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Hinduism is the world's third
largest religion, with more than a billion adherents. The vast majority of
Hindus, approximately 940 million, live in India. Other countries with large
Hindu populations include Nepal, Bangladesh, Mauritius and the island of Bali.
What is Hinduism?
A. Summary Answer:
Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma is the world’s oldest religion. It is the native
religion of India. It predates recorded history and has no human founder.
Vedic records dating back 6,000 to 10,000 years show that even in that time
period, Hinduism was considered an ancient religion. Today, there are almost
1 billion Hindus spread around the world. That makes one out of every sixth
person in the world a Hindu. Its modes of worship are complex and range from
grand festivals such as the Kumbhmelă (a religious gathering of over 45
million people) to the simple darshan (devotional seeing) of home shrines.
Its places of worship include millions of ancient and contemporary shrines
and mandirs. Hinduism recognizes the Vedas as the most ancient and
authoritative body of religious literature. They are the foundational
scriptures common to all branches of Hinduism.
Hinduism: Unity in Diversity
There are two aspects of Hinduism. One is easily seen in the outward
expression of the faith – the ritual worship, customs and traditions and
codes of social conduct – the practices of Hinduism. The other aspect of
Hinduism is inward – faith itself – the inner world of belief. To an
observer it would appear that there is a bewildering array of often
contradictory beliefs embraced by the various branches of Hinduism. It is
because Hinduism encompasses such a wide range of beliefs and practices that
people find it difficult to cast it into a single mold. Yet, within this
amazing diversity of thought and behavior, there are common threads that
unify the faithful underneath the umbrella of Hinduism.
Lord Krishna ,
Festivals | Religion thoughts
Common Beliefs of Hinduism
Hinduism acknowledges the existence of many deities but believes in only one
Supreme God who is all-pervasive and transcendent. Hinduism states that God
manifests (avatăr) on earth for the salvation of infinite souls and is
always present through the murtis, consecrated images of God. Hinduism
teaches that this universe along with infinite other universes undergoes
endless cycles of creation, preservation, and dissolution by this Supreme
Regarding the Ătma (soul)
Hindus believe that all living entities have a soul, or ătma. Each is
eternal – it was never created and will never perish. The ătmă is
characterized as unchanging truth, consciousness and bliss (Satchitanand).
Moreover, each has the potential to attain God.
Hinduism propounds the law of karma, cause and effect, wherein the fruits on
an individual’s thoughts, words, and deeds are given by God. Hinduism
teaches that the ătmă casts off old bodies and is given new ones based on it
karmas. In this way the ătmă passes through infinite cycles of birth and
death (reincarnation) until it realizes God and attains moksha. Hindus
believe that one requires a spiritually enlightened and God-realized guru to
Common Practices in Hinduism
These common beliefs of Hinduism manifest in several common practices. All
branches of Hinduism emphasize the need for a moral and ethical life.
Hinduism upholds the eternal values and ideals of Satya (Truth), Dayă
(Compassion), Ahinsă (Non-violence), and Brahmachărya (Celibacy). Remaining
faithful to these values and other scriptural injunctions, the Hindu always
tries to maintain a balance in life among the four endeavors of Dharma,
Artha, Kăm, and Moksha.
- Dharma – to live righteously, in
accordance with scriptural commands - purity of diet, thought, and social
- Artha – to accumulate earnings for
- Kăm– (1) to use one’s honest
earnings for the fulfillment of one’s wishes
(2) and for a man to only keep one wife and regard other women as a mother,
sister, or a daughter; and for a woman to only keep one husband and regard
other men as a father, brother, or son.
- Moksha – to use the previous three
endeavors to attain salvation.
Thus, the Hindu system of beliefs provides
guidance for both the spiritual and material realm.
Who is a Hindu?
A. Summary Answer:
A Hindu is a follower of Hinduism, the native religion of the people of India.
A Hindu accepts the authority of Vedic scriptures and follows the common
practices of Hinduism. A Hindu is inclined to revere the divine in every
manifestation and is tolerant of the peaceful practices of other faiths.
