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Truth
how Hindus view it
 
   
 
You've posed a wonderful question! I would start by stating that faith must be clearly defined for each of us. Personally, faith is simply knowledge which my soul already contains - knowledge of the interconnectedness of my soul and the Higher Power, or God. My journey in this life is to uncover, and then nurture this faith/knowledge.  

I believe there are many, many paths which lead to this discovery of faith and its subsequent nurturing. I find it disturbing that many people I come in contact with believe there is only one true religion for everyone. My intuition, emotions, and intellect all tell me this cannot be true. If God exists, then suffice it to say we all have equal rights to find God. Our cultures, languages, countries, personalities, physical traits, etc. are so varied that it only makes sense that there would be many different ways to find our faith & reach God. 

I have read about various paths and listened to my intuition, emotions, and intellect as to to which path "feels" right for me in this life. I have found that Paramahansa Yogananda through Self-Realization Fellowship has touched me deeply. I am pursuing this path through meditation, study & retreats. 

Yogananda has written, "True religion lies in conscious communion with God."  

I hope my correspondence helps in some small way. Please feel free to e-mail me with your thoughts. 

May you find your way home, 
Richard Landau 

++++++++  

Hi Neves, 

Instead of one true faith its better to look for the one true thing in 
this relative universe. 

Ultimately it is not a question of whether christianity is true or 
Hinduism or any ism is true but rather what helps you to live a more 
content, peaceful life. What will help you become a better human and 
lead you to the truth. 

Experience is the best indicator of that usually. 

-Bob 

++++++++ 

Hello, Victor. 

The simple answer to your question is:  They don't.  Hinduism is not a "religion", but a general term used to refer to a few thousand religions.  Each of these believes that the path they have chosen is the best for spiritual development. 

However, in general, Hindus believe in an ultimate truth.  But unlike Christians or Muslims, they believe that this truth can be revealed to any person who takes the proper actions.  The differences between the Hindu religions is in the definition and efficacy of the various paths to spiritual evolution.  Each believes that they have the best solution, but each is willing to accept that others may find a path which is better suited to their own personal circumstances. 

- Pawan Varma 

++++++++ 

Hinduism is NOT  the one true faith ! 

+++++++++ 

Hi, 

Your question is very confusing. Are you trying to determine how one can arrive at the conviction that Hinduism is the one true faith(possibly to the exclusion of the other faiths), or are you trying to determine what is the true nature of the so called Hindu faith ? 

First of all, the term Hinduism does not apply to a single philosophy or theology. Nor is it an Indian term in its truest sense (its roots are in Geography, not religion or philosophy). The term is applied very arbitrarily, and many attempts to define it with reasonable accuracy, even by the Government of India, have failed (as you could have expected of GOI). Nor are the philosophers and theologians in any kind of agreement. The reason is simple. Almost no Indian school of thought, and especially those called by the label of Hinduism, are exclusivistic. They do not assert that other viewpoints will not lead to TRUTH or REALIZATION (SAT), which essentially is the central objective of almost all the prominent Indian schools of thought. This underlying basis of existence or Truth or Reality is  not something which can be talked about or described in words, but can be realized intuitively (according to most of these schools). The idea is best expressed by quoting Rig Veda, where it is stated that 'there is but one REALITY, though the wise speak of it in many ways'. Hence to most Indian thought, the idea that here is but one TRUE religion or philosophy is essentially invalid. Any attempt at realising the SAT is, according to these schools a valid attempt, though with differing efficacy. So if your question pertains to how one can arrive at the conviction that Hinduism is the ONE TRUE aith, the answer of most of the schools of thought in Hinduism will be that there is no such thing as ONE TRUE faith, and that any attempts by man to comprehend the underlying basis of existence and its purpose are valid ones. Most Indian schools of thought are more concerned that EALITY might be improperly represented by exclusion, and more often tend to be inclusive. 
 

