What is Hinduism?

What Does Hinduism Mean

We explain what Hinduism is, its origin, main gods and sacred writings. Their beliefs and differences with Buddhism.

Hinduism is not an organized whole but a set of spiritual practices.

What is Hinduism?

Hinduism or Hindi religion is one of the main religions on the planet. Born in the Indian subcontinent, it is one of the oldest and most complex religions that exist , since it lacks a unique and structured body of beliefs and practices, becoming rather a philosophy of life.

In fact, their practices were baptized as "Hinduism" by the British colonists of the first decades of the 19th century, since those who practice them prefer to use the term dharma , coming from Sanskrit.

Although it is the majority religion of several countries and has more than one billion faithful around the world, Hinduism is easier to understand as a set of spiritual practices, and not as an organized and hierarchical whole. In fact, there is no religious leader before the faithful of the whole world, nor is there a proper Hindu church.

Even so, it is practiced as the majority religion by 80.5% of the population of India and 80% of that of Nepal , as well as on the island of Bali in Indonesia, or the island of Mauritius in Africa .

There are also numerous practitioners in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, and Hindu minorities in Europe , the United States, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Practitioners of Hinduism are called Hindus or Hindus, terms that should not be confused with the name of India. This, according to the Royal Spanish Academy, can be both "Indian" and "Hindu", but it has nothing to do with the practice of a religion: it is possible to speak of Muslim Hindus, Christian Hindus or Hindu Hindus, in that sense.

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Origin of Hinduism

Hinduism is the result of the union of a series of ritual and spiritual practices originating from the Indian subcontinent .

For the most part it comes from Brahmanism, the ancient Indian religion, also known as the Vedic religion. This religion existed between 1500 and 700 a. C., and served as a common root to Hinduism (born between the 5th and 3rd centuries BC) and Buddhism (born around the 4th century BC).

On the other hand, Hinduism lacks a founder , since it is the result of processes of synthesis or cultural syncretism. For the same reason it does not have a church, nor a unified body of ritual practices or beliefs.

Gods of Hinduism

Ganesha is the god of wisdom.

There are variants of Hinduism both monotheistic and polytheistic, and both the former and the latter can venerate different gods and deities, among which are:

  • Brahma. Creative deity of the universe , which represents its eternal and absolute character. It is part of the Hindu trinity or trimurti , and is commonly represented as a bearded man with four arms.
  • Shiva. The destroyer of the universe, part of the trimurti along with Brahma and Visnu, is a powerful God, husband of Parvati and father of Ganesha and Kartikeia, who is represented as a yogi with blue skin and four arms.
  • Ganesha It is the god of wisdom, generally represented as a person with four arms and the head of an elephant. He is one of the main gods of the Hindu pantheon and one of the most revered of all.
  • Visnu. He is the god who preserves or maintains the stability of the universe and is part of the trimurti together with Brahma and Shiva. According to the Hindu texts, it manifests itself in the world under different incarnations, which can be Krishna, Rama, Hari or Narayana. He is depicted as a bluish four-armed man playing a flute or holding symbolic items such as snails and lotus flowers.
  • Kali. She is one of the consorts of the god Shiva, considered in Hinduism as the universal mother: destroyer of evil and demons. His representations point to a blue-skinned woman with four, six or eight arms, in one of which she wields a bloody sword.

Holy book of hinduism

The sacred texts are grouped into Shruti and Smriti.

Since it does not have a single central body of beliefs, Hinduism also does not have a single sacred text , as is the case in other religions. Instead, it venerates a set of ancient writings, distinguished into two groups or sets:

  • Shruti . Its name comes from Sanskrit and translates "what is heard", and Hunduism follows its instructions to the letter. In turn, it is divided into two large sets of texts:
    • The four Vedas, which are:
      • Rig-veda , the oldest text in Indian literature , dating from the 15th century BC. C .;
      • Láyur-veda , the book of sacrifices, taken from the Rig-veda ;
      • Sama-veda , the book of hymns, also taken from the Rig-veda ;
      • Atharva-veda , the book of rituals, added to the ensemble several centuries later.
    • The Upanishad , a set of mystical and philosophical meditations dating from the 6th century BC. C.
  • Smriti . Its name comes from Sanskrit and translates "what is remembered." These are sacred texts that, unlike the previous ones, require interpretation or aninspiring or allegorical reading , and that are:
    • The Majabhárata , epic text from the 3rd century BC. C. that includes the religious text Bhagavad-guita .
    • The Ramaiana , an epic narrative of the God-king Rama, dating from the 3rd century BC. C.
    • The 18 Puranas , a set of stories written between the 3rd centuries BC. C. and XI d. C.
    • The Ayur-Veda Texts , a series of treatises on herbalism and traditional Indian medicine.

Main beliefs of Hinduism

Hindus present offerings to their gods.

Hinduism calls its main vital concepts purushartha or vital truths, on the basis of which the entire framework of religion can be defined. These are dharma (religious duties), artha (riches), Käma (pleasures) and Moksha (liberation from the cycle of reincarnation or Samsara ).

Based on these four basic precepts, the ashram or the stages of the life of a Brahmin, a member of the priestly caste of the ancient Brahman religion , are understood :

  • Brahmacharya or celibate student.
  • Grihastha or married life.
  • Vanaprastha or retreat to the forest .
  • Sannyasa or complete renunciation.

As will be seen, the number four is very important in this tradition , which explains the presence of the four arms in the representations of their gods. In fact, there are four main streams of it: Vaisnavism, Shivaism, Shaktism, and Smartism, depending on their chosen tutelary gods.

On the other hand, Hinduism does not handle the notion of Judeo-Christian sin, although it does propose a series of traditional commandments, such as:

  • The prohibition of eating meat , especially beef, since it is considered a sacred animal.
  • The prohibition of marriage between individuals of different social castes .
  • Hindus must pursue enlightenment by rejecting the material world and its pleasures , to escape the eternal cycle of death and reincarnation known as Samsara .
  • Offerings should always be made on the altar to the major and minor deities , depending on the variant of the cult practiced.

Hinduism and Buddhism

These two religions are often thought of as sister religions, since they have a common root . Both come from India, as a reinterpretation of many of the precepts of the Vedic or Brahmanic religion. However, their paths diverged a lot, to the point that today they present important and marked differences, such as:

  • Hinduism has a very diverse pantheon of deities, while Buddhism is non-theistic, that is, it does not propose the existence of gods or superior beings, but rather a path to enlightenment.
  • Buddhism proposes a path of inner discovery and detachment from the real world to escape the eternal wheel of suffering and reincarnation that is life. Hinduism pursues a similar end, but it does so through ritual practice and adherence to a spiritual path ruled by the gods.
  • Unlike Hinduism, which lacks prophets and founders, Buddhism is governed by the teachings of Buddha Siddarta Gautama , the enlightened one.

 

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