Frequently Asked Questions About Hinduism
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||SSVT presents a handful of
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Hinduism covers a vast
field, with many differing aspects of faith, varied philosophical systems,
numerous paths to follow, and interesting varieties of ritual. There is a
popular adage that if you ask the same question to a dozen learned Hindus, you
may very well get twelve different answers and all of them would be true. The
truth is one, but the wise talk of it in differing ways. Our answers and
opinions are given according to our best understanding.
||Who is a Hindu?|
it necessary to go to a temple or practice anything in any special way to be a
Hindu? Can one stop being a Hindu?|
||What is the position of
conversion in Hinduism?|
||What are the 4
stages of life recognized in Hinduism?|
||What are core Hindu
are the different schools of Hindu philosophy? What is their basis to be called
different schools of Hinduism? Are they important to understand?|
||What are the sacred texts of
Hinduism the right name for this religion? How did it get its
||Is Hinduism a religion or a way
||What is the role of caste in
||What is the place of women in
are swamijis? Why do they wear saffron colored robes? Why do some of them shave
||What is the place of rituals
||What is the sacred thread or
||Why is a dot or stripe worn
on the forehead?|
||For how many
years and in what manner are priests trained?|
if any are the differences between the Vedic language (of Sanskrit?) and
classical Sanskrit of later times?|
do Indians traditionally greet each other? What is the significance of greeting
with the term “Namaste” or “Namaskaar” or “Namaskaara” or “Namaskaaram” that is
used for praying to God too?|
is the significance of OM? It seems to be chanted in several places and in many
aspects of religious ceremonies?|
Hinduism seems to view every moment in life as a spiritual moment, and every
activity as a spiritual activity, can you explain what is so spiritual about
working and earning a living or being married?|
do we offer food, clothes, etc. by pouring them in the fire? Is it not better to
give them away to the needy?|
God is all-powerful and all-merciful, why is there so much suffering in the
||Why do we not wear
shoes when we come into a temple?|
||Why are Hindus cremated and not
Hinduism monotheistic or polytheistic? How many gods are there in Hinduism? What
are their places?|
are the authorities that dictate the rights and wrongs of
||What is Sandhya Vandanam?|
the Hindu concept of space? Is it limited or unlimited? In different places, the
scriptures speak of one world, three worlds, seven, fourteen or more worlds, and
also several million worlds (Aneka Koti Brahmaandas)?|
||What is the Hindu concept of time? Is
time without a beginning, is it cyclic? Can you elaborate on the Hindu
is the significance of the choice of vehicles (Vaahanas) like mouse, bull, lion,
garuda etc for different deities?|
||Why do we worship animals? Why do some gods
have animal bodies or faces? Why do we worship cows?|
||Are there any food
restrictions on Hindus?|
If a person has at least one Hindu parent
or has chosen to adopt Hindu principles, and celebrates Hindu festivals, one may
be considered a Hindu.
There are many views in this regard.
One way of
looking at it would suggest that a Hindu would observe at least some Hindu
traditions as being part of a community. For example:
- in lifecycle events like marriage ceremonies, death ceremonies etc;
- in annual and seasonal festivals like Navraatri (or Dusherra), Diwaali (or
Deepaavali), Krishna Janmaasthami, etc;
- general community practices, like temple worship, etc.
Some higher levels of criteria may include such characteristics as having
worthwhile objectives (Purushaartha) in life (see question 6, principle iii),
believing in rebirth and evolution of the soul, and working towards ultimate
From a strict traditional sense, to be a Hindu, one must
either accept the Vedas & Vedaangas and/or Aagama &
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As long as one is praying at home, it is
not necessary to go to a temple to remain a Hindu. One never stops being a
While prayer at home is good, prayer at a temple is much better,
because the temple is a specially consecrated place, and the idols are specially
consecrated idols. The atmosphere and spiritual ambiance in a temple are more
powerful and effective. Just as we do watch video pictures at home but, even so,
go out occasionally to a theatre to see a film, we can pray daily at home, but
need to visit a temple as often as we can.
While there is no
one single practice required for a Hindu, a Hindu would be expected to follow at
least one of the many Hindu practices. Since temple worship is only one such
practice, others may be substituted. And one never stops being a Hindu unless
one chooses to relinquish Hinduism by actively converting to a non-Hindu
However, there is a special importance for temple worship in
modern living, particularly outside India. Since the temple is a consecrated
place, the effectiveness of any practice in the temple is likely to be more
powerful. The energy of this consecration is described often by temple visitors
as a feeling of peace, bliss, happiness, etc. This, combined with the
opportunity to interact with Hindu culture (which may not be available in ones
neighborhood), becomes a double incentive for Hindus outside India to visit a
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||There is no
traditional Hindu practice to convert others. However, historically Hinduism has
spread to Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia and Indonesia in earlier
centuries. Therefore, it would be reasonable to conclude that Hinduism does not
actively seek to convert others, but there is room for anyone who wishes to
become a Hindu.
There is no
conversion ceremony prescribed in the ancient tradition, although some modern
leaders have invented some. Since anybody can claim to be a Hindu by adopting
the principles and practices, there is no prescription in the sacred texts to
proselytize others into the faith. Therefore, it would be reasonable to conclude
that Hinduism does not actively seek to convert others, but there is room for
anyone who wishes to become a Hindu. An observation made by some scholars
suggests that by a proper study of Hinduism, a Hindu would become a better
Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian, a Jew a better
Jew, and anyone a better human being.
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||The four stages of life
recognized in Hinduism are:|
i) Life as a student -
ii) Householder - Grihasta
iii) Reclusive and
meditative seeker away from crowd - Vaanaprasta
iv) Renunciate (seeking
Moksha) – Sanyaasa
[Please review worthwhile objectives of life in
Question 6, 3rd principle of Hinduism]
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||Karma is the result of thoughts, words and
deeds that stay with us birth after birth until we live out their consequences –
as you sow, so you reap. The law of Karma can be considered as a universal law
of cause and effect. |
Karma refers to both “act” (or action) as
well as “results of thought, word and deed.” In the context of rebirth, Karma
refers to the latter – the idea of cause and effect. Any thought, word or deed,
that is not performed dispassionately with no interest in the results, yields
Karma. Well-intentioned acts yield positive Karma (or Punya) and ill-intentioned
acts yield negative Karma (Paapa). Such consequences have to be lived
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Following are core beliefs/principles of
- Law of Karma and Reincarnation – Each one of us is
more than the body. Our true self does not die with the body. Based on how we
live our life, we are born and reborn taking different life forms until we
evolve to the point of no birth, where we become one with God or stay close with
God. (See question 5 for more details on Karma.)
- Freedom of Practice – One can be a Hindu by being
a good person and following any type of worship practice that one finds
- Worthwhile Objectives of Life – Hinduism accepts
that through life one can do many great things before one ultimately reaches
God. Studying well, earning well, getting married, having children, being a good
citizen and doing service to society, and then going beyond all of these and
living life as a detached person ready to reach God, are all part of Hindu
living and the path towards God.
- Divine Manifestation – Most Hindus believe that
from time to time God will manifest on earth to help us keep to the right path
and make us better. Raama and Krishna are examples of such forms of God coming
to earth in human form.
The following are considered core
beliefs/principles of Hinduism:
- Law of Karma and Reincarnation – That the body is
only the carrier of the consciousness, which in turn is the carrier of the soul
is a fundamental assumption of Hinduism. This requires the consciousness to
undergo birth after birth in different bodies, carrying with it the “Karma” of
previous existence, until the consciousness evolves to the point of melting away
with only the pure soulful awareness remaining.
