Archive for the ‘Hinduism’ Category

We often think of Hinduism as having many gods. However, Hindu beliefs also include the concept of Brahman, the universal spirit. Brahman permeates everything, and everything is part of Brahman. Our souls are part of Brahman and seek to be reunited with him. Brahman is infinite and eternal – and impossible to describe.

Since people think in concrete terms, most find it hard to imagine divinity on this scale, with no form or face. For this reason, some Hindus believe that Brahman is manifested in many different forms, some of which are gods. Since Brahman is in everything, including us, then Brahman is also in the different gods of Hinduism. In the Bhagavad Gita, part of a great Hindu epic, the god Krishna says, “Whatever god a man worships, it is I who answer the prayer.” Thus the thousands of minor gods of Hinduism can be seen as the different faces of the universal spirit Brahman.


Which would you find easier to think about: Brahman as a formless universal spirit that is part of everything, or as a pantheon of different gods?

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Sri Ramakrishna was a nineteenth-century Hindu sage. In his search for god, Ramakrishna faithfully followed the spiritual disciplines of several different religions. The following is an excerpt from one of Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings on faith.

God has made different religions to suit different aspirations, times, and countries. All doctrines are only so many paths; but a path is by no means God Himself. Indeed, one can reach God if one follows any of the paths with whole-hearted devotion. One may eat a cake with icing either straight or sidewise. It will taste sweet either way…. As one can ascend to the top of a house by means of a ladder or a bamboo or a staircase or a rope, so diverse are the ways and means to approach God, and every religion in the world shows one of these ways.


In your own words, explain what Sri Ramakrishna was saying here.

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Hinduism has many gods. Three of them are Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. Brahma is known as the Creator. The universe and all creatures in it came from him. Vishnu is known as the Preserver. Associated with truth and righteousness, he maintains order. Shiva is the Destroyer. Shiva’s destruction leads to good, as he removes impurity.

Although these three gods are sometimes called the Hindu Trinity, they are not of equal importance. Brahma’s job – creation – is finished. The jobs of the other two gods remain.


Write about this view of the world in which the principles of creation, preservation, and destruction are connected. Which principle do you think is the most important one?

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Statues and paintings of the Hindu gods are found in homes and temples throughout India. The different images of a particular god often have things in common. For example, Ganesha is usually shown with an elephant’s head, and Shiva is often shown with three eyes. These images use symbolism to express the divine nature of the gods. Thus Ganesha’s elephant head stands for wisdom. Shiva’s left and right eyes indicate his activity in the physical world; the third eye symbolizes spiritual knowledge and power. For viewers familiar with the symbolism, each image conveys a great deal of information.


Symbols are used in many ways in different cultures. Think about how symbols are used in your daily life. Describe these symbols and what they stand for.

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Shiva is one of the primary figures in Hinduism. He is often shown as Shiva Nataraj, or “Shiva, King of Dancers.” Everything in this image has a meaning. Shiva is shown with four arms, one for each of the cardinal directions. He dances with his left foot raised. His right food rests on a figure that represents illusion and ignorance. In his upper right hand he holds a drum that stands for the male-female principle. His lower right hand makes a gesture that means, “Be without fear.” Snakes, which stand for the ego, are seen uncoiling from his arms, legs, and hair. The skull on his head stands for his conquest over death. He is placed within an arch of flames; these stand for the endless cycle of birth and death.


Shiva’s right food is on illusion and ignorance. What is the symbolism of this pose?

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According to Hindu belief, whenever the order of the world is threatened, Vishnu the Preserver appears on Earth. He is often considered to have ten forms, or avatars, on Earth.

First Vishnu appeared as a fish to rescue the world from a flood. Next, as a tortoise, he supported a mountain on his back. Third, as a boar, he killed a demon who had stolen the Vedas, or holy scriptures.

In his fourth avatar, as half man, half lion, he killed a demon king who could not be harmed by man or beast. Next, as a dwarf, he tricked a demon king who had seized the universe.

As a warrior Parashurama he destroyed a wicked king. As Rama, the perfect king, he killed the demon king Ravana. His eighth avatar was Krishna, the central character in the epic Mahabharata. Krishna’s advice to another character became the beloved text Bhagavad Gita. Next Vishnu appeared as Buddha in order to remove suffering from the world.

The tenth avatar of Vishnu, Kalki the Destroyer, has not yet appeared in the world. Kalki will wipe out the forces of evil.


Some people see a progression in the avatars of Vishnu. Look at these ten avatars. Describe any progression you see.

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According to Hinduism, the things we want change as we go through life. At first, we want pleasure and worldly success. There is nothing wrong with wanting these things, as long as we act morally in seeking them. For example, we should not lie or cheat in order to gain success. We must achieve it honestly.

Some people may spend years seeking pleasure or striving for worldly success. We may even think that these things make us happy. Eventually, though, we find ourselves wanting more, because each of these goals is too narrow to satisfy our total nature.


Choose one of these goals to examine. Do you think it is too narrow to satisfy all aspects of human nature?

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One of the goals of Hinduism is to help people achieve their full spiritual potential. Since all people are different, Hinduism does not teach just one way to reach this goal. Instead it identifies four basic spiritual personality types and a path for each. These paths are known as yoga, which comes from the same root as the word yoke. It means, “to place under training.”

The first type includes people who seek spirituality through reflection. Their yoga is jnana, or knowledge.

The second type includes people who seek to understand things emotionally. Their yoga is bhakti, devotion and love.

The third type includes people who take an active approach to their goals. Their yoga is karma, or work.

The fourth spiritual type includes people who like a methodical approach to understanding spirituality. Their path is raja yoga, or royal yoga. This is the yoga that uses physical postures to achieve spiritual illumination.


Think about yourself and your approach to things. Which of these approaches to spirituality would be best for you: jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, karma yoga, or raja yoga?

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Hinduism offers many paths to spirituality. One approach is called raja yoga. According to raja yoga, each of us has different layers of “self.” The first layer is the physical self – our bodies. The second layer is the conscious part of our minds – the things we are aware of and try to think about. The third layer is the subconscious. This layer is shaped by our experiences, but we are usually not aware of how it affects us. The fourth layer is even deeper than the subconscious. It is the layer of Being.


The aim of raja yoga is to reach the layer of Being. The first step in reaching it calls for being completely still. Sit for one minute without moving and without thinking. At the end of one minute, write your reactions to the first step of raja yoga.

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In Hinduism, those who wish to develop spiritually will listen to teachings. They may find a mentor called a guru. The word guru comes from two Sanskrit words, gu and ru. Gu means “darkness” or “ignorance.” Ru means “remover” or “dispeller.”


Based on the original meanings of he words gu and ru, write your own definition of the word guru.

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