By Dr Ram Mohan Saxena 
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02.00   HINDUism Basics                                                        by DR RAM MOHAN SAXENA

Hinduism Basics

02.01   WHO IS A HINDU? 

“In 1966, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), a prestigious, multi-million member Hindu organization, issued this definition: "Hindu means a person believing in, following or respecting the eternal values of life, ethical and spiritual, which have sprung up in Bharatkhand [India] and includes any person calling himself a Hindu." While self-declaration remains the basic way to enter the faith, the VHP's 1998 Dharma Samsad, an annual meeting of Hindu spiritual leaders held that year in America, called for the development of "a process for accepting willing non-Hindus into the Hindu fold, which is an important concern among Hindus living in America." Those concerns include intermarriage, including the need for a non-Hindu spouse to adopt the religion of his or her mate and for the couple to raise their children in a purely Hindu home. These are some of the reasons a formal process is needed.” (How to Become a (Better) Hindu A Guide for Seekers and Born Hindus by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, Guru Mahasannidhanam Kauai Aadheenam, Hawaii, USA, July 15, 2000).


“Belief is the keynote of religious conviction, and beliefs vary greatly among the different religions of the world. Psychologically speaking, what we believe forms our attitudes, shapes our lives, defines our culture and molds our destiny. To choose our beliefs is to choose our religion.” (Ibid)

“Beliefs are the building blocks of the mind. Our beliefs determine our thoughts and attitudes about life, which in turn direct our actions. By our actions we create our destiny. Beliefs about sacred matters—God, man and cosmos—are essential to one’s approach to enlightenment. But beliefs are not mere matters of agreement. They are what we value and hold as true. Hindus believe many diverse things, but there are a few bedrock concepts on which most Hindus concur. The following nine beliefs, though not exhaustive, offer a simple summary of Hindu spirituality.

1) I believe in the divinity of the Vedas, the world’s most ancient scripture, and venerate the Agamas as equally revealed. These primordial hymns are God’s word and the bedrock of Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion which has neither beginning nor end.

2) I believe in a one, all-pervasive Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.

3) I believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.

4) I believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.

5) I believe that the soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha, spiritual knowledge and liberation from the cycle of rebirth, is attained. Not a single soul will be eternally deprived of this destiny.

6) I believe that divine beings exist in unseen worlds and that temple worship, rituals, sacraments as well as personal devotionals create a communion with these devas and Gods.

7) I believe that a spiritually awakened master, or satguru, is essential to know the Transcendent Absolute, as are personal discipline, good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry and meditation.

8) I believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, “noninjury.”

9) I believe that no particular religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine religious paths are facets of God’s Pure Love and Light, deserving tolerance and understanding.

Hinduism, the world’s oldest religion, has no beginning—it precedes recorded history. It has no human founder. It is a mystical religion, leading the devotee to personally experience the Truth within, finally reaching the pinnacle of consciousness where man and God are one. Hinduism has four main denominations—Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Smartism. The above nine beliefs form a common ground for all Hindu sects.”

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Question One: Why does Hinduism have so many Gods?

A: While acknowledging many Gods, all Hindus believe in a one Supreme God who creates and sustains the universe.

Longer answer: Hindus believe in one God, one humanity and one world. We believe that there is one Supreme God who created the universe and who is worshiped as Light, Love and Consciousness. People with different languages and cultures have understood the one God in their own distinct way. This is why we are very tolerant of all religions, as each has its own pathway to the one God. One of the unique understandings in Hinduism is that God is not far away, living in a remote heaven, but is inside each and every soul, in the heart and consciousness, waiting to be discovered. This knowing that God is always with us gives us hope and courage. Knowing the One Great God in this intimate and experiential way is the goal of Hindu spirituality.

Question Two: Why do Hindus believe in reincarnation?

A: We Hindus believe the soul is immortal and reenters a fleshy body time and time again in order to resolve experiences and learn all the lessons that life in the material world has to offer. 

