• 1 历史
o 1.1 起源
o 1.2 吠陀教时代
o 1.3 婆罗门教时代
o 1.4 其他宗教的影响
o 1.5 当代发展
• 2 信仰和学说
• 3 派别
• 4 伦理观和社会观
o 4.1 社会等级制度
o 4.2 妇女的地位
o 4.3 家庭
• 5 另见
• 6 相关连接
• 尸摩多派 (Smārtism)
• 毗濕奴派 (Vaishnavism)
• 湿婆派 (Shaivism)
• 性力派 (Shaktism)
印度教中妇女的地位千百年来一直在不停地变化发展。要了解妇女的地位就要理清个中的来龙去脉和当时的生活状况。部分赞美诗由Rigveda妇女们所写，而在Brhadaranyaka Upanishad中我们还能找到Vachaknu Gargi的受良好教育的女儿和Yajnavalkya的对话。
印度教中妇女们其中一个重要的任务就是弘扬母性。怀孕的每一个阶段直至孩子的出生都将有神职人员伴随和保护，保证孩子和母亲的身心健康。过去妇女们要尽可能多的孕育孩子，以保证整个家族的安全和生存。 尽管印度教徒并不会普遍地漠视女孩，但是时至今日，部分家庭中女孩子还是被看作包袱，因为结婚的时候，她们要带着嫁妆离开。如果家庭中有很多女孩子，那么大量的嫁妆将使家庭经济陷入困境。这些问题也同时导致了很高的堕胎率。 很多现代的，特别是城市中的，印度教徒逐渐地愿意抚养女儿，因为女儿能在父母年老时照顾他们。
Hinduism (Sanskrit/Devanagari: हिन्दू धर्म, Hindū Dharma, also known as सनातन धर्म, Sanātana Dharma) is a religion that originated on the Indian subcontinent. Hinduism encompasses many religious beliefs, traditions, practices, and denominations. Most Hindus believe in a One Supreme Cosmic Spirit called Brahman that may be worshiped in many forms, represented by individual deities such as Vishnu, Shiva and Shakti. Hinduism centers around a variety of practices that are meant to help one experience the Divinity that is everywhere and realize the true nature of the Self.
Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world, with approximately 1 billion adherents (2005 figure), of whom about 890 million live in India. Other countries with large Hindu populations include Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.
Considered to be the oldest extant religion in the world, Hinduism has no single founder and is based on a number of religious texts developed over many centuries that contain spiritual insights and practical guidance for religious life. Among such texts, the Vedas are the most ancient, and theoretically the most sacred and supreme scriptural authority. Other important scriptures include Upanishads (which are part of the Vedas), the eighteen Purāṇas and the epics: the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa. The Bhagavad Gītā, which is contained within the Mahābhārata, is a widely studied scripture that is seen as summarizing the spiritual teachings of the Vedas.
• 1 Etymology
• 2 Core concepts
• 3 God and the soul
o 3.1 God: both principle and person
3.1.3 Devas and devis
3.1.4 Avataras (incarnations of God)
o 3.2 Ātman
o 3.3 Heaven and hell
• 4 Hindu scriptures
o 4.1 Shruti (Vedic literature)
o 4.2 Smriti
o 4.3 Many scriptures, many paths
• 5 The goal of life (jīvan-lakshya)
o 5.1 Multiple ways to reach the goal (yoga)
o 5.2 Karma and reincarnation
• 6 Practices
o 6.1 Pūjā (worship or veneration)
o 6.2 Hindu Iconography
o 6.3 The guru-disciple tradition
o 6.4 Japa and mantra
o 6.5 Pilgrimage
o 6.6 Satsang
o 6.7 Devotional singing
• 7 Denominations
• 8 History
o 8.1 Origins
o 8.2 The Vedic period
o 8.3 The influence of Buddhism and Jainism
o 8.4 Epic and Puranic periods
o 8.5 Islam and Bhakti (twelfth-seventeenth centuries)
• 9 Society
o 9.1 The four pursuits of life
o 9.2 Temples
o 9.3 Ashramas (stages of life)
o 9.4 Monasticism
o 9.5 Varnas and the caste system
o 9.6 Ahimsa and vegetarianism
o 9.7 Hindu festivals
o 9.8 Conversion
• 10 Schools of Hindu philosophy
• 11 Notes
• 12 References
• 13 See also
o 13.1 Hinduism
o 13.2 Related systems and religions
• 14 External links
The Persian term 'Hindu' is derived from Sindhu (Sanskrit: सिन्धु, i.e. the Indus River in particular, or any river in general). In the Rig Veda—the foundation of Hinduism—the Indo-Aryans mention their land as Sapta Sindhu (the land of the seven rivers of the northwestern Indian subcontinent, one of them being the Indus). This corresponds to Hapta-Hendu in the Avesta (Vendidad: Fargard 1.18)—the sacred scripture of Zoroastrianism of Iran. The term was used for people who lived in the Indian subcontinent around or beyond the Sindhu.
According to Historical linguistics, Proto-Indo-Iranian /*s/ is preserved in the Indo-Aryan languages (including Sanskrit as /s/) but was changed to /h/ in pre-vocalic position in the Iranian branch (including Avestan and Old Persian), and the aspirate /dʰ/ of Proto-Indo-European and Sanskrit changes to unaspirated /d/: hence the change from sindhu to hindu; see also Indo-European sound laws.
 Core concepts
Modern Hinduism evolved from the ancient Vedic tradition (Vaidika paramparā) and other native beliefs. Prominent themes in Hinduism include Dharma (individual ethics, duties and obligations), Samsāra (rebirth), Karma (right action), and Moksha or Nirvana (deliverance from the cycle of birth and death). Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism all share some traits in common with Hinduism (which is sometimes specifically called Orthodox Hinduism when contrasted with its associated, but non-Vedic faiths), as all these religions originated in India, and all focus on self-improvement with the ultimate aim of attaining personal spiritual experience (recognizing the "personal" as an integral element of the universal).
 God and the soul
 God: both principle and person
Hinduism has been perceived by some as polytheistic, and its devotees are typically quite open to reconciling multiple gods and goddesses, often from quite different traditions, into a single 'Vedically'-based worldview. However, its many divergent sects and philosophical schools culminate in beliefs ranging anywhere from panentheism to more devotional brands of monotheistic faiths. For instance, Advaita Vedanta holds that there is one originating source, cosmic spirit, or godhead (depending, again, on one's sect within the overall school), which may manifest in the material world in multiple forms. 
