55 Hinduism

Brahmanism developed into the system now known as Hinduism. The central focus of Hinduism, whatever form one believes it takes, is self-knowledge; in knowing one’s self, one comes to know God. Evil comes from ignorance of what is good; knowledge of what is good negates evil. One’s purpose in life is to recognize what is good and pursue it according to one’s particular duty (dharma), and the action involved in that proper pursuit is one’s karma. The more dutifully one performs one’s karma in accordance with one’s dharma, the closer to self-actualization one becomes and so the closer to realizing the Divine in one’s self.(13)

The physical world is an illusion only in so far that it convinces one of duality and separation. One may turn one’s back on the world and pursue the life of a religious ascetic, but Hinduism encourages full participation in life through the purusharthas – life goals – which are:

  • Artha – one’s career, home life, material wealth
  • Kama – love, sexuality, sensuality, pleasure
  • Moksha – liberation, freedom, enlightenment, self-actualization

The soul takes enjoyment in these pursuits even though it understands they are all temporal pleasures. The soul is immortal – it has always existed as part of Brahman and will always exist – therefore the finality of death is an illusion. At death, the soul discards the body and then is reincarnated if it failed to attain Moksha or, if it did, the Atman becomes one with Brahman and returns to its eternal home. The cycle of rebirth and death, known as samsara, will continue until the soul has had its fill of earthly experience and pleasures and concentrates a life on detachment and pursuit of eternal, rather than temporal, goods.

Here the Hindu god Shiva is depicted as the Lord of the Dance or Nataraja and is represented in his triple role as Creator, Preserver and Destroyer. He stands within a flaming halo representing Time, which is cyclical and has no end. He has one foot on the dwarf figure apasmara purusha who represents illusion and who leads men away from truth. He holds in his top left hand the fire (agni) which will destroy the universe and in his top right hand the drum (damaru) which made the first sounds of the creation. The lower right hand makes the abhayamudra gesture which calms all fear and the lower left hand points to his left foot, symbol of salvation.
Shiva Nataraja (Lord of the Dance) by Peter F is license under CC BY-SA

Important here is the belief that everyone has arrived on the earth with a specific role to play and, if one chooses not to play that role in one’s present life, one will come back in another and another until one does so. This process is often related to the Caste System of Hinduism in which one is born to a certain station which one cannot in any way change, must perform one’s designated function as part of that class for life, and will be reincarnated if one fails to perform correctly.

Concerning the many gods that comprise the Hindu faith, to the outsider, the religion seems like a polytheistic tradition still. In fact, the opposite is true. Within the Hindu faith, all of the gods are considered to be manifestations of Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, who can only be understood through aspects of Itself. Among the most important of the deities are those who make up the so-called “Hindu Trinity”:

The individual deity does not finally matter because all the deities of the pantheon are aspects of Brahman as is the worshipper and the act of worship.(13)




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Humanities: Prehistory to the 15th Century Copyright © by Florida State College at Jacksonville is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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