Hinduism Notes

A polytheistic religion that was formed from a variety of different religious practices. In Hinduism, salvation is achieved through a spiritual oneness of the soul, atman, with the ultimate reality of the universe, Brahma. To achieve this goal, the soul must obtain moksha, or liberation from the samsara, the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. As a result of these basic teachings, Hindus believe in reincarnation, which is influenced by karma (material actions resulting from the consequences of previous actions), and dharma (fulfilling one's duty in life). Because all forms of animal life possess souls, Hindus believe in ahimsa, or that all life is sacred and should not be harmed. In fact, one animal which Hindus consider to be extremely sacred is the cow. The peaceful and contented existence of cows is considered virtuous by Hindus and would represent a rewarding reincarnation for a soul. For this reason, most Hindus are vegetarians so that they do not harm other living beings. The belief in reincarnation, karma, and dharma also provides the religious justification for the existence of the rigid social structure known as the Caste System.

Moksha: In Hinduism, it is the release from the cycle of reincarnation through unification with Brahma.

Main Gods:

  • Vishnu: Hindu god called the Preserver. Vishnu is the second member of the triad that includes Brahma the Creator and Shiva the Destroyer.
  • Brahma: Hindu god called the Creator. Brahma is the first member of the triad that includes Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer.
  • Shiva: Hindu god called the Destroyer. Shiva is the third member of the triad that includes Brahma the Creator and Vishnu the Preserver.
Main Texts:
  • Upanishads: Hindu holy book from the 8th century BCE.
  • Vedas: A Hindu holy books which are collections of Aryan hymns that were transmitted orally before being written down in the 6th century BCE.
  • Bhagavad-Gita: A Hindu holy book where the god Krishna teaches the importance of selflessness, performing religious duties, and of devotion to God.
  • Ramayana: Hindu epic story about the hero Rama who was the incarnation of the god Vishnu.
Reincarnation: The rebirth of a soul into another body.
Dharma: The act of fulfilling one's duty in life. Associated with Hinduism and Buddhism.
Karma: Actions in this life resulting from the consequences of a previous life’s actions. Associated with Hinduism and Buddhism.
Brahman: In Hinduism, Brahman is the name given to the oneness of the universe.

Ganges River: Located in India, this river is considered sacred to Hindus and is used for spiritual cleansing, funeral rites, and other Hindu rituals.

Caste System: A rigid social class system in Hinduism.
Untouchables: Members of Hindu society thought to have been removed from the caste system, with no hope of returning to it, due to their misdeeds in previous lives. Work that is deemed unclean for all other Hindus is reserved for these Outcasts. After winning its independence from Great Britain in 1947, India adopted a national constitution which stated that "Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden." Since that time many caste reforms have been enacted to diminish discriminatory practices in India. Today, the caste system still exists in practice, despite the many laws designed to legally abolish it.