Hinduism , a religious tradition of Indian origin, comprising the beliefs and practices of Hindus. The word Hindu is derived from the river Sindhu, or Indus. Hindu was primarily a geographical term that referred to India or to a region of India (near the Sindhu) as long ago as the 6th century bc. The word Hinduism is an English word of more recent origin. Hinduism entered the English language in the early 19th century to describe the beliefs and practices of those residents of India who had not converted to Islam or Christianity and did not practice Judaism or Zoroastrianism.
In the case of most religions, beliefs and practices come first, and those who subscribe to them are acknowledged as followers. In the case of the Hindu tradition, however, the acknowledgment of Hindus came first, and their beliefs and practices constitute the contents of the religion.
Hindus themselves prefer to use the Sanskrit term sanātana dharma for their religious tradition. Sanātana dharma is often translated into English as “eternal tradition” or “eternal religion” but the translation of dharma as “tradition” or “religion” gives an extremely limited, even mistaken, sense of the word. Dharma has many meanings in Sanskrit, the sacred language of Hindu scripture, including “moral order,” “duty,” and “right action.”
The Hindu tradition encourages Hindus to seek spiritual and moral truth wherever it might be found, while acknowledging that no creed can contain such truth in its fullness and that each individual must realize this truth through his or her own systematic effort. Our experience, our reason, and our dialogue with others—especially with enlightened individuals—provide various means of testing our understanding of spiritual and moral truth. And Hindu scripture, based on the insights of Hindu sages and seers, serves primarily as a guidebook. But ultimately truth comes to us through direct consciousness of the divine or the ultimate reality. In other religions this ultimate reality is known as God. Hindus refer to it by many names, but the most common name is Brahman.
In many religions truth is delivered or revealed from a divine source and enters the world through a single agent: for example, Abraham in Judaism, Jesus in Christianity, and Muhammad in Islam. These truths are then recorded in scriptures that serve as a source of knowledge of divine wisdom: the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur’an. In the Hindu tradition, by contrast, there is no single revelation or orthodoxy (established doctrine) by which people may achieve knowledge of the divine or lead a life backed by religious law. The Hindu tradition acknowledges that there are many paths by which people may seek and experience religious understanding and direction. It also claims that every individual has the potential to achieve enlightenment.
The Hindu community today is found primarily in India and neighboring Nepal, and in Bali in the Indonesian archipelago. Substantial Hindu communities are present in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Mauritius, Fiji, the West Indies, East Africa, and South Africa. Scattered Hindu communities are found in most parts of the Western world. Hindus today number nearly 900 million, including about 20 million who live outside India, making them the third largest religious community in the world, after Christians and Muslims.
Teachings of Hinduism :
Because defining Hinduism is so difficult and because we have called it the sum of the belief and practices of Hindus, it is best to approach Hinduism through its teachings.
Within Hinduism there are various schools of thought, which Hindu scholars have systematized in different ways. All of these schools have enriched Hinduism with their individual emphases: Nyāya on rigorous logic, Vaiseshika on atoms and the structure of matter, Sānkhya on numbers and categories, Yoga on meditation techniques, Mīmāmsā on the analysis of sacred texts, and Vedānta on the nature and experience of spirituality. Their teachings are usually summarized in texts called sūtras or aphorisms. These sūtras can be memorized easily and recited as a means of gaining spiritual focus.
History of Hinduism :
Hinduism does not attach the same religious significance to historical events that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do. Some have compared Hinduism’s indifference to the history of a religious idea or practice to a scientist’s indifference to the history of science. What is of value to both is the idea or practice as such.
The history of Hinduism thus becomes a history of its quest to incorporate the various developments it has encountered or generated, rather than a history of conquest of or triumph over these historical developments. The contrast is apparent in the Biblical injunction to believe in one God who is the only God and the Vedic perception that “Truth is one, sages call it variously.”
Considerable controversy remains over Hinduism’s historical origins. At one time scholars believed that the arrival of the Aryan people in India about 1500 bc represented a critical moment in the history of Hinduism. The Aryans replaced the earlier Harappan culture in the Indus valley, and they are the people described in the Vedas, the earliest sacred literature of Hinduism. Although linguistic evidence tends to support the notion of an Aryan migration, most scholars now believe this view awaits confirmation by archaeology, especially because it has been challenged by the discovery of extensive sites in northwestern and western India. So far there is no clear-cut answer to the key question: Did Hinduism as described in the Vedas originate in India or did it arise as a result of migrations from outside? What is clear is that the Hinduism of the Vedas goes back at least to 1200 bc in India and perhaps much earlier.