help
anyone in any way.
2.19.What is Hinduism's stand on abortion and
Issues like pre-marital and extra-marital sex are
social issues. From the religious point of view, uncontrolled lust is
harmful for the spiritual development of the individual. Abortion and
contraception for reasons like family planning, to avoid an unhealthy
child, etc are perfectly acceptable. Even in case of unsocial
conception, it is better to abort than to leave an uncared for child who
may grow up into an anti-social human being.
2.20.How do Hindus pray ? What is the Hindu
The sign of showing respect in India is to join
both the palms facing each other vertically. The level of the palms can
be at heart, throat, forehead or above the head. At the heart level, it
shows an expression of loving devotion. At the throat level, it shows an
expression of a servant to the Master. At the forehead level, it shows
an expression of respect because of the acknowledgement (by knowledge)
of the greatness of God. At the level above the head, it is an
expression to tell "Lord, it is You who has become everything in this
world. There is nothing in this world but You."
The traditional prayer of the Hindus means this:
"Oh Lord, You are the Light of the world. Please enlighten my
understanding. Let me see everything in the right light." The prayer
does not ask for anything else. This prayer is called the Gayatri. The
idea is that we learn from mistakes and suffering in life. It is the
hours of sorrow that remind us of God. So merely asking for freedom from
misery and suffering may actually stunt our growth. What we need is
strength to carry our load. Again, strength without understanding will
be more destructive than constructive. Right understanding of the
choices and experiences in life will enable us to take the right
decisions, give us strength to carry out our plans and the fortitude to
face success and failure. So the prayer asks only to "enlighten the
understanding". Growth will follow naturally.
In the Bhagavad Gita, the Lord says, "Whoever
worships in whatever form, by whatever name, by whatever means, worships
Me alone. I am the recepient of all worship. I respond to their worship
and strengthen the faith of people in the form and name they worship."
Thus, what us needed is sincerity. Form, words, rituals, etc dont really
matter. God looks into our hearts. The best prayer that one can offer to
God is to tell Him from the heart "I love You".
2.21.Do Hindus say any prayer before eating food
Traditional Hindus tell a prayer before food. The
prayer means this: "The food is God. The plates, spoon, etc are God. The
eater is God. The fire of hunger is God. The act of eating is God." A
peculiar prayer!! It implies that I dont eat for my sake. I eat as an
activity ordained by Nature. The order of Nature is such that one
organism lives at the cost of another. Life to one being is death to
another. It is impossible to maintain the life of this body without
taking the life of millions of germs, food grains, fruits, leaves,
seeds, plants, animals, etc. So the prayer before food implies that life
is being offered to life. It is not for mere enjoyment that you eat, but
as a necessary action to keep the body alive. This attitude is
applicable to almost all actions in life.
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Intermediate Level Questions:
3.1. How is man reborn ? Why do bad things happen
to good people ?
According to the doctrine of Karma, every
situation we face in life is the result of our past aspirations and
actions. Actions are mere expressions of aspirations. Also, they are
reflective. To put it crudely, if you wish that a dog should get hit,
then it sows seed for you to become a dog and get hit. If you wish and
do good to others, you will see all good people around you helping you
when you are in need.
During the course of our life, we think and do so
many things. Every thought and action has to bear fruit. Some of our
thoughts and actions may be such that it is not possible for them to
bear fruit in this life itself. This necessitates a subsequent life.
Bad things happen even to people who think and do
good in life as the result of their thoughts and action in a previous
life. So calamities in life should not discourage a person to sever from
the path of virtue.
Now the question is, since we think and do things
till the last breath, how is it possible to get out of this cycle of
birth and death. The answer is that thoughts and actions are binding
only when there is a sense of doership. Actions done for the sake of
action, without a sense of reward or doership do not bind, and do not
force personal effects.
3.2. What is the aim of life ?
The aim of life is to realize the freedom of the
Self from all limitations. In reality, the Subject - the real Self - is
totally free from the apparent bondage and limitations imposed by the
mind. The concept of individuality, world and their interaction are all
in the mind only and do not affect the real Subject. When the person
realizes this, he is no longer subject to sorrow and other psychological
problems and inconveniences. His leads life in a very natural and
harmonious manner. The aim of life is to achieve this freedom.
3.3. How do I determine what is right and what is
The aim of life is spiritual freedom, which can be
perceived in life as psychological freedom. Anything which leads you to
more psychological freedom is right. Anything which leads to
psychological bondage is wrong. The problem is that psychological
bondage creates aberration in perception, which leads to not being able
to clearly see which way leads to bondage and which way leads to
freedom. In such cases, you may need the guidance of social norms, words
of saints and the law. To start with, you should follow the right path
as much as visible and possible. As the result your psychological
bondages will become weaker. Your vision will become clearer. With this
you will be able to make better decisions, which will make the
distinction still clearer.
You should also keep in mind that in most cases,
right and wrong are relative to the person involved and cannot be judged
rightly from the point of view of another person.
3.4. Which is the path better for me - Karma,
Bhakti, Jnana or Yoga ?
It depends on your mental temperament. Everyone of
us have the abilities to work, to love, to analyze and to cencentrate.
One might have more of something that the other. The paths are not
contradictory. They aid each other. So you need not worry too much about
which path to take. To start with, you can take an integrated approach.
Soon a natural shift will come to whatever you are more inclined to.
Still it is better to keep some of all the paths to be more balanced.
This will lead to better results.
3.5. Who is a Guru ? Is a human Guru really
A Guru is one who can inspire and instruct you
towards God realization. In fact there is only one Guru, who is God
Himself. The human Guru is God Himself instructing the disciple. A very
advanced aspirant may not need the Guru in a human form. But, in
general, a human Guru is needed. The human mind always wants a live
example to imitate and a live hero to worship. The human Guru fulfils
these psychological requirements and effectively brings about God
realization without much difficulty.
3.6. Can I have more than one Guru ? How do I
identify my Guru ?
You should have one primary Guru, who is the one
who has given you a mantra to chant or a spiritual practice to follow.
You can have other holy people who can give you supplementary
instructions, but these should never contradict the primary Guru's
words. The former is called Diksha Guru and the latter are called
Shiksha Gurus. As it is God himself who comes as all Gurus, you should
never take lightly the person who has told you explicitly that he is
your Guru. If subsequently someone else tells you that you have gone to
a wrong Guru and asks you to completely discard the words of the first
Guru, ruthlessly discard the words of the second person. Stick to the
first Guru and pray to God to clear you off your confusion and guide
you. A real Guru always takes you higher based on the past path. He
never asks you to discard any faith you have followed before.
In most cases, you do not have to make a real
search for the Guru. You need to understand that the aim of life is God
realization and try to have the company of holy men and other aspirants
as much as possible. In due course of time, you will naturally develop a
liking towards one holy person and the person may become your primary
Guru. Most of the holy men can quickly see your temperament and tell you
if they can be your Guru and if necessary suggest another holy man as a
possibility of being your Guru. What is needed is the zeal towards God
realization. The rest will follow at the right time. You need not be too
anxious about it.
3.7. How do I meet a saint ? What are the
formalities involved ? How should I approach him ?
A saint should be approached with reverence and an
open mind. Often you would have heard or read several things about the
saint before you meet him. Brush everything aside - both the good and
bad remarks. Approach with an open mind and reverence as a person who is
devoted to the Goal. Most of the saints do not expect any formalities.
As a way to express your reverence, you may take some offerings of
fruits and flowers to the saint. This is not a barter system or a
business. It is just an expression of reverence and love. In most cases,
the saint will not give much importance to your offerings. The saint may
distribute your offerings to the people there, or keep it for
distributing later. Very rarely he may take these for his perusal. If he
does so, it is a great previlege to you.
3.8. What is Brahman ? What is my relationship
with Brahman ?
Brahman is the term for God in Hinduism. Brahman
is the core of your existence. Hinduism defines Brahman as existence,
consciousness and bliss - Sat-Chit-Ananda. Do you exist? That existence
is a property of the Brahman in you. Are you aware of your existence?
That awareness comes from the Brahman in you. Have you felt joy anytime
in your life due to any reason? That joy comes from the Brahman in you.
This is the definition of Brahman or God given by Hinduism. Brahman is
infinite and so perfect.
3.9. If Brahman is infinite, where does the
imperfection which we see come from ?
The imperfection is only in the mind. The
imperfection is an illusion. We are all perfect. We are in a state of
hypnotism that we are not perfect and so we behave imperfectly. It is
like a person getting dressed like a beggar to play the role of a beggar
in a drama, but getting lost in himself and thinks he is really and
beggar and suffers because of that. Hinduism calls us "Children of
immortal bliss". We are the children of God and so rightful heirs to his
purity, peace and glory.
3.10. What are the defects in man ? What is karma
yoga ? How does it take man to perfection ?
Man operates in three basic realms. The gross,
subtle and causal. In the gross level, the physical body with its sense
organs and organs of action is the field of operation. In the subtle
level, the mind with its organs like intellect, memory and the faculty
of emotion is the field of operation. The causal level consists of the
basic limitation, which makes a person feel an individual existence in
relation to the environment.
Defects in these three realms of operation
manifest as lust (desire for sensual pleasure and comfort), greed
(desire for possessions and human relationship) and ego (desire for
fame) respectively. All other defects like anger, jealousy and delusion
result from these three basic defects.
These realms can be related to the three Gunas
(qualities) of man. Tamas is when the goal of a person is in the
physical realm. Rajas is when the goal of a person is in the mental
realm. Sattva is when the goal of a person is in the causal realm. When
a person goes beyond the three types of defects, he naturally goes
beyond the three Gunas. The aim of human life is to overcome these three
types of defects, transcend the three Gunas, and thus become perfect.
Karma Yoga defines three practices to free
ourselves from these three defects. They are Yagna (activity), Daana
(charity) and Tapas (austerity). Yagna helps us to move from Tamas to
Rajas. Daana helps us to move from Rajas to Sattva. Tapas helps us to
transcend Sattva. Every person has a mixture of all the three Gunas and
so we should follow all the three practices.
The desire for physical pleasure is the vestigial
remnant of animal nature in us. This has to be countered by Yagna.
Yagna is activity. Whenever there is a
choice between action and inaction, we should choose to act. Action is
different from reaction. Reaction is blind retort against a change in
the environment. Action is a step taken not merely in reply to an
environmental change but in view of positive development. Reaction
should be avoided. We should always be engaged in some positive
developmental activity. Activity is both physical and mental. Activity
will free us from desire for physical pleasure. Activity results in
wealth, which forms the basis of the next practice - Daana.
Daana is charity. The fruits of action
should be put back into the environment (society). Nature follows a
strict causal law. We will get what we deserve - nothing more, nothing
less. But this is in the long run. There can be apparent violations to
this in the short term, which is often misleading. If we take more than
what we deserve, later we will have to part with something close to our
heart. So, the best course is to give back to Nature anything more than
what is barely necessary. This positive step to maintain the balance
will free us from unnecessary anxiety and trouble. Charity leads to
fame, which forms the basis of the next practice - Tapas.
Tapas is austerity. The doership of Yagna
and Daana should be renounced. There is an underlying oneness in Nature.
We are all instruments in the hands of God. It is God alone who has
become everything and it is God alone who acts through everyone. Man is
absolutely powerless before the Will of God. Man's capacity to help is
very limited compared to the amount of help needed in the world. It is
God who creates the seeds of activity and charity in the minds of men.
We are all mere machines in the hands of the Operator. This renunciation
of doership takes us beyond the three Gunas, which is the aim of human
Thus Karma Yoga takes us from wherever we are to
the highest goal.
3.11. Why should one realize God ?
Most of the Upanisads start with one or many of
the three questions:
Can we have eternal life?
What is that, knowing which, everything is
Can we be free from misery?
These three are the fundamental questions of
mankind anywhere in the world in any age. The student starts with
concepts like life, happiness (or the lack of it - ie. misery) and
knowledge, which are cannotations of the limited mind. But, the answer
to the questions can be found only beyond the mind. That is where
philosophy ends and religion starts. The questions are posed by an
enquiring mind under the auspices of philosophy, whereas the answers are
given by a person who has had an experience beyond the mind under the
auspices of religion. Note that this distinction is made only in Western
culture. Indian culture does not make any distinction between philosophy
and religion. Both are complementary and fulfil each other.
The question "Why" is always a more deeper one
than "What" or "How". Take any subject and put the question "Why" in any
form, like "Why does this happen?", "Why should I do this?", etc Apply
the same question to the answer. Repeat this again and again. Invariably
you will land up with either "Why should I exist?" or "Why should I be
happy?" or "Why should I know?". Thus, existence, happiness and
knowledge are the three most fundamental quests and urges of mankind.
Urge to Exist
Urge to Know
Urge to Be happy
These three urges are incompletely, temporarily
and most of the times illusorily satisfied by the various pursuits and
achievements of life. Thus, every activity is an urge to fulfil one or
more of these three. The solution given by religion has its basis beyond
the mind, and completely satisfies all the three urges. It is important
to note that only the basis of the solution is beyond the mind, but it
effect is in the mind too. Otherwise, we will be solving a wrong
problem. All our bondage is mental and is due to a state of
dissatisfaction of these urges. When the urges are satisfied fully, the
mind is naturally free from all bondages. This is called Mukti or
Thus, whether we like it or not, whether we know
it or not, the aim of all pursuits and activites is towards Mukti or
Now, let us go one more step ahead and put a final
"Why?" to this urge itself. "Why these urges?" The answer given by the
Indian scriptures is "Because that is the natural state." Our natural
state is to have the three urges fully satisfied. The mind is under a
state of delusion that they are not satisfied. The mind is under a
hypnotic spell of dissatisfaction. The urge is merely the eagerness to
return back to the natural state. When the mind gets dehypnotized, it
gets back its natural state and that is Mukti. A dehypnotized mind
clearly reflects the true nature, which is called Self. The Hindu
scriptures describe the nature of the Self as Sat (Existence), Chit
(Consciousness) and Ananda (Happiness).
3.12. Why is there evil in the world ? Why is the
world far from being perfect ?
The problem is in our expectation that the world
should be free from evil and misery. Why should it be so? We assume that
a world with a mixture of good and evil is imperfect. This assumption
arises from our tendency to strive towards joy and avoid sorrow. We have
taken the aim of our life to be happiness. When this is our aim,
naturally a world which has a mixture of joy and sorrow, good and evil
appears imperfect to us.
The aim of life is not happiness and not even
virtue. Aim of life is wisdom. Misery and evil make us work towards
their alleviation. This work gives us experience. We face joy and
sorrow. We face success and failure. We face hopes and disappointments.
