Hinduism: The world's third largest religion

Hinduism differs from Christianity and other Western religions in that it does not have a single founder, a specific theological system, a single system of morality, or a central religious organization. It consists of "thousands of different religious groups that have evolved in India since 1500 BCE." 1 Hinduism has grown to become the world's third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam. It claims about 837 million followers - 13% of the world's population. 2 It is the dominant religion in India, Nepal, and among the Tamils in Sri Lanka. According to the "Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches," there are about 1.1 million Hindus in the U.S. 3 The "American Religious Identification Survey" is believed to be more accurate. 4 They estimated smaller number: 766,000 Hindus in 2001. Still, this is a very significant increase from 227,000 in 1990. Statistics Canada estimates that there are about 157,015 Hindus in Canada. 5 Hinduism is generally regarded as the world's oldest organized religion. Most forms of Hinduism are henotheistic religions. They recognize a single deity, and view other Gods and Goddesses as manifestations or aspects of that supreme God. Henotheistic and polytheistic religions have traditionally been among the world's most religiously tolerant faiths. However, until recently, a Hindu nationalistic political party controlled the government of India. The linkage of religion, the national government, and nationalism led to a degeneration of the separation of church and state in India. This, in turn, has decreased the level of religious tolerance in that country. The escalation of anti-Christian violence was one manifestation of this linkage. With the recent change in government, the level of violence will diminish.
Hinduism is also referred as Vaidika Dharma, meaning "religion of the Vedas," in the ancient Hindu scriptures. Hinduism is not strictly a religion. It is based on the practice of Dharma, the code of life. The original name of Hindu Dharma is Sanatana Dharma, or "universal religion." The underlying tenets of Hinduism cannot be easily defined. Unlike other religions, Hindu Dharma did not originate from a single person, a single book, or at a single point in time. The foundations of this oldest surviving religion were laid by ancient rishis (sages), who taught their disciples the eternal principles of life they had discovered through their meditations. Hindu Dharma is essentially a religion of principles rather than persons. Since Hinduism has no founder, anyone who practices Dharma can call himself a Hindu. Statistically, there are over 700 million Hindus, concentrated mainly in India and Nepal.

Hindu religious thought is based upon the belief in the Ultimate Reality (Brahman of the Upanishads), faith in the reality of the spirit (atman), and faith in the spiritual order of the world. The Rig Veda, the oldest Hindu scripture says: "Ekam sat vipraha, bahudha vadanti", meaning "Truth is one, the wise call it by various names." This doctrine recognizes that the Ultimate Reality possesses infinite potential, power and intelligence, and therefore cannot be limited by a single name or form. Thus, Hindus view the Ultimate Reality as having two aspects: impersonal and personal. The impersonal aspect of the Ultimate Reality is called Nirguna Brahman in Hindu scriptures. Nirguna Brahman has no attributes and, as such, is not an object of prayer but of meditation and knowledge. This aspect of the Ultimate Reality is beyond conception, beyond reasoning and beyond thought. The personal aspect of the Ultimate Reality is known as Saguna Brahman, that is Brahman with attributes. Saguna Brahman is the creator, sustainer and controller of the universe. Saguna Brahman cannot

be limited by one form and is therefore worshipped by Hindus in both male and female forms. As the male aspect, Saguna Brahman is called by various Sanskrit names, such as Ishvara, Parameshvara, Paramãtma, Maheshvara and Purusha. These Sanskrit names represent more or less the same concept as the word God in other religions. As the female aspect, Hindus refer to Saguna Brahman by various names, such as Divine Mother, Durga and Kali. Hindus further worship the male and female aspects of Saguna Brahman in many forms, called deities. Hindu scriptures teach that an individual is essentially atman clothed in a physical body. The Sanskrit word atman, meaning "God within," is usually translated as soul, self or spirit. In a human body atman is the source of the mind, intellect and ego sense. Hindu scriptures declare that atman is immortal and divine. In Hindu view, therefore, an individual is potentially divine and eternally perfect. There are two states of existence associated with atman, the bound state and the liberated state. In the bound state, atman is associated with a physical body. As a result of this association, atman is subject to maya, which causes it to forget its true divine nature and commit evil deeds in the world. In the liberated state, atman is said to have attained moksha (spiritual perfection) and consequently enjoys union with God. Hindus declare that there is only one Supreme Being and He is the God of all religions. Hindus view cosmic activity of the Supreme Being as comprised of three tasks: creation, preservation, and dissolution and recreation. Hindus associate these three cosmic tasks with the three deities, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Lord Brahma brings forth the creation and represents the creative principle of the Supreme Being. Lord Vishnu maintains the universe and represents the eternal principle of preservation. Lord Shiva represents the principle of dissolution and recreation. These three deities together form the Hindu Trinity. One must clearly understand that Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are not three independent deities. They represent the same power (the Supreme Being), but in three different aspects. "The oneness of the three gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva is brought out by the mystic symbol AUM (OM) where 'A' represents Vishnu, 'U' Shiva and 'M' Brahma." The Supreme Being or God, the personal form of the Ultimate Reality, is conceived by Hindus as having various aspects. A Hindu deity represents a particular aspect of the Supreme Being. The Hindu worship of deities can be described as monotheistic polytheism and not simple polytheism. There are many ways of conceiving the Supreme Reality (Brahman) and numerous ways of approaching it. God is the source of goodness and truth. Man's goal in life is to seek union with Him. This union can be sought in many ways, all requiring sincerity of purpose, selfsacrifice and discipline. The highest religious experience is the one in which an individual transcends the intellect and realizes God immediately. There is natural order (rita) inherent in the natural world. There must be moral order (dharma) inherent in human life. Everyone must be responsible for one's actions and their consequences (karma). Individual responsibility and one's ethics are a foundation for individual happiness and social stability. The universe is a wheel of sacrifice (yajna). At the beginning the Supreme Lord performed self-sacrifice to create the universe and set the wheel in motion. There is no intrinsic evil in Nature nor is there any evil force in the world which opposes God. Man commits evil only due to his own ignorance (maya).

