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Hinduism - Frequently asked questions

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.

Beginner Level Questions:

Intermediate Level Questions:

Advanced Level Questions:

Fundamental Questions:

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 valid.

1.2. How has Hinduism survived for so long ? Is the Hinduism practised today the same as that practiced a few millenia ago ?

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.

  1. Not distinguishing between the essentials and the non-essentials.

  2. 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 basic principles.

  1. 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.

  2. 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 vanish.
    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.

  3. 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 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 ?

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 monotheistic.

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 devotion.

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 themselves.

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 observations.

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 logical foundation.

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 Hinduism ?

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 ?

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 understanding.

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 literally.

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 conversion.

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 individual.

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 contraception ?

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 prayer ?

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 wrong ?

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 needed ?

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 life.

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:

  1. Can we have eternal life?

  2. What is that, knowing which, everything is known?

  3. 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.

  1. Urge to Exist

  2. Urge to Know

  3. 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 Freedom.

Thus, whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not, the aim of all pursuits and activites is towards Mukti or Freedom.

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 Samaadhi.

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 elsewhere.

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:

  1. The world is only a creation of the mind.

  2. And so is the individuality.

  3. Brahman alone is real, which appears as all these.

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 wonders.

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 actions.

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 gods.


  • 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.

1. Who is a Hindu? 

Summary Answer:

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.

Detailed Answer:
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 example:

  1. in lifecycle events like marriage ceremonies, death ceremonies etc;

  2. in annual and seasonal festivals like Navraatri (or Dusherra), Diwaali (or Deepaavali), Krishna Janmaasthami, etc;

  3. general community practices, like temple worship, etc.

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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Is it necessary to go to a temple or practice anything in any special way to be a Hindu? Can one stop being a Hindu?

Summary Answer: 

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 a Hindu.

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.

Detailed Answer
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 temple regularly.

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What is the position of conversion in Hinduism?

Summary Answer
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. 

Detailed Answer
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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What are the 4 stages of life recognized in Hinduism?

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 - Vaanaprasta
      iv) Renunciate (seeking Moksha) – Sanyaasa

[Please review worthwhile objectives of life in Question 6, 3rd principle of Hinduism]

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What is “Karma”?

Summary Answer:
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. 

Detailed Answer:
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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What are core Hindu beliefs/principles?

Summary Answer:

Following are core beliefs/principles of Hinduism:

  1. 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.)

  2.  Freedom of Practice – One can be a Hindu by being a good person and following any type of worship practice that one finds appealing.

  3. Worthwhile 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. 

  4. Divine 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.

Detailed Answer:
The following are considered core beliefs/principles of Hinduism:

  1. 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.

  2.  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.
    For example: 
          Lowest Path is KARMA Yoga 
          Then BHAKTI 
          Then JNYAANA 
          Highest is DHYAANA/RAAJA Yoga 

         Lowest Path is DHYAANA/RAAJA Yoga 
         Then BHAKTI 
         Then JNYAANA 
         Highest is KARMA Yoga 

         Lowest is KARMA 
         Then BHAKTI 
         Then DHYAANA 
         Then JNYAANA 

         Lowest Path is KARMA Yoga 
         Then JNYAANA 
         Then DHYAANA 
         Then BHAKTI 
         Then PRAPATTI
     [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 XVIII:66.] 
        Lowest is KARMA Yoga 
        Then DHYAANA 
        Then JNYAANA 
        Then BHAKTI
    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.

  3. Worthwhile 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:

  4. 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. 

  5. 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 the Ultimate.
    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 (Para-Brahman). 

  6. 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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What are the different schools of Hindu Philosophy? What is their basis to be called different schools of Hinduism? Are they important to understand?

Summary Answer:
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 these schools.

Detailed Answer:
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: 
     A. Nyaaya-Vaisheshika
     B. Saankhya-Yoga
     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 following.]

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 branches. 

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 meditation. 

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 Soteriology. 

For the ease of the general reader, the following comments are noted with special emphasis on the Vedaanta schools which most Hindus follow:

  1. Nyaaya and Vaisheshika believes in one Supreme God and considers reasoning (knowledge or Jnyaana) as the way of knowing God.

  2. 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.

  3. &  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.

  1. 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 followers.

  2. 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 Upanishads.
    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.

  3. 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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 What are the sacred texts of Hinduism?

Summary Answer:
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.


Detailed Answer:
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 religious practices.

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 perspective.

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 Paancharaatra.

