These days, the social media, News Channel, News Papers and all the platforms of information are full of terms, “Hinduism”. Some display it as conflicting religion with so many inner differences and others present it as a way of external conflict with other religion. The word Hindu and Hinduism is geographical and of late origin. The land of the river Sindhu (Indus) and the people inhabiting it came to be known as ‘Hindu’ among the ancient Persians, in whose language , the ‘S’ of Sanskrit became ‘H’ and this name continues till date. From this point of view all religion of Indian origin like Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism or Tribal cults became different facets of Hinduism or Trial cults became different facets of Hinduism. But in practice the term Hinduism is applied to the religion dependent on Vedas. The adherents of Hinduism never gave any particular name to their own religion except the world ‘dharma’, which simply means the eternal law that supports and sustains those who practice it. Also during that time there was no religion to distinguish it from others.
Being an inclusive religion, it is difficult to define Hinduism the way Islam of Christianity can be.
However, a Hindu is expected to have these core convictions.
1) Acceptance of the Spiritual truth as preached in the Vedas, and elaborated in any of the sacred books of the Hindus.
2) The belief in the transmigratory nature of the individual soul till it attains Mukti. This is the state of freedom from every kind of duality like birth and death, good and bad.
3) Acceptance of different faith of religions as ways to perfection.
“Veda” are the scripture of Hinduism. It is also called Shruti (lit. heard), since they were passed down from the teacher to the disciple orally and were considered too sacred to be written down. The Veda has four-fold division based on poetic metre they are Rig-Veda, Sam-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Atharva-Veda. The contents of these books are the records of the Spritual realization of the Sages of that Period. Some of the Mantras of the Vedas are quite popular like Gaytri Mantra, which is recited regularly by millions.
The Rig-Veda is primarily a book of Prayers. The Yajur-Veda is a work of Liturgical practices. The Sam-Veda comprises hymns, taken mostly from the Rig Veda and set to music. The Atharveda is like an appendix supplying additional information on all aspect of Veda.
Each Veda is again divided into four section: Samhita (Collection of Mantras), Brahmana (Liturgical instructions, generally in prose), Aryanka (Symbolical Contemplation of Vedic Rituals), Upanishad (Metaphysical reflections). Next in importance to Veda comes Smritis (smrti=rememberance) or Secondary Scripture. The various dharma sutras, smrtis, itihasas and puranas as also nibandhas (digests) come under this category.
Ramayana and Mahabharata are the two sacred epics (Itihasas) that has served as the hope and inspiration of the Hindus. Among the smritis or secondary scripture special mention must be made of Gita, which is a part of great epic the Mahabharata, composed of 700 verses. Gita contains wonderful ideas of ethics, religion and philosophy packaged in one integrated whole which can be declared as a Book for all the Hindus of the modern age. There are 18 Puranas composed for masses for easy understanding of Spritual Truth. The Tantras are mostly about mother worship. Most of the Hindu rituals are either from Puranas or Tantra traditions. The smritis under the smritis (secondary scripture) are the law books of the Hindus which prescribe the personal and social code. There are innumerable smritis of which the most Famous is Manusmriti, written, around 2nd Century BCE. The sages knew that a society ruled by archaic laws becomes stagnant. So, new smritis were codified from time to time according to the need of the age. Unfortunately, no new Smriti of Stature has been written in the last thousand years or so.
The ultimate Aim of Hinduism is to lead a person towards Mukti (Freedom). But because not everyone is capable of taking up this great idea, Hinduism helps people improve their quality of life by offering three worldly ideas. Thus there are four of these, popularly known as purusartha (goals of life).
1) Dharma, righteous living that results in a more meaningful life.
2) Artha, acquisition of wealth through rightful means.
3) Kama, enjoyment without transgressing the social and religious norms.
4) Moksha, liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
The essential difference between religion and every other branch of knowledge lies in religions acceptance of non-material spiritual existence as the substratum of every material thing. Almost all religion other than Hinduism is founded upon the words of a master and hence the idea of God is usually similar, if one were to replace the Gods then it is nearly impossible to distinguish them, but in Hinduism many sages have contributed to its corpus, the God cannot be expressed as one-way road only. There are innumerable accepted ideas of God. The supreme reality in Hinduism is known as Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss) which carries two ideas- the Impersonal and Personal. In impersonal idea, God is infinite, ever free, without a form and beyond the grasp of Human Mind.
When the same reality is perceived by mind it is Personal God, who is merciful powerful and with innumerable noble qualities. We live in a democratic country; Hinduism teaches democratic God. There are about 33 Crore (330 Million) of God of which a Hindu can choose any one of liking or mental makeup and progress towards knowing more of God till one understands that ultimate reality and attains Moksha.
This year, the world is celebrating 125th Anniversary of the Swami Vivekananda speech in Chicago at Parliament of World’s Religions. In his paper on Hinduism he says, “To the Hindu, man is not travelling from error to truth, but from truth to truth, from lower to higher truth. To him all the religions, from the lowest fetishism to the highest absolutism, mean so many attempts of the human soul to grasp and realise the Infinite, each determined by the conditions of its birth and association, and each of these marks a stage of progress; and every soul is a young eagle soaring higher and higher, gathering more and more strength, till it reaches the Glorious Sun. Unity in variety is the plan of nature, and the Hindu has recognized it. Every other religion lays down certain fixed dogmas, and tries to force society to adopt them. It places before society only one coat which must fit Jack and John and Henry, all alike. If it does not fit John or Henry, he must go without a coat to cover his body. The Hindus have discovered that the absolute can only be realised, or thought of, or stated, through the relative, and the images, crosses, and crescents are simply so many symbols — so many pegs to hang the spiritual ideas on. It is not that this help is necessary for everyone, but those that do not need it have no right to say that it is wrong. Nor is it compulsory in Hinduism.
One thing I must tell you. Idolatry in India does not mean anything horrible. It is not the mother of harlots. On the other hand, it is the attempt of undeveloped minds to grasp high spiritual truths. The Hindus have their faults, they sometimes have their exceptions; but mark this, they are always for punishing their own bodies, and never for cutting the throats of their neighbors. If the Hindu fanatic burns himself on the pyre, he never lights the fire of Inquisition. And even this cannot be laid at the door of his religion any more than the burning of witches can be laid at the door of Christianity.
To the Hindu, then, the whole world of religions is only a travelling, a coming up, of different men and women, through various conditions and circumstances, to the same goal. Every religion is only evolving a God out of the material man, and the same God is the inspirer of all of them. Why, then, are there so many contradictions? They are only apparent, says the Hindu. The contradictions come from the same truth adapting itself to the varying circumstances of different natures.
It is the same light coming through glasses of different colours. And these little variations are necessary for purposes of adaptation. But in the heart of everything the same truth reigns. The Lord has declared to the Hindu in His incarnation as Krishna, "I am in every religion as the thread through a string of pearls. Wherever thou seest extraordinary holiness and extraordinary power raising and purifying humanity, know thou that I am there." And what has been the result? I challenge the world to find, throughout the whole system of Sanskrit philosophy, any such expression as that the Hindu alone will be saved and not others. Says Vyasa, "We find perfect men even beyond the pale of our caste and creed."
Source:Hinduism by Samarpan
Encyclopedia of Hinduism Swami Harsananda