- Freedom of Path with the Ultimate Goal of
Realization – Individuals may choose whatever path is natural to them. All
paths are ultimately supposed to lead to soulful awareness (living life as an
observer) culminating in salvation. The four paths generally recognized as broad
categories that encompass all paths are the paths of seeking knowledge (Jnyaana
Yoga), doing self-less service (Karma Yoga), practicing physical and mental
exercises (Raaja/Dhyaana Yoga) and the practice of devotion (Bhakti Yoga).
Within these four, one can conceivably fit every activity that one performs in a
day – the attitude towards the activity making all the difference. For those
interested, the specific place of each practice differs in different
philosophies of Hinduism.
A. In SAANKHYA-YOGA
Lowest Path is KARMA Yoga
Highest is DHYAANA/RAAJA Yoga
B. In MIIMAAMSAA
Lowest Path is
is KARMA Yoga
C. In SHANKARA-VEDAANTA
Lowest is KARMA
Lowest Path is KARMA Yoga
[Prapatti or Sharanaagati, although a new term here deserves
special mention. It is specific to Raamaanuja Vedaanta and can be considered the
highest level of Bhakti. It is complete unconditional surrender to the will of
God. One flings oneself at the mercy (Dayaa) of the Deity and hopes for the gift
of Moksha. Raamaanuja bases this doctrine on Shvetaashvatara Upanishad VI:18,
Vaalmiki Raamaayana Yuddhakaanda 18:33 and Bhagavad Gita XVIII:66.]
Lowest is KARMA Yoga
In the path of devotion (BHAKTI),
people have choice with respect to their worship practices as well as view of
the divinity. God can be worshipped as formless (Unmanifest Brahman) or in any
form (Roopa of deities) including idols, icons, statues, pictures (Bimbhas),
Saligram (fossilized shell), Linga etc. in the firm belief God will present
Himself in the form the devotee desires.
- Worthwhile Objectives of Living – Hinduism
considers living with good conduct (Dharma), acquisition of wealth (Artha),
enjoyment of love and pleasure (Kaama), and salvation (Moksha) as worthwhile
objectives of living.
One can glean a hierarchy in these objectives
coinciding with the 4 stages (Aashramas) of life recognized in Hinduism and the
4 sections of the Vedas as follows:
ARTHA = BRAHMACHAARYA = MANTRA (or
KAAMA = GRIHASTHA = BRAAHMANA
DHARMA = VAANAPRASTHAA =
MOKSHA = SANNYAASA = UPANISHAD
- Avataar or Divine Incarnation – Vedaanta school of
Hinduism, the most popular school of these times, accepts the idea that the
Divinity can be born in a body from time to time to show the path and liberate
others. The ten Avataars are well known, and among them the story of Raama in
Raamayana and of Krishna in Mahaabhaaratha are even better known. An Avataar is
a step taken by God out of His free will, but a human being’s rebirth is due to
The other schools of Hinduism ignore the entire aspect of
Avataars. Even among the Vedaanta schools of Hinduism there are some differences
towards the view of the Avataar, but they all accept the idea, unlike the other
- Variety in the View of Divinity – Hinduism
accommodates the idea of a single God and no God with the ambiguity of multiple
gods (polytheism). The view of it depends on the school of Hindu philosophy.
(See question 7 for more details on schools of Hinduism)
Nyaaya-Vaisheshika View: There is one God or Divine Power that is part of
everything that we see and beyond. Beings can be within bodies or exist in pure
spirit (consciousness) form, and are all part of or within the control of the
Yoga-Saankhya and Mimaamsa Views: While non-theistic, they
accept the existence of gods (Devas) – more appropriately thought of as
spiritual beings with a portfolio in the governance of cause and effect in the
universe – but reject the idea of one Supreme Being. The Samhita (Mantra) and
Braahmana segments of the Vedas mention no Supreme Being, but praise many such
spiritual beings, even though the Upanishads do speak of one Ultimate Divinity
- Damnation or What? – The Vedas speak of no
damnation. In general, there is no idea of damnation in Hinduism, other than
being dammed to be reborn until all Karmas are wiped out.
Madhva is the lone dissenter among the Hindu systems in this regard. It does
believe that certain souls go toward everlasting damnation. This doctrine of
theirs is based on their interpretation of Bhagavad Gita (Ch XVI:20).
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Yoga-Saankhya, Mimaamsa and Vedaanta are the recognized schools of Hinduism.
Within Vedaanta there are three major schools: Advaita Vedaanta of
Shankaraacharya, Vishishta-advaita Vedaanta of Raamanujaacharya, Dvaita-Vedaanta
of Madhvaachaarya. Within Mimaamsa, there are two schools of Prabhaakara and
Kumaarila respectively. All schools of Hinduism accept the Vedas as the Ultimate
Truth. Vedas and other holy texts are terse and hard to understand. So great
sages and teachers of the past have interpreted the Vedas and other holy texts
differently. Therefore there are many schools. While it is important to
understand these schools to understand the different Hindu traditions, one can
be a good Hindu without learning the details of these
Although most Hindus today have grown up in the Vedaantic school
traditions, contemporary Hinduism recognizes the historical development of 7
schools of Hinduism, which started as 6 schools before
The seven schools that formed between 400 CE and 1300
D. Kumaarila Mimaamsaa
F. Raamaanuja Vedaanta (Vishistha-advaita)
Madhva Vedaanta (Dvaita)
[It must be noted that while the three major
schools of Vedaanta are recognized here, there are other minor schools as well
with small following.]
Previous to that between 100 CE and 400 CE, the
six schools were Nyaaya, Vaisheshika, Saankhya, Yoga, Mimaamsaa and Vedaanta.
Later some of these paired off, while others developed different
Essentially, a philosophy would be called a Hindu philosophy
if they accepted the Vedas as the Ultimate Truth.
Even though all these
schools accept the Vedas as the Ultimate Truth, there is a difference in their
approach. For instance, any school will be called a school of Vedaanta only if
the founder/s wrote a commentary on the Upanishads, Brahmasutras and the
Bhagavad Gita (all three together called Prasthana-Trayi) to establish their
point of view – the basis of differentiation and establishment of a separate
school of Vedaanta. The other schools don’t require these commentaries. Mimaamsa
schools give importance only to the Samhita and Braahmana sections of the Vedas
and are focussed on rituals. Nyaaya-Vaisheshika emphasizes reasoning to
understand God. Yoga-Saankhya schools emphasize direct experience through
Each school has its view of the place of knowledge (or
personal evidence) in understanding God, the nature of reality, the idea of God,
the nature of the universe, the nature of souls, and the idea of Moksha or
salvation. Accordingly, each school has its preferred spiritual approach. The
table at the end of this answer provides clear distinction based on these
academic analysis criteria: Epistemology, Ontology, Theology, Cosmology,
Psychology and Soteriology.
For the ease of the general reader, the
following comments are noted with special emphasis on the Vedaanta schools which
most Hindus follow:
- Nyaaya and Vaisheshika believes in one Supreme God and considers reasoning
(knowledge or Jnyaana) as the way of knowing God.
- Yoga and Saankhya does not accept the idea of a Supreme God. In fact, this
school alone accepts Vedas, not by faith like the other schools, but as the
verifiable truth. The focus of this school is on direct experience.