Main article: Brahman
According to the monotheistic and pantheistic theologies of Hinduism, God (the Supreme Being) is, in the highest sense, One: beyond form, infinite, and eternal. God is changeless and is the very source of consciousness. God is beyond time, space, and causation and yet permeates everything and every being. God is beyond gender. When God is thought of as this infinite principle, God is called Brahman (Hindi: ब्रह्म). Brahman is the indescribable, inexhaustible, omniscient, omnipresent, original, first, eternal and absolute principle—the Supreme Cosmic Spirit—who is without a beginning, without an end , who is hidden in all and who is the cause, source, material and effect of all creation known, unknown and yet to happen in the entire universe. Brahman is the Absolute Truth: it is pure existence, consciousness and knowledge. In this sense, the attributeless Brahman is called Parabrahman, where the Sanskrit prefix para- denotes "ultimate". It is the supreme bliss. Parabrahman does not exist ; it is existence itself. It is not all-knowing; it is knowledge itself. It is the object of meditation, rather than the object of worship. According to the probably most influential Hindu philosophy: Advaita Vedanta, nothing in the universe truly exists except Parabrahman. As the Supreme Spirit, it is also called Paramātman or Param-aatma (Purr-m-aath-ma).
The Hindu scriptures declare that Brahman (the impersonal God) is beyond description, and can be understood only through direct spiritual experience. Nevertheless, for the benefit of others, the ancient Hindu sages who experienced Brahman attempted to describe their experiences, as recorded in the ancient Vedic texts known as the Upanishads.
Several mahā-vākyas, or great sayings, indicate what the principle of Brahman is:
• "Brahman is knowledge", (prajnānam brahma)
• "The Self (or the Soul) is Brahman " (ayam ātmā brahma)
• "I am Brahman" (aham brahmāsmi)
• "You are that" (tat tvam asi),
• "All this that we see in the world is Brahman" (sarvam khalv idam brahma),
• "Brahman is existence, consciousness, and bliss" (sachchidānanda brahma).
Thus, Brahman is conceived of as the very essence of existence and knowledge, which pervades the entire universe, including every living being. The goal of Hinduism is to somehow "wake up," and realize one's own connection to the divine reality that may be called Brahman or God. Because God is everywhere, God is also present within each living being.
Main article: Ishvara
When God is thought of as Creator, he is called Prajāpati Brahmā (not to be confused with Brahman), and is represented visually as shown in this temple carving.
Hindus believe that when human beings think of the infinite God, the Supreme Cosmic Spirit is projected upon the limited, finite human mind and appears as the Supreme Lord. An interesting metaphor is that when the "reflection" of the Cosmic Spirit falls upon the mirror of Māyā (the principle of illusion, which binds the mind), it appears as the Supreme Lord. Therefore, the mind projects human attributes, such as personality, motherhood, and fatherhood on the Supreme Being. According to the Advaita school of thought (which describes the Supreme Lord as mentioned above), God does not have any such attributes in the true sense. However, many consider it helpful to project such attributes on God — the myriad names and forms of God one finds in Hinduism are all human-constructed ways for humans to approach the divine. Therefore, the Hindu scriptures depict God not only as an abstract principle or concept, but also as a personal being, much like the God in the Judeo-Christian religions.
Thus, despite Hinduism's belief in the abstract principle of Brahman, most Hindus worship God on a day-to-day basis in one of God's less abstract personal (anthropomorphic) forms, such as Vishnu, Shiva, or Shakti. Some Hindus worship these personal forms of God for a practical reason: it is easier to cultivate devotion to a personal being than to an abstract principle. Other Hindus, such as those following the Dvaita traditions, consider the personal forms in themselves to be the highest form of truth and worship God as an infinite and yet personal being.
When God is thought of as the supreme all-powerful person (rather than as the infinite principle called Brahman), God is called Īśvara (lit., the Lord, variously spelled Ishwara, etc.) or Bhagavān (lit., the Auspicious One) or Parameshwara (lit., the Supreme Lord). Īśvara is a word used to refer to the personal aspect of God in general; it is not specific to a particular deity. Īśvara transcends gender, yet can be looked upon as both father and mother, and even as friend, child, or sweetheart. Most Hindus, in their daily devotional practices, worship some form of this personal aspect of God, although they believe in the more abstract concept of Brahman as well.
Ishvara is Saguna Brahman, or Brahman with innumerable auspicious qualities. He is Aparabrahman, as opposed to Parabrahman (the Sanskrit prefix a- meaning "not"). He is all-perfect, omniscient, omnipresent, incorporeal, independent, Creator of the world, its active ruler and also destroyer. He is causeless, eternal and unchangeable — and is yet the material and the efficient cause of the world. He is both immanent (like whiteness in milk) and transcendent (like a watch-maker independent of a watch). He is the subject of worship. He is the basis of morality and giver of the fruits of one's Karma. He rules the world with His Māyā — His divine power. This association with a "false" knowledge does not affect the perfection of Ishvara, in the same way as a magician is himself not tricked by his magic. Ishwara is also believed by most accounts to be incorporeal. It is also important to note that some other philosophies, such as the Dvaita school, do not make any distinction between Ishwara and Brahman, and do not believe that the highest form of Brahman is attributeless, or Ishwara is incorporeal.
In their personal religious practices, Hindus worship primarily one or another of these deities, known as their iṣṭa devatā, or chosen ideal. The particular form of God worshipped as one's chosen ideal is a matter of individual preference. Regional and family traditions can influence this choice. Hindus may also take guidance about this choice from their favorite scripture. Although Hindus may worship deities other than their chosen ideal from time to time as well, depending on the occasion and their personal inclinations, they are not required to worship—or even know about—every form of God. Hindus generally choose one concept of God (e.g., Krishna, Rama, Shiva, or Kali) and cultivate devotion to that chosen form, while at the same time respecting the chosen ideals of other people.
 Devas and devis
The Hindu scriptures also speak about many celestial entities, called Devas (lit., the shining ones). The word Devas may variously be translated into English as gods, demigods, deities, celestial spirits or angels, none of which is an exact translation. The feminine of deva is devī.
The devas (also called devatās) are an integral part of Hindu culture. They are depicted in paintings, statues, murals, and scriptural stories that can be found in temples, homes, businesses, and other places. The scriptures recommend that for the satisfaction of a particular material desire a person may worship a particular deity. For example, shopkeepers frequently keep a statue or picture of the devi Lakshmi in their shops. The elephant-headed deva known as Ganesha is worshipped before commencing any undertaking, as he represents God's aspect as the remover of obstacles. Students and scholars may propitiate Saraswati, the devi of learning, prior to an exam or lecture.
The most ancient Vedic devas included Indra, Agni, Soma, Varuna, Mitra, Savitri, Rudra, Prajapati, Vishnu, Aryaman and the Ashvins; important devīs were Sarasvatī, Ūṣā and Prithvī. Later scriptures called the Purānas recount traditional stories about each individual deity, and laud the Trimurti, which are the three aspects of God, Brahmā, Vishnu and Shiva.
Vishnu and Shiva are not regarded as ordinary devas but as Mahādevas ("Great Gods" ) because of their central positions in worship and mythology. The Purānas also laud other devas, such as Ganesha and Hanumān, and avatāras such as Rāma and Krishna (see below). Goddesses are worshiped when God is thought of as the Universal Mother. Particular forms of the Universal Mother include Lakshmī, Sarasvatī and Parvatī, Durgā, and Kālī.
