Introduction to Hinduism for Beginners

Introduction to Hinduism for Beginners

Hinduism has more than a billion followers, making it the world’s third largest religion, and is the world’s oldest extant religion. Hinduism is technically a combination of religious, philosophical, and cultural ideals and practises which originated in India thousands of years before the birth of Christ.

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Defining Hinduism

Practitioners of Hinduism view their faith as an all-encompassing way of life made up of a complex system of beliefs and traditions, a progressive system of ethics, important rituals, philosophy, and theology.  Hinduism is largely characterised by the belief in reincarnation or Samsara, one absolute being with numerous manifestations and associated deities, the law of cause and effect or Karma, the desire for liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth, and the call to follow a path of righteousness by engaging in spiritual practises or yogas and prayers or bhakti.

Origins of Hinduism

Hinduism’s origins, unlike Christianity or Islam, cannot be traced to any one individual and the earliest Hindu scriptures – the Rig Veda – were composed well before 6500 B.C. The roots of the faith can be traced as far back as 10,000 B.C., but the word ‘Hinduism’ cannot be located in any of these early scriptures, as the term ‘Hindu’ was in fact introduced by foreigners in reference to the people living across the River Indus or Sindhu in the north of India.

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The Four Tenets of Hinduism

There are four Purusarthas or tenets at the core of Hinduism which are the object of human life to practitioners:

  • Dharma – ethics and duties
  • Artha – work and prosperity
  • Kama – passion and desires
  • Moksha – liberation from the cycle of samsara (birth and rebirth)

One of these four basic tenets, Dharma is considered to be the most important to day-to-day life as it is what will lead to Moksha and the end of life. If Dharma – or ethics and duties – are neglected in favour of the more material pursuits of Artha and Kama, then life is thrown off-balance, becomes chaotic and Moksha cannot be attained.

Key Scriptures in Hinduism

The basic scriptures of Hinduism, referred to as the Shastras, are a collection of spiritual laws which were discovered by numerous saints and sages at different points throughout the religion’s long history. These Shastras are comprised of two types of sacred writings: Shruti (heard) and Smriti (memorised) and were been passed on orally from generation to generation for centuries before they were written down, largely in the Sanskrit language. The most popular and important Hindu texts include the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Major Deities

Followers of Hinduism believe that there is one supreme Absolute known as Brahma, but the religion does not advocate the worship of any one deity over another. The number gods and goddesses of Hinduism are innumerable, each representing the many aspect of Brahma, and therefore the faith is characterised by the multiplicity of deities. While adherents also worship spirits, trees, animals, and the planets, there are three fundamental deities who make up the divine trinity – Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer.