Many world religions were named after the prophets who founded them in ancient times. Christianity is named after Christ, Buddhism after Buddha, but the word Hindu is not derived from the names of any particular prophet. The word Hindu is derived from the name of a river located in the Northwest of India, which is called Sindhu. Sindhu is a river which nowadays is know as Ind. The teachings of Hinduism are known as apauruseja, which means they are not based on an authority. What this really means is that the Hindu religion is not based on any individual, but on principles. This is a very important statement since it emphasizes that Hinduism is received through revelation, and is not an invention of an individual or group of individuals. As scientists do not make the laws of nature, but they discover them, so Rishis, the transmitters of the Hindu religion, did not find the spiritual laws but came to know them.
Hinduism represents a living synthesis of various religious insights based on God's revelation and the immediate experience of the manifestation of the Divine through its countless forms, as well as through the formless, transcendental principle.
Hinduism is also called Vaidika Dharma-the religion of the Vedas. It is also a way of life that is in accordance with the eternal spiritual, ethical and moral laws of Sat Sanatan Dharma - the primordial spirituality and religion.
Sat Sanatan Dharma means “Eternal Religion”, “the true relationship with the Divine Self”, and is therefore what keeps the society and the civilization together by means of a proper living. In a wider sense it means getting to know the eternal laws which control everything. The search after these laws and the implementation of them for the benefit of all is the way of practicing religion. It is non-dogmatic and universal - it respects the freedom of opinion of each individual, it worships the truth in all religions and the internal unity of all living beings and of all that is. Sanathan Dharma teaches chaste living in accordance with the principles of Yamas and Niyamas, such as non-violence - Ahimsa, truth - Satya, purity - Saucha, wisdom, honesty, self-control, control of lust, non-revengefullness, non-belligerence, love towards the creation and all living beings and the liberation from the negative traits such as hatred, anger, greed, jealousy and pride. Hinduism attaches great value to commitment, humility, charity, selfless service, willingness to sacrifice and humility, and it practises the worship of the Divine through Puja ceremony, internal contemplation - Upasana and meditation - Dhyana, as well as the development of Divine qualities. The ultimate goal is to achieve true inner freedom - Moksha, through the victory over ignorance - Avidya and realisation of the supreme knowledge - Paravidya that brings the highest, complete inner freedom and joy. This goal means to achieve unity with our Source - Paramatma, ie. to achieve Self-Realization - Atam-Gyana, the knowledge of our own Self, which is the same as the Absolute.
The Transmitters of Hinduism
Although Hinduism is based on principles, great emphasis is placed on persons as well, who have discovered and revived these spiritual principles. They can experience and carry the message of Hinduism differently, as it is depicted in the following story:
While walking in the forest, four friends saw a large, circular wall behind which there seemed to be a lot of fun and music going on. They were curious to see what is behind the wall. The three of them lifted the fourth on the top of the wall to see what is happening. He was so overwhelmed by the impressions that he could not tell his friends what he saw. He simply climbed over the wall and disappeared on the other side. Then the two of the remaining three friends lifted the third one to the top of the wall. He too became so excited by what he saw that he began to sing and dance on top of the wall, and after some time he disappeared behind the other side as well.
The remaining two friends also wanted to look over the wall. One helped the other to climb. He was also overwhelmed by what he saw. He did not disappear behind the wall, but stretched himself over the wall and helped the fourth friend to come to the top so that he too can see the other side.
The first friend, who quietly disappeared to the other side of the wall, symbolizes those silent prophets and hermits who, once they become self-realized, merge with God unnoticed. The second friend who started singing and dancing after he saw what was behind the wall, represents those saintly persons that reveal to others their vision of God, but are not able to convey their own experiences. The third friend that has spread across the wall and helped the last friend to climb the wall symbolizes Guru.
This third friend is unique because it has the power to offer the experience of God to others.
The word avatar means “one who descends”. Avatar is God in human body. Hindus say that whenever Dharma is on decline God appears on earth in human form for the benefit of mankind, and rejuvenation of spirituality. Avatar has the unique ability to transform others spiritually, even just by touching or looking at them.
Guru means teacher. The Sanskrit word root gu means ignorance, darkness, and ru means light; therefore this word defines the role of the guru as the one who removes the darkness of ignorance. Satguru is a spiritual, realized teacher who realized the wisdom of the Scriptures by his/her own experience and who can inspire others with his/her knowledge and radiation - he/she is Brahmanistha Srotriyam - the knower of Brahman, the Absolute.
Swami - one who knows, who has mastered himself; it is the title of Hindu monks, the sannyasis. A Sannyasi is the one who has renounced the material world and accepted life based on spiritual principles. Swamis traditionally wear orange clothing, which symbolizes fire, purification, and spend their lives seeking for God realization and working for the benefit of mankind.
Acharya literally means a special teacher who teaches by example. Acharya is also a title reserved for the heads of some Hindu religious fractions.
Modes of transmission of knowledge in Hinduism
Rishis received knowledge in deep meditation directly from God through the Dev Vani - the voice of God and then passed it on to others. Such knowledge is called Sruti - what is heard, and this knowledge was not written down until the modern days, but was taught by heart, repeated and transmitted from teacher to disciple.
Vedas and Agamas are Sruti. Smriti means memory, knowledge that was not revealed through Dev Vani but derived from experiences and memories, it is the knowledge how it was remembered – in other words – tradition.
Shastras are religious records, books. The Vedas are the most important scriptures of Hinduism, they are the very root of Hinduism.
Purana literally means old, ancient. They are instructive stories, tales about gods and heroes whose aim is to teach people moral life. The most famous Mahapurana is the Bhagavata which speaks about different incarnations of Lord Vishnu, especially the one of Lord Krishna. Together with the Ramayana and the Mahabharata (the two most important epics in Hinduism), the Puranas constitute what is sometimes regarded as the fifth Veda.
Bhagavad Gita, part of the Mahabharata scripture, is one of the most important scriptures in Hiduism. It speaks about Lord Krishna giving Arjuna the essence of the Upanishads. Bhagavad Gita teaches how to practice religion in daily life.
The concept of God
One of the most common errors in the interpretation of Hinduism is that it is a polytheistic religion. Hinduism is actually a pluralistic religion. This name means that each person has a unique relationship with God- Brahman. It teaches that God is only one, regardless of the appearance and the form in which we worship him.
There are three divine principles through which God manifests himself and these are:
Brahma, the creative principle, Vishnu, the principle of maintenance, and Shiva, the Liberator.
One of the most important features of Hinduism is that God, Brahman does not need to be searched for outside ourselves, but inside ourselves.
The ultimate goal of the spiritual practice is the union of Atma - the Self with Paramatma - the Absolute.
Hindus believe in reincarnation (rebirth) according to the law of karma (The law of cause and effect that we create ourselves). With good deeds, thoughts and words we create good karma, and with bad actions, thoughts and words, bad karma is created.
Samsara- meaninglessness, is the cycle of birth and death from which one is liberated through Moksha - enlightenment, self-realization, the union of Atma with Paramatma.
One of the highest principles is Ahimsa - non-violence. If we believe that all beings are an expression of the Divine, that God is in everything and that God is everything, then it is absolutely necessary that the highest principle is the principle of non-violence. For this reason, the Hindus are vegetarians.
Samskaras - impressions, sacraments. There are 16 samskaras. Samskaras accompany man from conception until death, when he receives the final samskara- the funeral ceremony.