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* What is Hinduism

* How is Hinduism unique from other religions?

* What are the basic tenets of Hinduism?

* What are the major Hindu deities?

* Who is Hindu and how to become one?

* Why does Hinduism have so many gods?

* Why do Hindus worship the cow?

* Do Hindus Believe in incarnation?

* Are Hindus idol worshippers?

* What is Karma?

* Are Hindus forbidden to eat meat?

* Do Hindus have bible?

* Why do many Hindus wear a dot(Tilak) near the middle of their forehead?

* Are the Gods of Hinduism really married?

* Why no shoes in Temple?

* Why do we not touch papers, books and people with the feet?

 

•What is Hinduism:

Hinduism is the world's oldest extant religion, with a billion followers, which makes it the world's third largest religion. Hinduism is a conglomeration of religious, philosophical, and cultural ideas and practices that originated in India, characterized by the belief in reincarnation, one absolute being of multiple manifestations, the law of cause and effect, following the path of righteousness, and the desire for liberation from the cycle of births and deaths.

Every spring the Ganges River swells with water as snow melts in the Himalayas. The water brings life as trees and flowers bloom and crops grow. This cycle of rebirth is a metaphor for Hinduism, the religious faith of most people in India. Hinduism is a polytheistic faith, with many gods and goddesses. Most Hindus believe that the spirit or soul — the true "self" of every person, called the atman — is eternal. Hindus believe that every living thing has a soul, which comes from the creator, Brahma. They believe that people's souls live on after death, and that all living things can be reborn. This is called reincarnation.

The atman is dependent on God, while moksha depends on love towards God and on God's grace. Karma translates literally as action, work, or deed, and can be described as the "moral law of cause and effect". According to the Upanishads an individual, known as the jiva-atma, develops sanskaras (impressions) from actions, whether physical or mental. The linga sharira, a body more subtle than the physical one but less subtle than the soul, retains impressions, carrying them over into the next life, establishing a unique trajectory for the individual. Thus, the concept of a universal, neutral, and never-failing karma intrinsically relates to reincarnation as well as to one's personality, characteristics, and family. Karma binds together the notions of free will and destiny.

This cycle of action, reaction, birth, death and rebirth is a continuum called samsara. The notion of reincarnation and karma is a strong premise in Hindu thought.

•How is Hinduism unique from other religions?

Hinduism cannot be neatly slotted into any particular belief system. Unlike other religions, Hinduism is a way of life, a Dharma, that is, the law that governs all action. It has its own beliefs, traditions, advanced system of ethics, meaningful rituals, philosophy and theology. The religious tradition of Hinduism is solely responsible for the creation of such original concepts and practices as Yoga, Ayurveda, Vastu, Jyotish, Yajna, Puja, Tantra, Vedanta, Karma, etc.

•What are the basic tenets of Hinduism?

There is no "one Hinduism", and so it lacks any unified system of beliefs and ideas. Hinduism is a conglomerate of diverse beliefs and traditions, in which the prominent themes include:

•Dharma (ethics and duties)

•Samsara (rebirth)

•Karma (right action)

•Moksha (liberation from the cycle of Samsara)

It also believes in truth, honesty, non-violence, celibacy, cleanliness, contentment, prayers, austerity, perseverance, penance, and pious company.

•What are the major Hindu deities?

Hinduism believes that there is only one supreme Absolute called "Brahman". However, it does not advocate the worship of any one particular deity. The gods and goddesses of Hinduism amount to thousands or even millions, all representing the many aspects of Brahman. Therefore, this faith is characterized by the multiplicity of deities. The most fundamental of Hindu deities is the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva - creator, preserver and destroyer respectively. Hindus also worship spirits, trees, animals and even planets.

•Who is Hindu and how to become one?

A Hindu is an individual who accepts and lives by the religious guidance of the Vedic scriptures. While the teachings of the Hindu tradition do not require that you have a religious affiliation to Hinduism in order to receive its inner teachings, it can be very helpful to formally become a Hindu because it provides one a formal connection to the "world's oldest continually existing enlightenment tradition."

•Why does Hinduism have so many gods?

Hindus believe in one Supreme God who created the universe. He then created many Gods, highly advanced spiritual beings.

All Hindus worship the One supreme God, called by various names, depending on their denomination, and they revere a multitude of angelic beings, who are also called Gods.

