Questions & Answers

How old is hinduism and hindu literature?

Hinduism is the oldest of all religions. Since it was not propounded by an individual, it is the aggregation of the dharmic thoughts of many sages / Rushies. So who has contributed to these thoughts for the first time cannot be clearly declared. If at all one venture to say that it is Veda Vyasa, Vasishta…or Agastya, we cannot say with a proof, who has contributed for the first time for this bunch of thoughts of Hindu dharma. Interestingly, our Rushies, who wrote Vedas, Upanishads, itihasaas, puraanas, upavedas, were focusing mainly in conveying the subject / knowledge / message /… they never tried to focus WHEN they lived and when did they write/ gave / taught these messages.

The historical facts were not crucial for learning the absolute knowledge of life. That may be the reason why they focused only on the knowledge even without mentioning their names, in any place. (However for the astronomy / mathematics / chemistry books written for the last 2,000 years the authors have clearly mentioned the date of composing, their date or the date of birth of their teachers because those data are important)

WESTERN APPROACH VIEWSON THE DATE OF VEDAS. One should very clearly understand that the western scientists, historians, archaeologists will never give the credit of Indian culture beyond 2500 BC, mainly because according to Bible, the God created Adam and Eve on 12th October, 4.00 pm on 4012 BC (or so). So according to their calculation human beings cannot exist before that. Based on this biased / false/ non scientific notion they calculated the historical facts on Hindu culture.

They also had a European superiority complex which prevented them to give credit to Indian culture (as the most ancient). They wanted and always tried (even now) to project Greek, Mesopotamia, Babylonia, and so on as the oldest. However after 1947, many great Indian and foreign unbiased scholars have proven that the first artifact of human made copper and copper items could be excavated from Kalibangan, Bhagavan pura and so on from 8275 +/- 100 BC. Perhaps we can say the archaeological evidence of Indian culture starts from this point, even though Dayananda Sarasathy, Balagangadhara Tilak, and many great Indian scholars and few western scholars have put the period from 10,000 to 50,000 yrs.

What should be the temple structure?

The word ‘devalaya’ which is frequently used to denote at temple, actually means ‘the house of God’. It is the place where God dwells on earth to bless mankind. It is His house, His palace. Infact, there is another word to denote a temple, ‘Prasada’, which means a palace with a very pleasing appearance. When looked at this way, the dhvajastambha represents the flagpost on which flies the insignia of the deity. The outer walls, prakara, are the walls of the fort. The gopuram is the main gateway.

‘Vimana’ is another word which is often used to denote a temple in general, and the garbhagrha (sanctum sanctorum) in particular. The simple etymological meaning is a ‘well – proportioned structure’. As an extension of this meaning derived God the Creator, as a combination of Siva and Sakti, who ‘measures out’ as it were, this limited principle. It further means an aeroplane. It is the aeroplane of the gods landed on the earth to bless mankind.

Temples are an Integral part of the socio cultural mosaic of India. The temple culture is a way of life of the people and it pervades their external as well as internal development. The temple played a significant role in the cultural life of the people. It enriched their religious life and contributed a lot for the furtherance of their education, literary pursuit, Music, Dance, Art and the architecture.

Where did the word Hindu and Hinduism come from?

The real and original name of Hinduism is SANATANA DHARMA or Righteousness Forever. It was the Persians who came to India in the 6th century B.C. who gave the name to people India as Hindus (People who follow the thought process of Hinduism) meaning the religion of people living near the Indus river.

In Persian language the letter H and S are pronounced almost the same, so they mistook the word Sindhu (the Sanskrit name for Indus) to H and then started calling Hindus and Hinduism. As per my research work the word Hindu was found in Persian literature, Hindu-e-Falak which means ‘the black of the sky’and ‘Saturn’.

Next point of view which I found was that the word “Hindu name was given by Islamic invaders to humiliate original Aryan race of Ancient India, where in as per author the word Hindu means slave & as per Islam, those who do not follow or embrace Islam were termed as slaves.” (Maharishi Shri Dayan and Saraswati Aur Unka Kaam, edited by Lala Lajpat Rai, published in Lahore, 1898, in the Introduction).

