The name "Hindu" derives from the Indus river which flows from Tibet through Kashmir and Pakistan. The word 'Hinduism' is a term for a family of religious leanings that originated in India. It is thought to be the oldest religion in the history of civilization and can be traced as far back as 5,500 B.C.
Today it is the third largest religion and practiced by 750 million people or 13 percent of the world's population who live mostly in India, but also Nepal, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Hinduism has no founder, creed or single source of authority.
Beliefs and practices among adherents are boundless, but the common threads are: the belief in a single supreme God (Brahman) worshiped through many Gods, and the belief in the theory of Karma and rebirth. In Hinduism, religion is inextricably tied to all aspects of life including social class, earning a living, family, politics, diet, etc. Hindu temples allow for corporate worship but many Hindus also worship at home shrines. The three fundamental aspects of Hinduism are the Vedic Tradition, the Bhakti and Gita Traditions and the Advaitic. The 3 principal deities in Hinduism are: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer).
The Hindu sacred text is the Bhagavad Gita, but other texts include the Brahmanas, Sutras and Aranyakas. Hindus believe that God is an active and dynamic principle, who sometimes travels to the earth directly and assumes human form to protect the weak and restore world order. This faith teaches that the ego (ahamkar) is the root cause of all suffering, and to escape this suffering individuals must abandon egotism and instead identify with their inner self. Hindus believe that humanity is divine in nature with their basic purpose being to discover this divine purpose. Individuals are given the freedom to choose their paths, according to their own nature and evolution. They are encouraged to live according to their dharma (path of spiritual discipline which leads to God) and discover their own truth that is in harmony with their lives. Dharma is an ancient philosophical concept that has the following attributes: rationality, sense of duty, justice, peace, truthfulness, compassion, non-violence, humanity, spirituality, tolerance, ethics, service to others and philanthropy. Also central to the Hindu faith is the concept of Karma; the belief that souls pass through a cycle of successive lives that are influenced, for better or for worse, by how their previous life was lived.
Resources and Links
The following books are available at: http://hinduism.about.com/library/products/aatp_basicbooks.htm
- The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism, by Linda Johnsen, Jody P. Schaeffer (Illustrator), David Frawley
- An Introduction to Hinduism, by Gavin Flood
- Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction, by Kim Knott
- Hinduism Today - www.hinduismtoday.com
- About (Religion) - www.hinduism.about.com
- Multi Faith Net - www.multifaithnet.org