Major World Religions Hinduism and Hindu Belief

About the major world religion Hinduism, some of the history, varieties, beliefs and meanings behind the Hindu religious tradition.


The word "Hinduism" is derived from "Hindu," the Old Persian name for India, and it describes the religious as well as the social practices and beliefs that the Indian people have developed over more than 50 centuries.

One of the distinguishing elements of Hinduism is the caste system. Historically, India has 4 major castes or divisions of society, each created from a different part of Brahma, an Infinite Being, who pervades all reality. On top are the Brahmans, who originated from Brahma's face and are the caste of priests and intellectuals. The 2nd caste, the Kshatriyas, were created out of Brahma's arms. They are the rulers and men of war and have the same privileges as the Brahmans. The 3rd group, the Vaisyas, sprang from Brahma's thighs. They are farmers, artisans and merchants. The Sudras were made from his feet and it is their duty to serve the 3 castes above them. Far beneath the 4 castes are the pariahs or "untouchables." Mahatma Gandhi renamed the pariahs Harijans, or "Children of God."

Although a person is bound to his caste for life, he is not bound to it through eternity. Hindus believe that after the individual dies, the soul takes up a new life. Whether it will be better or worse than the previous one depends upon karma, which in Sanskrit means "work" or "action." The doctrine of karma has its counterpart in the Judeo-Christian religions, expressed in the biblical saying "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

Hinduism is rich in sacred scriptures such as:

1. the Vedas, which date back to c. 2500 B.C. and include the Upanishads ("secret doctrine"), which provide the basis for modern philosophic Hinduism; and 2. the Mahabharata, which includes the Bhagavad-Gita, or "Song of the Lord," a dramatic poem which discusses the questions of killing, salvation, and attachment.

Three deities dominate popular Hinduism: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Siva (Shiva) the Destroyer. Other popular gods are Kali, goddess of death, wife of Siva; Krishna, god of love, an incarnation of Vishnu; and Lakshmi, who brings good fortune.

Today there are over 500 million Hindus subscribing to a great number of sects and schools. Of great influence in the West are the various schools of Yoga ("union" in Sanskrit). Based on the Sutras of Patanjali (2nd century B.C.), Yoga has as its goal the freeing of the individual from illusion and achieving union with Brahma.

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