Frequently Asked Questions about Hinduism

These FAQ’s are meant to provide the reader with a brief introduction to Hinduism from the perspective of question and answers.

What is the Meaning of Aum or Om?

Om is the most sacred syllable often spoken during the practice of any Hindu rites. It is a holy character of the Sanskrit language, the language of God. The character is a composite of three different letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. The English equivalent of those are "a", "u", and "m", and represent the Trinity. The Trinity is composed of the three supreme Gods: Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. These three letters when pronounced properly in unison create an invigorating effect in the body. Because of its significance this sacred syllable is spoken before any chants to show God we remember him. This sign also represents the whole universe.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning "union of Atman (individual Self) with Brahman (Universal Self)." Atman and Brahman are both Hindu theological terms.

Interestingly, the Sanskrit root for "yoga" is "yuj;" i.e., "to yoke" [to the Spirit], and the Latin root for "religion" is "religio;" i.e., "to link-back" [to the Spirit]. Therefore it is a fallacy that "yoga" is not "religion" as the two words basically have the same meaning. With this basic understanding, it sounds almost as odd to say "I do yoga" as it does to say "I do religion." Fine—but which one?

Of course, it is in the Hindu religion that one finds all the many forms of Yoga. The Hindu religion (also known by the names Sanatan Dharma, "Vedic Dharma" and even "Yoga Dharma") is the spiritual foundation from which arose the Buddhist, Jain and Sikh Dharmas or religions.

Who is a Hindu?

Hindu is a name given to people living east of the river Indus in India. Thus “Hinduism” became the term used to describe the religion practiced by these people. Those who practice Hinduism usually refer to the religion as sanatana dharma (the eternal truth).

A Hindu accepts the authority of Vedas (Vedic scriptures) and follows the common practices and worldview that has roots in sanatana dharma such as dharma, karma, samsaras and ahimsa. A Hindu is inclined to revere the divine in every manifestation and is tolerant of the peaceful practices of other faiths.

What is Karma?

Karma is the law of action and reaction (cause and effect) applied to life. The ãtmã reaps fruits, good or bad, according to its past and present actions; these fruits are experienced either in this life or in future lives. God is the giver of the fruits of all living beings’ actions.

Karma helps explain the disparities that occur in the human population such as: prosperity or poverty, happiness or misery, good health, illness, or disability. Behind every individual’s existence there partly lies his own past deeds, which are directly responsible for many of the events during his lifespan, be it painful or pleasant. We are what we are because of our deeds and actions.

What is Reincarnation?

The word reincarnate means to "reenter the flesh." We Hindus believe the soul is immortal and keeps reentering a fleshy body time and time again in order to resolve experiences and thereby learn all the lessons life in the material world has to offer. Hindus believe in reincarnation. To them, it explains the natural way the soul evolves from immaturity to spiritual illumination.

What is Hinduism?

Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma is the world’s oldest religion. It is the native religion of India. It predates recorded history and has no human founder. Vedic records dating back 6,000 to 10,000 years show that even in that time period, Hinduism was considered an ancient religion. Today, there are almost 1 billion Hindus spread around the world. That makes one out of every sixth person in the world a Hindu. Its modes of worship are diverse and range from grand festivals such as the Kumbhmela (a religious gathering of over 45 million people) to the simple darshan (devotional seeing) of home shrines. Its places of worship include millions of ancient and contemporary shrines and mandirs. Hinduism recognizes the Vedas as the most ancient and authoritative body of religious literature. They are the foundational scriptures common to all branches of Hinduism.

What is Sanatana Dharma?

Sanatana Dharma is by its very essence a term that is devoid of sectarian leanings or ideological divisions. This is evident by the very term itself. The two words, "Sanatana Dharma", come from the ancient Sanskrit language. "Sanatana" is a Sanskrit word that denotes that which does not cease to be, that which is eternal. The word "Dharma" is a term that is only properly rendered into the English language with difficulty. Its approximate meaning is "Natural Law," or those principles of reality which are inherent in the very nature and design of the universe. Thus the term Sanatana Dharma can be roughly translated to mean "The Eternal Natural Way."

Since Sanatana Dharma is referring to those ways of being which are in concert with the Absolute, and are therefore axiomatic laws, this term is not referring to something which is open to alteration. Just as the laws of gravity, mathematics or logic are not open to sectarian debate or relative opinion (gravity, for example, is an inherent law of nature regardless of whether one believes in the law of gravity or not), similarly the subtle laws of God transcend all partisan concerns.