 Avataras (incarnations of God)
Krishna (left) is the eighth incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu
Many denominations of Hinduism, such as Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Smartism, teach that from time to time God (usually seen as Vishnu) comes to Earth as a human being to help humans along in their struggle toward enlightenment and salvation (moksha). Such an incarnation of God is called an avatāra. The most famous avatars of Vishnu are Rama, whose life is depicted in the Ramayana, and Krishna, whose life is depicted in the Mahabharata and the Srimad Bhagavatam.
Most Hindu thinkers agree that the spirit or soul, the true "self" of every person, called the ātman, is eternal. It is believed that the Spirit of God and the spirit of man have existed and will continue to exist throughout all eternity. According to schools influenced by the concept of Advaita (non-duality), the human spirit and God's Spirit are not seen as ultimately distinct. They believe that the core spirit, or "Self", of every individual person is identical with God's Spirit. According to the Upanishads, whoever gains insight into the depths of his own nature and becomes fully aware of the ātman as the innermost core of his own Self will also realize his identity with Brahman, the divine source of the whole universe, and will thereby reach salvation. According to the Dvaita ("dualistic") school, on the other hand (often associated with the Vaishnava tradition), the ātman is not identical with God, although it is dependent on Him, and salvation depends on the cultivation of love for God and on God's grace.
 Heaven and hell
The concepts of "Heaven" and "Hell" do not translate directly into Hinduism and reaching heaven is not necessarily considered the ultimate goal. This is because heaven and hell are believed to be temporary. The only thing that is considered eternal is divinity, which includes God as well as the ātman (the soul). Therefore the ultimate goal is to experience divinity.
 Hindu scriptures
The Naradiyamahapuranam describes the mechanics of the cosmos. Depicted here are Vishnu the Maintainer with his consort Lakshmi resting on Shesha Nag. The great sage Narada and Brahma the Creator are also pictured.
Hinduism is based on "the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times." The scriptures were transmitted orally, in verse form to aid memorization, for many centuries before they were written down. Over many centuries, the teachings were refined by other sages, and the canon expanded.
The overwhelming majority of the sacred texts are composed in the Sanskrit language. Indeed, much of the morphology and linguistic philosophy inherent in the learning of Sanskrit is sometimes claimed to be inextricably linked to study of the Vedas and relevant Hindu scriptures. Sanskrit continues to be used even today in religious and literary settings.
The scripture are collectively referred to as Shāstras and are commonly classified into two classes: Śruti and Smriti.
 Shruti (Vedic literature)
Main article: Śruti
The Rig Veda is one of the world's oldest religious texts. Shown here is a Rig Veda manuscript in Devanagari, early nineteenth century.
Śruti ("that which has been heard") refers to the Vedas (वेद, "Knowledge") which form the earliest record of the Hindu scriptures. While they have not been dated with much certainty, even the most conservative estimates date their origin to 1200 B.C. or earlier.
Hindus revere the Vedas as eternal truths, revealed to ancient sages (Ṛṣis) through meditation, every kalpa. Most Hindu philosophical schools do not believe that God or any person created the Vedas; the Vedas are said to be without beginning and without end (i.e., eternal, although revealed to sages by Divine grace). "Just as the law of gravitation existed before its discovery and would exist if all humanity forgot it, so is it with the laws that govern the spiritual world." The Vedas have therefore been called apaurusheya ("not man-made"). Interestingly, many of these sages were women, called Rishikās.
Each Veda is divided into four parts: the primary one, the Veda proper, being the Saṃhitā, which contains sacred mantras in verse. The other three parts form a three-tier ensemble of commentaries, usually in prose, and are historically believed to be slightly later in age than the Saṃhitā. These are: the Brāhmaṇas, which contain prose commentaries on the rituals, the Āraṇyakas, which contain more philosophical reasoning behind the ritualism, and lastly the Upanishads, which contain deep metaphysics and philosophical speculations about the nature of the Supreme Being, the individual self and their interrelationship. The first two parts are called the Karmakāṇḍa (the ritualistic portions), while the last two form the Jñānakāṇḍa (the knowledge portions). 
There are four Vedas (called Rik-, Sāma- Yajus- and Atharva-), each having its Samhitā, Brāhmaṇa, Āraṇyaka and Upanishad: the Rigveda, the oldest compiled book of Indo-European literature and one of the oldest texts in the world, is the first and the most important Veda. The Rigveda Saṃhitā consists of mantras to be recited at the fire-sacrifices (yajña) of the ancient Hindu (Indo-Aryan) people. The Sāmaveda Saṃhitā consists of mantras for singing with music during these rituals. The Yajurveda Saṃhitā has prosaic mantras for the actual performance of the sacrificial rites, while the Atharvaveda Saṃhitā has semi-magical incantations against enemies, witchcraft, and mistakes during the sacrifice.
While the Vedas are not themselves commonly read by most lay Hindus, they are yet revered as the eternal knowledge whose sacred sounds help bringing spiritual and material benefits, and more importantly, for the revelations about the Supreme Being contained in the Upanishads. Theoretically, they form the most authoritative of all Hindu scriptures, and the Smritis, discussed below, are considered to be valid if and only if they do not violate any precept of the Shruti.
See also: Shrauta
Main article: Smriti
Hindu texts other than the Shrutis are collectively called the Smṛitis ("memory"). All of them laud the Vedas and the Shruti is generally held to take precedence over them in any apparent dispute.
The most notable of the Smritis are the Itihāsas (epics), such as the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa, considered sacred by almost all Hindus. Bhagavad Gītā (भगवद् गीता) (often referred to as simply the Gītā) is an integral part of the epic Mahābhārata and one of the most popular sacred texts of Hinduism. It contains philosophical sermons taught by Kṛiṣhṇa, an incarnation of Viṣhṇu, to the Pāṇḍava prince Arjuna on the eve of a great war. The Bhagavad Gītā is described as the essence of the Vedas.
Also widely known are the eighteen Purāṇas ("ancient histories"), which illustrate Vedic ideas through vivid narratives dealing with deities, and their interactions with humans. Prominent Purāṇas include the Srīmad Bhāgavatam, the Devī Mahātmya (an ode to God as the Divine Mother), the Yoga Sūtras (a key meditative yoga text by the sage Patañjali), the Tantras, and the Manusmṛiti, as well as the Mahanirvāṇa Tantra, Tirumantiram and Shiva Sūtras. Other important Hindu scriptures include the sectarian Hindu Āgamas that dedicated to rituals and worship associated with Viṣhnu, Shiva and Devī.
Most Hindu scriptures, especially the epics and Puranic stories, are not typically interpreted literally and most Hindus attach greater importance to the ethics and the metaphorical meanings derived from them. It is widely accepted that the Shastras contain a mix of historical fact, myth, and spiritual truths and that their aim is to highlight deeper spiritual meaning through the stories and teachings. Hindu exegesis often leans toward figurative interpretations of scriptures rather than literal ones.
