Hinduism – The Hindu GodsA majority of Indians are Hindus (nearly 80 percent). Hinduism originates from the Indian subcontinent and is considered to be the oldest and the 3rd largest religion in the world in terms of adherents. Hinduism has about 1 billion followers with more than 905 million of them being Indians. Many of its practitioners refer to it as the “eternal law.” The Hindu name comes from “Sindhu” which refers to the Indus river that goes through Pakistan. History says that the name was used for people who had settled on the banks of the Indus river. The religion comprises a variety of systems of beliefs, philosophies, rituals, traditions, and obligations. Another factor that defines the path of Hinduism is the knowledge of its sacred texts and scriptures. These ideas and beliefs go above and beyond to prove that Hinduism is not just but a system of beliefs- it’s a way of life. The 3 main traditions are Shaivism, Vaishnavism, and Shaktism; their adherents are referred to as Shiva, Vishnu, and Shakti respectively. The roots of the religion can be traced back to the 1st millennium BCE to the female terra-cotta figurines that are found ubiquitously in excavations of sites that are found along the Indus valley.
The general nature of the religionWhat makes Hinduism strikingly different from other religions is its pluralistic nature; it accepts different realities from different sources. This expansiveness is brought about by the fact that the truth cannot be encapsulated in any creedal formulation and, therefore, has to be sought from multiple sources. According to Hinduism, one’s view of the truth is basically determined by the specifics of time, gender, state of mind, attainment, and state of consciousness. All these factors function to expand a view of religious truth rather than minimize it. As a result, you will find that most Hindus believe in tolerance as the foremost religious virtue. Another way in which Hinduism differs from other religions is that it has no founder and no prophets. Although Hindus do believe in a universal God called Brahman who is the cause and foundation of all that is in existence. They also believe that he takes many different forms that may be worshiped as Indian gods. Some of the common Hindu gods’ names are Vishnu, Shiva, Lakshmi, and Saraswathi.
Devotional SectsIndians refer to their gods as “deva” and “devi”. The former is masculine (gods) while the later is feminine (goddesses). All Hindus believe in the concept of the sacred Trimurti; Lord Brahma is the creator; Lord Vishnu is the sustainer; Lord Shiva is the destroyer. The four distinctive sects in Hinduism are:
1. ShaivismThe followers of this sect are referred to as Shaivas. They worship Lord Shiva together with all his incarnations. The Shaivas believe that Shiva is the creator, sustainer, revealer, concealer, and destroyer of the entire universe. There are a number of sub-sects under Shaivism.
2. VaishnavismThe followers of this sect are referred to as Vaishnavas. They worship Lord Vishnu, all his ten incarnations, as well as the Vishvaroopa. The Vaishnavas believe that Lord Vishnu is the creator, destroyer, sustainer, revealer, and concealer of the universe. Similar to Shaivism, Vaishnavism also has several sub-sects.
3. The ShaktiThe followers of this sect are known as Saktas; they believe in the divine feminine energy. Saktas literally translates to worshippers of the mother goddess. The Saktas believe that Shakti is the consort of Lord Shiva and they control the universe together. The Shakti sect believes that masculinity is incomplete without femininity and the two are needed for the completeness of the universe.
4. Smarta SampradayaThe orthodox sect has followers from the Hindu Brahmin families that consider the Hindu scriptures to be the most authoritative texts of Hinduism. Since they believe in the Smrtis (the scriptures), the followers are referred to as the Smartas. The Smartaz only worship 5 divinities which they believe to be the animate forms of Brahman itself: Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Ganesh, and Surya- the Sun god.
The goals of human lifeIn Hinduism, there are 4 goals for human life that a believer is supposed to attain through his actions while they are alive. A person is expected to fulfill all these goals in order to lead a fruitful life and to get free from the cycle of reincarnation These goals make up the Hindus way of life. The 4 goals are collectively referred to as the purusarthas and they include:
1. DharmaDharma relates to a person’s religious duties. This goal refers to the life code that involves respecting one’s elders and marriage.
2. ArthaArtha relates to a person’s prosperity. This second goal represents the pursuit of wealth and material gains by lawful means.
3. KarmaThis goal gives a person the chance to reincarnate to a higher level through good and pure acts. Karma relates to the pleasures we give ourselves and how they affect our afterlife.
4. MokshaMoksa translates to spiritual liberation. This refers to the final release of the soul from the cycle of reincarnation.
ReincarnationHindus believe that the soul is an eternal entity and exists through multiple lifetimes. The soul gets into a new creature after the previous body dies; it may be reborn as a person, an animal, or sprout as a plant. They do believe that everything that is living has a soul. Reincarnation goes on and on until all the soul’s beliefs are realized. Afterward, the soul achieves some form of “freedom” that Indians refer to as Moksha. To achieve this freedom, there are 4 different paths to take. They are:
- The path of knowledge
- The path of devotion
- The path of meditation
- The path of good works