What is hinduism?

By editor - 8.5 2020

A Christian, visiting India from the West, would surely think it strange if he or she was told by an Indian, "You are a follower of Jordanism."

Christianity, along with Judaism and Islam, hails from the region of the Jordan river. But it is unlikely that Christians, Jews and Muslims would like their faiths being lumped together under such an artificial, unscriptural category as "Jordanism."

Yet just this sort of thing was done to the followers of the indigenous religions of India. The word "Hinduism" is derived from the name of a river in present-day Pakistan, the Sindhu (also known as the Indus). Beginning around 1000 AD, invading armies from the Middle East called the place beyond the Sindhu "Hindustan" and the people who lived there the "Hindus" - due to the invaders' language, the "s" was changed to "h". In the centuries that followed, the term "Hindu" became acceptable even to the Indians themselves as a general designation for their different religious traditions. But since the word Hindu is not found in the scriptures upon which these traditions are based, it is quite inappropriate. The proper term is "Vedic dharma" or "sanatana dharma".

Hare Krishna movement is a part of Vedic VaiSNava tradition and presents teachings of the Vedas in its original, pure form, which was preserved due to a succession of masters and disciples (parampara). This teaching has therefore proved and proves that it can change lives of thousands in positive way.

Q: Isn't preaching and conversion contrary to Hindu ideals?

A: This idea comes from the ancient times when vaidika, or sanatana dharma was present almost around the whole world. Thus there was no preaching necessary. Buddhism, which is derived from the Vedic tradition, was the first tradition spread by preaching. A kind of Vedic renaissance followed, brought about by preaching of Adi Sankara, RAmAnuja, Madhva, and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

A: (Brahma das): The greatest Hindus of all times both preached and converted. Those remembered as noteworthy in Hinduism or any of the other religions are the preachers. They are the great thinkers and saints of conviction who shake up the social dynamic and move people from religious complacency into theistic action, social revolution and personal change.

In Hindu mysticism Tukarama, Mirabai, Tulsidas etc. were preachers who inspired people to social and spiritual change. Tukarama preached his version of Hinduism based on KRSNa kirtana while lashing out against brahminical tyranny, Mirabai became a legend by rejecting her dharma as a princess and preaching love of KRSNa through songs and poems. Later Rammohan Roy, Swami Dayananda, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, and Gandhi were a few of the preachers that affected social and spiritual change. In modern times Prabhupada and a host of others Swamis came to the west and shook up the social paradigm by preaching and converting people to Hinduism.

The great Vedanta acharyas were all preachers who converted people. Adi Sankaracharya was a preacher who converted half of India from Buddhism to his conception of Vedic non-dualism. RAmAnuja was a preacher who converted much of South India from strict non-dualism to his version of qualified non-dualism. Madhva was a preacher who converted people from both other philosophies to his version of theistic dualism and Caitanya MahAprabhu amalgamated dualism and non-dualism with his conception of achintya bhedabeda and preached the inconceivable simultaneous oneness and difference between God and man. Did all these people act “contrary to Hindu ideals?


[The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance group's website www.religioustolerance.com has a nice article on Hinduism. This is a comment on it.]

Dear friends,

Please accept my regards. Thanks for updating the ISKCON links on your Hare Krishna page.

I have read many of your articles and found them very helpful. Here I'd like to offer some comments on your Hinduism article.

Re the Aryan invasion: this view comes from the first Indologists but recently it is becoming more and more doubted in the academic circles. It's also not supported by the tradition itself (the scriptures).

To the two main divisions of Hinduism one could add Shaktism, the worship of goddess Durga.

Samsara has a meaning - to make us understand the omnipresence of suffering in this world so we start the search for liberation (vinA vipatteH keSaJcij jJAnam bhavati bhU-tale - Without first facing calamity no one gains wisdom in this world. Brahmavaivarta Purana 4.23.141). I'd skip the word "meaningless."

Puja means worship through ceremonial offering of various articles (lamp, water, incense etc.) to the Deity (image). The particular god/goddess is called into the image during its installation ceremony. "Ceremonial dinner" is offered to the Deity before puja. When the Deity accepts the food it becomes spiritualized (prasadam, lit. "mercy").

Definition of Hinduism was accepted by the Supreme Court of India:

"Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and the realisation of the truth that the number of Gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of the Hindu religion." B.G. Tilak's definition of what makes one a basic Hindu, as quoted by India's Supreme Court. On July 2, 1995, the Court referred to it as an "adequate and satisfactory formula." (from Hinduism Today)

On these three points one can illustrate the difference between Hinduism and VaiSNavism: VaiSNavas accept the Vedas but accept "many paths" only partially - different scriptural paths are means leading to the end (liberation) but the path of devotion and service (bhakti) is both the means and the end. It continues forever, even after liberation. There is no merging into the brahmajyoti (light of Brahman). Rather, ViSNu/KRSNa is the ultimate source of brahmajyoti.

