Outline of Hinduism

This post is a good review of the basics. Please see a Christian reaction at the bottom of the post.

Let’s get started with the outline and tables.

The Big Picture: Historical Survey


Dates BCE = Before Common Era


Pre-Aryan c. 2500 to 1500 BCE Indus Valley Civs highly developed
Aryan c. 1750-1250 BCE *Aryans come in migratory waves as nomads, not settling until 6th century BCE

*Early Vedas composed

Vedic/Classical c. 1500 BCE to 3rd/6th century CE *Vedas Develop

*Mahabharata (Bhagavad Gita inserted into the bigger epic)


*Law of Manu

*Gupta dynasty (c. 320-540 CE) strong, so Hinduism is strong

Post-Classical 500 CE to 1500 CE *Path of Devotion: Three Deities gain prominence: Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu; also Devi / Kali

*Path of Knowledge: Philosophical systems emerge

*Islam introduced

Modern 1500 CE to present *West & Christianity introduced

*Hinduism as world religion

Caution: Other Dates and Labels Are Possible

Aryans: In Sanskrit “Noble Ones”

I. Cultural Developments

A. Early nomadic shepherds led by chieftains: rajas

B. By 6th century BCE rajas develop minor kingdoms

C. Four Classes or Varnas (colors) established

II. Religious Developments

A. Indo-European polytheism “many gods” (like ancient Greek       gods)

1. Gods personify natural forces

2. Animism

B. Vedas provide elaborate sacrifice rituals

1. Main manner of worship

2. Animals, food, drink, plants

3. Horse sacrifice: most expensive and elaborate

Vedic/Classical Era

Structure of the Vedas

Samhitas   → (Collections) Rig-Veda Yajur-Veda Sama-Veda Atharva-Veda
Four Basic Parts of each of Vedic Collection ↓ Over 1,000 hymns to Aryan gods, contains basic mythology Rites cited during sacrifices to gods Chants and verses sung by priests at sacrifices Rituals and spells for domestic use; incantations to ward off evil
Hymns (Mantras) to the gods; most ancient material Yes Yes Yes Yes
Rituals (Brahmanas) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Forest Treatises


Yes Yes Yes Yes
Philosophical Interpretations  (Upanishads) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Main features:

Veda means “(sacred) knowledge or lore”

Authorship is uncertain over time of composition

Oral tradition before written down

Description of caste system as result of sacrifice (see Purusa below)

Most Important Gods in Vedas



*Indra God of thunderbolt, clouds, rain; Ruler of Heaven; object of most hymns in Vedas; He conquers Vritra (= chaos); warrior
*Agni God of fire and priests; priest of gods; messenger between gods and humans
Varuna God presiding over order (rita) of universe; forgives sins
Mitra Solar god, regularly associated with Varuna
Yama God of the underworld and lord of death
Vishnu Receives minor attention; but major god in Post-classical Hinduism
Shiva/Rudra Receives minor attention; but major god in Post-classical Hinduism

Three Realms and Their Most Important Deities in Vedas



1. Sky / Heaven Sky god Dyaus, Varuna; Mitra; Vishnu (Pervader)
2. Midspace / Atmosphere Warrior Indra; wind god Vayu; Maruts; Rudra/Shiva
3. Earth Plant / Moon god Soma; Agni

The Hymn to Purusa, the Cosmic Person

1. The Man [Purusa] has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet. He pervaded the earth on all sides and extended beyond it as far as ten fingers.

2. It is the Man who is all this, whatever has been and whatever is to be. He is the ruler of immortality, when he grows beyond everything through food.

3. Such is his greatness, and the Man is yet more than this. All creatures are a quarter of him; three quarters are what is immortal in heaven.

4. With three quarters Man rose upwards, and one quarter of him still remains here. From this [quarter] he spread out in all directions, into that which eats and that which does not eat.

5. From him Viraj [active female creative principle] was born, and from Viraj came Man. When he was born, he ranged beyond the earth behind and before.

6. When the gods spread the sacrifice with the Man as the offering, spring was the clarified butter, summer the fuel, autumn the oblation.

7. They anointed the Man, the sacrifice born at the beginning, upon the sacred grass. With him the gods, Sadyas [class of demigods or saints], and sages sacrificed.

8. From that sacrifice in which everything was offered, the melted fat was collected, and he made it into those beasts who live in the air, in the forest, and in the villages.

9. [Rig-Veda] and chants [SamaVeda] were born, the meters [YajurVeda] were born from it, and from it the formulas were born.

10. Horses were born from it, and those other animals that have two rows of teeth; cows were born from it, and from it goats and sheep were born.

11. When they divided the Man, into how many parts did they apportion him? What do they call his mouth, his two arms and thighs and feet?

12. His mouth became Brahmin; his arms were made into the Warrior, his thighs the People [Commoners], and from his feet the Servants were born.

13. The moon was born from his mind; from his eye the sun was born. Indra and Agni came from his mouth, and from his vital breath the Wind was born.

14. From his navel the middle realm of space arose; from his head the sky evolved; and the quarters of the sky from his ear. Thus they set the worlds in order.

