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What is Hinduism?

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Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma

If you have ever heard of yoga, meditation, vegetarianism, karma, reincarnation, kundalini, chakra, mantra, shakti, shanti and Om, for example, you have, to one degree or another, been exposed to the oldest of the major religions known as Sanatan Dharma (otherwise known as Hinduism).  If you have ever heard of, or met, a Pandit, Yogi, Yogini, Sadhu, Swami or Guru, you have been introduced to a priest or spiritual teacher of Sanatan Dharma/Hinduism.

~Sanatan Dharma is a Sanskrit word meaning "Eternal Truth/Teachings/Tradition." Just like the word "Namaste" which indicates the spiritual nature within all, Sanatan Dharma is the recognition of the spiritual essence of life and its infinite expressions. The Eternal Truth is also about many common-sense universal principles that make-up the spiritual lifestyle that helps one to uncover the Divine that flows through all things.

~The words Hindu and Hinduism came from the usage of the term Sindhu. "Outsiders" who encountered “Sanatanists” living near the Sindhu river in the western portion of Bharat (the original and still used Sanskrit name for India) referred to them as "Sindhus" and their unique form of worship as "Sindhuism." Though there was a Sindhu river, Sindhu is actually a generic term for river, and many believe this term was used in a metaphorical sense implying the river or spirituality that flows through all thing–in other words, Sanatan Dharma. With this understanding, the terms Sanatan Dharma and Hinduism become interchangeable with an identical meaning.

~It is very important to understand that, though is was first in Bharat/India that Sanatan Dharma/Hinduism was encountered, Hinduism is not confined to just a geographical location and certainly not simply to an ethnic group. Just as there are Christians, for example, who are not from the Middle East, not Hebrew and do not speak Aramaic, there are Hindus of all races and nationalities. And, just as anyone can become a Christian, anyone can become a Hindu.

~Sanatan Dharma/Hinduism is considered to be the oldest religion that is still adhered to by millions around the world. No one knows how old Sanatan Dharma is, and there is of course no one founder. Sanatan Dharma has also "given birth" to several other major religions; i.e., Buddhism, the Jain and Sikh religions. Sanatan Dharma/Hinduism is, of course, the religion of all aspects of (classical) yoga–though yogic spiritual disciplines are also taught by the Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs.

~First, we recognize the difference between belief and faith. A belief is something that may or may not be true. Faith is assurance or a guarantee. Yes, faith is very often used to just mean "accept it, "therefore these distinctions are very important to understand. For example, for a long time it was believed that the earth was flat, now we have the assurance or faith in a round world. Obviously, the key to faith is experience. This is central to Hinduism. While it is certainly fine to have beliefs as long as one is "working" on them and testing their truth or untruth. However, each one is encouraged to develop a solid faith grounded in experience.

~The Sanskrit for the word "faith" is Visvas which means "to breath easy" or "to let go." In other words, after a thorough testing of one's beliefs when one arrives at the relaxed state of faith or assurance. For example, one may have heard of the belief in Karma, but when one begins to experience the effects of this natural law one develops a solid faith in the law of Karma. It is in this spirit that beliefs that turn out to be true and the word faith can be used with wisdom. Of course, we always want to avoid blind beliefs–merely "believing" in something (or someone) simply because one is asked (or perhaps forced) to believe. With these thoughts in mind, consider the following beliefs/faiths of Hinduism:

  • Tat Tvam Asi~Thou Art That. "That" is the soul–the essential nature of everyone. This is the foremost belief of Hinduism and the inherent meaning of NAMASTE.

  • Satchidananda~ This Sanskrit word defines what the soul is; i.e., Truth (Sat) / Consciousness(Chid) / Bliss(Ananda)–also, Love(Ananda) / Light/Energy(Chid).

  • Yoga~ The process by which one experiences the reality of the soul. All Hindus, to one degree or another, live a spiritual/religious lifestyle following the various aspects of (Classical) Yoga; i.e., Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga.

  • Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti (One Truth; Many Names and Forms) ~ The realization that the spirit assumes infinite forms.

  • Brahman & Ishvara~ Impersonal & Personal aspects of Spiritual-Reality

  • Advaita & Divaita~ Spiritual-Reality is non-dual (absolute) and dual (relative) or "One and Many." (Therefore, Hinduism does not claim to be an only way but rather respects all sincere religious paths.)

  • Karma~ The natural law of cause and effect. (Do good, reap good. This is good Karma.)

  • Reincarnation~ The natural law of changing form/body. (This is happening all the time.)

  • Dharma~ The natural laws of duty/tradition. (For example, Rita Dharma are the regular "duties" of nature–"sunrise/sunset," to name one.)

  • Puja/Worship~ The fact that everyone will at some point seek/pray to some form or aspect of spiritual reality.

  • Vedas~ The original scripture of Sanatan Dharma/Hinduism. (Hindus look to many scriptures for guidance and inspiration.)


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Last updated: 08/15/08

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