Here is a survey of features common to many sorts of Hinduism, which is also called Sanatan Dharma, or Eternal and Righteous Deals, or Eternal Religion, Eternal Law of Order, Eternal Justice - since dharma embodies righteousness, justice, order, law, and religion. Humans and whole societies that do not turn away from that deep balancing, don't turn away from living in harmony with what is proper, fit or beneficial, are not all wrong . . .
Dharma (right and proper doings) is concerned with fares that are more or less in accord with Eternal Law - that order which makes life and universe possible, and so Sanatan Dharma includes duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and proper ways of living. Thus, Hinduism is of regulations in life, and there are books and scriptures about rather many sides to it, and many key concepts to ponder. [Cf. WP, "Dharma"]
Dharma (doing right) is a central idea in it; it connotes "ideas of 'truth', 'duty', 'ethics', 'law', and even 'natural law'. It is that power which upholds or supports society and the cosmos", a great power that takes part in forming things and goings too. (Gavin Flood 1996:11)
Governed, or lorded over
When we speak of Dharma as Law, there is a deep, inward Essence that metes it out, allowing leeways too. And then there are laws formulated to regulate societies - different laws too. Some of them are not aligned to one another. There are lots of human imperfections too - and the vast amount of laws to govern human conduct is an indication of it, in its way. The growing child is governed by outward rules and regulations. The grown-up is governed by heart-felt convictions, ideals and marriage partners - or conscience. A mature moral is more inward-turned than steered from outside, although it can incorporate outer rules and laws it finds to be OK, such as moral guidelines for yogis. Living is a balancing act in very many ways. Some laws are good, some deep feelings tend to be for good too - but not all of them. Judiciousness is indeed called for.
In a wider perspective
Hinduism is linking up to ways to regulate one's life to what is thought of as the greatest advantages. One takes to heart the important sides to proper, good living that sustain Dharma and are sustained by Dharma, the Eternal Laws, so as not to violate it much and grossly throughout life. It is good to seek to promote a really good life according to one's circumstances or one's measure. To cooperate willingly with it as one makes haste to improve oneself and rise toward the bright side of life and "things", that is a large and central part of what many-sided Hinduism really is about.
1. What celestial beings a Hindu believes in, is not as vital as becoming one oneself, and then go beyond that, by methods, paths and help from beneficial Gurus
Reckon with life stages and life goals
In actual practice, what a Hindu does is more important than what a Hindu believes. Gavin Flood: "Hinduism is not credal." (1996:12)
Yet a Hindu reckons with four main life goals goals to fulfil to one's ability, proclivities - either or both. Artha (wealth), kama (lust, passions), dharma (doing right, duty), and moksha (freedom) are employed in a very wide scheme for regulating the ongoing life through its postulated stages. Some may easily be linked to fit and fair id development (Cf. Erikson)
Hindu scriptures describe and relate to celestial entities "shining ones", that is "gods", "goddesses", or "heavenly beings".
Means and methods
There are several methods (yogas) that sages have taught for reaching the goal above or beyond angels, devas. They put Self-knowledge - it is linked to moksha (freedom) - as the End Goal for life forms and all sorts of living. Texts dedicated to Yoga include the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and, as their philosophical and historical basis, the Upanishads.
Paths, margas, toward the end goal of life (moksha, samadhi or nirvana) had better be founded on deep meditation with auxilliaries that go well together.
Using sounds to meditate and the like
Mantras help beginners especially. Many adopt mental mantra repetition, japa, as their key spiritual practice. (2)
2. Brahman (God) at the centre
Smartism (the Smarta Tradition), from Sanskrit 'smarta', refers to Hindus who follow the Vedas and shastras (core Hindu scriptures). It accepts all the major Hindu deities as forms of the one Brahman. Advaita Vedanta Hinduism is Smartism that is rooted in the Upanishads.
Hinduism is rather an umbrella term for a traditional way of life with a wide range of traditions and ideas covered by it. Faith has no central role of it. It is also a most diverse religious tradition and the most complex of all the living, historical world religions, as well as the oldest living major tradition on earth.
The value of ahimsa and its turns
Hindus advocate the practice of ahimsa (non-violence), of not inflicting harm and doing less harm to life than one otherwise would. If possible, the first side to it. Second, reduce or minimise the harm. Ahimsa is a basic in fine yoga, as shown in the Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. To embrace vegetarianism for the sake of favouring higher forms of life is good in this light, if nutritients are not lacking in one's diet. Many in India are lacto-vegetarians, so they drink milk and eat cheese and other milk products. And Hindus who eat meat almost always abstain from beef, cow's meat, or veal. The cow in Hindu society is traditionally honoured for sustenance it gives. Cow-slaughter is legally banned in almost all states of India. and most Hindus abhor animal sacrifice.