- & D. The Mimaamsa schools, like the Saankhya-Yoga philosophy, do not
accept the idea of a Supreme God. They do, however, accept that there are
exalted and powerful, limited beings without gross bodies like ours. These
beings can help to deliver well-being in the temporal world and the after cycles
of birth and death, and salvation as well. It is debatable whether these exalted
beings should be referred to as gods (indicating polytheism) or spirits.
Mimaamsa philosophy considers the practice of various rituals (karmas) as very
essential. They believe that the karmas (rituals) themselves yield the results,
and there is no Supreme God or Ishvara dispensing the results.
It is important to understand these
distinctions and realize that for most of us the real Ultimate Truth about the
nature of divinity will never be individually experienced during our lifetime.
Understanding these differences becomes a cohesive factor for all Hindus to come
together, realizing that these differences are unverifiable for most people,
practically irrelevant for daily living in contemporary society, with no
difference in normative values of living. They do not upset or contradict the
core values of Hinduism.
- Shankara Vedaanta, also called Advaita or Non-dualism thinks of the Supreme
God as Para-Brahman and even in Bhakti mode feel free to visualize this Ultimate
as any Ishtha Devata (favorite deity). The philosophy is that each one of us is
the Ultimate God, but yet unrealized. It is Maayaa or illusion that makes one
feel distinct from others. All is one – there is no two: is the Advaita
philosophy. In South India, Advaitins are sometimes referred to as Smaartaas or
non-Vaishnavas or Ayyars (sometimes written as Iyers, which is a Tamil
corruption of “Arya”). Much mistakenly they are also referred to as Shaivites,
which is a popular misnomer. Shankaraacharya was truly very broadminded. Even
though he believed in the ultimate supremacy of reason and knowledge (Jnyaana),
he attached great importance to devotion (Bhakti), temples and rituals.
Accordingly, he incorporated the Shanmatas or six worship practices [of
Ganapati, Kumaara or Subramanya, Surya (Sun), Shakti or Divine Mother, Shiva and
Vishnu] under the aegis of his Advaita-Brahmavaada and introduced the
Smaarta-panchaayatana Pooja system for his followers.
- Raamanuja Vedaanta called Vishishtha-advaita or Special Non-dualism think of
Vishnu as the Supreme God according to the tradition of the founder. The
philosophy considers each being’s soul as part of the body of the Ultimate God,
which upon attaining salvation or Moksha stays eternally in heaven. Each soul is
not considered the complete God in itself – as suggested by Advaita – and never
really becomes part of God, even though philosophically they are considered part
of the body of God. This confusion results from the followers of Raamaanuja
trying to fuse the Puraanas with the philosophy of the Upanishads.
Radhakrishnan, the famous scholar and the second President of India, recognizes
this inconsistency in the following terms: “Raamaanuja walks with olympian
assurance like Milton through the halls of heaven.”
sometimes referred to as Sri-vaishnavas or Ayyangars (sometimes spelt Iyengars)
in South India.
- Madhva Vedaanta called Dvaita or Dualism, also thinks of Vishnu as the
Supreme God. However, this school views each soul as distinct from God and is
not considered part of the Supreme God. They believe that good souls ultimately
come close to the Supreme God and reside in heaven. They accept that some bad
souls would be damned forever in hell. Dvaitins are sometimes referred to as
Maadhvaas or Vaishnavas.
For those interested in the distinct
differences of these schools, the following chart provides the details.
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The most sacred of all Hindu texts are the Vedas.
There are 4 Vedas. In addition, there are other texts that are meant to be read
with the Vedas to fully understand them, which are called Veda-angas or limbs of
the Vedas. Also, the text related to Aagama and Tantra are integral to religious
practices of the temple. There are also other texts like the Puraanas, and the
Itihaasas (Raamayana and Mahaabhaarata), and various philosophical texts, and
Bhagavad Gita (which is a part of the Mahaabhaarata) and Brahma-Sutras, which
are considered sacred texts.
There are several
sacred texts of Hinduism and there are different ways of categorizing them. The
first category noted is non-controversial and is accepted as the most important
and most sacred of Hindu texts. It is the other texts that have variations in
CATEGORY 1: The 4 Vedas (Vedas literally mean
Knowledge): Rig, Yajur, Saama and Atharva, including the 4 segments within each
Vedas (Braahmana, Samhita, Aranyaka and Upanishad) which include well over 100
texts. These are considered the Shrutis -- literally meaning what was heard, but
really refers to the laws and nature of the universe and all existence, that can
be felt by yogis in their highest level of awareness. These are considered the
TIMELESS and UNCHANGING TRUTH, and therefore THE MOST SACRED OF ALL HINDU
All the other texts are considered Smriti – literally meaning
what was remembered, and therefore have a lower standing than the Vedas, the
timeless and natural truths of existence.
CATEGORY 2: The other holy
texts of Hinduism
The 6 Veda-angas (limbs of the Vedas) include the
following segments with many associated texts in each sub-category:
Sheeksha – science of phonetics
2) Kalpa – practical manuals for personal
and temple practices
3) Vyaakarana -grammar
4) Nirukta –
5) Chandas - prosody
6) Jyotisha – astronomy and
In addition, Aagama and Tantra texts need to be noted here.The
practice of the Vedic religion requires the knowledge of these ‘limbs’ of the
Vedas. But temple worship practices require Aagamas and Tantra as
Without knowledge of grammar and etymology one cannot understand
the interpretation of the texts. Without the science of phonetics or prosody,
once cannot chant properly. Without understanding the principles of astronomy
and astrology, one cannot apply the elements of the practical manuals, which
deal with the elemental forces. And the Aagamas and Tantra guide the methods and
flow of temple religious practices.
Within the KALPA SUTRAS noted above
a) Grihya Sutras [Veda based domestic rites]
Sutras [Veda based public rites]
c) Dharma Shaastras – Codes of conduct
for living, like Manusmriti, etc. The thoughts presented in a number of these
texts, especially related to the place of women, castes, etc. may be realted to
past ages, and may be understood from a historical perspective.
Aagamas and Tantras, connected with temple religion in Hinduism, include Shaiva,
Vaishnava, and Shaakta. Among the Vaishnavas there are two Aagamic rites, i.e.
Vaikhaanasa and Paancharaatra.
The Itihaasa-Puraanas have a special place
a) Raamaayana, Mahaabhaarata [including the Bhagavad
b) The 18 Mahaa (Big) Puraanas, 18 Upa (lesser)
The Brahma-Sutras, along with the Bhagavad Gita and the
Upanishads are called Prasthaana-Trayi, of 3 views or angles (literally
departure points), and have a special place among Hindu texts.
related to the various schools of Hindu philosophy are also considered part of
the holy texts. In addtition to the texts of the regular school of Hindu
philosophy (see question 7), two other groups of texts worth mentioning here
are: the Tamil compositions of the 63 Shaiva Adiyaars and the Naalaayira
(meaning 4,000)-Prabandham of the 12 Vaishnava Aalvaars [also known as the Tamil
Other fields of knowledge are also considered part of the texts
of Hinduism. These include the science of life and medicine (Ayurveda), science
of martial arts (Dhanurveda), fine arts (Gaandharva-veda), the art of politics
and governance (Arthashastra) and the science of building and architecture
(sometimes called Sthaapatya-veda).
