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Frequently Asked Questions
What is Hinduism?
Hinduism is a term given by the people of Middle East and the West to indicate a cultural group of people who lived beyond river Indus ( River Sindhu was called by Persians as Hindu and Greeks farther distorted it to Indus) and followed Vedic teachings. Its real name is Sanatana Dharma, Eternal Principles to hold on to the Truth.
Explanation: The Rishis (pure hearted ancient seers of India) searched after the Truth eternally present behind the multiplicity of this world with one pointed devotion and realized It in various ways. Such sincere searches were made by many Rishis over several millenniums.
Those revelations or discoveries were passed on to the following generations orally from Gurus or Acharyas (who practiced their teachings themselves) to Shishyas (disciples or earnest seeker after Truth) and later were recorded in a corpus of literatures and are called Vedas, that is why it is called Shruti (lit. heard). Subsequent literatures such as Vedangas (6 limbs or auxiliary disciplines for appreciation of Vedas), Upa-Vedas, (subsidiary social knowledge system) Puranas (Mythology), Itihasa (idealistic history) etc. were created and spread by rote and repetitions by some Shrutidharas (meritorious people who could memorize the whole episode by hearing once, twice or a few times). Therefore these literatures are called Smritis (lit. from memory).
Vedic revelations are eternal in nature so these teachings and practices under an umbrella are commonly called - Sanatan dharma, Eternal Religion. The adherents and practitioners of Vedic teachings were called Hindus by Persians because they called river Sindhu as Hindu due to difficulty in pronouncing 'S' and Greeks distorted it farther to Indus.
Are Hindus Polytheistic, believer of many Gods with so many gods and goddesses?
No. They are monotheistic. But God has many aspects and expressions suited to the seeker - with name and form, without name and form, with qualities, without qualities, dualistic, qualified monistic, non-dual monistic
and infinitely numerous other ways.
It is like the Sun is one but it may have innumerable pictures with differences or like a Government may have many departments; all are government departments separately or jointly and also it is beyond all departments thus formless. According to them there is no need to wear the same coat by all and sundry.
What is Vedanta?
The word “Vedanta” is in fact combination of two words: “Veda” and “anta”; “Veda” means “knowledge” and “anta” means “the gist or end or wisdom”. The knowledge here is supernatural or transcendental knowledge, the knowledge of the Divine and also our own Self. Vedanta, then, is about the Self-knowledge as well as the path to God.
Who is God?
According to Vedanta, God is Sat-Chit-Ananda swarupa Absolute Existence, Consciousness, and Bliss. The term for this impersonal, transcendent reality is Brahman. Vedanta also maintains that God can be personal as well, assuming human form as and when required. Most importantly, God dwells within our own hearts as the divine Consciousness or Self or Atman. The Atman is never born nor will it ever die. Neither stained by our failings nor affected by the fluctuations of the body or mind, the Atman is not subject to our grief or despair or disease or ignorance. Pure, perfect, free from limitations, the Atman, Vedanta declares, is one with Brahman. The greatest temple of God lies within the human heart.
Vedanta asserts that the goal of life is to realize and to manifest our own divinity. This divinity is our real nature, and the realization of it is our birthright. We are moving towards this goal as we grow with knowledge and life experiences. It is inevitable that we will eventually, either in this or in future lives, discover that the greatest truth of our existence is our own divine nature.
Vedanta further affirms that all religions teach the same basic truths about God, the world, and our relationship to one another. Thousands of years ago the Rig Veda declared: “Truth is one, sages call it by various names.” The world’s religions offer varying approaches to God, each one true and valid, each religion offering the world a unique and irreplaceable path to God-realization. The conflicting messages we find among religions are due more to doctrine and dogma than to the reality of spiritual experience. While dissimilarities exist in the external observances of the world religions, the internals bear remarkable similarities.
According to the Vedanta teachings there are four paths we can follow to achieve the goal of understanding our divine nature. These paths are known as the Four Yogas. We can choose a path based on our personality or inclination, or follow the practices of the paths in any combination.
Bhakti Yoga: Bhakti Yoga is the path of love and devotion. The devotee approaches God through a loving relationship. This path emphasizes practices such as prayer, chanting, and meditation on God as a loving presence in our lives.
Jnana Yoga: Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge. In this path the seeker uses reason and discernment to discover the divine nature within by casting off all that is false, or unreal. This practice shows us that the Supreme Reality resides within.
