Handbook of Today's Religions


Hinduism is not only one of the oldest of all religious systems, it is also one of the most complex. During its history Hinduism has spawned a variety of sects holding diverse beliefs; therefore, it is difficult to get an accurate picture of Hinduism without considering a vast array of history and commentary. John B. Noss states:

It is not one religion, but rather a family of religions ... Hinduism is fluid and changing.. . . Hinduism is the whole complex of beliefs and institutions that have appeared from the time when their ancient (and most sacred) scriptures, the vedas, were composed until now.. . . Hindus have an extraordinarily wide selection of beliefs and practices to choose from: they can (to use Western terms) be pantheists, polytheists, monotheists, agnostics, or even atheists (John B. Noss, Man's Religions, New York: MacMillan Company, 1969, p. 88).

Joseph Gaer lists some of the complexities of Hinduism:

Just as the attributes of the Hindu Triad multiplied until there were millions of them, and the castes divided and subdivided from the original four to a very large number, so also has this extremely old religion given rise to many sects.
There are sects who worship Vishnu as the god of space and time.
There are sects who worship Shiva (or Lord Siva) as a god of song and healing.
There are sects who worship Durga, the Divine Mother (goddess of motherhood).
And there are many others. But all the various sects believe in: Brahman, the eternal Trimutri, or Three-in-One God: Brahma, the Creator; Vishnu, the Preserver; and Shiva, the Destroyer; Submission to Fate, since man is not outside, but part of Brahman; The Caste System, determined by the Laws of Manu;
The Law of Karma, that from good must come good, and from evil must come evil;
Reincarnation, as a chain of rebirths in which each soul, through virtuous living, can rise to a higher state;
Nirvana, the final stage reached upon the emancipation of the soul from the chain of rebirths;
Yogas, the disciplines which enable the individual to control the body and the emotions; and Dharma, the Law of Moral Order, which each individual must find and follow to reach nirvana (Joseph Gaer, What the Great Religions Believe, New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1963, p. 35).

Because of its many complexities, Hinduism seemingly is impossible to summarize, as John Bowker observes:

To summarize the thought of any religion is difficult, but in the case of Hinduism it is impossible. It is the essence of Hinduism that there are many different ways of looking at a single object, none of which will give the whole view, but each of which is entirely valid in its own right. A statue may be viewed from many angles. Each aspect helps to convey what the statue is like, but no single aspect is able to comprehend the statue as a whole, still less does the act of viewing it from one particular angle or another constitute "the statue itself" (John Bowker, Problems of Suffering in Religions of the World, London: Cambridge University Press, 1970, p. 193).

Hinduism as a Universal Religion

Hinduism is tolerant of other religions because Hindus see a sameness in all of them:

The truth, which is the kernel of every religion, is one and the same; doctrines, however, differ considerably since they are the applications of the truth to the human situation ... Rites, ceremonies, systems and dogmas lead beyond themselves to a region of utter clarity and so have only relative truth ... Every work, every concept is a pointer which points beyond itself. The sign should not be mistaken for the thing signified. The sign-post is not the destination (S. Radhakrishnan, East and West, The End of Their Separation, New York: Alen & Uniwin, Humanities Press, 1954, p. 164).

Different religious leaders have belonged to different schools, and most Hindus are rather proud of the fact that there have not been any violent conflicts or persecution, thanks to mutual tolerance. This is a field where no one theory can claim to explain all the mysteries, and tolerance may well be the path to wisdom rather than that to confusion (K. M. Sen, Hinduism, London: Gannon Publ., 1963, pp. 84 ff).

