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ARTICLE : What are the Hindu Beliefs? Hinduism Today



>From Hinduism Today, December Edition, 
first in our new color magazine format. 
copyright 1996 Himalayan Academy

We invite your comments sent to: 
letters@hinduism.today.kauai.hi.us

INSIGHT
The DNA of Dharma
Though Hindus are doggedly nondogmatic, 
They do hold common beliefs which, like a mental molecular structure, 
Determine who they are

Few people today ponder the significance of belief. Nevertheless, 
convictions constitute the foundation for every action. Webster's 
defines belief as a "confidence in the truth or existence of something 
not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof." But ask a Hindu what 
his all-important beliefs are, and the answer may well elude him. He 
is not accustomed to thinking of his religion as a clearly defined 
system, distinct and different from others, for it encompasses all of 
life.
Hinduism is so vast, so generously tolerant of conflicting concepts 
that to condense a brief list of basic beliefs might seem a vain 
enterprise. Some would assert that Hinduism could never be limited by 
such an ideological inventory-and they would be right. Still, an 
answer is required. Inside India, a clear answer prevents the erosion 
of "Hindu" into a mere geographical concept no different from 
"Indian;" elsewhere, it provides the necessary demarcation from other 
faiths in a pluralistic setting. The need for a precise list arises 
with the cognition that beliefs forge our attitudes, which determine 
our overall state of mind and the feelings we are predisposed to, and 
that these, in turn, directly determine our actions. Strong religious 
beliefs induce actions that weave uplifting patterns of daily conduct, 
furthering our unfoldment. In India, the definition of who is a Hindu 
is critical in legal deliberations, and belief is the keystone of such 
determinations. Therefore, it is meaningful to catalog the convictions 
that all Hindus hold in common.
In 1926, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan eloquently elaborated the nature of 
Hindu belief in a series of lectures in Oxford, later published as The 
Hindu View of Life. "Hinduism is more a way of life than a form of 
thought. While it gives absolute liberty in the world of thought, it 
enjoins a strict code of practice. While fixed intellectual beliefs 
mark off one religion from another, Hinduism sets itself no such 
limits. Intellect is subordinated to intuition, dogma to experience, 
outer expression to inward realization. Religion is not the acceptance 
of academic abstractions or the celebration of ceremonies, but a kind 
of life or experience of reality." By emphasizing conduct, 
Radhakrishnan did not deny belief. In fact, he provided one of the 
best extensive lists [see page 33]. His emphasis is on the absolute 
freedom of belief allowed within Hinduism-where the questioning mind 
is known as the seeking mind, rather than the errant mind. 
The following definitions of Hinduism's shared central beliefs were 
garnered from prominent Hindu organizations and individuals of the 
20th century-evidence that the imperative to formalize conviction is a 
recent phenomenon. Overall, the lists and descriptions are 
surprisingly similar, echoing certain key concepts-generally, that it 
is conduct, based upon belief in dharma, karma and reincarnation, 
which makes one a Hindu. Some of the beliefs listed are not shared by 
all Hindus-most prominently the concept of avatar, divine incarnation, 
which is a distinctive Vaishnava belief. We shall now cite what has 
been collected from distinguished scholars and saints.
Bal Ghangadhar Tilak, scholar, mathematician, philosopher and Indian 
nationalist, named "the father of the Indian Revolution" by Jawaharlal 
Nehru, summarized Hindu beliefs in his Gitarahasya: "Acceptance of the 
Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways 
to salvation are diverse; and realization of the truth that the number 
of Gods to be worshiped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing 
feature of the Hindu religion." This oft-quoted statement, so 
compelling concise, is considered authoritative by Bharat's courts of 
law.
Sri K. Navaratnam, esteemed Sri Lankan religious scholar, enumerated a 
more extensive set of basic beliefs in his book, Studies in Hinduism, 
reflecting the Southern Saiva Agamic tradition. 1) A belief in the 
existence of God. 2) A belief in the existence of a soul separate from 
the body. 3) A belief in the existence of the finitizing principle 
known as avidya or maya. 4) A belief in the principle of 
matter-prakriti or maya. 5) A belief in the theory of karma and 
reincarnation. 6) A belief in the indispensable guidance of a guru to 
guide the spiritual aspirant towards God Realization. 7) A belief in 
moksha, or liberation, as the goal of human existence. 8) A belief in 
the indispensable necessity of temple worship in religious life. 9) A 
belief in graded forms of religious practices, both internal and 
external, until one realizes God. 10) A belief in ahimsa as the 
greatest dharma or virtue. 11) A belief in mental and physical purity 
as indispensable factors for spiritual progress.
Mahatma Mohandas K. Gandhi: "I call myself a Sanatani Hindu because I 
believe in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas and all that goes by 
the name of Hindu scriptures, and therefore in avatars and rebirth. 
Above all, I call myself a Sanatani Hindu, so long as the Hindu 
society in general accepts me as such. In a concrete manner he is a 
Hindu who believes in God, immortality of the soul, transmigration, 
the law of karma and moksha, and who tries to practice truth and 
ahimsa in daily life, and therefore practices cow protection in its 
widest sense and understands and tries to act according to the law of 
