Hinduism Q&A

Q&A

(Answers based on extracts from the book, “Hinduism: A Path to Inner Peace.”)

  1. What is Hinduism and what are its core beliefs?
  2. What happens if one cannot achieve the lasting stillness or the inner peace?
  3. How do the Hindus address the Supreme?
  4. Do Hindus proselytize?
  5. Are Hinduism and Buddhism similar?
  6. Why Hindus have so many gods and goddesses?
  7. Is Hinduism unique in perceiving the different aspects of the Supreme?
  8. Must the Hindus worship the gods and goddesses to connect with the Supreme?
  9. Do the Hindus have a holy book similar to a Christian Bible?
  10. What is Hinduism’s view on materialism?
  11. How old is Hinduism?
  12. Is Hinduism based on the revelation from the God in the heavens?
  13. Has Hinduism remained the same for the last five thousand years?
  14. During this thousand-year quest, did any group oppose the concept of religion itself?
  15. How were the original Hindu beliefs different from other religions of the time?
  16. How did later spiritual realizations differ from early Hinduism?
  17. Why the various spiritual realizations over the centuries did not fragment Hinduism?
  18. What is the author’s view on the caste system and the untouchables?
  19. What is the author’s view on dowry system and its abuse?
  20. Structurally, is Hinduism similar to other great faiths of the world?
  21. What is the meaning of mantra?
  22. Why Hindu gods and goddesses often have more than two hands?
  23. The front cover of the book has a photograph of lotus, what is the significance of lotus in Hinduism?
  24. Does Hinduism believe in the end of the world?
  25. Are Hindus required to visit temples or go on pilgrimages?
  26. What is karma?
  27. How does karma affect next life?
  28. What is Yoga?
  29. Does Hinduism have a problem with scientific advancements?
  30. What are the prominent faiths that rose up in the Indian subcontinent?
  31. What impact did Buddha have on Hinduism?
  32. How does the author perceive Christianity and Buddhism?

 

Answers based on extracts from the book, “Hinduism: A Path to Inner Peace.”

 

