In hopes of giving you a better understanding of the philosophical foundation at Balanced Achievement, we have created a ‘Balanced Achievement 101’ series that reviews the various components that merge together to form our teaching ideology. In each article (links can be found at the bottom of this page) we outline the given topic, discuss important historical information, and examine key educational concepts that are relevant to the teachings at Balanced Achievement. In this article, we explore the world’s oldest religion in Hinduism 101.
Throughout the mystical lands of India a spiritual ambiance can intoxicate visitors unlike any other place in the world. The transcendental feelings that one experiences as they walk along the steps of the Ganges, enter the gates of Jaisalmer, or look in awe at the Taj Mahal has the potential to grip even the most feeble souls. The country’s undeniable life-altering aurora is so powerful that it has the potential to even transform atheists into ascetics. This unmatched mysticism can be attributed primarily to one thing: Hinduism.
The Hindu religion is widely regarded as the oldest religion in the world and dates back beyond recorded history. Today, there are nearly 900 million practicing Hindus worldwide and around 85% of them call India home. As you will soon learn, the Hindu religion is formed around a multitude of both singular and pluralistic ideas, in a strange and paradoxical way, but because the religion’s roots aren’t definitively known, we are not completely sure how this structure emerged.
In the assessment of scholars and archeologists, modern day Hinduism was formed by the mergence of two distinctive groups of people, the Aryans and the Indus Valley Civilization. It is believed that the Aryans, who were nomadic wanders from the middle east, migrated into India around 1750 B.C.E. and came in contact with a sophisticated civilization near the Indus River (the highest located river on map). It was here where the Aryans encountered the Indus Valley civilization, and is considered by many to be the birthplace of modern day Hinduism.
There are a number of different theories that try to outline the nature of this cultural integration. Many believe that the Aryans overtook the Indus Valley civilization through combat, and while there is no definitive evidence to back up this claim, one thing is clear: Both the Aryans and Indus Valley civilization have their fingerprints on modern day Hinduism. The Aryans, for example, brought with them The Vedas, which is considered the oldest and most sacred text in the religion, and numerous artifacts portraying important Hindu concepts, such as meditation and religious rituals, have been found within the Indus Valley.
As we begin to explore modern day Hinduism it will become much easier to understand how the ideas, rituals, and beliefs found in the religion, could have been influenced by multiple cultures. For those who are not familiar with the religion, the task of understanding it can be a dizzying process because of the sheer volume of traditions and limited cohesion amongst practitioners. The overarching concept, however, should be easier to comprehend: The religion of Hinduism is formed around shared beliefs, which are expressed differently through cultural norms and traditions. This is the singularity and plurality of Hinduism.
Let’s now begin our journey into what is referred to as Santanata Dharma, or Eternal Religion, by first looking at the commonalities shared amongst Hindus.
The Ultimate Reality of Oneness
There are few similarities in the ways Hindus approach their religious lives. A multitude of worshiped gods, religious rituals, and spiritual traditions can leave one questioning if Hinduism is a single religion or numerous religions that all fall under the same heading. The most important conceptual belief in Hinduism, however, is shared by all.
The religion of Hinduism is said to have approximately 330 million gods, or Devas, who are worshiped, depending on an array of factors, by various followers of the religion. Each and everyone of these deities, however, is considered to be a the manifestation of the Ultimate Divine Reality. In Hinduism this is termed Brahman, and it consists of everything in this universe and beyond. Brahman is said to be infinite consciousness and it is the all encompassing truth.
Many Hindu teachers will describe Brahman as a experience that is beyond comprehension and one that can be known only through spiritual practice. When trying to describe Brahman, a clever analogy is often used. It would be similar to explaining the color blue to a individual who can not see. Yet still, Hindus believe that everything, both known and unknown, is Brahman. The gods, the earth, all of us, and beyond is Brahman.
In the eyes of Hindus it may not be fitting to call Brahman a god, because the magnitude of its presences isn’t given justice, but conceptually this may be the best way to develop understanding of it. If Brahman were a god, he or she would have created everything in the universe, including the air, the stars, ourselves, as well as the gods who preside over it, with parts of him or herself. Brahman is the creator of the cosmos and universe, yet at the same time is the cosmos, universe, and everything found within it.
Hindus believe that Brahman, which resides within us all, is actually our deepest and most innate nature. For this reason, the Hindu religion is formed around the idea of not only equality, at the deepest level, but also singularity. The popular Indian saying, Namaste, represents this belief. Namaste, for those who don’t know, can be translated as “The divine in me respects and honors the divine in you,” and the divine that is being referenced is Brahman.