 Many scriptures, many paths
In contrast to the scriptural canons in some other religions, the Hindu scriptural canon is not closed even today — Hindus believe that because the spiritual truths of the Vedas are eternal, they may continue to be expressed in new ways in the future. New scriptures may continue to be written to express the truths of the Vedas in ways that will be accessible to the people of different times and places. However there is a special veneration for the shruti scriptures because they have been validated by many sages and thinkers over the course of many millennia.
Many Hindus may even venerate the scriptures of other religions, since it is believed that the One Divinity can reveal itself in innumerable ways. A much-quoted pada (verse) from the Rigveda that emphasizes the diversity of paths to the one goal is:
ekam sat viprā bahudhā vadanti
Truth is one, the wise call it by many names
—Rig Veda 1.164.46c
Thus, Hinduism accepts a large number of scriptures, and remains open to any new revelations. Because the same eternal spiritual truths can be viewed from innumerable perspectives, there is relatively little theological quarrel among Hindu denominations. However, some denominations may be more inclined toward this all-inclusive attitude than others. For instance, although followers of Advaita Vedanta and Smartism often place heavy emphasis on the view that God can be worshipped in any form, many members of the Vaishnava sect believe that spiritual liberation can be attained only through submission to God in the form of Vishnu.
It is believed that a sage today can realize the same truths that the ancient rishis realized. For this reason, most Hindus may venerate the words of a modern saint — Sri Ramakrishna, Sai Baba, or Sri Ramana Maharshi, for example — as much as those of the ancient teachers.
 The goal of life (jīvan-lakshya)
The goal of life is stated variously as the realization of one's union with God, attainment of the vision of God, attainment of perfect love of God, realization of the unity of all existence, perfect unselfishness, liberation from ignorance, attainment of perfect mental peace, or detachment from worldly desires. The goal is to have the direct experience of divinity, regardless of precisely how one may choose to define it. The experience of divinity is the only thing that can give one true peace and happiness, and salvation from suffering and ignorance. According to Hindu thought, one does not necessarily have to wait until death to attain salvation — it is possible to achieve it in this very life. One who attains salvation while living is called a jīvan-mukta.
 Multiple ways to reach the goal (yoga)
In whatever way a Hindu might define the goal of life—and multiple definitions are allowed—there are several methods (yogas) that have been developed over the centuries for people of different tastes and temperaments. Paths one can follow to achieve the spiritual goal of life include:
• Bhakti Yoga (the path of love and devotion),
• Karma Yoga (the path of right action),
• Rāja Yoga (the path of meditation) and
• Jñāna Yoga (the path of knowledge).
An individual, or sect of Hinduism, may prefer one of yogas according to their inclination and understanding, for instance some followers of the Dvaita school hold that Bhakti ("devotion") is the only path to salvation.  However, typically, practice of one yoga does not exclude acceptance of the other yogas and, indeed, it is often assumed that different yogas naturally blend into and inform other yogas. For instance, many philosophers believe that the achievement of jnana yoga, total knowledge, would lead naturally to the achievement of pure love (the goal of bhakti yoga), and vice versa. Someone practicing in-depth meditation (such as in raja yoga and related hatha yogic techniques) must necessarily embody the core principles of karma yoga, jnana yoga and bhakti yoga, whether directly or indirectly. 
Main article: Bhakti yoga
The bhakti traditions emphasize cultivation of love and devotion for God as the path to perfection. Followers of bhakti ("bhaktas") typically worship God as a divine personal being or avatar, such as Rama or Krishna. Followers of the bhakti path strive to purify their minds and activities through the chanting of God's names (japa), prayer, the singing of hymns (bhajan), and by treating all living creatures with compassion (dayā). Bhaktas seek to enjoy a loving relationship with God, rather than seeking to merge their consciousness with the supreme Brahman as the followers of jnana yoga do.
Main article: Karma yoga
The followers of karma yoga seek to achieve mental equilibrium and perfect unselfishness by performing their duties in the world in a dedicated but mentally detached manner. According to Hinduism, work, which is inevitable, has one great disadvantage. Any work done with attachment to its fruits generates a kind of psychological bondage, or anxiety, in the mind of the worker. Therefore, followers of karma yoga emphasize the following injunction in the Bhagavad Gita:
Do your duty, always; but without attachment. That is how a man reaches the ultimate truth; by working without anxiety about results.
Many followers of karma yoga try to attain mental detachment from the results of their work by mentally offering the results of every action to God, thus combining karma yoga with bhakti yoga. However, it is possible for even an atheist to follow karma yoga by simply remaining mentally detached from the results of his or her work by means of willpower.
Main article: Raja yoga
Swami Vivekananda, shown here practicing meditation, was a Hindu sanyāsin (monk) recognized for his inspiring lectures on spiritual topics such as bhakti yoga, karma yoga, raja yoga, and jnana yoga. He founded the Ramakrishna Mission, which today conducts religious teaching and philanthropic activities worldwide.
The followers of Raja yoga seek to realize spiritual truths through meditation. Raja yoga, also known simply as yoga, is based on the Yoga Sutras (aphorisms on yoga) of the sage Patanjali. Through the practice of meditation, followers of this path seek to gradually gain control over their own thoughts and actions, rather than being controlled by their impulses. They seek to attain one-pointed concentration and perfect equanimity of mind. Ultimately, through meditation, the followers of raja yoga seek self-knowledge: by concentrating all the energies of the mind inward, they seek to perceive whether they have souls, "whether life is of five minutes or of eternity, and whether there is a God." Thus, the highest goal of raja yoga is God-realization, or experiencing the Ultimate Truth.
The actual act of sitting down for meditation, however, is only the tip of the iceberg in raja yoga. The disciplines of raja yoga, as taught by Patanjali, consist of eight steps, of which dhyāna (meditation) is only one. Thus according to Patanjali, the eight practices of raja yoga are:
1. Yama: Restraining harmful thoughts and impulses.
2. Niyama: Cultivating good habits.
3. Āsana: Learning proper posture for prolonged meditation.
4. Prānāyama: Control of prana, or life force, through rhythmic breathing exercises.
5. Pratyāhāra: Withdrawing the senses from their objects of enjoyment.
6. Dhāranā: Fixing the mind on the object of contemplation.
7. Dhyāna: Uninterrupted contemplation (meditation).
8. Samādhi: Total absorption of the mind in the object of contemplation.
As with the other yogas, raja yoga may be combined with bhakti yoga, karma yoga, or jnana yoga to create a customized path suitable for an individual aspirant. The aspects of raja yoga that deal with physical exercises (especially āsana) are known collectively as hatha yoga. With the increasing popularity of the therapeutic benefits of Hatha Yoga, the sanskrit term Yoga is often interpreted in the narrow sense of Hatha Yoga. However, yoga encompasses a broader meaning in Hinduism.