Longer answer: Carnate means “of flesh.” And reincarnate means to “reenter the flesh.” Yes, Hindus believe in reincarnation. To us, it explains the natural way the soul evolves from immaturity to spiritual illumination. I myself have had many lives before this one and expect to have more. Finally, when I have it all worked out and all the lessons have been learned, I will attain enlightenment and moksha, liberation. This means I will still exist, but will no longer be pulled back to be born in a physical body. Even science is discovering reincarnation. There have been many cases of individuals remembering their past lives. These have been researched by scientists, psychiatrists and parapsychologists during the past decades and documented in very good books and videos. 

 Explanation: At death the soul leaves the physical body. But the soul does not die. It lives on in a subtle body called the astral body. The astral body exists in the nonphysical dimension called the astral plane. Here we continue to have experiences until we are reborn again in another physical body as a baby. Each reincarnating soul chooses a home and a family which can best fulfill its next step of maturation. After enlightenment we do not have to re-experience the baseness of Earthly existence, but continue to evolve in our inner bodies. Similarly, after we graduate from school we never have to go back to the fifth grade. We have gone beyond that level in understanding. Young children speak of vivid past-life memories, which fade as they grow older, as the veils of individuality shroud the soul’s intuitive understanding. Great mystics speak of their past lives as well. Reincarnation is believed in by the Jains and the Sikhs, by the Indians of the Americas, and by the Buddhists, the Pagans and the many indigenous faiths. Even Christianity originally taught reincarnation, but formally renounced it in the twelfth century. It is, in fact, one of the widest held articles of faith on planet Earth.”

Question Three: What is karma?

A: Karma is the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction which governs all life.

Longer answer: Karma is one of the natural laws of the mind, just as gravity is a law of matter. It simply means “cause and effect.” What happens to us that is apparently unfortunate or unjust is not God punishing us. It is the result of our own past actions. The Vedas, Hinduism’s revealed scripture, tell us if we sow goodness, we will reap goodness; if we sow evil, we will reap evil. The divine law is: whatever karma we are experiencing in our life is just what we need at the moment, and nothing can happen but that we have the strength to meet it. Even harsh karma, when faced in wisdom, can be the greatest catalyst for spiritual unfoldment.

Explanation: We cannot give anything away but that it comes back to us. The karmic law pays higher interest than any bank when you give freely with no strings attached. Karma is basically energy. I throw energy out through thoughts, words and deeds, and it comes back to me, in time, through other people. We Hindus look at time as a circle, as things cycle around again. Professor Einstein came to the same conclusion. He saw time as a curved thing and space as well. This would eventually make a circle. Karma is a very just law. Karma, like gravity, treats everyone the same. Because we Hindus understand karma, we do not hate or resent people who do us harm. We understand they are giving back the effects of the causes we set in motion at an earlier time. At least we try not to hate them or hold hard feelings. The Hindu law of karma puts man at the center of responsibility for everything he does and everything that is done to him.

In some schools of Hinduism karma is looked upon as something bad.. Some non-Hindus also preach that karma means “fate,” which we know is untrue. The idea of inexorable fate, or a preordained destiny over which one has no control, has nothing to do with Sanâtana Dharma. Karma actually means “cause and effect. 

The process of action and reaction on all levels—physical, mental and spiritual—is karma. This is karma, a natural law of the mind. We must also be very careful about our thoughts, because thought creates, and thoughts make karmas—good, bad and mixed.

Question Four: Why do Hindus regard the cow as sacred?

A: The cow represents the giving nature of life to every Hindu. Honoring this gentle animal, who gives more than she takes, we honor all creatures.

Longer answer: Hindus regard all living creatures as sacred—mammals, fishes, birds and more. To the Hindu, the cow symbolizes all other creatures. The cow represents life and the sustenance of life. It also represents our soul, our obstinate intellect and unruly emotions. But the cow supersedes us because it is so giving, taking nothing but grass and grain. It gives and gives and gives, as does the liberated soul give and give and give. The cow is so vital to life, the virtual sustainer of life for humans. If you lived in a village and had only cows and no other domestic animals or agricultural pursuits, you and your family could survive with the butter, the cream, yogurt, ghee and milk. The cow is a complete ecology, a gentle creature and a symbol of abundance.

