(A handbook of religion
was published by the Foundation for Pluralism in August 2004.
All the groups were given the same set of questions, and some
are really silly like denominations in Atheism. Here is the
production of such writings from Atheism to Zoroastrianism and
every one in between; it is in two parts, essence of the faith
and general information about it. We invite you to send your
firstname.lastname@example.org for updates and new
information.- Please send us the preferred websites to be linked
at the bottom - THE INFORMATION IS IN TWO PARTS)
PROFILE & ESSENCE
By: Swami Nityananda
Hinduism, or Vaishnava Dharma emanates from a long succession of
spiritual teachers and disciples (parampara). There are
four major disciplic successions (sampradayas), The
Brahma Sampradaya, founded by Lord Krishna Himself, who last
appeared in person more than 5,000 years ago.
There are many branches to this sampradaya. A principal
branch was inspired by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the 15th
the lineage of Vaishnavas (Vaishnava means “one who loves
Vishnu”) began with the appearance of Lord Brahma, the creator,
and was significantly inspired by Sri Caityanya Mahaprabhu, an
incarnation of Krishna who appeared more than 500 years ago.
People who shaped the religion: The principle is that
Vaisnava teachings should be passed on, unchanged, from guru to
disciple, the Supreme Lord being the first guru. The most
prominent devotees in this lineage are accepted as acaryas:
those who teach by example, who carry the line forward. Listed
below are the principle acaryas since creation:
Krishna, Brahma, Narada, Vyasa, Madhva, Padmanabha, Nrhari,
Madhava, Akshobhya, Jaya Tirtha, Jnanasindhu, Dayanidhi,
Vidyanidhi, Rajendra, Jayadharma, Purushottama, Brahmanya Tirtha,
Vyasa Tirtha, Laxmipati, Madhavendra Puri, Isvara Puri
(Nityananda Advaita), Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Rupa Goswami (Svarupa
Damodara, Sanatana Goswami), Jiva Goswami, Gopal Bhatta Goswami,
Ragunatha dasa Goswami, Ragunatha Batta Goswami, Krsnadasa
Kaviraja Goswami, Narottama Dasa Thakura, Visvanatha Cakravarti
Thakura, Srila Balaldeva Vidyabhusana, Jagannatha Dasa Babaji,
Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Gaurakisora Dasa Babaji, Bhaktisiddhanta
Saraswati Thakura, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
People who wrote the books:
Our books are commentaries, on the Vedas (composite of all
ancient scriptures), written by various teachers mentioned
above. Of special note is the work of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
Prabhupada (Srila Prabhupada), who translated the largest amount
of our scriptures from the original Sanskrit into the English
language, which has then been translated into dozens of other
Who is worshiped? Krishna, a name for God meaning "all
attractive", His many incarnations, collectively known as
Vishnu-tattva, other specially empowered personalities who are
demi-gods and demi-godesses, and a very powerful personality in
between Vishnu-tattva and the other specially empowered
personalities, Lord Shiva (whose followers are known as
Holy Books (Original Language): main scriptures include the
Bhagavad Gita and the Srimad Bhagavatam.
Originally these were written in the ancient Sanskrit language.
Holy Places of Worship: Vrindavana, (birthplace of Lord
Krishna), Mayapura, (birthplace of Lord Caitanya), Dwaraka,
Ayodhya ( Lord Ramachandra’s birthplace) and many other places,
too numerous to list.
Key Tenets: The Vedic scriptures state that spiritual
life begins when one inquires into the nature of the absolute
truth, the Supreme Godhead. Vaishnavas are monotheists and know
the personality of Godhead as Krishna, the All-attractive. It is
also recognized that the Supreme Lord has unlimited names such
as Christ, Krishna, Allah, Rama, Buddha, Vishnu, Jehovah, etc.
The ultimate goal of Vaishnavas is to develop a personal loving
relationship with the Supreme Godhead.
The Vedas also tell us that the understanding of the self, as
being non-material or spiritual by nature, is the preliminary
stage of realization of the absolute truth. To understand
knowledge of self-realization one must approach a genuine
spiritual master, just as one learns the essence of any subject
from a perfected practitioner.
The congregational chanting of the maha-mantra, Hare Krishna,
Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama,
Rama Rama, Hare Hare, as promoted by Sri Caitanya, is accepted
by the Vedas as the most effective means of self-purification in
this age. The Vedas describe the mantra as a prayer to the Lord,
"O, All Attractive Lord, O Reservoir of Happiness, please engage
me in Your service".
Prayer Rituals: Daily chanting of the maha mantra (Hare
Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama,
Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare) privately on beads (called japa)
and in congregational style (called sankirtan).