The word “Hindu” was originally coined by the ancient Persians to describe the
people living east of the “Sindhu”, or Indus River. The term spread westward,
and eventually it became popularized throughout the world. It was only with the
invasion of India, first by the Muslims and then by the British that the term
“Hindu” came into use in India. Prior to that, the practitioners of the native
religion of India called their religion, ‘Sanătan Dharma’ – the Eternal
Religion. It was known as eternal, because the Truths revealed by it are true
today, were true before this universe existed, and will be true even after the
destruction of the universe.
What is unique about the Indian Calendar?
A. The modern western calendar that we are
accustomed to is based on the sun in which a year (365 days, 5 hours, 48
minutes, and 46 seconds) is the time required for the earth to complete one
orbit around the sun. This solar year is composed of 12 arbitrarily assigned
months which have either 30 or 31 days, with the exception of February.
The Indian calendar is based on both the sun and the moon. The Indian calendar
uses the solar year but divides it into 12 lunar months. They are listed in
order from beginning to end: Kărtik, Măghshar, Posh, Măgh (Mahă), Fălgun,
Chaitra, Vaishăk, Jeth, Ashădh, Shrăvan, Bhădarvo, and Ăso. A lunar month is the
time required for the moon to orbit once around the earth and pass through its
complete cycle of phases. These months are formulated not arbitrarily, but in
accordance with the successive entrances of the sun into the 12 răshis, the 12
constellations of the zodiac marking the path of the sun.
A lunar month is precisely 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 3 seconds long.
Twelve such months make up a lunar year of 354 days, 8 hours, 48 minutes, and 36
seconds. To ensure that the corresponding seasons according to the lunar months
coincide with those of the solar year, an extra month is inserted every 30
months (approximately every 2˝ years) because 62 lunar months are equal to 60
solar months. As a result of the adjustment, the seasons and festivals retain
their general position relative to the solar year.
Each lunar month is divided into two pakshas (two parts) – the sud or shukla
paksh (the bright half of the month when the moon waxes from a new moon to a
full moon) and the vad or krishna paksh (the dark half of the month when the
moon wanes from a full moon to a new moon). Each paksha is divided into 15
tithis (lunar days) which follow the names of Sanskrit numerical system.
The era that is currently used in the Indian calendar is the Vikram Samvat Era,
which began in 57 BCE when King Vikram drove off a Greek invasion of the Malwa
region and came to the throne. Thus, we have the following conversion to the
Indian year. If the western calendar date falls between Kartik sud 1 (the
beginning of the Indian Year) and December 31st (the end of the western calendar
year), then 57 years should be subtracted from the Indian year to make the
conversion. If the western calendar date falls between January 1st (the
beginning of the western year) and Aso vad 30 (the end of the Indian year), then
only 56 years should be subtracted to make the conversion.
What are the seasons of the Indian
A. In the Indian calendar, the 12 lunar
months of a solar year are divided into six rutus (seasons), each comprising of
approximately two months. Since the seasons are solar based, each of the six
seasons – Sharad (late monsoon), Hemant (early winter), Shishir (winter), Vasant
(spring), Grishma (summer) and Varshă (monsoon) commence around the 21st of each
even month of the Western calendar.
A. Summary Answer:
Ahinsă is not just non-violence. It also encompasses respect and
consideration for life and peaceful, harmonious living.
The Concept of Ahinsă
Ahinsă is the feeling that attempts to reduce harm to all living creatures.
The concept of Ahinsă is meant to be practiced by:
thought - not having thoughts of ill-will
word - not using speech to slander or
deed - not performing violent physical
In renowned Hindu scriptures such as the
Mahăbhărat (3-207-7), the Văsudev Măhătmya (20/21), and the Padma Purăn
(1.31.27), Ahinsă is referred to as the highest virtue of life: Ahinsă
paramo dharma. Bhagwăn Swăminărayan has referred to the practice of Ahinsă
throughout His Shikshăpatri - the code of conduct for devotees:
“All scriptures advocate Ahinsă as the
highest dharma.”(Verse 12)
“My devotees should not harm any living
being. They should not intentionally harm even small insects.” (Verse
“Even for performing yagnas (ceremonial and
divine sacrifices) to please deities or ancestors, no harm should be
inflicted on any living being.” (Verse 12)
“Even for acquiring women, wealth or a
kingdom, one should never, in any way, harm or kill any person.” (Verse
Vegetarianism: An Application of Ahinsă
A practical application of Ahinsă seen in Hinduism is vegetarianism - as it
fosters the sentiment of respect for other living creatures. The most ancient
Hindu scriptures curbed the practice of killing animals by imposing strict
ritualistic regulations which are very difficult to ordinarily meet. Those who
were following the spiritual path and wanted to attain God were prohibited
altogether from killing animals and consuming animal flesh because such
consumption hinders spiritual progress. Hindu scriptures say that killing
animals and consuming their flesh leads to violence in our thoughts and
behavior. It spoils one’s character and obstructs one’s acquisition of noble
Today, some people feel that because they are not actually killing the animal
themselves, eating the flesh and other body parts of a dead animal does not
violate the code of Ahinsă. However, Hindus consider the consumption of dead
animal flesh to be a barbaric practice. The Văsudev Măhătmya and other Hindu
scriptures state that one who consumes animal flesh, who sells animal flesh, or
who prepares animal flesh – all of these people accrue the same sin as the
person who slaughters the animal. This is similar to the Western idea that the
murderer and the accessory to the murder are both guilty of the killing.