This makes us think. We start seeking a general solution to this
problem. Thus experience forms the foundation of our philosophical
contemplation. This struggle towards understanding the Truth eventually
leads to an intutive understanding. This wisdom is the aim of life.
Thus, without this mixture of good and evil in the
world, no one can attain the ultimate aim of life. Thus, if we consider
wisdom as the aim of life, we do not find this world imperfect. We find
that the world has the right setup for every individual to attain this
aim of life. There cannot be a more perfect world !!
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Advanced Level Questions:
4.1. What is Brahman ? What is Maya ? What is the
nature of this world ? What is Nirvikalpa Samadhi ?
Warning: The presentation below gives an
entirely different world view. Though I have tried to present it as
clearly as possible, it is prone to be misunderstood. The idea may be
revolting to your current understanding of the world. You are free to
write to me to discuss the presentation below. My email address is at
the bottom of this page.
Let us take the sun. It emits light. Assume that
it does not emit light. It emits heat. Assume that heat is also not
there. It has a gravitational field. Assume that that is also not there.
It has a mass. Assume that mass is also not there. It has a form and
occupies space. Assume that that is also not there. What is left? We
have removed everything by which the sun can interact with our senses
and various scientific instruments which basically extend our senses.
Still the sun is there in our minds. Assume that everyone forgets about
the sun. Now, in the words of Indian philosophy, we have removed the
form (sense interactions) and name (mental image) of the sun. In short,
we have removed all concepts of the sun. This does not mean that we have
removed the sun. There is two more factors which remain. One is called
"limitation". Still we distinguish the sun from other things. The other
is called "existence". The existence of an object is independant of its
name, form and limitation. Now let us remove the limitation. Now it is
pure existence. Now there is no difference between the sun and any other
object. So at the existential plane, there is only one that exists.
There cannot be two. The concept of two comes only by the introduction
of a factor called limitation. This One is called Brahman. The only
attribute it has is that it exists. Thus we say that everything is
Brahman. As there is no limitation, we say it is infinite. This gives us
an idea of Brahman.
Now, let us see where do the other things come
from. The first thing to come is limitation. How does this arise? We say
Brahman is aware of itself. This creates a duality in the Whole. We
cannot say why this arises. This limitation aspect of Brahman is called
Maya. Brahman does not change. As Brahman has only existence as its
attribute, the only way it can change is not become non-existent, which
contradicts itself. So Brahman cannot change. So what is that which
changes ? Nothing. So we say that the change is only an appearance. Once
we assume that duality has arisen, then we have to see how the two parts
interact. One part takes the role of the perciever and the other part
takes the role of the percieved. Just as a person creates worlds when he
day-dreams, the world with all its diversity is created. The mind arises
as a means to percieve. "Brahman sees itself as the world." says Yoga
Vasishta. A concept of "I am so and so." arises and we get entangled in
what is percieved and forget the true nature.
With this background, what is the nature of the
world ? It is only in the mind of the perciever. Who is the perciever ?
"I" is the perciever. It is just like a dream. Dream starts abruptly and
ends abruptly. A world is created in a moment where you are the daughter
of so and so, born in some city, aged a number of years, with a few
faculties and skills, etc. You do something in the dream and suddenly
the dream ends abruptly, the dream world vanishes and another dream
starts. This world is similar. It comes into perception suddenly,
occupies the mind for a while and goes out of perception as suddenly as
it came. Birth, death, etc are all mere concepts. As every dream world
has its own timescale, every world has its own timescale. Just as one
cannot say how long a dream will be in the mind, no one can say how long
this world be in the mind. Just as you do not remember the incidents in
one dream in another, you do not remember the details of one world in
another. The appearance of a world in the mind is called birth and the
disappearance of a world is called death. Karma (fruits of thought, word
and deed) and Samskara (tendencies formed) are carried across. If you
wish that you want to become a doctor, it will create a Karma and to
satisfy it, a world will appear in your mind where you are a doctor.
This happens just as a person who strongly desires to become a doctor
gets dreams in which he is a doctor.
There is no difference between the waking state
and the dream state. You see one world when you are awake. You "dream"
into another world. Then you "wake up" into another world. It is
pre-filled memory which makes you feel a continuity. Waking, sleeping,
dreaming, etc are all concepts in the mind. The "present" is the most
real of all these conceptual worlds. Why are the worlds created ?
Because of Karma and Samskara. It is desire which creates these worlds.
If a person is desireless, then there is no reason why the worlds should
appear. There is no birth and no death. This is the state of Nirvikalpa
Even before that, when a person fully understands
this and is fully convinced, he sees the Brahman underlying this world.
He is able to see through the names, forms and limitation and is able to
see the Reality. Though the mind and the world have not vanished
altogether, the person has seen the Truth. This brings about a profound
change in the attitude of the person. Slowly desires die a natural
death. There comes a time when they have totally died off and the world
vanishes for the last time. He reaches the state of Nirvikalpa Samaadhi.
What happens after that cannot be described.
Now what about the concepts of God, Guru, etc ?
They all hold good. It is like a person in your dream comes and tell you
that you are dreaming and asks you to wake up to the reality. There is
no other way of a dreaming person to know that he is dreaming. It is
Grace that appears in the form of scriptures, Guru, etc to indicate this
to us. God is the name we give to a person who knows the truth. The
knower of truth knows himself as the Truth itself. So the knower of
truth is Truth itself. The various attributes we ascribe to God helps us
to slowly realize the Truth.
What about the various forms of God, lokas like
Vaikunta, etc ? They are all as real as this world. If you accept the
world before your eyes, you should accept all these also.
All this happens without any real change in
Brahman. The change is only an appearance. Why does this happen ? There
can be no proper answer to this. We may dismiss the question by saying,
"It is all a game", "Just to enjoy", "Just for fun", etc, but there are
not real answers. The most convincing answer (to me) is "It is natural
to happen like this". We do not ask "Why should the fire be hot?" It is
similar to that.
Now the question is "What should a person do ?".
Just because the world is unreal, do we idle away ? The answer is "The
world is as unreal as your body and your hunger. If you can say "I will
not eat because my hunger is unreal." then he can idle. One has to do
whatever is expected in the situation he is in. But one should not get
attached to the results or doership.
4.2. What is the relationship between Maya and
the Brahman ? Does Maya 'exist' ?
If you accept the existence of mind, you cannot
negate Maya. Mind is just another name of Maya. What is Maya in the
cosmic level is seen as mind in the individual level. Brahman and Atman
are names given to the same Reality at the cosmic and individual level.
The intermediaries are Maya and Mind. The illusive objects percieved are
the World (Jagat) and Personality (Jiva). Do not be to much distracted
by the terms. There is a heavy loss of terms here, especially because we
are using English. The same concept here will be named differently
Theoretically speaking, it is possible for Brahman
to exist without being aware of itself. All concepts and discussion
about Brahman are by the mind, which exists only when Brahman is aware
of itself. So, there is no way in which the mind can even get an inkling
of a state when Brahman is not aware of itself. So such a state is
beyond description of the mind. So one school of thought is to say
Brahman cannot be without being aware of itself. This is to say that
Brahman and Maya cannot be separated. This is reflected in the common
paralance as "Without Sakti there is no Siva; without Siva there is no
Sakti." This is to say that Existence (Siva or Brahman) and
Manifestation (Sakti or Maya) cannot be separated. This is the only
conclusion any mental process can arrive at. So from this point of view,
I agree that Manifestation is also an attribute of Brahman. But the mind
has the capacity of extrapolation. By extrapolation, the mind can
intellectually imagine a state where Manifestation is not there. When
you extrapolate thus, you are required to explain how Manifestation
arises. This again is not possible for the mind. It is like a doctor
being the gynaecologist to her grandmother during her mother's birth,
which is not logical. This has been explained with so many analogies.
Sri Ramakrishna says, "A salt doll went to measure the depth of the
ocean, but nothing was left to tell how deep the ocean was." He says
this is what happens when a person enters Nirvikalpa Samadhi. From all
these, we can assume that such Brahman can be there without
Manifestation, but it cannot be described or discussed by the mind.
4.3. What is the use of all this theory ?
All this ultimately tells you three things:
The world is only a creation of the mind.
And so is the individuality.
Brahman alone is real, which appears as all
From this you need to draw a practical philosophy
of living. Otherwise it serves no purpose. This practical philosophy can
be based on Jnana or Bhakti, both are the same. Jnana culminates in
Bhakti and Bhakti culminates in Jnana.
Basically do all your duties, but be unattached.
An easy way to do this is to surrender to God. It is God who has become
everything and everything happens by his wish. So everything will be for
your good in the long run. Whereever the Lord places you, do whatever is
expected of you and do not worry about the results and do not be
attached to the doership. Every work is God's work. You are not
indispensable. You only a medium through which God gets work done. It is
ultimately He doing the work. Take whatever results that come as His
prasad. Do not have preferences. If you are given a choice exercise it
intelligently, but if you are not given a choice, accept whatever you
get. Forget that you are interacting with the world. You are really
interacting with God in various forms and roles. Approaching the world
with this attitude will not bind you. Also do not take more than you
need from the world. The world may thrust wealth in your hand. It is
really the Lord's wealth. It has been given to you for proper
disimbursement. Look upon yourself as a manager, while the wealth really
belongs to God. Put the Lord in the position of an Employer and do every
work as an offering to Him. Do not assume ownership of any possessions.
Once you start doing this, all the details of this path will fall in
their place. The path will become clear as you walk along it with the
lantern of Faith in your hands. There is nothing to be anxious about.
You have the zeal. You add faith to it. This chemistry will work
From the point of view of Jnana, we say everything
happens by coincidence. The concept of cause and effect is only in the
mind. So it is not proper to expect some results for our work. That does
not mean we should be idle. We should merely rise up to every situation
we face. When everything is coincidental, there is no concept of destiny
or freewill. It is a state beyond both. With this attitude to total
detachment from the fruits of work and from the sense of doership, live
in the world naturally. Every occasion arises, exists and subsides in
your mind. There is nothing external. The real "I" is both all inclusive
and transcendent of all these. Be a mere witness.
Though both the paths sound different, essentially
they are the same. A bhakta says "everything is God". A jnani says
"everything is I". The bhakta says "everything happens by the will of
God". The jnani says "everything happens by mere coincidence". Both mean
the same - "I am not the doer".
There is a danger in accepting this state
prematurely. There are two stages to this. The first is surrender of
fruits of action. The second is surrender of doership. The second can be
taken only after the first is perfected. Otherwise it will be a mere
escape route. First you have to learn to accept whatever that comes,
irrespective of your efforts. Not a thought of dissatisfaction should
arise in your mind. Only when this is achieved, you are ready for the
second stage. Till then, you have to take responsibility to your
What is the result of this? Peace of mind.
Unalloyed joy. Unshakable bliss. Nothing in the world can disturb you.
Nothing can make you sad. Ultimate and permanent freedom from all
anxiety and sorrow. In one word - "FREEDOM". This is called Jivanmukti.
This is the goal of human life.
4.4. Is celibacy essential for spiritual progress
As long as the mind dwells in the plane of the
body and sense pleasures, it cannot think of subtle things. Sex is not a
physical need of the body like food and water. It is a mere
psychological need and in fact a remnant of the animal qualities of man.
Just as the body has a few vestigial organs, sex is a vestigial faculty
of the human mind. When animals have only physical means of
reproduction, man has higher means. When a teacher teaches a student and
passes on knowledge, the student becomes partly a mental progeny of the
teacher. When an artist draws a picture which represents his thoughts,
it becomes a means of his mental proliferation. Every work of creativity
leaves a mark about the person in the lives and minds of generations to
come. This is a unique way of reproduction endowed to man. An animal
physically attains immortality through its offsprings. A man attains
mental immortality through his deeds. Both these are imperfect means to
immortality. A still higher means is religion. By realizing the
immortality of the Self, real and absolute immortality is reached.
Physical and mental means of proliferation are crude approximations of
this grand phenomenon of Self realization.
By freeing the mind from the psychological bondage
of sex, the animal becomes a man. This is an essential step to Self
realization. By freeing the mind from the idea of sex, the mind becomes
capabale of thinking at a subtler plane. Self realization is the
pinnacle of subtlity of the mind. So celibacy is essential to spiritual
life beyond a certain stage. In the early stages, an aspirant may be
able to get away with the mind still dwelling in sex, but in course of
time, he will hit a wall. The mind will not be able to proceed further
due to its inability to grasp subtler ideas. To cross that threshold,
celibacy is a necessity.
Why is Hinduism so confusing ?
There are multiple reasons for that. Trying to
do an in and out analysis without getting on to taste its fruit by
practicing would make one feel exhausted. Because it is not a religion
of limited contours. It is really an ocean of knowledge.
But don't we find quite contradicting statements
in Hindu scriptures ? What explains that contradiction ?
Science tells us that water becomes ice when its
temperature falls to zero degree centigrade or below. The same science
also tells that water can exist even in temperatures below zero degree
in certain conditions and the water is called super-cooled water.
Which one to believe ? The fact remains that both the statements are
true however contradicting they are. Hinduism - an open religion -
supports the view that there could be multiple facets of the same
truth! And hence the things that have a value in them would find their
place in Hinduism. Some scriptures would say knowledge is the way to
the Supreme and some would say devotion is the way! There is no need
to be confused. Choose the way that is appropriate in your situation,
but do remember just because one is approprite for you, the others do
not cease to be true !!
Why there are so many gods in Hinduism ?
Generally Hindus believe in one Supreme God. But there are many devas
who are praised in the religion. These devas are actually the life
supporting powers. For example Sun, Moon, and Air without which the
life cannot exist. God is called devadeva because It is the Thing on
which even all these celestial powers survive on. In Hinduism these
elements which make the life possible are praised along with the Very
Essential God. This gives the feeling that Hindus believe in many
Why Hindus worship idols ?
Though the Supreme God is beyond a definite form with specifiable
attributes, the Attributeless could be enjoyed only at a matured yogic
state. For the benefit of the creatures the God appears in various
forms for the matured visions. These splendid forms are easy to
comprehend even for a layman. Apart from these Hindus worship the holy
symbols like shiva li.ngam those making ease in meditation and worship
at the same time referring to God's formlessness. A carrier to move to
the destination with ease.
Does Hinduism prohibit meat eating ?
There are actually very less things as prohibits, commands, mandates
etc in Hinduism. So in this case too Hinduism does not prohibit, but
it recommends that meat eating could be avoided for spiritual benefits
and kindness towards fellow creatures.
What is Hinduism's sacred text ?
