Hinduism: the world's oldest religion

Conscious TV

January 03, 2022

There are some 900 million Hindus worldwide, making Hinduism the third largest religion in the world (after Christianity and Islam). About 80% of India's population considers itself Hindu and another 30 million Hindus live outside India.

The term "Hinduism" encompasses traditions that are closely related and share some beliefs, although they do not constitute a unified set of beliefs or practices. The term Hinduism comes from the Persian word Hindu, meaning "river," used by foreigners to refer to the inhabitants of the Indus River valley.

Hindus refer to their religion as sanatama dharma, "eternal religion," and varnasramadharma, a word denoting the performance of duties (dharma) associated with caste (varna) and phase of life (asrama).

Hinduism origin:

Hinduism has no founder or date of origin. The authorship and dates of composition of most of the sacred texts of Hinduism are unknown. Experts describe modern Hinduism as the result of the development of a religion that originated some 4,000 years ago in India, making it the oldest religion in the world. In fact, as mentioned above, Hindus consider their religion to be eternal (sanatama).

Most Hindus respect the authority of the Vedas (a collection of ancient sacred texts) and the Brahmins (the priestly caste), although some reject these authorities. The religious life of Hindus may focus on devotion to God or the gods, the duties of family life or meditation. Because of this great diversity, it is important not to generalize when speaking of "Hinduism" or "Hindu beliefs".

The earliest sacred scriptures of Hinduism, some 3,200 years old, refer mainly to ritual sacrifices associated with numerous gods representing forces of nature. A more philosophical approach began to develop in the 7th century BC, with the Upanishads and the development of Vedanta philosophy. Around the 5th century BC, some new belief systems emerged from Hinduism, the most prominent being Buddhism and Jainism.

In the 20th century, Hinduism became known in the West. Its worldview and its tolerance of diversity of beliefs have made it an interesting alternative to traditional Western religion. Although few Westerners have converted to Hinduism, Hindu thought has influenced the West indirectly through religious movements such as Hare Krishna and New Age, and even more through the incorporation of Indian beliefs and practices (such as the chakra system and yoga) in books and seminars on health and spirituality.

What are the basic beliefs of the Hinduism?

Hinduism encompasses a wide range of beliefs, something that may seem bewildering to Westerners accustomed to creeds, confessions and repetitive prayers. A person can believe the most diverse things about God, the universe and the path to liberation and still consider himself a Hindu. Possibly the best known Hindu saying about religion is: "The truth is one and the sages give it different names".

However, almost all forms of Hinduism share some beliefs, and these basic beliefs are considered boundaries beyond which heresy or abandonment of Hinduism appears.

These basic beliefs of Hinduism are:

  • the authority of the Vedas (India's oldest sacred texts) and of the Brahmins (priests), two fundamental elements in Hinduism, which are not shared by Buddhism and Jainism.
  • the existence of an immortal soul that transmigrates from one body to another at death (reincarnation)
  • the law of karma, actions performed according to moral principles automatically and inevitably have repercussions on people's lives and on their next reincarnation.

It should be noted that specific belief in God or gods is not considered one of the fundamental characteristics of Hinduism, which is an important difference with other monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Sikhism. Most Hindus are devout followers of one of the main gods, Shiva, Vishnu or Shakti, and often others, but all of them are considered manifestations of a single Reality.

In Hinduism, existence has not one purpose but four: Dharma or fulfillment of duty; Artha or prosperity; Kama or desire, sexuality and enjoyment; and Moksha or spiritual liberation.

Himduism gods:

Hinduism is not a homogeneous and organized system. Many Hindus are devout followers of Shiva (god of destruction) or Vishnu (the god of conservation), whom they consider the only true God, while others search within themselves for the divine Self (Atman). Most recognize the existence of Brahman (the god of creation), the unifying principle and the Supreme Reality beyond all that exists.

Is it polytheistic, pantheistic or even monotheistic? Of course, this is a question mainly asked by Westerners. The Indian mind tends to regard different views as complementary rather than opposites. Hinduism is certainly a theistic religion, but it can be difficult to determine whether it is a polytheistic or monotheistic religion.

Why are cows sacred in India?

In Hinduism, the cow is revered as a source of nourishment and a symbol of life. The cow symbolizes Mother Earth, nature, fertility, abundance and generosity. They are protected by law and no one dares to harass them, mistreat them, much less kill them for their meat.