The Essence of Hinduism
(For a more detailed discussion of Hinduism, see Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions.)
Part One: The main practical elements of Hinduism
A. You Can Have What You Want
We begin by wanting pleasure. This is natural, but it doesn’t satisfy our total nature. We also want worldly success, especially wealth, fame, and power. This is a worthy goal, but people whose development is not arrested will outgrow these desires too. Hinduism doesn’t say that everyone will outgrow worldly desires, but at some point in their reincarnations people will renounce ego desires. This is the first great step in religion. In the end all worldly rewards prove insufficient, and in some reincarnation we turn to the Path of Renunciation. This is the moment Hinduism has been waiting for.
B. What People Really Want
People really want infinite being, infinite awareness, and infinite joy. This satisfies their total being. There are four paths to the realization of our total being, and people should focus on the one that best suits them while practicing all of them.
a. The Way to God (enlightenment) through Knowledge (Jnana Yoga) – This path is intended for those who have a strong reflected bent.
b. The Way to God (enlightenment) through Love (Bhakti Yoga) – This path is the most popular of the four, and best for those with a more emotional bent.
c. The Way to God (enlightenment) through Work (Karma Yoga) – The third path is intended for persons of active bent.
d. The Way to God (enlightenment) through Psychophysical Exercises (Raja Yoga) – This yoga is designed for people who are of scientific, meditative bent.
Part Two: The main theoretical ideas of Hinduism
A. The Concept of God (Brahman)
Hinduism encourages devotees to think of Brahman as either personal or transpersonal, depending on which carries the most exalted meaning for the mind in question.
The process by which an individual soul passes through a sequence of bodies is known as reincarnation. In a human body, the soul has self-consciousness, freedom, and responsibility. Each thought and deed sculpts one’s destiny. Everybody gets exactly what is deserved (the law of karma.)
C. The Atman
The soul is called the Atman, the God within. Some say the individual soul eventually passes into identification with God and loses every trace of its former separateness. Others say that some slight differentiation between the soul and God always remains.
D. The World
We live in: a) a physical and temporal world of galaxies and time; b) a moral world operating according to the law of karma; c) a world that is maya, deceptively passing off its multiplicity and materiality as real; d) a world where people can develop their capacities; e) a world that is lila, the play of the divine in its cosmic dance—untiring, unending, resistless, yet ultimately beneficent with a grace born of infinite vitality.
E. Many Paths to the Same Summit
That Hinduism has shared her land for centuries with Jains, Buddhists, Parsees, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians may help explain an idea that comes out more clearly through her than in other religions—her conviction that the various major religions are alternate paths to the same goal. To claim salvation as the monopoly of any one religion is like claiming that God can be found in this room but not the next, in this attire but not another.