Some people argue that God has given us the ability to kill animals and digest
animal flesh; therefore God must have wanted us to eat animals. One could easily
respond that God has given us the intelligence and ability to kill humans and
digest human flesh, so in that belief system, did God give us this ability
because he wanted us to eat human flesh? The flaw in this argument becomes clear
here. These people have made the grave error of confusing ability and civility,
or ethics. Men may have the ability to kill animals and eat animal flesh, but
that does not make it right. Humans have the ability to do some very bad things.
But civilization, ethics, morality, and dharma are all meant to restrain man
from exercising his full barbaric, animalistic capability and instead, to
elevate him from this animalistic condition to the plane of humanity and even
higher to the plane of spirituality. It is with this intent of elevating mankind
from just a human being to a spiritual being that Hinduism has propagated the
value of Ahinsă and its corollary vegetarianism.
How does the practice of self-defense fit into the concept
A. Ahinsă is not just non-violence or not
resorting to arms, but it is also the feeling that tries to reduce harm to all
living creatures. Sometimes, force or violence may in fact be necessary to
prevent harm. Suppose a train is heading towards a child who is standing in the
middle of railroad tracks. We would be inclined to push the child out of the way
to save his or her life. Suppose that a wild animal is running ferociously to
attack a group of tourists. The animal may need to be wounded to prevent harm to
numerous people. Ahinsă recognizes the right to defend one’s self, family,
community, and country through the most feasible and appropriate, yet least
violent, means necessary. However, defending oneself should never be used to
justify violence that is not provoked or warranted. One should be careful that
defending one’s self does not become a hidden form of aggression.
What is the Ătmă?
A. The ătmă is the soul. It is the
individual self, the conscious spirit, the knower, the enjoyer and the doer of
actions. There are innumerable ătmăs, fundamentally the same, yet each distinct
entities. The ătmă is eternal. It was not created at anytime by anybody nor will
it ever perish. Weapons cannot cut it, nor can fire burn it; water cannot wet
it, nor can wind dry it. Each ătmă pervades the whole organism, and is different
from the three bodies – gross (sthul sharir – physical body), subtle (sukshma –
mental body), and causal (kăran sharir – accumulation of impressions from past
karmas). Yet, it is bound by worldly desires that are formed according to its
karma. Though conditioned by măyă, the ătmă can be eternally released from măyă
by the grace of a God-realized guru or God.
What is Karma?
A. Summary Answer:
Karma is the law of action and reaction (cause and effect) applied to life.
The ătmă reaps fruits, good or bad, according to its past and present
actions; these fruits are experienced either in this life or in future
lives. God is the giver of the fruits of all living beings’ actions.
There are three types of karmas – sanchit, prărabdha, and kriyamăn.
Sanchit karmas – the stock of karmas, or
accumulation of past good and bad actions.
Prărabdha karmas – are the portion of
sanchit karmas used up to create the present physical body and the
experiences we are to encounter in this life.
Kriyamăn karmas – the new actions we
perform each day which shape our future experiences of pain and joy.
Karma helps explain the disparities that occur
in the human population such as: prosperity or poverty, happiness or misery,
good health, illness, or disability. Behind every individual’s existence
there partly lies his own past deeds, which are directly responsible for
many of the events during his lifespan, be it painful or pleasant. We are
what we are because of our deeds and actions.