Hinduism is not based on one single text book. Though it could be said
that vedas are the base, in essence veda is nothing but knowledge. It
is the science of the self and Supreme. The science can not be limited
to one book so is Hinduism.
What are the marks on the forehead of Hindus ?
There are many virtual lotuses of power locus in the human body. The
one at the place between the eye brows is highly powerful (which could
be felt). This highly sensitive point is protected with the kumkum or
chandan dots. Shaivites adorn their forehead with the Holy Ash the one
with medicinal power and spiritual meaning and the vaishnavas with the
shri chUrNam and so on each indicative of something.
Why is Hinduism so complex to understand ?
Well, Hinduism was not born out of the thoughts of one particular
philosopher or at one particular time. It is an accumulation of the
knowledge and experience of seers from ancient time. Also as it does
not impose the supremacy of one specific postulation hence many
complementary at times totally different concepts exist because of
this openness. This advantage makes it sophisticated.
So could it not be understood by simple minds ?
It could certainly be and it is. Apart from being sophisticated it is
also having various step by step procedures that arose out of the
sophisticated thesis, for the layman to follow.
Who can become a Hindu ? Can one be a Hindu
only by birth ?
No, not at all. As the knowledge in Hinduism is not in a closed
boundary, Hinduism does not limit itself to any closed boundary of
land, language or race. In fact people embracing Hinduism have been
there for ages.
Hinduism is the religion of one particular land
called India, right ?
No, actually not. This new name called Hinduism given to this
discipline is what makes it appear it as the religion of one land.
Though it is currently practiced mainly in India there are references
in scriptures like Shiva mahaa puraaNam that this worship was spread
throughout the world. While the other parts have forgotten this
history it is still in practice now in other parts.
The Aryans invaded the Dravidans and ...
No, No. The words aryan and dravidan seem to be misinterpreted. The
word arya has been used as a title of dignity while dravida refers to
the land Deccan and not a race. The wars that are said to have
happened between these two appears to be a tint of imagination added
to the purANic, epical events.
What is this caste system ?
Quite long ago the society was divided into four castes depending upon
the nature of service they do so that they together make sure the
smooth running of the social system. It was like the operational
divisions of organizations. These four castes were the four functional
pillars on which the society was standing. In the course of time the
caste started to get determined by birth and later some of these
sections started considering themselves superior to others. This
finally led to the cruelty and inhuman behaviors of untouchability
etc. There has been time and again cautions from Hindu scholars
against these inhuman behaviors. Now this system is getting phased out
and the Hindus should be soon out of the bad taste it left.
What is the status of women under Hinduism ?
Hinduism that views God as both masculine and feminine (and neuter
too), suggests the role of women hand in hand with her male
counterpart. Feminity is worshipped in the forms of rivers, land, etc.
Females have the right to perform worship as their male counterparts.
There are many vedic sages, philosophers of later day, poets queens
and so on from the womenfolk (1). If the male has the authority over
the operations, the female commands the respect of the family. They do
not compete but complement to form a better society. Quite naturally
the wife is called saha dharmini or the companion in the
dharma. In the course of time and especially in the last millenium
there has been an major deterioration of this status due to whatever
circumstances. It is time to shun away all those dirt accumulated on
the way and rediscover the glory of the ancient equality.
Who can be a Hindu ?
All the people, without restrictions of any sort. For, the God is
common to the one living in Arctic, Antartic as well as in Sahara. It
is the God of those things beyond this Earth. Hinduism welcomes the
pure knowledge from all horizons as well as can provide the paths for
the whole world, with no exceptions, to lead a life that is relishable
and that takes to the ever lasting Eternal Bliss.
Here is a statement from the heart of the vedas
May the mind stabilize on the rudra,
by which we, the two legged creatures, four legged ones, the whole
world prosper !
The Grace of God does not limit to even just
human beings. Its is for all the lives in this earth and beyond ! So
Hinduism emphasises that not only can all the humans worship through
its path, but also shatters away all barriers that differentiate even
animals to be not eligible for God's grace.
If a person has at least one Hindu parent or has chosen to adopt
Hindu principles, and celebrates Hindu festivals, one may be
considered a Hindu.
There are many views
in this regard.
One way of looking at it would suggest that a Hindu would observe at
least some Hindu traditions as being part of a community. For
in lifecycle events like marriage
ceremonies, death ceremonies etc;
in annual and seasonal festivals like
Navraatri (or Dusherra), Diwaali (or Deepaavali), Krishna
general community practices, like temple
Some higher levels of criteria may include
such characteristics as having worthwhile objectives (Purushaartha)
in life (see question 6, principle iii), believing in rebirth and
evolution of the soul, and working towards ultimate realization.
From a strict traditional sense, to be a Hindu, one must either
accept the Vedas & Vedaangas and/or Aagama & Tantra.
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As long as one is praying at home, it is not
necessary to go to a temple to remain a Hindu. One never stops being
While prayer at home is good, prayer at a temple is much better,
because the temple is a specially consecrated place, and the idols
are specially consecrated idols. The atmosphere and spiritual
ambiance in a temple are more powerful and effective. Just as we do
watch video pictures at home but, even so, go out occasionally to a
theatre to see a film, we can pray daily at home, but need to visit
a temple as often as we can.
While there is no one single practice
required for a Hindu, a Hindu would be expected to follow at least
one of the many Hindu practices. Since temple worship is only one
such practice, others may be substituted. And one never stops being
a Hindu unless one chooses to relinquish Hinduism by actively
converting to a non-Hindu faith.
However, there is a special importance for temple worship in modern
living, particularly outside India. Since the temple is a
consecrated place, the effectiveness of any practice in the temple
is likely to be more powerful. The energy of this consecration is
described often by temple visitors as a feeling of peace, bliss,
happiness, etc. This, combined with the opportunity to interact with
Hindu culture (which may not be available in ones neighborhood),
becomes a double incentive for Hindus outside India to visit a
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There is no traditional Hindu practice
to convert others. However, historically Hinduism has spread to
Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia and Indonesia in earlier
centuries. Therefore, it would be reasonable to conclude that
Hinduism does not actively seek to convert others, but there is room
for anyone who wishes to become a Hindu.
There is no conversion ceremony
prescribed in the ancient tradition, although some modern leaders
have invented some. Since anybody can claim to be a Hindu by
adopting the principles and practices, there is no prescription in
the sacred texts to proselytize others into the faith. Therefore, it
would be reasonable to conclude that Hinduism does not actively seek
to convert others, but there is room for anyone who wishes to become
a Hindu. An observation made by some scholars suggests that by a
proper study of Hinduism, a Hindu would become a better Hindu, a
Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian, a Jew a
better Jew, and anyone a better human being.
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The four stages of life
recognized in Hinduism are:
i) Life as a student - Brahmacharya
ii) Householder - Grihasta
iii) Reclusive and meditative seeker away from crowd -
iv) Renunciate (seeking Moksha) – Sanyaasa
[Please review worthwhile objectives of life in Question 6, 3rd
principle of Hinduism]
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Karma is the result of thoughts, words
and deeds that stay with us birth after birth until we live out
their consequences – as you sow, so you reap. The law of Karma can
be considered as a universal law of cause and effect.
Karma refers to both “act” (or action)
as well as “results of thought, word and deed.” In the context of
rebirth, Karma refers to the latter – the idea of cause and effect.
Any thought, word or deed, that is not performed dispassionately
with no interest in the results, yields Karma. Well-intentioned acts
yield positive Karma (or Punya) and ill-intentioned acts yield
negative Karma (Paapa). Such consequences have to be lived out.
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Following are core beliefs/principles of
Law of Karma and
Reincarnation – Each one of us is more than the body. Our true
self does not die with the body. Based on how we live our life, we
are born and reborn taking different life forms until we evolve to
the point of no birth, where we become one with God or stay close
with God. (See question 5 for more details on Karma.)
Practice – One can be a Hindu by being a good person and
following any type of worship practice that one finds appealing.
Objectives of Life – Hinduism accepts that through life one
can do many great things before one ultimately reaches God.
Studying well, earning well, getting married, having children,
being a good citizen and doing service to society, and then going
beyond all of these and living life as a detached person ready to
reach God, are all part of Hindu living and the path towards God.
Manifestation – Most Hindus believe that from time to time God
will manifest on earth to help us keep to the right path and make
us better. Raama and Krishna are examples of such forms of God
coming to earth in human form.
The following are considered core
beliefs/principles of Hinduism:
Law of Karma and
Reincarnation – That the body is only the carrier of the
consciousness, which in turn is the carrier of the soul is a
fundamental assumption of Hinduism. This requires the
consciousness to undergo birth after birth in different bodies,
carrying with it the “Karma” of previous existence, until the
consciousness evolves to the point of melting away with only the
pure soulful awareness remaining.
Freedom of Path
with the Ultimate Goal of Realization – Individuals may choose
whatever path is natural to them. All paths are ultimately
supposed to lead to soulful awareness (living life as an observer)
culminating in salvation. The four paths generally recognized as
broad categories that encompass all paths are the paths of seeking
knowledge (Jnyaana Yoga), doing self-less service (Karma Yoga),
practicing physical and mental exercises (Raaja/Dhyaana Yoga) and
the practice of devotion (Bhakti Yoga). Within these four, one can
conceivably fit every activity that one performs in a day – the
attitude towards the activity making all the difference. For those
interested, the specific place of each practice differs in
different philosophies of Hinduism.
A. In SAANKHYA-YOGA
Lowest Path is KARMA Yoga
Highest is DHYAANA/RAAJA Yoga
B. In MIIMAAMSAA
Lowest Path is DHYAANA/RAAJA Yoga
Highest is KARMA Yoga
C. In SHANKARA-VEDAANTA
Lowest is KARMA
D. In RAAMAANUJA-VEDAANTA
Lowest Path is KARMA Yoga
[Prapatti or Sharanaagati, although a new term here deserves
special mention. It is specific to Raamaanuja Vedaanta and can be
considered the highest level of Bhakti. It is complete
unconditional surrender to the will of God. One flings oneself at
the mercy (Dayaa) of the Deity and hopes for the gift of Moksha.
Raamaanuja bases this doctrine on Shvetaashvatara Upanishad VI:18,
Vaalmiki Raamaayana Yuddhakaanda 18:33 and Bhagavad Gita
E. In MADHVA-VEDAANTA
Lowest is KARMA Yoga
In the path of devotion (BHAKTI), people have choice with respect
to their worship practices as well as view of the divinity. God
can be worshipped as formless (Unmanifest Brahman) or in any form
(Roopa of deities) including idols, icons, statues, pictures
(Bimbhas), Saligram (fossilized shell), Linga etc. in the firm
belief God will present Himself in the form the devotee desires.
Objectives of Living – Hinduism considers living with good
conduct (Dharma), acquisition of wealth (Artha), enjoyment of love
and pleasure (Kaama), and salvation (Moksha) as worthwhile
objectives of living.
One can glean a hierarchy in these objectives coinciding with the
4 stages (Aashramas) of life recognized in Hinduism and the 4
sections of the Vedas as follows:
ARTHA = BRAHMACHAARYA = MANTRA (or Samhita)
KAAMA = GRIHASTHA = BRAAHMANA
DHARMA = VAANAPRASTHAA = ARANYAKA
MOKSHA = SANNYAASA = UPANISHAD
Avataar or Divine
Incarnation – Vedaanta school of Hinduism, the most popular
school of these times, accepts the idea that the Divinity can be
born in a body from time to time to show the path and liberate
others. The ten Avataars are well known, and among them the story
of Raama in Raamayana and of Krishna in Mahaabhaaratha are even
better known. An Avataar is a step taken by God out of His free
will, but a human being’s rebirth is due to prior karma.
The other schools of Hinduism ignore the entire aspect of
Avataars. Even among the Vedaanta schools of Hinduism there are
some differences towards the view of the Avataar, but they all
accept the idea, unlike the other schools.
Variety in the View
of Divinity – Hinduism accommodates the idea of a single God
and no God with the ambiguity of multiple gods (polytheism). The
view of it depends on the school of Hindu philosophy. (See
question 7 for more details on schools of Hinduism)
Vedaantic & Nyaaya-Vaisheshika View: There is one God or
Divine Power that is part of everything that we see and beyond.
Beings can be within bodies or exist in pure spirit
(consciousness) form, and are all part of or within the control of
Yoga-Saankhya and Mimaamsa Views: While non-theistic, they
accept the existence of gods (Devas) – more appropriately thought
of as spiritual beings with a portfolio in the governance of cause
and effect in the universe – but reject the idea of one Supreme
Being. The Samhita (Mantra) and Braahmana segments of the Vedas
mention no Supreme Being, but praise many such spiritual beings,
even though the Upanishads do speak of one Ultimate Divinity
Damnation or What?
– The Vedas speak of no damnation. In general, there is no idea of
damnation in Hinduism, other than being dammed to be reborn until
all Karmas are wiped out.
Dvaita-Vedaanta of Madhva is the lone dissenter among the Hindu
systems in this regard. It does believe that certain souls go
toward everlasting damnation. This doctrine of theirs is based on
their interpretation of Bhagavad Gita (Ch XVI:20).
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Nyaaya-Vaisheshika, Yoga-Saankhya, Mimaamsa and Vedaanta are the
recognized schools of Hinduism. Within Vedaanta there are three
major schools: Advaita Vedaanta of Shankaraacharya,
Vishishta-advaita Vedaanta of Raamanujaacharya, Dvaita-Vedaanta of
Madhvaachaarya. Within Mimaamsa, there are two schools of
Prabhaakara and Kumaarila respectively. All schools of Hinduism
accept the Vedas as the Ultimate Truth. Vedas and other holy texts
are terse and hard to understand. So great sages and teachers of the
past have interpreted the Vedas and other holy texts differently.
Therefore there are many schools. While it is important to
understand these schools to understand the different Hindu
traditions, one can be a good Hindu without learning the details of
Although most Hindus
today have grown up in the Vedaantic school traditions, contemporary
Hinduism recognizes the historical development of 7 schools of
Hinduism, which started as 6 schools before Shankaraacharya.
The seven schools that formed between 400 CE and 1300 CE are:
C. Prabhaakara Mimaamsaa
D. Kumaarila Mimaamsaa
E. Shankara Vedaanta (Advaita)
F. Raamaanuja Vedaanta (Vishistha-advaita)
G. Madhva Vedaanta (Dvaita)
[It must be noted that while the three major schools of Vedaanta are
recognized here, there are other minor schools as well with small
Previous to that between 100 CE and 400 CE, the six schools were
Nyaaya, Vaisheshika, Saankhya, Yoga, Mimaamsaa and Vedaanta. Later
some of these paired off, while others developed different
Essentially, a philosophy would be called a Hindu philosophy if they
accepted the Vedas as the Ultimate Truth.
