Understanding and educating about how that which exists (divinity) is described and worshipped in Hindu religion, engaging with groups willing to discuss their religion or point of view openly, and promoting community relationships, leading to respect for all is the goal of our outreach and interfaith efforts.
INTRODUCTION

Is Hinduism an ancient philosophy with a soaring vision of cosmic unity or an ethnic religion that is complex and full of contradictions? What problems do we run into when Hinduism is presented as a catalog of beliefs with a bewildering array of practices and seen through the lens of other organized religions? 

A framework connecting the unified vision of Hinduism with the rationale and principles that guide the astonishing diversity of practices among the various denominations within Hinduism is the foundation for correctly understanding Hinduism as a whole.

Overview

Hinduism itself is properly known as Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Dharma. The eternal path of righteousness and that truth which remains homogeneous and unchanging irrespective of time and place. Goal is to be unconditionally and permanently happy by realizing that the entire universe is nothing but all-pervading Pure Consciousness, referred to as Brahman.

SCRIPTURES: ORIGIN AND SCOPE

Scripture in Hinduism refers to a large body of literature rather than a single text. They emphasize integrating spiritual practice with daily life and provide reflections on morals, sciences, and the arts. Vedas are revered as truths revealed to ancient sages in their meditation and are the foundation of all of Hinduism. The Bhagavad Gita is a primary scripture for all Hindus in modern times.

Goals of Human Life

Artha: The pursuit of material security and prosperity.

Kama: The pursuit of sensory pleasures for the fulfillment of desires.

Dharma: That which sustains, protects or nourishes, such as, righteous conduct.

Moksha: Liberation from the feeling of bondage and gain of limitless bliss.

Moksha

Liberation from the feeling of bondage and gain of limitless bliss by connecting to the eternal, unchanging Consciousness that pervades the entire universe. This signifies end of all sorrow, including the fear of death, and freedom from the cycle of birth and death.

Dharma

A nuanced set of contextual guidelines for behavior that vary according to a person’s temperament, stage of life and role in society rather than a set of rigid rules. Dharma provides the ethical foundation for all aspects of life, not only spiritual, and guides conduct by providing criteria for making good choices in all that humans do. The root meaning of the term dharma is to sustain, protect or nourish.

VALUES

Ahimsa: Non-injury – by avoiding harmful actions, harsh words and malicious thoughts.

Brahmacharya: Non-indulgence – a disciplined life abstaining from sensory excess that dissipates vital energy and causes harm.

Satya: Truthfulness – being truthful to oneself and to others in thought, word and deed.

CLIMATE

Entire universe is considered divine so respect for nature is an integral part of Hinduism.

Daily practices include remembering Earth before stepping on it, water before bathing, etc.

A century of verses on Environmental ethics are compiled in Parisara Niti-Shatakam.

Karma

The word karma means action and is often used to also mean the fruit of action. The law of karma states that each action by an individual brings consequences to that individual in this or in future lives. This implies that what one experiences is the result of one’s own actions in the past and what one does now determines one’s own destiny in the future. This is not a fatalistic doctrine. It provides a strong incentive to always do one’s best and also helps one come to terms with unexplained adversities in life.

Spiritual Practices

Aimed at making the mind clear and calm so we can recognize that our true identity is not the mortal body but the immortal, blissful Atman. Examples of practices are:

Mantra Japa: Repetition of sacred sounds, words, or phrases that were revealed to sages since ancient times and have great potency.

Puja: A worship ceremony that generally involves making an offering to a “murti”.

Pilgrimage: Visiting sacred places.

Yoga: as per the temperament of the person.

Yoga

Any practice that helps one unite with inner divinity may be called a yoga. Hinduism offers a variety of paths for practice, suited to seekers of different temperaments for transforming the mind and being aware of God’s presence at all times.

One God many forms

Murti: Physical representations of God used in worship as a means to help concentrate the mind and focus on aspects of divinity symbolized by the particular form. A murti is not an ‘idol’ that has an independent source of power.

Avatar: When there is a need, God takes a special manifestation to restore dharma on Earth.