•Why do Hindus worship the cow?

Hindus don't worship cows. We respect, honour and adore the cow. By honouring this gentle animal, who gives more than she takes, we honour all creatures.

Hindus regard all living creatures as sacred - mammals, fishes, birds and more. We acknowledge this reverence for life in our special affection for the cow. At festivals we decorate and honour her, but we do not worship her in the sense that we worship the Deity.

To the Hindu, the cow symbolizes all other creatures. The cow is a symbol of the Earth, the nourisher, the ever-giving, undemanding provider. The cow represents life and the sustenance of life. The cow is so generous, taking nothing but water, grass and grain. It gives and gives and gives of its milk, as does the liberated soul give of his spiritual knowledge. The cow is so vital to life, the virtual sustainer of life, for many humans. The cow is a symbol of grace and abundance. Veneration of the cow instills in Hindus the virtues of gentleness, receptivity and connectedness with nature.

In ancient India, oxen and bulls were sacrificed to the gods and their meat was eaten. But even then the slaughter of milk-producing cows was prohibited. Verses of the Rigveda refer to the cow as Devi(goddess), identified with Aditi( mother of the gods) herself.

•Do Hindus Believe in incarnation?

Yes they do, They believe the soul is immortal and goes through a process of rebirths. Through this process, the soul gains experience, learns lessons and evolves spiritually. Finally it graduate from physical births.

Each soul experience many varied lives through reincarnation,called Punarjanam in Sanskrit, the process wherein the soul repeatedly takes on a physical body through being born on Earth. Reincarnation is a purposeful maturing process governed by the law of Karma.

•Are Hindus idol worshippers?

Many religions scoff at the idea of idol worship as an act of superstition. However, Hinduism accepts idol worship with open arms as a simple way of expressing faith, love and devotion to God. Hindus do not worship a stone or metal "idol" as God. However, in reality the idol is just a symbol, a form, with which the mind can be connected and concentrated upon. The ultimate reality is beyond the senses, beyond the known field of illusion or maya.

•What is Karma?

Karma is a Sanskrit word that means means "volitional action that is undertaken deliberately or knowingly". This also dovetails self-determination and a strong will power to abstain from inactivity. Karma is the differentia that characterizes human beings and distinguishes him from other creatures of the world.

Karma has commonly been considered a punishment for past bad actions, but karma is neither judge nor jury. Rather, it is simply the universal law of cause and effect that says every thought, word and act carries energy into the world and affects our present reality. Karma can also refer to the "work" we have ahead of us, which includes lessons from both our past and present lives.

Karma is the consequences of the good and bad of people. Our bad actions come back as negative Karma and our good actions will also return as positive Karma. Unless we realise that the good actions we do are acts of God inside us, we cannot attain Nirvana

Three Kinds of Karma

According to the ways of life chosen by a person, his karma can be classified into three kinds. The satvik karma, which is without attachment, selfless and for the benefit of others; the rajasik karma, which is selfish where the focus is on gains for oneself; and the tamasik karma, which is undertaken without heed to consequences, and is supremely selfish and savage.

The Discipline of Unattached Action

According to the scriptures, the discipline of unattached action (Nishkâma Karma) can lead to salvation of the soul. So they recommend that one should remain detached while carrying out his duties in life. As Lord Krishna said in the Bhagavad Gita: "To the man thinking about the objects (of the senses) arises attachment towards them; from attachment, arises longing; and from longing arises anger. From anger comes delusion; and from delusion loss of memory; from loss of memory, the ruin of discrimination; and on the ruin of discrimination, he perishes".

•Are Hindus forbidden to eat meat?

Hinduism teach vegetarianism as a way to live with minimum of hurt to other beings. However in today's world not all Hindus are vegetarians.

•Do Hindus have bible?

Hindu's "Bible" is called the Vedas. The Veda, which means "wisdom," is comprised of four ancient and Holy Scriptures which all Hindus revere as the revealed word of Gods.

The Hindu scriptures are massive, and were written between 1400 B.C. and A.D. 500. The oldest of the Hindu scriptures is The Veda, which literally means "wisdom" or "knowledge." The Vedas contain hymns, prayers, and ritual texts composed from about 1400 to about 400 B.C.