 1.       What is Hinduism and what are its core beliefs?
        Hinduism is a faith deeply cherished by nearly a billion people on this planet. It believes in a Supreme Being or the divine essence, which is the Supreme Soul. It believes that everyone has the potential to connect with that divine essence by his or her own efforts.
        The physical body, which changes with time, is transient. Hinduism believes that the Supreme Soul is the only thing that is unchanging and eternal.
        The physical body, which is composed of the basic elements of the universe, becomes alive when the soul enters it. When the soul leaves the body, one dies and the physical body reverts to the basic elements of the universe.
        Hinduism considers the Supreme Soul to be the ultimate truth or the reality. It believes that the materialistic world, the senses, the mind, and the ego prevent people from recognizing this ultimate reality. To realize the ultimate truth, one needs to create a lasting stillness within.
       To suit a person’s devotional, emotional, and cerebral makeup, Hinduism shows the different paths to the Supreme Soul. Although not always directly obvious, all paths lead to inner peace, which is the gateway to the Supreme. While some Hindus following the path of meditation work directly towards attaining inner peace, others following the path of devotion attain inner peace by the grace of the god or goddess of their devotion. Hinduism’s sacred scripture says, “Take shelter in Him alone with all your being. By His grace, you will attain supreme peace and the eternal abode.”
        Hinduism believes that when one achieves that lasting stillness or the inner peace, the individual soul connects with the Supreme Soul. For the Hindus, the whole purpose of existence is to develop the lasting inner peace and connect with the Supreme Soul or the divine essence.
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 2.       What happens if one cannot achieve the lasting stillness or the inner peace?
        If one is not able to develop inner peace and connect with that divine essence in one’s lifetime, one goes through the cycle of reincarnation or rebirth. Upon attaining the lasting inner peace, one attains “moksha,” which means the individual soul connects with the Supreme Soul and the cycle of rebirth stops.
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 3.       How do the Hindus address the Supreme?
        Although many books refer to the Supreme as Brahman, Hindus in their daily lives normally address the Supreme by different names such as Brahmatma, Paramatma, Parameshwara, Paramshiva, Parabrahma, Purusottama, Rama, Krishna, Shiva, Shakti or just Om tat sat. To make it easy for the readers, wherever appropriate, the author of this book addresses the Supreme as the Supreme Soul.
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  4.       Do Hindus proselytize?
        No, Hinduism does not try to convert or proselytize anyone to its faith. Respecting the different points of view, when it comes to the Supreme Being or one’s relationship with the Almighty, is intrinsic to the Hindus. Hindus respect personal choice and perceive other faiths as alternative paths leading to the same ultimate truth, and so as a rule, they do not feel a need to convert others to their faith. It generally has a tradition of respecting other faiths and advocating the concept of “live and let live.”
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  5.       Are Hinduism and Buddhism similar?
        Both, Hinduism and Buddhism, are about attaining the inner peace except Buddha did not get into the individual soul and was silent on the Supreme Soul.
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  6.       Why Hindus have so many gods and goddesses?
        Gods and goddesses that the Hindus worship in their daily lives depict the different aspects of the Supreme Soul. Many Hindus believe in the grace of the gods or goddesses to lead them to inner peace and moksha.
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  7.       Is Hinduism unique in perceiving the different aspects of the Supreme?
        No. Following is a quote from the book:
 Actually, Hindus are not the only ones who perceive the different aspects of the Supreme. For example, Christians perceive the Holy Trinity—Jesus, the Father in the heavens, and the Holy Ghost—as the three distinct persons in one God. Jews have one God but, depending on what aspect of Yahweh they are referring to, call him by different names such as Elohim, Adonai, and El Shaddai. Muslims have ninety-nine names for Allah (for example, Ar-Rahmaan, Ar-Raheem, and Al-Malik) showing the different aspects such as compassionate, merciful, and powerful. It appears that people need to identify with the different aspects of God; it is just that different faiths do it in different ways.
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  8.       Must the Hindus worship the gods and goddesses to connect with the Supreme?
        Although most Hindus do, the faith does not require one to worship a god or a goddess, or even subscribe to the concept of gods or goddesses. Instead, the believers can follow a path of meditation, stop the vagaries of mind, achieve inner peace, and attain moksha. Like a bird flying from point A to point B, Hinduism focuses on getting to point B—connecting with the Supreme Soul—rather than the path taken to get to point B.
        Hinduism does not believe in the concept of “one-size-fits-all.” To suit the person’s devotional, emotional, and cerebral makeup, Hinduism shows the different paths to the Supreme Soul but does not dictate any of them. Actually, it says that there may be many other equally good or even better paths to moksha.
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  9.       Do the Hindus have a holy book similar to a Christian Bible?
        Unlike the Christian Bible, Hindus do not have an authoritative book that covers all aspects of the faith. Most of the sacred scriptures of the Hindus appear to be spiritual and contemplative. Many consider the Bhagavad Gita, commonly known as the Gita, as the scripture that comes closest to representing the essence of Hinduism.
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  10.    What is Hinduism’s view on materialism?
        Hinduism recognizes the attractions of materialism. It does not want its followers to feel left out of the entire materialistic experience. Hinduism believes in the importance of developing one’s full potential, making money, having a family, and enjoying all the materialistic pleasures. However, with the passage of time it gradually wants to wean them out of their attachment to materialism.
        Once one has experienced the pleasures and the associated pains of the materialistic world for several decades, Hinduism believes the mind will be ready to free itself from the attachment to materialism and focus on the stillness and inner peace within.
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  11.    How old is Hinduism?
