Hinduism is one of the world's oldest religions in existence (Srinivasan 66). It ranks as
the third largest religion. Today there are about fifty million Hindus worldwide, majority of them
living in India (Wangu 6). In order to understand the followers of the religion, you must first
realize that Hinduism is more of a way of life than a religion (Srinivasan 66). Hinduism holds
together diversity and not only for its own spiritual tradition, but for the entire subcontinent of
India (Berry 3). All traditions within India are somehow associated with Hinduism. "The
diversity which marks Hinduism begins with the notion of deity" (Boraks 14). "There is a strange
kind of unity in the vast multiplicity of the Hindu pantheon" (14). "One never really is certain
whether the Hindu religion is polytheistic or dualistic or even monotheistic: there are indications
that are all of these and none of these" (14)!
The Hindus define sacredness as Brahman (Boraks 14). To Hindus, Brahman is external,
is changeless, has no equal, and is infinite (14). Brahman expresses itself through creation,
brought itself existence by Brahma, the creator (14). Brahma is the "sacred one" and is credited
with creation, but Brahma creates and then abandons his creation to lesser gods (14).
Hinduism was not founded by one individual, and it was not always the complex religion it
is today (Wangu 14). "Indians call it Sanatana Dharma - the faith with no beginning and no end"
(Srinivasan 66). "It developed gradually, as a merging of beliefs and practices of two main groups
- the people of the Indus Valley in India and the Aryans of Persia" (Wangu 14).
Like other religions, the Hindu religion has its own sacred literature. Hindu literature is
not considered sacred because it has a Sacred Author, like in some western religions, but because
they have sacred subject matter (Boraks 15).
"There are two main categories of Hindu Scripture - shruti, that which is heard' and
smriti, tradition' or that which is to be remembered'" (Wangu 9). The Vedas and the
Upanishads are shruti texts (9). "These sacred writings are considered to be inspired by God and
to have been revealed to human kind by ancient sages called rishis" (9).
Each of the shruti texts provides a foundation for Hinduism. "The four Vedas are the
oldest of the texts and are primary scriptures of Hinduism" (9). No one knows when these
hymns were composed, although at the latest they should be dated between 1200 and 900 BC
(Berry 18). "One of the four Vedas contains hymns, chants and praises to gods" (Wangu 9).
"Another Vedas serves as a guidebook for rituals and priestly behavior" (9). "A third offers
information on magic and charms that can be used as blessings or curses, and the fourth gives
musical notes to be chanted while performing rituals" (9).
The latest of the shruti texts are the Upanishads (Wangu 9). The Upanishads were written
around 700 - 500 BC (9). Most of the Upanishads are written in the form of dialogue, possibly
between a teacher and a student (9). The most important concepts explained in the Upanishads
are the concepts of karma - the belief that ones beliefs will later have an affect in this life or
another life, samsara - reincarnation, and moksha - release from the cycles of samsara (9). In the
texts of the Upanishads one finds more of the philosophical outlook of Hinduism, especially
concerning the ,meaning of life and the value of suffering (Boraks 17). These two groups of
books are the principal doctrines of the Hindu faith (Wangu 10). All of the works that come after
the Vedas and Upanishads are smriti texts (10).
The smriti texts include epics, Puranas, Sutras, Shastras, and devotional Bhakti songs
(Wangu 10). Two great smriti epics that have had a significant influence on Hinduism are the
Mahabharata and the Ramayana (10). These two epics have undergone numerous changes
throughout the centuries (10).
"The Mahabharata is the story of the earliest inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent , the
Mahabharata tribe" (Boraks 17). Containing over ninety thousand stanzas, it is probably the
longest epic poem in history (Wangu 10). "It tells the story of two families engaged in war" (10).
"It includes the Bhagavad Gita, an important sacred text in Hinduism which tells an important
story about the god Krishna" (10).
"The other great epic, the Ramayana, tells the tale of Rama, the seventh incarnation of the
god Vishnu" (Wangu 10). "The earliest part