Question Five: Are Hindus idol worshipers?

A: No, Hindus are not idle worshipers. They worship with great vigor and devotion!  (A little humor never hurts.)

Longer answer: Seriously, Hindus are not idol worshipers in the sense implied. We Hindus invoke the presence of God, or the Gods, from the higher, unseen worlds, into stone images so that we can experience His divine presence, commune with Him and receive His blessings. But the stone or metal Deity images are not mere symbols of the Gods. They are the form through which their love, power and blessings flood forth into this world. We may liken this mystery to our ability to communicate with others through the telephone. We do not talk to the telephone; rather we use it as a means of communication with another person. Without the telephone, we could not converse across long distances; and without the sanctified icon in the temple we cannot easily commune with the Deity. Divinity can also be invoked and felt in a sacred fire, or in a tree, or in the enlightened person of a satguru. In our temples, God is invoked in the sanctum by highly trained priests. Through the practice of yoga, or meditation, we invoke God inside ourself. Yoga means to yoke oneself to God within. The image or icon of worship is a focus for our prayers and devotions. Another way to explain icon worship is to acknowledge that Hindus believe God is everywhere, in all things, whether stone, wood, creatures or people. So, it is not surprising that they feel comfortable worshiping the divine in His material manifestation. The Hindu can see God in stone and water, air and ether, and inside his own soul.

 All religions have their symbols of holiness through which the sacred flows into the mundane. To name a few: the Christian cross, or statues of Mother Mary and Saint Theresa, the holy Kaaba in Mecca, the Sikh Ådi Granth enshrined in the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the Arc and Torah of the Jews, the image of a meditating Buddha, the totems of indigenous and Pagan faiths, and the artifacts of the many holy men and women of all religions. Such icons, or graven images, are held in awe by the followers of the respective faiths. The tooth of the Buddha in Sri Lanka’s town of Kandy is another loved and respected image. The question is, does this make all such religionists idol-worshipers? The answer is, yes and no. From our perspective, idol worship is an intelligent, mystical practice shared by all of the world’s great faiths. In Hinduism one of the ultimate attainments is when the seeker transcends the need of all form and symbol. This is the yogî’s goal. In this way Hinduism is the least idol-oriented of all the religions of the world.

Question Six: Are Hindus forbidden to eat meat?

A: Hindus teach vegetarianism as a way to live with minimum of hurt to other beings. But in today’s world not all Hindus are vegetarian.

Longer answer: Vegetarians are more numerous in the South of India than in the North. This is because of the North’s cooler climactic conditions and past Islamic influence. Our religion does not lay down rigid “do’s and don’ts.” There are no commandments. Hinduism gives us the wisdom to make up our own mind on what we put in our body, for it is the only one we have—in this life, at least. Priests and religious leaders are definitely vegetarian, so as to maintain a high level of purity and spiritual consciousness to fulfill their responsibilities, and to awaken the more refined areas of their nature. Soldiers and law-enforcement officers are generally not vegetarians, because they have to keep alive their aggressive forces in order to perform their work. To practice yoga and be successful in meditation, it is mandatory to be vegetarian. It is a matter of wisdom—the application of knowledge at any given moment. Today, about twenty or thirty percent of all Hindus are vegetarians.

Explanation: When we eat meat, fish, fowl and eggs, we absorb the vibration of the instinctive creatures into our nerve system. This chemically alters our consciousness and amplifies our lower nature, which is prone to fear, anger, jealousy, confusion, resentment and the like. Many Hindu swâmîs advise followers to be well-established vegetarians prior to initiation into mantra, and then to remain vegetarian thereafter. But most do not insist upon vegetarianism for those not seeking initiation. Swâmîs have learned that families who are vegetarian have fewer problems than those who are not.

