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Essence of Hinduism - Karma, Samsara, Moksha, Vedic Literature

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Dharmic Religions : An Overview

Religion - the greatest among man made inventions - originated in the form of certain questions against which there prevailed scope for establishment. The establishment is reckoned as the taste of majority, at a particular time, over both tangible (physical) and intangible (spiritual) areas. Establishment itself has no consistency, as it undergoes either rejection or modification over some span of time.

India has a unique feature of welcoming foreign religions like Christianity, Islam as well as witnessing the origin and development of religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. The second set of religions are often collectively called Dharmic religions.

All religions had been influenced by the natural characteristics of the place, from where they originated. Dharmic religions recommend vegetarian style of food, which may be due to the influence of the then Indian scenario - vast vegetation. At the same time, the relatively dry places like Arab, Israel-Palestine contributed to the meat-eating habit of Christianity, Islam, and Jewish. Though the religions claim its principles as as the key way for the entire humanity, in fact, they are created for those people who originated around those places. Thus there exists the prominent distinctive feature among religions and it may be the root-cause for various cultural and religious riots.


Hinduism, the very ancient religion of the world, has its origin in a progressive way unlike other religions. The religion imbibed its basics far before million centuries, from the then Harappa and Indus valley civilizations. Hinduism provides a vast body of scriptures. It is impossible to define the principles and theories of Hinduism as it consists of both thesis and anti-thesis, both having the same importance. While the Dvaita (dualist theory) points out the existence of both God and human soul, the theories like Advaita (non-dualist theory) say both are same. The early Sanyasis and Gurus handled both spiritual and science theorems simultaneously. These scriptures expose a vast range of theology, philosophy, and myth providing spiritual insights along with guidance on the practice of dharma (religious living).

Among such texts, Hindus reckon the Vedas along with the Upanishads as being among the foremost in authority and antiquity. Other important scriptures include the Tantras, Puranas and the epics: the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The Bhagavad-Gita, a deeply profound conversation excerpted from the Mahabharata, is widely seen as summarizing the spiritual teachings of the Vedas.

Brahman and Atman

According to the Advaita theologies of Hinduism, Brahman (the greater Self or God) is in the highest sense and non differentiated from the world and its beings. Brahman is also sometimes seen as synonymous with the concept of Paramatma (Supreme Spirit), whereas, Atman is deemed as one’s true ‘inner self’. Advaita philosophy declares that ultimately Brahman is beyond mere intellectual description and can be understood only through direct spiritual experience, where the 'knower' and the 'known' are subsumed into the act of 'knowing'. The goal is to "wake up" and realize that one's atman, or soul, is really identical to Brahman, the upper soul.

On the other hand, Dvaita Vedanta and related devotional schools, understand Brahman as a Supreme Being who possesses personality. In these conceptions, Brahman is associated with Vishnu, Shiva or Shakti depending on the sect. Brahman is seen as fundamentally separate from its reliant souls so, in achieving liberation, individual beings experience God as an independent being.


According to the Advaita school of philosophy, the individual self and greater Self are not fundamentally distinct. They argue that the "Self" of every individual person is identical with the greater Spirit. The Upanishads say, whoever gains insight into the depths of his own nature and becomes fully aware of the atman as the innermost core of his own Self will realize his identity with Brahman and will thereby reach Moksha. According to the Dvaita school, the atman is not identical with Brahman, which is seen as being God with personality and the atman is dependent on God. Moksha depends on the cultivation of love for God and on God's grace.

Karma, Samsara and Moksha

Karma translates literally as action, work or deed and is often described as the "moral law of cause and effect". According to the Upanishads, an individual, known as the jiva-atma, develops samskaras (impressions) from actions, whether physical or mental. This cycle of action, reaction, birth, death, and rebirth is a continuum called samsara. The notion of reincarnation and karma is a strong premise in much of Hindu thought. The Bhagavad Gita states that “As a person puts on new clothes, discarding old and torn clothes, similarly an embodied soul enters new material bodies, leaving the old bodies”. Samsara provides ephemeral pleasures, which lead people to desire rebirth to enjoy the pleasures of a perishable body. It is thought that after several reincarnations, an atman eventually seeks unity with the cosmic spirit –Brahman.

The ultimate goal of life, referred to as moksha, nirvana or samadhi, is described as the realization of one's union with God; realization of one's eternal relationship with God; realization of the unity of all existence; perfect unselfishness and knowledge of the Self; liberation from ignorance; attainment of perfect mental peace; or detachment from worldly desires. Such a realization liberates one from samsara and ends the cycle of rebirth.

Vedic Literature

While they have not been dated with much certainty, even the most conservative estimates date their origin to 1200 BC or earlier. Hindus revere the Vedas as eternal truths. There are four Vedas (called Rig, Sama- Yajus and Atharva).

The Rigveda is the first and the most important Veda. Each Veda is divided into four parts: the primary one, Samhita, contains sacred mantras in verse. The other three parts form commentaries, usually in prose, which are historically believed to be slightly later in age than the Samhita. These are: Brahmanyas, Aranyakas, and the Upanishads. The Upanishads focus on spiritual insight and philosophy whereas the Vedas focus on rituals. The Upanishads discuss Brahman and reincarnation.

The Naradeya Purana describes the mechanics of the cosmos. Ithihas include Mahabharatha and Ramayana. Bhagavad-Gita is an integral part of the epic Mahabharata and one of the most popular sacred texts of Hinduism and it is described as the essence of the Vedas.

Also widely known are the Puranas, which illustrate Vedic ideas through vivid narratives dealing with deities, and their interactions with humans. A more controversial text, the Manusmriti or "Code of Manu", is a prescriptive lawbook which instructs the society codes and defines caste-system.

Varnas and the Caste System

Hindus and scholars debate whether the caste system is an integral part of Hinduism sanctioned by the scriptures or an outdated social custom. Although the scriptures contain passages that can be interpreted to sanction the Varna system, they contain indications that the caste system is not an essential part of the religion, and both sides in the debate can find scriptural support for their views. The oldest scriptures, the Vedas, place little emphasis on the caste system, mentioning it rarely and in a cursory manner.

Hindu society has traditionally been categorized into four classes, called Varnas. It is argued that in ancient times, the Varnas were merely labels based upon occupation. The Varnas were Brahmins: teachers and priests; Kshatriyas: warriors and kings; Vaishyas: farmers, merchants, and businessmen; and Shudras: servants and labourers.

In the Vedic Era, there was no prohibition against the Shudras (which later on became the low-castes) listening to the Vedas or participating in any religious rite the case. But later caste-system become a prominent allegation from the cultural reformers, when it turned to be considering Shudras as lowest class and they denied of social justice.

Dharmic Religions Contd : Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism & Hinduism

Contributing Writer   Pradeep kumar, Kerala Scripted and Directed Graduation documentary film The Beautiful Land, winner of college level Malayalam short-story writing competition, instituted by Madyamam Daily. His Malayalam short stories have been published in magazines and news paper supplements. [email protected]


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