Hindu Scriptures

The Hindu scriptures, written over a period of 2,000 years (1400 B.C-.500 A.D.) are voluminous. They reflect the practices and beliefs which arose during the different long periods of Hindu history. Bruce Nichols explains:

The Hindu scriptures are divided into two classes -sruti and smriti. Sruti, or "what is heard," refers to the eternal truths of religion which the rishis or seers saw or heard. They are independent of any god or man to whom they are communicated. They are the primary and final authority of religious truth. Using the analogy of the reflection of an image in a mirror or on the surface of a lake, the intellect of the ancient rishis was so pure and calm that it perfectly reflected the entirety of eternal truth. Their disciples recorded this truth and the record of it is known as the vedas. Smriti, or "what is remembered," possess a secondary authority, deriving their authority from the sruti whose principles they seek to expand. As recollections they contain all the sacred texts other than the vedas. These are generally understood to include the law books, the two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and the Puranas, which are largely collections of myths, stories, legends and chronicles of great events.

Also included are the aqamas, which are theological treatises and manuals of worship, and the sultras, or aphorisms, of the six systems of philosophy. There is also a vast treasury of vernacular literature largely of a bhakti or devotional type, which continues to inspire the masses of religious Hindus and which different sects accept as smriti (Bruce Nichols in The World's Religions, Sir Norman Anderson, ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976, pp. 137, 138).

The Vedas

The word veda literally means wisdom or knowledge. It is the term applied to the oldest of the Hindu scriptures, originally transmitted orally and then subsequently preserved in written form. The vedas contain hymns, prayers and ritual texts composed over a period of one thousand years, beginning about 1400 B.C.

The term vedas (plural) refers to the entire collection of these wisdom books, also known as the samhitas, which include the rig-veda, the samaveda, the yajur-veda and the athara-veda. Each of these texts consists of three parts: (1) the mantras, hymns of praise to the gods; (2) the brahmanas, a guide for practicing ritual rights, and (3) the upanishads, the most important part of which deals with teachings on religious truth or doctrine.

The samhitas are the basis of vedic Hinduism, the most significant of the group being the rig-veda. This collection of hymns, originally composed in Sanskrit, praises the various Hindu deities, including Indra, Soma, Varuna and Mitra.
The yajur-veda consists of a collection of mantras borrowed from the rig-veda and applied to specific ritual situations carried out by the executive priest and his assistants.

The sama-veda in the same manner borrows mantras from the rig-veda. These hymns are chanted.
The athara-veda consists of magical spells and incantations carried out by the priests.

The Upanishads

The upanishads are a collection of speculative treatises. They were composed during the period 800 to 600 B.C., and 108 of them are still in existence. The word upanishad conveys the idea of secret teaching. Its treatises mark a definite change in emphasis from the sacrificial hymns and magic formulas in the vedas to the mystical ideas about man and the universe, specifically the eternal Brahman, which is the basis of all reality, and the atman, which is the self or the soul. The upanishads reportedly had an influence upon Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, as can be observed in some basic similarities between the upanishads and the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism.


The Ramayana is one of the two major epic tales of India, the other being the Mahabharata. Authorship is ascribed to the sage-poet Valmiki. The work consists of 24,000 couplets based upon the life of Rama, a righteous king who was supposedly an incarnation of the god Vishnu. Although the story has some basis in fact, much of it is layered folklore added throughout the centuries. Besides Valmiki, other poets and writers have contributed to the complexities of the story. Edward Rice gives a brief synopsis of the account:

Rama, a warrior and wanderer in the great tradition (one might equate him to Gilgamesh and Odysseus), is faced with a series of challenges and tests, some of which involve battles with other kings, or with demons; his wife Sita is kidnapped by a demon king and carried off in an air chariot to Ceylon; his chastity and faithfulness are tested; great battles ensue; the ending is a happy one, with Rama restored to the throne of Ayodha, and eventually he and Sita, after more trials, are united, not on earth but in the celestial abodes.

By the time the innovators have finished the story, Rama and Sita are not only avatars of Vishnu but also exemplars of all the mundane and spiritual qualities with which the cosmos is endowed. The work has special interest to historians and ethnologists, for many elements depict the social conditions of the peninsula during that period. It is involved in the conflict of the Aryans with the aborigines and the Aryanization of the latter; the monkeys and bears who were allies of Rama were actually aborigines who bore animal names as totems, as they still do today (Edward Rice, Eastern Definitions, Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1980, p. 296).