Even though all these schools accept the Vedas as the Ultimate
Truth, there is a difference in their approach. For instance, any
school will be called a school of Vedaanta only if the founder/s
wrote a commentary on the Upanishads, Brahmasutras and the Bhagavad
Gita (all three together called Prasthana-Trayi) to establish their
point of view – the basis of differentiation and establishment of a
separate school of Vedaanta. The other schools don’t require these
commentaries. Mimaamsa schools give importance only to the Samhita
and Braahmana sections of the Vedas and are focussed on rituals.
Nyaaya-Vaisheshika emphasizes reasoning to understand God.
Yoga-Saankhya schools emphasize direct experience through
Each school has its view of the place of knowledge (or personal
evidence) in understanding God, the nature of reality, the idea of
God, the nature of the universe, the nature of souls, and the idea
of Moksha or salvation. Accordingly, each school has its preferred
spiritual approach. The table at the end of this answer provides
clear distinction based on these academic analysis criteria:
Epistemology, Ontology, Theology, Cosmology, Psychology and
For the ease of the general reader, the following comments are noted
with special emphasis on the Vedaanta schools which most Hindus
Nyaaya and Vaisheshika believes in one
Supreme God and considers reasoning (knowledge or Jnyaana) as the
way of knowing God.
Yoga and Saankhya does not accept the idea
of a Supreme God. In fact, this school alone accepts Vedas, not by
faith like the other schools, but as the verifiable truth. The
focus of this school is on direct experience.
& D. The Mimaamsa schools, like the
Saankhya-Yoga philosophy, do not accept the idea of a Supreme God.
They do, however, accept that there are exalted and powerful,
limited beings without gross bodies like ours. These beings can
help to deliver well-being in the temporal world and the after
cycles of birth and death, and salvation as well. It is debatable
whether these exalted beings should be referred to as gods
(indicating polytheism) or spirits. Mimaamsa philosophy considers
the practice of various rituals (karmas) as very essential. They
believe that the karmas (rituals) themselves yield the results,
and there is no Supreme God or Ishvara dispensing the results.
Shankara Vedaanta, also called Advaita or
Non-dualism thinks of the Supreme God as Para-Brahman and even in
Bhakti mode feel free to visualize this Ultimate as any Ishtha
Devata (favorite deity). The philosophy is that each one of us is
the Ultimate God, but yet unrealized. It is Maayaa or illusion
that makes one feel distinct from others. All is one – there is no
two: is the Advaita philosophy. In South India, Advaitins are
sometimes referred to as Smaartaas or non-Vaishnavas or Ayyars
(sometimes written as Iyers, which is a Tamil corruption of
“Arya”). Much mistakenly they are also referred to as Shaivites,
which is a popular misnomer. Shankaraacharya was truly very
broadminded. Even though he believed in the ultimate supremacy of
reason and knowledge (Jnyaana), he attached great importance to
devotion (Bhakti), temples and rituals. Accordingly, he
incorporated the Shanmatas or six worship practices [of Ganapati,
Kumaara or Subramanya, Surya (Sun), Shakti or Divine Mother, Shiva
and Vishnu] under the aegis of his Advaita-Brahmavaada and
introduced the Smaarta-panchaayatana Pooja system for his
Raamanuja Vedaanta called
Vishishtha-advaita or Special Non-dualism think of Vishnu as the
Supreme God according to the tradition of the founder. The
philosophy considers each being’s soul as part of the body of the
Ultimate God, which upon attaining salvation or Moksha stays
eternally in heaven. Each soul is not considered the complete God
in itself – as suggested by Advaita – and never really becomes
part of God, even though philosophically they are considered part
of the body of God. This confusion results from the followers of
Raamaanuja trying to fuse the Puraanas with the philosophy of the
Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, the famous scholar and the second President
of India, recognizes this inconsistency in the following terms:
“Raamaanuja walks with olympian assurance like Milton through the
halls of heaven.”
Vishistha-Advaitins are sometimes referred to as Sri-vaishnavas or
Ayyangars (sometimes spelt Iyengars) in South India.
Madhva Vedaanta called Dvaita or Dualism,
also thinks of Vishnu as the Supreme God. However, this school
views each soul as distinct from God and is not considered part of
the Supreme God. They believe that good souls ultimately come
close to the Supreme God and reside in heaven. They accept that
some bad souls would be damned forever in hell. Dvaitins are
sometimes referred to as Maadhvaas or Vaishnavas.
It is important to understand these
distinctions and realize that for most of us the real Ultimate Truth
about the nature of divinity will never be individually experienced
during our lifetime. Understanding these differences becomes a
cohesive factor for all Hindus to come together, realizing that
these differences are unverifiable for most people, practically
irrelevant for daily living in contemporary society, with no
difference in normative values of living. They do not upset or
contradict the core values of Hinduism.
For those interested in the distinct differences of these schools,
the following chart provides the details.
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The most sacred of all Hindu texts are the
Vedas. There are 4 Vedas. In addition, there are other texts that
are meant to be read with the Vedas to fully understand them, which
are called Veda-angas or limbs of the Vedas. Also, the text related
to Aagama and Tantra are integral to religious practices of the
temple. There are also other texts like the Puraanas, and the
Itihaasas (Raamayana and Mahaabhaarata), and various philosophical
texts, and Bhagavad Gita (which is a part of the Mahaabhaarata) and
Brahma-Sutras, which are considered sacred texts.
There are several sacred texts of Hinduism and
there are different ways of categorizing them. The first category
noted is non-controversial and is accepted as the most important and
most sacred of Hindu texts. It is the other texts that have
variations in their classifications.
CATEGORY 1: The 4 Vedas (Vedas literally mean Knowledge): Rig,
Yajur, Saama and Atharva, including the 4 segments within each Vedas
(Braahmana, Samhita, Aranyaka and Upanishad) which include well over
100 texts. These are considered the Shrutis -- literally meaning
what was heard, but really refers to the laws and nature of the
universe and all existence, that can be felt by yogis in their
highest level of awareness. These are considered the TIMELESS and
UNCHANGING TRUTH, and therefore THE MOST SACRED OF ALL HINDU TEXTS.
All the other texts are considered Smriti – literally meaning what
was remembered, and therefore have a lower standing than the Vedas,
the timeless and natural truths of existence.
CATEGORY 2: The other holy texts of Hinduism
The 6 Veda-angas (limbs of the Vedas) include the following segments
with many associated texts in each sub-category:
1) Sheeksha – science of phonetics
2) Kalpa – practical manuals for personal and temple practices
3) Vyaakarana -grammar
4) Nirukta – etymology
5) Chandas - prosody
6) Jyotisha – astronomy and astrology
In addition, Aagama and Tantra texts need to be noted here.The
practice of the Vedic religion requires the knowledge of these
‘limbs’ of the Vedas. But temple worship practices require Aagamas
and Tantra as well.
Without knowledge of grammar and etymology one cannot understand the
interpretation of the texts. Without the science of phonetics or
prosody, once cannot chant properly. Without understanding the
principles of astronomy and astrology, one cannot apply the elements
of the practical manuals, which deal with the elemental forces. And
the Aagamas and Tantra guide the methods and flow of temple
Within the KALPA SUTRAS noted above are:
a) Grihya Sutras [Veda based domestic rites]
b) Shrauta Sutras [Veda based public rites]
c) Dharma Shaastras – Codes of conduct for living, like
Manusmriti, etc. The thoughts presented in a number of these texts,
especially related to the place of women, castes, etc. may be
realted to past ages, and may be understood from a historical
Text of Aagamas and Tantras, connected with temple religion in
Hinduism, include Shaiva, Vaishnava, and Shaakta. Among the
Vaishnavas there are two Aagamic rites, i.e. Vaikhaanasa and
The Itihaasa-Puraanas have a special place in Hinduism.
a) Raamaayana, Mahaabhaarata [including the Bhagavad Gita]
b) The 18 Mahaa (Big) Puraanas, 18 Upa (lesser) Puraanas,
The Brahma-Sutras, along with the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads
are called Prasthaana-Trayi, of 3 views or angles (literally
departure points), and have a special place among Hindu texts.
The texts related to the various schools of Hindu philosophy are
also considered part of the holy texts. In addtition to the texts of
the regular school of Hindu philosophy (see question 7), two other
groups of texts worth mentioning here are: the Tamil compositions of
the 63 Shaiva Adiyaars and the Naalaayira (meaning 4,000)-Prabandham
of the 12 Vaishnava Aalvaars [also known as the Tamil Vedas].
Other fields of knowledge are also considered part of the texts of
Hinduism. These include the science of life and medicine (Ayurveda),
science of martial arts (Dhanurveda), fine arts (Gaandharva-veda),
the art of politics and governance (Arthashastra) and the science of
building and architecture (sometimes called Sthaapatya-veda).
Since Hinduism views every moment as spiritual and life itself as a
spiritual journey, there is nothing that cannot be considered
sacred. In the context of the sacred texts, the Vedas have a very
special place, being considered the TIMELESS TRUTH.
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Hinduism is not the name given to their
religion by the Hindus. It is thought the Persian pronunciation of
Sindhu, the river, as Hindu, and calling the people of that region
Hindus made their religion Hinduism for the westerners. Hindus call
it Sanaatana Dharma or the Eternal Truth.
Hinduism is a name that was given to the
religion practiced by those ancient people who lived in the banks of
the river Sindhu, later called Indus, and pronounced Hindu by the
Persians. And that gave the name Hindustaan or land of the Hindus.
Hindus themselves do not attribute a name to their religion –
especially unlike other religions there is no founder for this
faith. It could be called the VAIDDIKA DHARMA or Vedic Religion as
based on the Vedas. Sometimes it is referred to as the Eternal Truth
or SANAATANA DHARMA.
But what is in a name as long as it serves recognition? So, indeed
the practitioners of this faith are Hindus and the faith is called
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Hinduism is both a religion and way of life,
since religion involves beliefs and way of life involves our conduct
Hinduism is both a religion and a way of life.
Obviously there is some faith involved until one has the experience
of the Ultimate. And there are prescriptions to follow, if one
chooses to follow them. So, indeed it is a religion in whatever way
one practices it. And, it is indeed a way of life, since every act
one does, every moment of ones life, is considered part of the
spiritual evolution. In other words both BELIEF (religion) and
BEHAVIOR (way of life) are important and reinforce each other.
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In its original form it was perhaps a
functional arrangement within society. Society as a whole needs
several types of work to be completed for organized living: the
priests and advisors, the ruler and soldiers, businessman and
workers. Everybody being the creation of God and having their own
place of importance in society, all should be respected equally.
Caste can become a controversial question. In
its original form it was perhaps a functional arrangement within
society. Society as a whole needs several types of work to be
completed for organized living.
From a Vedic perspective, the Purusha Sookta (a hymn from the Vedas)
simply notes that everything that we see and beyond is the Ultimate
Purusha or God, and each facet of creation is seen as part of God.
In that context different body parts of God are described as being
the different castes. (While some interpretations of the text
actually ascribe the various castes as having emerged from the body
parts, the Sanskrit text does not clearly deliver that meaning.)
Such a view of the Vedas leaves open the issue of whether castes are
determined by birth (when profession is learned from father to son)
or by profession in living (ability to change circumstances with a
broader opportunity for education). However, there are many stories
that indicate that castes should be viewed based on role in society
and not by birth. Vishvaamitra, the great sage, while born in a
Kshatriya family (having been a king before), was recognized as a
Brahma Rishi. Vaalmiki, the revered saint, was a hunter before
If the Lord is viewed as the entire world, the intellectuals,
opinion makers and teachers of the society constitute the Brahmana.
Those who protect the society are the Kshatriyas. Those who control
and move the economy are the Vyshyas. And finally those who support
the entire society are considered the Shudras. And none of these
roles are defined by birth.
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Hinduism regards all creation as divine. From a
spiritual perspective there is a no higher or lower place awarded to
women, although in the role of a mother who gives birth, a woman is
compared to the Divine Mother (Shakti) who has given birth to all
Hinduism regards all creation as divine. From a
spiritual perspective there is a no higher or lower place awarded to
women. There is evidence of women being given the Yagnyopavita
(sacred thread) and being allowed to practice spiritual rituals.
However, there is also recognition that a woman is essentially
different from a man in her ability to give birth (to a child). In
this regard, a woman has been compared with the Divine Mother who
has given birth to the entire universe.
It is with this symbolism of the Mother Divine that often Poojas are
done to women during certain festival seasons.
From this respected place of women, the invasions of foreigners into
India, their tendency to molest and kidnap women, and the consequent
protective tendencies of the Hindus appears to have forced women
indoor and in a less dominant role. All of this is slowly reversing,
and the natural resilience probably ensured that India was one of
the earliest countries in modern times to have had a woman elected
as the Prime Minister/Premier of the country.
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Swamijis are people who have renounced life and
seek to reach God. The saffron colored robes they wear are the color
of fire, symbolizing fire that has consumed and purified everything.
Since they have to give up everything in life, shaving off the head
symbolizes giving up one more element indicative of ego.
Traditionally Swamijis are renunciates
(Sannyaasis) – the fourth stage of life noted in question 4. Such
persons do not acquire or keep wealth, eat only the food offered as
Bhiksha (donation of food), and are either supposed to be Realized
Souls or on the path of actively pursuing Realization by shedding
all attachments. Sannyaasis maintain no contact with their birth
families since in their attitude they should see no difference
between anyone (the whole world is their family) and are typically
living in forests or retreats away from the average humanity. Living
with the idea that everything other than the goal of Salvation is
"TUCCHA" or NOT WORTHY, they would not see any association with
anything – becoming "Udaaseena" or dis-interested.
While the roots of renunciation is a part of Hindu tradition,
Buddhism appears to have had some influence on its later
In this tradition of giving up everything worldly, it is common to
shave off ones hair (a decoration is considered a mark of ego) –
probably a Buddhist influence. It is probable that the Buddhist
tradition created monastic living in and near urban centers with the
goal of spreading the teachings, and was probably borrowed by the
newer traditions of Sannyaasis of the 19th and 20th century.
Followers of the Mimaamsa school of Hindu philosophy are the only
school of Hinduism who oppose monasticism of any kind. They consider
such institutions as not consistent with the Vedas, since in their
view anybody who cannot perform fire-sacrifice cannot be a follower
of Dharma (or required conduct). (Sannyaasis of Monastic orders give
up fire use as part of their initiation.)
