Introduction to Hinduism – World’s Third Largest Religion
Hinduism is the third largest religion worldwide with one billion adherents. Over 900 million followers of Hinduism live on the Indian subcontinent. The roots of Hinduism can be traced back to the Vedic traditions of ancient India several thousand years before the birth of Christ, making Hinduism the world’s oldest religion. Hinduism does not require allegiance to a particular creed. The tolerance of difference along with openness to a variety of beliefs makes Hinduism a religious traditions rather than a dogmatic set of beliefs frequently associated with the western idea of a religion.
Called the Santana Dharma or ‘eternal religion,’ most forms of Hinduism recognize a single deity. Other gods or goddesses in the Hindu pantheon are manifestations of this Supreme Being. Each person possesses a soul or atman capable of unity with the Supreme Being. While urban Hindus worship either Vishnu or Shiva depending on their branch of Hinduism, most rural Hindus worship their own village goddess or an earth goddess who has power over fertility and disease, thus life and death. Some of the other popular deities include Lord Ganesha, Lord Krishna, God Rama, the latter two being reincarnations of Vishnu and Goddesses Laxmi and Durga.
Among Hindu beliefs there are many themes. Prominent themes include Dharma (ethics or duties), Samsara (the cycle of birth, death, rebirth), Karma (action and reaction), Moksha (escape from Samsara), and the Yogas (paths or practices for living.) In learning about these themes a follower learns and accepts the goals of human life which are righteousness, wealth, pleasure, and achieving freedom from suffering.
Sacred texts of Hinduism are called the Vedas. Original oral, the Vedas were composed in melodic verse making memorization easier. These scriptures give guidance for the soul (atman) on its journey and the doctrine of karma or the sum of one’s actions.
A focus of Hinduism is Moksha or escape from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (Samsara). Through kind and generous acts in one life the path to rebirth in a better life is attained. Hindus also practice meditation with Yoga being the most common. Daily devotionals, public rituals, and a puja or ceremonial dinner for a god are celebrated.
A guru or saga is the term for a religious leader and priests care for the temple, leading worship rituals there. Hindu adherents themselves are responsible for the daily rituals in the home. These along with the constant thoughts to duties, actions and practices for living make Hinduism a life practice rather than belief tied to a ceremony.
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