Since Hinduism views every moment as
spiritual and life itself as a spiritual journey, there is nothing that cannot
be considered sacred. In the context of the sacred texts, the Vedas have a very
special place, being considered the TIMELESS TRUTH.
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Hinduism is not the name given to their religion
by the Hindus. It is thought the Persian pronunciation of Sindhu, the river, as
Hindu, and calling the people of that region Hindus made their religion Hinduism
for the westerners. Hindus call it Sanaatana Dharma or the Eternal Truth.
Hinduism is a name that was given to the religion
practiced by those ancient people who lived in the banks of the river Sindhu,
later called Indus, and pronounced Hindu by the Persians. And that gave the name
Hindustaan or land of the Hindus. Hindus themselves do not attribute a name to
their religion – especially unlike other religions there is no founder for this
faith. It could be called the VAIDDIKA DHARMA or Vedic Religion as based on the
Vedas. Sometimes it is referred to as the Eternal Truth or SANAATANA
But what is in a name as long as it serves recognition? So,
indeed the practitioners of this faith are Hindus and the faith is called
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Hinduism is both a religion and way of life, since
religion involves beliefs and way of life involves our conduct in
Hinduism is both a religion and a way of life.
Obviously there is some faith involved until one has the experience of the
Ultimate. And there are prescriptions to follow, if one chooses to follow them.
So, indeed it is a religion in whatever way one practices it. And, it is indeed
a way of life, since every act one does, every moment of ones life, is
considered part of the spiritual evolution. In other words both BELIEF
(religion) and BEHAVIOR (way of life) are important and reinforce each
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In its original form it was perhaps a functional
arrangement within society. Society as a whole needs several types of work to be
completed for organized living: the priests and advisors, the ruler and
soldiers, businessman and workers. Everybody being the creation of God and
having their own place of importance in society, all should be respected
Caste can become a controversial question. In its
original form it was perhaps a functional arrangement within society. Society as
a whole needs several types of work to be completed for organized
From a Vedic perspective, the Purusha Sookta (a hymn from the
Vedas) simply notes that everything that we see and beyond is the Ultimate
Purusha or God, and each facet of creation is seen as part of God. In that
context different body parts of God are described as being the different castes.
(While some interpretations of the text actually ascribe the various castes as
having emerged from the body parts, the Sanskrit text does not clearly deliver
Such a view of the Vedas leaves open the issue of whether
castes are determined by birth (when profession is learned from father to son)
or by profession in living (ability to change circumstances with a broader
opportunity for education). However, there are many stories that indicate that
castes should be viewed based on role in society and not by birth. Vishvaamitra,
the great sage, while born in a Kshatriya family (having been a king before),
was recognized as a Brahma Rishi. Vaalmiki, the revered saint, was a hunter
before authoring Raamaayana.
If the Lord is viewed as the entire world,
the intellectuals, opinion makers and teachers of the society constitute the
Brahmana. Those who protect the society are the Kshatriyas. Those who control
and move the economy are the Vyshyas. And finally those who support the entire
society are considered the Shudras. And none of these roles are defined by
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Hinduism regards all creation as divine. From a
spiritual perspective there is a no higher or lower place awarded to women,
although in the role of a mother who gives birth, a woman is compared to the
Divine Mother (Shakti) who has given birth to all creation.
Hinduism regards all creation as divine. From a
spiritual perspective there is a no higher or lower place awarded to women.
There is evidence of women being given the Yagnyopavita (sacred thread) and
being allowed to practice spiritual rituals.
However, there is also
recognition that a woman is essentially different from a man in her ability to
give birth (to a child). In this regard, a woman has been compared with the
Divine Mother who has given birth to the entire universe.
It is with
this symbolism of the Mother Divine that often Poojas are done to women during
certain festival seasons.
From this respected place of women, the
invasions of foreigners into India, their tendency to molest and kidnap women,
and the consequent protective tendencies of the Hindus appears to have forced
women indoor and in a less dominant role. All of this is slowly reversing, and
the natural resilience probably ensured that India was one of the earliest
countries in modern times to have had a woman elected as the Prime
Minister/Premier of the country.
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Swamijis are people who have renounced life and
seek to reach God. The saffron colored robes they wear are the color of fire,
symbolizing fire that has consumed and purified everything. Since they have to
give up everything in life, shaving off the head symbolizes giving up one more
element indicative of ego.
Traditionally Swamijis are renunciates
(Sannyaasis) – the fourth stage of life noted in question 4. Such persons do not
acquire or keep wealth, eat only the food offered as Bhiksha (donation of food),
and are either supposed to be Realized Souls or on the path of actively pursuing
Realization by shedding all attachments. Sannyaasis maintain no contact with
their birth families since in their attitude they should see no difference
between anyone (the whole world is their family) and are typically living in
forests or retreats away from the average humanity. Living with the idea that
everything other than the goal of Salvation is "TUCCHA" or NOT WORTHY, they
would not see any association with anything – becoming "Udaaseena" or
While the roots of renunciation is a part of Hindu
tradition, Buddhism appears to have had some influence on its later
In this tradition of giving up everything worldly, it is
common to shave off ones hair (a decoration is considered a mark of ego) –
probably a Buddhist influence. It is probable that the Buddhist tradition
created monastic living in and near urban centers with the goal of spreading the
teachings, and was probably borrowed by the newer traditions of Sannyaasis of
the 19th and 20th century.
Followers of the Mimaamsa school of Hindu
philosophy are the only school of Hinduism who oppose monasticism of any kind.
They consider such institutions as not consistent with the Vedas, since in their
view anybody who cannot perform fire-sacrifice cannot be a follower of Dharma
(or required conduct). (Sannyaasis of Monastic orders give up fire use as part
of their initiation.)
From the viewpoint of the stages of life (see
question 4), renunciation is a natural process in the last stage. Possibly from
the Vedic Hinduism perspective, it is more internal and personal, and the type
of clothing one wears, where one lives and how they wear the hair, and whether
they use fire, etc. may actually be completely irrelevant.
innovative and modern view of Swamijis expressed by one Swamiji, is not that of
a renunciate, but a scholar of Vedaanta. This is not the traditional or general
view of one who wears saffron robes, although there may have been
spiritual/religious teachers who are sometimes referred to as Swamis out of
respect, who may be normal householders.
Given the age of Hinduism,
Swamijis are probably the more recent creations in the last few millennia,
although non-monastic Sannyaasis go back to more ancient times.
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Ritual is an essential part of human life,
whether it is in the playing field or the protocol of the White House. Every
religion has its rituals and so does Hinduism. And rituals create a mental
discipline that is supposed to lead to spiritual elevation.
Rituals have a very special place in Hinduism from
First, the Mimaamsa school of Hinduism which appears to
have mastered the art of managing cause and effect, had as part of its core
various rituals that would provide temporal and spiritual upliftment and
Second, from a more broad-based view of belief-based Hinduism,
viewing the living process as an evolutionary process, rituals create the
ability to live life as an observer – doing for the sake of doing. Modern day
psychologists recommend rituals in life as a way of managing stress.
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The scared thread or Yagnyopavita is for
purifying ones thoughts, words and deeds in the course of living. Physically, it
consists of three strands of thread, connected with a knot. The sacred thread is
invested with the Upanayanam ceremony. After the investment, Sandhya-Vandanam is
required three times every day – at sunrise, midday and sunset.
This is a Vedic Practice of controlling ones
thoughts, words and deeds represented by the three strands of the Yagnyopavita.
