DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" ""> Introductory Queries, Apropos World Religion
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Introductory Queries, Apropos World Religion

1. What is Hinduism? How would you explain Hinduism to someone who knows nothing about it?

Hinduism is the third largest of our world’s religions, behind Christianity and Islam. The majority of adherents are in India, the original birthplace of Hinduism, circa 8000 BC. Hinduism does not claim a single founder or leader. In fact, there is not a single tradition or expression inherent to the label “Hinduism.” The label Hinduism was actually attributed to a varied and complex compilation of traditions native to the Indian subcontinent. The application of this label to this complex conglomeration was performed by foreigners (Colonial British Rule). The term preferred today is “Sanatana Dharma,” which translates “eternal religion” or “ageless.”

The main beliefs of Sanatana Dharma can be characterized as polytheistic, but the term henotheistic may be more accurate. Henotheistic religion is constructed upon a belief in many, many gods, and the idea that one’s devotion is directed toward one of them. So, the Hindu worldview and theological expression is built upon the idea of many, many gods. One is chosen, however, for devotion.

Sanatana Dharma claims sacred texts too. The most important of these texts is Vedas. Vedas is a compilation of sacred songs, hymns, and rituals in the form of texts: Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. Ramayanais another important text considered to be sacred by adherents of Sanatana Dharma. There are other texts sacred to this tradition, but the above are prioritized.

Sanatana Dharma is a religion built upon the idea of dharma (morality, order, ethics, and religion) and karma/reincarnation (our actions carry with them effects that will affect this life and the next life). Life’s suffering is attributed to the law of karma/reincarnation. Escape from this suffering is possible through moral, orderly, ethical and religious living. Living morally, orderly, ethically, and religiously will relieve persons from ignorance of self, and consequently lead to the cessation of suffering.

2. Explain the basic teachings of Buddhism.

Buddhist legend and tradition identifies Siddhartha Gautama as the founder, or Buddha. Siddhartha Gautama was born a prince; he was the son of a wealthy landowner and clan chief who lived in the Himalayan foothills sometime during the fifth century BC. Siddhartha Gautama was probably a historical figure, though very, very little is known about him. Tradition places upon him the realization of the basic facts of existence (Four Noble truths) and the necessity and quest for personal enlightenment. The Four Noble truths are: 1. Life inevitably involves suffering; 2. Suffering is rooted in personal desire; 3. The cessation of personal desire will lead to the cessation of suffering; 4. The Eightfold Path will lead to liberation (Eightfold Path: 1. Right Understanding; 2. Right Thought/Motives; 3. Right Speech; 4. Right Action; 5. Right Livelihood; 6. Right Effort; 7. Right Mindfulness; 8. Right Meditation). The goal: liberation from cycle of karma/death/rebirth to Nirvana bliss (enlightenment).

Buddhism is an atheistic faith. Said differently, Buddhism is not built upon the theological idea of a god, personal or otherwise. Naturally, and because there is no dedication to a god or gods, Buddhism easily passes on dogma and doctrine (and theology for that matter!). The focus of Buddhism is on the self, the natural and the spiritual. Some point to Buddhism as a great Eastern religion for an epistemological future founded exclusively – and some would say blindly - upon Western Science and its atheistic and secular worldview. Buddhism, as a result of its godless structure, is a focus upon self-effort as salvation leading to the cessation of the cycle of karma/death/rebirth (aka “the Wheel of Birth and Death,” which is “spun” by three root evils: greed, hate and delusion) and a realization of Nirvana. Buddhism’s answer for suffering is found in the self. Salvation from suffering can only be found in the self and it can only be realized through self effort.

It should be noted too, that Buddhism, much like all religions, is characterized by different “schools” of thought. These schools are: Theravada (orthodox Buddhism); Mahayana (liberal, mystical); Zen (escape from the intellectual mind).


  1. Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati
    Posted April 24, 2007 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    You write that “The main beliefs of Sanatana Dharma can be characterized as polytheistic, but the term henotheistic may be more accurate.” You have missed one of the most important classic comments about Hinduism from the Vedas. It is a central, foundational statement on which others rest. Your reference that the “main” beliefs are polytheistic is incorrect.

    “Ekam sat, viprah bahudha vadanti�
    “There is a single Truth but the wise call it by different names.�
    Rig-Veda 3000+ BCE

  2. Shawn Anthony
    Posted April 24, 2007 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Hello Swami! Thank you for your comments. A note in response: if you read carefully, I actually said “henotheism” was much more accurate, while polytheism can be used to describe it, though not as accurately. Moreover, I am attempting to paint a picture of a religion wherein many gods are present, while only one is offered full devotion.

    Alternatively, you could be taking issue not so much with my use of “henotheism” or “polytheism,” but with the use of the term “main,” as regards Sanatana Dharma belief. If this be the case, feel free to swap my “main” with your “Single Truth Called by Different Names.” I think either term will take us to the same place (i.e., Sanatana Dharma posits that many gods exist, but one is invested with personal devotion).

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