Guru: A spiritually evolved person who has mastery of the scriptures and an ability to impart the subtle knowledge they contain.

Worship

Puja is a common Hindu worship ceremony that generally involves making an offering to a murti or physical representation of Divinity. The ritual is designed to engage all the senses so that the worshipper’s mind is made one-pointed and not easily distracted from contemplation on God. Puja is like welcoming a revered guest to our home: first offer water to wash hands and feet, a seat to sit on, some refreshments, entertainment, praise, and celebration. In the end, we wish the guest goodbye. The mantras and activities in the puja are just that.

Symbolism

Two most auspicious symbols are

Om: Om represents the omnipresence of Divine Consciousness. Absolutely nothing in the universe exists without the divine. It is recited before all Vedic mantras, written at the start of any document, and even used as a greeting.

Swastika: The word swastika in Sanskrit means “that which brings good luck and well-being”. “su” means “good” and “asti” means “is”. The swastika is thus a symbol of auspiciousness and good fortunes.

Samskaras (Traditions)

Ceremonies at major milestones in a person’s life.

Examples are –

Upanayana: Child undergoes a religious initiation and embarks on formal education and regular religious practice.

Marriage: Marks the beginning of a householder’s life.

Cremation: Final ritual at death where body is cremated.

REFINE MIND: GUNAS

Gunas constitute the vast variety of objects and experiences in the world, to which we react with attachment or aversion driven by the pattern of gunas in our own personalities. Three-fold classification of gunas are:

Sattva: purity, knowledge

Rajas: agitation, compulsive activity

Tamas: inertia, ignoranceStudying the concept of gunas provides a tool to refine our mind and monitor spiritual progress in our daily lives.

MISCONCEPTIONS

Caste system conflates Varna with Jati.

Varna: Varna means color or ‘to describe’. The fours human temperaments seen in all human societies and described in scriptures are:

Brahmin – educators who study and teach

Kshatriyas – maintain order and security

Vaishyas – produce wealth

Shudras – serve their employers loyally

Jati: A social phenomenon of communities defined by occupation which in traditional societies tended to be inherited.

Respect all

Respect for all is integral to Hinduism as the aim of spiritual practice is to transcend the selfish, little individual ‘self’ and connect with the ‘Supreme Self’, which means subjugating our ego to the will of the Divine. Two phrases capturing the same are:

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: The world is one family

Ekam Sat Vipraa Bahudhaa Vadanti: Truth is One, sages call it variously

FAITH AND BELIEF

There is no specific proposition that Hindus are required to uncritically accept as a “belief” to be accepted as Hindus. Hindu concept of shraddha includes faith. It signifies a commitment, trust, and understanding that inspire a sense of reverence rather than a blind faith. The scriptures do not encourage reliance on shraddha alone but insist on consistency with reason and human experience.

Hinduism itself is properly known as Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Dharma. The eternal path of righteousness and that truth which remains homogeneous and unchanging irrespective of time and place. Goal is to be unconditionally and permanently happy by realizing that the entire universe is nothing but all-pervading Pure Consciousness, referred to as Brahman.

Hindu Spiritual Journey
Major Festivals in Hinduism
Symbolism in Hindusim
Varna & Jati : not caste system

Additional Resources

Hindu Life at Yale

Hindu American Foundation

Chinmaya Publications

Chinmaya Mission has speakers trained in presenting Hindu religion authentically, within the bounds of First Amendment, and in a non-denominational manner.

We have presented Hinduism in public and private schools and colleges, and to interfaith groups. These include Walter Johnson high school, James Hubert Blake high school, South Lakes high school, Jemicy Upper school, Frederick community college, Loyola university, Unity of Fairfax church metaphysical group, among others. We participated in the development of the “Religious literacy for educators” professional development course and train teachers enrolled in the course on presenting Hinduism to their students.

Request a speaker

For any other information, please email outreach@chinmayadc.org!

Hinduism 101 presentation hosted by IFC

Montgomery County Unity Walk

Interfaith Dialogues Photo Gallery