Also sometimes known as Hinduism, Sanatana Dharma is the world's most ancient culture and the religion of almost one billion of the earth's inhabitants. Though the majority of followers are Indian (South Asian), Sanatana Dharma claims adherents from almost every nationality, race and ethnic group in the world, including an ever-increasing number of Americans. There are approximately 2 million followers in America, of which roughly half are from India and half (1 million) are non-Indian Americans (Hispanics, Caucasians, African-Americans, etc.). Statistics aside, Sanatana Dharma represents much more than just a religion; rather, it provides its followers with an entire way of life and with a coherent and rational view of reality.

What is the Hindu definition of God?

Hinduism gives us the freedom to approach God in our own way, without demanding conformity to any dogma. Hindus believe in one supreme God who created the universe and who is worshipped as Light, Love and Consciousness. Hindus believe that there is one all-pervasive God which energizes the entire universe. We can see Him in the life shining out of the eyes of humans and all creatures. Hindus also believe in many devas who perform various kinds of functions, like executives in a large corporation. These should not be confused with God. There is one Supreme God only.

What is sometimes confusing to non-Hindus is that we may call this one God by many different names, according to our tradition. Truth for the Hindu has many names, but that does not make for many truths. Hindus believe in one God, one humanity and one world. People with different language, different cultures have understood this one God in their own way.One of the unique understandings in Hinduism is that God is not just far away, living in a remote heaven, but is also inside of each and every soul in the heart and consciousness, waiting for you and me to discover. Knowing the One Great God in this intimate and experiential way is the goal of Hindu spirituality.

What makes Hinduism really great?

Hinduism is a great banyan tree. On its "sakas"(limbs) one can see the principles of all the great religions of the world. The total surrender Yoga which Jesus Christ spoke of one can see in the Bhagavad Gita. The statement of the Sufis that "I am God" one can see in the Upanishads as "Aham Brahmasim." The statement of Lao-Tse that everthing is Tao can be seen as "Everything is Brahman" in the Upanishads. In Hinduism alone one can see the strange coexistence of an atheist, an agnostic and a theist. When Socrates and the Sufis were persecuted in the West, in India we adored Buddha, who did no recognize the authority of the Vedas, and tolerated Charvaka, who ridiculed the Vedas and attacked the mere existence of God. So let us face it, in Hinduism one can find a religion tailor-made for each of us, whatever be our way of thinking.

Hinduism recognizes the fact that people are on different levels. Matters do not apply or appeal to all persons in the same manner. My mother could go into a trance just by looking at the picture of Shri Krishna. But for you and I, that is unimaginable. I could appreciate and admire Sanskrit lyrics in the Mahabharata, but for you that mya be difficult. That is the reason why Hinduism, which is filled with hundreds of ideas, will appeal to all.

Hinduism is the most developed school of thought for understanding human nature, freeing oneself from fear, ignorance, and unhappiness, and for growing towards individual enlightenment.

What is Moksha?

Moksha is ultimate liberation. This is the goal of human life. Moksha is the liberation of the soul from the cycles of birth and death; thereafter, it remains eternally in the service of God in His abode.

Why is Hinduism so Complex to Understand?

Well, Hinduism was not born out of the thoughts of one particular philosopher or at one particular time. It is an accumulation of the knowledge and experience of seers from ancient time. Also as it does not impose the supremacy of one specific postulation hence many complementary at times totally different concepts exist because of this openness. This advantage makes it sophisticated.

So could it not be understood by simple minds ?

It could certainly be and it is. Apart from being sophisticated it is also having various step by step procedures that arose out of the sophisticated thesis, for the layman to follow.

Why is it sometimes so confusing ?

There are multiple reasons for that. Trying to do an in and out analysis without getting on to taste its fruit by practicing would make one feel exhausted. Because it is not a religion of limited contours. It is really an ocean of knowledge.

But don't we find quite contradicting statements in Hindu scriptures ? What explains that contradiction ?

Science tells us that water becomes ice when its temperature falls to zero degree centigrade or below. The same science also tells that water can exist even in temperatures below zero degree in certain conditions and the water is called super-cooled water. Which one to believe ? The fact remains that both the statements are true however contradicting they are. Hinduism - an open religion - supports the view that there could be multiple facets of the same truth! And hence the things that have a value in them would find their place in Hinduism. Some scriptures would say knowledge is the way to the Supreme and some would say devotion is the way! There is no need to be confused. Choose the way that is appropriate in your situation, but do remember just because one is appropriate for you, the others do not cease to be true !!

How will be a Hindu marriage ceremony?