As to what is the true nature of Hinduism, I can only wish you the very best of luck, for you are dealing with perhaps the oldest and most complex set of theologies here. Because the Indian mind of the past tended to be inclusive, there is a phenomenal variety of theologies, many often contradicting others. The ancient Indian mind was open to new ideas and debates. There are theistic thelogies, and atheistic theologies in Hinduism and in Indian thought in general. There are theologies of DIFFERENCE, of IDENTITY-IN-DIFFERENCE, and of IDENTITY. There are theologies of DUALITY, and of MONISM. And last but not the least, there are schools of thought which support abiogenesis and evolution (SAMKHYA for instance). Ancient Indian philosophy has them all, and the plethora of ideas make the true definition of the essential nature of Hinduism virtually impossible. The common perception of Hindusim is as follows : 

        - it is a religion  
        - it has many Gods and Goddesses 
        - it encourages Cow worship 
        - it prohibits meat consumption 
        - Vedas are the sacred books of Hindus, like the OT is to Jews,  
         The  NT  to  Christians, and Koran is to Muslims 
        - it needs faith, in the sense that Christians need to believe in the 
          exclusive divinity of Christ, or the Moslems in Koran as the 
          last, the most definitive and inviolate word of Allah the God,  
          or Jews in the Covenant. 

None of these are true. I can only recommend some books to you if you wish to pursue this subject further. I liked the following : 

        - Indian Philosophy by S.Radhakrishnan (Oxford Univ. Press) 
        - The Hindu Quest of Perfection in Man by Troy Wilson Organ  
           (Ohio Univ. Press) 
        - Buddhism by Rhys-Davids 

I have deliberately included Buddhism because though the world tends to think of it as a religion apart from Hinduism, it is just as much an Indian school of thought as Advaita, or Dvaita, or Samkhya, or Yoga, or Jainism are. It owes as much to the many Indian ideas and ideals as any thought that ever flowered in Indian did, and is crucial to understanding the development of Indian Philosophy. 

++++++ 

The brahman is infinite and non measurable and consequently there are a countless number of ways to perceive this ultimate reality. In Hinduism there is no such thing as just one single faith. There are multiple paths and ways that can be taken to attain the goal of salvation. Each path may be different from the other but that does not mean that one is superior or inferior to the other, just like different rivers that all empty into the same ocean. 

++++++++ 

How does one learn that Hinduism is the one true faith? 

You don't.  i.e.  Hinduism is not the one true faith, accordingto most Hindus.  There are many paths to God, just as Hwy 80 is not the only way to New York from San Francisco. However, there is a caveat.  Although there are many right ways, there are many wrong ways too.   If your religion tells you that you will be saved if and only if you fanatically believe and obey someone, that is a wrong way.  If you remain selfish, unloving, judgemental, but believe in God, no dice.  If you are loving, non-egotistical, and have discarded sensory pleasures, but don't believe in God, that is fine.  etc. etc. 

Vallath Nandakumar 

++++++++ 

How does one learn that yours is the one true faith? 

One does not, any more than one learns that hares have horns.  The 
concept of "one true faith" is, I believe, a fairly recent concept  
unique to certain sects of newer religions such as Christianity.  While 
some Vaishnava schools are less liberal than others in their acceptance 
of the degree of truth in different belief systems, all accept Lord 
Krishna's statement in the Bhagavad-gita: ye yathA mAM prapadyante tAMs tathaiva bhajAmy aham - as each person surrenders to Me, I reciprocate accordingly.  mama vartmAnuvartante manuSyAH pArtha sarvazaH - Men follow My path in all respects, O Arjuna.  Thus belief systems are not categorized "True / False" but on the degree of surrender to God in a tangible way. 

Also, the concept of "faith" as a starting point for a belief system is 
not entirely applicable here.  While different Vaishnava schools vary in 
their reliance on zraddhA or faith at different stages of development, 
in the beginning there is very little variation.  Fundamental truths 
such as the identity of the self, the nature of the world, the nature of 
God, etc. are understood through scripture with logic. 

You might see the SRV FAQ and other FAQs specific to different schools 
of Vaishnavism at http://www.pobox.com/~srv/ 
 
++++++++ 

Overwiew of Hindu Scriptures 

1.      There are four Vedas, Rg Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The Vedas are Sruti, i.e., the original revealed scriptures. They are the records of the experiences of Rishis (sages). Orthodox Hindus believe that the Vedas are eternal. Their purpose is to help liberate you from the birth-death cycle of Samsara.  
 