From the viewpoint of the stages of life (see question 4),
renunciation is a natural process in the last stage. Possibly from
the Vedic Hinduism perspective, it is more internal and personal,
and the type of clothing one wears, where one lives and how they
wear the hair, and whether they use fire, etc. may actually be
A more innovative and modern view of Swamijis expressed by one
Swamiji, is not that of a renunciate, but a scholar of Vedaanta.
This is not the traditional or general view of one who wears saffron
robes, although there may have been spiritual/religious teachers who
are sometimes referred to as Swamis out of respect, who may be
Given the age of Hinduism, Swamijis are probably the more recent
creations in the last few millennia, although non-monastic
Sannyaasis go back to more ancient times.
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Ritual is an essential part of human life,
whether it is in the playing field or the protocol of the White
House. Every religion has its rituals and so does Hinduism. And
rituals create a mental discipline that is supposed to lead to
Rituals have a very special place in Hinduism
from two perspectives:
First, the Mimaamsa school of Hinduism which appears to have
mastered the art of managing cause and effect, had as part of its
core various rituals that would provide temporal and spiritual
upliftment and relief.
Second, from a more broad-based view of belief-based Hinduism,
viewing the living process as an evolutionary process, rituals
create the ability to live life as an observer – doing for the sake
of doing. Modern day psychologists recommend rituals in life as a
way of managing stress.
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The scared thread or Yagnyopavita is for
purifying ones thoughts, words and deeds in the course of living.
Physically, it consists of three strands of thread, connected with a
knot. The sacred thread is invested with the Upanayanam ceremony.
After the investment, Sandhya-Vandanam is required three times every
day – at sunrise, midday and sunset.
This is a Vedic Practice of controlling ones
thoughts, words and deeds represented by the three strands of the
From a yogic perspective, the process of controlling thoughts, words
and deeds can be thought of in terms of the flow of Praana or energy
in the body through the 3 principal energy channels called Sushumna,
Ida and Pingala. The knot in the three strands is supposed to
symbolize the point of control or the Aagnya Chakra where the three
energy channels meet.
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It is just a Hindu symbolism to remind us to
use our head and be in control.
This is purely in Aagamic Hinduism. Vedic
Hinduism has no such regulations. One view is that it is the
reminder that the mind (in the Aagnyaa Chakra) is the seat of power
and control and one should strive to move higher through the mind.
However there are other views as well. Different colors may have
some symbolic significance and the way it is worn may signify castes
and sects as well.
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Like all other professions, priests undergo
rigorous training – traditional practice is for about 12 years from
a very young age. They learn to chant the Vedas, learn Sanskrit and
various other sacred texts and also learn the practice of various
Like any other
specialized function, the work of a priest demands certain qualities
like aptitude, including appropriate family background, many years
of training, and a high level of commitment and faith. Selected
youngsters go through a rigorous course of training for twelve
years, usually under a dedicated teacher or in appropriate schools
in India. The study includes a minimum knowledge of Sanskrit,
ability to chant the Vedas, familiarity with Aagama Shaastras,
temple worship methods, and temple ritual, as also a capacity to
conduct poojas, samskaaras and religious programs in devotees'
homes. Very often, a spell of work as an assistant to an established
priest in a temple works out well as an initial apprenticeship.
Generally 12 years is considered an important period in the training
of priests for a very special reason. The priest works as the medium
to convey the needs of the beneficiary (Yajamaana). That is done in
the form of energy or Praana. To have the ability to do that,
practice of Sandhya Vandana thrice a day is required. Twelve years
of practice of Sandhya Vandana is supposed to give every priest the
ability to move energy, although some may attain it earlier.
At present, we know of no facilities in the USA for training Hindu
Hindu priests are allowed to marry and live
life as householders.
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Vedic Sanskrit is pre-Paaninian while classical
Sanskrit [every other Sanskrit composition except the Vedas] is
post-Paaninian. The Ashthadhyaayi of Paanini standardized Sanskrit
grammar getting rid of many archaic Vedic forms.
Paanini is accepted by scholars of Sanskrit as the greatest, and
perhaps, the first Grammarian who exhaustively codified and
standardized the Sanskrit language and grammar.
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Usually, Hindus greet each other with affection
and reverence, reflected by a smile on the face and the "Namaste"
gesture of bringing the two palms together in front of their chest.
It literally means “Salutation to you” and is a recognition of
divinity in the other. The other words from different Indian
languages mean the same.
Usually, Hindus greet each other with affection
and reverence, reflected by a smile on the face and the "Namaste"
gesture of bringing the two palms together in front of their chest.
Many dancers know that the face and the fingers of the hands are
great vehicles for demonstrating the various emotions.
"Namaste" in Sanskrit means "Salutation to you." The cognate words
in other Indian languages also signify the same thing. It is true
that this gesture, word, salutation or prostration is primarily
employed during worship to a God. But as Hindus believe in the
divinity of all creation, and a spark of divinity is inherent in
every human being, this gesture towards others emphasizes the
inherently divine nature of all human beings also.
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OM, or AUM, is the one-syllable word called
Pranava, that represents God in Hinduism.
The regular practice of chanting OM enhances and improves one's
breathing, strengthens one physically, mentally and spiritually, and
even helps youngsters to sing, or swim or play games better.
OM, or AUM, is the one-syllable word called
Pranava, that has great significance in Hinduism. The Vedas
specifically say that this one syllable word is synonymous with the
Ultimate TRUTH called BRAHMAN.
AUM is also regarded as a combination of the three sounds, viz., the
two vowel sounds of A, and U, and the consonant, M. One view is that
the three alphabets are said to represent Vishnu, Shiva and Brahmaa.
There is a saying:
Akaaro Vishnur Uthishta Ukaarasthu Maheswarah:
Makaarasthu Brahma Pranavasthi thryatmakah:
the letter "A" stands for Vishnu
the letter "U" stands for Maheswara
the letter "M" stands for Brahma.
Thus in the Pranava (AUM) all three lords are present.
[Curently the above sloka is present under the Jnyaana Upadesham at
Another observation made by scholars has an implication of AUM
representing everything from beginning to end – again the Ultimate
Divinity – as represented by the first letter of the Sanskrit
alphabet A and the last among the consonants M. [The other alphabets
after M in Sanskrit are considered compounded alphabets.]
Another view considers "AUM" as the weak [Vriddhi] form,
representing the Samsaaric state where:
A = Brahman (Ultimate)
U = Atman (Soul)
M = Maayaa (illusion) – Jagat (perceived world) – Prakriti
whereas "OM" is considered the strong [Guna] form representing the
Moksha state where:
O = Brahman=Atman [based on Tat Tvam Asi (That is You referring to
Aham Brahmaasmi (I am the Ultimate) etc.]
M = Maayaa (illusion) – Jagat (perceived world) – Prakriti
There are other Upanishads which have tried to explain the Pranavam
as well. Some of them are:
In Taittiriya Upanishad:
OM Iti Brahman, OM Iteedam Sarvam
i.e. OM is Brahman, OM is this all.
In Katha Upanishad:
That word which all the Vedas declare
Which all austerities proclaim
Which men desire when they lead the life of religious studies
The word, I tell you briefly
IT IS OM
OM - this syllable is this whole world
Its explanation is thus -
The past, present and the future
all this is only the syllable AUM
and whatever else there is that transcends the threefold time
that too is the only syllable AUM
As a symbol and syllable representing the Ultimate, and also its
triune manifestation as the Holy Trinity, the sound OM or AUM is
given immense importance in religious practice. It is chanted by
itself, and also before, and after, every other chant.
The regular practice of chanting OM, particularly vibrating it in
various part of the energy flow system in the body recognized by
Yoga, is supposed to enhance one physically, mentally and
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Hinduism views temporal living as a journey of
the soul towards salvation. Living life in all its dimensions, at
work and at home, is considered as satisfying the cravings of the
consciousness. This is the process of living out and exhausting the
karmas – a necessary process to attain salvation. Therefore every
moment in living can be considered spiritual.
Accordingly, an evolved soul from the Hindu perspective would be
expected to participate in every aspect of living, but with the
attitude of an observer or witness, and therefore being above
suffering and generation of new karmas. In this state, the living is
not only spiritual, but the person lives every moment with the
awareness of spirituality.
While every moment in life is indeed spiritual
in the sense that one is coming (hopefully) closer towards the
ultimate goal of salvation (Moksha), most people may not be aware of
it. Those who are aware live as observers or witnesses of life fully
living every moment of it. Thus it is true that Hinduism tries to
elevate every moment into a spiritual moment and every thought, word
and deed as an offering to God (in the theistic approach) or as
something natural with no interest in its outcome (in the
non-theistic approach). The Bhagavad Geeta, for example, contains a
specific exhortation to that effect by Lord Krishna to Arjuna.
Attitude of Living Makes a Difference:
It is indeed possible gradually to develop such an attitude to life
and even to all our apparently trivial actions. There is a story
that a man was walking along the streets near London about two
centuries ago. He saw several bricklayers at work and he asked three
of them, one after another, the same set of questions.
The first bricklayer said that he was a miserable bricklayer, his
work was drudgery, he got only a tuppence as his wage, and it was
just not enough for him and his family. The second worker said he
had been trained for his job of mason, that he was building a wall,
that his job was OK, and the two pennies he earned just met his
The third worker said, "For the greater glory of the Lord, I am
involved in the building of St Paul's Cathedral, the work is my
life's passion, I enjoy it and I earn all of two pennies which meets
my family's needs and leaves some money which I share with the
poor." He considered himself blessed in every way.
All three were in the same situation but their attitudes were
different. Hinduism tries to foster the last attitude whereby every
work becomes God's work. When a person can work and earn a living
with that attitude, the work becomes sanctified as Karma Yoga, and
fulfils the noble objective of earning and spending wealth wisely
(called Artha, one of the Purushaarthas). Such selfless action
cleanses the mind and hastens the path to self-realisation or
Importance of Marriage And Its Significance:
While marriage can be thought of as another process in living,
leading to Moksha, there is more attributed to it. Between Hindu
philosophies, Puraanas and worship practices (with assumptions of
hierarchies of divinities), there are many suggestions that the
union of a man and woman should be considered as epitomizing the
Whole (God). Different schools lay it differently. One school may
consider it as epitomizing the coming together of the unmanifest
potential energy (man) coming together with the manifest kinetic
energy (woman) to form the Whole (the Shiva-Shakti idea!). Another
school draws the parallel of a dutiful wife to be the individual
being and the husband being served as the ultimate God (parallel of
the Jiva-Atma [embodied soul] and the Paramaatma[Ultimate Soul or
And every school of Hinduism accepts that the Purushaartha called
Kaama, or love and family life, is fostered by the noble sacrament
of marriage. The marriage vows and mantras sanctify the union of man
and woman from a mere physical act of passion to a lofty impulse
that continues the human race. In the Bhagavad Geeta, the Lord says
that He is the Kaama or desire that is in accordance with Dharma.
The householder living a righteous life, according to the tenets of
Dharma, becomes the lynchpin of the family, of society and of
mankind as a whole. Specifically, the married householder or
Grihasta has the duty also to fulfil the needs of the student
(Brahmacharin) and the mendicant (Sannyaasi) by giving them food or
Even in a modern context, a career need not become a rat-race, but
can be transformed into a deliberate and noble offering to the Lord.
Likewise, the marriage ceremony becomes a sacrament leading to a
life-long journey together along the path of dharma; it is therefore
that a Hindu wife is called a Sahadharmini in Sanskrit, who enables,
guides and follows the husband in walking the path of dharma
Usually, during a Hindu South Indian wedding ceremony, the couple
are blessed with a benediction which says "May you both live
worthwhile lives like Raama and Sita, like Shiva and Paarvati,
Agasthya and Lopamudra, Vasishtha and Arundhati, etc." The Gods of
the Hindu pantheon lead married lives and great sages have also
lived worthwhile lives in holy wedlock. A Sanskrit verse says that
without Shakti, the female principle, the male Shiva is powerless.
The idea is that a well-lived married life is a spiritual endeavor
and a positive step towards bliss here, and to liberation in the
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Watch out for this
answer! It will be posted soon.
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Karma from previous birth creates suffering. If
one prays (or does other spiritual practices) regularly over many
years, divine grace may eliminate all such Karma and the consequent
suffering. Another way of saying the same thing may be that
awareness of the nature of existence is enhanced and one becomes a
mere observer of events in life, living life effortlessly without
any sense of suffering.
The theistic traditions of Hinduism say that
suffering comes from previous Karma which is born out of spiritual
ignorance (Avidya). God does not interfere in the workings of Karma,
unless specifically asked by the devotee.
The non-theistic traditions reject the existence of a Supreme God
for this precise reason, although the law of Karma is accepted.
Sufferings end by spiritual elevation leading to Moksha.
In general most traditions recognize that by realizing that one is
not the body and viewing the temporal world as only a point of
observation, one naturally remains unaffected by worldly suffering.
Suffering comes from identifying oneself with the gross being.
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Shoes are not clean since they go everywhere.
Since a temple is a clean place with pure energies, we leave unclean
There are a few views
offered on this subject:
Shoes go everywhere and can collect
unwanted energies. To keep them out of the temple shoes are left
Second, generally temple practices
encourage minimum amount of covering, subject to what would be
considered decent in the respective social setting.
This may be related to the ability for energy
interchange – the temple being a highly energized place. In that
context, among various parts of the body, the soles of the feet are
considered points of significant interchange of energy. This way
when one walks in the temple bare foot, the interchange of energy
gives the bliss and high of being in the temple.
While the two views noted above are the popular reasons for not
wearing footwear inside the temple, there are some additional
observations worth noting with regard to footwear use in temples.
There are certain temples in northern India that allow wooden
Paadukas to be worn during winter months. In fact, the temple itself
provides the wooden Paadukas for a small fee, essentially ensuring
that the footwear that goes everywhere outside the temple does not
come into the temple. In Udupi Krishna temple, the eight Acharyas
only [not devotees] are allowed wooden Paadukas anywhere in the
temple premises except in the shrine area itself.
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Cremation is hygienic and symbolizes desire to
go beyond birth.
Hindu custom of
cremation is probably related to:
No further desire for rebirth
Disinfecting – more hygienic disposal.
It is worth noting that Sannyaasis are not cremated, but rather
buried, since in the process of acquiring Sannyaasa the Sannyaasi
has already performed “Aatmashraaddha” and burned an effigy of his
own body. Hence a Sannyaasi is already considered having gone beyond
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Many Hindu philosophies are monotheistic.
However there is flexibility to think of that God in the form of any
Devata. While there are 330 million Devataas and many other types of
spiritual beings mentioned in the holy texts, there is a definite
hierarchy of these beings that is recognized within the Whole of
That One God.