The Hindu marriage ceremony is one of the oldest in the world, well established by 3000 BC. It consists of several rituals, each with a distinct meaning and purpose. It is performed under the guidance of a pundit, or priest, who recites mantras (verses) written in Sanskrit. A formal engagement precedes the wedding ceremony. Engagement is symbolized by the bride's parents giving a coconut, considered sacred fruit, to the groom. The groom's parents present a sari to the bride and sweets are distributed among the families. The wedding day is chosen by consulting astrological charts to select an auspicious day. A day before the wedding, designs in Henna are applied to the bride's body. A deeply colored design is considered a good sign for the couple. It is a common belief among Hindu women that the darker the imprint on the bride's palms the more her mother-in-law will love her. Hindu weddings take place under a canopy called a Mandap, outside if possible. The groom arrives in a wedding procession and the couple exchange garlands of flowers. The bride's father joins their hands, giving her to her new husband. The couple circles the sacred fire four times. At the end of the ceremony the couple receives blessings from all the guests.

Who can become a Hindu ? Can one be a Hindu only by birth ?

No, not at all. As the knowledge in Hinduism is not in a closed boundary, Hinduism does not limit itself to any closed boundary of land, language or race. In fact people embracing Hinduism have been there for ages.

Why are there so many Gods in Hinduism?

The ancient seers of India recognized that all of God’s creation does not just center around man, but that man shares the universe with numerous life forms. Some life forms have less powers and abilities than humans while others have more. God grants some of these various higher beings cosmic powers and assigns them the responsibilities of running the “machinery of the universe.” These higher beings are also known as devtãs, devãs or Gods. While Hindus respect these gods to be higher than humans, and even propitiate them in times of need, Hindus also readily acknowledge that these gods are clearly subservient to and have their origin and sustenance in one Supreme God. Hindus are thus monotheists, worshippers of one Supreme God, in every sense of the word.

Historically, many groups have been unwilling or unable to understand the true position and function of the various Gods within Hinduism. Consequently, out of misunderstanding or prejudice, they have incorrectly labeled Hinduism as polytheistic in the sense of the ancient Roman or Greek pantheon. However, this is incorrect. Just as other religions consider themselves monotheistic while still accepting the existence of “angels” and other superhuman divinities, Hinduism should be considered monotheistic in the same sense.

What is the significance of the Swastika?

Swastika which is regarded divine by Hindus. The word swastika means auspicious in the Sanskrit language and hence is used to symbolize the welcoming of auspiciousness and driving away evils. The symbol also represents the changing of the universe around the unchanging nature of God. Unfortunately the sign has been abused by group such as the Nazis during World War II.

Does Hinduism prohibit meat eating ?

There are actually very less things as prohibits, commands, mandates etc in Hinduism. So in this case too Hinduism does not prohibit, but it recommends that meat eating could be avoided for spiritual benefits and kindness towards fellow creatures.

Is there a rule about Hindus eating meat ?

Ahimsa means refraining from injuring-physically, mentally or emotionally-anyone or any living creature. The Hindu who wishes to strictly follow the path of non-injury to all creatures naturally adopts a vegetarian diet. As in other matters, Hinduism has very few rigid "do's and don'ts." Rather, its injunctions are called restraints and observances. The ultimate authority for answers to such questions is one's own conscience. Today in America and Europe there are literally millions of vegetarians. This is because they want to live a long time and be healthy. Many feel a certain moral obligation to their own conscience which they wish to fulfill. There are no commandments. Hindu religion gives us the wisdom to make up our own mind on what we put in our body, for it is the only one we have, in this life at least.

Are Hindus "idol" worshippers?

No Hindus are not "idol" worshipers.

It is about graven images, like the Christian cross with Jesus hanging on it, or statues of Mother Mary and Saint Theresa, or the holy Kabaa in Mecca, or the Adigranth enshrined in the Golden Temple in Amritsar, or the Arc and the Torah of the Jews or the image of a meditating Buddha. All these graven images are stood before in awe by the followers of these religions. All religions have their symbols of holiness.

The question is, does this make all the above religions idol-worshipers? The answer is, No.

Similarly, Hindus are not idol worshipers in the sense implied. Hindus invoke the presence of great souls living in higher consciousness into stone images so that we can feel the presence of God. Though we may have a stone image of a God, we are invoking the physical presence of the God into the stone image to bless us. In Hinduism one of the ultimate attainments is that the seeker transcends the need of all form and symbol.

There is no religion that is more aware of the transcendent, timeless, formless, causeless Truth. Nor is there any religion which uses more symbols to represent Truth in preparation for that realization. Yoga means to yoke oneself to God within. You are a Hindu if you believe in karma, reincarnation, the existence of God everywhere in all things, and the existence of beings that are on a greater evolutionary path than ourselves. Karma, reincarnation, invocation of the Deity are pragmatic laws known to Hindus who believe in these eternal Truths.