2.      The vedas are conventionally divided into two portions: Karma Kanda (work portion) and Jnana Kanda (Wisdom portion). The Karma Kanda (Samhitas, Aranyakas and Brahmanas) deals with ceremonies and rituals. The Jnana Kanda contains the wisdom of the Vedas. The Upanishads form the Jnana Kanda. The  Upanishads form the deepest core of the Vedas and are the source, inspiration and authority of nearly all systems of philosophy in Sanatan Dharma. They discuss the nature of Ultimate Reality, Brahman, and Its relation with the Universe (Jagat) and the sentient Beings (Jiv-Atman). Those who do not accept their authority like the Buddhists and Jains are called Nastikas (heterodox). The Upanishads contain many strands of thought and have been interpreted in a variety of ways which have given rise to most of the subsequent schools of thought in Sanatan Dharma. There are many Upanishads. The 11 classical Upanishads are those commented on by Sri Sankara: Katha, Kena,Isa, Mundaka, Svetasvatara, Prasna, Mandukya, Aiterya, Brihadaranyaka, Tattiriya and Chandogya. 

3.      The Vedas (particularly the Upanishads), Bhagavad Gita and Badarayana's Vedanta or Brahma Sutras form the irreducible set of scriptures for the vast majority of Hindus today. I am including the Vedanta Sutras as Vedanta is the most popular philosophical system today.  If you understand these 3 (prasthanatraya or triple canon), then you can understand the fundamental principles underlying Sanatan Dharma. All the Hindu scriptures are holy and contain in some form the principles described in the triple canon.  It is true, however, that Bhagavad Gita has become popular for the following reasons:  (a) The Upanishads contain all the ideas but they are not systematically presented. They are also written in very terse language and are difficult to understand.  (b) The Gita spells out in great details the ideas of the Upanishads.  (c) The Gita also teaches the Jivas how to live his or her life to, achieve the Upanishadic goal of realizing God. This is achieved through the practice of four Yogas: Karma, Bhakti, Jnana and Raj Yoga. Thus the Gita is a "practical" scripture. 

4.      Originally there was only one Puran. The Chandogya Upanishad (3.4.1) refers to "Itihaspurana". Unfortunately we only have access to fragments of that Purana. There are 18 Puranas and 18 Upapuranas. The Puranas elaborate on the creation and dissolution of the relative universe and on "heavens" and "hells" only briefly mentioned in the Upanishads. They also contain traditional history and mythology. The Bhagavat Puran rivals the triple canon in popularity for some sampradayas. The Bhagavat is certainly a classic of the Bhakti tradition. 

VEDANTA 

Before discussing Vedanta I will digress a little as otherwise you  will not understand the place of Vedanta in Sanatan Dharma. Based on the Vedas six schools of thought (Darshanas=literally points of view) emerged:Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Purba Mimansha and Uttar Mimansha(Vedanta). They all claim to systematically present the ideas tersely presented in the Vedas. 

The Nyaya School founded by Gotama has its main goal as liberation and the complete cessation of all pain and suffering. The main focus of this school, however, is logic and epistemology. It does not have many followers today. The Vaiseshika School of Kanada is allied to the Nyaya school and is now of little importance. 

Purba Mimansha of Jaimini lays stress upon work, which chiefly denotes the performance of ceremonial rites. The word Purba means the earlier part of the Vedas (Karma Kanda=work portion). The Vedas are divided into Rig Veda,  Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. Each one of these Vedas is further subdivided into Karma Kanda and Jnana Kanda (Wisdom portion). The Samhitas, Aranyakas and Brahmanas comprise the Karma Kanda and govern the Hindu ceremonial rites. The Jnana Kanda consists of the Upanishads and are the subject matter of Vedanta. The aim of the ceremonial rites is to gradually purify the mind. This school is also of little importance now. 