Karma Yoga: Karma Yoga is the path of selfless work. Those who follow this path do work as an offering to God and expect nothing personal in return. Karma Yoga teaches us to practice detachment and equanimity in our work, and to understand that the results of any actions are beyond our control.
Raja Yoga: Raja Yoga is the path of meditation. Meditation is an important practice in all of the paths as it allows us to experience higher states of consciousness where we achieve a deeper understanding of our divine nature. Sri Ramakrishna, a modern day saint and his student Swami Vivekananda, who brought Vedanta to the western world, emphasized the use of a mantra based meditation technique and symbolic images of the divine.
To learn more about Vedanta, please browse the Internet and watch our videos. We welcome you to visit any of our centers as well!
What does Hinduism mean to you?
Hinduism aka Sanatana Dharma means to me an all-integrated, scientific and holy path to reach the Goal of life.
The real name of Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma. Sanatana means Eternal and Dharma means the spiritual principles that govern our lives. So Sanatan Dharma means the Eternal life-principles enunciated in the Vedas. This is also called Vaidika Dharma or Vedanta Dharma because its origin is in the Vedas. Dharma includes natural and universal codes of conduct so it is not exclusive to a particular race or country. Therefore it is not exactly a religion. Hinduism is multifaceted and scientific in its approach.
The name Hinduism was given by the people of the Middle-East and the West. What they meant by the word is that the religion followed by the people who lived (and still live) on the other side of the river Indus. The real name of river Indus is Sindhu. Persians had difficulty in pronouncing 'S' so they called it river Hindu. Greaks distorted it further and pronounced it as Indus and the people who lived east of Indus are called Indians or Hindus and the religion they followed was called Hinduism.
Why is Sanatana Dharma not a religion or any ism? The 'religion' has got a set of dogmas and doctrines which one has to conform with and 'ism' is the opinion of someone or some people and any ism cannot be absorbed and actualized in our lives. Whereas Dharma when practised in life leads to the highest realisation of life. In Sanatan Dharma, one must be a seeker of Truth and not a believer of dogmas. A believer has to believe blindly and he/she cannot ask questions; but a seeker of the Truth, on the other hand, can ask any number of questions and even he/she is free to not believe in God until he/she realizes Him. For example, in Christianity one has to believe that he/she is a born sinner. But in Sanatana Dharma he/she is a child of Immortal bliss, only he/she has to discover and realise it by himself with the help of his Guru.
The Vedas, the Holy scriptures: The spiritual knowledge, revealed to various Rishis, (the pure hearted seers who realized the Truth in their lives) was handed over to later generations by rote through a series of Gurus to their disciples. This huge corpus of knowledge was later divided into four, thus Vedas are four. The oldest Mantras are about 8000 years old if not more. Many later Rishis also discovered and contributed to this treasure-trove of knowledge subsequently. In course of time many teachers explained these life principles in different ways giving birth to six philosophies (Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika Purva Mimansa and Uttara Mimansa or Vedanta) and numerous paths and attitudes to reach the Highest Truth in life such as Vaishnavism, Shakta, Shaiva, Ganapatya etc.
Rishis were and are the seekers of Truth. Like scientists they do not take anything for granted until they realize it. They accepted those truths which were revealed to them. However, there is a little difference - the Rishis are morally pure ethically uncorrupted and the topic of their study is the Subject (the Person Himself who observes everything) whereas the scientists may not be morally pure and ethically sound and their topics of study are the objects, what is seen outside of us.
Hinduism stands on the 3 revealed sources of texts for freedom -
The Upanishads, are Upadesha prasthana (injunctive texts), or Śruti prasthāna (the axiom of revelation),
The Brahma Sutras, known as Sutra prasthana or Nyaya prasthana or Yukti prasthana (logical text or axiom of logic)
The Bhagavad Gita, known as Sadhana prasthana (practical text), or the Smriti prasthāna (the starting point or axiom of remembered tradition)
According to Sanatana Dharma the life is divided into 4 institutions - 1. Brahmacharya (Studentship), 2. Grihasta (Householdership who generates resources), 3. Vanaprastha (retired) and 4. Sanyasa (Renunciates to attain the Goal of life, God).
There are four Varna (professions which are wrongly translated as Caste system by the Westerners) and it is present in every society - 1 Brahmanas (those who Inculcate, generate and preserve knowledge such as professors) 2. Kshatriya (defender of faith, such as police, army), 3. Vaishya (business folk, animal husbandry and agriculture ) and 4. Shudra (all Service-holder)
There are two ways to reach God - 1.Pravritti path (to try to reach God performing stipulated duties in above professions) and 2, Nivritti path (to try to achieve God renouncing everything and not getting involved in the world as in Sanyasa).