There are many scriptural citations that counsel not eating meat, such as in the Vedas, Tirukural and Manu Dharma Sâstras. For guidance in this and all matters, Hindus also rely on their own guru, community elders, their own conscience and their knowledge of the benefits of abstaining from meat and enjoying a wholesome vegetarian diet. Of course, there are good Hindus who eat meat, and there are not-so-good Hindus who are vegetarians. 

Today in America and Europe there are millions of people who are vegetarians simply because they want to live a long time and be healthy. Many feel a moral obligation to shun the mentality of violence to which meat-eating gives rise.

Question Seven: Do Hindus have a Bible?

A: Our “Bible” is called the Veda. The Veda is comprised of four ancient and holy scriptures which all Hindus revere.

Longer answer: Like the Taoist Tao te Ching, the Buddhist Dhammapada, the Sikh Ådi Granth, the Jewish Torah, the Christian Bible and the Muslim Koran—the Veda is the Hindu holy book. The Veda is the ultimate scriptural authority for Hindus. Its words and wisdom permeate Hindu thought, ritual and meditation. They open a rare window into ancient Indian society, proclaiming life’s sacredness and the way to oneness with God.

Explanation: For untold centuries unto today, the Veda has remained the sustaining force and authoritative doctrine, guiding followers in ways of worship, duty and enlightenment. The Veda is the meditative and philosophical focus for millions of monks and a billion seekers. Its stanzas are chanted from memory by priests and laymen daily as liturgy in temple worship and domestic ritual. All Hindus wholeheartedly accept the Veda, yet each draws selectively, interprets freely and amplifies abundantly. Over time, this tolerant allegiance has woven the varied tapestry of Indian Hindu Dharma. 

Question Eight: Why do many Hindus wear a dot near the middle of their forehead?

A: The dot worn on the forehead is a religious symbol. It is also a beauty mark.

Longer answer: The dot worn on the forehead is a sign that one is a Hindu. It is called the bindi in the Hindi language, bindu in Sanskrit and pottu in Tamil. In olden days, all Hindu men and women wore these marks, and they both also wore earrings. Today it is the women who are most faithful in wearing the bindi. The dot has a mystical meaning. It represents the third eye of spiritual sight, which sees things the physical eyes cannot see. Hindus seek to awaken their inner sight through yoga. The forehead dot is a reminder to use this spiritual vision to perceive and better understand life’s inner workings, to see things not just physically, but with the “mind’s eye” as well. There are many types of forehead marks, known as tilaka, other than the simple dot. Each mark represents a particular sect or denomination of our vast religion. We have four major sects: Saivism, Vaishnavism, Shatism and Smartism. Vaishnava Hindus, for example, wear a v-shaped tilaka made from clay. Elaborate tilakas are worn by Hindus mainly at religious events, though many wear the simple bindi, indicating they are Hindu, even in the general public. By these marks we know what a person believes, and therefore know how to begin conversations.

For Hindu women, the forehead dot is also a beauty mark, not unlike the black mark European and American women once wore on the cheek. The red bindi is generally a sign of marriage. A black bindi is often worn before marriage to ward off the evil eye. As an exotic fashion statement, the dot's color complements the color of a lady's sari. Ornate bindis are worn by actresses in popular American TV shows.

Question Nine: Are the Gods of Hinduism really married?

A: To the more uneducated people who are not able to understand high philosophy, Hinduism is taught in story form. Those of the higher philosophy know that each God is complete within Himself, neither male nor female.

Longer answer: Hinduism is taught on many different levels to many different people, and to the more uneducated people who are not able to understand the high philosophy, Hinduism is taught in story form. These stories, called Purâ&Mac186;as, are the basis of dance, plays, storytelling around the fire in the homes to children as they are growing up to amplify how they should live. Because the temple is the center of every Hindu community, and everyone is focused on the temple and the Gods within the temple, the Gods are the major players in these stories. Hindus who understand the higher philosophy seek to find God on the inside while also worshiping God in the temples. Simple folk strive to be like a God, or like a Goddess. The stories illustrate how a family should live, how they should raise their children, and much, much more. 

