Make your own free website on


Hinduism - Overview

      Known by its followers as Sanatana Dharma (“the eternal way”)

      Originated in what is now India

      Extremely diverse in worship, beliefs and practice (Many paths to one goal)

      Yet, all paths share a common core heritage and starting point in the Vedas

I. Vedas: The Scriptures

      Composed in Sanskrit

      “Divinely inspired:” The “breath of the eternal” heard by the sages (rishis).

      Began to be written down around 1500 BCE.

      Compiled into four books

      Oldest is the Rig Veda

Each Vedic Book has 4 parts

             Samhitas - hymns of praise in worship of deities (earliest)

             Brahmanas - directions about performances of the ritual sacrifices to the deities.

             Aranyakas - writings  of those who retired to the forests to meditate.

             Upanishads - teachings of spiritual masters (composed 600-400 BCE)

II. Vedic Religion/Brahmanism

A. Devas (controlling forces). The major devas in the Vedas include:

  Indra (god of thunder/ bringer of rains)

  Agni (god of fire)

  Soma (associated with sacred drink)

  Ushas (goddess of dawn)

B.  Fire sacrifice: meant to maintain the order of creation

  Brahmins (priests)

  Mantras: verbal formula often thought to have special power.  May be used in meditation and prayer.


       “Cosmic vibration that holds together the universe”


III. Essential concepts found in the Vedas

A. The Caste System

      Division of labor into four main groups



priests and philosophers


nobility and warriors


farmers and merchants


manual laborers


      Untouchables” virtually outside the caste system

      Castes are hereditary

      Cannot move from one caste to another

      Cannot marry outside of your caste

             The Caste system corresponds to the creation story in which the universe is formed by the sacrifice of Purusha.

             Thus, caste system is “divinely ordained.”

             Details of the duties and responsibilities of each Caste are specified in the post Vedic Code of Manu

             Dharma: social behavior appropriate to one’s caste

 B. Profound Unity of Universe

      Unity expressed in story of sacrifice of Purusha

      Expressed in the dialogs of the Upanishads

  The source of the soul (atman) is Brahman (the Universal Soul)


C. Reincarnation, Samsara and Moksha

      Rebirth/transmigration of the soul

      Samsara ("wandering"): Endless cycle of birth-death-rebirth

      Soul be may be reborn into the body of any living creature in any realm

      Rebirths continue until one reaches moksha – “release”

      QUESTION: What determines the nature and circumstances of one’s birth?

      ANSWER: Karma: “literally means action”

   Definition of karma: Cosmic law of cause and effect: events and circumstances are the consequence of previous actions.

      The caste system is a reflection of one’s spiritual status.

      Over many millions of lives, one may accumulate enough good karma to reach moksha


A dilemma: By the end of the Vedic period Hinduism seems to be sending “mixed signals.”  On the one hand, the Upanishads seem to recommend withdrawing from the world.  This path of renunciation and inaction is thought necessary for one to realize one’s true nature and to prevent the accumulation of negative karma.  On the other hand, the Vedas along with the Code of Manu insist that one must act in order to maintain society.  One must therefore perform the duties specific to one’s caste regardless of consequences. The solution to this dilemma is set form in the four paths described in the Bhagavad-Gita.