Another very interesting meaning of the word “Hindu” as per Persian dictionary which was titled “Lughet-e-Kishwari” (published in 1964 in Luck now) is chore [thief], raahzan , dakoo [dacoit] &Ghulam [slave].”One of similar dictionary named Urdu-Feroze-ul-Laghat (Part One, p. 615) shows the Persian meaning of “Hindu” as kaalaa (black), barda (obedient servant) and sia faam (black color). There is no word named “Hindu or Hinduism anywhere in the holy books of Sanatana dharmic (Hindus).

Who composed the Hindu scriptures and when?

The Vedas are the most ancient and most recognised of the Hindu scriptures. They are not considered to be composed by an individual in the traditional sense. Instead, Hindus believe that the eternal wisdom of the Vedas was divinely revealed to the ancient rishis (sages) by God himself. The rishis transmitted the teachings of the Vedas for generation upon generation using a precise oral tradition. These teachings were eventually committed to script by scholars many thousands of years ago. The sage Veda Vyas is said to have systematised or categorised the Vedas, though he is not their author. The Vedas are universally accepted as the world’s oldest religious writings, with some claiming their ideas to be more than 8,000 years old.Other Hindu scriptures, though more recent, have also passed through a similar process of divine revelation, oral transmission, and written composition.

Why do Hindus use the Swastika?

“Swastika” literally means ‘well-being’; “su” meaning ‘good’ and “asti” meaning ‘being’ combine with the suffix ‘ka’ to become “swastika”. It is symbolic of good fortune and prosperity, and so is often found in doorways of homes and shops and used as decoration during festivals and ceremonies such as weddings. With its arms pointing equally in all directions, the swastika also symbolises stability and balance.

Although they appear similar, the Hindu swastika has no connection with the official emblem of the Nazi Party, also called the Swastika. This misappropriation of an ancient and sacred Hindu symbol can be an inadvertent cause of confusion and strife. However, Hindus have never harboured anti-Semitic sentiments, and have historically befriended the Jewish community.

The swastika (Sanskrit svastika, “all is well”) is a cross with four arms of equal length, with the ends of each arm bent at a right angle. Sometimes the crossing lines are horizontal and vertical and other times they are an angle, forming a central “x” shape. Sometimes dots are added between each arm (e.g. the “swastika rangoli” picture below).

The swastika is an ancient symbol that has been found worldwide, but it is especially common in India. Its name comes the Sanskrit word svasti (sv = well; Asti = is), meaning good fortune, luck and well-being. This original meaning of the swastika is a far cry from Western associations of the symbol, which are largely negative.

The swastika is most commonly used as a charm to bring good fortune (in which case the arms are bent clockwise), but it has a variety of religious meanings as well, which are described below.

The swastika is an important Hindu symbol. It is traced with the finger with sindoor on the head or body during Hindu religious rites and on doors on festival days – notably on diwali, or deepavalli. It is painted on many, if not most, three-wheel auto-rikshas and trucks. In all these uses it is a lucky charm protecting from evil and attracting good.

It is also said to represent God (the Brahman) in his universal manifestation, and energy (Shakti). It represents the four directions of the world (the four faces of Brahma). It also represents the Purushartha: Dharma (natural order), Artha (wealth), Kama (desire), and Moksha (liberation).

Among the Hindus of Bengal, it is common to see the name “swastika” (Bengali: স্বস্তিক shostik) applied to a slightly different symbol, which has the same significance as the common swastika, that looks like a stick figure of a human being.[38] Right-facing swastika in the decorative Hindu form is used to evoke the Shakti.

What does the symbol of Aum mean?

Om (or Auṃ, Sanskrit: ॐ) is a sacred sound and a spiritual icon in Indian religions. It is also a mantra in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

Aum is one of the most auspicious symbols of Hinduism. ‘Aum’ is also a sound, composed of three syllables – ‘A’, ‘U’ and ‘M’. It is the primordial sound of creation from which all other sounds are said to originate. It is also one of the most auspicious mantras in Hinduism, and is often chanted at the beginning and end of prayers as well as in meditation.