Freedom, called moksha
What exactly is meant by moksha differs among the various Hindu schools of thought. For example, non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta holds that after attaining moksha an atman (a spirit) no longer identifies itself with a person, but that it is now Brahman in every way. The followers of dualistic (Dvaita) schools identify themselves as parts of Brahman. I would say Nimbarka's Vedanta school bridges those main schools.
In Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism, the concept of moksha is akin to that of Buddhism's nirvana, and also Christianity's doctrine of salvation.
Hinduism has a developed system of symbolism and iconography to represent the sacred in art, architecture, literature and worship. Hinduism is laden with symbolism. Symbols illustrate deeper meanings from scriptures, mythology, or cultural traditions.
To remain in tune with the Real should work very well
As the All, Brahman (ultimate Reality, eternal Truth, etc.,) expresses as the universe and how the cosmos is naturally ordered by Law, Brahman is likewise reckoned with as a "hidden substance" of beings that emanate from itself and are in tune also.
The Great Goal of Awakening into Great Freedom
The ultimate goal of life, referred to as moksha, nirvana or samadhi, is understood in several different ways: as the realisation of one's union with God; as the realisation of one's eternal relationship with God; realisation of the unity of all existence, and more. The unifying idea is that soul-and-jiva-realisation liberates one from samsara and thus ends the cycle of rebirth.
Moreover, from ancient times Hinduism has set up four head goals in life. They are Dharma ("righteousness"), Artha ("livelihood, wealth"), Kama ("sensual pleasure") and Moksha ("liberation, freedom (from samsara)") sort of dances with the other three. (4)
Four classes and Untouchables
Hindu society is presently categorized into four classes, called varnas (Sanskrit: "colour, form, appearance"). Outcastes, also known as Untouchables, form a very large group outside of the Hindu castes, and are now formally referred to as the Scheduled Castes. There are over 160 million Untouchables today. The four Hindu castes:
3. No single founder, a large body of instructive texts, and ways of coping within one's good heritage or Dharma
In for Spirit or Soul
Smartas, like many Saivites and Vaishnavites, consider Surya, the Sun, to be a side to God, and that the spirit or soul - the true "self" of every person, called the atman - is eternal. Waking up to it � getting Enlightened � is the goal of good yogis. The goal of life, according to Advaita, is to realise one's atman - and how All-Atman is the same as Brahman. Upanishads state that whoever becomes fully aware of the atman as the innermost core of one's own self, realises identity with Brahman and thereby wins moksha (liberation or freedom, a state of great bliss).
There is no single founder of Hinduism. A large body of texts is classified as Hindu - divided into "revealed" and "remembered" texts. In some you get wide views like these:
You go downward when you get depraved
Samsara, the world with its rounds of births and deaths, provides temporary delights, whereas transcending the world of samsara and thereby gain moksha is believed to ensure lasting happiness and peace as Cosmic Spirit - Brahman/Paramatman. However, making the mistake of being worldly you have to fall again and again - and that includes such as falling into the rounds of perhaps untimely deaths and births, and even going downwards into lower forms of life - if you succumb to wicked ways and get skilled in wickedness to such a degree that you are turned into a creep of low existence, suffering hells in between births on earth. That is a general understanding of the dangers of rebirths where depravity and wickedness get you if you are not utterly on your guard. Compare Buddha's graphic doctrines on rebirths and karma: [Buddha on being born again and again]
Hindu hells, no places to stay . . .
But Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity differ on fundamental beliefs on heaven, hell and reincarnation. From the Hindu and Buddhist perspectives, heaven and hell are only temporary. There is not any concept of a permanent hell. Permanent heaven or bliss on the other hand is "Moksha", Liberation in Self-Realisation.
A vast flood
Hinduism is a a conglomerate of ideas and issues of monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism, atheism, agnosticism and gnosticism among others, integrating a variety of elements. As a religion, Hinduism is a composite of diverse doctrines, cults, and ways of life. Further, Hinduism has religious, social, economic, literary, and artistic sides to it. [WP, s.v. "Hinduism"].
Hinduism is both a civilization and a congregation of religious forms. Every attempt at a specific definition of Hinduism has proved unsatisfactory in one way or another. The finest scholars of Hinduism, including Hindus themselves, have emphasized different aspects of the whole.
Hinduism has general features, and yet is like a wide flood with many currents in it. Yoga and Vedanta are thriving, appealing to lots of modern people. The main divisions of Hinduism today are Vaishnavism (Vishnuism), Shaivism ("Shiva-ism"), Smartism and Shaktism ("Prowess- ism"). There is also Folk Hinduism, Vedic Hinduism, Yogic Hinduism, especially that based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. "Dharmic (moral)" Hinduism of adjusting to explained laws of Karma.
Four life stages
Traditionally the life of a Hindu is divided into four phases or life stages.
