As the most prominent religion in the countries of India and Nepal, and their immediate neighbours (Flood, 1996, p5), Hinduism is one of the world’s major religions and yet it lacks a set of central beliefs which unite its followers, making it quite a unique belief system. It combines a set of beliefs, traditions and ideas which unite its followers in the pursuit of seeking their own, personal interpretation of religion, as well as the desire to escape from the on-going cycle of re-birth which ties the individual to the Earth and all of its limitations.
Hindus refer to the continued cycle of life, death, and rebirth as ‘samsara’ which is defined as being “the cycle of continual transmigrations of the self” (Muesse, 2011, p99) and it’s the pursuit of freedom from this, known as ‘moksha,’ which drives Hindus in their religious beliefs. Conversely, it is not the goal of all Hindus to achieve moksha in their current life but rather, it is something which they aim to do over a number of lives – hundreds and thousands, in fact: “Moksha is often a distant objective, something that is best pursued in another birth.” (Muesse, 2011, p100). In short, Hindus play a long game and take a relaxed approach to achieving their goals with the central belief that one day, it will be attained. The achievement of moksha is equated with the eternal union with God and it involves the self-realisation of the self’s solitude and a desire to be united with a greater being (Flood, 1996, p98).
Also at the core of Hinduism is the belief that there is one central divine God as well as the belief in a number of others, known as polytheism (Flood, 1996, p14). Again, the idea of ‘God’ depends largely on the individual and there are various different ‘schools’ of thought which prescribe to particular opinions: for example, the beliefs and practices of a high-caste devotee of the Hinduo god, Visnu, are “prototypical” of that category, whilst another man who is devoted to the beliefs and practices of Radhasaomi, “who does not accept the Veda as revelation and even rejects many Hindu teachings”, is not prototypically Hindu but still falls within the ‘sphere’ of Hinduism (Flood, 1996, p7). And so, it is clear that Hinduism’s gods and their respective belief systems can be expansive and giving rise to the idea that whilst Hinduism is “not a category, in the classical sense – to which something either belongs or it does not – but more in the sense of prototype theory” (Flood, 1996, p7).
Originally, Hinduism took a simpler view and it has been altered and affected by cultural and societal influences. For example, Professor Williams, Dean of the College of Maharishi
Vedic Science, suggests that “the deified forces addressed in the Vedic hymns were probably not represented by images of idols in the Vedic period, though doubtless the early worshippers clothed their gods with human forms in their imaginations” (Wilkins, 2003, p12). It is the Vedic period which formed the basis of Hinduism, and was begun in the region of India. The country, today, is the centre for Hindu practices and beliefs including the seeking of inner peace, yoga and becoming at one with a higher sense of the world around us; with the first prime minister of an independent India stating that “Hinduism is ‘all things to all men’” (Flood, 1996, p7), implying that it is of vital importance to India’s culture and society and the way in which the country operates.
Flood, G.D. (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Muesse, M.W. (2011). The Hindu Traditions: a concise introduction. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Wilkins, W.J. (2003). Hindu Gods and Goddesses. New York: Dover Publications.