Almost all religions have behind them followers who believe that theirs is the ultimate religion. While it is not an uncommon practice for people to believe that about their religion there are of course always others who would disagree, because so far nothing takes the place of their specific doctrine of faith. There is though one religion that stands out above and beyond the rest, not simply because it has stood the test of time but it is also perhaps the most tolerant of faiths as well…Hinduism.
What makes Hinduism appealing to so many is the that through it all religions are valid. All religions are significant in Hinduism because they are all part of the absolute path to the ultimate God. As long as the belief of the individual is pure and their heart true, the path will lead them to God. Even when it appears that our very existence negates any possibility of such a thing.
There has been some debate on the exact date of origin in concern of Hinduism, but it is generally believed to have been around since 1500 b.c.e. (1). It is therefore the oldest religion in practice, with over one billion followers around the world. What has made it stand the test of time is perhaps the nature of the Hindu God Brahman and the many ways one can connect to this supreme being. Hindus believe the nature of God is akin to the universe and all that is beyond it. Brahman is omnipotent, everywhere you look you are looking at Brahman. Everything that surrounds you is part of the original identity.
Hindu’s believe their God is one of omnipotent power but that you can get to him/her through several paths and deities. There are many individual deities in Hinduism (2), and their sole purpose is to bring about one end result; if you have one need that you want fulfilled then you need only ask one specific deity for it. Take the beloved Ganesha for instance, who besides Brahman himself is perhaps the most popular deity. He is the elephant headed son of Shiva and Parvati and he is the God Hindus look to for help in difficult situations. He is believed to remove obstacles that stand in the way. Hinduism might not appear monotheistic with it’s many personal deities but that could not be farther from the truth. All paths lead to Brahman, the personal gods are a fit for a specific need, a tool used to link one with Brahman. They are needed because Brahman has no form and therefore is unknowable in this world. Brahman is knowledge in all sense of the word, and all that knowledge is believed to come to each person upon their liberation.
There are three ways to reach liberation; karma yoga, jnana yoga, and bhakti yoga (1). The first path is one in which people must be willing to put the needs or wishes of others before one’s own. Hindus greatly believe in karma, which literally means ritual action. There is no fate in this world, there is cause and effect. If ones actions benefit others then beneficial actions will come back to them. Karma is used to make sense of the evil in the world. Too much negative karma will result in a rebirth and and a much longer wait to liberation.
The second path jnana yoga is the way of knowledge. It is believed that through studying the Hindus sacred scriptures one can then meditate through yoga on their learned scriptural knowledge and gain insight into the divine power and true essence of the universe. It has been said that without the practice of yoga one could not be liberated. Yoga is the path to the union of the human with the divine. Through its practice one can reflect objectively while preparing themselves for the transformation of liberation, which is always the end goal.
The last path to liberation is bhakti yoga, or the way of love and devotion. It is the ultimate promise that if one surrenders their love and devotion to Brahman they will then ultimately find their way to him/her.
There is so much more to Hinduism than can be put into a single article. If Hinduism sounds interesting to you then some suggestive reading would be to start with the Vedas. The Vedas, are the most authoritative of all Hindu texts.
Oxtoby, W., & Segal, A. (2012). A concise introduction to world religions (second edition ed.). : Oxford University Press. (1)
Bowen, J. (). Religions in Practice, An Approach To The Anthropology Of Religion (sixth edition ed.). : Nancy Roberts. (2)