15. There were seven-enclosing sticks for him, and thrice seven fuel-sticks, when the gods, spreading the sacrifice, bound man as the sacrificial beast.

16. With the sacrifice the gods sacrificed to the sacrifice. There were the ritual laws [dharmas]. These very powers reached the dome of the sky where dwell Sadhyas, the ancient gods.

Rig-Veda 10.90

Four Classes or Varnas (Colors)




1. Brahmins

(a k a Brahmans)

White: purity and light Educated priests who interpret and teach religious texts and rituals
2. Kshatriyas,


Red: passion and energy Warrior, nobles, chieftain →kings
3. Vaishyas Yellow: earth tones Commoners: farmers, merchants, and artisans
4. Shudras Black: darkness, inertia Servants and/or slaves of upper classes
Main features:

First three classes = “twice born” b/c boys undergo rite-of-passage ritual

Only twice-borns allowed to hear Vedas and participate in rituals *Brahmins can be listed second, whereas kings can be listed first, which shows tension between two classes

            When they divided Man, into how many parts did they apportion him?

            What do they call his mouth, his two arms and thighs and feet?

            His mouth became the Brahmin;

            His arms were made into the Warrior;

            His thighs the People [Commoners];

            And from his feet the Servants [Shudras] were born.

            (Hymn to Purusa, the Cosmic Person, Rig-Veda 10.90)

III. Dharma

A. Duty, religion, righteousness, law, justice

B. Universal, all-encompassing, but flexible and adaptable acc. to  different circumstances, stations in life, and contexts,

C. so it has two aspects: eternal and temporal

D. It first emerges in Vedic ritual obligations, and then spreads out into all of life

Creation Hymn

1. There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. What stirred? Where? In whose protection? Was there water, bottomlessly deep?

2. There was neither death nor immortality then. There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day. That one breathed, windless, by its own impulse. Other than that there was nothing beyond.

3. Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning; with no distinguishing sign, all this was water. The life force that was covered with emptiness, that one arose through the power of heat.

4. Desire came upon that one in the beginning; that was the first seed of mind. Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom found the bond of existence in non-existence.

5. Their cord was extended across. Was there below? Was there above? There were seed-placers; there were powers. There was impulse breath. There was giving-forth above.

6. Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of the universe. Who then knows whence it has arisen?

7. Whence this creation has arisen—perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not—the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows—or perhaps he does not know.

Rig-Veda 10.129


I. Basics

A. What: Collection of about 200 Vedic Philosophical Treatises and Dialogues

B. 14 key ones

C. Earliest: c. (circa = around) Ninth Century BCE

D. Search for unifying truth amidst diversity in Vedas

II. Key Ideas

A. Questions:

1. Are Ups organic expression of Vedic hymns and rituals?

2. Or monistic philosophy contradicting Vedic polytheism?

B. Meditation (not sacrifice) is means of worship

1. This contradicts priestly orientation of Vedas

C.  Brahman: Eternal, infinite, unknowable (?), sexless,       impersonal Absolute

1. All gods are expression of it

2. Pervades yet transcends universe and human thought

3. Different from Brahman = Brahmin = Priest

4. Different from Brahma = creator deity

D. Atman: Self / Soul

1. Universal Self—thought to be identical with Brahman

2. Individual self

E. Maya: False “knowledge” or an illusion

1. E.g., False to consider this manifest world is all there is

2. E.g., False to consider Atman apart from Brahman

F. Overcoming ignorance (avidya) and maya is meaning of life

1. Meaning of life is not in performing rituals and sacrifice

G. Karma: All acts have spiritual consequences corresponding to their character

H. Samsara: Soul / Self / Life Force wanders into new body

1. Cycle of birth—(life)—death—rebirth

I. Moksha: release from karma, & samsara

Know the self (atman) as riding in a chariot,

The body as the chariot.

Know the intellect (buddhi) as the chariot-driver,

And the mind as the reins.

The senses, they say, are the horses . . . .

He, however, who has not understanding,

Who is unmindful and ever impure,

Reaches not the goal,

But goes on to transmigration [rebirth].

He, however, who has understanding,

Who is mindful and ever pure,

Reaches the goal

From which he is born no more.


He who in fancy forms desires,

Because of his desires is born [again] here and there

But of him whose desire is satisfied, who is a perfected self,

All desires even here on earth vanish away.

This Self [Atman] is not to be obtained by instruction,

Nor by intellect, nor by much learning.

He is to be obtained only by one whom He chooses;

To such a one that Self reveals His own person.


Therefore, by knowledge [vidya], by austerity [giving up pleasure] and by meditation Brahman is apprehended . . . .

So when this chariot-driver is liberated from those things wherewith he was filled full and overcome, then he attains complete union with the Atman.

Atman and Brahman

Svetaketu, the son, has studied the Vedas from twelve to twenty-four years old (first stage in a man’s life cycle), and is discouraged to learn he does not have the highest knowledge—the knowledge of the Self.

Father:  “Put this piece of salt in the water and come to me tomorrow morning.” Svetaketu did as he was told. Then his father said to him: “Do you remember that piece of salt you put in the water yesterday evening? Would you be good enough to bring it here?”

