A Bird’s-Eye View of a Family of Faiths

Posted on August 11, 2010


Hinduism, also known as the sanatana dharma,
or “Eternal Way,” is our planet’s original and oldest living
religion, with no single founder. For as long as man
has lived and roamed across Earth’s land and water masses,
breathed its air and worshiped in awe its fire, it has been a
guide of righteous life for evolving souls. Today Hinduism has
four main denominations: Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and
Smartism, each with hundreds of lineages. They represent a
broad range of beliefs, sadhanas and mystic goals.
While Hindus believe many diverse and exotic things,
there are several bedrock concepts on which virtually all
concur. All Hindus worship one Supreme Reality, though
they call it by many names, and teach that all souls will
ultimately realize the truth of the Vedas and Agamas. Hindus
believe that there is no eternal hell, no damnation. They
concur that there is no intrinsic evil. All is good. All is God.
In contrast, Western faiths postulate a living evil force,
embodied in Satan, that directly opposes the will of God.
Hindus believe that the universe was created out of God
and is permeated by Him—a Supreme Being who both is
form and pervades form, who creates, sustains and destroys
the universe only to recreate it again in unending cycles.
Hindus accept all genuine spiritual paths. Each soul is free
to find his own way, whether by devotion, austerity, meditation,
yoga or selfless service (seva). Hinduism’s three pillars
are temple worship, scripture and the guru-disciple tradition.
Hinduism strongly declares the validity of the three
worlds of existence—physical, astral and spiritual—and the
myriad Gods and devas residing within them. Festivals,
pilgrimage, chanting of holy hymns and home worship are
dynamic practices. Family life is strong and precious. Love,
nonviolence, good conduct and the law of dharma define
the Hindu path. Hindus are generously tolerant of other
faiths. Hinduism explains that the soul reincarnates until all
karmas are resolved and God Realization is attained.
Hindus wear the sectarian marks, called tilaka, on their
foreheads as sacred symbols, distinctive insignia of their
heritage. This is a mystical religion, leading devotees to
personally experience its eternal truths within themselves,
finally reaching the pinnacle of consciousness where man
and God are forever one. They prefer cremation of the body
upon death, rather than burial, believing that the soul lives
on and will inhabit a new body on Earth.
While we have many sacred scriptures, all sects ascribe
the highest authority to the Vedas and Agamas, though
their Agamas differ somewhat. Hinduism’s nearly one billion
adherents have tens of thousands of sacred temples and
shrines, mostly in India, but now located around the world.
Its spiritual core is its millions of holy men and women who
have dedicated their lives to full-time service, devotion and
God Realization, and to proclaiming the eternal truths of
the Sanatana Dharma.