This Hinduism Simplified is intended for youths who are being brought up in a western environment away from the mainstream of the Hindu culture. The need to present the concept of Hinduism in this easy-to-understand form developed from the author's experience of teaching the basics of Hinduism to such youths. An attempt has been made to present an overall picture of Hinduism by answering some frequently asked questions by such youths. Since the basic philosophies of Hinduism were founded by curious people seeking the truth of Nature for human welfare from those who were knowledgeable, a medium of questions and answers is chosen for the presentation. A mother-child dialogue is selected because of its uniqueness, and eighteen questions and answers have been selected because of the importance of this number in the Hindu scriptures. It is hoped that this booklet will serve the purpose of those for whom it is intended.
The information in this booklet is intended to provide only the basics of Hinduism. For more information, the readers are advised to consult other authoritative sources on Hinduism which are readily available.
The incentive to interact with children for the purpose of teaching them the basics of Hinduism came from the experiences with my own children Chandan, Anjana, and Sanjeev to whom this booklet is dedicated.
October 24, 1987
Bhaiya Dooj Day
Any suggestions or comments about this booklet will be appreciated.
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
This expanded version of Hinduism Simplified is presented in response to the suggestions from the readers, both youths and adults. Besides some minor changes more details on the questions of the scriptures, the gods and goddesses, the Hindu calendar, and the fasts and festivals have been given. In spite of the changes the simplicity and brevity of the booklet have been maintained.
I hope this new Hinduism Simplified will serve the needs of the readers.
Child : Mom, can you tell me about the Hindu religion and how it differs from the other religions of the world
Mother : Yes, dear, that's a very good question. First of all, let me start with some basics. Hinduism is not a religion in the strict sense of the word. It is recommendation for living a disciplined, pure and blissful life needed for God realization. The word religion comes from the Latin "religio" which means binding the soul back to God. Other religions have strict laws and back to God. Other religions have strict laws and beliefs to attain this God realization. Hindus, however, do not believe in such strict laws. The desire to free one's self from worldly bondage and to obtain a better present and next life through proper karma (actions) in the present life is the basis of the Hindu way of life. Your karma (good or bad actions) returns to you with results and act as your teacher to guide you in the right directions in the life. The guidelines for better living to achieve such a liberation (moksha) was revealed directly by God to our ancient sages who used to meditate constantly for the welfare of all human beings. These revelations are the contents of the Vedas, our fundamental scripture. It is also called sanatana dharma, an eternal discipline of life or Vedic dharma, the proper way of living based on Vedas. Hindus believe that every human being is divine by nature and the purpose of life is to expose that divinity to the fullest possible extent. Based on the Vedic recommendations, Hindus believe in one formless and all pervading God called Brahma who is the creator of the universe and represents the supreme truth.
For all practical purposes, in the modern times the Hindu way of life is called Hinduism. It is the oldest living religion on earth. Because of its basic philosophies the Hindu religion can be considered a universal religion.
The main difference between Hinduism and other religions is that Hinduism did not evolve out of the teachings of any one saint, prophet or messiah. Instead, the vedic thoughts were obtained by various sages over the centuries. A very big difference is that Hinduism teaches reincarnation, or rebirth of soul. Moreover, Hinduism is a very accommodating and compassionate religion. Coexistence with other religions with respect and humbleness is the core of the Hindu way of life. Hindus not only love their neighbors but they also love and pray for everyone. A Hindu life is meant for humanity and is achieved through uplifting of one's morality. Unlike people of other religious faiths Hindus regard the mother, the father, the teacher and all their guests as God.
Mother : The Vedas are the original scriptures of Hinduism on which entire Hindu way of life is based. The ethical way of living as suggested in the Vedas is called dharma. Dharma is God's divine law for discipline and proper development of human beings. By Vedas no particular book is meant. The revelations that the ancient seekers of truth received through meditations were transferred from generation to generation through oral teachings. Many of those spoken concepts have been compiled and are available in volumes that we now call the Vedas. The Vedas are a collection of hymns, prayers, rituals, benedictions, sacrificial formulas and chants There are four distinct Vedas : Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sam Veda and Atharva Veda. Rig Veda the oldest among the Vedas mainly consists of hymns and chants praising God; Yajur Veda contains divine verses in musical form; and Atharva Veda contains guidelines for the proper way of living. The four Vedas were revealed to the sages Agni, Vayu, Aditya and Angira respectively. Later the Vedas were systemized for human benefit by sage Vyas.
Each of the Vedas contains similar essential detains on how to lead a life with a sound body, mind, and intellect and also how to attain a better next life. Each Veda consists of a ritual part and a philosophical part. The philosophical part of Vedas is called Upanishad. There are 108 Upanishads in all.