Om is part of the iconography found in ancient and medieval era manuscripts, temples, monasteries and spiritual retreats in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The symbol has a spiritual meaning in all Indian dharmas, but the meaning and connotations of Om vary between the diverse schools within and across the various traditions.

In Hinduism, Om is one of the most important spiritual symbols (pratima). It refers to Atman (soul, self within) and Brahman (ultimate reality, entirety of the universe, truth, divine, supreme spirit, cosmic principles, knowledge). The syllable is often found at the beginning and the end of chapters in the Vedas, the Upanishads, and other Hindu texts. It is a sacred spiritual incantation made before and during the recitation of spiritual texts, during puja and private prayers, in ceremonies of rites of passages (sanskara) such as weddings, and sometimes during meditative and spiritual activities such as Yoga.

The syllable is also referred to as omkara (ओंकार, oṃkāra), aumkara (औंकार, auṃkāra), and pranava (प्रणव, praṇava).

The syllable “Om” is described with various meanings in the Vedas and different early Upanishads. The meanings include “the sacred sound, the Yes!, the Vedas, the Udgitha (song of the universe), the infinite, the all encompassing, the whole world, the truth, the ultimate reality, the finest essence, the cause of the Universe, the essence of life, the Brahman, the Atman, the vehicle of deepest knowledge, and Self-knowledge”.

What is ahimsa?

Ahinsa is a term meaning ‘not to kill’ and ‘compassion’. The word is derived from the Sanskrit root hiṃs – to strike; hiṃsā is injury or harm, a-hiṃsā is the opposite of this, i.e. cause no injury, do no harm. Ahimsa is also referred to as nonviolence, and it applies to all living beings – including all animals – according to many Indian religions.

Ahimsa is one of the cardinal virtues and an important tenet of 3 major religions (Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism). Ahimsa is a multidimensional concept, inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt one. Ahimsa has also been related to the notion that any violence has karmic consequences. While ancient scholars of Hinduism pioneered and over time perfected the principles of Ahimsa, the concept reached an extraordinary status in the ethical philosophy of Jainism. Most popularly, Mahatma Gandhi strongly believed in the principle of ahimsa.

Ahimsa’s precept of ’cause no injury’ includes one’s deeds, words, and thoughts. Classical literature of Hinduism such as Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well as modern scholars debate principles of Ahimsa when one is faced with war and situations requiring self-defense. The historic literature from India and modern discussions has contributed to theories of Just War, and theories of appropriate self-defense.

Ahimsa is the principle of non-violence (or non-injury) which discourages not only harmful actions but also abusive words and aggressive thoughts. Underlying this principle is a profound respect for all life and the belief that God permeates all beings, including plants and animals. This principle is the basis for a compassionate lifestyle, which includes a vegetarian diet.

The Hindu espousal of ahimsa, however, does not imply absolute pacifism. In certain cases where it is one’s duty to protect one and others, self-defence is a legitimate practice.

What is reincarnation?

Reincarnation – also called transmigration – is when, upon death of one physical body, the immortal soul is ‘reborn’ in (i.e. re-enters) the body of another life-form. This cyclic process of birth, death and rebirth continues until the soul eradicates its ignorance and can be granted moksha (ultimate liberation).

Reincarnation is the religious or philosophical concept that the soul or spirit, after biological death, can begin a new life in a new body. This doctrine is a central tenet of the Hindu religion. It is also a common belief of various ancient and modern religions such as Spiritism, Theosophy, and Eckankar, and is found as well in many tribal societies around the world, in places such as East Asia, Siberia, South America, and Australia.

Although the majority of sects within the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do not believe that individuals reincarnate, particular groups within these religions do refer to reincarnation; these groups include the mainstream historical and contemporary followers of Kabbalah, the Cathars, the Druze and the Rosicrucians. The historical relations between these sects and the beliefs about reincarnation that were characteristic of Neoplatonism, Orphism, Hermeticism, Manicheanism and Gnosticism of the Roman era, as well as the Indian religions, has been the subject of recent scholarly research.