Name of the religion:

This religion is called:
• • • Sanatana Dharma, "eternal religion," and Vaidika Dharma, "religion of the Vedas," and Hinduism -- the most commonly used name in North America. Various origins for the word "Hinduism" have been suggested:

It may be derived from an ancient inscription translated as: "The country lying between the Himalayan mountain and Bindu Sarovara is known as Hindusthan by combination of the first letter 'hi' of 'Himalaya' and the last compound letter 'ndu' of the word `Bindu.'" Bindu Sarovara is called the Cape Comorin sea in modern times. 1 It may be derived from the Persian word for Indian. It may be a Persian corruption of the word Sindhu (the river Indus) It was a name invented by the British administration in India during colonial times.

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Early history of Hinduism:

Beliefs about the early development of Hinduism are currently in a state of flux:
• The classical theory of the origins of Hinduism traces the religion's roots to the Indus valley civilization circa 4000 to 2200 BCE. The development of Hinduism was influenced by many invasions over thousands of years. The major influences occurred when light-skinned, nomadic "Aryan" IndoEuropean tribes invaded Northern India (circa 1500 BCE) from the steppes of Russia and Central Asia. They brought with them their religion of Vedism. These beliefs mingled with the more advanced, indigenous Indian native beliefs, often called the "Indus valley culture.". This theory was initially proposed by Christian scholars in the 19th century. Their conclusions were biased by their pre-existing belief in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). The Book of Genesis, which they interpreted literally, appears to place the creation of the earth at circa 4,000 BCE, and the Noachian flood at circa 2,500 BCE. These dates put severe constraints on the date of the "Aryan invasion," and the development of the four Veda and Upanishad Hindu religious texts. A second factor supporting this theory was their lack of appreciation of the sophisticated nature of Vedic culture; they had discounted it as primitive. 2 The classical theory is now being rejected by increasing numbers of archaeologists and religious historians. The originators of the theory were obviously biased by their prior beliefs about the age of the earth and the biblical story of the flood of Noah. Emerging theory: The Aryan Invasion view of ancient Indian history has been challenged in recent years by new conclusions based on more recent findings in archaeology, cultural analysis, astronomical references, and literary analysis. Archaeologists, including Jim Schaffer and David Frawley, have established convincing arguments for this new interpretation. 3 Archaeological digs have revealed that the Indus Valley culture lasted from about 3500 to 1800 BCE. It was not "destroyed by outside invasion, but...[by] internal causes and, most likely, floods." The "dark age" that was believed to have followed the Aryan invasion may never have happened. A series of cities in India have been studied by archaeologists and shown to have a level of civilization between that of the Indus culture and later more highly developed Indian culture, as visited by the Greeks. Finally, Indus Valley excavations have uncovered many remains of fire altars, animal bones, potsherds, shell jewelry and other evidences of Vedic rituals. "In other words

there is no racial evidence of any such Indo-Aryan invasion of India but only of a continuity of the same group of people who traditionally considered themselves to be Aryans...The Indo-Aryan invasion as an academic concept in 18th and 19th century Europe reflected the cultural milieu of the period. Linguistic data were used to validate the concept that in turn was used to interpret archeological and anthropological data." 2 "There was no invasion by anyone." 7

During the first few centuries CE, many sects were created, each dedicated to a specific deity. Typical among these were the Goddesses Shakti and Lakshmi, and the Gods Skanda and Surya. Hindu sacred texts are perhaps the most ancient religious texts still surviving today. Some appear to be millennia older than the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) which conservative Christians date to circa 1500 BCE and liberal scholars date to circa 900 BCE.
• The primary sacred texts of Hinduism are the Vedas: the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The Vedas contain hymns, incantations, and rituals from ancient India. 4 The Rig Veda (a.k.a. Rigveda) may be the oldest of the four. Estimates of its date of composition in oral form range from 1500 BCE to 4000 BCE. The Yajur and Atharva Vedas refer to the vernal equinox having occurred in the Pleiades constellation -- an event dating from about 2500 BCE. The date when the Vedas were placed in written form is unknown. Various dates from 600 to after 300 BCE have been suggested. ○ The Upanishadas deal with Vedic philosophy and form the conclusions of each of the Vedas. "They elaborate on how the soul (Atman) can be united with the ultimate truth (Brahman) through contemplation and mediation, as well as the doctrine of Karma-- the cumulative effects of a persons' actions." 4 The first century CE in written form, based on oral traditions dating back six or seven centuries earlier. 4 4th century BCE in written form, based on oral traditions dating back to 1500 BCE. 6 4000 BCE in oral form, based on astronomical constellations and other features mentioned. 6