Krsna is eternal and He has a body and He has tejas (light). Within that light the eternal form of Krsna is existing. This is the opinion of the Vaisnavas.
All the Yogis meditate with devotion on that Light only. If they persist with devotion, they can in time become Vaisnavas.
The Vaisnavas meditate the form within that Light. O Narada! If the body does not exist, how the devotional service of a servant becomes possible?
O Narada! The opinion of the Vaisnavas is by far the best. In this universe there is no better jnani than the Vaisnavas. (Narada Pancaratra 2.7.34-37)

Also in Narada Pancaratra 3.14.27 mahAnanda-pada-jyoti ("the light of great bliss coming from His feet") is worshiped among the attendants of Krsna.

Therefore He is the one to be worshiped, and "many gods" are to be revered as His empowered representatives only, not to be worshiped as independent of Him. This is taught by the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic scriptures. There could be other points added but in general the article is pretty good.

Hope this helps. Keep up the good work.

Vedic traditions

There are four main groups or practices in Vedic tradition: VaiSNavism, Smartaism, Shaivism, Shaktism

1. VaiSNavism (the main topic of this website)

OM Namo Narayanaya, Hare Krsna

Worship of ViSNu, RAma and KRSNa and His various avatAras in a profoundly devotional form is the basis of VaiSNavism. Intense devotion to a personal Supreme God, ViSNu through bhakti yoga is the path to perfection. There are four main VaiSNava traditions - ViziSTadvaita, Dvaita (includes Acintya-bheda-abheda), Suddha- advaita, and Dvaitadvaita. VaiSNavism is followed by a majority of people in India.

2. Smartaism

OM Namah Sivaya

Smartaism is an ancient brahminical tradition reformed by Adi Shankara. The word smarta means one who follows the smriti or dharma sastras. Smartas follow the smriti literature, particularly dharma shastra, PurANas and the Itihasas. They worship five forms of God and also revere the Vedas and the Agamas. They worship Shiva, ViSNu, Ganapati, Surya and Shakti and this system is called pancayatana (pancopasana). Kumara was further added by Shankara's reform. Today they are synonymous with Adi Shankara's monistic, meditative and philosophical theories. The five group system of smartas is there because each deity can be chosen as one's own personal and preferred deity (ishta devata). Smartas believe in attainment of salvation mainly through jnana yoga. However other yogas like bhakti yoga, karma yoga and raja yoga are recognized as leading to enlightenment. Jnana yoga involves the study of scriptures (shravana), reflection (manana) and sustained meditation (dhyana).

3. Shaiva

OM Namah Sivaya

There are six main sub-groups of Shaivism:

Zaiva siddhanta


Kashmir Shaiva or Trika (tantric)

Vira Saiva or Lingayata

Siddha Saiva

Siva Advaita

A system of temple mysticism and an enlightened view of man's place in the universe as well as siddha yoga form the basis of Shaivism. The final goal of Shaivism is realizing one's identity with Shiva in perfect union and non-differentiation (monism, kevaladvaita) based on advaita philosophy.

The path for Shaivites is divided into four progressive stages of belief and practice called Charya, Kriya, Yoga and Jnana. Union with Shiva comes through the grace of the satguru and culminates in the soul's maturity in the state of jnana, or wisdom. Shaivism values both bhakti and yoga sadhana.

4. Shakta

OM CandikAyai NamaH

The worship of Mother Goddess in her fierce or gentle form is the basis of Shaktism. Shaktas use mantra, tantra, yantra, yoga and pUja to invoke cosmic forces and awaken the kuNDalini power. They consider the Goddess a manifested form of the deity whose worship leads to the masculine unmanifested form or Ziva, thus attaining salvation.

There are four different expressions:





The devotional Shaktas make pUja rites to invoke Sri Cakra Yantra to establish intimacy with the Goddess. The shamanic Shaktas - usually with the help of a medium - use magic, tantra and trance as well as fire walking and animal sacrifice for healing, fertility and power. The Shakta yogis seek to awaken the sleeping Goddess KuNDalini and unite her with Lord Ziva in their sahasrAra cakra. The universalists follow the reformed Vedantic teachings and traditions.

Vaisnavism - historical and philosophical roots

Vedic civilization is recognized by scholars from all over the world as one of the most important periods of human history. It left a cultural heritage of unlimited physical, metaphysical and spiritual value in form of science, art and religion.

This civilization has been from its beginning based on spiritual wisdom, delivered personally by God, KRSNa, at the creation of the universe, to the first created being and secondary creator, Brahma. He gave this wisdom to his son Narada and this celebrated sage turned it over - among other of his disciples - to Vyasadeva living in a holy place of Badrinath, high up in the Himalayas.

From the creation of the universe until the beginning of Kali-yuga, the present age, lasting already about 5,000 years, this science of spiritual realization and development of God (KRSNa) consciousness, was a public property of the whole humanity and it was transferred only orally.