Jnana Yoga has been called the path of rational inquiry, and is prescribed for people to whom reason appeals more than faith. The followers of jnana yoga emphasize a two-step process to help one attain salvation:
(1) Viveka: the practice of discriminating between things that are impermanent (e.g., worldly pleasures) and those that are permanent (e.g., God and the soul), and
(2) Vairāgya, renunciation of unhealthy attachment to things that are impermanent.
For monks (called sanyāsīs or sādhus) and nuns (sanyāsinīs), renunciation may mean actual physical departure from worldly activities such as marriage and earning money. For the vast majority of people, however, renunciation means mental detachment from selfish desires while continuing to fulfill family and community obligations. By focusing the mind on Divinity instead of the desire for selfish gain, jnana yogis seek to maintain a healthy mental equilibrium in the face of the inevitable highs and lows of life.
According to Hinduism, humans identify themselves with their physical bodies and their egos (the sense of "I" and "mine") due to ignorance (or māyā). These attributes are considered impermanent, and thus ultimately unreal. The true "self" of every person — the only part of a person that is permanent — is the soul, called the atman. Further, it is postulated that the atman of each person is eternally connected to the atman of every other person, with God, and with all existence.
In an analogy attributed to Swami Vivekanand each individual soul is compared to a wave on a shoreless ocean. The ocean is the Infinite Brahman. When a person sees rightly, he comes to understand that each wave is part of the ocean. Similarly, the highest realization that the followers of jnana yoga strive to attain is that all living beings are essentially indistinguishable from the infinite, eternal Brahman.
Jnana yoga is often associated with the Vedanta school of philosophy, although Hindus of the Vedanta school may incorporate elements of bhakti yoga and the other yogas into their spiritual practices as well.
 Karma and reincarnation
Main article: Karma in Hinduism
The doctrine of karma is related to the law of cause and effect. It states that everything that people do (karma) leaves impressions (samskāras) in their mind, which determines what kind of people they will be in the future, and hence their fate. Some Hindus see God's direct involvement in this process, while others consider the natural laws of causation sufficient to explain the effects of karma.
Some Hindus believe in reincarnation, and to them action in one life can determine the fate in subsequent reincarnations. Virtuous actions take the soul closer to the Supreme Divine and lead to a birth with higher consciousness. Evil actions hinder this recognition of the Supreme Divine, and the soul takes lower forms of worldly life. Thus according to this school of Hindu philosophy, one should try to behave in a virtuous manner, as it impacts current and future lives, Over the course of time, if a person sufficiently purifies the mind and intellect, he or she can attain the goal of life, which is to experience the highest truth or God.
Reincarnation is called as samsāra according to the vedic texts. In Sanskrit the word samsara means being bound to the cycle of repeated birth and death through numerous lifetimes. According to this doctrine of reincarnation, the soul (atman) is immortal, while the body is subject to birth and death. The Bhagavad Gita states that
Worn-out garments are shed by the body; Worn-out bodies are shed by the dweller within the body. New bodies are donned by the dweller, like garments.
Hinduism teaches that the soul, upon taking a life-form, goes on repeatedly being born and dying as a human, animal or plant. One is reborn on account of desire: a person desires to be born because he or she wants to enjoy worldly pleasures, which can be enjoyed only through a body. As long as the soul mistakenly identifies itself with the ego (the sense of "I" and "mine", called ahamkāra in Sanskrit), it has worldly desires, which cause it to be reborn again and again. Hinduism does not teach that all worldly pleasures are sinful, but it does teach that they can never bring deep, lasting happiness or peace (ānanda).
It is thought that after several cycles of birth and rebirths, a person is no longer satisfied with the limited happiness that worldly pleasures bring. At this point, the person seeks the highest forms of happiness, which can be attained only through spiritual experience. When, after spiritual practice (sādhanā) the person finally realizes his or her own divine nature - i.e., realizes that the true "self" is the immortal soul rather than the body or the ego — all desires for the pleasures of the world vanish, since they seem insipid compared to spiritual ānanda (Supreme Bliss). This realization breaks the cycle of reincarnation.
When the cycle of rebirth thus comes to an end, a person is said to have attained moksha or Nirvana. While all schools of thought agree that moksha implies the cessation of worldly desires and freedom from the cycle of birth and death, the exact definition of Moksha depends on individual beliefs. For example, followers of the Advaita Vedanta school (often associated with jnana yoga) believe that they will spend eternity absorbed in the perfect peace and happiness that comes with the realization that all existence is One, and that the immortal soul is part of that existence. Thus they will no longer identify themselves as individual persons, but will see the "Self" (ātman) as a part of the infinite ocean of Divinity (Brahman). The followers of dualistic schools, on the other hand, expect to spend eternity in a loka, or heaven, where they will have the blessed company of their chosen form of God (some form of Ishvara) throughout eternity. The two schools are not necessarily contradictory, however. A follower of one school may believe that both types of Moksha are possible, but will simply have a personal preference to experience one or the other. Thus, it is said, the followers of Dvaita wish to "taste sugar," while the followers of Advaita wish to "become sugar."
Another belief is that though Hindu texts mention a class of evil beings (demons, called Asuras or Rākṣasas), opposed to the celestial spirits (Devas), essential Hindu philosophy does not believe in any concept of a central Devil or Satan. This does not mean that all the evil in the world is attributed to God, but that the evil (deed or thought) is ascribed to human ignorance.
All Hindu practices seek to accomplish a single purpose: increasing a person's awareness of the divinity that is present everywhere and in everything. Therefore, Hinduism has developed numerous practices meant to help one think of divinity even in the midst of everyday life. The more a devotee can think holy thoughts, the sooner he or she can purify his or her mind, which is the way to salvation. According to one teacher:
The ideal of man is to see God in everything. But if you cannot see Him in everything, see Him in one thing, in that thing you like best, and then see Him in another. So on you go. . . . Take your time and you will achieve your end.
 Pūjā (worship or veneration)
Most observant Hindus engage in some type of formal worship (pūjā, lit., worship or veneration) both in the home and in temples, although it is not compulsory. In the home, Hindus usually have a special place that is used as a shrine, and which contains a picture or statue symbolizing the individual's chosen form(s) of God (ishta). Typically a devotee enters the shrine at dawn and at dusk to make an offering to God, symbolized by placing items such as food, water, and flowers before the image, waving incense, lighting candles or oil-lamps (diyā), ringing a bell, and/or waving a fan. The devotee thus symbolically offers to God (in the form of the devotee's favorite image) items that can be enjoyed by each of the five senses. Other practices in the home include meditation (dhyāna), the chanting of God's name or names (japa), and the recitation of scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita or Ramayana.
Icons of devas and devis are an integral part of most Hindu temples. Shown here are icons of Ganesha and Lakshmi, heavily laden with garlands, taken during a Hindu prayer ceremony.
Before performing pūjā, the devotee usually bathes and wears clean clothes. Women customarily do not engage in pūjā during the first four days of menstruation. It is also customary for Hindus not to perform pūjā for a month after birth of a child (vṛddhi sūtak) or during the first sixteen days after the death of a family member (mritaka-sūtak). These periods are explained as resulting from a temporary state of ritual impurity (ashaucha).