An important text is the Ramayana. Various sources have dated it to: ○ ○ ○

It is "a moving love story with moral and spiritual themes that has deep appeal in India to this day" 6 concerning the exploits of the hero Rama who is viewed as an avatar of Vishnu, and as "...a principal deity in his own right." 7 The written form has been attributed to the poet Valmiki.
• The Mahabharata is a group of books attributed to the sage Vyasa. They have been variously dated as having been composed between 540 and 300 BCE, between 200 BCE and 2000 CE, the to the 15th century BCE. They record "the legends of the Bharatas, one of the Aryan tribal groups." The Bhagavad Gita is the sixth book of the Mahabharata. It is a poem describing a conversation between a warrior Arjuna and the God Krishna. It is an ancient text that has become a main sacred text of Hinduism and other belief systems.

Other texts include the Brahmanas, the Sutras, Puranas, and the Aranyakas.

Many of these sacred texts are available online. 4 One web site has a search engine available. 5
Hindu beliefs and practices:

Categorizing the religion of Hinduism is somewhat confusing:
• Hinduism has commonly been viewed in the west as a polytheistic religion one which worships multiple deities: gods and goddesses. Although a widespread belief, this is not particularly accurate. Some have viewed it as a monotheistic religion, because it recognizes only one supreme God: the panentheistic principle of Brahman, that all reality is a unity. The entire universe is seen as one divine entity who is simultaneously at one with the universe and who transcends it as well. Some view Hinduism as Trinitarian because Brahman is simultaneously visualized as a triad -- one God with three persons: ○ ○ Brahma the Creator who is continuing to create new realities Vishnu, (Krishna) the Preserver, who preserves these new creations. Whenever dharma (eternal order, righteousness, religion, law and duty) is threatened, Vishnu travels from heaven to earth in one of ten incarnations. Shiva, the Destroyer, is at times compassionate, erotic and destructive.

○ •

Strictly speaking, most forms of Hinduism are henotheistic; they recognize a single deity, and recognizes other gods and goddesses as facets, forms, manifestations, or aspects of that supreme God. Vaishnavaism: which generally regards Vishnu as the ultimate deity Shivaism: which generally regards Shiva as the ultimate deity.

Most urban Hindus follow one of two major divisions within Hinduism:
• •

However, many rural Hindus worship their own village goddess or an earth goddess. She is believed to rule over fertility and disease -- and thus over life and death. The priesthood is less important in rural Hinduism: non-Brahmins and non-priests often carry out ritual and prayer there. Hindus believe in the repetitious Transmigration of the Soul. This is the transfer of one's soul after death into another body. This produces a continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth through their many lifetimes. It is called samsara. Karma is the accumulated sum of ones good and bad deeds. Karma determines how you will live your next life. Through pure acts, thoughts and devotion, one can be reborn at a higher level. Eventually, one can escape samsara and achieve enlightenment. Bad deeds can cause a person to be reborn as a lower level, or even as an animal. The unequal distribution of wealth, prestige, suffering are thus seen as natural consequences for one's previous acts, both in this life and in previous lives.
Hindus organize their lives around certain activities or "purusharthas." These are called the "four aims of Hinduism," or "the doctrine of the fourfold end of life." They are:

The three goals of the "pravritti," those who are in the world, are: ○ ○ ○ dharma: righteousness in their religious life. This is the most important of the three. artha: success in their economic life; material prosperity. kama: gratification of the senses; pleasure; sensual, sexual, and mental enjoyment. moksa: Liberation from "samsara." This is considered the supreme goal of mankind.

The main goal for the "nivritti," those who renounce the world. is: ○

Meditation is often practiced, with Yoga being the most common. Other activities include daily devotions, public rituals, and puja, a ceremonial dinner for a God. Hinduism has a deserved reputation of being highly tolerant of other religions. Hindus have a saying: "Ekam Sataha Vipraha Bahudha Vadanti," which may be translated: "The truth is One, but different Sages call it by Different Names"

Yama: basic human values in Hinduism. Reincarnation and Karma

As a Hindu, I have to believe in and accept certain basic human values. If I can adopt and practice them, so much the better. These values are sometimes referred to as "Yama": some scholars say there are five Yama, otheres say there are ten, yet others say there are eight. On a comparison of various views, the following emerge in consensus: 1. Satyam: As a Hindu, I believe that I should speak the truth. Here, truth must be tempered with kindness and compassion when needed. If the truth causes harm, when it may sometimes do, it is better not to say it. For example, it is sometimes better not to reveal to a terminally ill patient the terminal nature of his illness. This depends upon a variety of circumstances including the personality of the patient. Individual circumstances, and no general rule, must decide which truth must be tempered in which manner. Our great Texts are full of many discussions, illustrations, stories, etc., on this very point. It is said, "Satyam Brooyat, Priam Brooyat", i.e. the truth and the pleasant truth should be spoken. 2. Ahimsa: A Hindu believes in non-violence. This does not mean vegetarianism, for there does not appear to be any reason for destroying plant life if animal life is not to be sacrificed, too. One reason a vegetarian gives for not eating meat is that meat comes from violence -- "Himsa"; then, if taking life is cruel, why does he eat at all? After all, even plants have life and also feel pain as well as pleasure. In India, cows are milked by first using their calves to begin the flow of milk from the udder. As soon as the first few drops of milk begin to emerge, the milkman forcibly drags the calf away and collects the milk to sell it to the "pure" vegetarian (for some reason, the vegetarian likes to refer to himself as "pure"!): Is such snatching away of from the mouth of an innocent and helpless