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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 Is Hinduism the right name for this religion? How did it get its name?

Summary Answer:

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.

Detailed Answer:

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 Hinduism.

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 Is Hinduism a religion or a way of life?

Summary Answer:
Hinduism is both a religion and way of life, since religion involves beliefs and way of life involves our conduct in living.

Detailed Answer:
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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What is the role of caste in Hinduism?

Summary Answer:
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.

Detailed Answer:

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 authoring Raamaayana. 

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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 What is the place of women in Hinduism?

Summary Answer:
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 creation.

Detailed Answer:

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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Who are swamijis? Why do they wear saffron colored robes? Why do some of them shave their heads?

Summary Answer:
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.

Detailed Answer:

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 manifestation.

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 completely irrelevant.

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 normal householders.

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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What is the place of rituals in Hinduism?

Summary Answer:
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 spiritual elevation. 

Detailed Answer:

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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What is the sacred thread or Yagnyopavita?

Summary Answer:

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.

Detailed Answer:

This is a Vedic Practice of controlling ones thoughts, words and deeds represented by the three strands of the Yagnyopavita.

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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Why is a dot or stripe worn on the forehead?

Summary Answer:
It is just a Hindu symbolism to remind us to use our head and be in control.

Detailed Answer:
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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 For how many years and in what manner are priests trained?

Summary Answer:

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 ceremonies.

Detailed Answer:

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 priests.

Hindu priests are allowed to marry and live life as householders.

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What if any are the differences between the Vedic language (of Sanskrit?) and classical Sanskrit of later times?

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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How do Indians traditionally greet each other? What is the significance of greeting with the term “Namaste” or “Namaskaar” or “Namaskaara” or “Namaskaaram” that is used for praying to God too?

Summary Answer:
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.

Detailed Answer:
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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What is the significance of OM? It seems to be chanted in several places and in many aspects of religious ceremonies?

Summary Answer:
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.


Detailed Answer:
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 SSVT ]

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 (manifested form)

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 Self),
  Aham Brahmaasmi (I am the Ultimate) etc.] 
  M = Maayaa (illusion) – Jagat (perceived world) – Prakriti (manifested form)

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

In Mandukyopanishad:
   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 spiritually.

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Since Hinduism seems to view every moment in life as a spiritual moment, and every activity as a spiritual activity, can you explain what is so spiritual about working and earning a living or being married? 

Summary Answer:
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.

Detailed Answer:
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 needs.

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 liberation.

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 God]!). 

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 Bhiksha.

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 together.

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 hereafter.  

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Why do we offer food, clothes, etc. by pouring them in the fire? Is it not better to give them away to the needy?

Watch out for this answer! It will be posted soon.

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If God is all-powerful and all-merciful, why is there so much suffering in the world?

Summary Answer:
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.

Detailed Answer:
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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Why do we not wear shoes when we come into a temple?

Summary Answer:
Shoes are not clean since they go everywhere. Since a temple is a clean place with pure energies, we leave unclean things outside.

Detailed Answer:
There are a few views offered on this subject:

  1. Shoes go everywhere and can collect unwanted energies. To keep them out of the temple shoes are left outside.

  2. 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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Why are Hindus cremated and not buried?

Summary Answer:
Cremation is hygienic and symbolizes desire to go beyond birth.

Detailed Answer:
Hindu custom of cremation is probably related to:

  1. No further desire for rebirth (reincarnation)

  2. 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 rebirth.

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Is Hinduism monotheistic or polytheistic? How many gods are there in Hinduism? What are their places?

Summary Answer:
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. 

Detailed Answer:
Whether Hinduism is monotheistic or non-theistic (or polytheistic) depends on the school of Hindu philosophy. 

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 spirit. 

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 non-theistic schools.

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 later update.]

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 worship practices.

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 (Stuti).

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 practices.

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Who are the authorities that dictate the rights and wrongs of Hinduism?

Summary Answer:
There are no authorities to decide what is right or wrong. The Vedas are considered the Supreme Truth.  

Detailed Answer:
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 Vedas.

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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 What is Sandhya Vandanam?

Summary Answer:
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.


Detailed Answer:
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 half.

From a Yoga perspective it can be viewed:

  1. As an offering to various constituencies of the spiritual domain for temporal and spiritual well-being – through Arghya and Tarpanam offering;

  2. 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.

  3. 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 Brahman.