Mother : Yes my child. The word reincarnation literally means coming again into physical body. According to our scriptures, a soul passes into a body at birth and migrates into another body at death. The change of the bodies is just like putting a new garment and discarding it when it is worn out. The kind of body the soul enters into at death determined by one's actions (karma) in present life. A person's karma determines in what form he will reappear. He may come back in a higher (human) or lower (animal) life form. Good karma in the present life leads to a better next life and bad karma in the present life leads to a worst next life. This cycle of rebirth continues until one achieves liberation from worldly bondage (moksha). At the liberated stage a soul becomes godly and reincarnation stops.
Another very important sign is the Swastika which is regarded divine by Hindus. The word swastika means auspicious in the Sanskrit language and hence is used to symbolize the welcoming of auspiciousness and driving away evils. The symbol also represents the changing of the universe around the unchanging nature of God. The symbol looks like this: Unfortunately the sign has been abused by groupsuch as the Nazis during World War II
Mother: No, they both have different meanings. Amen is spoken to
assert faith at the end of a religious proclamation,
Mother: Actually, Hindus believe in only one formless and all-pervading, all-existing, and all-blissful God. That formless God, however, can best be realized by concentrating on various forms of ideal personalities as recorded in the scriptures. In other words, the Hindu religion is flexible and provides many ways to develop one's spiritual ideas in order to suit individual needs. "Unity in the diverse plan of nature" is recognized in the Hindu faith. Just as people tailor clothes to fit their needs, Hindus have different gods and goddesses for their religious needs. All these gods and goddesses resemble humans, animals or natural forces such as wind, water, fire, sun, and moon; each has different powers to bless the world. These godheads, when worshipped, fulfill people's desires in an easier way but with the same qualities of blessings as from one God.
Mother: Most of the gods and goddesses that are worshipped are either incarnations of Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the universe, and his wife Goddess Lakshmi or other deities. Some commonly worshipped gods and goddesses include: Vishnu (worshipped in various forms and names such as Venkateshwara, Jagannatha, Tirupati, Bithala or Balaji), Shiva who is also known as Mahadeva or Mahesha, (Shiva-linga, a symbol of Lord Shiva which is commonly worshipped instead of his image), Rama, Krishna, Hanumana or Mahaveera, Ganesha, the older son of Lord Shiva and who is also known as Ganapati or Vighneswara, and Subramanyam or Kartikeya, the younger son of Lord Shiva. Shiva's wife Parvati (who is also known as Gauri, Uma or Meenakshi and also exists in her incarnated form of Durga or Kali is worshipped as a Divine Mother. Lord Brahma is not usually worshipped but his wife Saraswati is worshipped as the Goddess of learning. Goddess Saraswati is the favorite deity of students in schools and colleges. Lakshmi is worshipped as the Goddess of wealth and prosperity and is favorite deity of business people. Sita, Lord Rama's wife, and Radha, Lord Krishna's companion, are other feminine deities who are adored. Commonly Lord Rama is worshipped as part pf a family, along with his dear brother Lakshamana his wife Sita and his devout hero of the epic Ramayana, Hanumana. Also, Lord Krishna is usually worshipped along with Radha, a staunch lover and devotee of the Lord. Gayatri, the most powerful feminine force and the prescribed deity of the Vedas, is worshipped universally in Hinduism by reciting the Gayatri Mantra. This mantra is a powerful chant worshipping the light of the universe. Lord Satyanarayana is another incarnation of Lord Vishnu and is commonly worshipped in Hindu homes together with family and friends.
Each Hindu God and Goddess has a form of appearance which carries a special symbolic meaning. Some of them have multiple arms or heads which represents their greater capabilities to provide protection for people. Multiple arms express their domination over all directions of space, and multiple heads indicate their broad vision. Many Gods and Goddess ride on animal-vehicle (Vahan) to accomplish their mission. of protecting people. A crown on a deity's head represents the supremacy of the divine power over common people. The images or pictures of Gods and Goddesses are used for the purpose of instilling devotion in us during worship. Later, I will tell you about the forms and features of some common Gods and Goddesses.
Mother: Unlike other religions Hinduism is not based on any one sacred writing. Instead it has many sacred books which support the basic thoughts of the Vedas. Several of these writings have been translated into foreign languages and have been much appreciated world-wide. Two such writings which happen to be folklore of the Hindu scriptures and are the most commonly used by the Hindus are the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Both of these are in epic form, the former being the oldest and the latter the largest of the epics. Both glorify the principles of the Vedas in a simple way. The celebrated Bhagavad-Gita is a part of the great epic, Mahabharata.