creature, all for the pure vegetarian person's selfish consumption, not Himsa? No, the meaning of Ahimsa is not vegetarianism. Rather, Ahimsa means not doing violence beyond that bare minimum without which we ourselves cannot survive. As a Hindu, at least I do not cause untold suffering to an animal by slowly bleeding it to death in the name of religion. Muslims have been known to make very small incisions in the windpipes of large animals like camels and leave them to die a slow, hours-long and agonizing death. Non-violence towards human beings is too well-known a concept to merit discussion in a small article such as this one. 3. Asteyam: This means not taking that which does not belong to one. "Stena" means "stealing" (notice the phonetic similarity between the two words -- an example among many hundreds of similar sounding words across Sanskrit and many languages, indicating the widespread dissemination of Sanskrit culture all over rather than Sanskrit borrowing from other cultures. (And, for the benefit of the vocational critics who journey through life with the sole self-assigned goal of picking perceived holes in others' arguments -- and being vocal and vituperative about it rather than counter/educate with cogent debate -- yes, I know about the common root of Sanskrit and Latin, the ancient Indo-European Language et al. I submit my statement does not contradict this theory of a common linguistic root). As a Hindu, I will not steal or appropriate for myself that which is not rightly mine. Greed and selfishness have no place in the scheme of things of a practicing Hindu. 4. Daya: A Hindu has compassion and sympathy for all living creatures. Hinduism is a "religion" of love, kindness, mercy, selflessness and rendering assistance to the needy even at great cost to oneself. 5. Kshanti: This is an amalgam of related virtues -- the combined virtues of patience, forgiveness and tolerance and withstanding suffering. As a Hindu, I am catholic of outlook, believing in a live and let live policy. I am not a fundamentalist or a bigot. Religious persecution is rarely found in the history of Hinduism. When Charvak propounded his anti-Vedic and materialist theories, no order (or the equivalent of the Muslim Fatwa) was passed by any religious head baying for his life. On the contrary, the merit of his scholarly approach to his theory was recognized (though the theory itself was not accepted) by the very people against whose ideology he wrote and they called him Maharshi Charvak. Such is the catholicity and tolerance of Hinduism. Similarly in the case of Gautama the Buddha - although Buddhism is anti-Hindu, anti-Sanskrit and antiBrahmin, Buddha has been recognized as accorded the place of the ninth Incarnation of the Supreme Godhead (Vishnu). 6. Arjavam: This refers to simplicity, straightforwardness and absence of deceit. A Hindu is one who believes in such openness and who is free from hypocrisy. Kayena Manasa Vacha (by body, mind and speech -- this last includes deed), he is one and only one person. The Shantipaatha of the RgVeda begins thus: "May my speech (this includes deed) be established in (meaning be in conformity with) my mind and may my mind be

established in my speech...":-"Aum Vaang Me Manasi Pratishthitaa Mano Me Vaachi Pratishthitam ..." This was a prayer written about eight millennia ago, showing the refinement of the Hindu mind even at an age so ancient. Which other culture had such heights of thought as early in human history as then? 7. Madhuryam: A Hindu believes in possessing sweetness of disposition and a pleasing and pleasant personality. He is not rude or impolite and comes across as a balanced and likeable person. 8. Dama: This is self-control, i.e., the control of passions. A Hindu does not allow his baser impulses to the get the better of him. He does not surrender to the demands of his sense organs to perverse limits. 9. Dana: This means to give, to teach, to distribute, to share, to purify and to protect. A Hindu is ever ready with these attributes. He gives till it hurts. 10. Akalkata: This means being free of sin. In Hinduism, the word "sin" is not used in the same way as it is used in a religion like Christianity. In Hinduism, sin is not an action. It is the reaction to an action. The abovementioned nine values prevent a person from committing a bad deed (a "sin" in the Christian sense of the word). This value of Akalkata prevents one from reacting negatively to perceived evil. It does not mean being proactive in remedying the wrong. It merely means not being judgmental and condemning somebody without a full appreciation of the facts and circumstances. It means not adopting a superior, virtuous "holier-than-thou" mental attitude. In one of our Texts, a story is told of a righteous vegetarian Brahmin who would leave home every morning on his daily work. His rounds would take him along a certain narrow lane in which there was a butcher's shop. As the Brahmin would pass the shop, he would say to himself, "My God, my God, what a sinner this butcher is. He kills many innocent animals every day". When both died, the butcher went to heaven and the Brahmin went to hell. The butcher had not sinned (because he did not think about his actions) but the Brahmin had, by his reaction to the butcher's actions.