One may ask: Why do some sinful people seem
happy and why do some righteous people experience misery? To understand
this, consider the analogy of a large storage vessel for grains. As long as
the sacks of good grains are emptied in the vessel, there will be no
problems. One will get good grains as one removes them from an outlet at the
bottom of the vessel each day. But, when a sack of bad grains is emptied
into the container, one eventually comes across it after the layers of good
grains have been exhausted. One reaps the benefits of the layers of past
good actions until the bad layers arrive. So, until then, the person may
seem to live in comfort and happiness, but he has to eventually bear the
consequences of his bad actions. There is no correlation, however, between
the order that the karmas were performed and the order in which one receives
the fruits of those karmas. Thus, although it is possible for one to receive
the fruits of one’s karmas in the order in which those karmas were
performed, as implied in the aforementioned analogy, this is not always the
case. One may receive the fruits of karmas independent of the order in which
the karmas were performed.
Karma is not to be confused as the giver of
the fruits of our actions. In His Vachanămrut, Bhagwăn Swăminărayan says,
“Just as when seeds which are planted in the
earth sprout upwards after coming into contact with rainwater, similarly, during
the period of creation, the jivas which had resided within măyă together with
their kăran sharir (causal body), attain various types of bodies according to
their individual karmas by the will of God, the giver of the fruits of karmas.”
So, in fact, God is the giver of the fruits of our actions. One might think that
God is cruel when He dispenses the fruits of bad actions. But, God is impartial
towards all. The Brahma Sutras by Ved Vyăs say, “God is not biased in giving
happiness and misery to anyone but gives the fruits of one’s karmas.” (2-1-34)
Not only does God give the fruits of one’s
karmas, but earning the grace of God or His realized sădhu can destroy the
harmful karmas of one’s past. Many stories from our scriptures show this to be
true. Bhagwăn Swăminărayan also says in the Vachanămrut Gadhadă I-58 that if a
God-realized Sădhu becomes pleased upon a person, then regardless of how
malicious his karmas may be, they are all destroyed. The blessings of that great
sădhu could make a beggar into a king, could transform a bad fate into a
favorable destiny, and could dissolve even the most disastrous misfortune.
Accepting and understanding that our actions
have causes and effects stops us from performing unrighteous actions for which
we would have to suffer from the further accumulation and consequences of
What is Reincarnation?
Reincarnation is the phenomenon where the immortal soul is continuously born
and reborn in any one of 8,400,000 life-forms until it attains moksha.
The ătmă is characterized by unchanging truth, consciousness, and bliss. The
ătmă is formless and has always been bound by a kăran sharir (causal body).
This causal body is not a body in the physical sense. It is simply an
accumulation of the sanskărs (impressions of past karmas). The pure ătmă
together with this kăran sharir is known as the jiva.
Because the jiva is formless in nature, without a physical and subtle body,
it is unable to enjoy or suffer the fruits of its karmas, nor can it
endeavor to attain God. So, out of compassion, God grants the formless jiva
a physical and subtle body according to its karmas. Then, just as we cast
off old clothes for new, the jiva casts off its old body for a new one –
given to it by God according to its karmas. Hindu scriptures explain that
the jiva attains the bodies of 8.4 million life forms in rotation and in
them, experiences happiness and misery according to its karmas. It is only
possible to attain ultimate liberation through the human body. In the
Vachanămrut [Bhugol-Khagol], while explaining the importance of this rare
and priceless human birth, Bhagwan Swaminarayan says,
A jiva squanders its human body, which it
receives after 35,000,000 prăkrut-pralays (i.e. 10,886,400,000,000,000,000,000
human years), for the sake of vain worldly pleasures, and by the refuge of a
false guru. Consequently, it has to suffer the torments of Yam and the agonies
of the pits of narak. Moreover, it receives another human birth in a place where
liberation is attainable only after passing through the sufferings of the cycle
of 8.4 million life forms, i.e. after another 35,000,000 prăkrut-pralays. This
is the interval before one receives a human birth again.