varnashrama."
Sri Pramukh Swami Maharaj of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam 
Sanstha (Swaminarayan Faith) propounds: 1) Parabrahman, one supreme 
all-powerful God: He is the Creator, has a divine form, is immanent, 
transcendent and the giver of moksha. 2) Avatarvad, manifestation of 
God on Earth: God Himself incarnates on Earth in various forms to 
revive dharma and grant liberation. 3) Karmavad, law of action: the 
soul reaps fruits, good or bad, according to its past and present 
actions, which are experienced either in this life or future lives. 4) 
Punarjanma, reincarnation: the mortal soul is continuously born and 
reborn in one of the 8,400,000 species until it attains liberation. 5) 
Moksha, ultimate liberation: the goal of human life. It is the 
liberation of the soul from the cycle of births and deaths to remain 
eternally in the service of God. 6) Guru-shishya sambandh, 
master-disciple relationship: guidance and grace of a spiritually 
perfect master, revered as the embodiment of God, is essential for an 
aspirant seeking liberation. 7) Dharma, that which sustains the 
universe: an all-encompassing term representing divine law, law of 
being, path of righteousness, religion, duty, responsibility, virtue, 
justice, goodness and truth. 8) Ved pramana, scriptural authority of 
the Vedas: all Hindu faiths are based on the teachings of the Vedas. 
9) Murti-puja, sacred image worship: consecrated images represent the 
presence of God which is worshiped. The sacred image is a medium to 
help devotees offer their devotion to God.
Sri Swami Vivekananda, speaking in America, said: "All Vedantists 
believe in God. Vedantists also believe the Vedas to be the revealed 
word of God-an expression of the knowledge of God-and as God is 
eternal, so are the Vedas eternal. Another common ground of belief is 
that of creation in cycles, that the whole of creation appears and 
disappears. They postulate the existence of a material, which they 
call akasha, which is something like the ether of the scientists, and 
a power which they call prana."
Sri Jayendra Sarasvati: 69th Shankaracharya of the Kamakoti Peetham, 
Kanchipuram, defines in his writings the basic features of Hinduism as 
follows. 1) The concept of idol worship and the worship of God in His 
nirguna as well as saguna form. 2) The wearing of sacred marks on the 
forehead. 3) Belief in the theory of past and future births in 
accordance with the theory of karma. 4) Cremation of ordinary men and 
burial of great men. 
Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, renowned philosopher and president of India from 
1962 to 1967, states in The Hindu View of Life: "The Hindu recognizes 
one Supreme Spirit, though different names are given to it. God is in 
the world, though not as the world. He does not merely intervene to 
create life or consciousness, but is working continuously. There is no 
dualism of the natural and the supernatural. Evil, error and ugliness 
are not ultimate. No view is so utterly erroneous, no man is so 
absolutely evil as to deserve complete castigation. There is no Hell, 
for that means there is a place where God is not, and there are sins 
which exceed His love. The law of karma tells us that the individual 
life is not a term, but a series. Heaven and Hell are higher and lower 
stages in one continuous movement. Every type has its own nature which 
should be followed. We should do our duty in that state of life to 
which we happen to be called. Hinduism affirms that the theological 
expressions of religious experience are bound to be varied, accepts 
all forms of belief and guides each along his path to the common goal. 
These are some of the central principles of Hinduism. If Hinduism 
lives today, it is due to them."
The Vishva Hindu Parishad declared its definition in a Memorandum of 
Association, Rules and Regulations in 1966: "Hindu means a person 
believing in, following or respecting the eternal values of life, 
ethical and spiritual, which have sprung up in Bharatkhand [India] and 
includes any person calling himself a Hindu."
The Indian Supreme Court, in 1966, formalized a judicial definition of 
Hindu beliefs to legally distinguish Hindu denominations from other 
religions in India. This list was affirmed by the Court as recently as 
1995 in judging cases regarding religious identity. 1) Acceptance of 
the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and 
philosophic matters and acceptance with reverence of Vedas by Hindu 
thinkers and philosophers as the sole foundation of Hindu philosophy. 
2) Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate 
the opponent's point of view based on the realization that truth is 
many-sided. 3) Acceptance of great world rhythm-vast periods of 
creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless 
succession-by all six systems of Hindu philosophy. 4) Acceptance by 
all systems of Hindu philosophy of the belief in rebirth and 
pre-existence. 5) Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to 
salvation are many. 6) Realization of the truth that numbers of Gods 
to be worshiped may be large, yet there being Hindus who do not 
believe in the worshiping of idols. 7) Unlike other religions, or 
religious creeds, Hindu religion's not being tied down to any definite 
set of philosophic concepts, as such.
The historic intermingling of myriad races, cultures and religions has 
exposed us to a kaleidoscopic array of beliefs and practices; yet 
threads of sameness and agreement bind them together. Taken as a 
whole, the definitions above, emphasizing the Vedas, dharma, karma and 
rebirth, can help us gain clarity and insight into our inmost 
convictions, offering the opportunity to freely and ably choose the 
same as our progenitors-or not. That "or not" may be the greatest 
freedom a seeker ever had or could ever hope for.