Reincarnation and the law of Karma:

Apart from these basic humanistic values, the Hindu believes in reincarnation and the law of karma. These two concepts are interlinked:
The law of karma says that one reaps as one sows. Reincarnation is the principle of rebirth and there is no way other than acceptance of this principle of reincarnation by which all human phenomena can be rationally


Christians do not believe in reincarnation. Rather, they believe in eternal life after death, either in heaven playing harps and hanging out with other harp playing angels or in hell, suffering eternal damnation of the most horrifying kinds. I cannot conceive how a kind, compassionate, loving, forgiving God who is all mercy can condemn one to eternal damnation in hell -- for all times to come, without hope of redemption -- on the basis of ill deeds committed in one and only one lifetime of say, fifty or sixty or seventy or eighty or even a hundred years. And what about those who die young, as children or maybe as six-month old infants? Do they get eternal hell or do they get to play the harp for ever in heaven? No, I cannot accept this logic. Our Hindu ideas of rebirth and the law of karma are far more reasonable. More, on account of the law of karma, Hinduism -- and only Hinduism -- reflects the principle of justice and the scientific process so completely accurately.

The caste system:
Hindu sects and denominations:

About 80% of Hindus are Vaishnavites, who worship Lord Vishnu. Others follow various reform movements or neo-Hindu sects. Various sects of Hinduism have evolved into separate religious movements, including Hare Krishna, Sikhism and Theosophy. Transcendental Meditation was derived from a Hindu technique of meditation. The New Age movement has borrowed many of its concepts from Hinduism.

What does the mark on the forehead mean?

The colored dot is variously referred to as a "tilaka," "bottu," "bindiya," "kumkum," or "bindi." It is a sign of piety, and a reveals to other people that the wearer is a Hindu. It symbolizes the third eye -- the one focused inwards toward God. Both men and women wear it, although the practice among men is gradually going out of style. In the past, many unmarried women wore black marks, whereas many married women wore red. But in recent times, women often wear dots that match the color of their saris

Human sexuality & gender topics

Tantric sex in its Eastern & Western forms

Tantric sex exists in two main forms:
Tantra is found in advanced Hindu, Vajrayāna Buddhist, and other religious practices throughout Asia. It is an ancient ritual involving extensive preparation

and prior education by the practitioners under the close direction of their guru (teacher).

Neotantra was recently imported into the West and is at least partly divorced from its religious roots. It is also known as "modern tantra," or by the somewhat derogatory term "California Tantra." Neotantra is primarily viewed as a collection of sexual practices including sexual intercourse. Practitioners' goals typically include increased intimacy and a delayed and more powerful orgasm for themselves and their partner.

Tantric sex within Hinduism:

Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world, after Christianity and Islam. It is centered mainly in India. The origin of Tantra has been lost to history. The earliest form of Tantra sex may have been a method of generating bodily fluids as an offering to Tantric deities. The rituals may also have evolved from clan initiation ceremonies. Tantric texts state that sexual activity can have three separate and distinct purposes: procreation, pleasure and liberation. Those who use tantric sex to seek liberation abstain from reaching an "... orgasm in favor of a higher form of ecstasy." 1 Guidance from a guru (teacher) is of primary importance. Tantra is normally considered appropriate only for those "... individuals whose temperament and self control will enable them to forego sexual indulgence." 2 During ritual sex, the male participant represents the god Shiva; the female represents the goddess Kundalini Shakti. At the same time, "... each participant experiences a fusion of their own Shiva and Shakti energies." 2 Contrary to Western belief, Tantric sex was only practiced by a minority of Hindu Tantra sects. Many of those groups that practice sexual Tantra do it symbolically rather than physically.

Tantric sex within Buddhism:

Tantric sex is practiced by some advanced students of Vajrayāna Buddhism. This Buddhist tradition currently has perhaps 10 million adherents and two main sub-schools: Tibetan Buddhism is found in Bhutan, Southwestern China, Mongolia, Nepal, Northern India, Russia, and Tibet. Shingon Buddhism is found in Japan. One of the most important goals in Buddhism is to overcome desire. Vajrayanists feel that the best way to achieve this goal, and to work towards enlightenment, may be to experience desire "... fully and thereby drain it of every mystery." 3 A sadhana is the path by which the sadhaka (practitioner) can attain enlightenment. One sadhana is restricted to experienced sadhakas and involves Tantric sex. The goal is spiritual growth towards enlightenment rather than sexual pleasure. This Buddhist tradition adopted the Hindu concept of energy centers in the human body. They are called chakras (wheels), and total eight in Vajrayāna. Author Kevin Trainor writes:

"The goal of sadhanas is to move the energy released ... upward until it reaches the 'crown chakra" at the top of the head -- the seat of spiritual evolution -- and produces the experience of incomparable bliss, transformed consciousness and nirvana." Some sadhanas call for male and female partners to practice sexual yoga. In this act, the couple join as divine consorts to magnify and move the innate energy upward in both. Profane pleasureseeking and orgasm represent failure, since union should deflect the sexual energy into the mystical channel of enlightenment." 4 The practice is not without its dangers. Vajrayanists believe that breaking the rules -- perhaps by using sadhana techniques to achieve orgasm or by sharing the techniques to non-initiates -- can result in mental illness or trigger many cycles of rebirth in Hell. Practitioner Shambhavi Sarasvati writes: "Authentic Tantrik practice ritualizes every aspect of life in order to place the sadhika (practitioner) in synch with the rhythms of nature. Tantra ritualizes your life from the moment you open your eyes in the morning, throughout your whole day, as you fall asleep, while you are sleeping, and until you open your eyes again the following day. You may practice sexual ritual. You may not. You do not have to do sexual yogas to practice Tantra. 5

