It is fair to say that the religion of every particular person varies according to a large number of factors, from geographical situation and parents’ religion to the person’s own inclination and beliefs. We find the optimal religion to follow that is the closest to our soul and mind. Every human being may choose from a truly wide variety of religions that exist in the world.
During last centuries the list of most popular and widespread religions did not change significantly. The top five of religious teachings contained the same religions over last thousand years. The third place in this list is by right occupied by Hinduism, an eastern religious and philosophical tradition with long and vivid history. The amount of Hinduism followers nowadays exceeds one billion people all over the world. Moreover, this quantity is increasing constantly as for more and more people nowadays choose to follow this ancient philosophical study.
Although there is only one country in the world that has Hinduism as an only official state religion, a small Nepal, the majority of Hinduism followers live in India. However, as it was already mentioned, there is rather large amount of people outside Indian subcontinent that accepted this religion. Thus, it is a subject of great interest to learn what appeals humans of diverse origin to follow Hinduism.
Hinduism, unlike many other major world religions, is not a single study with the only one branch. It contains a great number of various philosophies and teachings, as well as numerous diverse deities. The principles of Hinduism may differ soundly according to every particular region. Thus it may seem at first glance that Hinduism is not a religion but a system of many religions and philosophical studies. However it is still a single religion and its the major basis is always the same and similar for all its branches. The roots of Hinduism go back to Vedas, the ancient Hindu knowledge, and its ancestor, the Vedic Indo-Iranian religion. The origin of Hinduism refers to the period of several thousands years ago. For historians of all times it was a difficult task to estimate the date of beginning of Hinduism religion. It is approximately from 3.100 BC to 1.300 BC hence one of the longest religious history.
As every religion in the world Hinduism has its sacred elements. They play an important role in the philosophy of Hindu religious tradition. However in order to understand the meaning and the significance of sacred components of Hinduism we should first realize its major direction and principle. Hinduism is rather complex religion and like almost all the eastern philosophies it mostly addresses human spirit than mind and soul. The major principles of this religion make rather vast system of knowledge hence it is not easy to describe them on several pages. However, the main thesis of Hinduism is briefly expressed in the following mantra (ritual religious prayer): “OM Lead me from falsehood to truth, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.” OM is divine and sacred word that expresses the purity of mantra. With other words Hinduism (or Sanatana Dharma) venerates the Soul of All that exists everywhere, including every person, animal, plant, and thing. This Soul, as well as human soul, is immortal and eternal. Each of the Hindu religious traditions includes common beliefs in Dharma (kind of law to follow), Karma (actions of people that make up their life), Reincarnation (ability of soul to born again), and Moksha (salvation or Nirvana). The major goal in Hindu religion is to seek for Brahman, the Spirit of All, or the Cosmic Spirit.
The sacred elements and symbols of Hinduism are first of all manifested, as in any other religion, in the sacred texts. Hindu sacred texts include three major scriptures composed in Sanskrit language, the Shruti, the Smriti, and the Bhagavad Gita. Although these scriptures have different meanings and purposes, they all are divine hence equally important for all the Hindu religious traditions.
The Shruti is the explanation of Vedas, the ancient knowledge that represent the basis of Hindu philosophy. The Brahman revealed Vedas and made them the Eternal Knowledge. As for each of four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas) represent some separate field of knowledge, they have diverse meanings and essences. Because Vedas are very old knowledge, they demand certain instructions and commentaries. In the Shruti scripture all four Vedas and the appropriate commentaries are included. This sacred text consists of mantras’ explanation, description of the nature of the soul, philosophical writings. Shruti is rather tangled text hence it is very difficult to read.
The Smriti (translated as memory) is the sacred text represented by a group of epics. The major Smritis are the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Puranas, the Sutras, the Agamas, and the Tantras. The main distinction between the Shrutis and the Smritis is that first manifest and explain the knowledge of Vedas and second praise Vedas and describe the glory of Hindu religion. Much in these epics is devoted to Vishnu, Devi, and Shiva, the Hindu gods. The Smriti scripture is much younger than the Shruti hence this text is more clear and easy to Hinduism followers. Nevertheless the Shrutis are considered to prevail over the Smritis.
Bhagavad Gita (the Song Divine) is another sacred text on Hinduism philosophy. Various historians consider it to belong to diverse scriptures, either Shruti or Smriti. Much in Bhagavad Gita is related to different Hindu practices. It includes the Vedic, Tantric, Vedantic, and Yogic teachings and philosophies. Being very comprehensible, the Bhagavad Gita is very popular book for practicing Hindus.
Besides the sacred texts there are some other elements in Hinduism that have a symbolic sacred meaning. The symbols that Hindus paint on their body (Tilaka and Tika), especially the third eye on a forehead signify the level of consciousness and are the significant parts of Hindu ritual. Another element with a special meaning is the sacred symbol Aum. Always included in mantras, Aum evokes the mutual vibration with Universe hence with the Soul of All. Another sacred symbol in Hinduism worth meaning is the Sacred Cow. According to principle of non-violence, most of Hindus are vegetarians and never eat meat, especially beef.
Therefore, Hinduism has many mystic elements and sacred symbols of worship with diverse meanings and purposes. This religion is one of the most interesting and multiform ones in the world. Of no doubt the Hindu religious tradition will find more and more followers due to its philosophical spiritual practices and outstanding colorful philosophy.
Flood G. (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism (Introduction to Religion). Cambridge University Press.
Bowes, P. (1978). Hindu Religious Tradition: A Philosophical Approach. Routledge Kegan & Paul.
Klostermaier, K. (1994). The Survey of Hinduism. State University of New York Press.
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