Visiting temples is not obligatory for Hindus. Many Hindus go to temples only during religious festivals. Temples are not used for weddings, funerals, or as social hubs—they are primarily used for formal worship. Sometimes worship in temples is accompanied by devotional singing (kīrtana) and religious discourse. Hindu temple priests (pandās) are salaried workers, hired by temple authorities to perform ritualistic worship. They are not to be confused with swāmīs or sanyāsins (all-renouncing monks, who do not work for salary).
Priests begin to perform temple worship at daybreak, and continue with various rituals until late in the evening. During the worship the priest makes various offerings to God, such as food, drink, flowers, and perfume as a token of love, sacrifice and devotion. Often, devotees bring their own offerings to the temple, or purchase them from nearby vendors. Food offerings are called Naivedya. The priest takes the offering from the devotees and presents it to God on their behalf. Food that has been offered to God is considered to be sanctified (prasāda), and is generally distributed to the devotees, wandering monks or nuns, or the poor. Accepting prasāda is considered spiritually beneficial.
Besides home and temple worship, observant Hindus are supposed to perform every action as an offering to God as prescribed by karma yoga. The ancient Vedic rites of icon-less fire-sacrifices (yajña), with traditional Vedic chanting, have become just an occasional practice in the post-Vedic era, although they are still highly revered in theory; however, least in the case of the Orthodox Hindu wedding ceremony, the presence of the sacred fire as the divine witness, the traditional yajña and chanting of Vedic mantras is considered compulsory.
Worship of God through images
The dancing posture of Siva, known as the Nataraja, is often said to be the supreme statement of Hindu art on account of its multi-faceted symbolism
Hindus worship God through icons (murti), such as statues or paintings, which are believed to be symbols of God's power and glory. Through such tangible symbols a Hindu tries to establish contact with the intangible God and the image, which is a symbol, acts like a link between God and His worshiper.
According to another view, it is not incorrect to think that God is in the image because God is everywhere (the Hindus believe in the immanence of God). Thus the Padma Purana states that the mūrti is not to be thought of as mere stone or wood but as the manifest form of the Divinity.
Although most mūrtis are more or less anthropomorphic, the deity Shiva is worshiped symbolically in the form of a pillar-like stone called a lingam.
A few Hindu denominations, such as the Arya Samaj, do not believe in worshiping God through icons.
 Hindu Iconography
Main article: Hindu iconography
Hinduism has also developed a varied system of symbolism and iconography to represent the sacred in art, architecture, literature and worship. These icons gain their meaning either from the scriptures, mythology, or cultural traditions. The symbols Om (which represents the Parabrahman), Swastika (which symbolizes auspiciousness) have grown to represent Hinduism itself, while other markings like tilaka often identify a follower of the faith. Besides these universally recognized icons, Hinduism also associates a rich set of symbols, like the lotus, chakra, veena etc with particular devas. These associations distinguish the physical representations of the deities in sculptural or printed form and are often based upon allegorical references in Hindu mythology.
 The guru-disciple tradition
In many Hindu denominations, spiritual aspirants are encouraged to have a personal spiritual teacher, called a guru. The student is expected to follow the instructions of the guru and to sincerely strive to reach the goal of spiritual life. Gurus may teach to each student a special mantra, which is a name of God, a holy phrase, or other sacred words, which the student repeats to himself or herself daily at dawn and dusk, and as much as possible at other times. The chanting of a mantra is called japa (see below). Japa is meant to increase remembrance of God and to elevate the mind so that it will become purer and able to experience God. A guru may also give a student instructions in meditation and other practices.
According to many systems of belief, a guru must never charge any money for the guidance that he or she gives, although a student may give voluntary gifts to the teacher as a token of appreciation (guru-dakshinā).
 Japa and mantra
Main article: japa
Mantras are chanted, through their meaning, sound, and chanting style, to help a person focus the mind on holy thoughts or to express love and devotion for God. Mantras often give courage in exigent times and serve to help invoke one's inner spiritual strength. Indeed, Mahatma Gandhi's dying words are said to have been a two-word mantra to the Lord Rama: "Hé Ram!"
One of the most revered mantras in Hinduism is the Gayatri Mantra. In India , Brahmins are initiated into this most sacred mantra at the time of their Yajñopavit (thread ceremony). Many Hindus to this day, in a tradition that has continued unbroken from ancient times, perform morning ablutions at the bank of a sacred river while chanting the Gayatri and Mahamrityunjaya mantras.
Japa has been extolled as the greatest dharma for the Kali Yuga, in the Mahabharat.
The largest religious gathering on Earth. Around 70 million Hindus from around the world participated in Kumbh Mela at one of the Hindu Holy city Prayag (India).
Pilgrimage is not mandatory in Hinduism as it is in Islam. Nevertheless, many Hindus who can afford to do so undertake one or more pilgrimages during their lifetimes. There are many Hindu holy places (tīrtha-sthānas) in India. One of the most famous is the ancient city of Varanasi, otherwise known as Benaras or Kashi. Other holy places in India include Kedarnath and Badrinath in the Himalayas, the Jagannath temple at Puri, Rishikesh and Haridwar in the foothills of the Himalayas, Allahabad (also known by the ancient name Prayāg, located at the confluence of multiple holy rivers), Rameshwaram in the South and Gaya in the east. The largest single gathering of pilgrims is during the annual Kumbh Mela fair held in one of four different cities on a rotating basis.
Satsang is the practice of gathering for study or discussion of scripture and religious topics, or chanting of hymns. In Sanskrit, Satsang means circle, or, fellowship ('sangha') with truth ('sat'). People may gather under guidance of a sage, a priest, or a singer. This practice is sometimes called sādhu-sangha."
 Devotional singing
Devotional singing, called bhajan or kirtan, is an important part of worship in many denominations. Devotional singing may take place in temples, in ashrams, on the banks of holy rivers, in the home, or elsewhere. Hymns may be in the ancient Sanskrit language, or in modern languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Bengali or Tamil. Musical instruments accompanying devotional singing frequently include the manjeera, tanpura, harmonium, and tabla.
Main article: Hindu denominations
The temple of Pashupatinath in Nepal is regarded as one of the most sacred places in Shaivism.
Many Hindus do not claim to belong to any particular denomination at all. However, scholars frequently categorize contemporary Hinduism into three or four major denominations: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, and sometimes Smartism or Advaita Vedanta. These denominations differ primarily in the particular forms of God worshipped, and in the rituals and traditions that accompany worship of that form of God. Vaishnavism worships God in the form of Viṣhṇu; Shaivism worships God as Shiva; Shaktism worships a female divinity or Goddess, Devī; while Smartism and Advaita Vedanta believe in an impersonal or pantheistic God without focusing on any particular form of God.