The Upanishads are a collection of writings composed between 800-600 B.C. Over one hundred of them still exist. These writings marked a definite change from the sacrificial humans and magic formulas in the Vedas, to the mystical ideas about man and the universe – specifically the Brahman, and the atman (the self or soul). The Upanishads had a great influence on Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.

•Why do many Hindus wear a dot(Tilak) near the middle of their forehead?

Tilak or Tikka is a ritual mark on the forehead. It can be put in many forms as a sign of blessing, greeting or auspiciousness. The Tilak is usually made out of red vermilion paste (kumkum) which is a mixture of turmeric, alum, iodine, camphor etc. It can also be of sandalwood paste (chandan) blended with musk. The Tilak is applied on the spot between the brows which is considered the seat of wisdom and mental concentration and is very important for worship. This is the spot on which yogis meditate to become one with the Brahma- The supreme soul of the universe, self-existent, absolute and eternal from which all things emanate and to which all return. It also indicates the point at which the spiritual and mystical 'Third Eye' opens. All thoughts and actions are said to be governed by this spot. Putting of the coloured mark symbolizes the quest for the 'opening' of the third eye.

All rites and ceremonies of the Hindus begin with a Tilak topped with a few grains of rice placed on this spot with the index finger or the thumb. The same custom is followed while welcoming or bidding farewell to guests or relations.

•Are the Gods of Hinduism really married?

It is true that God is often depicted with a spouse in our traditional stories. However, on a deeper philosophical level, the Supreme Being and the Gods are neither male nor female and are therefore not married.

In popular, village Hinduism God is represented as male, and God's energy, or Shakti, is personified as His spouse for example, Vishnu and Lakshmi. In Hindu temples, art and mythology, God is everywhere seen as the beloved, divine couple. Philosophically, however, the caution is always made that God and God's energy are One, and the metaphor of the inseparable divine couple serves only to illustrate this Oneness.

Hindus know that the Gods do not marry, that they are complete within themselves. This unity is depicted in the traditional icon of Ardhanarishvara, Siva as half man and half woman, and in the teaching that Shiva and Shakti are one, that Shakti is Siva's energy. Siva is dearly loved as our Father-Mother God. Yet, sexual gender and matrimonial relations are of the physical and emotional realms, whereas the Gods exist in a stratum that far supersedes these levels of life. For that matter, the soul itself is neither male nor female.

•Why no shoes in Temple?

Feet hold a powerful symbolism with Hindu culture. You take off your shoes when you enter a temple. When sitting you never point your feet towards people, especially seniors, and you never spread your feet before an altar or towards fellow worshippers. We can say the feet of people are considered low. In fact one of the greatest insults you can make is to throw shoes at someone. And yet the feet of God and seniors are special. God's feet and even a guru's feet are often called "lotus feet" and in some temples even a small set of shoes belonging to the Deity (shathari) is touched to the head of worshippers. We even drink the feet bathing water of God as a prasada and sprinkle the bathing water of a guru's feet on our heads.

The basis for feet symbolism goes back to the Vedic conception of the universe as the body of God. Just like a body has high and low parts so this universe has high and low, pure and impure places. Up is high, down is low. Feet touch the ground, which is low, and so when you enter a temple you leave your low part at the door. We take off our impure part, our feet, symbolized by leaving our shoes at the door as we enter sacred space. You might say we leave our materialistic side at the door when we enter spiritual space.

•Why do we not touch papers, books and people with the feet?

Along with this question one might also add ask: Why do we not blow out a flame with our breath? The answer to both these questions has to do with one of the most fundamental features of Hinduism, namely personification. Hinduism personifies virtually every aspect of life. The wind is not just air blowing from high pressure to low pressure. It is a God, Vayudeva. The sun is not just a great nuclear reaction in space. It is the sun God, Suryadeva. Similarly, the rain is a God, the moon is a God, all the planets are Gods and every other aspect of reality is subject to personification. Therefore, all things of learning: papers, books, musical instruments, pens, typewriters and even computers can be seen as an aspects of the Goddess of learning, Sarasvati. And we since already know the symbolism of feet in Hindu culture, it is obvious why we do not touch our feet to these items. Similarly, we do not blow a flame with our breath because it would be impolite. The flame is Agni, the fire God, and to blow in his face is impolite! To the Western mind this may seem difficult to understand, but there is great power in personification. Personification gives one the ability to communicate with the God and therefore perhaps control or at least get favors from the Deity. Personification is the basis of puja.

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