The Mahabharata

The Mahabharata is the second epic, an immense story of the deeds of Aryan clans. It consists of some 100,000 verses and was composed over an 800-year period beginning about 400 years B.C. Contained within this work is a great classic, the Bhagavad Gita, or the "Song of the Blessed Lord."

Bizagavad Gita

This work is not only the most sacred book of the Hindus, it is also the best known and most read of all Indian works in the entire world, despite the fact it was added late to the Mahabbarata, sometime in the first century A.D. The story, in short, consists of a dialogue between Krishna, the eighth Avatar of Vishnu, and the warrior Arjuna, who is about to fight his cousins. The question Arjuna asks Krishna is: How can he kill his blood relatives?

Krishna! as I behold, come here to shed Their common blood, yon concourse of our kin, My members fail, my tongue dries in my mouth, A shudder thrills my body, and my hair Bristles with horror; hardly may I stand.
... What rich spoils
Could profit; what rule recompense; what span
Of life seem sweet, bought with such blood?
Seeing that these stand here, ready to die,
For whose sake life was fair, and pleasure pleased,
And power grew precious: -grandsires, sires, and sons,
Brothers, and fathers-in-law, and sons-in-law,

Elders and friends!
So speaking, in the face of those two hosts,
Arjuna sank upon his chariot-seat,
And let fall bow and arrows, sick at heart (The Bhagavad Gita, 1:28-47).

The story revolves around man’s duty, which if carried out will bring nothing but sorrow. The significance this story has on Hindu belief is its endorsement of bhakti, or devotion to a particular god, as a means of salvation, since Arjuna decides to put his devotion to Vishnu above his own personal desires. The Gita ends with Arjuna devoted to Vishnu and ready to kill his relatives in battle.

This poem has inspired millions of Hindus who have identified Arjuna's dilemma with their own situation. The poem offers hope, through the way of devotion, to all people no matter what their caste or sex. The poor and downtrodden, who could not achieve salvation through the way of works or the way of knowledge, can now achieve it through the way of devotion.

These two epic stories, the Ramayana and the Mahabbarata, depict characters who have become ideals for the people of India in terms of moral and social behavior.

The Puranas

The Puranas are a very important source for the understanding of Hinduism. They include legends of gods, goddesses, demons and ancestors. They describe pilgrimages and rituals to demonstrate the importance of bhakti, caste and dharma. This collection of myths and legends, in which the heroes display all the desirable virtues, has made a significant contribution to the formation of Hindu moral codes.

Hindu Teachings (Doctrine)

To achieve a proper understanding of the world view held by the Hindus, it is necessary to present some of the basic concepts they hold to be true.


Brahman, the ultimate reality for the Hindu, is a term difficult if not impossible to define completely, for its meaning has changed over a period of time. Edward Rice explains it in the following manner:

The Supreme Reality conceived of as one and undifferentiated, static and dynamic, yet above all definitions; the ultimate principle underlying the world, ultimate reality: "Without cause and without effect, without anything inside or outside," according to the sage Yajnavalkya. "Brahman is he whom speech cannot express, and from whom the mind, unable to reach him, comes away baffled," states the Taittiriya Upanishad. Brahman is now of interest more as a philosophic concept of past ages than as an active principle - to be meditated upon, but not adored or worshiped (Ibid, p. 71).

The enigmatic concept of Brahman is illustrated in this famous passage from the Bhagavad-Gita:

"Place this salt in water and come to me tomorrow morning."
Svetaketu did as he was commanded, and in the morning his father said to him: "Bring me the salt you put into the water last night."
Svetaketu looked into the water, but could not find it, for it had dissolved. His father then said: "Taste the water from this side. How is it?"
"It is salt' "
"Taste it from the middle. How is it?" "It is salt."
"Taste it from that side. How is it?" "It is salt."
"Look for the salt again, and come again to me."
The son did so, saying: "I cannot see the salt. I only see water."
His father then said: "In the same way, O my son, you cannot see the spirit. But in truth he is there. An invisible and subtle essence is the Spirit of the whole universe. That is Reality. That is Truth. THOU ARE THAT!"


