Hinduism is an ancient Indian religion dating back more than 3,000 years in the Indus Valley (Pakistan). Currently, approximately 80 percent of Indians regard themselves as Hindu. Hinduism has no identified founder but is a philosophy combining a great variety of teachings and practices passed down from key historical figures.  The core beliefs of Hinduism are found in sacred texts. These include: Vedas (contains hymns and stories of gods and goddesses); Upanishads (ultimate reality and the meaning of life); Epic poems (Mahabharata including the Bhagavad Gita, and Ramayana).

Core Beliefs

Brahman:  The life-force and absolute reality within all, this deity is an impersonal force.  Humans are linked to Brahman by the soul (atman). The different aspects of Brahman’s  personality are respresented by scores of individual gods.The most important of these gods are known as the Trimurti, they are: Brahma, the creator; Visnu, the preserver; and Siva, the destroyer and recreator of life.

Karma: The continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. A good life is rewarded by a better status in the next life, while a bad life (selfishness, sinfulness) will be punished by a lower status in the next life.

Dharma:  The path that is right. Hindus believe that in order to live a good life people must follow a moral code of conduct as written in the Hindu scriptures. Dharma traditionally consists of four stages in an individual’s life, these are: childhood and education; household with the responsibility of family and career; retirement when one is a grandparent and gives more time to spiritual matters; finally, at the end of one’s life becoming totally devoted to the absolute life force.

Reincarnation:  Rebirth in successive cycles enables one to continue the work perfecting one’s self attaining moksa or the state of merging with Brahman.  After many reincarnations it is hoped  nirvana will be achieved and freedom from the cycle of reincarnation will be obtained.

Caste system:  An ancient system of social order found in The Rig Veda, one of the earliest volumns of Vedic literature. In this system, a person was born into a class (varna) which dictates education, occupation, marriage partner, and who to socialize with. The highest caste or brahman was made up of priests and philosophers; the kshatriya or warrior class; the vaishya or artisans, merchants, minor officials, and farmers; and the lowest caste consisting of laborers or unskilled workers.  Another large group of people were considered so unimportant as to not even be included in the caste structure. These people are refered to as Dalits or Untouchables and Outcasts. They were assigned work deemed unclean for other Hindus and they were subordinate to all other groups.

For more information on Hinduism visit the following websites: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/ and http://hinduism.iskcon.org/index.htm.

For a brief list of gods and goddesses: http://www.usefulcharts.com/religion/main-hindu-gods-chart.html.

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