Samkhya School was founded by Kapila. Hinduism stresses that you should first read the scriptures with the help of a Guru (sravana), subject it to rational analysis (manana) and finally meditate about it (nidhidhyasana). The philosophy of Samkhya does the second step by rational analysis of the scriptures.  Samkhya is a dualist philosophy with two Ultimate Principles, purusha (spirit) and prakriti (matter) and so there is no room for creator God. Samkhya as philosophy declares that the cause of misery arises from identifying purusha with prakriti. We are really spirits but we identify with the body. An understanding of Samkhya philospohy is essential to the understanding of Vedanta. 

Patanjali, the author of the Yoga system of philosophy gathered together the spiritual practices known to the yogis and built them in to a system. All Indian religious systems, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism accept the discipline of Yoga. Yoga philosophy is allied to Samkhya in its metaphysical concept but accepts God unlike Samkhya. Patanjali accepts that you can get spiritual enlghtenment inspite of belief or disbelief though it is easier if you have faith. Patanjali authored the Yoga Sutras and we have to include it among the scriptures. 

Vedanta the last of the six Darshanas is currently the most popular of these schools. Vedanta (Veda+anta) literally means the end of the Vedas here you will usually find the Upanishads. Badarayana (Vyasa) may be considered the founder of this school and his book Vedanta Sutra or Brahma Sutra is a basic text of this system. The Brahma Sutras give a synopsis and classification of the contents of the Upanishads. Vedanta differs from Samkhya in that it talks of One Ultimate Principle called Brahman. It is the basis of all current Hindu systems of religious thought, both dualistic and non-dualistic. This is because most people feel that Vedanta correctly represents Vedic thought. In Vedanta the Ultimate Principle when immanent is called the Atman or Self and when transcendent is called Brahman. Atman and Brahman are identical (Dvaita School disagrees) although philosophers differ about the meaning of this identity. There are now several Vedantic schools of thought which differ on the exact interpretation of the Upanishads, Gita and the Vedanta Sutras. The important schools are: (1) Advaita of Sri Sankara, (2) Vishistadvaita of Sri Ramanuja, (3) Dvaita of Sri Madhva, (4) Dvaita-Advaita of Sri Nimbarka,(5) Suddha-Advaita of Sri Vallabha, (6) Acintya-Bhedabhed of Sri Chaitanya and (7)Sri Ramakrishna's school also known as Neo-Advaita. You will find description of some of these schools in the archives. 
 

General Comments 

All scriptures subsequent to the Vedas are elaboration of basic Vedic thought. The different Darshanas are also different points of view of the Vedas. There is a wide spread consensus today that the Vedanta Darshana does capture the spirit of the Vedas. The different Vedantic schools are also different points of view about the true spirit of the Vedanta and thus Vedas. 

Outline of Hinduism 

Hindu beliefs are diverse. However, there are some basic concepts accepted by the vast majority of Hindus. These are: 

1. The major scriptures are the Vedas (specially the Upanishads), the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma Sutras. Different Hindu sects may have additional scriptures. 

2. The existence of an Ultimate Reality called BRAHMAN. What Brahman is can not really be described. All Hindu sects agree that all that can be said about Brahman is that Brahman is Satchidanand (existence-knowledge-bliss). There are, however, differences among Hindu theologians about whether this Reality is Impersonal or Personal. However, most Hindus except for athiests believe in this Reality. Sri Sankara is a believer in the Impersonal Reality. He accepts that there are Personal forms of Brahman but considers them to be inferior to the Impersonal Reality. Sri Ramanuja, Sri Madhva etc only accept the Personal form of Brahman. Sri Ramakrishna accepts both Personal and Impersonal Reality. The analogy used by Sri Ramakrishna is that of the world's oceans. The world's oceans contain both the formless, colorless water and icebergs (in Arctic and Antartic oceans). Similarly Brahman is both Personal and Impersonal and the Personal is not inferior to the Impersonal. The Personal form serves the needs of the Bhakta (devotee) while the Impersonal is for the Jnani (those who use the path of knowledge). The various Hindu gods and godesses are different Personal forms of the One Reality. Different Hindu sects worship different Personal Forms of Brahman. Thus you may consider Sri Ramanuja, Sri Madhva, Sri Chaitanya as monotheistic interpreters of Hindu scripture. Sri Sankara and Sri Ramakrishna are monistic interpreters of Hindu scripture. 