Moksha, also known as mukti, is the Hindu term used for the liberation of the soul from the wheel of karma. For the Hindu, the chief aim of his existence is to be freed from sarnsara (the binding life cycle) and the wheel of karma with its endless cycle of births, deaths and rebirths. When one achieves this liberation, he enters into a state of fullness or completion. This state can be attained through death or preferably while one is still living.
Moksha can be achieved through three paths: (1) knowledge, or inana; (2) devotion, or bhakti, or (3) ritual works, or karma. One who achieves moksha before death is known as jivanmukta.


Atman is another Hindu term which is difficult to define. it refers to the soul or true self, the part of each living thing that is eternal. The Taittiriya Upanishad says atman is "that from which speech, along with the mind, turns away-not able to comprehend." Oftentimes, it is used synonymously with Brahman, the universal soul, seeking mystical union together, or moksha.


A central concept in Hindu thought is that of maya. Huston Smith expands upon the meaning of this key concept as follows:

This word is often translated "illusion," but this is misleading. For one thing it suggests that the world need not be taken seriously. This the Hindu would deny, pointing out that as long as it appears real and demanding to us we must accept it as such. Moreover, it does have a kind of qualified reality; reality on a provisional level.

Were we to be asked if dreams are real, our answer would have to be qualified. They are real in the sense that we have them, but they are not real in the sense that the things they depict necessarily exist in their own right. Strictly speaking, a dream is a psychological construct, something created by the mind out of its particular state. When the Hindus say the world is maya, this too, is what they mean. Given the human mind in its normal condition, the world appears as we see it. But we have no right to infer from this that reality is in itself the way it so appears.

A child seeing a motion picture for the first time will assume that the objects he sees - lions, kings, canyons - are objectively before him; he does not suspect that they are being projected from a booth in the rear of the theater. It is the same with us; we assume the world we see to be in itself as we see it whereas in actuality it is a correlate of the particular psycho-physical condition our minds are currently in. (Huston Smith, The Religions of Man, New York: Harper and Row, 1958, pp. 82, 83.)


The word karma literally means action and has reference to a person's actions and the consequences thereof. In Hinduism, one's present state of existence is determined by his performance in previous lifetimes. The law of karma is the law of moral consequence, or the effect of any action upon the performer in a past, a present or even a future existence. As one performs righteous acts, he moves towards liberation from the cycle of successive births and deaths.
Contrariwise, if one's deeds are evil, he will move further from liberation. The determining factor is one's karma. The cycle of births, deaths and rebirths could be endless. The goal of the Hindu is to achieve enough good karma to remove himself from the cycle of rebirths and achieve eternal bliss.


Samsara refers to transmigration or rebirth. It is the passing through a succession of lives based upon the direct reward or penalty of one's karma. This continuous chain consists of suffering from the results of acts of ignorance or sin in past lives. During each successive rebirth, the soul, which the Hindus consider to be eternal, moves from one body to another and carries with it the karma from its previous existence.
The rebirth may be to a higher form; i.e., a member of a higher caste or god, or down the social ladder to a lower caste or as an animal, since the wheel of karma applies to both man and animals. Accordingly, all creatures, both man and beast, are in their current situations because of the actions (karma) of previous lives.

The Caste System

The caste system is a unique feature of the Hindu religion. The account of its origin is an interesting story Brahma created Manu, the first man. From Manu came the four different types of people, as the creator Brahma determined. From Manu's head came the Brahmins, the best and most holy people. Out of Manu's hands came the Kshatriyas, the rulers and warriors. The craftsmen came from his thighs and are called Vaisyas. The remainder of the people came from Manu's feet and are known as Sudras. Therefore, the structure of the caste system is divinely inspired. The Brahmins are honored by all the people, including the royal family. Their jobs as priests and philosophers are subsidized by the state and involve the study of their sacred books.