In recent decades, many Europeans and North Americans have developed an interest in reincarnation.Contemporary films, books, and popular songs frequently mention reincarnation.

What is karma?

Karma is the universal, unbiased and inescapable concept of ‘cause and effect’. It links each person to his or her actions and their corresponding fruits via God. Importantly, Hindus believe that God is the granter of the fruits of one’s deeds (whether good or bad), and so karma is not merely a mechanical law of action and reaction but a divinely ordered system which is infinitely fair. This reconciles the ideas of free will and fate.

Karma means action, work or deed; it also refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect). Good intent and good deed contribute to good karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deed contribute to bad karma and future suffering. Karma is closely associated with the idea of rebirth in many schools of Asian religions. In these schools, karma in the present affects one’s future in the current life, as well as the nature and quality of future lives – one’s saṃsāra.

With origins in ancient India, karma is a key concept in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Taoism.

Karma is the executed “deed”, “work”, “action”, or “act”, and it is also the “object”, the “intent”. Halbfass explains karma (Karman) by contrasting it with another Sanskrit word kriya. The word kriya is the activity along with the steps and effort in action, while karma is (1) the executed action as a consequence of that activity, as well as (2) the intention of the actor behind an executed action or a planned action (described by some scholars as metaphysical residue left in the actor). A good action creates good karma, as does good intent. A bad action creates bad karma, as does bad intent.

Karma also refers to a conceptual principle that originated in India, often descriptively called the principle of karma, sometimes as the karma theory or the law of karma. In the context of theory, karma is complex and difficult to define. Different schools of Indologists derive different definitions for the karma concept from ancient Indian texts; their definition is some combination of (1) causality that may be ethical or non-ethical; (2) ethicization, that is good or bad actions have consequences; and (3) rebirth. Other Indologists include in the definition of karma theory as that which explains the present circumstances of an individual with reference to his or her actions in past. These actions may be those in a person’s current life, or, in some schools of Indian traditions, possibly actions in their past lives; furthermore, the consequences may result in current life, or a person’s future lives. The law of karma operates independent of any deity or any process of divine judgment.

The difficulty in arriving at a definition of karma arises because of the diversity of views among the schools of Hinduism; some, for example, consider karma and rebirth linked and simultaneously essential, some consider karma but not rebirth essential, and a few discuss and conclude karma and rebirth to be flawed fiction. Buddhism and Jainism have their karma precepts. Karma thus has not one, rather multiple definitions and different meanings. It is a concept whose meaning, importance and scope varies between Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and other traditions that originated in India, and various schools in each of these traditions. O’Flaherty claims that, furthermore, there is an ongoing debate regarding whether karma is a theory, a model, a paradigm, a metaphor, or a metaphysical stance.

Karma theory as a concept, across different Indian religious traditions, shares certain common themes: causality, ethicization and rebirth.

 

What is the atma?

The Atma, otherwise known as one’s soul, is the essence and life-force of an individual. It – Hindus believe the Atma is neither male nor female – is distinct from one’s physical body and senses, and even one’s thoughts and feelings. Unlike the body, the soul is immortal and unchanging. It can take on a body of various forms (like wearing different clothes) as it passes through countless lives. The ultimate goal for each soul is to be liberated from this perpetual cycle of births and deaths and to earn an eternal place in God’s transcendental abode.

Atma means the self or the soul. This is what we really are—the spiritual spark inside our body—as distinct from what we mistakenly think we are—our body and mind. Generally we think of ourselves in terms of the various labels we’ve had pinned on us—American, English, Christian, Hindu, white, black, liberal, conservative, father, mother, Jones, Smith, man, woman, or whatever. But these are only temporary tags. Time unpins them and replaces them with new ones. After all, the label is different from the merchandise.

Therefore, although Atma sometimes refers to one’s temporary body, mind, or intelligence, the Atma is ultimately the eternal consciousness (the spirit, or soul) that is present within the body of every living being. This Atma—higher than the senses, the mind, and even the intelligence—is most mysterious and subtle.