Some elements of Tantra have been imported into the West where it is called "modern tantra," "neotantra," or by the deprecating term "California Tantra." FAQ at alt.,magick.tantra comments: "Neo-tantra typically makes use of the traditional tantra yoga asanas (positions), breath control, and meditation, but it is taught outside the framework of Hindu culture and religion. ... Unique to neo-tantra is a modern or New Age tendency to include massage (so-called "tantric massage"), Reichian body-work (e.g. "bio-energetics"), and even counseling (e.g. "sexual healing") to the course of study." 6 The goal sought by the couple is very different: rather than a state of tantric bliss as in Hindu and Buddhist Tantra, it is greater intimacy with each other and a delayed and intensified orgasm for both. Shambhavi Saraswati of Rikhia, India, explains the difference between real Tantra and Neotantra simply: "Neo-Tantra ritualizes sex. Authentic Tantra sexualizes ritual." 1 Practitioner Shambhavi Sarasvati continues: "... authentic Tantra is certainly not about having better orgasms, unless your goal in this life is to realize yourself as a killer orgasm." "... There is a wonderful saying in Tantra: It is better not to begin, but if you begin, it is better to finish. Neo-Tantriks may be having fun, but they have not begun to practice Tantra." 5 Neotantra is sometimes associated with New Age spiritual practices. It is sometimes defined so broadly as to include all forms of sacred sexuality. The term is sometimes used in advertising sex education courses to make them more appealing to the public. It has been used by commercial sex workers as a gimmick to increase sales. It frequently modifies Hindu and Buddhist Tantra by deleting the involvement of a guru and doing away with the necessity for intensive meditation. 7 Georg Feuerstein, a Buddhist with training in Hindu Tantra, wrote: "Many are attracted to Neo-Tantrism because it promises sexual excitement or fulfillment while clothing purely genital impulses or neurotic emotional needs in an aura of spirituality. ... Today

translations of several major Tantras are readily available in book form... This gives would-be Tantrics the opportunity to concoct their own idiosyncratic ceremonies and philosophies, which they can then promote as Tantra." 8 "Adityanath" wrote: "Typically, the Kama Sutra and/or Ananga Ranga are referenced and even referred to as 'Tantras.' In actuality, these works are simply sutras on love and sex and are unrelated to the traditional Tantras."

Hindu religious thought embodies a variety of ideas, principles and practices, giving rise to various religious schools (sampradayas). Each school venerates the Supreme Deity, which represents a particular aspect of the Ultimate Reality (Brahman). Each school has temples, guru lineages, religious leaders, pilgrimage centers, monastic communities and sacred literature. Some of these schools hold such divergent views that each appears to be a complete religion in itself. Yet, they all believe in the central doctrines of Hindu religion, such as karma, dharma, reincarnation, divinity of the atman, sacraments, deity worship, guru-shishya (teacher-disciple) tradition and the scriptural authority of the Vedas. None of these schools is in any way superior or inferior to the others. They simply represent different ways of approach to the same goal and are meant for various classes of people having different tastes, aptitudes, temperaments, and exhibiting various levels of spiritual development.

The science of Vedanta is enshrined in the original spiritual texts of India. It is founded on the authority of the Upanishads, the Bhagwad Gita and the Brahmasutram of Badrayana Vyasa. Vedanta brings out the mystical, ethical and metaphysical aspects of philosophy. The abiding knowledge of Vedanta rests in the vision of the One Reality, a vision that transcends race, class, creed, gender and nationality. Vedanta is the one principle of truth encompassing all religions. There are three different philosophies on this concept. Advaita (non-duality) implies that there is an identity of Brahman and Jiva atman while Dvaita (duality) differs from Advaita and maintains an ultimate diversity between Brahman and Jiva atman. Visistadvaita (qualified non-duality) maintains a crucial differentiation as well as a fundamental identity. Advaita is the oldest extant school of Vedanta founded by Adi Shankaracharya. Advaita asserts that the real, essential identity of the jiva, the individual self, is nothing other than Brahman itself. It asserts that Brahman, the 'impersonal' God and the universal soul, is the Absolute Truth. Brahman has multiple roles to play: the creator, the maintainer, and the destroyer all in one. The teaching follows from the statements of the Upanishads (Mahavakyas) like tat tvam asi and aham brahmasmi. It is in this cardinal doctrine that Advaita differs from all other schools of Vedanta. The Visishtadvaita philosophy was expounded by Sri Ramanuja. According to this desirable qualities viz., satyam, jnanam and anandam. The main exponent of the Dvaita philosophy was Sri Madhava (Purnaprajna). It says that the supreme goal of life is service of god. Other systems which are not quite popular as the above mentioned philosophies include Dvaitadvaita (dual-non-dual doctrine), Suddhadvaita (pure non-dualism) and Acinntyaa bhedabheda (oneness and difference) were expounded by Nimbarka, Vallabha and

Vidyabhusana respectively. All the above philosophers have written commentaries on the Prasthana-traya (triple canon) of the Vedanta, which are the Upanishads, Brahma sutra and the Bhagwad Gita. The Hindu religious systems have been classified by Adi Shankaracharya into six major paths, called Shad-maths. These are Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Ganapathyam, Kaumaram, and Sauram or Jyotiam.

