In my previous blog, I introduced ‘Hinduism’. Conclusively, it is a mosaic of different sampradayas or faiths, each being outgrowths of the original. This is the only culture where a person may follow the paths of knowledge, action or devotion in accordance with his or her aptitude and interest. This democratic approach in matters of faith and practice is truly a distinctive feature of Hinduism.

Now let’s see what defines a Hindu. A geographical definition would be ‘One who is born in Bharat (India)’. Another familial statement would be ‘One who is born to Hindu parents’. A genetic inheritance definition would be ‘One who is born into the fourfold caste system’. It has been factored that what whatever definition there could be, but the one who had faith and belief in one Supreme Divine Reality (Paramátmá) is principally a Hindu.

Core Beliefs and Principles:

  1. One Supreme Divine Reality: The Rig Vedas says “Truth is one, but the wise describes it in many ways”. There is only one Supreme Paramátmá or Bhagwan (God)
  2. The Authority of the Vedas: These are the ancient shastras revealed by Paramátmá or Bhagwan to the enlightened rishis of India. Vedas are used as a reference point for creation, maintenance, and transformation of traditions.
  3. Avatáraváda: The principle that Bhagwan or God himself takes birth on earth in human and other forms.
  4. Atman (Soul): It is unborn, eternal and indestructible inner self. The Atman is sat (eternal), chitta (consciousness) and ánanda (bliss).
  5. Karma: The universal law of Cause and Effect according to which a person is responsible for his or her actions and their effects.
  6. Punarjanma: Linked to Karma, Punarjanma is the principle of reincarnation or rebirth in which the Atman (soul) passes through many births to attain spiritual enlightenment or moksha.
  7. Murti-pujá: A belief that God manifests in a murti (image) through which he can be worshipped and adored through acts of devotion.
  8. Guru-shishya Parampará: Through the God-realised living guru the disciple realises the highest spiritual wisdom and attains moksha.
  9. Four Purushárthas: Endeavours or goals of life, namely, dharma (staying faithful to one’s moral duties), artha (acquiring wealth), káma (fulfilling one’s desires) and moksha (acquiring final liberation).
  10. Ahimsa: Hindus love and respect all life forms as they believe God pervades all living (human, animals, plants) and non-living (mountains) things and hence they generally practice ahimsa or nonviolence.
  11. Varnáshrama Dharma: An organised social structure for the harmonious progress and development of individuals and society defines duties and responsibilities of Hindus in relation to their four varnas (classes) and four ashramas (stages of life). Varna included the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras, whereas the Ashramas meant, Brahmacharya (student wedded to celibacy), Gruhastha (householder), Vánaprastha (retired life) and Sannyás (ascetic life).

In conclusion, what qualifies a Hindu is his or her belief in One Supreme Paramátmá – who manifests in many forms – and the Authority of the Vedas.

(Credit: Excerpts from the book, ‘Hinduism An Introduction’ by Sadhu Vivekjivandas)

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