The idea of Brahman, which can only be known through spiritual practice, is the most important shared belief that all Hindus share.
The Path to Moksha (The Ultimate Goal)
We now know that all Hindus accept the notion that everything, known and unknown, is in fact Brahman. Then, the next question that we need to explore is, ‘What is the purpose of a Hindu’s spiritual practice?’
In Christianity, individuals will live their lives with the motto ‘What Would Jesus Do,’ and base their actions on this maxim in hopes of reaching heaven after death. Hindus ultimate goal, similarly, is to reconnect with their divine creator, Brahman. Unlike Christianity, however, are a number of important concepts and beliefs, about the universe, life, and ourselves, that are shared by all Hindus. The following 5 terms will help you understand the ultimate goal of the Hindu population:
- Atman: We previously discussed how Brahman resides within each and every individual, and this part of one’s self is called Atman, or in English the Soul. The ultimate goal of Hindu individuals is to free their Atmans from this material world and reunite themselves with their essential nature, Brahman. Some other common names for Atman are: True Self, Eternal Self, and Spirt.
- Karma: The word Karma is recognizable and understandable for much of the Western world. It can be translated to mean ‘actions’ or ‘deeds’ in Sanskrit, but is more identified with it’s important place in spirituality. Hindus belief that the world is governed by the law of karma or the principle of cause and effect. Every action an individual takes will have a corresponding reaction in the future. ‘Whatever you sow you reap,’ and ‘What goes around comes around,’ are two common phrases that represent the reality of karma.
- Dharma: Dharma is a word that has many different meanings and uses throughout the Asian spiritual traditions. For Hindus, the word Dharma is used to describe 2 key concepts: 1.) It is the cosmic law and order. 2.) It is the code of living that each and every individual should follow in hopes of keeping universal harmony and obtaining good karma. Each individual will have their own life dharma, depending on their positive or negative karma, and will be different depending on factors such as caste, age, and occupation. When you are living with dharma, you are upholding the duties that have been bestowed upon you by the gods and helping to maintain universal harmony.
- Samsara: Unlike Christian beliefs about entering heaven or hell after death, Hindus belief in reincarnation, or Samsara. It is believed that individuals will continuously be reborn, in another form, after their death. It is said that our illusion about existence and reality, or Maya, is what keeps us stuck in the cycle of Samsara. The karma that we accumulate over this lifetime, and previous lifetimes, will determine the quality of our life when our Atman transmigrates into our next physical form. While westerners oftentimes falsely assume this to be a positive cycle, the goal of Hindus is to end this cycle and reunite their Atman with Brahman.
- Moksha: The process of an individual freeing themselves from Samsara, and uniting with Brahman, is called Moksha. This is the ultimate goal of the Hindi people. Moksha is the end of the continuous cycles of rebirth. There are 4 individual paths that one can take to Moksha, however, most Hindus will work towards liberation by dividing their spiritual attention between each of the 4 paths. The paths are: 1.) The path of spiritual knowledge 2.) The path of meditation 3.) The path of devotion & 4.) The path of karma.
A Religion of Diversity
The overall ideas of Brahman, Atman, Dharma, Karma, Samsara, and Moksha are collectively shared by all Hindus, this however doesn’t mean the religion is formed purely on singularity. There is a endless amount of diversity in how each individual approaches their spiritual practice and journey. The pluralistic dimensions of the Hindu religion can be found in the immense number of deities, the numerous sacred texts, the caste system, and the differentiating traditions and norms. Let’s see how:
Devas: There is approximately 330 million Devas, or gods, within the Hindu religion. Yes, 330,000,000. These deities, which are worshiped as divine manifestations of Brahman, are portrayed in both a traditional mystical sense or a more untraditionally manifestation found in the material world. For example, The Ganges river is thought to be the goddess Ganga. Hindus belief that there are 3 gods who preside over this universe we call home, yet still reside underneath the ultimate reality of Brahman. In India the following 3 gods are referred to as The Hindu Trinity:
- Brahma: It is believed that out of itself Brahman created Brahma, the god of creation. Brahma has been and continues to be responsible for the creation of everything in this world and is regularly reference as The Creator.
- Vishnu: Vishnu was tasked with the preservation of this universe, and is often referred to as The Preserver. The primary responsibility of Vishnu is to keep the universal dharma in proper order. If individuals, or societies, are struggling with maintaining cosmic law, it is believed that Vishnu will come and restore order.
- Shiva: One of the most popular devas in the Hindu tradition is Shiva. The third and final member of the Hindu Trinity is often referred to as The Destroyer. He has been burdened with the eventual destruction of this universe, which will allow for it to recreate itself, but is also tasked with regularly destroying evil and negative forces, including the negative qualities that can be found within us, as this will ensure spiritual progress.