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What is the Hindu concept of space? Is it limited or unlimited? In different places, the scriptures speak of one world, three worlds, seven, fourteen or more worlds, and also several million worlds (Aneka Koti Brahmaandas)?

Summary Answer:
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.

Detailed Answer:
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 space. 

Shankara Vedaanta considers Space to be an illusion [Maayaa].

As for the number of worlds, this is the analysis:


  1. 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.


  2. Seven worlds and fourteen worlds is Epic and Puraanic.
    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.

    14-world Samsaara:

    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]
          3) Janarloka
          4) Maharloka
          5) Suvarloka [heaven of Indra]
          6) Bhuvarloka

         7) Bhooloka 
             [only loka where merits & sins can be earned and their effects experienced]

    Seven hells or Lower Worlds: [where sins earned in Bhooloka are expended. One cannot earn any sin in these worlds]:
          8) Atala
          9) Vitala
         10) Sutala
         11) Talaatala
         12) Mahaatala
         13) Rasaatala
         14) Paataala

    One can look upon these either from an Epic/Puraanic or from a meditational standpoint, as explained in the Yogasutras of Patanjali.


  3. 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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What is the Hindu concept of time? Is time without a beginning, is it cyclic? Can you elaborate on the Hindu Calendar?

Summary Answer:
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 Hindu Calendar.


Detailed Answer:
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 by scholars.

Version 1

      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 the latititudes)
     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

  1. Kruta Yuga (also called Satya Yuga) = 4,800 Celestial years = 1.728 million solar years

  2. TretaYuga = 3,600 Celestial years = 1.296 million solar years

  3. Dwaapara Yuga = 2,400 Celestial years = 864,000 solar years

  4. Kaliyuga = 1,200 Celestial Years = 432,000 solar years

1 Manu (or Manvantara – time of Manu) = 71 Mahaayugas
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 solar years

Version 2

    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 begins.

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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What is the significance of the choice of vehicles (Vaahanas) like mouse, bull, lion, garuda etc for different deities?

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 the Vaahanas.


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 Why do we worship animals? Why do some gods have animal bodies or faces? Why do we worship cows?

Summary Answer:
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 different deities. 

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.  

Detailed Answer:
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 animals. 

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 Hindu thinking.)

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. 

                    GEO [LATIN]       = GO [SANSKRIT]  = "EARTH"  

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Are there any food restrictions on Hindus?

Summary Answer:
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 vegetarianism.

Detailed Answer:
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 Buddhism.

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 as well.



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 the dharma.

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.

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?

1.  Sita
2.  Radha
3.  Durga
4.  Lakshmi

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 mount?

1.  a bull
2.  a rat
3.  acrocodile
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

--------------------------------------------------------------Hindu 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 Vishnu's avatars?

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?

1.  Sita
2.  Rama
3.  Shiva
4.  Ganesha

Q9. Which god is called the Grandfather?

1.  Vishnu
2.  Shiva
3.  Rama
4.  Brahma

Q10. Durga, the goddess more powerful than all the gods put together, slayed

1.  Mahisha, the Buffalo Demon
2.  Ganesha
3.  Ravana
4.  Hiranyakashipu



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 (rajo-guna)."

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:

 karmanah sukritasyahuh
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."

The 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 and darkness.

According to the Gita these modes of nature help develop our inner qualities, which ultimately leads to our future destination

sattvat sanjayate jnanam
rajaso lobha eva ca
pramada-mohau tamaso
bhavato ’jnanam eva ca

"From 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."

Only by 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).

The ultimate destination for such people is described in the Gita as follows:

yada sattve pravriddhe tu
pralayam yati deha-bhrit
tadottama-vidam lokan
amalan pratipadyate

rajasi pralayam gatva
karma-sangishu jayate
tatha pralinas tamasi
mudha-yonishu jayate

"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."

And elsewhere in the Gita:

urdhvam gacchanti sattva-stha
madhye tishthanti rajasah
adho gacchanti tamasah

"Those 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 worlds."

Thus the 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 (mukti):

gunan etan atitya trin
dehi deha-samudbhavan
vimukto ’mritam asnute

"When 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."

Mukti is 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.

Now that 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
mudha-yonishu jayate

"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:


kshetra-kshetrajnayor evam
antaram jnana-cakshusha
bhuta-prakriti-moksham ca
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 supreme goal."




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 occasions.

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 are peaceful.

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 to OM
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 good habitation'.


What is the symbolic importance of PURNAKUMBHA ?

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.

And More



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 other three.

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