There are also many movements that are not easily placed in any of the above categories, such as Swami Dayananda Saraswati's Ārya Samāj, which condemns image worship and veneration of multiple deities, focusing instead on the Vedas and the Vedic fire sacrifices (yajña). Traditions such as the Ramakrishna movement incorporate elements from all the major denominations and stress that God-realization can be achieved through any denomination so long as it is followed sincerely. In Tantra, the Goddess is considered the power of Shiva, and thus represents a combination of the Shaiva and shākta denominations.
As in every religion, some people view their own denomination as superior to others. In Hinduism, however, many Hindus consider other denominations to be legitimate alternatives to their own. The concept of heresy found in some other religions is therefore generally not an issue for Hindus.
Main article: History of Hinduism
Sacred Mount Kailash in Tibet is regarded as the spiritual abode of Shiva.
The earliest evidence for elements of the Hindu faith is sometimes claimed to date back as far as the late Neolithic, to the Early Harappan period (ca. 5500–3300 BCE).
The beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era (ca. 1500-500 BCE) are often called the "Vedic religion". The oldest surviving textual document of Hinduism is the Rigveda, dated to between 1700–1100 BCE, based on linguistic and philological evidence.
 The Vedic period
Main article: historical Vedic religion
Modern Hinduism grew out of the knowledge described in the Vedas. The earliest of these, the Rigveda, centers on worship of deities such as Indra, Varuna and Agni, and on the Soma ritual. The early Indo-Aryans would perform fire-sacrifices, called yajña (यज्ञ), with the chanting of the Vedic mantras, but they built no temples, idols or icons. Probably animals were also sacrificed in larger yajñas, as claimed by Buddhist and Jain texts. The most ancient Vedic traditions exhibit strong similarities to Zoroastrianism, as well as to other Indo-European religions.
 The influence of Buddhism and Jainism
The religions of Buddhism and Jainism arose in North India in the sixth century B.C. The Buddha accepted many tenets of Hinduism, but taught that to achieve salvation one did not have to accept the authority of the scriptures, the caste system, or even the existence of God. Many Hindus converted to Buddhism, and even many of those who did not convert were influenced by Buddhist teachings. Both Buddhism and Jainism influenced Hinduism with their emphasis on compassion for all life and vegetarianism.
 Epic and Puranic periods
The epic poems Ramayana and Mahabharata were written roughly 400 B.C. to A.D. 200, although they were probably transmitted orally for many years prior to this period. These epics contain both secular and mythological stories of the rulers and wars of ancient India, as well as stories about the avataras Rama and Krishna. The later Puranas recount tales about various devas and devis, their interactions with humans, and their battles against demons. The Gupta dynasty (c. A.D. 300-500) is associated with a proliferation of ornate art and extensive literature in the Sanskrit and Tamil languages.
 Islam and Bhakti (twelfth-seventeenth centuries)
Beginning around 1173, successive waves of armies from Muslim countries invaded and, to varying degrees, consolidated control over North India. During this period Buddhism declined rapidly, and many Hindus converted to Islam. Some Muslim rulers destroyed Hindu temples and otherwise persecuted non-Muslims, while others, such as Akbar, were more tolerant.
Hinduism during this period underwent one of the most profound changes in its history, due in large part to the influence of the prominent teachers Ramanuja, Madhva, and Chaitanya. Followers of the Bhakti movement moved away from the abstract concept of Brahman to a focus on the more accessible avataras, especially Krishna and Rama. A new attitude toward God—emotional, passionate love—replaced the old approaches of sacrificial rite and meditation on the formless Absolute Principle.
 The four pursuits of life
Within the Grihastha Dharma there are four noble pursuits of life, known as puruṣhārthas. The four puruṣhārthas are:
1. kāma (desire for sensual pleasure)
2. artha (acquisition of worldly possessions or money)
3. dharma (observance of religious duties)
4. mokṣha (liberation achieved through God-realization)
Among these, dharma and moksha play a special role: the pursuit of kama and artha is only noble when pursued under the laws of dharma, with the ultimate goal, moksa, at the horizon.
Main article: Mandir
Hindu temples inherited rich and ancient rituals and customs, and have occupied a special place in Hindu society. They are usually dedicated to a primary deity, called the presiding deity, and other subordinate deities associated with the main deity. However, some mandirs are dedicated to multiple deities. Most major temples are constructed as per the āgama shāstras and many are sites of pilgrimage. An important element of temple architecture and many Hindu households in general is Vaastu Shastra, the science of aesthetic and auspicious design.
Many Hindus view the four Shankarāchāryas (the abbots of the monasteries of Joshimath, Puri, Shringeri and Dwarka — four of the holiest pilgrimage centers — sometimes to which a fifth at Kanchi is also added) as the Patriarchs of Hinduism.
 Ashramas (stages of life)
Traditionally, the life of a male Hindu was divided into four Āshramas ("phases" or "stages"; unrelated meanings of āshrama include "monastery" or "refuge"). They are
• Brahmacharya ("meditation, or study of the Brahman"): life as a student
• Gṛihastha : the stage as a householder
• Vānaprastha ("living out in the forest"): the stage of retirement
• Sanyāsa: life as a monk.
The first quarter of one's life, Brahmacharya is spent in celibate, controlled, sober and pure contemplation under the guidance of a Guru, building up the mind for the realization of truth.
Grihastha is the householder's stage, in which one marries and satisfies kāma and artha within one's married and professional life respectively (see the pursuits of life). Among the moral obligations of a Hindu householder are the duties to support one's parents, children, guests, priests (Brahmins), and monks(sanyāsis).
Vānaprastha is gradual detachment from the material world. This may involve giving over duties to one's children, spending more time in contemplation of the Divine, and making holy pilgrimages.
Finally, in Sannyāsa, one renounces all worldly attachments, often envisioned as seclusion, to find the Divine through detachment from worldly life and peacefully shed the body for the next life (or for liberation).
In their quest to attain the spiritual goal of life, some Hindus choose the path of monasticism (sanyāsa). Monastics commit themselves to a life of simplicity, celibacy, detachment from worldly pursuits, and the contemplation of God. A Hindu monk is called a sanyāsī, sādhu, or swāmi. A female renunciate is called a sanyāsini. Renunciates are accorded high respect in Hindu society because their outward renunciation of selfishness and worldliness serves as an inspiration to householders who strive for mental renunciation. Some monastics live in monasteries, while others wander from place to place, trusting in God alone to provide for their needs. It is considered a highly meritorious act for a householder to provide sādhus, or any brahmana, with food or other necessaries. Sādhus strive to treat all with respect and compassion, whether a person may be poor or rich, good or wicked, and also to be indifferent to praise, blame, pleasure, and pain. Sādhus often wear ochre-colored clothing, symbolizing renunciation.