From the 1800s onwards, Hinduism was much revived through the efforts and teachings of individuals. Hindu philosophers, including Aurobindo and Prabhupada, translated, reformulated and presented versions of Hinduism's foundational texts for contemporary audiences. Others such as Vivekananda, have attracted awareness of Yoga and Vedanta in the West.
Hindus recognise several Indian holy cities. Pilgrimage is not mandatory in Hinduism. Hinduism has many festivals throughout the year. Hindu calendars prescribe their dates.
A variety of concepts
Hinduism is diverse, and its concepts of God and freedom (moksha) are many and complex and depends on the particular traditions and philosophies that use the concepts. (7)
Free from a lot, and free to a lot
A jivanmukti is said to be a free soul (liberated while in the body). Jiva-bliss is good if it serves the Self.
In Hindu dealings.
There is Supreme Brahman to reckon with in all one's dealings, also to oneself, but not everyone think of that.
Belief in retributions in life
Action, work, or deed, is essential, for it forms karma and the future fare, both in this life, the beyond, and in future lives - Karma as retributive influences involve the "law of cause and effect", and of redressing things too.
At bottom: the Vedas
The Rig Veda is one of the oldest religious texts, and the first and most important Veda. There are four Vedas.
What academics are up to: Categorise or classify
Academics categorize contemporary Hinduism into four major denominations: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism � by the Smarta view. Denominations like Saura (Sun worship) are not so widespread.
(9) Gavin Flood says in An Introduction to Hinduism:
Hinduism is a term which denotes the religions of the majority of people in India and Nepal, and of some communities in other continents, who refer to themselves a 'Hindus' . . . the diversity of Hinduism is truly vast . . . Some might claim, both from within the tradition and from outside it, that because of this diversity there is 'no such thing as Hinduism', while others might claim that, in spite of its diversity, there is an 'essence' which structures or patterns its manifestations. The truth of the matter probably lies somewhere between these claims . . . and differences between Hindus might be as great as differences between Hindus and Buddhists or Christians (Flood 1996:5).
The view that Hinduism is hardly defined by certain properties, yet with prototypical forms of practice and beliefs without rigid boundaries. There are, rather, degrees of being a Hindu, and many forms of Hinduism, all of this with fuzzy edges. Some forms of religion are central to Hinduism, while others areless clearly central but still within the category, says Gavin Flood. (1996:6-7)
Flood also thinks that "what we understand by Hinduism as a religion partly depends on what we mean by 'religion'." In many world religions, the sacred regarded as divine power manifested in images, rituals, people, and temples, is part independently of conventional fervour in religion. According to Flood, the sacred in Hinduism is "mediated through innumerable, changings forms" (1996:8-9).
Up to the present
As for Hindus in Western countries, most Hindu sects do not seek converts.
And Hinduism has a history of co-existence with Buddhism and Jainism.
Many rise by the art and craft of meditation and improve their living - To find yourself to be the Acme of all beings could be fully safe and decent: It is an old Upanishadic teaching. (Cf. Chandogya Upanishad)
Achyarya Pranipata Chaitanyam tr. Sri Sankara's Vivekachudamani: Devanagari Text, Transliteration, Word-for-Word Meaning, and a Lucid English Translation. Rev. and ed. with an Introduction by Satinder Dhiman. Raleigh, NC: House of Metta / Lulu.com, 2012. ⍽▢⍽ This is Shankara's Crest-Jewel of Discrimination by another title. The old treatise expounds Advaita Vedanta and is widely regarded as quintessential Vedanta. A readable translation.
Bühler, George. tr: The Laws of Manu. Banarsidass (Reprint of Oxford University's 1886-edition). Delhi,1984.
The Cultural Heritage of India. Vols 1-7. Calcutta/Kolkata: The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, 1958–2006.
EB: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica 2016 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD. London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2015.
Flood, Gavin. An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ⍽▢⍽ Dr Flood traces the development of Hindu traditions from their ancient origins, to the modern world. Flood examines dharma (propriety) ideas. The book may suit both student and general reader who has some knowledge of Hinduism and would like to delve a little deeper into the subject.
Gambhirananda, Swami, tr. Srimad Bhagavad Gita: English Translation of Sri Sankaracharya's Sanskrit Commentary. 6th impression. Mayavati: Advaita Ashrama. 2003. ⍽▢⍽ The Bhagavad Gita is a sacred Hindu scripture, and a major work in the history of literature and philosophy. In it, Sri Krishna teaches his bowman Arjuna about the duties and meaning of life. Gambhirananda translates each verse phrase by phrase. followed by Sri Shankara's commentary to the verses. The Sanskrit text is there too, along an English transliteration, and explanations in footnotes of lots of words. A solid work of 826 pages.
Hinduism Today, eds. What is Hinduism? Modern Adventures into a Profound Global Faith. Kapaa, HI: Himalayan Academy, 2007. ⍽▢⍽ The material of this book may appeals to a variety of seekers. The content is enriched by photographs and artwork on every page.
