Six Surprising Facts About Hinduism You Must Know

Woman with lit earthen lamp at Diwali festival.
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Hinduism is a unique faith, and not really a religion at all--at least not in the same way as other religions.  To be precise, Hinduism is a way of life, a dharma. Dharma does not mean religion, but rather it is the law that governs all action. Thus, contrary to popular perception, Hinduism is not a religion in the traditional sense of the term. Out of this mistaken idea has come most of the misconceptions about Hinduism.

The following six facts will set the record straight. 

1. 'Hinduism' is Not a Term Used in the Scriptures

Words like Hindu or Hinduism are anachronisms--convenient terms coined to suit various needs at different points in history. These terms do not exist in the natural Indian cultural lexicon, and nowhere in the scriptures is there any reference to 'Hindu' or 'Hinduism.'

2. Hinduism is a Culture More than a Religion

Hinduism does not have anyone founder and it does not have a Bible or a Koran to which controversies can be referred for resolution. Consequently, it does not require its adherents to accept any one idea. It is thus cultural, not creedal, with a history contemporaneous with the people with which it is associated.

3. Hinduism Encompasses Much More than Spirituality

Writings we now categorize as Hindu scriptures include not just books relating to spirituality, but also secular pursuits such as science, medicine, and engineering.

This is another reason why Hinduism defies classification as a religion per se. Further, it cannot be claimed to be essentially a school of metaphysics. Nor can it be described as 'otherworldly.' In fact, one could almost equate Hinduism with broad human civilization itself as it now exists

4. Hinduism is the Dominant Faith of the Indian Subcontinent

The Aryan Invasion Theory, once popular, has now been largely discredited.

It cannot be assumed that Hinduism was the pagan faith of invaders belonging to a race called Aryans who imposed it on the Indian subcontinent. Rather, it was the common metafaith of people of various races, including Harappans. 

5. Hinduism is Much Older than We Believe

Evidence that Hinduism must have existed even circa 10000 BCE. is available--the importance attached to the river Saraswati and the numerous references to it in the Vedas indicates that the Rig Veda was being composed well before 6500 BCE. The first vernal equinox recorded in the Rig Veda is that of the star Ashwini, which is now known to have occurred around 10000 BCE. Subhash Kak, a computer engineer and a reputed Indologist, 'decoded' the Rig Veda and found many advanced astronomical concepts within it.

The technological sophistication required to even anticipate such concepts is unlikely to have been acquired by a nomadic people, as the Invasionists would like us to believe. In his book Gods, Sages and Kings, David Frawley provide compelling evidence to substantiate this claim.

6. Hinduism is Not Really Polytheistic

Many believe that multiplicity of deities makes Hinduism polytheistic. Such a belief is nothing short of mistaking the wood for the tree.

The bewildering diversity of Hindu belief--theistic, atheistic and agnostic --rests on a solid unity. "Ekam sath, Vipraah bahudhaa vadanti," says the Rig Veda: The Truth (God, Brahman, etc) is one, scholars simply call it by various names.

What the multiplicity of deities does indicate is Hinduism's spiritual hospitality, as evidenced by two characteristically Hindu doctrines: The Doctrine of Spiritual Competence (Adhikaara) and the Doctrine of The Chosen Deity (Ishhta Devata).

The doctrine of spiritual competence requires that the spiritual practices prescribed to a person should correspond to his or her spiritual competence. The doctrine of the chosen deity gives a person the freedom to choose (or invent) a form of Brahman that satisfies his spiritual cravings and to make it the object of his worship.

It is notable that both doctrines are consistent with Hinduism's assertion that the unchanging reality is present in everything, even the transient.