Who Studies Hinduism?

Hinduism, known to its followers as Sanatana Dharma (roughly translated as “Perennial Faith) is the oldest set of surviving belief systems in the world today. Its origins are lost in the time of the Indo-Aryan civilization mix on the Indian Subcontinent which gave rise to the Vedic culture – the prototype of what eventually developed into what is known today as Hinduism.

Although Hinduism is very diverse, one of the possible things that unites all Hindus is the quest for enlightenment and to free oneself from the cycle of rebirth. Another major concept is the concept of Ahimsa, which means “non-violence.” Through this concept, strict movements of vegetarianism and tolerance grew. Hindus believe that everything in the world is part of the universal spirit, and therefore everything needs to be respected, preserved and protected.With approximately 940 million followers worldwide, Hindu beliefs vary drastically, but essentially teach that any kind of spiritual practice followed with faith, love and persistence will lead to the same ultimate state of self-realization. “Truth is One, though the Sages know it as Many,” teaches he book of Rig Veda. The above axiom perhaps captures best the Hindu spirit of unity, diversity, and peace.

“The Eternal Way,” or the “Perennial Faith,” is the one name that has represented Hinduism for many thousands of years. According to Hindus, it speaks to the idea that certain spiritual principles hold eternally true, transcending man-made constructs, representing a pure science of consciousness. But this consciousness is not merely that of the body or mind and intellect, but of a supramental soul-state that exists within and beyond our existence, the unsullied Self of all. Religion to the Hindu is the native search for the divine within the Self, the search to find the One truth that in actuality never was lost. Truth sought with faith shall yield itself in blissful luminescence no matter the race or creed professed. Indeed, all existence, from vegetation and beasts to mankind, are subjects and objects of the eternal Dharma. This inherent faith, therefore, is also known as Arya/Noble Dharma, Veda/Knowledge Dharma, Yoga/Union Dharma, Hindu Dharma or, simply, the Dharma.

What can be said to be common to all Hindus is belief in Dharma, reincarnation , karma, and moksha (liberation) of every soul through a variety of moral, action-based, and meditative yogas (spiritual practices). Still more fundamental principles include ahimsa (non-violence), the primacy of the Guru , the Divine Word of Aum and the power of mantras(meditation chants) , love of truth in many manifestations as gods and goddesses, and an understanding that the essential spark of the Divine is in every human and living being, thus allowing for many spiritual paths leading to the One Unitary Truth.

Hindus across the board stress meditative insight, an intuition beyond the mind and body, a trait that is often associated with the ascetic god Shiva . Men, too, will bear on their foreheads the equivalent tika or tilak mark, usually on religious occasions, its shape often representing particular devotion to a certain main deity: a ‘U’ shape stands for Vishnu , a group of three horizontal lines for Shiva . It is not uncommon for some to meld both in an amalgam marker signifying Hari-Hara (Vishnu-Shiva indissoluble).

Within Hinduism, a variety of lesser gods are seen as aspects of the one impersonal divine ground, Brahman. Brahman is seen as the universal spirit. Brahman is the ultimate, both transcendent and immanent the absolute infinite existence , the sum total of all that ever is, was, or ever shall be. Brahman is not a God in the monotheistic sense, as it is not imbued with any limiting characteristics, not even those of being and non-being, and this is reflected in the fact that in Sanskrit , the word brahman is of neuter (as opposed to masculine or feminine) gender. Hindus believe that God, in whatever form they prefer, can grant worshippers grace to bring them closer to liberation, end of the cycle of rebirth. The great Hindu saint, Ramakrishna was a prominent advocate of this traditional Hindu view. He achieved the spiritual high of other religions besides Hinduism, such as Christianity and Islam, and came to the same conclusion asproclaimed by the Vedas, that “Truth is one, the wise call it by different names.”