Mother:The Ramayana relates the life story of Ramchandra, the ideal man who is also considered a famous God by Hindus. He was the oldest of the four sons of king Dasharath of Ayodhya -Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna. In his early life Rama was trained as a great archer. He showed his valor by killing many unbeatable demons who used to harass saints while they worship. Later, at the time of his coronation, he was exiled to the forest by his jealous step mother Kaikeyi for 14 years. Rama's wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana accompanied him in exile. During the exile Sita was abducted by the demon Ravana. In order to rescue Sita Rama later killed Ravana with the help of the great monkey armies of Sugreeva and Hanumana. Rama returned to Ayodhya and became its king after finishing his exile.
The Ramayana has seven Cantos. This epic was originally written by the sage Valmiki a long time ago and then by others in many regional Indian languages. More recently, Tulsidas, a famous poet of the seventeenth century, rewrote the story of the Ramayana in Hindi folk language to make it more popular. The book is known as Ramcharit Manas. The main teaching of the Ramayana is to show the human race the proper way of living, devotion to God, obedience to elders, and a path of moral duties.
The Mahabharata, on the other hand, is the story of a family feud.
The cousins Pandavas and Kauravas
who were the descendants of the great Hindu king, Bharata,
were involved in a fight in the battle of Kurukshetra.
The glorious and famous Bhagavad-Gita is the essence of the Mahabharata and Upanishads. It contains the essentials of Hindu dharma in the form of a dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna who represents the average person. Bearing the essence of the Upanishads, the teachings of the Gita focus on performing one's proper duty while keeping the body and mind sound and poised. The Gita is highly respected among the sacred writings of the world and has been translated into numerous languages. As a matter of fact, the Bhagavad-Gita is the most precious jewel in the Hindu scriptures.
Mother: Yes, dear. We believe that whenever there is decline in religious activity on earth Lord Vishnu appears in order to save the human race from an unrighteous way of life, to destroy evils, and to show people a path of dharma (the right duty). The process of such appearances of God is referred to as divine incarnations (avatars). There are ten famous incarnation forms of God. They are the Fish (matsya), the Tortoise (kurma or kachhapa), the Boar (varah), the Human-lion (nara-sinha), the Dwarf (vamana), Parashu-Rama (the God with an axe), Rama of the (Ramchandra, the hero of the epic Ramayana and destroyer of demon Ravana), Krishna (the teacher famous Bhagavad-Gita), Buddha (the ascetic prince) and Kalki, (the yet to appear deity, riding on a white horse).
Divine incarnations are an integral part of the Hindu beliefs. Each
incarnation is related to fulfilling a particular objective. The objective of
the Fish form was to save the sage Manu from his destruction by flood. The
Tortoise form helped the human race to recover from the ocean the essentials of
life which were lost in the deluge. Rescue of the earth from the grip of the
demon, Hiranyaksha, was achieved by the Boar form.
The Human-lion form helped the human race from the oppressions of the demon, Hiranyakasipu. The Dwarf form was helpful in restoring the
power of gods from the grips of the demon king
Mother: My child, this is one of the most commonly asked questions about Hinduism. The caste system was an important part of the Hindu way of life. During the Vedic age a social classification system called Varnashrama was devised so that the human race could have a smooth and ordered life in society. The system created the castes of Brahmins, the intellectual class, Kshatriyas, the warrior class, Vaishyas, the trader class and Shudras, the service people. Don't you see that every society has a need for teachers and/or preachers, defense, trade and commerce, and service even today? Our forefathers realized this need for order in society even then. Of course, the original concept of social order has been abused over the ages into its present mutilated form. The original caste system also supported the moving of individuals from one caste to another based on one's actions and performance in society. Isn't this concept of Hinduism true in modern living? Of course, it is.
Question 12 Child: Mom, please tell me about the Hindu calendar. How is it different from the Gregorian calendar?
Mother: Most fasts and festivals in Hinduism are based on the lunar calendar year. According to this, one lunar year is divided into 12 months of 30 days each. Each month is divided into two halves of 15 days, dark and bright. The names of the Hindu months in relation to the western calendar are:
The 11th day of each half(Ekadashi) and the full moon day of each month (Purnima) are considered very auspicious for fasts and worship and for obtaining blessings from the Almighty Lord.
Question 13 Child: Mom, can you tell me something about the Hindu festivals and fasts?
