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Frequently asked questions about Hinduism (Hindu religion)  

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 1). When and where did Hinduism originate?

 ‘Hindu’ religion or Hinduism is the present day name of an ancient religion that has been present in India for at least seven thousand years (perhaps even longer). Some people prefer to call it ‘Vedic religion’ while others call it ‘Sanatan Dharma (eternal religion)’ but presumably at that time no other religion was present except the one that the people of the ancient India followed. If there were other religions then they are either lost in time or merged together to form what is now seen as modern day Hindu religion. Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and even the ancient religion of Egypt and China appeared much later. So for the people of this ancient land there was perhaps just ‘this religion’ and if there was a name to that religion then perhaps that name is also lost or warped during these thousands of years. Over last several hundred years Persian and Arabics called native people of India as Hindus and British later gave the official name ‘Hindu’ to those people of India who were not Muslims. So for all practical purposes in modern times ‘Hinduism’ is the name of ‘that ancient religion’ and present day Hindus are the proud followers of that religion and heritage.   

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2.       What are the sacred scriptures/books of Hinduism?

There are many sacred scriptures in Hinduism. To name a few of the important one -

  • Vedas - Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, Atharva Veda

  • Upanishads

  • Dharma Shastra

  • Itihasas    Ramayana, Mahabharata (including- Geeta)

  • Puranas

  • Agamas

  • Darsanas

  • Brahma Sutras

For details on these scriptures please go to Hinduism section

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 3). What is the meaning of ‘Life’ and ‘Death’ for a Hindu?

A very important assumption in all Vedanta (Hindu) philosophy is that man suffers from bonds and attachments in the course of his life in this world. This is said to be 'samsara', which involves being caught in an endless cycle of births and deaths. The quest therefore is to seek a way out of this bondage, to break the cycle of rebirths and attain moksha (liberation). The most important issues in Vedanta have to be understood with respect to what constitutes bondage and what constitutes liberation. The Advaita School is of the view that knowledge (Gyana) of man's true nature is liberation. Bondage arises from ignorance (avidya) of man's true nature, and therefore removal of ignorance roots out this bondage. Liberation is therefore nothing more or nothing less than man knowing his true nature. This true nature is his innermost essence, the Soul (Atman), which is nothing other than God (Brahman). He who knows this, not merely as bookish knowledge, but through his own Experience, is liberated even when living. Such a man is a ‘jivanmukta’, and he does not return to the cycle of rebirths. Once you experience the ‘knowledge’ the difference between ‘observer’ and ‘observed’ ends and observer becomes observed and vice versa. All questions cease to exist as observer becomes one with observed. According to Advaita School, what is called the universe is in reality a manifestation of God (Brahman). Similarly, what is called the body (jiva) is in reality, the Atman (soul), which is also nothing other than Brahman (God) itself. The real jiva is the Atman (soul), which is unchanging, ever free, and identical with Brahman (God). This is said on the basis of upanishadic (Hindu scriptures) passages where the Atman (soul) is explicitly equated with Brahman (God). The many-fold universes and the individual self, which considers itself bound, are both superimposed upon that Transcendental Reality which is Brahman. Once the superimposition is understood for what it is, the individual is no more an individual, the universe is no more the universe - all is Brahman (GOD). So for a Hindu life (birth) and death are nothing more and nothing less, then the eternal cycles of immortal soul (Atman) changing from one form to another and ultimately getting liberated from this cycle when Atma (soul) gets the knowledge that it is nothing but Brahman (God), taking different manifestations. 

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 4) How does a Hindu avoid tragedy? How does Hinduism provide for a sense of security against the unknown?

 A knowledgeable Hindu will not be afraid of tragedy because he knows that he is part that indestructible ‘Brahma’ (God) and all the tragedies as well as happiness that appear are just because of Avidya and Maya (illusion that is inherent to creation). As said before a knowledgeable Hindu will not be afraid of ‘Unknown’ because for him nothing is ‘unknown’ – everything including you are manifestation of God, so he is not afraid. Hindu religion accepts that all people are not born philosophers and knowledgeable and some people might need help in form of prayers and rituals. Things like Astrology and religious rituals are to help people who do not have higher knowledge. Less knowledgeable Hindus will pray to God seeking God’s protection against unknown by using certain religious rituals. Astrology can help in fore seeing a tragedy. But you need to take guidance from a good astrologer (there are many fraud astrologers also, so beware!!!). Practical experience of many people suggests that a very good astrologer can predict with a certainty of 80-90 percent (some will dispute this claim). Many Hindus also believe that tragedy can be avoided if you have true faith in God and a true prayer always helps. 

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5). What are moral codes and ethics for Hindus?

Hindus place greater emphasis on the attitude of the mind rather than on postulation of the elaborate theories of what is right and what is wrong. Hindu religion is very flexible and tolerant. It gives certain guidelines for moral behavior and expects that a good Hindu will follow them.

· Morality proceeds from the inner spirit of man. In Hindu view, one's motive is as important in the performance of an action as the action itself. When the heart is pure and free from lust and greed, whatever one does to perform one's duties has a high moral value.

