Most Hindus are bhakta; that is, they practice their
religion through bhakti yoga - the worship of and devotion to a god. As
already noted, bhakti yoga is considered to be the best path in the
present age. According to Hinduism, the universe goes vast cycles
of creation, decline and destruction. Each cycles divides into four
stages, each of which is worse than the preceding. We are currently in
the final stage, Kali Yuga.
devotion is often expressed through puja - worship that takes
place in the home as well as through participation in worship and
celebrations at a temple devoted to the deity. Be mindful, however, that
when devotion to a particular god does not mean that one does not
acknowledge and honor other gods and goddesses. All deities are considered
to be manifestations of Brahman, the universal soul. While there are
literally thousands of gods and goddesses in Hinduism, there are three
major deities that are worshipped.
One of the main characteristics of
Hindu worship is darshan. Darshan (or darsan) is the process of
making visual contact with the divine through an image. Statues and
images are extremely important in Hinduism. It isn't that the image is
the god; rather the god chooses to make himself present in the statue.
Consequently, images offer the potential of contact with the deity that
is present in them. The final goal of most pilgrimages or temple visits in
Hinduism is to make darshan - to see the divine through the statue.
Because of the deity's presence, statues are treated as an
honored guest. Puja often includes bathing, clothing or offering
food and drink a statue.
Pilgrimages play in important role in
Hinduism. The entire land of India is a sacred place in Hinduism.
Throughout the land are places where the gods and goddesses have made
themselves known. One of the most important manifestations of the
divine is the river Ganges. Hindus refer to the river as Mother Ganga.
Bathing in the river is thought to remove sin. Consequently, pilgrimage
to the city of Benares to bathe in the Ganges is an important spiritual
event in Hinduism. It is through that those who die in the sacred city
of Benares are automatically released from rebirth.
D. Life stages
For the upper castes, life is traditionally
divided into four stages: the student, the householder, the
"semi-retired" and the sannyasin. The sannyasin is one who,
having fulfilled his duties to society, now renounces his former life
and family and lives as a spiritual seeker.
At any stage in life, one may seek the guidance of a spiritual leader
known as a guru.
While Hinduism acknowledges and honors literally thousands of gods
and goddess, the text notes that most Hindus can be grouped into three