Hinduism is one of the top religions of the world, ranking number three, with 900 million followers and 15% of the world's population behind it (Prothero, 133). The Hindu religion is considered one of the oldest and most versatile religions found in the world today. Hindus practitioners have over a million gods to choose from and worship. One of the central beliefs of Hindu practitioners is karma and how it affects the cycle of reincarnation over many lifetimes as a result of one's actions. Yoga plays a vital role in the Hindu religion as it is used as a path to achieve ultimate salvation. The Bhagavad-Gita texts encompass eternal messages of wisdom to teach practitioners the way of life.
The word Hinduism is not native to India; it was brought on by the British colonial era as a way to group all the native people with their distinct religious ideas and practices into one big category (Ghosh). Hinduism is often seen as a way of life or a family of religions as it embraces many religious ideas. The history of Hinduism dates back over 2,500 years back to the inception of the Rigveda, which is one of the oldest sacred books known to Hinduism (Prothero, 138). While most religions can trace back their origins like Christianity, which was founded by Jesus Christ and his apostles Hinduism is unique because it has no specific founder.
The diversity of Hinduism allows practitioners to pray to over a million gods. Some of the more influential figures include Brahman, the creator, and supreme spirit found in all living things male, female, or animal, while Vishnu is the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. One of the most sacred locations to Hindus is the Ganges river, personified as goddess Ganga and is believed to wash away some of the sins in the pure water and facilitate reincarnation. Unlike some religions, Hindus do not have to attend a temple to pray they can pray at home if they have a shrine dedicated to that god or goddess. While Hindus can worship any deities, most tend to worship those that were already in their family for generations (Dasa). One of the points that Dasa talks about which was very interesting in his Hinduism speech is that the majority of people do not learn about religion, so they tend not to understand the mindset of those people and often make enemies of them.
Many Hindus Believe in the doctrines of samsara, which means the continuous cycle of life, death, and reincarnation. The law that dictates the end of samsara is karma, which is how an individuals' soul gets judged based on the good and bad karma accumulated in their present life (Prothero, 138). A practitioner needs to accumulate as much good karma as possible, as it will determine the position the individual receives when they reincarnate. For example, an individual that has earned enough positive karma can expect to obtain a position of a brahmin, which includes the priestly and academic class. Likewise, someone who has accumulated too much bad karma might receive a position as a delit and get tasked with menial jobs in society. While reincarnation might seem appealing, Hindus view it as a bad thing as their whole life purpose is to reach the goal of moksha (salvation from samsara) where the soul no longer reincarnates and instead becomes one with their creator.
Equally important is the practice of one of the various paths of yoga, which is a series of postures that help control both mind and body. The term yoga comes from the root word yuj that means to yoke or to join (Ghosh). The four most predominant types include karma yoga (the yoga of selfless service and action), bhakti yoga (the yoga of devotion), jnana yoga (the yoga of meditation), and raja yoga (the yoga of will and intellect) (Ghosh). The array of yogas allows a practitioner to pick the one that suits them the best and begin the process of transforming their natural form into a perfect form. The process can be achieved by ridding the mind of any defects and in the process, gaining health, happiness, and self-realization. Regardless of which yoga path gets chosen in the end, a person can expect to free the soul and reach the same destination. A fascinating point brought up by Ghosh in his speech on Hinduism, which was interesting, was that 'in Christianity, everyone wants to go to heaven yet, no one wants to die,' which was fascinating as Hindus tend to live their lives with almost no fear of death.
Another central idea surrounding Hinduism is the ability of any person to reach a state of spiritual and intellectual enlightenment throughout life. Evidence of this can be seen in the Bhagavad-Gita text when Krishna (an avatar of Vishnu) gets asked, 'In what manner does an illumined soul live in the world?' (Novak, 29-60). The goddess explains that a person can only gain equanimity through the detachment of all things connecting them to the world like fame, name, and status. The reasoning for this is that the attachment to things will often interfere with one's thinking and cloud judgments to the truths found in life. Someone who is too attached to something can lose sight and end up seeking things that harm the spirit or the body and ultimately prevent success. These attachments are what binds an individual to the world, making life a struggle as one can not quickly get rid of them. As a final word of advice, Krishna says that only through yoga will the practitioner gain control of the uncontrolled mind.
In brief, Hinduism is one of the oldest religions around with 15% of the world's population paying homage to it. Hinduism is made up of a variety of groups that practice different religious ideas and worship different gods and no founder. All living things, including animals, have a soul. One of the central beliefs of Hinduism is within reincarnation and karma. The amount of good or bad karma a person accumulates will ultimately determine what position they earn in the caste system. The amount of positive karma gained by the individual will also determine if they become one with the creator Brahman. While there are many yoga paths a practitioner can follow, they all lead to the same end, which is salvation. The Bhagavad-Gita is the primary text that helps practitioners with words of wisdom to guide them through life.