The followers of Shaivism venerate the Ultimate Reality as Lord Shiva. This tradition has been traced back by scholars to the Indus Valley Civilization. The archeologists have

discovered the so-called proto-Pashupati seals of this civilization, which depict Shiva as Lord Pashupati, seated in a yogic pose. There are many schools of Shaivism, of which the six major systems are Shaiva Siddhanta, Pashupata Shaivism, Kashmir Shaivism, Vîra Shaivism, Siddha Siddhanta and Shiva Advaita. These systems differ somewhat in their doctrines pertaining to the relationship between Shiva, the Atman and the world. Most Hindus worship Lord Shiva as a member of the Hindu Trinity. However, the followers of Shaivism, called Shaivas or Shaivites, worship Him as the Ultimate Reality. The predominant philosophy of Shaivism is monistic-theism. According to this doctrine, Lord Shiva is both personal and impersonal. In the personal aspect, Shiva creates, controls and pervades all that exists. In this aspect, Shiva is what other religions call God. Shaivism declares that there is nothing outside Shiva and, thus, recognizes the oneness of Pati-pau-pasa (GodAtman -World). In the impersonal aspect, Shiva transcends all existence and in the liberated state the Atman is one with Shiva. The main objects of Shiva worship are shivalinga and images of Shiva. The linga symbolizes both the creative and destructive power of the Lord and great sanctity is attached to it by the devotees. The banalingas are very sacred objects of worship to the followers of Shaivism. These are the elliptical stones of a special kind found in the bed of the river Narmada, one of the seven sacred rivers in India. Fresh flowers, pure water, young sprouts of Kusha (a holy grass) and durva (called bent or panic grass), fruit, bilva leaves and sundried rice are used in the ritual part of the Shiva worship. According to tradition, offering leaves of the bilva tree (wood-apple) is considered very auspicious for the worship of Lord Shiva. Mahashivaratri (the great night of Shiva) is an annual festival that falls on the fourteenth day of the dark fortnight of Phalguna (February-March), and is dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva. In mythology, Shiva is the husband of Parvati, the daughter of the Himalayas. They have two sons, Ganesha and Karttikeya and a daughter Jyoti. Their residence is the snow-clad mountain Kailash. The mythology depicts Shiva both as God of terror as well as benevolence. His five powers are revealment (offering grace to the devotees), concealment (obscuring by His power of maya), creation, preservation and dissolution. The major scriptures of Shaivism are Vedas, Shaiva Agamas and Shaiva Puranas.

Vaishnavism venerates the Ultimate Reality as Lord Vishnu. This tradition began during the Vedic period when its earliest schools Pancharatra and Bhagavata became popular around 300 BC. Modern day Vaishnavism includes five popular schools founded by Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarka, Vallabha and Chaitanya. Most Hindus worship Lord Vishnu as a member of the Hindu Trinity. However, the followers of Vaishnavism, called Vaishnavas or Vaishnavites, worship Lord Vishnu as the Ultimate Reality. Although the philosophy of Vaishnavism includes dualism of Madhva, qualified dualism of Ramanuja, and nearly monistic views of Vallabha, the predominant philosophy of Vaishnavism is dualism. According to this doctrine, there are two categories of the Ultimate Reality. Lord Vishnu as personal God is the Absolute Reality, and the Atmans (individuals souls) are the relative realities, eternally distinct from each other and Lord Vishnu, but dependent on Him. The doctrine of incarnation (avatara) is fundamental to all Hindus, especially to Vaishnavas. Lord Vishnu assumed each avatara for a particular end and as the situation demanded. The number of avataras of Lord Vishnu is generally accepted to be ten, with Rama and Krishna being the two most popular among Hindus. Vaishnavism stresses on complete surrender (prapatti) to Lord Vishnu and His incarnations and advocates devotion (bhakti) as the highest spiritual discipline. The objects of worship are the images of Lord Vishnu and His incarnations, and salagramas, small stones of different colors (predominantly black) recovered from the bed of the river Gandaki, one of the tributaries of the Ganges river in India. Fresh flowers, water, fruits and leaves of the tulasi plant are used in the ritual part of the worship of Lord Vishnu and His incarnations. One of the unique features of the Vaishnava worship is kirtana, which consists of choral singing of the names and deeds of Lord Vishnu and His incarnations, accompanied by drums and cymbals and synchronized with rhythmic bodily movements. The major scriptures of Vaishnavism are Vedas, Agamas, Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagwad Gita.

Shakti means "creative energy," and Shaktism means "Doctrine of the Creative Energy." Shaktism venerates the Ultimate Reality as the Divine Mother-Shakti or Devi-of the universe.

Archeologists have recovered thousands of female statuettes at the Mehrgarh village in India, which indicate that Shakti worship existed in India as far back as 5500 BC. There are references to the female deities in the Rig Veda, including a popular Hymn to the Divine Mother, which holds special sanctity to Hindus in general and Shaktas (the followers of Shaktism) in particular. Shaktism visualises the Ultimate Reality as having two aspects, transcendent and immanent. Shiva is the transcendent aspect, the supreme cosmic consciousness, and Shakti is the supreme creative energy. Shiva and Shakti are God and God's creative energy, which are inseparably connected. Metaphorically, Shiva and Shakti is an inseparable divine couple, representing the male and female principles in creation.

