Hinduism is the oldest “living” religion in the world, since it began four thousand years ago and people still follow it today. Hinduism has no single founder, so believers worship in VERY different ways. Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world, with about 1 billion followers, mainly in India. Hinduism provided the belief structure for Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism.
The Vedas (holy books) are the most ancient Hindu holy books. For hundreds of years, the Veda teachings were only spoken or sang. The Upanishads are another collection of holy writings, containing most of the ideas about Hinduism and how to practice the religion.
Most Hindus believe in one supreme spirit called Brahman. Hindus believe God is in all things in the world. Brahman can be worshiped in many forms, through “gods” such as Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesh, or Krishna. People think Hindus worship many gods, but actually all other gods represent Brahman in different forms.
Hindus believe in reincarnation, which is the belief that when the body dies, the spirit is reborn as another human or an insect, depending on their karma. Karma is the belief that everything that people do in life determines what will happen to them in the future. Dharma is a life path of truth, duty, religion, and good behavior. If a person follows the dharma, he or she can expect to be reincarnated into a higher form in their next life.
Everyone is born into one of 4 or 5 major castes. Different castes didn’t marry, work together, or socialize across castes. Castes were usually linked to a certain job. The Brahmins were the highest caste; they were priests and scholars. Kshatriayas were kings or warriors. Vaishyas were merchants, trader, or farmers. Shudras were peasants who worked the land. Another group of people existed who were outside the caste system—the Dalits or “untouchables”. Hindus believed if their karma was good, they would move up in caste when they were reincarnated. Today, the caste system is illegal, but is still followed in rural areas.
The ultimate goal for Hindus is to end their reincarnation cycle and reach Moksha, or “one-ness” with God. Hindus will finally end their birth, death, and rebirth cycle when they are reborn as Brahmins and live a life of perfection. Hindus work toward spiritual Moksha through yoga, which is a combination of breathing exercises, physical postures, and meditation that tries to discipline the mind.
To followers of Hinduism, the river Ganges in northern India is a holy river. They believe that bathing in the Ganges helps to wash away sin and move toward Moksha. When most Hindus die, they cremate (burn) the body. Sometimes the ashes are put into the Ganges.
Copyright World Religions for Kids