Explanation: Those who are privileged to the higher philosophies know that Gods are neither male nor female, which is the yoga of i&Mac182;â and pi&Mac246;galâ blending into sushum&Mac186;â within each individual. They know that Gods do not marry, that they are complete within themselves. This unity is depicted by Ardhanârîßvara, Íiva as half man and half woman and in the teaching that Íiva and Íakti are one, that Íakti is Íiva’s energy.”  



Karma is what the soul undergoes in one of two ways, according to whether its actions are virtuous or not; but both kinds subsist until the end of enjoyment in this world.

-Svayambu Agama

God's cosmic law of karma governs our life experiences through cause and effect. As God's force of gravity shapes cosmic order, karma shapes experiential order. Through karma, your thoughts, emotions and deeds-whether good, bad or mixed-return to you. Thus, karma is your teacher. It imparts the lessons you need and are able to meet. For it is a divine law that no karmic situation will arise that exceeds your ability to resolve it. Karma is not fate. You have free will. No God or external force is controlling your life. It is your own karmic creation. To be responsible for your karma is strength. To blame another is weakness. Therefore, remember God's great law of karma and act wisely.


Through his past works he shall return once more to birth, entering whatever form his heart is set on. This mighty soul unborn grows not old, nor dies, for the soul is immortal and fearless. -Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Your soul is an immortal body of light. Its Absolute and super-conscious essence is identical to with God. Yet, this identity needs to be realized and unfolded within the soul. Toward this goal your soul undertakes many, many lifetimes in a physical body. You are now the sum total of all your past lives. You undergo every conceivable human experience as the forces of the body, ego and desire manifest. In the latter lives the forces are transmuted toward spirituality. Finally, your soul realizes God. After resolving all residual karmas, your soul no longer incarnates into human form. As the Agamas and Vedas teach, the soul continues its evolution in the inner worlds. Therefore, you live joyously, strive for spiritual unfoldment and do not fear death.


May noble wisdom come to us from all sides, undeceived, unhindered, overflowing, so that the Devas may always help us onward, unceasing is their care, our Guardians day by day. -Rig Veda

Dharma is God's Divine Law, the law of being. Dharma is to the individual what its normal development is to a seed-the orderly fulfillment of an inherent nature and destiny. When following dharma you are in harmony with the cosmic order; you abide close to God. The moral dimension of Hindu dharma is embodied in the eight  yamas (restrains) and eight niyamas (observances). The yamas are: non-violence' not stealing; disciplining desire; abjuring lust and greed; curbing arrogance and anger; not lying; avoiding injustice; shunning wrongdoing and evil company. The niyamas: be pure in body, mind and speech; love mankind; seek contentment; cultivate devotion; develop forbearance; give charitably; study the scriptures; perform penance and sacrifice. Every person has his or her path; worship God, and your dharma will become clear.


Offering of perfumed substances, flowers, incense, lamps and fresh fruit-these are the five elements of the traditional puja which culminates with offering of the lamps.

-Kamika Agama

Worship expresses our profound love for God. Puja, bhajan, prayer and meditation are all worshipful means of direct, personal communion with God and Gods. God, Gods and devas are all real beings dwelling in the inner worlds. They can and want to help you in every aspect of your life. This they do in accord with your own patterns of karma and dharma. Daily, personal puja at home keeps you God-conscious and your home holy. God has established many temples to allow us to intimately communicate with Him. Temple puja opens a channel to God. Through His personal presence and shakti, prayers are answered, karma softened, spiritual unfoldment guided. Surrender, worship with intense love, and God hears.

These four facts-karma, reincarnation, dharma, worship-are the essence of the Vedas and Agamas and the fabric of every Hindu's life. Speak of them to all who will listen, They are the heritage of all souls.” 

by Dr Ram Mohan Saxena

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