Shaktism greatly resembles Shaivism, but Shiva is considered solely transcendent and is not worshipped. Like Shaivism, the goal of Shaktism is to unite with Shiva. Such unity is possible only with the grace of the Divine Mother, who unfolds as iccha shakti (the power of desire, will and love), kriya shakti (the power of action), and jnana shakti (the power of knowledge and wisdom). Within Shaktism, Shiva is the un-manifest Absolute and Shakti is the Divine Mother of the manifest creation. The Divine Mother is worshipped in both the fierce and benign forms. The fierce forms of Goddess include Kali, Durga, Chandi, Chamundi, Bhadrakali and Bhairavi. The benign forms of Goddess include Uma, Gauri, Ambika, Parvati, Maheshvari, Lalita, Lakshmi, Saraswata and Annapurna. The major scriptures of Shaktism are Vedas, Shakta agamas and Puranas.

Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity, represents that aspect of the Ultimate Reality which removes obstacles. Hindus, therefore, invoke Lord Ganesha at the beginning of all

undertakings, whether religious, spiritual or worldly, for Lord Ganesha removes obstacles and brings success to the enterprise. Ganesha is also called Vighneshvara, meaning "the Lord presiding over the obstacles." In the Rig Veda, Ganesha is the name of Brihapati, the Lord of prayer (the Holy Word). In mythology Ganesha is the first son of the divine couple Shiva and Parvati. Ganapatyas, followers of Ganapathyam, venerate Lord Ganesha exclusively as the form of the Ultimate Reality (Brahman) that is accessible to the mind, senses and (through devotional practices) the heart. Ganapatyas regard Moraya Gosavi (1651 AD), the famous devotee of Ganesha, as their spiritual progenitor. Tradition holds that Moraya experienced a series of visions of Ganesha at a shrine at Moragaon, near Pune. An annual ten-day festival, Ganesha Chaturthi, is held in August-September to celebrate the birth of Ganesha. The major scriptures of this tradition are Vedas, Skanda Purana, and Mudgala Purana.

The followers of this tradition venerate Lord Karttikeya, also called by other names such as Murugan, Kumara, Skanda, Subramanya and Shanmukhanatha, as their Ishta Devata (personal-God). Lord Karttikeya represents the power of the Ultimate Reality (Brahman) that destroys ignorance, bestows divine knowledge, upholds dharma (righteousness), removes worries and strengthens human will. In popular pictures and images, Karttikeya is shown holding a spear, which symbolizes his divine power to destroy ignorance and unrighteousness. On the day of Vaikasi Vishakham in May-June, elaborate pujas and special ceremonies (abhishekam) are conducted in homes and temples in the honour of Lord Karttikeya. His protection and grace are specially invoked on the day of Skanda Shashthi, which falls on the sixth day after the new moon in October-November. In January-February,

another holy festival (Tai Pusam) is celebrated in his honour. Special pujas are performed in honor of Lord Karttikeya every month on Krittika nakshatra and Shashthi, the sixth day after the new moon.

The power of the sun to dispel darkness, illuminate the world and nourish mankind is recognized by Hindus as an aspect of the infinite power of the Ultimate Reality (Brahman). The worship of this triple power of the Divine, symbolized by the Vedic deity Surya, the Sun-god, is called Sauram. Surya is worshipped by Hindus s an object of meditation during many physical exercises. Devout Hindus recite sacred verses selected from the epic and Puranic literature daily early in the morning before commencing the day's work. The best known of the hymns to the sun is one from Ramayana that was imparted to Rama during his battle with Ravana. Hindus in general worship the sun every year on the seventh day after the new moon in the month that corresponds to January-February. Sacred mantras are recited for the special worship of the sun, especially on Sundays, birthdays and at other special functions. Prostrations are made to the sun after each tenth mantra until one hundred and thirty-two prostrations have been completed. These prostrations are called Surya-Namaskara. The following most sacred Rigvedic prayer, named after its meter, is called Gayatrî, meaning "the saviour of the singer." It is considered to be the mantra of all mantras, the most potent mantra, repeated as many times as possible by Hindus daily in puja and personal chanting to venerate the sun as the Creator (Savitar). The mystic power of this mantra is so high that it is called Vedamatri, meaning "Mother of the Vedas." Gayatri Mantra is imparted to a young boy for initiation into Vedic tradition.

Yamas & Niyamas -- The Moral and Ethical Ideals of Hindus
Ethics can be described as the science of morality, and morality as the living of a virtuous life. Hindus place greater emphasis on the attitude of the mind rather than on postulation of the elaborate theories of what is right and what is wrong. Accordingly, the Hindu vision of morality and ethics is characterized by the following considerations: Ahimsa (non-injury), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (controlling sex), Kshama (forgiveness), Dhriti (firmness), Daya (compassion), Arjava (honesty), Mitahara (Refrain from consuming meat), Shaucha (purity), Hri (remorse), Santosha (contentment), Dana (tithing), Astikya (faith), Pujana (worship), Shravana (hearing of scriptures), Mati (cognition), Vrata (sacred vows), Japa (chanting) and Tapas (austerity).