Whether Hinduism is monotheistic or
non-theistic (or polytheistic) depends on the school of Hindu
Nyaaya-Vaisheshika, and Vedaanta Schools – Vedaanta school is the
dominant group of these times – are monotheistic.
Yoga-Saamkhya and Mimaamsa schools are non-theistic (with the
potential to interpret as polytheistic at the same time). While not
accepting a Supreme Power, they do accept many spirits with limited
powers (called Devataas) which are sometimes called gods in common
parlance. If they are considered gods, the idea becomes
polytheistic. It is debatable whether these Devatas should be
interpreted as gods or just as divine beings whose form is in
There are supposed to be 330 million Devatas and other spiritual
beings mentioned in the holy texts. There is a definite view of
hierarchy of these Devatas – within the context of One God for the
Monotheistic schools and within the context of No God in the
The editors of this document are not knowledgeable about the
hierarchies of all the schools. Following are the examples of
hierarchies that are known. [Any reader who wishes to supplement
with their thoughts is welcome. We will consider posting it in a
In the Shaiva Agaama worship practices (under Advaita Vedaanta)
Surya represents Godhead and is thought as Shiva or ParaShiva or
Sadaashiva. The Shakti part of that Shiva creates all of the
Universe and the spirits in the Universe. Brahma, Vishnu and
Rudrashiva are under Shakti. Below them are all the Devas.
An almost identical hierarchical view exists within the Tantra
In Vaishnava Aagamas, the hierarchy begins with Vishnu as the
Ultimate and with Lakshmi in a role similar to Shakti in Shaiva
Aagama. Following are the details of the hierarchy as per Madhva
Vedaanta worship practices: Vishnu [Possesses Independence,
Plenitude & Freedom from Grief] is the Ultimate, with Lakshmi
[Possesses Plenitude & Freedom from Grief] as his consort with some
of his abilities. Then come Brahma and Vaayu who possess freedom
from grief. Thereafter are Garuda, Rudra and Aadishesha. Then come
all the devatas under Brihaspati, Indra and Varuna.
Popular Hinduism believes in Henotheism – the practice of
temporarily elevating one Devata to the level of Godhood by praise
In Vedic Hinduism, the Rig Vedic deities like Indra, Varuna, Mitra,
Niririti, etc. are recognized. Indra and Varuna at different times
appear to have been considered as the head of all deities. These may
be considered comparable to the ancient Greek and Egyptian deities
of those times, probably viewed as polytheism, or non-theistic as
viewed by Mimaamsaa practices of the later age. In later Mimaamsaa
practices, while essentially non-theistic, most of the Rig Vedic
deities seem to have retained their places, clearly viewing them as
helpful, but limited celestial spirits. The hierarchy of these
deities in the Mimaamsaa practices were similar to Vedic Hinduism
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There are no authorities to decide what is
right or wrong. The Vedas are considered the Supreme Truth.
Literally there are no authorities that dictate
what Hinduism should believe in.
The highest authority is considered the Vedas and its interpretation
by various schools of thoughts give rise to various Hindu
philosophies. The Vedaanta schools (its founders) have commentaries
on the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita which are
supposed to be further elucidation of the message of the Vedas.
And it is up to each individual Hindu to decide what school of
thought one wishes to accept or how one wishes to interpret the
However, since many Hindus may not have the expertise to interpret
the Vedas or may not have a high level of realization (or awareness)
themselves or may not be familiar with the tradition of their
families, they may consider the words of a wise person to guide
them, and apply the teachings to their lives with appropriate
application of common sense and living within the law of the land.
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At first blush, it is a prayer to the Devas
that bestow Mantric power that is performed three times everyday by
those who wear the sacred thread. However it is more than that. It
is a practice that seeks identification of the self with the
Ultimate in gradual progression.
At first blush, it is
an obeisance to Gaayatri and Savitr, the devas of Mantric power,
done three times everyday. However it is more than that.
The Sandhya worship each time is in two parts.
The core or essence of the first part (Poorva Bhaaga) is the mantra
emphasizing the identity of the self with the Supreme Consciousness.
The Mantra is “BRAHMA EVAAHAM ASMI.” This echoes the Mahaa Vaakya or
supreme pronouncement of the Upanishad which even realized souls
strive to assimilate. This ultimate step and final goal is brought
to the attention of the Brahmachaari boy right at the very
commencement of his long journey.
Likewise for the second part (Uttara Bhaaga), the Gaayatri mantra
and Japa is the very core. This Japa becomes the means to realize
gradually and reach the ultimate goal set out clearly in the first
From a Yoga perspective it can be viewed:
As an offering to various constituencies of
the spiritual domain for temporal and spiritual well-being –
through Arghya and Tarpanam offering;
As cleansing and empowering by various
rituals like sprinkling of water, mental cleansing, doing
Praanayama (Yoga technique) and invocation of Rishis, Chandas and
the deities Gaayatri, Saavitri and Saraswati.
It is Dhyaana or Meditation while doing
Gaayatri Japa, through which the Ultimate experience of Samaadhi
is attained. Invocation of various spirits before beginning the
Mantra Japa can be viewed as empowering meditation.
The dawn, mid-day and dusk worship is focused on The Lord Surya, but
as the symbol of Brahman. Gayathri is the meter as well as the
Devata. In the spiritual progression initially it is a ritual to
bring mental discipline. As the person advances the focus is more
and more towards identifying with Devatas and then ultimately
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The Hindu concept of space is infinite.
Depending on the school of Hindu thought, it could be considered
objective reality, or expression of matter, or as illusion. From a
Vedic Hinduism standpoint, only three worlds are described. In
(later) Classical Hinduism, the 14 world concept is described from
the Puraanas or from the Yoga texts. The reference to millions of
worlds can be considered a poetic expression or as suggested by Dr.
Karan Singh it could refer to the millions of galaxies.
The Hindu concept of
Space is infinite. Different systems of Hindu thought consider
"Space" differently. [See question 7 for greater details of the
different Hindu philosophical systems.]
Systems like Nyaaya-Vaisheshika, Mimaamsaa, Dvaita Vedaanta etc.
consider Space to be an objective reality.
Saankhya-Yoga and Raamaanuja Vedaanta consider Space to be an
evolute of Matter. When matter evolves it creates space. After all
at the atomic level, the electrons spinning around the protons and
neutrons span space. The macrocosm of this microcosm seems repeated
in our physical observation as we see space spanned between planets
and their moons circling around them, and the planets themselves
circling around the sun or another star, and a similar process
within the galaxy and the millions of galaxies spanning a vast
Shankara Vedaanta considers Space to be an illusion [Maayaa].
As for the number of worlds, this is the analysis:
Three worlds is Vedic
- Bhoo or Martya (temporal world) - terrestrial
- Antariksha (in-between world) - atmospheric
- Svarga (heavenly world) – celestial
Vedic Gods are associated with all these three levels. For
example, Agni (god of fire) is associated with the temporal world,
Vayu (god of air) with atmosphere and Varuna (Lord of Cosmic
[natural and moral] Rhythm of the Universe) with the heavans.
Seven worlds and fourteen worlds is Epic
The fourteen worlds are the seven heavens (including the earth,
Bhoo) and seven hells as described below.
Above these 14 worlds is Parandhaama [Kailaasa or Vaikuntha =
Moksha] attained through Moksha or salvation.
6 heavens or Upper Worlds [where merits earned in Bhooloka (the
last heaven in the list of seven) are expended. One cannot earn
any merit in these worlds]:
1) Satyaloka [heaven of Chaturmukha Brahmaa]
2) Tapoloka [heaven of the Sanakaadi Rishis]
5) Suvarloka [heaven of Indra]
[only loka where merits & sins can be earned and their
Seven hells or Lower Worlds: [where sins earned in Bhooloka are
expended. One cannot earn any sin in these worlds]:
One can look upon these either from an Epic/Puraanic or from a
meditational standpoint, as explained in the Yogasutras of
Millions of worlds (Aneka-koti Brahmaanda)
can be considered a poetic expression as when referred to the
world of attributes and things. Each person, in a poetic way, can
be considered to constitute his/her own world. Dr. Karan Singh has
suggested that it may refer to the millions of galaxies.
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The concept of time is infinite and cyclical in
Hinduism. There is no beginning and no end. Within cyclical
intervals creation and dissolution take place. Hindu concept
identifies the period of the temporal world as a specific number of
solar years, which is called a Mahaa-Yuga. Different time periods
are attributed to the cycle of different levels of celestial
entities including the period of Brahmaa, the Creator.
The Surya Siddhanta is a text that discusses the aspect of time and
measurement in the context of solar years. This is the basis for the
Time in Hindu
conception is, beyond a shadow of doubt, cyclical and infinite.
Consequently, Cosmic Time has neither a beginning nor an end. Again,
different Hindu systems consider Time differently. Systems like
Nyaaya-Vaisheshika, Mimaamsaa, Raamaanuja Vedaanta, Dvaita Vedaanta
etc. consider Time to be an objective reality. Saankhya-Yoga
considers Time to be an evolute of Matter. shankara vedAnta
considers Time to be an illusion [Maayaa].
All Hindu traditions with the exception of the Mimaamsaa system
believe in this cosmic time scheme. There are two versions suggested
10 Gurvakshara = 1 Praana (respiration) (4 sec)
6 Praana = 1 Vinaadi (24 sec)
60 Vinaadi = 1 Naadi (24 min)
60 Naadi = 1 Day
One day is from sunrise to sunrise in the Hindu system.
Movement of the Sun (with respect to the earth) from 0 degrees of
one Zodiac Sign to the next is considered a month. For example, 0
degrees Aries to 0 degrees Taurus is the first month. From 0 degrees
Taurus to 0 degrees Gemini is the second month, etc.
2 months = 1 Rtu (season)
3 Rtus = 1 Ayana (direction of movement of the Sun relative to
2 Ayanas = 1 Samvatsara or solar year
The Hindu system does not worry about leap years. Some years will be
365 days and some 366 days, and the precise definition of a New Year
is the entry of the Sun into 0 degrees Aries. One complete
revolution around the Sun from 0 degrees Aries back to 0 degree
Aries constitues one year. Each solar year is given a name and
attribute. They go in cycles of 60 years.
One Solar Year = One Day of the Celestials
360 Celestial Days = 1 year of the Celestials
12,000 Celestial Years = 1 Mahaayuga
i.e. 1 Mahaayuga = 4,320,000 solar years
Each Mahaayuga consists of 4 Yugas
Kruta Yuga (also called Satya Yuga) = 4,800
Celestial years = 1.728 million solar years
TretaYuga = 3,600 Celestial years = 1.296
million solar years
Dwaapara Yuga = 2,400 Celestial years =
864,000 solar years
Kaliyuga = 1,200 Celestial Years = 432,000
1 Manu (or Manvantara – time of Manu) = 71
1 Kalpa = 14 Manus (or Manvantaras)
(1 kalpa = 1 day of Brahmaa)
Brahmaa’s life is 100 years = 360 times 100 Brahmaa days = 36,000
Kalpas = 504,000 Manus = 35,784,000 Mahayugas = 153.8712 trillion
3 Paramaanus = 1 Anu
3 Anus = 1 Vedha
3 Vedhas = 1 Lava
3 Lavas = 1 Nimesha
3 Nimeshas = 1 Kshana
5 Kshanas = 1 Kaashthaa
15 Kaashthaas = 1 Laghu
15 Laghus = 1 Naadika
2 Naadikas = 1 Muhurta
30 Muhurtas = 1 Ahoraatra [24 hour period]
15 Ahoraatras = 1 Paksha
2 Pakshas = 1 Maasa
2 Maasas = 1 Rtu
3 Rtus = 1 Ayana
2 Ayanas = 1 Samvatsara [1 year]
20,736,000,000 Samvatsaras = Krutayuga
15,552,000,000 Samvatsaras = Tretaayuga
10,368,000,000 Samvatsaras = Dwaaparayuga
5,184,000,000 Samvatsaras = Kaliyuga
4 of these yugas together = 1 Mahaayuga
18 Mahaayugas = 1 Manvantara
14 Manvantaras = 1 Kalpa
At the end of a kalpa is praLaya [dissolution of the Universe]. The
Universe comes into being all over again and another kalpa cycle
With respect to the Hindu Calendar, the source document is the Surya
Siddhanta. Hindus over the ages have followed the Solar Calendar,
and historians track the knowledge of the Solar Calendar going
through Egypt to Julius Caesar (and the Romans), who established the
modern Julian Calendar. However the Hindu Solar Calendar has a
precise definition of months and years. It does not require any
adjustment like the Julian calendar. [In the Julian Calendar, a day
is added every 4th year (leap year) and the year of the turn of the
century is kept as a normal year instead of a leap year. This is to
accommodate the cycle of the earth around the sun which is a little
less than 365 and a quarter days.]
In the last few centuries, an element of the Lunar Calendar has also
entered the fold of Hindu Calendars, probably as a result of Islamic
influence. This is followed in some parts of India. New moon to new
moon is considered a month, and since the Moon’s cycle around the
earth is only about 29 days, every now and then the same month is
repeated a second time and is called an extra month or Adhika Maasa.
This is to preserve a 12-month annual calendar within the lunar
cycle. The Lunar Calendar is predominant in Andhra and Karnataka and
some other parts of North India.
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Answer to this can be given either from an
anthropological or a theological standpoints. The anthropological
standpoint looks upon these gods and their vehicles as pre-Aryan
tribal gods who had their own totems. They were slowly incorporated
into the Vedic Aryan pantheon. Most of these gods have their origins
in the Puraanas, not Vedas.
Puraanas attribute various functions, attributes and symbolisms to
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Hindu religious lore and practice regards the
cow as specially sacred and worthy of worship. However, since
everything is considered the manifestation of the Ultimate Divinity,
there is respect towards everything including animals, and special
reverence to those animals considered vehicles (Vaahanas) of
The Puraanas are the source of many deities with animal faces or
bodies, and the stories in the Puraanas usually mention how such
faces or bodies came to be.
Reverence for the cow goes back to Indo-Iranian tradition, where the
cow symbolizes “oppressed goodness.” The eighth Avataar of Vishnu,
Krishna, in his role as Gopaala (one who herds and protects cows),
probably elevated it to the level of being worshipped.
Hindu religious lore and practice regards the
cow as specially sacred and worthy of worship, although from a
cosmic perspective, there is divinity in everything including
All created things are believed to have within them an aspect of the
Creator, or Divinity. There are verses of the Upanishads that say
Brahman, the Ultimate, created the universe out of Itself, or that
It created the universe and entered every part of it. A reverential
attitude towards animals and plants, rivers and mountains, and all
creation, follows as a logical consequence of this faith. There are
some rare places in India, where elephants, snakes, monkeys, and
rodents may be revered. It is this same attitude that manifested in
the well-known idea of Ahimsa which was applied by Mahatma Gandhi in
his non-violent struggle for India’s independence, as with the
promotion of vegetarianism during the period of Classical Hinduism.
