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NITAAI-Veda.nyf > All Scriptures By Acharyas > Suhotra Dasa Tapovanachari > Hinduism > Hindusim

1. What Is Hinduism? 


A Christian, visiting India from the West, would surely think it strange if he or she was told by an Indian, "You are a follower of Jordanism." Christianity, along with Judaism and Islam, hails from the region of the Jordan river. But it is unlikely that Christians, Jews and Muslims would like their faiths being lumped together under such an artificial, unscriptural category as "Jordanism." Yet just this sort of thing was done to the followers of the indigenous religions of India. The word "Hinduism" is derived from the name of a river in present-day Pakistan, the Sindhu (also known as the Indus). Beginning around 1000 AD, invading armies from the Middle East called the place beyond the Sindhu "Hindustan" and the people who lived there the "Hindus". (Due to the invaders' language, the s was change to h.) In the centuries that followed, the term "Hindu" became acceptable even to the Indians themselves as a general designation for their different religious traditions. But since the word Hindu is not found in the scriptures upon which these traditions are based, it is quite inappropriate. The proper term is vedic dharma; the next two paragraphs briefly explain each of these words.


The word vedic refers to the teachings of the Vedic literatures. From these literatures we learn that this universe, along with countless others, was produced from the breath of Maha-Vishnu some 155,250,000,000,000 years ago. The Lord's divine breath simultaneously transmitted all the knowledge humankind requires to meet the material needs and revive his dormant God consciousness of each person. This knowledge is called Veda. Caturmukha (four-faced) Brahma, the first created being within this universe, received Veda from Vishnu. Brahma, acting as an obedient servant of the Supreme Lord, populated the planetary systems with all species of life and imparted the Vedic scriptures as the guide for spiritual and material progress. Veda is thus traced to the very beginning of the cosmos.


Some of the most basic Vedic teachings seen within modern Hinduism are:


  * Every living creature is an eternal soul covered by a material body.


  * The souls bewildered by maya (the illusion of identifying the self with the body) must reincarnate from body to body, life after life.


  * To accept a material body means to suffer the fourfold pangs of birth, old age, disease, and death.


  * Depending upon the quality of work (karma) in the human form, a soul may take its next birth in a subhuman species, the human species, a superhuman species, or may be freed from birth and death altogether.


  * Karma dedicated in sacrifice as directed by Vedic injunctions elevates and liberates the soul.

Dharma is the essential nature of the Veda. The term dharma is translated as "duty," "virtue," "morality," "righteousness," or "religion," but no single English word conveys the whole meaning of dharma. The Vedic sage Jaimini defined dharma as "a good the nature of a command that leads to the attainment of the highest good." Now, there are different opinions as to what the highest good is that the Veda commands mankind to attain. These different opinions are the basis of the multifarious kinds of religious worship seen today within so-called Hinduism. From out of the gamut of Hindu piety, three great religious traditions emerge: Smarta-brahmanism, Shiva-shaktaism, and Vaishnavism. Each tradition is associated with one of the tri-murtis, the three main deities of Vedic dharma: Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu.


The Smarta-brahmanas or hereditary priests preside over the religious affairs of millions of ordinary Hindus. These priests conduct the services for the different devatas (demigods) that bless common people with material benedictions (wealth, family happiness, good health and so on). The Smarta-brahmanas are grouped in gotras (families) that are said to descend from Caturmukha Brahma. They uphold and defend the caste system (jati-vyavastha) which determines a person's social position in Hindu society. For a Smarta-brahmana, the main qualification of brahmanism (priesthood) is birth in a brahmana-gotra.


The Saivites and the Shaktas worship Shiva and his feminine energy Shakti, who is addressed by names like Devi, Durga, Parvati and Kali. While Brahma is the lord of cosmic creation, Shiva is the lord of cosmic devastation. Shakti is the goddess of the total material nature, or prakriti. Because Shiva is very easily pleased, those who desire rapid material advancement for little effort are especially interested in worshiping him and Shakti. The worship of Ganesha and Muruga (Kartikeya) is associated with Saivism, because they are both sons of Shiva. Also associated with Saivism and Shaktaism are left-and right-hand tantra.


Vaishnavism is the worship of Vishnu, the controller of the sattva-guna, the mode of goodness, by which everything is maintained. Brahma controls rajo-guna, the mode of passion, and Shiva controls tamo-guna, the mode of ignorance. Of these three states of material existence, goodness is topmost. The universe is created and destroyed again and again. These cycles of work by Brahma and Shiva are maintained eternally by the goodness of Vishnu. The name Vishnu means "all-pervading." Lord Vishnu dwells in the hearts of all beings as the Supersoul, as well as within every atom. He is also the total form of the universe (visvarupa) and the origin of Brahma and Shiva. Beyond the universe, Vishnu has His own transcendental abode called Vaikuntha, the spiritual world. The original and most intimate form of Vishnu is the all-attractive, ever-youthful Sri Krishna. Lord Krishna, the eternal, omniscient, and incomparably blissful Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita, the most important text of the Hindu religion. The Bhagavad-gita rejects caste by birth and any form of worship motivated by material desire. Complete surrender to Krishna is said to surpass all other commands of dharma in the Vedas (see {Bhagavad-gita 18.66}). Surrender to Krishna delivers the soul from the cycle of repeated birth and death (samsara-cakra) and returns the soul back home, back to Godhead.