        Hinduism is one of the oldest faiths in the world. Its roots go back more than five thousand years, and this is the only major faith that has been in continuous practice for all these years. As a part of their daily prayer, even today Hindus recite nearly four-thousand-year-old hymns.
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  12.    Is Hinduism based on the revelation from the God in the heavens?
        No, it is not based on the revelation from the God in the heavens to a mortal on Earth. The quest to find the answers to the ultimate truths, such as the answers to why we are here, what is our place in the universe, and what happens when we die, led generations of eminent sages to years of meditation and intense concentration. The higher knowledge that the great sages were able to discern thousands of years ago by raising their life-spirit to the plane of universal spirit through years of deep meditation forms the foundation of Hinduism.
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  13.    Has Hinduism remained the same for the last five thousand years?
        No. In Hinduism, the period between 1200 B.C. to around 200 B.C. was a time of great spiritual quest. Because it is not a faith based on the invincible word of God, Hinduism has no concept of sacrilege, heresy, or apostasy. Hence, no one feared impalement, decapitation, or public hanging for being a heretic and questioning the tenets of the faith.
        This thousand-year quest opened a new dimension in Hindu thinking and culminated in spiritual perceptions sustained by logical arguments and critical expositions. Over the centuries, new realizations of the spiritual truth were added on the foundation set by the sages.
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  14.    During this thousand-year quest, did any group oppose the concept of religion itself?
        Yes. A group of thinkers advocated materialism and sensual indulgence. Contending that men invented the religions, this group did not subscribe to any divine power and denied the authority of all scriptures. They believed that the religions made people submissive through fear and rituals, and the religious practices were futile activities promoted by self-serving priests.
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  15.    How were the original Hindu beliefs different from other religions of the time?
        Early Hinduism was not radically different from other major religions of the time. The following is a quote from the book:
 Most of the religions worshipped a powerful god, typically a male, who was a paternalistic figure or an authority figure like a ruler. The god created everything in the universe and dispensed justice, rewarding those who obeyed his commands and punishing those who defied him. While people attributed good fortunes and great health to the god’s blessings, they believed that the god’s displeasure or wrath resulted in natural calamities and sickness. Some had more than one god with different powers, often with a hierarchy. There was good and evil; the good was the god, the evil was the anti-god or the devil. People tried to appease the god or the gods through ritualistic worship and sacrifice. Besides getting the obedient faithful to the heavens—a place of ultimate enjoyment and in some cases, a place of utmost materialistic pleasures that had eluded many faithful on Earth—the faith also served as the community’s moral code of conduct.
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  16.    How did later spiritual realizations differ from early Hinduism?
        The book captures how the faith advanced through various spiritual realizations culminating in the belief that the Supreme Being lives in all living beings and that the soul is same as the Supreme. It perceives the sacrifice of one’s own ignorance, anger, malice, greed, and ego as a higher sacrifice than the ritualistic animal sacrifices of the earlier periods. It attaches great importance to the motive in conduct and considers inner purity more important than outer conformity.
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  17.    Why the various spiritual realizations over the centuries did not fragment Hinduism?
        Prompted by Hinduism’s belief that the truth has many sides, which no one can fully express, Hindus saw unity in divergence. Through the scriptures of Gita, Hindus showed the spiritual thread that connected the later spiritual realizations with their past.
        The thoughts in the Gita are deep; every fresh reading reveals new facets of the truth. By threading the later spiritual realizations with their past practices and beliefs, the Gita enriched Hinduism. Hindus look upon the Gita as one of their greatest scriptures.
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  18.    What is the author’s view on the caste system and the untouchables?
        The author devotes a few pages on the topic. He says that very likely, the caste system was a result of centuries of specialization, resulting in social stratification. Citing various scholarly sources, the author adds that the exalted position of some groups over the others was probably ancient Hindus’ way of recognizing the superiority of the spiritual and intellectual aspect of a person over his or her military skills, business acumen, and physical abilities. Although Mahatma Gandhi considered untouchability as the greatest blot on Hinduism, some wondered if it was really a blot on Hinduism or just a social phenomenon masquerading as religion. However, the author believes that regardless of whether it is a religious or a social problem, just like slavery, the concept of “untouchables” is abominable and no longer defensible.
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  19.    What is the author’s view on dowry system and its abuse?
        The following is a quote from the book:
         In a society in which daughters are generally not entitled to any of the parental property, for centuries parents have given their daughters a dowry at the time of marriage as a parting gift. The greed for money and materialistic goods, which has prompted some in the past few decades to exploit the system, is bringing the system disrepute. As long as the families perceive the marriage as a commercial venture, and the groom’s family sees the new bride as a source of free money, the misuse of the dowry system is unlikely to abate unless the government imposes harsher penalties on the perpetrators.
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  20.    Structurally, is Hinduism similar to other great faiths of the world?
        Yes, the following is a quote from the book:
Like all great faiths of the world, Hinduism has three components. The first component deals with the scope of the faith, its basic principles, its ultimate goal, the way to attain that goal, and the holy books. The second component is mythology, which through legends, historical accounts, or supernatural beings attempts to validate the first component. The third component includes the rituals, festivals, ceremonies, pilgrimage, and worship, which appeal to the senses and make the faith attractive to the masses. The festivals and the ceremonies help bind the believers together to form a common unit or units. Familial and social interactions, group activities, the colorful festivals, and the ceremonies help keep the faith front and center in people’s lives.