The Kshatriyas are the upper middle class involved in the government and professional life, but they are lower in status than the Brahmins. The Vaisyas are the merchants and farmers below the Brahmins and Kshatriyas but above the rest of the population in their status and religious privileges.

The Sudras are the lowest caste whose duty is to serve the upper castes as laborers and servants. They are excluded from many of the religious rituals and are not allowed to study the vedas.

The caste system became more complicated as time went on, with literally thousands of subcastes coming into existence. Today the caste system is still an integral part of the social order of India, even though it has been outlawed by the Indian government.
Swami Vivekananda gives the rationale for the caste system:

Caste is a natural order. I can perform one duty in social life, and you another; you can govern a country, and I can mend a pair of old shoes, but there is no reason why you are greater than I, for can you mend my shoes? Can I govern the country? I am clever in mending shoes, you are clever in reading, vedas, but there is no reason why you should trample on my head ... Caste is good. That is the only natural way of solving life. Men must form themselves into groups, and you cannot get rid of that. Wherever you go there will be caste. But that does not mean that there should be these privileges. They should be knocked on the head. If you teach vedanta to the fisherman, he will say, I am as good a man as you, I am a fisherman, you are a philosopher, but I have the same God in me as you have in you. And that is what we want, no privileges for any one, equal chances for all; let every one be taught that the Divine is within, and every one will work out his own salvation... (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda Almora, Hollywood, CA: Vedanta Press, 1924-32, 111: 245 f., 460).


Salvation, for the Hindu, can be achieved in one of three ways: the way of works, the way of knowledge, or the way of devotion.

1. The Way of Works. The way of works, karma marga, is the path to salvation through religious duty. It consists of carrying out the prescribed ceremonies, duties and religious rites. The Hindu believes that by doing these things he can add favorable karma to his merit. Moreover, if he does them religiously, he believes it is possible to be reborn as a Brahmin on his way toward liberation from the wheel of karma.
The performance of these practices is something non-intellectual and emotionally detached, since it is the mechanical carrying out of prescribed laws and rituals. A basic concept in Hinduism is that one's actions, done in sincerity, must not be done for gain but must be done unselfishly.

2. The Way of Knowledge. Another way of achieving salvation- in the Hindu sense -is the way of knowledge. The basic premise behind the way of knowledge is the cause of human suffering based upon ignorance. This mental error concerning our own nature is at the root of mankind's problems. The error in man's thinking is this: man sees himself as a separate and real entity. The truth of the matter, Hindus say, is this: the only reality is Brahman, there is no other. Therefore, man, rather than being a separate entity, is part of the whole, Brahman.

Selfhood is an illusion. As long as man continues seeing himself as a separate reality he will be chained to the wheel of birth, death and rebirth. He must be saved from this wrong belief by the proper understanding that he has no independent self. This knowledge is not merely intellectual but experiential, for the individual reaches a state of consciousness where the law of karma is of no effect. This experience comes after much self-discipline and meditation. The way of knowledge does not appeal to the masses but rather to an intellectual few who are willing to go through the prescribed steps.

The Way of Devotion. The way of devotion, bhakti, is chronologically the last of the three ways of salvation. It is that devotion to a deity which may be reflected in acts of worship, both public and private. This devotion, based upon love for the deity, will also be carried out in human relationships; i.e., love of family, love of master, etc. This devotion can lead one to ultimate salvation. The Bhagavad Gita is the work which has devoted special attention to this way of salvation. This path to salvation is characterized by commitment and action.*

The Sacred Cow

From early times the Hindus revered the cow and considered it a possessor of great power. The following verses from the atharva veda praise the cow, identifying it with the entire visible universe:

