3) God can be known, not in the ordinary sense but in a transcendental sense.
4) The goal of life it to realize your divine nature and relationship with God. This relationship is thought of differently in different schools of philosophy.
Three schools of thought
Dualism, God and I are separate, but I can be in constant communion with God, as in "Our Father who is in heaven"
Qualified Non Dualism. God is the whole, I am a part, as in " I am the vine, ye are the branches.”
Advaita - Non-Dualism, in reality I am one with God, as in "I and my Father are one."
Brahman is the underlying reality of the universe. While it is technically beyond words, it can best be described as the infinite, undivided, unchanging reality or as absolute Existence, Consciousness, Bliss. Brahman is an impersonal God.
Maya - the power of Brahman to manifest a universe as if by Magic.
In the most popular system of philosophy, Vedanta, the world is said to be a misapprehension of Brahman or a Magic Show of Brahman. It is likened to our dreams. We create a dream world with our mind when we sleep. This dream world is then realized to be unreal when we wake. Similarly Brahman has projected this world into existence. But when we realize our true divine nature, this world will seem like a dream.
Since this apparent world is "created" out of the oneness of Brahman, it is filled with pairs of opposites. So both good and evil are part of this apparent manifestation of Brahman.
General Beliefs and interesting facts:
Reincarnation - the belief that we live many lives until we reach the goal and are liberated from the cycles of birth, death, and rebirth.
Avatars or Incarnations of God are human beings that manifest their divine natures to such an extent that they are world teachers, exemplars of spiritual principals and right action. They frequently come in male/female pairs.
Best known are:
Rama and Sita
Krishna and Radha
There is no founder of Hinduism. It continually evolves through time, while maintaining the Vedas as the foundation. The Vedas are attributed to anonymous Rishis, or mystical seers of truth, who recorded their insights in these scriptures.
An example of how Hinduism continues to evolve is the Caste system. Originally it was meant to honor each segment of society as an important part, just as a person's body needs a head, arms, torso, and legs to be complete and functional, so does society need different segments:
1)- the scholars, teachers, and spiritual leaders
2) the warriors, protectors of society
3) the craftsmen and merchants
4) the laborers
The system was originally not hereditary but based on a person’s talents and propensities. But through the centuries it became a fixed hereditary and hierarchical system with many discriminatory rules. The system became hopelessly abused and dysfunctional and was eventually given up.
Hinduism is accepting of other traditions as well as a variety of beliefs and practices within Hinduism. Two famous phrases from the Vedas are:
Truth is one. Sages call it by various names.
As the waters from various rivers take various paths from the mountains but all end up in the sea, so do all the great spiritual traditions lead to Thee, O Lord.
Hinduism uses both male and female deities to describe the many aspects and powers of the one impersonal Brahman. Like a great actor, Brahman takes on various "characters" for the sake of helping people realize the goal of life. While each aspect has a specialty, as a devotee develops spiritually, all aspects are seen reflected in the chosen one. Some of the more popular aspects are:
Brahma - the Male Cosmic Creative aspect (talked about but not generally worshipped)
Saraswati - Goddess of Creativity as manifested in our daily lives, like music, art, education, writing.
Vishnu - The Cosmic preserver – Avatars are usually thought of as incarnations of the Vishnu aspect.
Lakshmi - the Goddess of wealth and sustenance.
Shiva - The Cosmic Recycler, Destroyer, but also the cosmic dancer of creation preservation and destruction.
Kali - The Divine Mother who appears terrible as Time the all-destroyer, but blissful as the destroyer of our ignorance.
Ganesha - The remover of obstacles, the bridge between this world and the spiritual world. Gate-keeper. Wisdom.
Durga - Divine Mother of the Universe, the combined powers of all natural powers and another destroyer of ignorance.
Some Important terms:
Dharma - Right action, Natural order, Cosmic Order, Doing your dharma refers to performing your natural duty and assuming your natural place in society.
Karma - action, consequences of action (like cause and effect in physics)
Samskaras - impressions of past actions on a person's soul. Tendencies.
Samsara - cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
Jiva - the individual soul as experienced in Maya.
Atman - equivalent to Brahman, but used in reference to the underlying reality within each one of us.
Deities, Gods and Goddesses - personifications of powers of Brahman as seen within Maya.
Puja - a worship service in which a person performs various symbolic rituals to purify himself or herself as well as the surroundings followed by symbolic offerings to a chosen aspect of God. God is treated as an honored guest in this ritual.
AUM - the sound symbol of Brahman, representing the full spectrum of sounds we can create with our voice and symbolically the full spectrum of all that is created by Brahman through the power of Maya.
Mantra - a phrase or short prayer usually consisting of the sacred syllable AUM and a name of a God or Goddess and words of praise or salutation.
Japam - repeating a mantra over and over, similar to using a rosary and repeating a prayer a set number of times.
The Vedas - The sacred texts of Hinduism consisting of hymns of praise, rites and rituals, and the philosophical texts known as the Upanishads.
Puranas - Spiritual teachings put in the form of stories and myths, sometimes based on historical figures but not always.
Best known Puranas are:
The Mahabharata which includes the Bhagavad Gita, the best known summary text of Hindu teachings. Sri Krishna is a central figure.
The Ramayana - Rama, Sita, Lakshman, and Hanuman are the main characters.
Main Spiritual practices:
Yoga: A set of spiritual practices to achieve union with God or realization of your true nature. The words Yoga and Religion have the same root meaning – to join or re-connect.
The four main yogas are:
Raja Yoga. The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali is the Handbook for meditation practice or Raja Yoga. The popular Hatha yoga exercises are based on just one of the steps in this system which maintains that the postures of the body influences how the energies flow in the body and that keeping the body healthy will aid in meditation.
Bhakti Yoga. Using devotional practices such as doing puja, singing devotional songs, or doing japam. Cultivating a loving relationship with God. God can be thought of in many forms, both male and female, and someone practicing Bhakti Yoga can choose the aspect of God and the nature of the loving relationship. Examples: God is my Father or Mother, God is my best friend, or God is my very own child.
Karma Yoga. Doing selfless service without attachment to results or expectation of praise. Serving God by serving other living beings (humans, other animals, plants)
Jnana Yoga. Discriminating between the permanent reality of Brahman and the impermanent nature of the world. Doing spiritual affirmations continually. Studying scriptures.