While other religions are precisely defined by explicit and often unyielding beliefs, Hinduism condones no such constraints. For the Hindu, intuition is far more important than intellect; experience supercedes dogma; and personal realization is held infinitely more precious than outer expressions or affiliations of faith.

Philosopher and once President of India, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan said it well:

"The mechanical faith which depends on authority and wishes to enjoy the consolations of religion without the labor of being religious is quite different from the religious faith which has its roots in experience."

Hindu religious philosophy is based on experience, on personal discovery and testing of things. It does not say, "Believe as others do or suffer." Rather, it says, "Know thy Self, inquire and be free." There are no heretics in Hinduism, for God is everywhere and in all things. In such an open laboratory, Hindu spirituality has grown over the millennia so diverse and rich that it defies definition. Even knowledgeable Hindus, after a lifetime of study, will hesitate to say that Hinduism is one thing and not another. Indeed, the very idea of a Hindu catechism is, for many, unthinkable, a perilous and impertinent pursuit. Until now, no one has attempted such a complete overview, making this a rare, and perhaps remarkable, book. One might even say an inevitable one. If, therefore, in undertaking the impossible we have overlooked any lineage, neglected any tradition or vital issue, please call to mind that it is human to err and only God is perfect and find room in your heart to overlook any oversight.

A simple warning is due. This collection of customs and beliefs is not a detached, scholastic analysis of Hinduism, but a view from the inside, a view of the religion as Hindus themselves would wish their tradition honored and explained to others. Nor is this yet another dogma added to the mountains of doctrines and decrees which have crushed the human spirit throughout history. Every instinct in Hinduism rebels against the doctrine which is oppressive or narrow-minded. Every instinct in Hinduism rejoices in tolerance and in acknowledgement of the many paths, even those that seem to contradict its own. When you believe that God is everywhere, in all there is wherever it is, it becomes impossible to hate or injure or seek to aggressively convert ot hers. That is the spirit of this book. It is a transcript of the life lived by hundreds of millions of people, one out of six of the human family. Like Hinduism itself, this contemporary catechism is an ongoing revelation--a dance more than a doctrine.

Dancing with Siva!

Dancing with Siva! What an extraordinary expression of our closeness to God, our creative interplay with God. The Cosmic Dance describes the Hindu view of existence, from the first thunder of the drum in His right hand announcing the Beginning, to the final all-consuming flames in His left hand pronouncing the End, which but heralds a new Beginning. Thus, dancing with Siva is everything we do, everything we think and say and feel, from our seeming birth to our so-called death. It is man and God forever engaged in sacred movement.

The ancient sages chose the dance to depict God for good reason. Esoterically, movement is the most primal act of existence. Without this simple thing, there would be no universe, no us, no experience, nothing. Light is movement. Thought is movement. Atoms are movement.Life is movement. And, the Hindu holds, God is movement. Also, dance is the only creative act in which there is perfect oneness of the creator and his creation. Unlike a painting, a poem, an invention or any other artistic impulse, when the dance is over there is no product, no thing to save and enjoy. As with life, we may perceive the dance, never possess it. One cannot separate the dancer from dancing, just as one cannot separate God from the world or from ourselves.

Of special meaning is the place where Siva dances: in the chitsabha, the hall of consciousness. In other words, it happens within each of us. The vast complexity of Siva's Cosmic Dance is traditionally represented in 108 poses. Over twenty centuries ago, Rishi Tirumular of the Nandinatha Sampradaya's Kailasa Parampara praised God Siva's never-ending dance with loving eloquence:

"In all worlds He is, the Holy Lord. In darkness He is, light He is. In sun He is, in moon He is. Everywhere He is. The Lord is in all creation. None knows His coming and going. He is distant. He is near. Multiple He is. One He is. Water, earth, sky, fire and wind, the spark within the body--all these He is. He is the walking jiva here below. Deathless He is."

It is imperative at this time in our history--when the world, our Earth, is on the brink of an inner and outer space age--that we continue to value and learn from ancient Hindu wisdom. Long, long ago, great sages of India unfolded these eternal truths from within themselves and recorded them as written scripture to be sung out through the voices of their representatives today. So great was their insight. Truly, this eternal wisdom lives now and will live on into the next generation, the next and the next. Hear the famed prayer offered by rishis of yore:

Lead me from darkness to light. Lead me from death to immortality."

The Beliefs of Hinduism

Hinduism, more than any other religion, has encompassed the full spectrum of philosophic positions, and to this day venerates living exponents of each. Thus it is that one teacher will praise devotion as the ultimate path, while another, spurning devotion, says liberation comes only upon the shattering of this universe's illusory appearance. How then to understand Hinduism? From the Himalayan vaults, ten thousand streams of thought descend, their cool waters giving life to all below. These flow together, their convergences becoming broad tributaries. From these, two mighty rivers are born which have through history watered and made green the growth of Indian spirituality--one is Vedanta and the other Siddhanta. This contemporary catechism is the confluence of these two potent traditions into a single torrent, the inundation of the Sanatana Dharma in full, fierce flood and force.

What Do Most Hindus Believe?

There are nine beliefs, or shraddha, which though not exhaustive, offer a simple summary of Hindu spirituality:

* Hindus believe in the divinity of the Vedas, the world's most ancient scripture, and venerate the Agamas as equally revealed. These primordial hymns are God's word and the bedrock of Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion which has neither beginning nor end.

* Hindus believe in a one, all-pervasive Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.

* Hindus believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.

* Hindus believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.

* Hindus believe that the soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha, spiritual knowledge and liberation from the cycle of rebirth, is attained. Not a single soul will be eternally deprived of this destiny.

* Hindus believe that divine beings exist in unseen worlds and that temple worship, rituals, sacraments as well as personal devotionals create a communion with these devas and Gods. *

* Hindus believe that a spiritually awakened master, or satguru, is essential to know the Transcendent Absolute, as are personal discipline, good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry and meditation.

* Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, "noninjury."

* Hindus believe that no particular religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine religious paths are facets of God's Pure Love and Light, deserving tolerance and understanding.

Hinduism Is an Eastern Religion

To place Hinduism in the context of world thought, it is first important to note that it is a religion of the East. This is a vital fact, for there is a vast difference between the way seekers in the East and the West have traditionally viewed the ultimate questions: "Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going?" The East has tended to be unitive, idealistic and introspective. The West has tended to be dualistic, materialistic and extroverted. Looking at it simply, the major Eastern religions are Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. The Western religions are Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This comparison does not include the Oriental faiths: Confucianism, Shinto and Taoism.

The Eastern mind tends to see God everywhere, in all things and, therefore, to see everything as sacred. The Western mind considers it heresy to believe that God pervades all things, and makes a strong difference between what is sacred and what is profane. While the Eastern mind holds to karma, reincarnation and liberation, the Westerner postulates a single life for the soul, followed by reward or punishment. Whereas personal inner experience is the crux of religion from the Eastern view, belief and faith are valued most highly in the West. While Eastern religions are accommodating of other views, believing that all paths lead ultimately to God, Western religions tend to be dogmatic, stressing theirs as the one true God and the one true religion.

The Hindu View of Life The soul, in its intelligence, searches for its Self, slowly ascending the path that leads to enlightenment and liberation. It is an arduous, delightful journey through the cycles of birth, death and rebirth culminating in Self Realization, the direct and personal spiritual experience of God, of the Self, of Truth.

This alone among all things in the cosmos can bring freedom from the bondages of ignorance and desire. This is the highest realization. There is none greater. Hindus believe that all women and men are on this path and that all will ultimately reach its summit. It is a glorious and encouraging concept--that every single soul will reach Truth, moksha, none left to suffer forever for human frailties and faults.

Hinduism is our planet's original and oldest living religion, with no single founder. For as long as man has lived and roamed across Earth's land and water masses, breathed its air and worshiped in awe its fire, the Sanatana Dharma has been a guide of righteous life for evolving souls.

Shortly into the twenty-first century, Hindu adherents will number over a billion. All of them are Hindus, yes, but they representa broad range of beliefs, sadhanas and mystic goals. While Hindus believe many diverse and exotic things, there are several bedrock concepts on which virtually all concur.

All Hindus worship one Supreme Reality, though they call it by many names, and teach that all souls will ultimately realize the truth of the Vedas and Agamas. Hindus believe that there is no eternal hell, no damnation. They concur that there is no intrinsic evil. All is good. All is God.

In contrast, Western faiths postulate a living evil force, embodied in Satan that directly opposes the will of God. Hindus believe that the universe was created out of God and is permeated by Him--a Supreme Being who both is form and pervades form, who creates, sustains and destroys the universe only to recreate it again in unending cycles.

Hindus accept all genuine spiritual paths--from pure monism, which concludes that "God alone exists," to theistic dualism, which asks, "When shall I know His Grace?" Each soul is free to find his own way, whether by devotion, austerity, meditation, yoga or selfless service (seva). Hinduism's three pillars are temple worship, scripture and the guru-disciple tradition. Hinduism strongly declares the validity of the three worlds of existence and the myriad Gods and devas residing within them.

Festivals, pilgrimage, chanting of holy hymns and home worship are dynamic practices. Love, nonviolence, good conduct and the law of dharma define the Hindu path. Hinduism explains that the soul reincarnates until all karmas are resolved and God Realization is attained.

Hindus wear the sectarian marks, called tilaka, on their foreheads as sacred symbols, distinctive insignia of their heritage. Hinduism is a mystical religion, leading devotees to personally experience its eternal truths within themselves, finally reaching the pinnacle of consciousness where man and God are forever one. They prefer cremation of the body upon death, rather than burial, believing that the soul lives on and will inhabit a new body on earth.

While Hinduism has many sacred scriptures, all sects ascribe the highest authority to the Vedas and Agamas, though their Agamas differ somewhat. Hinduism's nearly one billion adherents have tens of thousands of sacred temples and shrines, mostly in India, but now located in every community of the global village where Hindus have settled. Its spiritual core is its holy men and women--millions of sadhus, yogis, swamis, vairagis, saints and satgurus who have dedicated their lives to full-time service, devotion and God Realization, and to proclaiming the eternal truths of the Sanatana Dharma.

O Infinite Effulgence, praise be to thee. Hail!
Thou who is water, fire, wind, ether too! Hail thou
who creates all souls but is Himself uncreated. Hail
thou the culmination of all souls, hail! To the one who
embodies within Himself the Vedic hymns and Vedic
Sacrifice, truth and untruth, light and darkness, joy and,sorrow, the divided
and undivided, the attachment and release, the beginning and ultimate end--to Him (Her)
our songs of praise we sing.


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