Hindu Beliefs and Practices
At the heart of Hinduism is the panentheistic principle of Brahman, that all reality is a unity. The entire universe is one divine entity who is simultaneously at one with the universe and who transcends it as well. Deity is simultaneously visualized as a triad:
Most Hindus follow one of two major divisions within Hinduism:
- Brahma the Creator who is continuing to create new realities
- Vishnu, (Krishna) the Preserver, who preserves these new creations. Whenever dharma (eternal order, righteousness, religion, law and duty) is threatened, Vishnu travels from heaven to earth in one of ten incarnations.
- Siva, the Destroyer, is at times compassionate, erotic and destructive.
The Rigveda defined five social castes. Ones caste determined the range of jobs or professions from which one could choose. Marriages normally took place within the same caste. One normally was of the same caste as one's parents. In decreasing status, the five castes are:
- Vaishnavaism: generally regard Vishnu as the ultimate deity
- Shivaism: generally regard Shiva as the ultimate deity.
- Simultaneously, many hundreds of Hindu Gods and Goddesses are worshipped as various aspects of that unity. Depending upon ones view, Hinduism can be looked upon as a monotheistic, or polytheistic religion.
Although the caste system was abolished by law in 1949, it remains a significant force throughout India, particularly in the south.
- Brahmins (the priests and academics)
- Kshatriyas (the military), Vaishyas (farmers and merchants) and Sudras (peasants and servants). The exact ranking of these three castes varied among villages.
- Harijan (the outcasts, commonly known as the untouchables)
Humans are perceived as being trapped in samsara, a meaningless cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. Karma is the accumulated sum of ones good and bad deeds. Karma determines how you will live your next life. Through pure acts, thoughts and devotion, one can be reborn at a higher level. Eventually, one can escape samsara and achieve enlightenment. Bad deeds can cause a person to be reborn as a lower level, or even as an animal. The unequal distribution of wealth, prestige, suffering are thus seen as natural consequences for ones previous acts, both in this life and in previous lives.
Meditation is often practiced, with Yoga being the most common. Other activities include daily devotions, public rituals, and puja a ceremonial dinner for a God.
Hinduism has a deserved reputation of being highly tolerant of other religions. Hindus have a saying: "Ekam Sataha Vipraha Bahudha Vadanti," which may be translated: "The truth is One, but different Sages call it by Different Names"