Hinduism is a difficult faith to define simply. One central part of Hinduism is the belief in a single God, known as Brahman. In Hinduism, God is eternal and makes himself visible in many forms and ways. Hinduism has a concept of God manifesting himself in three forms. Lord Brahma is the creator, Lord Vishnu is the preserver and Lord Shiva is the destroyer.
There are many other manifestations of God, each of which is referred to as Gods in his or her own right, such as Surya, the sun god, and Sarasvati, the goddess of learning.
Hinduism is a very accommodating faith. It accepts all views. It even teaches that personal experience is more important as a guide to life than the scriptures. This accommodating and evolving nature of Hinduism is perhaps how so many other great faiths have evolved from Hinduism, including Sikhism, Bhuddism and Jainism. It also helps to understand why Hinduism is so diverse and rich in its beliefs.
Hinduism is one of the oldest faiths. It is as much a religion as a way of life. It a very adaptable faith. It started with a series of beliefs that were documented, knows as the Vedas. The documented beliefs were expanded and explained by a series of teachers, known as gurus, throughout the centuries and continue to evolve and adapt even today.
There are two forms of Veda. The Shruti are the beliefs that are understood to be self-evident, neither created by God or by Man. The Smritis are the beliefs that are remembered, beliefs handed down from generation to generation.
The Vedas comprise four sections. The section called Samhitas which contain a collection of original hymns in praise of various gods and goddesses. Each hymn comprises stansas which are called Mantras. Mantras are believed to carry within themselves various spiritual or magical powers which can be unlocked if they are properly recited. The section called Brahmanas relates to the ritual beliefs of Hinduism. The Aranyakas section, the Books of the Forest, contains information on the nature and importance of sacrifices and their relation to man and the universe. The Upanishads form the end portions of the Vedas and constitute the Hindu Philosophy known as Vedanta.
Following on from the Vedas are a vast wealth of literature. The Shastras, for example, a series of four key guides to personal behaviour which are believed to help humans to lead a life without suffering. The Bhagavad Gita is the discourse of God which is revealed to us through the conversation between God and Arjuna in the battle field of Kurukshetra, with profound insights into life. There are a great many other works that deeply influence Hindus.
Hinduism is, at its heart, a belief that there is one all-pervasive God, that God is in everyone, and that everyone is in God. Hinduism believes that the aim of every person is to realize this divine nature within himself or herself. The ego, or ahamkar, is the root cause of all suffering. If an individual has to escape from suffering he has to cease to be his or her egoistic self and identify himself or herself with a limitless inner self.
Hinduism believes that all beings have souls, are equally important in the scheme of creation and that they all evolve continuously till they achieve final freedom. Man is but one stage in this evolution of life and in the soul’s upward journey towards such liberation.
Hinduism has given to the world the concept of karma, according to which all actions produce positive or negative reactions which shape our lives. Conversely, those actions that are done without expectation of a result, as a sacrifice to God, do not change our lives. Sacrifice through surrendering to God is therefore the basis of salvation.
Hinduism gives immense freedom to each individual to choose whatever path he or she wants to choose. It does not believe in imposition of faith from outside, nor changing of ones faith to another because it is more attractive. Each person has to pursue the path of God according to his or her inner nature and evolution. As a consequence, Hinduism does not believe in converting people from one faith to faith in an organized way. There are many ways in which one can approach God. All paths in the end lead to Him only.