Current Leadership: In 1970 Srila Prabhupada formed a
Governing Body Commission (GBC) to help manage ecclesiastically
an expanding ISKCON (the International Society for Krishna
Consciouness) the largest organized group of Vaishnavas. Before
Srila Prabhupada passed away in 1977, he requested that
international ecclesiastical authority for ISKCON be passed to
this Commission. The GBC decides ISKCON's major international
ecclesiastical strategies and guidelines by democratic voting
and in consultation with Temple Presidents and other leaders.
On a local level, decisions are made by the Temple President,
with larger decisions in consultation with other leaders,
including the GBC representative (see above) for the region. An
international division of the GBC also exists for ecclesiastical
matters concerning the society worldwide.
Interpretations: All scriptural interpretations are
strictly according to the Nirukti (the most authoritative and
respected dictionary of Vedic Sanskrit language).
Myths: Vaishnavas do not accept myths as part of
religion. Religion is based on scientific spiritual knowledge
as revealed by the Supreme Lord.
Denominations: Vaishnavas are non sectarian and hence do
not admit distinctions based on worldly identities.
Major Festivals: Janmastami (appearance of Lord Krishna),
Vyasa Puja (appearance of the spiritual master), Gaura Purnima
(appearance of Lord Caitanya), Ratha Yatra (festival of the
chariots), Rama Navami (appearance of Lord Ramachandra),
Nrsingha Caturdasi (appearance of Lord Nrsinghadeva), Radhastami
(appearance of Srimati Radharani), Diwali (festival of lights),
Govardhana Puja (celebrating the eternal pastime of Lord Krishna
protecting His devotees), Balarama Jayanti (appearance of Lord
Balarama), and many others.
Dietary Laws: vegetarian - no eating of meat, fish, or
eggs, all preparations are offered to Krishna before partaking.
Sensitivities: Devotees are non-violent (violence is
defined as anything which hampers the progress of any living
entity towards God).
What is not polite? It is not polite to be
disrespectful and inconsiderate of others.
Customs from birth to death: Garbhadhana (conception
rites), Pumsavana (rites for obtaining a good child),
Simantonnayana (parting of hair rites), Sosyani-homa (pre-child
birth rites), Jata-karma (rites for the child’s good
intelligence), Niskramana (rites for child’s first outing),
Paustika-karma (ceremony for the child’s health), Nama-karana
(name giving ceremony and child protection), Mundana (cutting
the first hairs), Anna-prasana (first food grains ceremony),
Karna-vedha (piercing the ears), Cuda-karanama (hair shaving
ceremony), Vidyarambha (learning the alphabet), Upanayana
Harinama Mantra-diksa (acceptance of a spiritual master),
Vivaha-samskara (marriage rites) Antyesti-kriya (funeral rites).
Textual support for Pluralism: The Supreme Lord is the
Father of all living entities, their best friend, well-wisher
World Population: There are more than 800 million
Vaishnavas all over the world.
US population: More than 1 million.
North Texas Population: More than 100,000.
Compiled by RK Panditi
one of the oldest and one of the most popular religions in the
world. There are more than 800 million Hindus in India alone and
several millions more reside in countries all over the world. In
spite of the large number of followers, Hinduism is not well
understood by the non-Hindu population of the world. One reason
for this is that the existing literature on Hinduism presents a
complicated and sometimes apparently inconsistent picture of the
name for the country was Bharata Varsha - the land of Bharata, the king who ruled
the country in ancient times. The true name of the religion is
Sanatana Dharma. Sanatana means ancient and eternal. Dharma
means moral duty. The word Sanatana Dharma connotes a Universal
Way of Life for all living entities.
unique because it is not founded by a messiah or a guru. Hindus
believe that the Creator created both the Universe and the
Knowledge about it simultaneously. The seers, called Rishis,
obtained this Knowledge of Divine Law directly from God. Another
characteristic of Hinduism is that it is not formally organized
under any human authority. The religious authority has to be
earned by one’s own piety and spiritual dedication.
other religion has as much ancient original literature as
Hinduism does. To start with, the most fundamental and ancient
scripture is the Veda. Veda means knowledge. God himself taught
this knowledge to Brahma, the creator, who imparted it to the
Rishis. Vedic knowledge is divine knowledge and is very vast and
comprehensive. The Vedas discuss God, religion, science,
mathematics, logic, grammar and many other subjects. The great
sage Vyasa organized this knowledge in to four Vedas - Rig Veda,
Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharvana Veda. Disciples from a Guru
through oral tradition learned this knowledge. Hence the Vedas
are also called Shruti. The word Shruti is derived from the root
shrun which means to hear.
believe that the Vedas contain ALL the knowledge of the God’s
Creation. The last chapters of the Vedas are called Vedanta (end
of the Vedas) and are collected in the Upanishads. Here is the
discussion of the nature of Brahman, the God, extracted from the
vast literature of the Vedas. There are one hundred and eight
The next tier
of the scriptures is called the Puranas. Purana literally means
the ancient. Some believe that the Puranas are even more ancient
than the Vedas but this is doubtful. There are eighteen Puranas
in all each describing the life story of God in a particular
incarnation at a particular time and space. The Puranas are
works of great literary beauty and present the intricate
philosophies of Veda in a format that is easy to understand and
remember. These are extremely popular literature of India. There
is not a single Hindu who does not know at least a few stories
from one of these eighteen Puranas. The Bhagavata Purana is the
most popular of the eighteen and is a monumental works
containing twelve books, called Skandas. This Purana narrates
all the ten significant incarnations of God although the main
emphasis is on the life-story of Krishna and His miracles.