Before the advent of Kali-yuga the great sage Vyasadeva had a divine vision of catastrophic future of humankind in the coming age of hypocrisy and strife. To save and preserve this transcendental knowledge he therefore, for the first time in history, put it into a written form. This knowledge is still transferred from a teacher to a disciple within the four main VaiSNava lineages bearing the names of their originators: Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya sampradAya, Lakshmi or Sri sampradAya, Rudra sampradAya and Sanaka Kumara sampradAya. Teachings of these schools follow about three hundred fifty millions of adherents, all of whom worship God as Lord ViSNu or KRSNa by their devotional service (bhakti).

In accordance with scriptures and testimony of unlimited sages and liberated persons, the Supreme Lord in this age of Kali descends to the material world in the form of KRSNa's pure devotee named Sri Caitanya MahAprabhu, the son of mother Sacidevi. He influenced the then society in an unique way by rejecting the rigid, artificially created caste system and enabling everyone an access, in a supremely easy and effective way, to the pure love for KRSNa. In this way he inaugurated a new, golden age of the next ten thousand years, exceptionally suitable for the spiritual advancement of the whole planet, which will be known as Caitanya Era.

Movement of Sri Caitanya MahAprabhu in sixteenth century crowned the renaissance of bhakti started by Sri RAmAnujacarya of Sri sampradAya in twelfth century. Sri Caitanya stressed the importance of glorification of God by singing of His holy names, especially the congregational one, so-called sankirtana. His influence spread around India, mainly in its North and North-East, and His followers, especially Six Gosvamis of Vrndavan, established the majority of temples and pilgrimage sites in the Mathura-Vrndavan area.

Philosophy of Sri Caitanya MahAprabhu and His first disciples says that everything in this world is different from God and at the same time identical with Him, which enables the inconceivable (acintya) power of God. It allows Him to be at the same time immanent (all-pervading) and transcendent (remaining outside of this world). This philosophy is therefore called acintya-bheda-abheda-tattva. Sri KRSNa, together with His amorous partner Radha, is glorified as Divine Lover, surrounded by confidential friends, unlimited number of devotees who all together eternally enjoy in the spiritual world, immersed in mutual love.

Universal religion of bhakti

As individual living beings, who are actually eternal spiritual sparks of God, we are now incased in the material power of KRSNa, which consists of the gross material energy and the subtle material energy - the psychic energy, which consists of mind, intelligence, and false ego. This material energy of God comprises this universe including the minds of the individual living beings, who try to exploit the universe. The material world - the power of God's energy - is a place of suffering and it is temporary. The fact that everything is temporary terminates whatever pleasure we might feel in this world.

Beyond God's material energy - which is like a prison house for the conditioned living beings, who have come here to enjoy separately from KRSNa, trying to imitate Him as the central enjoyer - we find His spiritual energy, in which all living beings serve God in eternity, knowledge and bliss. God's material power is in direct contrast to His spiritual power.

Whereas KRSNa's material power consists of non-endurance, ignorance and misery, His spiritual power consists of eternity, knowledge and bliss. Since we as living beings - spiritual sparks of consciousness - belong to KRSNa's spiritual power of sat-chit-ananda - eternity, awareness and bliss - we can actually only find satisfaction in KRSNa's spiritual power. Under the influence of the material power, as we are now, we will always end up miserable and frustrated, for whatever pleasure or enjoyment we might contact through our bodies and minds is going to be replaced by suffering when it ends.

Thus the Vedas state that the bottom line of this world is that it is a temporary place full of suffering.

According to the Vedas, which is the most original, vast and comprehensive body of knowledge on the planet, KRSNa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Original Source of everything. KRSNa promises us that by chanting His name, in the form of the Hare KRSNa mantra, we can break free of our illusory attachment to the material world and experience a higher pleasure, by being reinstated in our original spiritual positions of never-ending total blissful awareness.

As for other ways of seeing KRSNa, we consider other religions and all other deities of different cultures as manifestations of KRSNa's teachings to the human society. Hence, according to cultural distinctions, God may be known by various names, and reveal Himself through various prophets, and may thus be conceived of in various ways by the different people of the world. The measure of revelation varies though as per time, place and circumstances/audience.

The Vedas distinguish between the eternal religion (nitya dharma) of man and his temporary religion (naimittika dharma), that he may adopt according to the particular civilization in which he is raised. The temporary religion may change, like one may change from Christian to Muslim or convert to Hinduism, or call oneself a Buddhist or a democrat or whatever, but the eternal religion of the living entity, which is service to God, can never change.

Thus it is stated that the eternal occupation of the living entity is to serve KRSNa. All other occupations are temporary and can therefore not satisfy us fully. Of course you can serve God in whichever religion He manifests through, but very few religions teach pure unmotivated service to God, as many of them are selfishly motivated.

What ISKCON offers is to become connected with a bonafide disciplic succession, which teaches detailed knowledge of God, and how to develop love for Him. And this love is what everyone is looking for.

Now we search for love in the material world, but there is no love here, and even if there were, it turns to sorrow when our loved ones leave us. Therefore the Vedas tell us to not search for love in the material world, for it is a waste of time, but to search love for KRSNa. When we develop that love, by the purificatory process of KRSNa consciousness, we will finally be fully satisfied.