Hinduism is the religion of the great majority of the people of India. The word comes from the Sanskrit sindhu, “river,” and originally referred to the Indus. Hinduism is actually a collection of many native Indian religions, past and present. It is responsible for the social structure of India, especially for the caste system (a hereditary class system). The oldest of the world’s great religions, Hinduism is the only one without a founder. It has never tried to win converts by force and has always tolerated other religions and absorbed ideas from them.
Hinduism has about 20 sects, with beliefs that range from primitive forms of animism to the highest reaches of mysticism and philosophy. Many of the sects and cults seem to be separate religions. Yet all have a family relationship since they spring from common traditions and thrive on the conditions peculiar to India. Most have a mystic strain and all stress nonviolence. • Describe the major tenets of the Hindu belief system.
Hinduism has many sacred objects and places. The cow is the most sacred of animals and must be protected.
Most sacred of all places is the Ganges River, to which millions go each year to bathe and to become purified. Hindus believe in rebirth, or reincarnation, and in what they call the law of karma. Under this law the conditions of each new lifetime are determined by the actions of the preceding life. To the Hindu, salvation consists of liberating the soul from attachment to worldly desires in order to gain union with Brahman. If a Hindu dies liberated he must be born again into this world and again endure its suffering.