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Hinduism is essentially an Indian phenomenon. It is the dominant faith of India, practiced by over 80% of the
population. Since religion is a way of life in India, Hinduism forms an integral part of the entire Indian
tradition. Here's a brief discussion on the basics of this universal religion.
It is not easy to define Hinduism, for it is more than a religion in the Western sense.
Hinduism can never be neatly slotted into any particular belief system.
According to historians, the origin of Hinduism dates back to 5000 or more years.
Basic Tenets
Hinduism lacks any unified system of beliefs and ideas.
Two types of sacred writings constitute the Hindu scriptures: heard (sruti) and memorized (smriti).
Gods & Deities
Hinduism believes that there is only one supreme Absolute called Brahman, but it does not advocate the
worship of one particular deity.
The Basics of Hinduism
1. God Exists: One Absolute OM.
One Trinity: Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwara (Shiva) Several divine forms
2. All human beings are divine
3. Unity of existence through love
4. Religious harmony
5. Knowledge of 3 Gs: Ganga (sacred river), Gita (sacred script), Gayatri (sacred mantra)
1. Satya (Truth)
2. Ahimsa (Non-violence)
3. Brahmacharya (Celibacy, non-adultery)
4. Asteya (No desire to possess or steal)
5. Aparighara (Non-corrupt)
6. Shaucha (Cleanliness)
7. Santosh (Contentment)
8. Swadhyaya (Reading of scriptures)
9. Tapas (Austerity, perseverance, penance)
10. Ishwarpranidhan (Regular prayers)
Hinduism Glossary for Introduction to Religion
An individual's soul or self. The ultimate goal in Hinduism is to achieve moksha through the realization that
one's Atman and Brahman are the same thing. This is accomplished through different types of yoga .
A manifestion of a god in an earthly form, usually that of a human or animal. The god Vishnu has two main
avatars: Krishna and Rama.
The section of the Mahabharata in which Krishna reveals himself to Arjuna and in a long theological
discussion describes the main components of karma yoga.
Brahma is the manifestation of Brahman into the world of maya. In opposition to Brahman as the essence of
creation (a spirit), Brahma takes on a form fitting with the natural world. He is often mentioned as an equal
with Vishnu and Shiva.
The power behind and within the cosmos that makes it function and live. Can also be seen as the Ultimate
Reality. Sometimes it is thought of as a god. In the early Vedic religion, this was the focus of worship by the
Brahmins. In classic and modern Hinduism it is rarely worshipped directly. One of the recurring goals in
Hinduism is to understand the link between Brahman-the force behind the cosmos-and the Atman--the soul
of each individual human.
The western term for varna. Castes provide the major divisions of Hindu society.
In Hinduism, Dharma means virtue. In particular, it refers to the duties of a person's caste (varna and jati )
and the idea that it is virtuous always to fulfill those duties willingly and expertly.
A holy teacher. Occasionally, a Brahmin who teaches.
Hatha yoga
The form of yoga devoted only to bodily control. In the West, it is often seen as the only type of yoga and is
simply called "yoga."
Ishvara literally means "Lord of the Universe." It is used to refer to a god who is seen as the personalization
of the Creator, i.e., Brahman. Thus, it can be used of Vishnu or other gods and goddesses when they are
seen as representations of the divine Absolute.
The Sanskrit term meaning "action." It refers to a concept in which the results of one's actions accumulate
over one's life. Upon death, an individual's karma-this store of the results of actions-determines whether one
is reborn in a higher or lower status.
karma yoga *
A discipline of work or "action." The goal is to achieve moksha through the elimination of one's karma
through work, that is, involvement in life and business. Essentially, if a person can work without viewing
the results of their efforts as one of their own, then the results cancel part of their karma rather than adding
to it. One form of karma yoga works as a version of achieve bhakti yoga, in which a person's actions are
seen as a form of love and devotion to a divine being. Another form works as a version of achieve jnana
yoga, in which one becomes detached from the work's results as one enters a deeper experience of their
Atman. For another explanation go here.
A god who is one of the avatars of Vishnu. He plays a key role in the Mahabharata. In the Mahabharata
appears the Bhagavad Gita which is a theological discourse he gives while waiting to go into battle and
describes the basics of karma yoga , jnana yoga , and bhakti yoga .
A sequence of sounds used as a focus of meditation. The most famous mantra is that of "om," which
consists of the three sounds "aa", "oo", "mm". For some examples of mantras and their explanation, go here.
moksha *
Liberation or release from the cyle of death and rebirth, or samsara.
The most famous mantra, used as a meditational device in many forms of yoga. This sound is believed to be
an aspect of the creation of the cosmos.
One of Shiva's wives. She represents erotic and sensual love, the love of courtship and wooing. She is the
mother of Ganesha .
An offering (usually flowers, food, adoration, music, etc.) to a god or goddess.
The cycle of death and rebirth. The transmigration of an individual soul to a new body after death.
The language in which the Vedas and other Hindu sacred texts are written. It is an old Indo-European
language like Greek and Latin. .
One of the two main gods of Hinduism. He is associated with a number of goddesses, the main four are
Parvati, Umma, Durga, and Kali. See sakti .
This refers to the idea of the transmigration of an individual's soul. It is also called samsara or reincarnation.
This is the notion that after death, a person's soul is born-again into another individual (human, animal, etc.).
The upper three castes whose males go through a "re-birth" ceremony when they come-of-age at around 12.
One of Shiva's wives. She represents motherhood, nuturing, and family.
The oldest collection of Hindu sacred texts. They include the Rig-Veda, the Brahmanas, and the
Upanishads. They were written between 1500 and 500 bce.
An adjective refering to the Vedas (as in "Vedic Scriptures"), the people who originally created and used the
Vedas, the period from 1500 to 500 bce during which they were written, or any form of Hinduism or Hindu
teachings that derive from the Vedas.
One of two main gods in Hinduism. He is usually worshiped in the form of one of his avatars, Krishna and
yoga *
In Sanskrit, it literally means "yoke," as in a yoke used to harness oxen. It refers to an organized form of
discipline that leads to a goal. This discipline usually involves practices of meditation, mental concentration,
exercises of the body including both ones of control and asceticism. In Hinduism, this goal is usually that of
moksha, the release of the soul from cycle of death and rebirth (samsara). For this course, four types of yoga
are important: karma, jnana, raja, and bhakti.
A person who practices some form of yoga. Male-yogin, female-yogini.