- Sacred Scriptures: There is a plethora of sacred and holy scriptures associated with the Hindu religion. The most important text is the Vedas, which was brought to India with the Aryans before the creation of modern day Hinduism. The Vedas is separated into 4 distinctive and important texts: The Rigveda, The Yajurveda, The Samaveda, and The Atharvaveda. The Vedas, however, are not the most read scriptures today. Instead, Hindus today treat the Bhagavad Gita as the national gospel. Two other important scriptures are The Upanishads and The Agamas.
- The Caste System: The Caste System in India can appear highly controversial from the viewpoint of an outsider, but to Hindus it is the system which allows cosmic order. After an individual’s birth, he or she will be placed into 1 of 5 castes, the caste of their parents, and depending on this caste, the individual will have lifelong limitations to things such as their occupational pursuit and social interactions with others. It is believed that the birth of individuals is directly to the karma they accumulated in their previous lives. An individual with positive karma will be born into a higher caste, where as an individual with negative karma will be born into a lower caste. The 5 castes are: Brahmins (Priests), Kshatriyas (Public Service and Military), Vaishyas (Businessmen, Merchants, and Landowners), Shudras (Common men, Peasants, and Servants), and Harijans/Dalits (Untouchables, Street Sweepers).
- Cultural Traditions and Norms: It is estimated that nearly 80% of Hindus in India live outside of major cities and reside in small towns or villages, with each containing various traditions, worship rituals, and festivals. When added with the sheer number of gods and 1,721 spoken languages, it is easy to again see how Hinduism can appear more similar to thousands of small religions rather than a large one. To exemplify this truth, we can look at the vast amount of festivals, or holidays, that take place in India. While the exact number is unknown, some scholars have estimated over 1,000, which actually may be an understatement. Regardless, it is almost certain that everyday of every year is a celebration of sometime in India. Some of the most popular festivals are: Diwali, Holi, and Ganesh Chaturthi.
3 Ways Hinduism is Integrated into Balanced Achievement
As you can now see, Hinduism is a religion that contains qualities of both singularity and polarity. The teachings from the world’s oldest religion are bursting with wisdom that can be utilized to improve each of our lives. At Balanced Achievement we will regularly incorporate ideas from Hinduism and view aspects of the Hindu lifestyle as indispensable in our pursuit of happiness, success, and ultimately fulfillment. Here are 3 aspects of Hinduism that are integrated into the framework of our teaching philosophy:
- Enjoying The Gifts of Life: Hindus are said to have 4 primary goals, Moksha being the ultimate, and two of them are directly related to rejoicing in the gifts that are offered to us in this life. Artha is the goal of prosperity and we believe that we each have the right to not only pursue material abundance in our lives, but also enjoy it thoroughly. We believe that the basic human rights to obtain wealth and improve one’s life are parts of the life path that one must pursue in order to reach ultimate fulfillment. Another goal of the Hindus is Kama, or sensual desire, which we believe should similarly be pursued. As we pursue these things, however, it is important to have complete understating of the Buddhist concept of impermanence. Since these pleasures will not last and are constantly changing, our happiness cannot be depended upon them.
- Dharma and Karma: Two of the most important and relevant concepts in Hinduism are Dharma and Karma. Our teachings will regularly relate to Dharma in hopes of helping individuals realize that they have worldly responsibility and a ultimate life path that need to be discovered, pursued, and celebrated. To live in harmony with the world is to live in Dharma. It is also important that we consciously take actions with the Law of Karma in mind. You must remember that your actions will produce similar reactions that will affect your life and well being. In order to produce desirable circumstances in our lives, we need to direct our actions in ways that produce positive and beneficial things for all.
- The Path of Wisdom: One of the most common topics that you will see discussed at Balanced Achievement is meditation, and we believe that internally pursing spiritual knowledge is one of the most important things that an individual can do. The pursuit of wisdom, through meditation, can change an individuals life in countless beneficial ways, and this pursuit should not be taken lightly. We also believe that there is an overarching divine being, a Brahman, who resides within all of us through Atman. By deepening our relationship with our soul, through inner exploration, our lives will blossom in numerable ways. If you are interested in further exploring meditation, we have a wide variety of articles that discuss the practice that you can find here: Balanced Achievement Meditation.
We hope you have enjoyed your journey to Bharat Mata, Mother India, and have learned valuable information about the Hindu religion. We will continue our exploration into the components of Balanced Achievement tomorrow as we look at the world of Self-Help Psychology.
Balanced Achievement 101 Series: