Cultures that Practiced It
The various cultures of the Indian subcontinent practiced Hinduism.
Nuts and Bolts
Hinduism began in India with the Aryan invaders. Review the history of India in Section III of this chapter if you need to.
Hindus believe in one supreme force called Brahma, the creator, who is in all things. Hindu gods are manifestations of Brahma—notably Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. The life goal of Hindus is to merge with Brahma. But because that task is considered impossible to accomplish in one lifetime, Hindus also believe that who you are in this life was determined by who you were in a past life; and how you conduct yourself in your assigned role in this life will determine the role (caste) you are born into in a future life. If you behave well and follow thedharma (the rules and obligations of the caste you’re born into), you’ll keep moving up the ladder toward unification with Brahma. If not, you’ll drop down the ladder. This cycle of life, death, and rebirth continues until you achieve moksha, the highest state of being, one of perfect internal peace and release of the soul.
There is no central sacred text in Hinduism, though the Vedas and the Upanishads, sources of prayers, verses, and descriptions of the origins of the universe, guide Hindus.
Hinduism is a religion as well as a social system—the caste system. In the caste system, you are born into your caste, and if you are dissatisfied with it, it’s an indication you are not following the dharma; therefore, you will have an even worse lot in the next life. This explains why most faithful Hindus quietly accepted their station in life. Though they knew social mobility within one lifetime was out of the question, they were confident that they would accomplish it at death if they lived according to the tenets of Hinduism.
Hinduism’s close identification with the caste system and the Indian social structure and customs have prevented its acceptance in other parts of the world. In recent years, modern Hindus are beginning to rebel against the strictures of the caste system. But Hinduism as a whole remains a powerful force—even regarding its adherents’ relationship to the animal kingdom, because Hindus believe they can be reincarnated as animals.
Hinduism later spawned another religion—Buddhism.