The Main Tenets of Hinduism

The Basics of Hinduism

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Unlike other well-known religions with well-defined systems and practices, Hinduism lacks any such prescribed system of mandated beliefs and ideas. Hinduism is a religion, but it also a broad way of life for much of India and Nepal, containing a broad spectrum of beliefs and practices, some of which are akin to primitive pantheism, while others represent some very profound metaphysical ideals.

Unlike other religions, which have a specific path to salvation, Hinduism allows and encourages multiple paths to the experience of the divine, and is famously tolerant of other religions, seeing them as merely different paths to the same goal.

This acceptance of variety makes it difficult to identify religious tenets that are specifically Hindu, but here are some basic principles that do identify Hindu belief and practice:

The Four Puruṣārthas

The Puruṣārthas are the four goals or aims of human life. It is thought that human life requires pursuit of all four aims, though individuals may have special talents in one of the Puruṣārthas. They include:

  • Dharma: the ethical, duty-driven manner of living in cooperation with one's fellow human beings. This path includes a comprehensive set of rules for the "right way of living." 
  • Artha: the pursuit of material prosperity through constructive work. For Hindus, Artha includes not only traditional work for daily sustenance, but also the work of government and civic service. 
  • Kama: the pursuit of pleasure and happiness through the exercise of desire and passion. This does not have the connotation of hedonistic pleasure, as it does in some other traditions, but is regarded as one facet of a well-rounded spiritual life. 
  • Mosha: the pursuit of spiritual liberation and salvation. This is the arena of scholarly study and meditation, along with other forms of mysticism. 

Belief in Karma and Rebirth

Like Buddhism, which emerged from Hindu philosophy, Hindu tradition holds that one's current situation and future outcome is the result of action and consequence.

The six major schools of Hinduism hold this belief at different levels of literal adherence, but uniting all of them is the belief that one's current situation has been brought about by previous actions and decisions, and that future circumstances will be the natural outcome of the decisions and actions you make in this moment. Whether karma and rebirth from one lifetime to the next are viewed as literal, deterministic events or psychological representations of living by consequences, Hinduism is not a religion that leans on the idea of divine grace, but on the merits of free-will action. In Hinduism, what you have done determines what you are, and what you do now determines what you will be. 

Samsara and Moksha

Hindus believe that perpetual rebirth is the condition of samsara, and that the ultimate goal of life is moksha, or nirvana--the realization of one's relationship with God, the acheivement of mental peace and detachment from worldly concerns. This realization frees one from samsara and ends the cycle of rebirth and suffering. In some schools of Hinduism, it is thought that moksha is a psychological condition that is achievable on earth, while in other schools, moksha is an other-worldy liberation that occurs after death.

 

God and the Soul

Hinduism has a complicated system of belief in the individual soul, as well as in a universal soul, which can be thought of as a single deity--God. 

Hindus believe that all creatures have a soul, a true self known as ātman. There is also a supreme, universal soul, known as Brahman, which is considered distinct and different than the individual soul. Diffferent schools of Hinduism may worship the supreme being as Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, or Shakti, depending upon the sect. The goal of life is to recognize that one's soul is identical to supreme soul, and that the supreme soul is present everywhere and that all life in connected in oneness.

In Hindu practice, there is a multitude of gods and goddesses that symbolize the one abstract Supreme Being, or Brahman. The most fundamental of Hindu deities are the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.

But many other gods such as Ganesha, Krishna, Rama, Hanuman, and goddesses like Lakshmi, Durga, Kali and Saraswati top the popularity chart with Hindus across the world.

Four Stages of Life and Their Rituals

Hindu belief holds that human life is divided into four stages, and there are defined rites and rituals for each stage from birth till death.

  • The First Ashrama--"Brahmacharya" or the Student Stage
  • The Second Ashrama--Grihastha" or the Householder Stage
  • The Third Ashrama--"Vanaprastha" or the Hermit Stage
  • The Fourth Ashrama--"Sannyasa" or the Wandering Ascetic Stage

In Hinduism, there are a good many rituals that may be practiced at each stage of life, and in a variety of circumstances, both in routine practice at home and in formal celebrations. Devout Hindus perform daily rituals, such as worshiping at dawn after bathing. Vedic rituals and chanting of Vedic hymns are observed on special occasions, such as a Hindu wedding.Other major life-stage events, such as rituals after death, include the yajña and chanting of Vedic mantras.