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Hinduism: beliefs about God
Hindus believe that there is one God, Brahman which has many forms and is symbolised by the sacred
symbol Om. Brahman is present in every person as an eternal spirit or soul, called the atman. There are
three principal forms of Brahman. These are expressed in the Trimurti and are 1.Brahma, the creator,
2.Vishnu, the preserver and 3.Shiva, the destroyer.
Hindus believe that sometimes a God will appear on the earth in a living form. Such an appearance is
termed an avatar (incarnation). They believe that God has the ability to take on human form and will
descend to earth at times when there is a decline in human goodness.The main avatars are those of
Vishnu. Vaishnavas (worshippers of Vishnu) normally perceive ten avatars.
Hinduism: good and evil
The law of karma says that every action has consequences. Suffering etc. is not due to God.
Compensation & hardship do not always happen in this lifetime, it may happen in a future rebirth. A
being’s inner spirit is called an atman. After death, it is reborn into another body. This is called samsara.
It is possible to stop samara and liberate oneself to God (moksha).
Hinduism: revelation
Hinduism has a large number of sacred writings, most of which were written in Sanskrit.
There are two types of text:
Sruti: ‘that which is heard’& Smriti: ‘that which is remembered’.
The most sacred and important texts are called Vedas. These are considered as Sruti
and were handed on by rishis (wise men). These are chants, hymns, myths, prayers &
Other lesser important writings are called Smriti – ‘that which is remembered’. The
Smriti scriptures include: the Puranas (which contain well known stories of Hinduism),
the Ramayana (the story of Rama and Sita), and the Mahabarata (the story of the five
Pandava princes and includes the Bhagavad Gita).
All Hindu sacred texts are honoured but they are not read and studied in the same way
as the sacred texts of some other religions
Hinduism and Death
Hindus believe that any effort to find permanent happiness in this life is an illusion (maya). They believe
that the spirit (atman) is permanent & unchangeable. A person's ability to leave samsara depends on
their karma.
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Euthanasia and suicide
Most Hindus would see Euthanasia as wrong and as separating the soul from the body at the wrong
time, others see it more compassionately. Suicide, unless related to missing someone who has passed
away, self-sacrifice or old age is badly viewed.
Death Rites
Most Hindus are cremated as they believe this assists their soul to leave the body quickly. Funerals vary
according to tradition and place. They are usually carried out by a priest and the eldest son of the dead
Rituals include: placing a lamp by the head of the body, prayers and hymns are sung. Pindas (rice balls)
are put in the coffin, water is sprinkled on the body and a mala (wooden beads) may be placed around
the dead person's neck along with garlands of flowers.
In India people often have funerals on the sacred river Ganga. The body is placed on wood, the eldest
son says Vedic prayers and lights the fire. Incense and ghee are poured into the flames. After the
funeral, the ashes are sprinkled on water. A widow or widower wears white and close family mourns for
twelve days. On the thirteenth day of the samskara (reincarnation), there is a Kriya.
Beliefs about Relationships
Hindus believe that kama (sensual pleasure) is one of the four aims of life (dharma,arta, kama &
moksha). Sex is considered a good thing. It is generally expected between married couples. Faithfulness
within marriage is expected and adultery is not approved of. It is considered best to avoid sex at the
brahmacharya stage of life (generally birth to around 25 years). There is no mention of homosexuality in
Hindu scriptures although homosexuality is a taboo subject for many and heterosexuality is seen as the
Hindu sacraments are called samskars and the sacraments at the time of a wedding are called Vivah
Samskar. The samskar marks the start of the second stage of life - setting up a new family unit. Marriage
is seen as an essential duty for men and women.
The priest lights a fire to honour the God Agni and recites mantras in Sanskrit. The groom makes
offerings to the fire and asks that the family be blessed with children. The bride shares this by touching
the groom's shoulder. The end of the bride's sari is tied to her husband's scarf to show that they are
joined together. Hindus do not approve of divorce.
Prejudice and Discrimination
According to the Vedic tradition, Hindus belong to one of four varnas or social groups. The Purusha
Sukta (Hindu text) explains how the four varnas form part of the whole body. The four varnas are:
Brahmins (priests and teachers), Kshatriyas (warriors, rulers, administrators and leaders of
society),Vaishyas (traders and merchants) and Shudras (a variety of jobs, serving the needs of the other
three varnas). The word 'caste' refers to the sub-divisions within each varna. One group of Hindus
consider themselves as being outside the varna system (‘Dalits’ from Sanskrit, meaning 'suppressed').
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Although there is some prejudice and discrimination against them, Hindus are encouraged to treat them
with respect.
Hinduism teaches that men and women are of equal worth but have different roles, responsibilities and
dharma to follow .Throughout history Hindu teachers have always been both male (rishis) and female
Beliefs about Creation and Evolution
There are many different stories about creation in the Hindu scriptures. The sacred sound Aum was
believed to be the first sound at the start of creation. Hindus believe that Brahman (one ultimate reality)
has three functions and are shown by three God's: Shiva (the destroyer), Brahma (the creator) and
Vishnu (the preserver). In one Hindu text (Chandogya Upanishad) creation is described by the breaking
of an egg, in another (Vedas) the universe was said to be built with timber and in the Rig Veda it says
that the universe was created out of parts of the body. There are four classes of Indian society that are
seen to come from this body: the priest (Brahmin) from his mouth, the warrior (Kshatritya) from his
arms, the peasant (Vaishya) from his thighs and the servant (Shudra) from his legs.
The Hindu story of creation is very similar to that of the Big Bang. Vishnu is seen as creator, sustainer,
destroyer and then re-creator of the universe. Most Hindus are not too bothered by the issues raised by
modern science in relation to evolution.
The sanctity of Life
Contraception and abortion
Hindus are not opposed to contraceptives. Hindus believe in the concept of ahimsa (non-violence).
When considering the question of abortion, Hindus would try to choose the action that will do the least
amount of harm.
Hinduism opposes the use or illegal or recreational drugs. In the past however drugs played a part in
worship, in particular the use of Soma.
Hinduism teaches that people should be cared for until they die. Some Hindus would say that a doctor
should not carry out euthanasia as it changes karma. A Hindu who is very old or ill may decide for
themselves that the right time has come for death by choosing to stop eating or drinking. This is
considered as an act of holiness by Hindus.
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Fighting and warfare
Ahimsa means trying to fight injustice and evil but without using physical force. Many Hindus believe
that war is always wrong. However, war is not forbidden in Hinduism, therefore there are different
attitudes towards war. The Laws of Manu tell Hindus about the right ways to behave during war. The
Bhagavad Gita expresses the Hindu attitude to war and peace though the terrible dilemma faced by
Arjuna. In this story, Krishna fights for peace.
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