        The book addresses all these components of Hinduism.
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  21.    What is the meaning of mantra?
        The word mantra itself is a combination of two words, manas—“mind,” and trai—“to free from.” Hence, the purpose of mantra is to free oneself from the active mind and get to the inner core, which is quiet and peaceful.
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  22.    Why Hindu gods and goddesses often have more than two hands?
        Here is a quote from the book:
 For many, symbols have a more lasting impression on the psyche than written words. For example, Jesus on the cross is an iconic symbol of sacrifice for humanity. When Hinduism started nearly five thousand years ago, most Hindus were illiterate; thus, symbols conveyed a message they could understand.
 Hindus show the qualities or the aspects of the Supreme that the particular god or goddess represents. … To depict the various qualities or aspects of the gods or the goddesses, they are shown with more than two hands, each holding a different object. The objects signify the various attributes. They will have as many hands as the number of attributes.
 The god or goddess shown with only four hands and hence four attributes in a painting or on a sculpture inside one temple may have eight hands in another. It is a matter of how the devotees who built the temple or created the painting perceived their god or goddess at that particular time. Most of the time, at least one hand … through hand gestures, bless the devotee. … Because showing gods with more than two hands is not common in religions such as Christianity, for example, this form of depiction in Hinduism can confound many in the West. For example, the icon of the Virgin Mary with three hands in the Troyan Monastery, about sixty miles northeast of Sofia, Bulgaria, may be the only unique icon in Christianity; her two hands cradle the infant Jesus, and the third hand represents the hand of God.
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  23.    The front cover of the book has a photograph of lotus, what is the significance of lotus in Hinduism?
        The lotus, a flower that has its origins at the bottom of a lake in the muck but comes up to the surface as a beautiful flower, carries a special significance to Hindus. They normally equate the lotus with humans stuck in the mud of worldly existence who can still reach enlightenment. As a reflection of the high regard they have for the flower, Hindus even show the lotus sprouting from a god’s navel while he is sleeping. Hindus also depict gods and goddesses standing or seated on a lotus.
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  24.    Does Hinduism believe in the end of the world?
        Through a simple formula, Hinduism says that all living beings will disappear from Earth after 4 billion 320 million years. The book also talks about the dissolution of the entire universe in 311 trillion Earth years.
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  25.    Are Hindus required to visit temples or go on pilgrimages?
        Just like everything else in Hinduism, the devotees have the freedom to choose. One can visit all the temples or never set foot in one. One can go on pilgrimages many times in one’s life or not even once. One can conform to all the outwardly signs and symbols of religiosity, follow all the rituals, or comply with none. One can study all or none of the holy books. One can believe in all the gods or not believe in any of them. One can perceive the gods as the aspects of Supreme or the Supreme itself. One is the master of one’s destiny and karma as Gita says, “Do as you choose,” after reflecting fully. After learning everything about the faith, one has to find one’s own path to connect with the Supreme and attain moksha.
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  26.    What is karma?
        Karma is the consequence of every action and every thought. It is the law of cause and effect. It is an outcome of the past merit and demerit. Each individual creates his or her own spiritual destiny by his or her thoughts, words, and deeds. Not only do the Hindus agree with the saying “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,” but they also go one step further and say, “Whatsoever a man reaps, that he must have sown.”
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  27.    How does karma affect next life?
        After critically analyzing various premises, the author concludes that karma can only affect the temperament of the newborn.
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  28.    What is Yoga?
        Yoga means “a yoke” or “a link.” To the Hindus, Yoga is a connecting link between the spiritual aspirant and the Supreme Soul, and there can be an infinite number of connecting links. Because Hinduism does not believe in the “one-size-fits-all” concept, depending on the cerebral, emotional, and devotional makeup, it is up to each person to find the right path for his or her own moksha. Hinduism lists four distinct links or paths while recognizing the possibility of other paths that may be an even better fit for some.
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  29.    Does Hinduism have a problem with scientific advancements?
        Hinduism has no conflict with science. Some Indian scientists even see a consistency between modern science and the early scriptures of the Hindus. Through decades of intense meditation and through the power of their mind, Hindu sages of ancient times came up with various profound proclamations about our universe. They had no data or scientific facts to corroborate their declarations. In this book, the author examines a few of these precepts and see if modern science can affirm them.
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  30.    What are the prominent faiths that rose up in the Indian subcontinent?
        Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism are the prominent faiths that rose up in the Indian subcontinent.
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  31.    What impact did Buddha have on Hinduism?
        Buddha enriched Hinduism by bringing compassion, non-violence, respect for life, kindness to animals, and the importance of seeking inner peace as advocated by the various Hindu holy books to the forefront of Hinduism. Hindus revere Buddha as the ninth of the ten avatars (incarnation of the God).
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  32.    How does the author perceive Christianity and Buddhism?
        The author shows that the same spiritual thread connects Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.
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Hinduism