(Respect for the environment and all living being is built within
The basis of practices related to the cow or other animals or
reptiles are probably related to stories from the Puraanas and the
association with Vaahanas (or vehicles) of different deities. With
respect to deities with animal faces or bodies, there are rival
stories in the Puraanas giving details of how a particular deity got
a particular animal face or body.
Veneration of cows is common to the ancient Indo-Iranian religions.
It is there even among Zoroastrians, even though not to the extent
of Classical Hinduism (after 100 CE). The Zoroastrians maintain a
hospice center to this day for aged cows which then die a natural
death there. The cow is a symbol of ‘oppressed goodness’ as per the
ancient Indo-Iranians. In Vedic Hinduism the cow was venerated, but
in Classical Hinduism it came to be worshipped. The eighth
incarnation of Vishnu, i.e. Krishna, in his manifestation of Gopala
gave added fillip to the worship of cows as they were especially
dear to him.
Among the ancient Indo-Europeans cow and earth were intimately
related. Hence the words to them are sometimes the same.
Examples: COW [ENGLISH] =
GEO [LATIN] =
GO [SANSKRIT] = "EARTH"
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Hindu philosophy and Vedic Hinduism required no
restrictions on food. In Classical Hinduism, after 300 CE, as the
cow was elevated to the level of worship, killing or eating cows was
prohibited. A significant number of Hindus religiously observe
The Vedas note no food restrictions. During the
Vedic period eating meat was common place. Later there was a big
conversion towards vegetarianism, probably influenced by Jainism and
After the eighth Avataara, Krishna, in his role as Gopaala
associated as the herder and protector of the cow, the cow was
raised to the level of worship, and killing and eating cows was
prohibited. There is a general belief in India that vegetarianism
promotes spiritual growth, and a large number of Hindus are
vegetarians. Modern science speaks to the benefits of vegetarianism
Why is Hinduism so confusing ?
There are multiple reasons for that. Trying to do an
in and out analysis without getting on to taste its fruit by practicing
would make one feel exhausted. Because it is not a religion of limited
contours. It is really an ocean of knowledge.
Why Hindus worship idols ?
Though the Supreme God is beyond a definite form with
specifiable attributes, the Attributeless could be enjoyed only at a
matured yogic state. For the benefit of the creatures the God appears in
various forms for the matured visions. These splendid forms are easy to
comprehend even for a layman. It just acts as a carrier or catalyst.
Does Hinduism prohibit meat eating ?
There are actually very less things as prohibits,
commands, mandates etc in Hinduism. So in this case too Hinduism does
not prohibit, but it recommends that meat eating could be avoided for
spiritual benefits and kindness towards fellow creatures. The basis why
meat eating is discouraged is that Hindus believe all living creatures
has a soul and has a right to live thus following non-violence.
What is Hinduism's sacred text ?
Hinduism is not based on one single text book. The
entire science of living is derived from the Vedas - which means
knowledge. it is actually a large collection of many books, and can be
divided into many disciplines like Upanishads, Puranas, Vedas, and epics
like Ramayan and Mahabharat. (There are 4 Vedas namely Rig, Sama, Yajur,
Atharvana and 108 Puranas.). However, while it might not be feasible to
read the entire set of Vedas in one's lifetime, the book Bhagwat Gita
(spoken by God himself, hence considered - Sound representation of god)
captures the basic essence of the entire Vedas. Hence, it is the most
popular book among the Hindus and anyone following the gita can be
loosely classified as a Hindu.
What are the marks on the forehead of Hindus ?
There are many virtual lotuses of power locus in the
human body. The one at the place between the eye brows is highly
powerful (which could be felt). This highly sensitive point is protected
with the kumkum or sandalwood paste dots. It also signifies the presence
of the Lord's feet on our forehead, a mark of respect to Him.
Why is Hinduism so complex to understand ?
Well, Hinduism was not born out of the thoughts of
one particular philosopher or at one particular time. It is an
accumulation of the knowledge and experience of seers from ancient time.
Also as it does not impose the supremacy of one specific postulation
hence many complementary at times totally different concepts exist
because of this openness. This advantage makes it sophisticated.
So could it not be understood by simple minds ?
It could certainly be and it is. Apart from being
sophisticated it is also having various step by step procedures that
arose out of the sophisticated thesis, for the layman to follow.
Who can become a Hindu ? Can one be a Hindu only
by birth ?
No, not at all. As the knowledge in Hinduism is not
in a closed boundary, Hinduism does not limit itself to any closed
boundary of land, language or race. Infact, since its a way of life,
there might be lots among us who would be practicing Hinduism without
actually realizing it.
Hinduism is the religion of one particular land
called India, right ?
No, actually not. This new name called Hinduism given
to this discipline is what makes it appear it as the religion of one
land. The religion is said to belong to india because most of the
development of this religion took place in India. Many of the
incarnations of the Lord manifested themselves in places which form the
current Indian cities of Mathura, Haridwar, Dwarka, Rameshwaram, etc.
All these places are major sources of attraction for the devotees even
today, and most of them house majestic temples in devotion to our
eternal Lord. The spirit of Hinduism is so deeply ingrained in the
Indian people's mindset, and the religion itself has come to be
associated with the landscape of India.
Though it is currently practiced mainly in India
there are references in scriptures like the 'Shiva Mahaa Puraanam' and
'Srimad Bhagwatam' that this worship was spread throughout the world.
While the other parts have forgotten this history, it is still very much
prevalent in India.
What is this caste system ?
Quite long ago the society was divided into four
castes depending upon the nature of service they do so that they
together make sure the smooth running of the social system. It was like
the operational divisions of organizations. These four castes were the
four functional pillars on which the society was standing. In the course
of time the caste started to get determined by birth and later some of
these sections started considering themselves superior to others. This
finally led to the cruelty and inhuman behaviors of untouchability etc.
There has been time and again cautions from Hindu scholars against these
inhuman behaviors. Now this system is getting phased out and the Hindus
should be soon out of the bad taste it left.
What is the status of women under Hinduism ?
There is absolutely no discrimination against women
in Hinduism. This is reinforced by the fact that Feminity is worshipped
in the form of knowledge (Saraswati), wealth (Lakshmi), chastity (Sita),
warrior (Durga), Mother Earth, Rivers, etc. Females have the same rights
as men when it comes to practising religion, like worshiping, fasting,
etc.Feminity is worshipped in the forms of rivers, land, etc. Females
have the right to perform worship as their male counterparts. There are
many vedic sages, philosophers of later day, poets queens and so on from
the womenfolk. The female commands the respect of the family. Quite
naturally the wife is called saha dharmini or the companion in
Who can be a Hindu ?
All the people, without restrictions of any sort.
For, the God is common to the one living in Arctic, Antartic as well as
in Sahara. It is the God of those things beyond this Earth. Hinduism
welcomes the pure knowledge from all horizons as well as can provide the
paths for the whole world, with no exceptions, to lead a life that is
relishable and that takes to the ever lasting Eternal Bliss.
Here is a statement from the heart of the vedas
May the mind stabilize on the rudra, by which we, the two legged
creatures, four legged ones, the whole world prosper !
The Grace of God does not limit to even just human beings. Its is for
all the lives in this earth and beyond ! So Hinduism emphasises that not
only can all the humans worship through its path, but also shatters away
all barriers that differentiate even animals to be not eligible for
Critics of Hinduism often criticize it for many of
its prevalent ills like Sati, caste system, dowry, bride-burning, animal
sacrifice etc. We would like to point out that while other religions
have come up in the last 2-3000 years, Hinduism has taken shape hundreds
of thousand of years ago. Not all activities of that age have been
correctly captured by people of our age, and some things still remain
difficult to understand. India has been under invasion for last
thousands of years from Persian/ Islamics and till recently Colonial
invasion, during this period most people were poor, uneducated and
illiterate. Many myths set in, many rumours took hold in the minds of
the people during that time, and the result was many misunderstood and
ill-applied practises like the above. But such things have never been
part of the religion, only a practice applied to wrong effect by some
sections of the society. People are now realizing this fault, and
correcting their mistakes, and the results of which are already visible.
There can always be doubts and questions in people's minds, however,
Hinduism has ample room for all points of view.
Hindu Gods and Goddesses
How much do you know about the Hindu pantheon and
the many stories and myths about the gods and goddesses of Hinduism?
Take our quiz and test your knowledge.
Q1. Which goddess is Krishna's beloved?
Q2. Why is Shiva called the Blue-necked God?
1. Because blue is his favorite color.
2. Because the River Ganga washes over his neck.
3. Because he swallowed the poison that came from the churning of the
ocean at the time of creation.
4. Because his neck is the sky.
Q3. What animal does Skanda ride for his
1. a bull
2. a rat
4. a peacock
Q4. Why is one of Ganesha's tusks broken off?
1. He broke it off to hurl at the Moon who laughed
at him once
2. It broke during a battle with Shiva.
3. Parvati hurled it at Shiva.
4. It broke off on a ladoo he was eating.
Q5. The five brothers whom Lord Krishna
befriends and defends in the Mahabharata are called
1. The Bharatas
2. The Kauravas
3. The Pandavas
4. The Maruts
Gods and Goddesses
Q6. In which chapter of the Bhagavad Gita
does Lord Krishna display his theophany, the vishvarup?
1. Chapter Eleven
2. Chapter One
3. Chapter Ten
4. hapter Eighteen
Q7. Which of the following is not one of
1. Narasimha, the Man-lion
2. Bali, the Good Demon
3. The Buddha
4. Matsya, the Fish
Q8. What name does Hanuman have inscribed
on his heart?
Q9. Which god is called the Grandfather?
Q10. Durga, the goddess more powerful than
all the gods put together, slayed
1. Mahisha, the Buffalo Demon
I believe that ultimately all paths are the same
and that we should not judge other paths, but accept everything as
ultimately equal, like rivers flowing to the ocean. Each person
believes what they are doing is their dharma, and thus no one should
be discouraged from following their chosen path as everyone ultimately
is getting the same result. What is your view on judging systems of
belief and dharma.
It may be popular to accept a stance where all
paths are judged as the same, but such a view cannot be rationally
defended. Simply because someone believes something to be his dharma
does not in fact make his actions dharma anymore than thinking you are
the Prime Minister of India makes you Atal Bihari Vajpayee. We must
remember that some people believe flying planes into buildings is
their dharma. It is insanity to think that all paths are the same
without first judging the actions and results involved. It is a fact
that most sane people in the world will not accept the act of flying
planes into buildings to be dharma, nor Hitler's killing of millions
of Jews as dharma. Thus the view that all paths are ultimately one and
everyone's personal dharma is ultimately equal is nothing but a sound
bite meant to replace rational thinking.
A good action is judged by good results. To know
whether something is actually good or bad requires us to know the
results it brings in full, not superficially. For example, I may eat
some food that tastes good and then say I feel this action was good
because I enjoyed the taste. But if the food was poisoned, I would
later die. So to judge whether something is good requires complete
knowledge of the results, not partial knowledge; and those results
should be universally beneficial for the action to be good.
The second aspect of judgement is to know
objectively what is good. Someone may judge the taste of food as being
good, but if it is poisoned we can see it is not actually good to eat
(the ultimate result is bad). Thus the Gita warns us that what appears
sweet at first may not always be good:
yat tad agre ’mritopamam
pariname visham iva
tat sukham rajasam smritam
"That happiness which is derived from contact of
the senses with their objects and which appears like nectar at first
but poison at the end is said to be of the nature of passion
The seventeenth chapter of the Gita further
explains that faith or religion is also influenced by and categorized
according to the three modes of nature (i.e. the three gunas: sattva
guna, rajo guna, and tamo guna), and that based on the qualities
(gunas) one is influenced by, his destination is determined. If one
goes through the fourteenth chapter of Gita (dealing with the three
modes of material nature) and the seventeenth chapter of the Gita
(dealing with the division of faiths according to the three modes),
one will clearly see that it is a great misconception to think that
Hinduism teaches all paths are ultimately one and that their
destinations are the same.
The Gita describes actions within the modes of
nature and their results as follows:
sattvikam nirmalam phalam
rajasas tu phalam duhkham
ajnanam tamasah phalam
"The result of pious action is pure and is said to
be in the mode of goodness. But action done in the mode of passion
results in misery, and action performed in the mode of ignorance
results in darkness."
first thing we should note is that each action influenced by each mode
of nature brings a distinctly different result. Actions in the mode of
passion (rajo-guna) and ignorance (tamo-guna) lead to misery and
darkness for the performer of the action. The popular sound bite that
all paths lead to the same goal is not supported by the Gita, which
clearly says those who act in passion or ignorance attain only misery
According to the Gita these modes of nature help develop our inner
qualities, which ultimately leads to our future destination
rajaso lobha eva ca
bhavato ’jnanam eva ca
the mode of goodness, real knowledge develops; from the mode of
passion, greed develops; and from the mode of ignorance develop
foolishness, madness and illusion."
acting within the mode of goodness does one attain to jnanam, or
spiritual knowledge. Krishna defines jnanam in the Gita as follows:
kshetra-kshetrajnayor jnanam yat taj jnanam matam mama. "Knoweldge
(jnanam) is to know both the body and the knower of the body (the Atma
and Paramatma)." Thus action in goodness leads to knowledge of the
material world, the eternal soul, and the Paramatma (Super Soul).
