Fundamental Principles of Hinduism
The beliefs of hindu thought are wide and varied, and have been expounded upon by saints and writers throughout the centuries. The two essays by Swami Vivekananda, Duty to masses and Why we differ, provide tremendous insights into hindu beliefs. Vivekananda was very instrumental in removing the aura of mysticism that had surrounded Hinduism for centuries and bringing the authority of the Vedas to the forefront for the masses. He exhorted Hindus to develop faith instead of superstition and to seek the paths of knowledge and reason. His non-dualistic explanation of hinduism was an endorsement of the Advaita philosophy - man is not just made in the image of God but is God - all is Brahman. Vivekananda also preached that the way to salvation is that one must see God!
The essence of Hinduism can be found in the Bhagavad Gita. The seminal interpretation of the Gita was provided by Shankaracharya and the core principles taught by him include the process of obtaining liberation or moksha by:
- purifying the heart
- developing true detachment
- distinguishing between maya and gyana
- realizing the truth
- obtaining nivritti and, finally, sanyaasa
Personal God(s) and Caste System in Hinduism
The concept of the personal God is fundamental to hinduism and is often misunderstood as polytheism. One explanation is provided in the Bhagavad Gita by Lord Krishna :
For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the wicked and for the establishment of righteous Dharma, I come into being from age to age.Over the ages, these various incarnations of the Godhead gave rise to various sects in hinduism e.g. shaivism (followers of Lord Shiva) and vaishnavism (followers of Lord Krishna).
The concept of the caste system is also explained in the Bhagavad Gita:
The four-fold order was created by Me according to the divisions of quality and work. The emphasis is on guna (aptitude) and karma (function) and not on jaati (birth). The varna or the order to which we belong is independent of sex, birth or breeding. A caste is determined by temperament and vocation - not by birth or heredity.Hence, the origin of the caste system is clarified as one of functional classification - it was never meant to be abused as a system of repression of the so-called "lower" castes by the "higher" castes.
Sacred Texts in Hinduism
Festivals, holidays and ritual form an integral part of hinduism. Every religion needs its mythology in addition to its fundamental truths and philosophies. Most hindu festivals are based on the lunar calendar and celebrate the traditions laid out in mythology via the series of books called the puranas. The cornerstone principles of hinduism are contained in the sacred texts called the vedas (meaning 'knowledge') and the upanisads (meaning 'secret texts'). There are four principal vedas (Rg, Sama, Yajur and Atharva) and several principal upanisads.
Karma and Re-incarnation in Hinduism
The Hindu concept of karma is derived from one of the four purposes of life i.e. kama (pursuit of pleasure), artha (pursuit of propserity), dharma (faith or way of life) and moksha (liberation). The life of the hindu is divided into four stages or ashramas which are perhaps aligned with the attainment of these four purposes:
- Brahmacharya - The life of the student and the pursuit of education
- Grahastha - The life of the householder and the pursuit of family life
- Vanaprastha - The transition from householder to ascetic and the process of detachment from possessions, desires and relations begins in this stage
- Sanyaasa - The final stage of renunciation and the pursuit of penance and meditation. This stage is rarely practised in modern times.
The concept of reincarnation follows naturally from the concept of karma. The hindu belief is that while the physical body may decay and eventually die, the soul of the person cannot be "killed". The karma from past lives is carried by the soul from one birth to another and the purpose of life is to accumulate enough positive karma by following the path of dharma so that one may attain liberation from rebirth, or moksha.
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