It is possible to discern among the multiple forms of Hinduism several common characteristics of belief and practice:
Existence of one Supreme Being: Brahman , the ultimate reality is uncreated, omnipotent, omnipresent and eternal.
Existence of other Gods: representing different aspects of the supreme God.
Hindus recognize the principle of feminine/masculine complementing each other. Each God is often associated with another consort based on this principle (Brahma/ Saraswati, Vishnu/ Lakshmi, Shiva/ Devi, Parvati)
- Brahma: The Creator aspect of the divine. Creator of universe. Presented often with four head and arms with red skin. Linked often to Maya, symbol of eternal illusion. Avidya Maya is the ignorance and Vidya Maya is the liberating knowledge.
- Vishnu: Vishnu's followers form one of the three main divisions of Hinduism. The one who preserves the universe. At times of society crisis in the past, Vishnu has appeared on earth in 9 different forms. He is most famously identified with His avatars, or incarnations of God, most especially Krishna and Rama. Vishnu's consort is Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth and abundance. Vishnu's doctrine emphasizes the reciprocity of love. Vishnu is usually depicted as a four-armed male-form with new-cloud-like-blue skin, standing on a lotus flower, and holding four attributes.
- Shiva : the destroyer or transcendent. Shiva is the supreme God of Shaivism, one of the three main branches of Hinduism. Shiva's consort is Devi, mother who comes in many different forms, one of whom is Kali, the goddess of death. Shiva movements provide the energy that drives the universe. The Creator and Destroyer of the Universe. Shiva is the protector (who wards off evil) and often associated with Ganges river tumbling from his hairs. Around his neck is a serpent representing Kundalini (the spiritual energy). He holds a trident in his left hand.
Belief in the theory of causality/Karma: Hinduism believes in Rebirth cycle (Samsara) and the idea that soul is eternal. Therefore a person is experiencing the results of his own actions through the rebirth cycle. The law of cause and effects is called Karma. In order to achieve good karma we have to live according to dharma (what is right, according to: a) the codes of conduct as described by the Vedas and Upanishads, b) Sacred tradition c) Guru teaching, d) conscience.). Dharma is determined by a person gender, caste and stage of life.
Belief in the theory of Wheel of Rebirth/Samsara: Samsara refers to the concept of reincarnation or rebirth in Hinduism. The idea is to escape from samsara, seen as ignorance (Avidya) of the True Self. Everyday illusion is called Maya.
The state of liberation from samsara is Moksha (mukti, nirvana, and mahasamadhi). Hinduism being the path to get out of samsara holds various beliefs in order to achieve moksha.
Yoga (somewhere between meditation, prayer and healthful exercise) is the main focus of a Hindu's religious activities. The four main ways to reach the divine reality, the paths to liberation which are not mutually exclusive are called:
- Jnana yoga: Knowledge , it is said to be the shortest but steepest way to moksha. Mainly followed by Brahmin class. Is about experiencing the true nature of reality, overcoming Maya or illusion. Learning to discriminate between what is eternal and temporal. Two main schools: Vedanta (monism), Sankya.
- Karma yoga: Selfless Action is living according to dharma without desire or expectation of reward. Mahatma Gandhi has been advocating this path: doing the right thing over the wrong thing.
- Raja yoga: The way of Meditation , it has 8 steps and is described by Patanjali in yoga sutra.
- Bhakti yoga: Devotion . Suitable for emotional detachment by focusing on the divine and away from selfish concern.
Bhakti , jnana and karma yoga are discussed in the Bhagavad Gita.
Other principles are: Mantra, OM (Divine Word), Non-violence (Ahisma) and Guru teaching.
The recognition of the Veda : the most ancient Hinduism sacred text, the 4 Vedas are the pillar of Hinduism religion. ("Veda" means "Knowledge in Sanskrit). The four major works are gathering all the aspects of daily life:
Rig Veda (Royal Knowledge) is the most important, covering divinities and ritual prayers. The oldest (1500 BC) and has 10'589 verses divided into ten mandalas or books, of which books two to seven are the core of the work. The hymns are the work of many authors or seers called 'rishis' such as Atri, Kanwa,Vashistha, Vishwamitra, Jamadagni, Gotama and Bharadwaja. The books are arranged according to the number of hymns they possess.
Sama Veda (Knowledge of Chants): a liturgical collection of melodies 'saman', a book of hymns.
Yajur Veda (Knowledge of Sacrificial Rituals) treats the scientific branches and Sacrificial Rituals. Made to meet the demands of a ceremonial religion, it contains sacred formulas, invocations and spells muttered by the Hindu priests who performed the sacrificial rites.
Atharva Veda (Knowledge of Incarnations) is about the social field: the system of castes, and includes spells and charms.