Actions in ignorance on the other hand lead to the exact opposite,
"ajnanam", which is improper knowledge of the world, ignorance of the
eternal self, and forgetfullness of the Paramatma (i.e. God).
ultimate destination for such people is described in the Gita as
yada sattve pravriddhe tu
pralayam yati deha-bhrit
rajasi pralayam gatva
tatha pralinas tamasi
"When one dies in the mode of goodness, he attains to the pure higher
planets of the great sages. When one dies in the mode of passion, he
takes birth among those engaged in fruitive activities; and when one
dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes birth in the animal kingdom."
elsewhere in the Gita:
madhye tishthanti rajasah
adho gacchanti tamasah
situated in the mode of goodness gradually go upward to the higher
planets; those in the mode of passion live on the earthly planets; and
those in the abominable mode of ignorance go down to the hellish
results of those situated within the three modes of nature are
delineated. Very clearly and logically the Gita states that those who
act in ignorance attain only ignorance. Only by acting within the mode
of sattva (i.e. goodness), does one develop spiritual knowledge and
elevate oneself to higher realms of existence. The ultimate goal of
life is to gradually transcend these three modes of material nature
and attain to our eternal spiritual existence, beyond birth and death
etan atitya trin
vimukto ’mritam asnute
the embodied being is able to transcend these three modes associated
with the material body, he can become free from birth, death, old age
and their distresses and can enjoy nectar even in this life."
only attainable by transcending the modes of nature through
illuminating spiritual knowledge. According to the Gita, one will not
attain mukti while engaging in ignorant destructive actions,
regardless of whether one thinks it is his dharma or not. The path of
sattva (goodness) leads to vidya (spiritual knowledge) and is
therefore an illuminating staircase to transcendence. The paths of
rajo-guna (passion) and tamo-guna (ignorance) on the other hand are
directly opposed to this elevation and lead one to material suffering
and darkness (ajnanam) which pushes one further down to lower species
of life and a hellish existence.
we have analyzed the three modes of nature (the gunas) and we have
seen how each guna brings a different result, we should refer to the
seventeenth chapter of the Gita where Lord Krishna describes the three
varieties of faith or religion. Lord Krishna chooses to analyze faith
from multiple angles of action, not just belief, such as sacrifice
within the three modes of nature, austerity within the three modes of
nature, charity within the three modes of nature and food with the
three modes of nature. It is not enough to sentimentally look at one's
"spiritual beliefs", but on the day to day actions a belief brings
about. Are the resultant actions situated within sattva-guna (which
leads to knowledge and enlightenment) or are they situated within
tamo-guna (ignorance which leads to darkness and suffering)? If one's
faith or religion leads one to engage in actions within the modes of
passion (rajo-guna) and ignorance (tamo-guna), then that religion
leads one to darkness, not liberation:
adho gacchanti tamasah
"Those in the abominable mode of ignorance go down
to the hellish worlds."
tatha pralinas tamasi
"When one dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes
birth in the animal kingdom."
Thus it becomes clear from a rational and logical
perspective that all paths are not the same, nor are their
destinations the same; each path must be judged according to its
actions and effects. A good action must be determined by a good
result, and that good result must be with full knowledge of the
ultimate effect of the result. As stated in the example given earlier,
if food tastes good but has poison in it, the act of eating it can't
be judged good simply because the taste was good. Thus it is required
to know the ultimate effect an action has, and that ultimate effect
must be judged impartially.
To understand the ultimate effect an action has on
us, we must first know whom we ultimately are. Only then can we judge
the ultimate effect on our self and others, and subsequently whether
those effects are universally good. Proper judgement requires wisdom,
which entails knowledge of the true self and the ultimate reactions an
action brings about on to the true self. This again comes back to the
fourteenth and seventeenth chapters of the Bhagavad Gita and
understanding how actions within the three modes of nature bring good
and bad reactions to the soul. Without understanding this science
clearly any judgement is external and shallow, not taking into account
the ultimate reaction nor the ultimate recipient of the reaction. It
is like saying eating poisoned food was good because it tasted good.
Thus true dharma is not just the undefined whim of
each and every person, nor are all paths equal and leading to the same
goal as the popular sound bite suggests. We must judge every path on
its own merits in terms of the actions it creates. For such an
impartial judgement we must use wisdom based on the scriptures to
determine what actions bring about universal benefit, and whether the
benefit is actually for the true self, i.e. the soul. Such an
illumined judgement is only possible when we see through the "eyes of
knowledge", the Vedic scriptures:
ye vidur yanti te param
"Those who see with eyes of knowledge the
difference between the body and the soul, and can also understand the
process of liberation from bondage in material nature, attain to the
Why do Hindus worship many Gods?
As a universal formulation, Hinduism
accepts all formulations of Truth. According to the Universal
view, there is only One Reality, but it cannot be limited to a
particular frame or form. The various Gods and Goddesses of
Hinduism represent various functions of this One Supreme
Divinity and are not separate Gods.
Why is the Goddess worshipped ?
As Sanatana Dharma or a Universal Tradition, Hinduism recognizes
that the Divine contains both masculine and feminine attributes.
Without giving proper honor to the feminine qualities, a religion
must be incomplete and one sided . The worship of God in the form of
Mother is a unique feature in Hinduism. Today Hindus worship the
Divine mother in many popular forms such as Durga, Kali,
Lakshmi,Saraswati, Ambika and Uma. To a Hindu, the motherly aspect
of God in nature is full of beauty, gentleness, kindness and
tenderness. The natural love between a Mother and her child is the
best expression of the Lord’s unconditional love for us as children
of God. Through the worship of God in the form of Mother, Hinduism
offers a unique reverence to womanhood.
What is the significance of MUHURATA –
sanctified time ?
Muhurta is nothing but the fixing of a particular time for an-event to
be performed in the future. We understand that making a judgement
about the future has to be based either on forecasting techniques or
on astrology. During performance of any important function whether it
is a naming ceremony (namakaran vidhi or barasa), thread ceremony
(janeu sanskar or munja) marriage, etc., an essential part is to ask a
pandit to work out the auspicious moment or 'muhurat' when the
ceremony should be performed.Astrology is a gift of its close sister
discipline astronomy. There could be no astrology without astronomy,
as astrology predicts the turn of events in the future with the real
or imaginary changes in planetary and star positions. We know that the
firmament i.e. the observable universe, has a mechanics of its own.
The earth and sun being part of the firmament go about their own
movement as per the mechanics. The rotation of the earth on its axis
causes day and night and its revolution round the sun causes weather
changes. This co-relation between a change in star patterns and a
change in weather which repeated itself year after year, germinated
ideas that star patterns decide weather changes. This interpretation
gave birth to ideas that
appearance of a particular star spelt prosperity while that of another
spelt doom. In India the appearance of a comet (Dhumketu) was looked
upon as portending doom. Following this it was not a difficult step to
believe that changes in an individuals fortune are also decided - by
changes in star patterns. Thus the development of astronomy lead to
astrology and to beliefs in the auspicious or inauspicious. Henceforth
the practice of consulting learned pandits for derivation of
auspicious dates or time in the future could evolve naturally.
How did YAGNA come into practice ?
The Yagna was central to life in Vedic times. It
had not yet become a ritual then. The Yagna was the central fireplace
of the Aryan Gana (tribe). Fire has since then played a central part
in Hindu religious ritual. Even the Hindu (and Sikh, and Buddhist)
flag seen above has the colour of fire. This is so as initially, it
was the actual fire that was carried from one place to another as a
sacred object.The ancient Vedic Aryans had some people from the Gana
(tribe) who had the specific task of preserving the fire. They were
called 'Agnihotra'. According to Sanskrit philology this term is an
amalgam of the two terms Agni and Troo. 'Agni' means 'fire' and 'Troo'
means 'to preserve'. The Central Fireplace of the Aryan tribe became a
ritual to be performed at any important occasion as in a marriage. The
Saptapadi (Seven Steps) was a ritual to be performed around a central
fireplace called agni-kund. The sacred fire was Vedi. The couple to be
married had to go around the Vedi seven times, representing seven days
of the week. Dana and Dakshina are given in Cash and Kind, but never
as free Physical Labour
How did the custom of HAVANA begin ?
The way of life both during peacetime and war was
based on collective activity. In the tribal way of life even during
peacetime the share (Havi) of every member of the tribe was
distributed in a function called the Havana. Whatever was gathered,
hunted or cooked was shared among all members of the tribe.The same
principle was applied to the distribution of the booty of war. This
distribution which was carried out in festive atmosphere after a
successful campaign is perhaps the progenitor of our custom of
offering dana especially on festival days and other auspicious
What are the symbols of SAUBHAGYAVATI - The
Blessed One ?
This term is used to refer to a married Hindu
woman. The symbols associated with a woman being married are the
Laxmi padas (Goddess Laxmi's Footsteps). The Goddess Laxmi is
believed to have entered the house of a married woman who performs
poja after drawing the Laxmi Padas. Other symbols of a woman being a
Saubhagyavati (Married) are a vermilion powder pot, bangles, a comb,
and a looking glass.
Why do we greet people with NAMASTE ?
Namaste could be an amalgam of Namsya (or Namaha)
meaning obeisance and 'Te' which means you or to you. Thus Namaste
as an amalgam of Namasyate could be translated as obeisance to you.
Namaste involves the joining together of both palms at the level of
the breast. If the person being greeted is a senior or if it is
addressed to God, the Namaste is accompanied with a slight bow. The
meaning implies a submission of one person to another. Thus, Namaste
as a salutation could have originated as an acknowledgement of
submission or surrender of one person to another. Hence, it would
not be erroneous to infer that Namaste was in fact a declaration of
submission. The fact that both hands have to be displayed to the
person being greeted could have its origin in the practice that when
a person submits to another or when two strangers hail each other
they have to prove that they are unarmed and that their intentions
What is the significance of the TILAK ?
The Tilaka is normally a vermilion mark applied
on the forehead. This mark has a religious significance and is a
visible sign of a person as belonging to the Hindu religion. The
Tilaka is of more than one colour although normally it is vermilion.
It also does not have any standard shape and form and is applied
differently by members of different Hindu sects and sub-sects.
It is applied as a 'U' by worshippers of Lord Vishnu and is red,
yellow or saffron in colour. It is made up of red ochre powder
(Sindhura) and sandalwood paste (Gandha). Worshippers of Lord Shiva
apply it as three horizontal lines and it consists of ash (Bhasma).
Soot (Abhira) is also used as a pigment for applying a Tilaka.
Why do Hindu women apply KUMKUM OR BINDIYA on
their forehead ?
Sindhura which is also used to describe a Tilaka
means red and Gandha which is also a term for Tilaka means pleasant
odour. Hence, Tilaka normally connotes, a red mark with a pleasant
odour. Some scholars have seen the red colour as a symbolism for
blood. We are told that in ancient times, in Aryan society, a groom
used to apply his blood, on-his bride's forehead as a recognition of
wedlock. The existing practice among Indian women
of applying a round shaped red Tilaka called Bindiya or Kumkum could
be a survival of this. The third eye of Lord Shiva stands for
omniscience or wisdom. When Hindus wear kumkum or sandalpaste on
their forehead, it is to remind themselves of their latent power of
wisdom which they should awaken.
What do we understand about SWASTIK ?
This is also revered by Hindu and ranks second only
Did the Swastika originate as blueprint for a fort called Su Vastu?
In the conventional type of a fort, the fall of one of the gates to
the attacking army would lead to the Enemy's pouring into the fort and
lead to massacre or capture of all or most of its inhabitants. But
under the Swastika grids fall of one of the four gates could still
keep, at least three-fourths of the fort safe. The understanding of
the Swastika as a blueprint for a fort can also be etymologically
corroborated. In Sanskrit, Vasa means to inhabit and Vastu means
habitation. While Su means good. The word Swastika might be an amalgam
of the terms 'Su' and 'Vastu' pronounced as as 'Swastu') meaning 'a
What is the symbolic importance of
Purnakumbha literally means a "full pitcher" (Purna
= full, Kumbha = pitcher). The Purnakumbha is a pitcher full of water,
with fresh leaves of the mango tree and a coconut (Sriphala) placed on
the top. The Purnakumbha is an object symbolizing God and is regularly
used during different religious rites. One instance of the Purnakumbha
itself used as an object of worship is the Satyanarayana Puja or the
worship of Lord Satyanarayana. The water in the jar is said to be the
divine essence. Water has been an object of worship since a very early
age among the Hindus.Water plays an important role even today in Hindu
religious rites. During all purificatory rites, water is sprinkled on
the object to be purified. Before starting his meal a Hindu sprinkles
water around the the banana leaf from which a meal is traditionally
eaten. In ancient times before coronation a king was sprinkled with
water so as to ensure an auspicious beginning to his reign.
Ideals of Hindu Marriage
(HinduDharma HinduofUniverse : Marriage)
HinduOfUniverse The World Largest Of Hinduism Religion Of
World Group Only (For Hindu)
The Vedas are learned during the years of
student-bachelorhood. Then the "theory" taught has to be put into
practice; in other words the rites prescribed in the Vedas must be
performed. For this purpose a man has to take a helpmate after he has
completed his brahmacaryasrama. This helpmate is a "property" that can
never be seperated from him. She is not meant not only to be a cook
for him, not only one to give sensual gratification. She is called
"dharma-patni" and also "yajna-patni". She has to be with her husband
in the pursuit of dharma and has also to be a source of encouragement
in it. As a dharma patni, she has to be by his side during the
performance of sacrifices; she must also play a supportive role in all
those rituals that have the purpose of making the divine powers
favourable to mankind.
It must be noted that a wife creates well-being for
the world even as she does the work of cooking or as a source of
sensual gratification for her husband. I will tell you how. It is not
that she cooks for the husband alone. She has to provide food every
day to the guests, to the sick and to the birds and beasts and other
creatures. This is how she serves the purpose of "atithyam" and "vaisvadevam".
The children born to here are not to be taken as the product of
pleasure she affords her husband. She gives birth to them to
perpetuate the Vedic dharma. Yes, even the raising of sons is intented
for the dharmic life of the future. No other religion has before it
such a goal for the marriage samskara.
In our relegion the man-wife relationship is not
concerned with the mundane alone. It serves the Atman as well as the
good of mankind. In other relegions too marriages are conducted, say,
in a church with God as witness. But ideal of marriage is not as lofty
as ours. The purpose of marriage in our religion is to purify the
husband further and to impact the wife fullness as his devoted and
self-effacing companion. There is no such high purpose in the marriage
of other religion. In other countries the man-woman relationship is
akin to a family or social contract. Here it is an Atman connection.
But this very connection is a means of disconnection also - of freeing
the Atman, the self, from the bondage of worldly existence. There is
no room for divorce in it. Even to think of it is sinful.
[To sum up and further explain] the three
objectives of a samskara of so elevated a character as marriage. The
first is to unite a man with a helpmate after he has completed the
study of Vedas. This helpmate is expected not only to run his
household but assist him in the practice of the Vedic dharma. The
second is to bring forth into this world children of noble outlook and
character who are to be heirs to the great Vedic tradition, citizens
of the future who will be the source of happiness in this world. The
third is to create a means for women to be freed from worldly
exsistence. A man who is not yet fully mature inwardly is assisted in
his karma by his wife. By doing so, by being totally devoted to her
husband, she achieves maturity to a degree greater than he does. The
fourth objective is the subordination of sensual gratification to the
We have forgotten the first three important
objectives. All that remains is the fourth, the enjoyment of carnal
pleasure. If people take my advice in respect of the noble ideals of
marriage as taught in the sastras a way will open out to them for
their inner advancement. May Candramaulisvara bless them