One should follow a righteous and moral path because "What you sow you shall reap". This is called Karma-vada (doctrine of Karma).
The self (Atman) never dies but it travels from one body to another. This is called Punarjanma-vada ( doctrine of Reincarnation).
How do you understand the sacred?
What do you mean by understanding the sacred? I am guessing your question and answering them.
It is said -'the proof of the pudding is in the eating'. So we must experience the Truth that has been enunciated in the scripture. So through experience we understand the sacred. To experience the truth the following methods are followed -
1. We hear what our Rishis discovered, like we know in a classroom of any science subject from our teachers.
2. We cogitate and try to understand and assess the veracity of what we have heard from our scripture and teachers, like we do in a laboratory. We also cultivate the moral and ethical character and seek the truth sincerely and pray earnestly to higher power, God to reveal the Truth.
3. When we are convinced of the truth we experience it. First this knowledge is intellectual and then it is life changing.
For example you 1) hear about milk and its qualities and then 2) you see it, touch it and taste it, and smell it etc. then
3) You drink it, digest and assimilate it and become strong. To digest and to assimilate the milk our system should be capable enough. To develop that capacity one should exercise. Similarly we do some spiritual exercises.
Our understanding changes but an experience never changes, Your childhood understanding mostly changed but your experiences never changed. So in Sanatana Dharma it is being and becoming and that is its proof.
What has your religious experience been like?
Swami Vivekananda who attended the Parliament of Religion in Chicago in 1893 and delivered famous lectures and then he spread the message of Vedanta in the Western world, said -
“Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy - by one, or more, or all of these - and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.”
Jesus said - 'the Kingdom of heaven is within' and 'Me and my Father are one'.
So I have known that I am a Divine being and not a cage of bones and flesh or array of cells. The body and mind are only an outer covering like the dress.
What are your feelings/ beliefs on the afterlife and reincarnation?
It is not a belief but I feel I am reincarnated in this life. The Self never dies; it goes from one body to another as you go from your home to your school.
What is central to your beliefs / practices?
There are four main practices -
1. Karma Yoga (duties) : Using our hands we perform our duties and charities with the attitude of service to God. The duties are done being one with the Divine and offering the karma to the Divine and expecting nothing in return.
2. Raja Yoga (concentration) : Using our mind we meditate and concentrate on our chosen ideal using all our efforts to know my real Self. It is like a person who concentrates and prepares to scale Mt Everest and does everything carefully. It is like a student who concentrates on his/her books to learn the secret of knowledge.
3. Jnana Yoga (knowledge) : Using our intellect we cultivate knowledge of the underlying Unity of this diverse world and try to be and to become that Unity. One Entity is seen diversely due to Its many manifestations. It is like individuals and races may be many but there is one humanity manifesting in many.
4. Bhakti Yoga (Devotion): Using our emotion we feel united with the Divine as you feel with your parents through emotion, love.
How do ethics play into your religion?
Morality and ethics play an essential part in Sanatana Dharma. Without cultivating purity no experience can be achieved like one can not see his/her image in a mirror if it is covered with dust and dirt. One should walk the talk. The mind, speech and deeds should be in unison. An aspirant should follow at least the following ethical principles mentally, physically and speech - (A) Yama - 1. Truthfulness, 2. Nonviolence, 3. Continence, 4. Non stealing, 5. Non acceptance of undue gifts.
(B) Niyama - 1. Cleanliness, 2. Contentment, 3. Earnest effort, 4, upgrading knowledge and contemplation and 5. Dependence on God.
How did you come to this tradition?
I was seeking the Truth in my youth so I was brought by God/Destiny/Karma (my residual impression of my past life). It is like a hungry person searches food and ultimately gets it.
Does being Hindu affect your everyday life?
Do you mean to say here in USA?
No. In general, people are not intolerant here, so no problem, rather I have many friends.
What is your favorite part of the religion?
In Hinduism God is conceived in three ways -
Dualism: Worshiping God as separate from me when I feel I am separate; it is like - you feel you are separate from members of your family and you request your parent.
Qualified Nondualism: Worshipping God as part of Him like you feel you are a part of your family or the society and you share certain duties and powers.
Nondualism: Being one with the Whole Existence or God like you feel one with the USA.
We also know that all religions when practised sincerely and correctly will lead to the same Goal so we hate none.