3. The vast majority of Hindus also believe that this Ultimate Reality has an individual aspect called ATMAN. It is the presence of this Atman, the immanent divinity, that makes us (jivas) conscious. There are, however, profound differences among Hindu theologians about the precise relation between Brahman and Atman. Sri Sankara argues that Atman and Brahman are the same Reality. Sri Ramanuja's position is that Atman and Brahman are different but form an indissoluble unity. The analogy is to a fruit where Brahman may be thought of as the seed and Atman as the flesh and skin of the fruit. Sri Madhva considers Atman and Brahman to be eternally different. Sri Ramakrishna considers these 3 views to be correct for different levels of evolution of jivas. When the jiva starts to think about God, he or she thinks god to be distant and then Sri Madhva's position is justified. When the jiva makes progress in realizing God and can see the Personal form of God then Sri Ramanuja's description is appropriate. When the jiva experiences the Impersonal Reality then all duality vanishes and Sri Sankara was describing this experience. 

4. Since man (jiva) is conscious due to Atman, man is potentially divine. Jivas commit sin because they are unaware of the divine Atman. This lack of awareness of the divinity within is due to Maya. Maya may be thought of as the power of the Divine. Even though a man may commit henious sin his Atman is unaffected by it. Thus most hindus do not believe in eternal heaven or hell. (Sri Madhva does believe in eternal hell - the only Hindu theologian to believe so). Upon death the jiva enters the astral world and remains there till it reincarnates in accordance with the law of Karma. The law of Karma is the law of cause and effect. It is the divine law of justice by which an individual creates his own destiny through thought, word and deed. 

5. The vast majority of Hindus believe that the ultimate goal of human life is the direct experience of God. Only then can you free yourself from the cycle of birth and death (called Samsara). There is no concept of Savior. You have to free yourself by your own effort. No savior can help you achieve God realization without your personal effort. 

6. A spiritually awakened Master (Guru) is essential for God realization. The other requirements for God realization are good conduct, purification of the mind, yoga and meditation. There may be some Hindu sects who do not accept the requirement of a Guru. 

You will get a deeper understanding of all this if you study Radhakrishnan's 2 volume book "Indian Philosophy" and Swami Prabhavananda's "The Spiritual Heritage of India" You will find these books in any Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Vedanta Centers all over the world.  
 

Hindu Gods and Godesses 

I have to give you 2 views of Hindu Gods and Godesses as Hindu philosophers have given both monotheistic interpretation (Sri Ramanuja, Sri Madhva, Sri Chaitanya) and Advaitic interpretation (Sri Sankara andSri Ramakrishna). 

Monotheistic Interpretation 

The Vaishnavas and Shaivas are the principal monothiests among hindus who worship Vishnu and Shiva as the respective supreme Godheads. An orthodox Vaishnava will consider all other Hindu Gods and Godesses as devotees of the Supreme Godhead, Vishnu. 

Monistic Interpretation 

Now I will try to describe to you the Hindu Gods and Goddesses from the monistic or Advaitic point of view: To understand the Hindu Gods and Goddesses you would have to understand the famous Rg Vedic saying --- Ekam Sat Viprah Bahudha Vadanti (Truth is One; sages call It by various names). The Hindu deities though appearing to be different and independent are really facets of the same Brahman, the Supreme Reality.You will better understand this idea if you understand the Hindu idea of God.In the Personal aspect God can appear to the devotee in any Form the devotee likes and if necessary can even incarnate among humans. When you think of God beyond space, time and causation, the Absolute aspect, then God defies description. Thus Hindu Gods are particular namarupa (name and form) of Brahman. (I must warn you here that there are differences between various Hindu schools of thought about the exact nature of Brahman .) Since Hindu Gods and Goddesses are namarupa of Brahman, there is great psychological and symbolical significance in their iconography. Since Brahman is infinite, Brahman has infinite forms. Yogis, sages and saints have actually seen these forms. Brahma, Vishnu and Siva and their consorts are the three major facets of Brahman. I am also describing the significance of some of the Hindu Gods and Godesses below. 