Who is the Founder of Hinduism?

Unlike the other religions of the world, Hinduism or more properly Hindu dharma did not originate with any single prophet or at a particular period of human history. It has been there from prehistoric times. It is based on the spiritual concepts discovered by numerous rishis (enlightened sages). These concepts are impersonal like other concepts in science. These concepts have been validated by innumerable people. Hinduism invites everyone, irrespective of the cultural background, to validate the truth of the spiritual concepts for themselves.

Its uniqueness lies in its being based on the super conscious experiences and spiritual realizations of a galaxy of spiritual masters, sages and seers, each of whom could claim prophet-hood. Built on such a firm foundation of spiritual experiences which are verifiable, the Hindu religious tradition has been flowing continuously like the river Ganga for several millennia. That is why Hindu dharma has been designated as Sanatana (perpetual) dharma.

Why do Hindus regard the cow as sacred?

People who ask if cows are considered sacred should understand that Hindus regard all living creatures as sacred-mammals, fishes, birds and more. The cow symbolically represents all other creatures to the Hindu. The cow is a complete ecology, a gentle creature and a symbol of abundance. Yes, the cow is considered very sacred in Hindu religion and for very good reason. It's good qualities are those that we can emulate.

Traditionally, the bulls work in the agricultural farms, cows provide milk — as a baby, mother provides milk, later it is the cow. The generous cow gives milk and cream, yogurt and cheese, butter and ice cream, ghee, buttermilk etc. That makes one respect and love the cow. This is largely true in India even today!. Even after their natural death their skin provides leather. In modern times, however, the tanneries which use extremely carcigenous chemicals to process leather, have been polluting the scarce drinking water. It is true that most people respect the right of way to cows and in fact to any animal, when they stray in a street. They are viewed as food producers and not as food itself. Actually, the word for cow in Tamil is "pasu". The word for animal in Sanskrit is the same "pasu". In other words, the cow personifies "animals" in general. All animals are sacred in Hinduism.

What are the Hindu Scriptures?

Hinduism is not based on one single text book. Though it could be said that Vedas are the base, in essence veda is nothing but knowledge. It is the science of the self and Supreme. The science can not be limited to one book so is Hinduism. If you are looking for a source where all the principles are given, then there are three texts. They are called "Prasthana Traya" — the principal three. They all present the same truth.

The first is the Upanisads. These are parts of the Vedas. There are innumerable Upanisads. Ten of them were chosen by Sri Sankara, a great saint and philosopher, as to contain the ideas in all the Upanisads put together. This forms the first principal text. These are unadultered, raw, first-hand observations of spiritual phenomenon. They do not try to propose a model to fit the observations. The observers have not imposed their ideas or even tried to classify the observations.

The second is the Brahma Sutras. This was authored by Veda Vyasa, who masterminded the current organization of the Vedas and the same person who authored other great works like Mahabharata and Bhagavata. Brahma Sutras present the concept in the Upanishads in a logical and highly technical manner. It is a scholarly work which establishes the concepts in the Upanishads on a strong logical foundation.

The third is the Bhagavad Gita. This is a record of the conversation between Sri Krishna and Arjuna. This text talks about the practical application of the concepts in the Upanisads to everyday life. It is said in one of the scriptures, "If the Upanishads can be considered as cows, the Bhagavad Gita can be considered as milk." Truly, the Gita is the essence of the Vedas. It is a part of the Mahabharata. The Bhagavad Gita consists of 18 chapters and about 700 verses. It deals in depth with all Yogas or ways of God-Realization. The Bhagavad Gita never commands one what to do, instead it gives the pros and cons of every issue and the final decision is left to oneself.

Thus these three texts present the Hindu philosophy and religion in a scientific and practical manner as — observation, modelling and application.

Hindu texts are typically seen to revolve around many levels of reading, namely gross/physical, subtle and supramental. This allows for many levels of understanding as well, implying that the truth of the texts can only be realized with the spiritual advancement of the reader.

What are the Marks on the Forehead of Hindus?

There are many virtual lotuses of power locus in the human body. The one at the place between the eye brows is highly powerful (which could be felt). This highly sensitive point is protected with the kumkum or chandan dots. Shaivas adorn their forehead with the Holy Ash the one with medicinal power and spiritual meaning and the vaishnavas with the shri churnam and so on each indicative of something.


1. FAQs - Hinduism, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha
2. Questions on Hinduism ?, Shaiva Sidhdhantha Home Page


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