Worship to thee, springing to life, and worship to thee when born!
Worship, O Cow, to thy tail-hair, and to thy hooves, and to thy form! Hitherward we invite with prayer the Cow who pours a thousand streams,
By whom the heaven, by whom the earth, by whom these waters are preserved....
Forth from thy mouth the songs came, from thy neck's nape sprang strength, O Cow.
Sacrifice from thy flanks was born, and rays of sunlight from thy teats. From thy fore-quarters and thy thighs motion was generated, Cow! Food from thine entrails was produced, and from thy belly came the plants....
They call the Cow immortal life, pay homage to the Cow as Death. She hath become this universe, Fathers, and Rishis, hath become the Gods, and men, and Spirits.
The man who hath this knowledge may receive the Cow with welcoming.
So for the giver willingly doth perfect sacrifice pour milk....
The Cow is Heaven, the Cow is Earth, the Cow is Vishnu, Lord of Life. The heavenly beings have drunk the out-pourings of the Cow,
When these heavenly beings have drunk the out-pourings of the Cow, They in the Bright One's dwelling-place pay adoration to her milk. For Soma some have milked her; some worship the fatness she hath poured.
[We have combined bhakti yoga (devotion) and raja yoga (meditation). Some treat the two aspects as separate ways of salvation.]
They who have given a Cow to him who hath this knowledge have gone up to the third region of the sky.
He who hath given a Cow unto the Brahmans winneth all the worlds.
For Right is firmly set in her, devotion, and religious zeal.
Both Gods and mortal men depend for life and being on the Cow.
She hath become this universe: all that the Sun surveys is she (Athar va Veda X:10).

Hinduism and Christianity

A comparison between Hinduism and Christianity shows the wide divergence of belief between the two faiths.
On the subject of God, Hinduism's supreme being is the undefinable, impersonal Brahman, a philosophical absolute. Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that there is a Supreme Being Who is the infinite-personal Creator. The God of Christianity, moreover, is loving and keenly interested in the affairs of mankind, quite in contrast to the aloof deity of Hinduism.

The Bible makes it clear that God cares about what happens to each one of us. "And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me" (Psalm 50:15 NASB). "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28 NASB).

The Hindu views man as a manifestation of the impersonal Brahman, without individual self or self-worth. Christianity teaches that man was made in the image of God with a personality and the ability to receive and give love. Although the image of God in man has been tarnished by the fall, man is still of infinite value to God. This was demonstrated by the fact that God sent His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die to redeem sinful man, even while man was still in rebellion against God.

The Bible says, "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8 NASB). "Namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:19-21 NASB).
In Hinduism there is no sin against a Holy God. Acts of wrongdoing are not done against any God but are mainly a result of ignorance. These evils can be overcome by following the guidelines of one's caste and way of salvation. To the contrary, Christianity sees sin as a real act of rebellion against a perfect and Holy God. All acts of transgression are ultimately acts of rebellion against the laws of God.

The Scripture states, "Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight, so that Thou art justified when Thou dost speak, and blameless when Thou dost judge" (Psalm 51:4 NASB). "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23 NASB).

Salvation in Hinduism can be attained in one of three general ways: the way of knowledge, knowing one is actually a part of the ultimate Brahman and not a separate entity; the way of devotion, which is love and obedience to a particular deity; or the way of works, or following ceremonial ritual. This salvation is from the seemingly endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. By contrast, in Christianity salvation is from a potentially eternal separation from God and cannot be obtained by any number of good deeds, but rather is given freely by God to all who will receive it.

The Bible says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8,9 NASB). "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5 NASB). "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36 NASB).

Hinduism views the material world as transitory and of secondary importance to the realization of Brahman, while Christianity sees the world as having objective reality and its source in the creative will of God. Hindus see the world as an extension of Brahman, part of the absolute, while Christianity views the world as an entity eternally different in nature from God: not part of some universal or monistic One.
The Bible says that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Since the earth, therefore, was created by God, it is not to be identified with Him or His eternal nature.