Durga 

Goddess Durga and actually all Goddesses are personifications of the power of Brahman. She is shown in a variety of forms. One common feature of these forms is that She is shown with a variety of arms carrying many weapons.The multiplicity of arms signifies that She represents the totality of Brahman's Power (i.e. Shakti). It is She who keeps the entire universe energized. She is shown with a lion and shown killing a demon. The demon stands for the various obstacles which prevent us from experiencing the Divine. The main obstacle is our ego which when uncontrolled gives rise to lust, greed, jealousy, anger etc. The variety of weapons conveys the idea that you need a variety of weapons in your arsenal to destroy the obstacles to experience the Divine. For example, selfishness must be killed by detachment, jealousy by desirelessness, prejudice by knowledge and ego by discrimination. The iconography also conveys the idea that if you can get Her on your side then She will help you overcome all these obstacles. The lion stands for our senses. Normally our senses take us from the Divine path through lust, greed etc. When She helps you the same senses are given Godwards turn. 

Shiva 

I will treat Shiva in His Nataraja aspect where he is showing dancing. He is shown holding a damaru (drum) and fire. The damaru signifies sound and stands for the creation principle. The fire stands for destruction. The dance indicates a continuous process of creation, preservation and destruction. His third hand is pointing at His feet and the fourth is in Abhay Mudra (gesture of protection). This signifies that anyone who takes refuge at the feet of the Lord has nothing to fear. He is shown standing on the demon of ignorance, our ego, which separates us from the Divine. 

Ganesh 

Lord Ganesh is rather difficult to describe. So I will treat different aspects separately. 

Elephant Head, wide mouth, and large ears:  

The large elephant head symbolizes wisdom, understanding, and a discriminating intellect necessary to attain perfection in life. The wide mouth represents the desire to enjoy life. The large ears signify a great capacityto listen and to assimilate ideas. 

Trunk and two tusks with the left tusk broken: 

The trunk stands for the mind which must be strong enough to stand up to the ups and downs of life and also subtle enough to explore the Divine through meditation. The right tusk denotes wisdom while the broken left tuskstands for emotion. The left tusk is shown broken to signify that emotion must be conquered by wisdom. 

Four arms and varios objects held by the arms: 

The four arms indicate omnipresence and omnipotence, i.e., absolute power in all four directions. The upper right hand carries a small axe and the upper left hand carries a rope. Lord Ganesha when approached by a devoteecuts her worldly attachments (symbolized by axe) and pulls him to the path of Truth (symbolized by the rope). The laddus held in the lower left hand stands for peace and prosperity for the devotee. The lower right hand is in a blessing pose. 

Human body and the big belly: 

This signifies kindness and compassion (as the human body stands for the heart). 

Mouse: 

The mouse sitting at Ganesh's feet stands for the perfected ego which is subordinate to the Divine will. Normally, our ego will nibble away all that is noble and good in us.  
 

Kali 

Ma Kali is another Form of the Divine Mother. The word Kali comes from Kala, time. Ma Kali is Brahman when imagined in space-time. She is usually shown naked or more correctly clad in space. This is because She is Infinite space (and time) and it is not possible to cover Her. She is shown black because She is very distant from us just as ocean appears to be black or blue from distance. When you come close to Her She is found to be colorless. This is because She is really Brahman, the Infinite, which can not be described by finite human words. She is shown standing on Her spouse Shiva who is pure white. Shiva is the Absolute aspect and She is the space-time aspect. They are together because the universe is thought of as a veil cloaking the Divine, i.e , the relative and the absolute are intrinsically linked. Ma Kali as the Energy is indissolubly linked with its Absolute source. Shiva as the Absolute is beyond names, forms and activities and hence is shown to lie as a shava (corpse). It is through the relative aspect that the Divine operates in the universe. You will see a garland of 50 skulls or heads. They represent the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, the manifest state of sound from which the entire creation has preceded. She is holding a freshly severed human head and a sword with two of Her arms. This signifies that time will destroy everything. The other two arms are in Abhaya and Varada Mudras. They are Her assurances that Her devotees have nothing to fear.