Historical Background

Hinduism began around 1500 BC as new people groups mingled with the people already living on the subcontinent of India. Over the centuries their religious beliefs combined and changed, forming what is known today as Hinduism.

This new religion of worshipping many gods (polytheism) and the forces of nature was at first very simple in its rituals and practice. As time passed Hinduism grew and changed, becoming increasingly complex. It is reported that there are approximately 330 million gods that can be worshipped in Hinduism.

Today, there are nearly one billion Hindus, living primarily in India. Hindus also make up large portions of the populations of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji, Mauritius, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Surinam, Trinidad and the Indonesian island of Bali.

Hindu Literature

The poetry, hymns, prayers and mythical legends of early Hinduism were written down and became known as the Vedas, Brahamanns, Aranyakas and the Upanishads. Together these writings are known as the Vedic literature.

The Upanishads developed the idea that behind all the multitudinous gods there is one force, and “Ultimate Reality”. This new Ultimate Reality was called “Brahman”. Brahman is an impersonal, monistic (“all is one”) force that takes no personal interest in any individual person.

With the passage of time, Hinduism developed the concept of Ultimate Reality toward a more personal notion of Brahman, who manifested i n three forms: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Protector/ Preserver, and Siva the Destroyer.

Beliefs Of Hinduism

Hinduism teaches that the universe is not real, and thus it cannot be the creation of a loving and personal God. For Hindus, the universe exists only in the mind of Brahman, the Hindu god.

According to Hinduism, the universe is in an endless cycle of destruction and recreation that occurs approximately every 4 billion years. Humanity must play its part in this endless “cycle” by constantly seeking to become “one” with Brahman.

To the Hindu, each human is part of the divine. They use the example that just as the air inside a jar is the same as the air outside a jar, so the “self ‘ (air in the jar) is part of the Divine essence (air outside the jar). Therefore, the goal of enlightenment is to lose the individual self and its separate identity into the Universal Self of Brahman.

Hinduism is not a religion with a single belief system. It is comprised of many beliefs and ideas that interact with and blend into each other. A person could be considered a staunch Hindu and believe in one god, many gods, or no god at all. This is not considered contradictory by a Hindu because all reality is seen as “one”.

Three other religions have developed out of Hinduism: Jainism, Buddhism (to be discussed in the following section) and Sikhism (which combines elements of Hinduism and Islam).

To the Hindu, mankind’s primary problem is his unawareness of his “divine nature”. Because of this unawareness, people become attached to earthly desires and individual needs.

Therefore, according to Hinduism, mankind must go through innumerable cycles of birth, death and rebirth in order to be purified of these desires and there­by attain to a loss of self in oneness with Brahman.

Two Major Beliefs

All Hindus essentially agree on two major facets of Hinduism: reincarnation and “karma”.