These contradictions represent major diversities between the two religions. Many other differences remain which we cannot discuss in this small space. However, even with this limited spectrum of differences, one readily can see that the two faiths of Hinduism and Christianity never can be reconciled. The basic foundations on which both are built are mutually exclusive.

Hindu Terms

Agni -The Vedic god of the altar fire who mediates between the gods and men. Mentioned in the Rig Veda.
Atman -The real self, the eternal and sometimes universal life principle.
Bhagavad-Gita -The "Song of the Lord," the most well-known of all Hindu scriptures. Contains a philosophical dialogue between the warrior Arjuna and the Lord God Krishna.
Brahma -The creator god, the first member of the Hindu triad, consisting of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishna.
Brahman -Ultimate Reality, the supreme essence of the universe, the all-prevading deity.
Brahmin - (or Brahman) A member of the priestly caste, the highest and most noble class.
Darhma -The teachings of virtue and principle. A term by which Hindus refer to their own religion.
Ganesa -The god of prudence and wisdom represented as being a short red or yellow man with an elephant's head.
Hanuman -The monkey god, lord of the winds. He helped Rama in battle. Indra -The Vedic god of rain and thunder, originally the god of light and once considered (during the Vaidic period) as a member of the Hindu triad. Not as important today as in the past.
Karma -The culminating value of all of one's life actions, good and bad, which together determine one's next rebirth after death.
Kzishna-The eighth or ninth incarnation of Vishnu, one of the most widely worshipped deities. Krishnaites believe Krishna is the supreme deity, incarnating as Vishnu.
Lakshma -Goddess of beauty and wealth, concubine of Krishna (and/or Vishnu). (Also Laksmi.)
Mahabhamta-One of the national epics of India. Contained in the Mahabharata is the famous Bhagavad Gita.
Maya-The power that produces the transient phenomena of physical existence.
Moksha-The term for liberation from the bondage of finite existence. Parvati -The goddess who is believed to be the daughter of the Himalayas. A consort of Shiva.
Puranas-Part of the Hindu scriptures consisting of myths and legends mixed with historical events.
Ramayana-0ne of the national epics of India based upon the story of the good king Rama, who was purported to be an incarnation of the god Vishnu.
Rishi- First, an inspired poet or holy sage; later, any wise man.
Samsara -The cyclical transmigration or rebirth of souls passing on from one existence to another until release can be achieved.
Sarasvati-The goddess of learning, music and speech; the consort of Brahma.
Soma -The soma plant is a leafless vine from Western India that yields an intoxicating juice. The personification of soma was once worshipped as a god.
Upanishads -Part of the Hindu sacred scriptures containing speculative treatises on the nature of ultimate reality and the way to achieve union with the absolute.
Varuna -Hindu god, considered as ruler and guardian of the cosmic order. Veda -The oldest of the Hindu scriptures, consisting of four collections of sacred writings.
Vishnu -The preserver, second god of the Hindu triad.
Yoga -The Hindu path of union with the divine. Any sort of exercise (physical, mental, or spiritual) which promotes one's journey to union with Brahma.
Yogi-A devotee of yoga.

Hinduism Bibliography

Almore, Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda Almore, Hollywood, CA: Vedanta Press, 1924, 1932, 111.
Bowker, John, Problems of Suffering in Religions of the World, London: Cambridge University Press, 1970.
Gaer, Joseph, What the Great Religions Believe, New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1963.
Nichols, Bruce in The World's Religions, Sir Norman Anderson, ed., Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976.
Noss, John B., Man's Religions, New York: MacMillan Company, 1969. Radhakrishnan, S., East and West, the End of Their Separation, New York: Allen & Unwin, Humanities Press, 1954.
Rice, Edward, Eastern Definitions, Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1980. Sen, K. M., Hinduism, London: Gannon Publ., 1963.
Smith, Huston, The Religions of Man, New York: Harper and Row, 1958

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