 Varnas and the caste system
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Main article: Varnashrama dharma
Hindu society has traditionally been considered to be categorized under four great classes, called Varṇas (lit., color, form, appearance), the system itself being called Varṇa Vyavasthā. It is argued that in the ancient times, the Varṇas were merely names for people practicing different occupation (as opposed to the currently practiced caste system in India, which is hereditary, but did evolve out of the Varṇa system) —
• the Brāhmaṇas (also anglicized as Brahmins): teachers and priests;
• the Kṣhatriyas: warriors, kings and administrators;
• the Vaishyas: farmers, merchants, herdsmen and businessmen; and
• the Shūdras: servants and labourers.
Today it is often debated whether the caste system is an integral part of the Hindu religion sanctioned by the scriptures or is simply an outdated social custom.Although the scriptures contain some passages that can be interpreted to sanction the Varna system, they also contain indications that the caste system is not an essential part of the Hindu religion, and both sides in the debate are able to find scriptural support for their views. The most ancient scriptures—the Shruti texts, or Vedas—place very little importance on the caste system, mentioning caste only rarely and in a cursory manner. A hymn from the Rig Veda seems to indicate that one's caste is not necessarily determined by that of one's family:
"I am a bard, my father is a physician, my mother's job is to grind the corn." (Rig Veda 9.112.3)
In the Vedic Era, there also seems to no discrimination against the Shudras (which later became an ensemble of the so-called low-castes) on the issue of hearing the sacred words of the Vedas and fully participating in all religious rites, something which became totally banned in the later times.
Many social reformers, including Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), criticized the problems caused by caste discrimination. The saint and religious teacher Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) taught that
lovers of God do not belong to any caste . . . . A brahmin without this love is no longer a brahmin. And a pariah with the love of God is no longer a pariah. Through bhakti (devotion to God) an untouchable becomes pure and elevated.
It suffices to mention that discriminations based on caste system, including untouchability against the so-called low castes, has been criminalized by the Constitution of India.
 Ahimsa and vegetarianism
Main articles: Ahimsa, Sacred cow, and Vegetarianism
The Hindu religious traditions (as well as its associated faiths) do not make a formal, sharp distinction between the human world and the non-human one, unlike many other religions. There is certainly a hierarchy, wherein the human life (manuṣya yoni) is regarded as the most precious and excellent one among all others, because only in this form the soul is blessed with intellect, free will to do both good and evil and can possibly attain ultimate salvation (mokṣa); and there is obviously an interdependence between the human world and the non-human life forms. But there is also a sense of continuum.
Hinduism advocates the practice of ahiṃsā (non-violence) and respect for all life because the Divine Spirit is believed to permeate all (including plants and non-human animals). The term ahiṃsā first appears in the Upanishads, and is the first of the five Yamas, or eternal vows/restraints in Raja Yoga. The influences of Buddhism and Jainism helped to enhance the importance of ahiṃsā.
In accordance with the concept of ahiṃsā, many Hindus embrace vegetarianism in a bid to respect higher forms of life. While vegetarianism is not a dogma or requirement of Hinduism, it is recommended as a sāttvik (purifying) lifestyle. As of 2006, about 30% of the population in India is lacto-vegetarian, but the food habits usually vary with community (caste) and region. For instance, the Ādivāsīs, the warrior caste of Kshatriyas as well as the coastal habitants in India are largely non-vegetarian, with vegetarianism dominant (although still not exclusive) in landlocked states of northern and western India, states like Gujarat (with Jain and Vaishnavic influence), and in most Brahmin and Marwari communities in and around the subcontinent. Some Hindus avoid even onion and garlic, which are regarded as rājasic foods. Another 20% of Hindus avoid meat on specific holy days.
Even those observant Hindus who do eat meat (usually chicken, goat and fish), almost always abstain from beef. Some even avoid products made from cow's leather. This is presumably because the largely pastoral Vedic people, and subsequent generations, relied so heavily on the cow for proteinacious milk and dairy products, tilling of fields and as a provider of fuel and fertilizer, that it was identified as a caretaker and a maternal figure (hence the term gau mata, or Cow Mother). While most contemporary Hindus do not worship the cow (though many venerate her), the cow still holds an honored place in Hindu society as a symbol of unselfish giving among all animals. Cow-slaughter is legally banned in almost all states of the Indian Union.
 Hindu festivals
Main article: Hindu festivals
Hinduism has many festivals distributed throughout the year. Their dates are usually prescribed by the Hindu calendar and typically celebrate events from Hindu mythology, often coinciding with seasonal changes and occasions of importance in an agricultural economy.
Some widely observed Hindu festivals are,
• Dussera, or Durga Puja, celebrates events from Hindu mythology symbolizing the triumph of good over evil;
• Diwali, also known as the festival of lights;
• Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival celebrating Lord Ganesha;
• Maha Shivaratri, the festival dedicated to Lord Shiva;
• Ramanavami, celebrates the birth of Lord Ram, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu;
• Krishna Janmastami, celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu;
• Holi, the spring festival of colors and light.
• Sankranti, Harvest festival of India, celebrated in mid of January every year.
Besides these there many other Hindu festivals, some of which are celebrated primarily by specific denominations or in certain regions of the Indian subcontinent.
Since the Hindu scriptures are essentially silent on the issue of religious conversion, the question of whether Hindus should evangelize is open to interpretations. Those who see Hinduism primarily as a philosophy, a set of beliefs, or a way of life generally believe that one can convert to Hinduism by incorporating Hindu beliefs into one's life and by considering oneself a Hindu. However, those who view Hinduism as an ethnicity more than as a religion tend to believe that to be a Hindu, one must be born a Hindu. The Supreme Court of India has taken the former view, holding that the question of whether a person is a Hindu should be determined by the person's belief system, not by their ethnic or racial heritage.
There is no formal process for conversion to Hinduism, although in many denominations a ritual called dīkshā ("initiation") marks the beginning of spiritual life, much like baptism in Christianity. Most Hindu denominations do not actively seek to recruit converts because they believe that the goals of spiritual life can be attained through any religion, as long as the religion is practiced sincerely. Nevertheless, Hindu "missionary" groups operate in various countries to provide spiritual guidance to persons of any religion, irrespective of their conversion to Hinduism. Examples include the Vedanta Society (also known as the Ramakrishna Mission), International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Arya Samaj and the Self-Realization Fellowship.
 Schools of Hindu philosophy
Main article: Hindu philosophy
In Hinduism, Yoga is considered to be a way of attaining spiritual goals. The earliest written accounts of yoga appear in the Rig Veda, which began to be codified between 1500 and 1200 BCE.
The six Āstika or orthodox schools (those which accept the authority of the Vedas) of Hindu philosophy are Nyāya, Vaisheṣhika, Sāṃkhya, Yoga, Pūrva Mīmāṃsā (also simply called Mīmāṃsā), and Uttara Mīmāṃsā (also called Vedānta). The six schools are known as "Shat Astik (Hindu) Darshana."
The Heterodox Nāstika schools—those which do not rely on the authority of the Vedas—are Buddhism, Jainism and Lokāyata.
Although these philosophies are usually studied formally only by scholars, their influences can be found in many religious books and beliefs held by average Hindus.