Therefore, O brother, having understood this today, and having sought the refuge
of the Sadguru Sant – the granter of liberation – and having kept your body,
indriyas and antahkaran in accordance with his wish, strive for the benefit of
your ătmă and reach the abode of God. If you do not realise this fact today and
waste this human body, which is instrumental in attaining liberation, you will
have to wait for the aforementioned time before you receive another chance like
this. Only after such suffering, and only at the end of that interval will you
receive another opportunity to attain liberation, and that too if you strive for
it. If you do not, you will not attain liberation. This is a fundamental
principle. The wise should ponder over this.
One with exceptionally good karmas, having
attained some form of contact with God or the God-realized S ădhu, maybe
released from having to undertake birth within the cycle of 8.4 million life
forms. Instead, he would continue to take human births until, offering devotion
to God, he earns the pleasure of God or the God-realised Sădhu and attains
What is Moksha?
A. Summary Answer:
Moksha is ultimate liberation. This is the goal of human life. Moksha is the
liberation of the soul from the cycles of birth and death; thereafter, it
remains eternally in the service of God in His abode.
Moksha is when the causal body is destroyed and the pure ătmă achieves
everlasting bliss in the worship of God. The word causal body implies that it is
the cause of the jiva having to undertake a physical body and bear out its
destiny in accordance to its karmas. It is only through the grace of God or the
God-enlightened Sădhu (guru) that one’s kăran sharir is dissolved and moksha is
achieved. Penance, austerities, yoga, yagnas (ceremonial sacrifices), donations,
and other pious actions do not directly give moksha. The fruit of doing these
pious deeds is the contact and association with God and the God-enlightened S
ădhu. Once such association with God and the God-enlightened Sădhu has been
achieved, understanding their true form, following their commands, and imbibing
dharma, gnăn, vairăgya, and bhakti earns the jiva their grace and thus
When an ătmă achieves moksha, God grants it a
divine body. With this divine body it resides in the abode of God with infinite
other liberated souls. Here it enjoys everlasting bliss in worshipping God. The
happiness from infinite universes put together pales into insignificance in
front of the bliss of God experienced by these liberated souls. In His divine
abode, God grants the ătmă powers and a form that is similar to His own. Yet,
the ătmă is distinct from God and forever retains a relationship of servitude
towards God. In fact, such powers bear no attraction to these liberated souls
because their experience of worshipping God brings infinite times more bliss
than the exercise of any powers
Why are there so many Gods in
A. Summary Answer:
Hinduism is not a polytheistic religion. For all Hindus, there is only one
The ancient seers of India recognized that all of God’s creation does not just
center around man, but that man shares the universe with numerous life forms.
Some life forms have less powers and abilities than humans while others have
more. God grants some of these various higher beings cosmic powers and assigns
them the responsibilities of running the “machinery of the universe.” These
higher beings are also known as devtăs, devăs or gods. While Hindus respect
these gods to be higher than humans, and even propitiate them in times of need,
Hindus also readily acknowledge that these gods are clearly subservient to and
have their origin and sustenance in one Supreme God. Hindus are thus
monotheists, worshippers of one Supreme God, in every sense of the word.
Historically, many groups have been unwilling or
unable to understand the true position and function of the various gods within
Hinduism. Consequently, out of misunderstanding or prejudice, they have
incorrectly labeled Hinduism as polytheistic in the sense of the ancient Roman
or Greek pantheon. However, this is incorrect. Just as other religions consider
themselves monotheistic while still accepting the existence of “angels” and
other superhuman divinities, Hinduism should be considered monotheistic in the
( Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar
Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) is a socio-spiritual Hindu organization
with its roots in the Vedas. It was revealed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830)
in the late 18th century and established in 1907 by Shastriji Maharaj
(1865-1951). Founded on the pillars of practical spirituality, the BAPS reaches
out far and wide to address the spiritual, moral and social challenges and
issues we face in our world. Its strength lies in the purity of its nature and
purpose. BAPS strives to care for the world by caring for societies, families
and individuals. This is done by mass motivation and individual attention,
through elevating projects for all, irrespective of class, creed, colour or
country. Its universal work through a worldwide network of over 3,300 centers
has received many national and international awards and affiliation with the
United Nations. Today, a million or more Swaminarayan followers begin their day
with puja and meditation, lead upright, honest lives and donate regular hours in
serving others. No Alcohol, No Addictions, No Adultery, No Meat, No Impurity of
body and mind are their five lifetime vows. Such pure morality and spirituality
forms the foundation of the humanitarian services performed by BAPS.
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