A Guide to Religions, Religious Information and Help in Search for God


The religion of Hinduism has an estimated 648,000,000 to 762,000,000 followers or Hindus. (Based on an estimated world population 6,409,765,942 by the United States Census Bureau for 1/1/2005, that is 10.11% to 11.88% of all people, making Hinduism the third largest religion behind Christianity and Islam.) Hinduism is also known as Sanatana Dharma. (Dharma is the basic principles of cosmic or divine law.)

Hinduism is usually considered to be the oldest of the major religions and still is the main religion of India. Hinduism was developed in India from various pre-existing religions that are thought to be created between 3000 B.C. to 1500 B.C. One of these pre-existing religions is thought to be Brahmanism of Aryans (Europeans), who invaded India circa 1500 B.C..

Hinduism is a henotheistic religion as it not only recognizes one Supreme God called Brahman, but also thousands of other Gods and Goddesses that are aspects or manifestations of that one Supreme God. These other deities can also be considered as symbols or icons of those aspects. The fundamental Hindu deities are the Trinity of Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Preserver) and Shiva (Destroyer). Hindus may also worship spirits, animals and plants.

Each Hindu God and Goddess represents a particular cosmic energy and is represented by particular characteristics that are themselves symbols of that deity's attributes. For example, each deity travels with particular vehicles (animals and birds), which represents certain attributes. (Brahma goes with seven swans; Shiva goes with Nandi, the bull; Vishnu goes with Garuda, the eagle and Adi Shesha, the serpent.) In this respect, Hinduism involves powerful use of symbolism and imagery.

Some other Hindu deities include the goddess Shakti, who is "the Divine Mother" and her many manifestations including goddesses Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, Parvati, and Saraswati. Lakshmi is the Goddess of Wealth and Fortune representing the bountiful material aspect of nature and wife of Vishnu. The beautiful, exotic and sensual Goddess Parvati is daughter of Himavan (Lord of the Mountains); second wife of Shiva; and later became Ambika, Goddess of the Household, of Marriage, Motherhood and Family. Saraswati is the Goddess of Knowledge, the Arts and Wisdom. Her vehicles are the swan representing pure knowledge and peacock symbolizing the arts. Brahma also named Saraswati as Vagdevi, Goddess of Speech and Sound. The elephant-headed God or Lord Ganesh, who is son of Shiva; Remover of Obstacles; and Patron of Letters and Learning.

The God or Lord Krishna is regarded as the Divine Cowherder; the eighth incarnation of Vishnu; plays the flute; and counseled Prince Arjuna in the The Bhagavad-Gita. Lord Krishna is one of the most popular Hindu deities. Krishna had a miracle birth. His father was the Hindu god Vishnu, who entered the womb of an Indian maiden named Devaki. Then, Devaki radiated a divine light from her body.

The five-headed Goddess Gayatri, who is really just a representation of the Supreme God, Brahman as well as of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and the Vedas. Shiva is also Nataraja, Lord of Dance or Movement (of creation, preservation and destruction in our world of illusion).

The religion of Hinduism has many foundation scriptures. Most of these scriptures are written in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is a ancient Indo-Aryan language that is the classical language of India and obviously, of Hinduism.

The Mahabharata is the world's longest single poem and a classical epic of India, written by several poets between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D.. It is comprised of 18 volumes and is mainly about the struggles between the Pandava and the Kaurava families of the kingdom of Kurukshetra in the 9th century B.C. around the region of modern Delhi, India.

The Bhagavad-Gita (or "Song of the Lord") (often referred to as simply "The Gita") is incorporated in the Mahabharata poem (as the 6th of 18 volumes). By itself, the Gita is one of the greatest and most popular religious classics of Hinduism. It is a dialogue between Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna on the eve of the great battle of Kurukshetra.

The Ramayana (or The Story of Rama) is another popular Indian epic. It is about Rama and Sita, a royal couple of Ayodha.

The Vedas are the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, consisting of hymns and mantras (words that are spoken or sung to invoke mystical experiences). The word Veda means knowledge. Some Vedas are believed to be of the Aryans (Europeans) who invaded India. The Vedic period lasted from circa 1500 B.C. to circa 500 B.C..

The Vedas consists of four groups of literature. The first group of Vedas is The Samhitas, which includes four Vedas: The Rig Veda (or Knowledge of Praise), The Sama Veda (or Knowledge of Chants), The Yajur Veda (or Knowledge about Sacrifice including Sacrificial Prayers, Offerings and Rituals) and The Atharva Veda (or Knowledge of Spells and Incantations for the Practice of Magic).

The second group of Vedas is The Brahmanas, which explain Vedic sacrifice to Vedic gods. The third group of Vedas is The Aranyakas, which describe sacrifice via meditation. The fourth group of Vedas is The Upanishads, which are scriptures of mysticism and speculation that date back to 900 B.C.. They are best known for their Brahman-Atman doctrine.

In Hinduism, life is a separation from the divine. Samsara (or meaningless cycle of birth and rebirth) is determined by karma (or past deeds). The aim of life is to improve one's karma and escape samsara by correct (good or pure) thoughts and acts.

The main symbol used in the religion of Hinduism is AUM (or OM). AUM (rather than OM) is closer to the Sankrit symbol that it represents. It is composed of three Sanskrit letters, aa, au and ma.

Besides being a visual symbol, AUM is the Sound of the Supreme God called Brahman and used as a universal mantra during contemplation or meditation. AUM is composed of three primordial sounds, AH, OO and MM. AUM can be found in many Hindu prayers and invocations to deities.

Many people, especially those in West, use OM instead of AUM. Despite the minor spelling and pronunciation difference, AUM and OM represent the same.

If AUM is chanted, the lower, middle and upper chakras will be activated. This is not recommended for beginners and those who are not spiritually evolved. Chanting OM is recommended instead. If OM is chanted, only upper chakras will be activated.

Other Hindu symbols include mandalas, Shiva and the Swastika (or what looks like a swastika, a cross with branches bent at right angles and facing in a clockwise direction). Note that the Swastika was a good symbol before Adolf Hitler used it.

One of the first Americans who travelled to India, learned from a genuine saint and brought useful practical information back to the U.S.A. was Ram Dass (a.k.a. Professor Richard Alpert). He wrote the bestseller titled Remember, Be Here Now (1971, Hanuman Foundation) and some other books including Miracle of Love, stories about Neem Karoli Baba (1979, E.P. Dutton, NY, NY; 1995, Hanuman Foundation), which is available at the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram in Taos, New Mexico, USA .   A film about Ram Dass, that is available on DVD, is titled RAM DASS FIERCE GRACE (2001, Zeitgeist Video).


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