From a yogic perspective, the process of controlling thoughts, words and
deeds can be thought of in terms of the flow of Praana or energy in the body
through the 3 principal energy channels called Sushumna, Ida and Pingala. The
knot in the three strands is supposed to symbolize the point of control or the
Aagnya Chakra where the three energy channels meet.
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It is just a Hindu symbolism to remind us
to use our head and be in control.
This is purely in Aagamic Hinduism. Vedic Hinduism
has no such regulations. One view is that it is the reminder that the mind (in
the Aagnyaa Chakra) is the seat of power and control and one should strive to
move higher through the mind.
However there are other views as well.
Different colors may have some symbolic significance and the way it is worn may
signify castes and sects as well.
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Like all other professions, priests undergo
rigorous training – traditional practice is for about 12 years from a very young
age. They learn to chant the Vedas, learn Sanskrit and various other sacred
texts and also learn the practice of various ceremonies.
Like any other specialized function, the work of a
priest demands certain qualities like aptitude, including appropriate family
background, many years of training, and a high level of commitment and faith.
Selected youngsters go through a rigorous course of training for twelve years,
usually under a dedicated teacher or in appropriate schools in India. The study
includes a minimum knowledge of Sanskrit, ability to chant the Vedas,
familiarity with Aagama Shaastras, temple worship methods, and temple ritual, as
also a capacity to conduct poojas, samskaaras and religious programs in
devotees' homes. Very often, a spell of work as an assistant to an established
priest in a temple works out well as an initial
Generally 12 years is considered an important period in
the training of priests for a very special reason. The priest works as the
medium to convey the needs of the beneficiary (Yajamaana). That is done in the
form of energy or Praana. To have the ability to do that, practice of Sandhya
Vandana thrice a day is required. Twelve years of practice of Sandhya Vandana is
supposed to give every priest the ability to move energy, although some may
attain it earlier.
At present, we know of no facilities in the USA for
training Hindu priests.
Hindu priests are allowed to marry and live life as householders.
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Vedic Sanskrit is pre-Paaninian while classical Sanskrit [every
other Sanskrit composition except the Vedas] is post-Paaninian. The
Ashthadhyaayi of Paanini standardized Sanskrit grammar getting rid of many
archaic Vedic forms.
Paanini is accepted by scholars of Sanskrit as the
greatest, and perhaps, the first Grammarian who exhaustively codified and
standardized the Sanskrit language and grammar.
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Usually, Hindus greet each other with
affection and reverence, reflected by a smile on the face and the "Namaste"
gesture of bringing the two palms together in front of their chest. It literally
means “Salutation to you” and is a recognition of divinity in the other. The
other words from different Indian languages mean the same.
Usually, Hindus greet each other with affection
and reverence, reflected by a smile on the face and the "Namaste" gesture of
bringing the two palms together in front of their chest. Many dancers know that
the face and the fingers of the hands are great vehicles for demonstrating the
"Namaste" in Sanskrit means "Salutation to you." The
cognate words in other Indian languages also signify the same thing. It is true
that this gesture, word, salutation or prostration is primarily employed during
worship to a God. But as Hindus believe in the divinity of all creation, and a
spark of divinity is inherent in every human being, this gesture towards others
emphasizes the inherently divine nature of all human beings
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OM, or AUM, is the one-syllable word called
Pranava, that represents God in Hinduism.
The regular practice of
chanting OM enhances and improves one's breathing, strengthens one physically,
mentally and spiritually, and even helps youngsters to sing, or swim or play
OM, or AUM, is the one-syllable word called
Pranava, that has great significance in Hinduism. The Vedas specifically say
that this one syllable word is synonymous with the Ultimate TRUTH called
AUM is also regarded as a combination of the three sounds, viz.,
the two vowel sounds of A, and U, and the consonant, M. One view is that the
three alphabets are said to represent Vishnu, Shiva and Brahmaa. There is a
Akaaro Vishnur Uthishta Ukaarasthu Maheswarah:
Brahma Pranavasthi thryatmakah:
the letter "A" stands for Vishnu
letter "U" stands for Maheswara
the letter "M" stands for Brahma.
in the Pranava (AUM) all three lords are present.
[Curently the above
sloka is present under the Jnyaana Upadesham at SSVT ]
observation made by scholars has an implication of AUM representing everything
from beginning to end – again the Ultimate Divinity – as represented by the
first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet A and the last among the consonants M.
[The other alphabets after M in Sanskrit are considered compounded
Another view considers "AUM" as the weak [Vriddhi] form,
representing the Samsaaric state where:
A = Brahman (Ultimate)
= Atman (Soul)
M = Maayaa (illusion) – Jagat (perceived world) –
Prakriti (manifested form)
whereas "OM" is considered the strong [Guna]
form representing the Moksha state where:
O = Brahman=Atman [based on Tat
Tvam Asi (That is You referring to Self),
Aham Brahmaasmi (I am the
M = Maayaa (illusion) – Jagat (perceived world) – Prakriti
There are other Upanishads which have tried to explain
the Pranavam as well. Some of them are:
In Taittiriya Upanishad:
OM Iti Brahman, OM Iteedam
i.e. OM is Brahman, OM is this all.
That word which all the Vedas declare
Which men desire when they lead the life of
The word, I tell you briefly
IT IS OM
OM - this syllable is this whole world
explanation is thus -
The past, present and the future
all this is only
the syllable AUM
and whatever else there is that transcends the threefold
that too is the only syllable AUM
As a symbol and syllable
representing the Ultimate, and also its triune manifestation as the Holy
Trinity, the sound OM or AUM is given immense importance in religious practice.
It is chanted by itself, and also before, and after, every other
The regular practice of chanting OM, particularly vibrating it in
various part of the energy flow system in the body recognized by Yoga, is
supposed to enhance one physically, mentally and
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Hinduism views temporal living as a journey
of the soul towards salvation. Living life in all its dimensions, at work and at
home, is considered as satisfying the cravings of the consciousness. This is the
process of living out and exhausting the karmas – a necessary process to attain
salvation. Therefore every moment in living can be considered
Accordingly, an evolved soul from the Hindu perspective would
be expected to participate in every aspect of living, but with the attitude of
an observer or witness, and therefore being above suffering and generation of
new karmas. In this state, the living is not only spiritual, but the person
lives every moment with the awareness of spirituality.
While every moment in life is indeed spiritual in
the sense that one is coming (hopefully) closer towards the ultimate goal of
salvation (Moksha), most people may not be aware of it. Those who are aware live
as observers or witnesses of life fully living every moment of it. Thus it is
true that Hinduism tries to elevate every moment into a spiritual moment and
every thought, word and deed as an offering to God (in the theistic approach) or
as something natural with no interest in its outcome (in the non-theistic
approach). The Bhagavad Geeta, for example, contains a specific exhortation to
that effect by Lord Krishna to Arjuna.
Attitude of Living Makes a
It is indeed possible gradually to develop such an attitude to
life and even to all our apparently trivial actions. There is a story that a man
was walking along the streets near London about two centuries ago. He saw
several bricklayers at work and he asked three of them, one after another, the
same set of questions.
The first bricklayer said that he was a miserable
bricklayer, his work was drudgery, he got only a tuppence as his wage, and it
was just not enough for him and his family. The second worker said he had been
trained for his job of mason, that he was building a wall, that his job was OK,
and the two pennies he earned just met his needs.
The third worker said,
"For the greater glory of the Lord, I am involved in the building of St Paul's
Cathedral, the work is my life's passion, I enjoy it and I earn all of two
pennies which meets my family's needs and leaves some money which I share with
the poor." He considered himself blessed in every way.
All three were in
the same situation but their attitudes were different. Hinduism tries to foster
the last attitude whereby every work becomes God's work. When a person can work
and earn a living with that attitude, the work becomes sanctified as Karma Yoga,
and fulfils the noble objective of earning and spending wealth wisely (called
Artha, one of the Purushaarthas). Such selfless action cleanses the mind and
hastens the path to self-realisation or liberation.
Marriage And Its Significance:
While marriage can be thought of as another
process in living, leading to Moksha, there is more attributed to it. Between
Hindu philosophies, Puraanas and worship practices (with assumptions of
hierarchies of divinities), there are many suggestions that the union of a man
and woman should be considered as epitomizing the Whole (God). Different schools
lay it differently. One school may consider it as epitomizing the coming
together of the unmanifest potential energy (man) coming together with the
manifest kinetic energy (woman) to form the Whole (the Shiva-Shakti idea!).
Another school draws the parallel of a dutiful wife to be the individual being
and the husband being served as the ultimate God (parallel of the Jiva-Atma
[embodied soul] and the Paramaatma[Ultimate Soul or God]!).
school of Hinduism accepts that the Purushaartha called Kaama, or love and
family life, is fostered by the noble sacrament of marriage. The marriage vows
and mantras sanctify the union of man and woman from a mere physical act of
passion to a lofty impulse that continues the human race. In the Bhagavad Geeta,
the Lord says that He is the Kaama or desire that is in accordance with
The householder living a righteous life, according to the tenets
of Dharma, becomes the lynchpin of the family, of society and of mankind as a
whole. Specifically, the married householder or Grihasta has the duty also to
fulfil the needs of the student (Brahmacharin) and the mendicant (Sannyaasi) by
giving them food or Bhiksha.
Even in a modern context, a career need not
become a rat-race, but can be transformed into a deliberate and noble offering
to the Lord. Likewise, the marriage ceremony becomes a sacrament leading to a
life-long journey together along the path of dharma; it is therefore that a
Hindu wife is called a Sahadharmini in Sanskrit, who enables, guides and follows
the husband in walking the path of dharma together.
Usually, during a
Hindu South Indian wedding ceremony, the couple are blessed with a benediction
which says "May you both live worthwhile lives like Raama and Sita, like Shiva
and Paarvati, Agasthya and Lopamudra, Vasishtha and Arundhati, etc." The Gods of
the Hindu pantheon lead married lives and great sages have also lived worthwhile
lives in holy wedlock. A Sanskrit verse says that without Shakti, the female
principle, the male Shiva is powerless. The idea is that a well-lived married
life is a spiritual endeavor and a positive step towards bliss here, and to
liberation in the hereafter.
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Karma from previous birth creates
suffering. If one prays (or does other spiritual practices) regularly over many
years, divine grace may eliminate all such Karma and the consequent suffering.
Another way of saying the same thing may be that awareness of the nature of
existence is enhanced and one becomes a mere observer of events in life, living
life effortlessly without any sense of suffering.
The theistic traditions of Hinduism say that
suffering comes from previous Karma which is born out of spiritual ignorance
(Avidya). God does not interfere in the workings of Karma, unless specifically
asked by the devotee.
The non-theistic traditions reject the existence of
a Supreme God for this precise reason, although the law of Karma is accepted.
Sufferings end by spiritual elevation leading to Moksha.
In general most
traditions recognize that by realizing that one is not the body and viewing the
temporal world as only a point of observation, one naturally remains unaffected
by worldly suffering. Suffering comes from identifying oneself with the gross
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Shoes are not clean since they go
everywhere. Since a temple is a clean place with pure energies, we leave unclean
There are a few views offered on this subject:
This may be related to the ability for energy interchange – the temple
being a highly energized place. In that context, among various parts of the
body, the soles of the feet are considered points of significant interchange of
energy. This way when one walks in the temple bare foot, the interchange of
energy gives the bliss and high of being in the temple.
- Shoes go everywhere and can collect unwanted energies. To keep them out of
the temple shoes are left outside.
- Second, generally temple practices encourage minimum amount of covering,
subject to what would be considered decent in the respective social setting.
While the two views
noted above are the popular reasons for not wearing footwear inside the temple,
there are some additional observations worth noting with regard to footwear use
There are certain temples in northern India that allow
wooden Paadukas to be worn during winter months. In fact, the temple itself
provides the wooden Paadukas for a small fee, essentially ensuring that the
footwear that goes everywhere outside the temple does not come into the temple.
In Udupi Krishna temple, the eight Acharyas only [not devotees] are allowed
wooden Paadukas anywhere in the temple premises except in the shrine area
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Cremation is hygienic and symbolizes desire
to go beyond birth.
Hindu custom of cremation is probably related
- No further desire for rebirth (reincarnation)
- Disinfecting – more hygienic disposal.
It is worth noting that
Sannyaasis are not cremated, but rather buried, since in the process of
acquiring Sannyaasa the Sannyaasi has already performed “Aatmashraaddha” and
burned an effigy of his own body. Hence a Sannyaasi is already considered having
gone beyond rebirth.
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Many Hindu philosophies are monotheistic.
However there is flexibility to think of that God in the form of any Devata.
While there are 330 million Devataas and many other types of spiritual beings
mentioned in the holy texts, there is a definite hierarchy of these beings that
is recognized within the Whole of That One God.
Whether Hinduism is monotheistic or non-theistic
(or polytheistic) depends on the school of Hindu
Nyaaya-Vaisheshika, and Vedaanta Schools – Vedaanta school
is the dominant group of these times – are monotheistic.
and Mimaamsa schools are non-theistic (with the potential to interpret as
polytheistic at the same time). While not accepting a Supreme Power, they do
accept many spirits with limited powers (called Devataas) which are sometimes
called gods in common parlance. If they are considered gods, the idea becomes
polytheistic. It is debatable whether these Devatas should be interpreted as
gods or just as divine beings whose form is in spirit.
supposed to be 330 million Devatas and other spiritual beings mentioned in the
holy texts. There is a definite view of hierarchy of these Devatas – within the
context of One God for the Monotheistic schools and within the context of No God
in the non-theistic schools.
The editors of this document are not
knowledgeable about the hierarchies of all the schools. Following are the
examples of hierarchies that are known. [Any reader who wishes to supplement
with their thoughts is welcome. We will consider posting it in a later
In the Shaiva Agaama worship practices (under Advaita Vedaanta)
Surya represents Godhead and is thought as Shiva or ParaShiva or Sadaashiva. The
Shakti part of that Shiva creates all of the Universe and the spirits in the
Universe. Brahma, Vishnu and Rudrashiva are under Shakti. Below them are all the
An almost identical hierarchical view exists within the Tantra
In Vaishnava Aagamas, the hierarchy begins with Vishnu
as the Ultimate and with Lakshmi in a role similar to Shakti in Shaiva Aagama.
Following are the details of the hierarchy as per Madhva Vedaanta worship
practices: Vishnu [Possesses Independence, Plenitude & Freedom from Grief]
is the Ultimate, with Lakshmi [Possesses Plenitude & Freedom from Grief] as
his consort with some of his abilities. Then come Brahma and Vaayu who possess
freedom from grief. Thereafter are Garuda, Rudra and Aadishesha. Then come all
the devatas under Brihaspati, Indra and Varuna.
believes in Henotheism – the practice of temporarily elevating one Devata to the
level of Godhood by praise (Stuti).
In Vedic Hinduism, the Rig Vedic
deities like Indra, Varuna, Mitra, Niririti, etc. are recognized. Indra and
Varuna at different times appear to have been considered as the head of all
deities. These may be considered comparable to the ancient Greek and Egyptian
deities of those times, probably viewed as polytheism, or non-theistic as viewed
by Mimaamsaa practices of the later age. In later Mimaamsaa practices, while
essentially non-theistic, most of the Rig Vedic deities seem to have retained
their places, clearly viewing them as helpful, but limited celestial spirits.
The hierarchy of these deities in the Mimaamsaa practices were similar to Vedic
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There are no authorities to decide what is
right or wrong. The Vedas are considered the Supreme Truth.
Literally there are no authorities that dictate
what Hinduism should believe in.
The highest authority is considered the
Vedas and its interpretation by various schools of thoughts give rise to various
Hindu philosophies. The Vedaanta schools (its founders) have commentaries on the
Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita which are supposed to be further
elucidation of the message of the Vedas.
And it is up to each individual
Hindu to decide what school of thought one wishes to accept or how one wishes to
interpret the Vedas.
However, since many Hindus may not have the
expertise to interpret the Vedas or may not have a high level of realization (or
awareness) themselves or may not be familiar with the tradition of their
families, they may consider the words of a wise person to guide them, and apply
the teachings to their lives with appropriate application of common sense and
living within the law of the land.
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At first blush, it is a prayer to the Devas
that bestow Mantric power that is performed three times everyday by those who
wear the sacred thread. However it is more than that. It is a practice that
seeks identification of the self with the Ultimate in gradual
At first blush, it is an obeisance to Gaayatri and
Savitr, the devas of Mantric power, done three times everyday. However it is
more than that.
The Sandhya worship each time is in two parts.
core or essence of the first part (Poorva Bhaaga) is the mantra emphasizing the
identity of the self with the Supreme Consciousness. The Mantra is “BRAHMA
EVAAHAM ASMI.” This echoes the Mahaa Vaakya or supreme pronouncement of the
Upanishad which even realized souls strive to assimilate. This ultimate step and
final goal is brought to the attention of the Brahmachaari boy right at the very
commencement of his long journey.
Likewise for the second part (Uttara
Bhaaga), the Gaayatri mantra and Japa is the very core. This Japa becomes the
means to realize gradually and reach the ultimate goal set out clearly in the
From a Yoga perspective it can be viewed:
- As an offering to various constituencies of the spiritual domain for
temporal and spiritual well-being – through Arghya and Tarpanam offering;
- As cleansing and empowering by various rituals like sprinkling of water,
mental cleansing, doing Praanayama (Yoga technique) and invocation of Rishis,
Chandas and the deities Gaayatri, Saavitri and Saraswati.
- It is Dhyaana or Meditation while doing Gaayatri Japa, through which the
Ultimate experience of Samaadhi is attained. Invocation of various spirits
before beginning the Mantra Japa can be viewed as empowering
The dawn, mid-day and dusk worship is focused on
The Lord Surya, but as the symbol of Brahman. Gayathri is the meter as well as
the Devata. In the spiritual progression initially it is a ritual to bring
mental discipline. As the person advances the focus is more and more towards
identifying with Devatas and then ultimately Brahman.
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The Hindu concept of space is infinite.
Depending on the school of Hindu thought, it could be considered objective
reality, or expression of matter, or as illusion. From a Vedic Hinduism
standpoint, only three worlds are described. In (later) Classical Hinduism, the
14 world concept is described from the Puraanas or from the Yoga texts. The
reference to millions of worlds can be considered a poetic expression or as
suggested by Dr. Karan Singh it could refer to the millions of galaxies.
The Hindu concept of Space is infinite. Different
systems of Hindu thought consider "Space" differently. [See question 7 for
greater details of the different Hindu philosophical systems.]
like Nyaaya-Vaisheshika, Mimaamsaa, Dvaita Vedaanta etc. consider Space to be an
Saankhya-Yoga and Raamaanuja Vedaanta consider Space
to be an evolute of Matter. When matter evolves it creates space. After all at
the atomic level, the electrons spinning around the protons and neutrons span
space. The macrocosm of this microcosm seems repeated in our physical
observation as we see space spanned between planets and their moons circling
around them, and the planets themselves circling around the sun or another star,
and a similar process within the galaxy and the millions of galaxies spanning a
Shankara Vedaanta considers Space to be an illusion
As for the number of worlds, this is the analysis:
- Three worlds is Vedic
- Bhoo or Martya (temporal world) -
- Antariksha (in-between world) - atmospheric
(heavenly world) – celestial
Vedic Gods are associated with all these three
levels. For example, Agni (god of fire) is associated with the temporal world,
Vayu (god of air) with atmosphere and Varuna (Lord of Cosmic [natural and moral]
Rhythm of the Universe) with the heavans.
- Seven worlds and fourteen worlds is Epic and Puraanic.
worlds are the seven heavens (including the earth, Bhoo) and seven hells as
Above these 14 worlds is Parandhaama [Kailaasa or
Vaikuntha = Moksha] attained through Moksha or salvation.
6 heavens or Upper Worlds [where merits earned in Bhooloka (the
last heaven in the list of seven) are expended. One cannot earn any merit in
1) Satyaloka [heaven of Chaturmukha Brahmaa]
Tapoloka [heaven of the Sanakaadi Rishis]
5) Suvarloka [heaven of Indra]
[only loka where
merits & sins can be earned and their effects experienced]
hells or Lower Worlds: [where sins earned in Bhooloka are expended. One cannot
earn any sin in these worlds]:
One can look upon these either from an Epic/Puraanic or from
a meditational standpoint, as explained in the Yogasutras of Patanjali.
- Millions of worlds (Aneka-koti Brahmaanda) can be considered a poetic
expression as when referred to the world of attributes and things. Each person,
in a poetic way, can be considered to constitute his/her own world. Dr. Karan
Singh has suggested that it may refer to the millions of
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The concept of time is infinite and
cyclical in Hinduism. There is no beginning and no end. Within cyclical
intervals creation and dissolution take place. Hindu concept identifies the
period of the temporal world as a specific number of solar years, which is
called a Mahaa-Yuga. Different time periods are attributed to the cycle of
different levels of celestial entities including the period of Brahmaa, the
The Surya Siddhanta is a text that discusses the aspect of time
and measurement in the context of solar years. This is the basis for the Hindu
Time in Hindu conception is, beyond a shadow of
doubt, cyclical and infinite. Consequently, Cosmic Time has neither a beginning
nor an end. Again, different Hindu systems consider Time differently. Systems
like Nyaaya-Vaisheshika, Mimaamsaa, Raamaanuja Vedaanta, Dvaita Vedaanta etc.
consider Time to be an objective reality. Saankhya-Yoga considers Time to be an
evolute of Matter. shankara vedAnta considers Time to be an illusion
All Hindu traditions with the exception of the Mimaamsaa system
believe in this cosmic time scheme. There are two versions suggested by
10 Gurvakshara = 1 Praana
(respiration) (4 sec)
6 Praana = 1 Vinaadi (24 sec)
= 1 Naadi (24 min)
60 Naadi = 1 Day
One day is from sunrise to
sunrise in the Hindu system.
Movement of the Sun (with respect to the
earth) from 0 degrees of one Zodiac Sign to the next is considered a month. For
example, 0 degrees Aries to 0 degrees Taurus is the first month. From 0 degrees
Taurus to 0 degrees Gemini is the second month, etc.
2 months = 1
3 Rtus = 1 Ayana (direction of movement of the Sun relative
to the latititudes)
2 Ayanas = 1 Samvatsara or solar year
Hindu system does not worry about leap years. Some years will be 365 days and
some 366 days, and the precise definition of a New Year is the entry of the Sun
into 0 degrees Aries. One complete revolution around the Sun from 0 degrees
Aries back to 0 degree Aries constitues one year. Each solar year is given a
name and attribute. They go in cycles of 60 years.
One Solar Year =
One Day of the Celestials
360 Celestial Days = 1 year of the
12,000 Celestial Years = 1 Mahaayuga
i.e. 1 Mahaayuga =
4,320,000 solar years
Each Mahaayuga consists of 4 Yugas
1 Manu (or
Manvantara – time of Manu) = 71 Mahaayugas
- Kruta Yuga (also called Satya Yuga) = 4,800 Celestial years = 1.728 million
- TretaYuga = 3,600 Celestial years = 1.296 million solar years
- Dwaapara Yuga = 2,400 Celestial years = 864,000 solar years
- Kaliyuga = 1,200 Celestial Years = 432,000 solar years
1 Kalpa = 14 Manus (or
(1 kalpa = 1 day of Brahmaa)
Brahmaa’s life is 100 years =
360 times 100 Brahmaa days = 36,000
Kalpas = 504,000 Manus = 35,784,000
Mahayugas = 153.8712 trillion solar years
Paramaanus = 1 Anu
3 Anus = 1 Vedha
3 Vedhas = 1 Lava
Lavas = 1 Nimesha
3 Nimeshas = 1 Kshana
5 Kshanas = 1
15 Kaashthaas = 1 Laghu
15 Laghus = 1 Naadika
2 Naadikas = 1 Muhurta
30 Muhurtas = 1 Ahoraatra [24 hour
15 Ahoraatras = 1 Paksha
2 Pakshas = 1 Maasa
Maasas = 1 Rtu
3 Rtus = 1 Ayana
2 Ayanas = 1 Samvatsara [1
20,736,000,000 Samvatsaras = Krutayuga
Samvatsaras = Tretaayuga
10,368,000,000 Samvatsaras = Dwaaparayuga
5,184,000,000 Samvatsaras = Kaliyuga
4 of these yugas together = 1
18 Mahaayugas = 1 Manvantara
14 Manvantaras = 1
At the end of a kalpa is praLaya [dissolution of the Universe].
The Universe comes into being all over again and another kalpa cycle
With respect to the Hindu Calendar, the source document is the
Surya Siddhanta. Hindus over the ages have followed the Solar Calendar, and
historians track the knowledge of the Solar Calendar going through Egypt to
Julius Caesar (and the Romans), who established the modern Julian Calendar.
However the Hindu Solar Calendar has a precise definition of months and years.
It does not require any adjustment like the Julian calendar. [In the Julian
Calendar, a day is added every 4th year (leap year) and the year of the turn of
the century is kept as a normal year instead of a leap year. This is to
accommodate the cycle of the earth around the sun which is a little less than
365 and a quarter days.]
In the last few centuries, an element of the
Lunar Calendar has also entered the fold of Hindu Calendars, probably as a
result of Islamic influence. This is followed in some parts of India. New moon
to new moon is considered a month, and since the Moon’s cycle around the earth
is only about 29 days, every now and then the same month is repeated a second
time and is called an extra month or Adhika Maasa. This is to preserve a
12-month annual calendar within the lunar cycle. The Lunar Calendar is
predominant in Andhra and Karnataka and some other parts of North
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Answer to this can be given either from an anthropological or a
theological standpoints. The anthropological standpoint looks upon these gods
and their vehicles as pre-Aryan tribal gods who had their own totems. They were
slowly incorporated into the Vedic Aryan pantheon. Most of these gods have their
origins in the Puraanas, not Vedas.
Puraanas attribute various functions,
attributes and symbolisms to the Vaahanas.
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Hindu religious lore and practice regards
the cow as specially sacred and worthy of worship. However, since everything is
considered the manifestation of the Ultimate Divinity, there is respect towards
everything including animals, and special reverence to those animals considered
vehicles (Vaahanas) of different deities.
The Puraanas are the source of
many deities with animal faces or bodies, and the stories in the Puraanas
usually mention how such faces or bodies came to be.
Reverence for the
cow goes back to Indo-Iranian tradition, where the cow symbolizes “oppressed
goodness.” The eighth Avataar of Vishnu, Krishna, in his role as Gopaala (one
who herds and protects cows), probably elevated it to the level of being
Hindu religious lore and practice regards the cow
as specially sacred and worthy of worship, although from a cosmic perspective,
there is divinity in everything including animals.
All created things
are believed to have within them an aspect of the Creator, or Divinity. There
are verses of the Upanishads that say Brahman, the Ultimate, created the
universe out of Itself, or that It created the universe and entered every part
of it. A reverential attitude towards animals and plants, rivers and mountains,
and all creation, follows as a logical consequence of this faith. There are some
rare places in India, where elephants, snakes, monkeys, and rodents may be
revered. It is this same attitude that manifested in the well-known idea of
Ahimsa which was applied by Mahatma Gandhi in his non-violent struggle for
India’s independence, as with the promotion of vegetarianism during the period
of Classical Hinduism. (Respect for the environment and all living being is
built within Hindu thinking.)
The basis of practices related to the cow
or other animals or reptiles are probably related to stories from the Puraanas
and the association with Vaahanas (or vehicles) of different deities. With
respect to deities with animal faces or bodies, there are rival stories in the
Puraanas giving details of how a particular deity got a particular animal face
Veneration of cows is common to the ancient Indo-Iranian
religions. It is there even among Zoroastrians, even though not to the extent of
Classical Hinduism (after 100 CE). The Zoroastrians maintain a hospice center to
this day for aged cows which then die a natural death there. The cow is a symbol
of ‘oppressed goodness’ as per the ancient Indo-Iranians. In Vedic Hinduism the
cow was venerated, but in Classical Hinduism it came to be worshipped. The
eighth incarnation of Vishnu, i.e. Krishna, in his manifestation of Gopala gave
added fillip to the worship of cows as they were especially dear to
Among the ancient Indo-Europeans cow and earth were intimately
related. Hence the words to them are sometimes the same.
Examples: COW [ENGLISH] = GO
= GO [SANSKRIT] = "EARTH"
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Hindu philosophy and Vedic Hinduism
required no restrictions on food. In Classical Hinduism, after 300 CE, as the
cow was elevated to the level of worship, killing or eating cows was prohibited.
A significant number of Hindus religiously observe vegetarianism.
The Vedas note no food restrictions. During the
Vedic period eating meat was common place. Later there was a big conversion
towards vegetarianism, probably influenced by Jainism and Buddhism.
the eighth Avataara, Krishna, in his role as Gopaala associated as the herder
and protector of the cow, the cow was raised to the level of worship, and
killing and eating cows was prohibited. There is a general belief in India that
vegetarianism promotes spiritual growth, and a large number of Hindus are
vegetarians. Modern science speaks to the benefits of vegetarianism as
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