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In this lesson, we’ll explore the definition of Hinduism and its history and beliefs. We’ll also learn about Hindu gods and goddesses, ancient sacred texts and laws.

Hinduism

Hinduism, considered the world’s oldest religion, is still commonly practiced. Because of its large following, it’s also regarded as the world’s third largest religion. Hinduism combines the beliefs, philosophy, and cultural practices of India.

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Central to the faith is a belief in reincarnation and one supreme god called Brahman who has multiple manifestations as either a god or goddess. Gods and goddesses can be spirits, trees, animals, and even planets.Hindu practitioners are guided by Vedic scriptures and believe in righteousness, the laws of cause and effect, and the cycle of birth and death.

Outside of Hindu culture, many people may be familiar with yoga, which involves controlled breathing, meditation, and physical postures; karma, or how a person’s actions determine his or her future existence; and tantras, or ritual texts.

Origin & Scriptures

The origins of Hinduism date as far back as 4000 to 10,000 B.C.

E. in India. Unlike Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, it cannot be traced to a single individual or group of individuals, but rather cultural and religious developments. Modern Hinduism shares some practices in common with the Ancient Neolithic people of India, such as ancestral worship, burials, and cremation.

The Vedic period, during which the ancient Vedas, or religious texts, were composed, occurred between 1500 and 500 B.C.E.

Shastras are Hindu scriptures, a collection of the spiritual laws passed along by Hindu saints and sages as the religion evolved. The Rigveda, which originated between 1700 and 1100 B.C.

E., contains the earliest known Hindu hymns. However, many Hindu scriptures have yet to be formally translated.

Basic Tenets

Anyone who accepts its practices can become a Hindu.

As there’s no unified system of beliefs in Hinduism, it lacks an integrated structure of ideas and principles. The most well-known Hindu deities include the Brahma, who is the Creator; Vishnu, the Preserver; and Shiva, the Destroyer.While Hinduism has diverse beliefs and traditions, there are laws that govern a person’s actions and behaviors.

These are dharma, or ethics and duties; samsara, rebirth; Karma, right action; and moksha, or liberation from the cycle of Samsara. Hindus also believe strongly in austerity, celibacy, cleanliness, contentment, honesty, non-violence, perseverance, prayer, penance, strictness, and truth.

Lesson Summary

Hinduism is not only the world’s oldest, but also its third largest religion and combines the beliefs, cultural practices, and philosophy of India.

It is based upon a belief in reincarnation and the supreme god Brahman who can take the form of a god or goddess. Hindu texts include the Shastras, a collection of the spiritual laws passed along by Hindu sages and saints. They also include the Rigveda, which contains the earliest known Hindu hymns. Prominent among the Hindu deities are the Brahma, or the Creator; Vishnu, the Preserver; and Shiva, the Destroyer. Hindu practitioners adhere to the principles of dharma, ethics and duties; samsara, rebirth; karma, right action; and moksha, or liberation from the cycle of samsara.

Key Terms

Hinduism

Hinduism: a religion developed from the beliefs, philosophy and cultural practices of IndiaVedas: religious textsDharma: ethics and dutiesSamsara: rebirth; reincarnationKarma: right action; how a person’s actions determine his or her future existenceMoksha: the liberation from the cycle of Samsara

Learning Outcomes

After reviewing this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define Hinduism and other relevant terminology
  • Identify the major Hindu gods
  • Describe to what Hindu principles its practitioners must adhere

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