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An Introduction to Hinduism
Relevant texts we will study:
The Vedas
The Upanishads
The Mahabharata (including the Bhagavad Gita)
What is Hinduism?
• Unlike other major world
– It does not have one
– It does not have a universal
moral code
– It does not have a central
authority figure
• It is a religion that
embraces a diversity of
• 3rd largest religion in the
• Approximately 14% of the
world’s population
• More than 900 million
Interactive World Religions Pie Chart:
Origin - India
Earliest versions can be traced to 5500 to 2600 B.C.E.
Concept of God
• The TRUTH is one
(sometimes referred to as
• Hindu deities represent
various perceptions of
one god
• “The truth is one; sages
call it by different names.”
 monotheistic or polytheistic??
The Hindu Trinity
the Creator
the Preserver
*It is believed that all great
people are avatars
(reincarnations) of Vishnu
the Destroyer
Gods can exist in nature (animals, trees,
etc.) and in people.
• Temples, homes, or
• Individual offerings,
rather than
• Various festivals and
celebrations, rather
than holy days
The Caste System
“A social structure in which classes are determined by heredity.”
• In ancient India, people were divided into four social
classes, or castes:
Brahmins  priests
Ksatriyas  warriors
Vaisyas  merchants, craftsmen, and other skilled workers
Sudras  laborers, servants, and other unskilled workers
• Each caste had to live by a different set of rules dealing
with careers, marriage, diet, etc.
• The caste system was in place in India until about 1950
when caste-based discrimination was outlawed.
• Some aspects of the caste system still survive in modern
India due to social perceptions.
Sacred Texts of Hinduism
The Vedas  Collection of over 1000 sacred hymns
• 4 total collections of Hymns:
Rig Veda
Sama Veda
Yajur Veda
Atharva Veda
• “The Song of Purusha” is a hymn from the Rig Vedas
that tells the Hindu creation story; as you read,
consider how the process of creation provides divine
justification for the Indian Caste System.
• Just like the other ancient texts we have read this
quarter, the hymns were passed on orally for many
generations before they were written down.
Sacred Texts of Hinduism
The Upanishads  Concerned with discovering
the true identity of man
• Inner self - the true identity of every being in the universe
– The inner self is nothing less than Brahman, so it does not grow
old, suffer pain, sorrow, or die
• External self – what can be observed by our senses
– Subject to time and change, suffering, sorrow, decay, and death
• Hindus believe that lives are
not determined by chance;
your actions in your past life
determine your position in
your next life.
• When you die, the body dies,
but not the soul. The soul
passes from one body to
another after death like
someone changing clothes.
• The cycle of birth and rebirth
is known as samsara.
• One’s actions in
performing the duties,
obligations and
responsibilities in
everyday life.
• If you fulfill your
dharma righteously, you
will be reincarnated into
a higher life form or
caste in the next life.
• If you do good deeds in
this life, you will be born
into a higher caste in the
next life or something
good may happen to you
later in this life.
• The opposite is also
true—if something bad
happens to you in this
life, it can be attributed to
bad karma either earlier
in life or in a previous life.
Put it all together…
• The positive and negative
karma one accumulates as a
result of how well one
fulfills his or her dharma is
weighed to determine one’s
reincarnation status.
– A person led an evil life → he
may be reborn as an animal
as a punishment
– A person performed good
deeds → he may be rewarded
by being reborn as someone
from a higher caste
The Purpose of Existence
• Your soul must pass from one life
form to another before it
becomes ONE with Brahman—the
Supreme Being.
• Once one makes it to the Brahmin
caste, and earns good karma
through the execution of his/her
dharma, the individual stands a
good chance of reuniting with the
Supreme Being in the next life.
• Achievement of this ultimate
spiritual goal is moksha