Next come the
Itihasas - histories. The Ramayana and the Maha Bharata are the
two principal epics of India. The Ramayana is the biography of
the Lord in His incarnation as Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, an
ancient dynasty in Northern India. The Maha Bharata contains
eighteen chapters and more than 200,000 lines of poetry (100,000
couplets). It is about seven times the size of Iliad and Odyssey
combined. Although this is mostly a historical narration, it is
interspersed with discussions of God, dharma, ethics, duty,
good, evil and almost everything under the Sun. Therefore it is
sometimes called the Fifth Veda. It is in this work that the
greatest of Hindu religious texts, The Bhagavad Gita, is
embedded. The Bhagavad Gita is narrated by the Lord Krishna
Himself to His friend and disciple Arjuna on the battlefield of
Gita contains eighteen chapters and discusses the nature of God,
Creation, destiny of man, man’s relation to God and means of
realizing God in one’s lifetime. This work presents in a
distilled form the very essence of a universal religion.
fundamental beliefs shared by all Hindus are the existence of
one God, the Law of Karma and the Cycle of Reincarnation. The
most misunderstood concept of Hinduism is its belief in one God.
It has been erroneously labeled as pantheistic because of the
numerous gods and goddesses one finds in it. But one has to go
deeper in to the philosophy of Hinduism to understand the
underlying principle of unity. Hindus believe that even though
God is One, He manifests differently at different times to
different people according to their need and faith. Further,
they believe that He bestows His Grace on humans in whatever
form they worship Him.
The Law of
Karma can be simply explained by referring to the fact that
whatever one sows, that one reaps. Karma is misunderstood as
encouraging fatalism. On the contrary, it puts the full burden
of one’s salvation on one’s own shoulders. Good living bestows
good karma and bad living brings bad karma. One takes birth
according to one’s karma to reap its fruits and work it out.
Thus the human birth presents a rare chance to nullify one's
past karma while making it possible to move closer to God. Human
birth is not easily obtained and it is unwise to waste it in
ignorance of God.
The concept of
rebirth is related to the Law of Karma. All Hindus believe that
there exists an entity that survives eternally. That entity is
named atman or soul. The soul is indestructible, eternal and
deathless. It is only the body that decays and drops off. The
soul simply takes on a new body according to its karma. The
ultimate goal of all created beings is to reach God and escape
this endless cycle of birth and death. This reaching of God is
called Moksha (Freedom).
contains the most comprehensive theosophy one can hope for.
Basically, there are five elements to the philosophy: God, the
individual souls called the jivas, the prakriti or the material
nature, karma and Time. God is the Cause and Destiny of the
Universe. He is Unborn, Eternal and without a beginning or end.
The individual souls (jivas) are eternal and are of the same
nature as that of God but not the same. The analogy given is
that of sparks (jivas) and the fire (the God). The material
nature is made of three qualities: the goodness, the passion and
the ignorance. Every living being contains a combination of
these three qualities even though one quality may predominate
over the others. The material nature, Prakriti, is under God’s
authority. Karma is the result of activity of the jivas. Time is
also considered eternal. Of the five concepts, only karma is
non-eternal. Although, we may be suffering or enjoying the
fruits of very ancient karma, it can be neutralized by God’s
grace and the perfection of our lives.
Are the jivas
the same or different from God? Basically there are two
different views on this subject. The monists stress that there
is nothing else but God. They believe that the jivatma (the
human soul) and Paramatma (the God Soul) are one and the same.
Because of perceptual error under the influence of Maya, one
sees plurality in Unity. The dualists believe that the jivas,
although of the same quality as that of God, are nevertheless
separate entities. In this view, each successive birth is meant
for improving one’s behavior and personality. Then of course
there are attempts at a compromise such as Vishistadwita etc.
The Aim of
Hinduism, the goal of life in this world is to realize God and
reach Him to escape the cycle of birth and death forever. To
this end, the human life is divided in to four stages. The first
stage of celibacy and learning lasts until about 25 years of
age. The second stage is that of a married householder. The
householder is held in great esteem because he is the one who
makes the other stages of life possible by earning money and
supporting the society. The householder and his family are
considered to be very essential for the well being of the
society. The third stage is that of retirement commencing after
one’s children are grown up. The last stage is of complete
renunciation of the world in which one seeks God full-time in a
forest and living on whatever one obtains from day to day.