Jolly, Julius tr: The Institutes of Vishnu. Banarsidass. Delhi, 1965.
Katz, Vernon, and Thomas Egenes, trs. The Upanishads: A New Translation. New York: Tarcher, 2015. ⍽▢⍽ Here is a clear and simple, learned rendering in modern and poetic language of nine key Upanishads (there are dozens of other Upanishads too). The Upanishads belong to what is often considered the most important literature from ancient India. If you would like a look at what core texts of Hinduism are about, here is a good place to start. Kena Upanishad, 2:3:
[Teacher:] To whom it is not known, to him it is known.
In the next verse it is explained; it is rightly known through an awakening. (p. 38)
Klostermaier, Klaus K. Hinduism: A Beginner's Guide. Oxford: Oneworld/Beginners Guide, 2008.⍽▢⍽ A book for interested students. It is divided into four parts: The Vedic Tradition, The Hindu Religions, The Hindu Philosophical Quest (including Yoga), and Hinduism Encounters Other Religions.
Klostermaier, Klaus K. A Survey of Hinduism. 3rd ed. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press, 2007. ⍽▢⍽ The book is an inclusive and quite accessible textbook on Hinduism for those who know something about Hinduism already. It deals with the history of Hinduism, sacred writings of Hindus, generalised Hindu worldview and specifics of major branches of Hinduism. The book is 700 pages long, including 130 pages of footnotes, appendices, and such. It can be good for readers who are curious about lots of facts and details of Hinduism.
Kuiper, Kathleen, ed. The Culture of India (Understanding India). New York: Britannica Educational Publishing / Rosen Educational Services, 2011. ⍽▢⍽ A great history is reflected in remarkable achievements in ways of living, arts and customs, life events, and living up to good ideas. A good book.
Leggett, Trevor. The Complete Commentary by Sankara on the Yoga Sutras: A Full Translation of the Newly Discovered Text. London: Kegan Paul, 1990. ⍽▢⍽ This is an English translation of a Sanskrit sub-commentary by Shankara on the Yoga sutras of Patanjali. It is told in the work that the future already exists. To change your future, change the on-going present fairly and well, then.
Lochtefeld, James G. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vols 1 and 2. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2002. ⍽▢⍽ Dr. Lochtefeld has specialized in Hinduism. The two volumes contain over 2,500 cross-referenced entries for getting concepts fit for the beliefs, practices, history and cultural traditions of Hinduism. A valuable reference source on such as Hindu festivals, texts, doctrine, rituals, practices, biographies, deities and heroes, architecture, mythology, sects, and institutions.
Mascaró, Juan, tr. The Upanishads: Translations from the Sanskrit. London: Penguin, 1965. ⍽▢⍽ he earliest Upanishads were composed between 800 and 400 BCE by sage poets, and form part of the sacred Veda scriptures. The beautiful texts reflect on life, death and immortality. Hinduism has evolved from them. Mascaró's work consists of translated or rendered selections. Useless for serious scholars, this is a good reading for a general reader if you can find one.
Mason, Paul. Roots of TM: The Transcendental Meditation of Guru Dev and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Penzance, UK: Premanand, 2016. ⍽▢⍽ Here is a a source book about Guru Dev, HH Shankaracharya Brahmananda, his devoted follower Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and information around the Transcendental Meditation, TM, a very simple and helpful meditaton method that Maharishi spread to many countries from the late 1950s and for decades. Paul Mason has researched the history of TM and written several books about Guru Dev and Maharishi already. I am one of those who treasure his readable and informed books, including this one.
Nikhilananda, Swami, tr. Self-Knowledge: An English Translation of Shankaracharya's Atmabodha, with Notes, Comments, and Introduction. Mylapore, Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1947 (and later reprints). ⍽▢⍽ Self-knowledge is the crown of all forms of life on earth and in the heavens, teach Vedanta and Nyingma Buddhist teachings of Padmasambhava, who uses the term Self-liberation for the same. Seekers of Self-knowledge are exhorted to endeavour to (1) discern between the real [lasting] and unreal [or soon of the past]; (2) remain [somewhat] nonattached; (3) practice the fixed virtues of (a) calmness; (b) self-control enough; (c) self-settledness [had by good inward-turning] (d) a certain forbearance and steadiness for enduring suffering; (e) concentrating firmly and ably; (e) getting a measure of "faith-intuition", different from belief and non-belief. It is turning one's awareness inward toward the soul level and preparing for realising the Self in oneself. (4) Through fit inward-probing spiritual advancement or success comes: The true Self shines forth by one's single-minded awareness turned within in appropriate yoga ways. It is such training that matters. [p. 43-74, extracted]
WP: Wikipedia. Online encyclopaedia.
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