Mother: My child, there are many designated days to fast throughout the Hindu year. Fasts are considered to be an important part of many Hindu festivals and worship. All Hindu festivals and fasts have great religious significance as well as social love and hygienic elements embedded in them. These fasts and festivals are meant to relieve people from worldly day to day routine, and make them relaxed, cheerful and happy. I will briefly tell you about some of the important festivals and fasts which are commonly observed by Hindus. They are:
Mother: Yes, Hindus believe that spiritual development in one's life can be achieved by passing through four equal stages during a life span of 108 years. Each stage is called ashrama, and spans 27 years. In the first or child stage, the development of moral values are emphasized by studying with teachers. In the second stage, the pleasures of marriage and family life are enjoyed along with other aspirations and achievements while good citizenship is emphasized. In the third stage, less emphasis is put on worldly affairs and more attention is given to the spiritual aspects. This is to prepare for the fourth and final stage when a Hindu is supposed to experience the true spirituality of nature and be close to the final objective of liberation from worldly bondage (moksha).
Mother: Yes, they are correct. Hindus seek enlightenment through Yoga. Yoga is a vast system of seeking spirituality in life by controlling body and mind. The word itself means "union with God." There are several paths for achieving this union and there are several Yogas mentioned in our scriptures. One of many Yogas is Hatha Yoga and deals with physical exercises for good health. Asanas and breath control system is called pranayama. These asanas and pranayamas are based on activating the seven coiled energy centers in the human body called chakras. It is logical that good health will induce a sound mind, hence better concentration on God can be realized. It is this particular Yoga, which is only a small part of the Hindu Yoga system that you often hear about in the western world
Mother: Very much so. A Hindu way of living is wrapped around various holy rites called Sanskar for obtaining spiritual nourishment, peace of mind and the ultimate goal of liberation, moksha. These sanskars consist of rituals and sacrifices that are performed during a Hindu life for receiving spirituality and high sanctity. They give a spiritual touch to the important events at different stages of a Hindu life-- from pre-birth to post-death. There are 16 important sanskars prescribed in our scriptures that purify a Hindu life. A ceremonial hair cutting for the first time after birth or a ceremony for the purpose of initiation is a good example of a rite. There are some rites which are performed even before birth. Some important sanskars include the naming of a child (Namakaran), the formal initiation to Hinduism (Upanayan), marriage (Vivah), and the rites after death (Shradha).
Mother: As I mentioned earlier, our scriptures show us ways to obtain a sound body and mind in order to lead a proper way of life. Proper intake of food is necessary for this purpose. Hence the scriptures recommend only those foods which are tasty and can be digested easily and such foods are said to be in the "mode of goodness" (satwik). Vegetarian food by nature falls in this category. Although our scriptures do not say specifically not to eat non-vegetarian food, but they do emphasize the mode of goodness considerations in selecting the foods we eat. The selection between the two types of foods is up to the individual.
Mother: Yes. I have told you various aspects of the Hindu way of life. Now I'll repeat the major points and add a few more important facts. First of all, I emphasize that Hinduism is a religion of freedom. In the recommendations for Hindu way of living, there is absolute freedom for understanding the nature of God, forms of god and worship and the goal of life. Those who accept the teachings of the Vedas as the basis of dharma, follow the rule of conduct as instructed therein, believe in one Supreme God Brahma, consider life to be sacred, practice non-violence (Ahimsa), and believe in the rebirth of a soul (reincarnation), are Hindus.
Also, those who see godliness in mother, father,teacher, and all guests and believe in the holiness of the river Ganges which is considered to be Lord Brahma's blessing to the world, are Hindus. Those who believe in the holiness of cows which are considered as Lord Krishna's loving companions and the providers of mother-like nourishing milk for infants, are Hindus. And those who believe in the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Gayatri Mantra, the supreme and powerfully divine chant, are Hindus.
Besides visiting deities in temples, a Hindu maintains a shrine in the home for regular worship. Home worship is common on a social basis and also when family and friends worship together. Hindus also respect all elders and believe in giving to charities. Above all, Hindus love all religions of the world. Living as a member of the "world family" and praying for the welfare of the entire human race are the ways of Hindu life.
Hinduism Simplified : Summary
[Author's Note : A one page of summary of Hindu beliefs and disciplines as Hinduism Simplified is attached at the end of the booklet for a quick reference. The ten disciplines (Yams and Niyams) of sage Patanjali have been likened to the ten commandments in the religious teachings of the West. This comparison has been used only to provide catchword for youth. As a matter of fact, Hinduism recommends, it does not command.]
10 Disciplines (10 Commandments)
For youths growing up in the western environment
Tucker, GA 30084-2058 Tel : 770-925 8294 Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
VIVEKANAND VEDANTA SOCIETY
With great pleasure I have gone
through the booklet entitled Hinduism Simplified prepared by Sri Gangadhar Choudhary. This booklet
is intended to convey the basics of Hinduism to the children of Hindu parents
in this country. Unlike their parent s who grew up in
December 14, 1987 Swami Bhashyananda
Head, Vivekananda Vedata Society