A Contrast of Convictions: 
Hinduism Today and Christianity Today craft a point-counterpoint

Back in 1993, our editors were contacted by christianity today 
magazine to be interviewed for a major story called Hindus in America. 
Thus began a series of dialogs that added to their article crucial and 
often corrective insights to dispel common myths and misinformation 
about the world's oldest religion. Perhaps most significantly, they 
agreed to publish our own nine fundamental Hindu beliefs. The editors 
of Christianity Today counter-composed nine parallel Christian 
convictions, written just before press time in a series of grueling 
sessions by the best theologians they could assemble. The resulting 
point-counterpoint-whose brevity is both its strength and its 
weakness-summarizes the cosmic perspective of two of the world's 
largest faiths.

1. Hindus believe in the divinity of the vedas, the world's most 
ancient scripture, and venerate the Agamas as equally revealed. These 
primordial hymns are God's word and the bedrock of Sanatana Dharma, 
the eternal religion which has neither beginning nor end.
1. Christians believe that the bible is the uniquely inspired and 
fully trustworthy word of God. It is the final authority for 
Christians in matters of belief and practice, and though it was 
written long ago, it continues to speak to believers today.

2. Hindus believe in a one, all-pervasive supreme being who is both 
immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.
2. Christians believe in one god in three persons. He is distinct from 
his creation, yet intimately involved with it as its sustainer and 
redeemer.

3. Hindus believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of 
creation, preservation and dissolution.
3. Christians believe that the world was created once by the divine 
will, was corrupted by sin, yet under God's providence moves toward 
final perfection.

4. Hindus believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each 
individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.
4. Christians believe that, through god's grace and favor, lost 
sinners are rescued from the guilt, power and eternal consequences of 
their evil thoughts, words and deeds.

5. Hindus believe that the soul reincarnates, evolving through many 
births until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha, spiritual 
knowledge and liberation from the cycle of rebirth, is attained. Not a 
single soul will be eternally deprived of this destiny.
5. Christians believe that it is appointed for human beings to die 
once and after that face judgment. In Adam's sin, the human race was 
spiritually alienated from God, and that those who are called by God 
and respond to his grace will have eternal life. Those who persist in 
rebellion will be lost eternally.

6. Hindus believe that divine beings exist in unseen worlds and that 
temple worship, rituals, sacraments as well as personal devotionals 
create a communion with these devas and Gods. 
6. Christians believe that spirit beings inhabit the universe, some 
good and some evil, but worship is due to God alone.

7. Hindus believe that a spiritually awakened master, or satguru, is 
essential to know the Transcendent Absolute, as are personal 
discipline, good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry and 
meditation.
7. Christians believe that god has given us a clear revelation of 
Himself in Jesus and the sacred Scriptures. He has empowered by his 
Spirit prophets, apostles, evangelists, and pastors who are teachers 
charged to guide us into faith and holiness in accordance with his 
Word.

8. Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, 
and therefore practice ahimsa, "noninjury."
8. Christians believe that life is to be highly esteemed but that it 
must be subordinated in the service of Biblical love and justice.

9. Hindus believe that no particular religion teaches the only way to 
salvation above all others, but that all genuine religious paths are 
facets of God's Pure Love and Light, deserving tolerance and 
understanding.
9. Christians believe that jesus is god incarnate and, therefore, the 
only sure path to salvation. Many religions may offer ethical and 
spiritual insights, but only Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.