 · Harmlessness to all creatures is the highest morality.

There are four sources of right conduct:

1) Vedas

2) The Smriti (secondary scriptures)

3) The conduct of wise persons

4) Individual's own judgment. - In times of confusion and crisis regarding what is right and what is wrong, one's own conscience is the sole guide. "In times of doubt, one must decide using one's own good sense." An individual is ultimately responsible for his own actions, i.e. the Law of Karma. He is also responsible for the actions of others if he induces or forces them to perform such actions. Hindus declare that loyalty to one's moral values is the highest loyalty, and of all the losses, loss of one's character and loss of judgment are the worse.  

Yamas and Niyamas - Moral and Ethical Ideals of Hindus

1.Ahimsă (non-injury) - Don't harm others by word, deed or thought.

2.Satya (truthfulness) - Refrain from lying and betraying promises.

3.Asteya (nonstealing) - Don't steal, covet or enter into debt.

4. Brahmachărya - Observe celibacy when single, and faithfulness in marriage.

5. Kshamă (forgiveness) - Restrain from intolerance and ill will.

6. Dhriti (firmness) - Overcome fear, indecision, and fickleness.

7. Dayă (compassion) - Conquer callous and insensitive feelings.

8. Ărjava (honesty) - Renounce fraud, cheating and stealing.

9. Mităhăra - Refrain from overeating and consuming meat.

10. Shaucha (purity) - Observe purity of the body, mind and intellect.

11.Hrî (remorse) - Be modest and show remorse for misconduct.

12. Santosha (contentment) - Don't be a slave to the senses. Seek joy and serenity in the Self.

13. Dăna (giving what you have to others)- Give generously without thought of reward. The more you give, the more you get.

14. Ăstikya (faith) - Have unwavering faith in God's grace.

15. Pűjana (worship)- Perform daily worship and meditation.

16. Shravana (hearing of scriptures) - Study scriptures, listen to the teachings of the wise, and faithfully follow guru's advice.

17. Mati (cognition) - Sharpen the intellect with guru's guidance.

18. Vrata (sacred vows) - Observe scriptural injunctions faithfully.

19. Japa (chanting) - Chant God's names and sacred mantras daily.

20. Tapas (austerity) - Perform sădhana (spiritual discipline) as outlined by the guru.

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 6). Why are there so many Gods in Hinduism?

It is a misconception amongst non-Hindus that Hindus worship millions of Gods. The truth is that according to Hinduism nothing but that one and only one ‘God’ (called Brahm by Hindus) exists. There can be millions and billions of manifestations of that God and during ‘His’ cosmic dance that ‘one self’ observes ‘His’ infinite manifestations. In simple words Hindus consider everything ‘living’ and ‘non-living’ as manifestation of ‘God’ and are therefore free to worship ‘God’ in any form. A Hindu can thus worship God in any of ‘His’ infinite manifestations (Sakara Brahm) or can worship a formless God (Nirakar Brahm).

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 7) Why Hindus practice caste system?

The present day caste system is one of the evils that had crept into Hindu society. It is more of a social problem then a religious. Caste system has no place in Hindu philosophy because as mentioned before this philosophy believes that nothing but that Brahm (God) exists. Everything including human being is manifestation of Brahm (God). And God can never have a lower or higher caste.

But since caste system is a reality of Indian society let us just examine how it came into existence:

Rig Veda recognizes that every human being has different capability. Some people are better in academics, other are good warriors, some are better in commerce and economics and still others are good craftsmen or manual workers. Any modern day scientist will testify that every individual has a different genetic makeup. This does not prevent a person born to athletic parents from becoming a doctor or a scientist. So according to Rig Veda people should recognize their capabilities and chose a profession according to that. An academician (Brahmin) is in no way superior to an artesian or manual laborer (Sudra). They are just different in their working capability. Caste was meant to be a guideline for people to choose their profession and was not meant to be a stigma attached to a person due to his birth. The present day caste system came into practice much later.

Just two examples should be sufficient to show that caste was not an evil stigma in ancient Hindu society as it is today in modern India –

1)     Lord Krishna who is considered an incarnation of God by Hindus, was born in Yadu Vansha (considered a ‘backward caste’ now days). During his life Krishna was revered by all including so called ‘superior Brahmins and Kshatriyas’. He is worshipped in modern day India by all the castes.

2)    Ramayana considered to be amongst the holiest of all holy books in Hindu religion was written by – Sage Valmiki. Valmiki was born in what is now day known as schedule caste family (lower caste). Ramayana occupies a place of prime importance in every Hindu family and all Hindus revere Sage Valmiki.

Needless to say that modern day leaders of Independent India have increased the divisions in Hindu society for their own political gains.

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8). Why Hindus consider cow as a sacred animal?

Indian society in ancient times was primarily an agrarian society. Cow milk was used for children and in some cases replaced mother’s milk. Bulls were used to plough the fields. Cow therefore was an important part of every household. So there is little surprise that in a culture where everything in nature is considered as manifestation of God, an important animal like cow was (and still is) considered sacred and became part of Hindu mythology and religion

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