            He groped for it but could not find it. It had completely dissolved.

            “Would you please sip it at this end? What is it like?” said Father.


            “Sip it in the middle. What is it like?”


            “Sip it at the far end. What is it like?”


            “Throw it away and then come to me.”

            He did as he was told, but that did not stop the salt from remaining ever the same.

            His father said to him: “My dear child, it is true that you cannot perceive Being here, but it is equally true that it is here.

            “This finest essence, the whole universe has, as its Self; That is the Real: That is the Self. That you are Svetaketu!”

Other lessons end with: “YOU are that, Svetaketu! YOU are Brahman, the absolute, the highest Self [Atman].”

Law of Manu

I. Basics

A. What: Ethical Texts

1. Ethical and social standards of Classical Era

2. Religious / philosophical effects of Vedas on society

B. When: Between 300 BCE to 300 CE

C. Who: Attributed to Manu, forefather of all humans now living

II. Key Ideas:

A. Varna (class) system is endorsed (see above)

1. Each class has own duty / dharma

B. Cycle of Life of Twice-Born Male



1. Student Study Vedas; 9-36 (max.); celibate; antelope skin
2. Householder Get married, have career and kids and grandkids
3. Hermit or forest-dweller Retreat from life after family raised and grandkids; learn non-attachment; with or without wife
4. Renouncer (samnyasi) Wandering beggar; no fire (cooking)

Four World Ages

Day of Brahma: 4,320,000,000 years Night of Brahma: 4,320,000,000 years
Each day consists of 1000 Yugas or World Ages
Each Yuga Is Subdivided into Four World Ages

Bull of Dharma (Righteousness)

Four Legs

Three Legs

Two Legs

One Leg

1,728,000 human years; life is long and happy 1,296,000 human years; life is deteriorating 464,000 human years; life is short and more difficult 432,000 human years; life is misery & wicked
4,000 god years + 400 + 400 years for both twilights = 4,800 years 3,000 god years + 300 + 300 years for both twilights = 3,600 years 2,000 god years + 200 + 200 years for both twilights

= 2,400 years

1,000 god years + 100 + 100 years for both twilights

= 1,200 years

Totals: 12,000 god years

III. Interpretation of the Four World Ages

A. 1,000 cycles of a Yuga is one day.

B. 360 such days make a year.

C. The life of Brahma (creator god) lasts one hundred years.

D. When Brahma day ends, all the gods and elements will dissolve into their constituent elements.

E. Will Brahma and the other gods and the universe re-emerge? Some versions of the myth answer yes.

F. A decreasing length of years corresponds to a decrease in excellence and virtue and quality of life—a decrease in dharma.

Bhagavad Gita

I. Basic Facts

A. Found within Mahabharata

1. M = Epic poem about war between two families

2. M was written over long period

B. B G written between 3rd-2nd century BCE

C. Arjuna is warrior; Krishna (avatar of Vishnu) is charioteer

II. Key Ideas

A. Dharma differs with castes

1. Warrior must obey his religious duty (= dharma)

2. If not—samsara!

B. Variety of means of moksha

1. Asceticism: self-denial, no or few pleasures

2. Performing duty (dharma) of your caste

3. Non-attached work, activism

4. Meditation

5. Bhakti = devotion (in this case to Vishnu)

Post-Classical Era

I. Distinctions

Vedic/Classical Post-Classical
Brahminism Hinduism, strictly speaking
Many gods worshipped publicly through sacrifices led by priests Worship a few deities through devotion (bhakti)
Life-affirming optimism Life-denying pessimism, so says Text

II. Devotion to Three Major Gods

A. Bhakti-marga = Path of Devotion

1. Bhakti = devotion; marga = path or discipline

2. As opposed to Brahmin sacrifices

3. Or generally as opposed to path of knowledge in philosophy

4. It’s more heart-felt than intellectual


Main Features

Brahma Creator deity; receives least attention of other two gods; Wife: Sarasvati, goddess of knowledge, poetry, speech, wisdom
Shiva The Destroyer; god of death, disease, but also of reproduction; god of dance; followers equate him with Brahman; Consorts: *Kali (a k a Devi): “Black”; destroys demons and evil; rages in battle; accepts blood sacrifices; Paravati: opp. of Kali; feminine; fertility; perfect wife/mother
Vishnu The Preserver; God of love, benevolence, forgiveness; Appears in various forms (e.g., Krishna in B G); Kalkin, Avatar of V, will judge world at the end; followers of V equate him with Brahman; Wife is Lakshmi: guardian of world’s welfare; of  fertility; of wealth; of victory

III. Path of Knowledge (Jnana-marga)

A. Yoga System

1. “Yoga” literally means “to yoke, join”

a. One should yoke individual spirit to Atman or Brahman or to True Self / Atman

2. Atheistic system without personal gods

a. Everything springs from two forces: spirit and matter

3. A guy called Patanjal (2nd century BCE) codifies Yoga Sutra

4. Meditation is means to moksha from samsara

5. Raja Yoga (Raja = “royal” or “best”)

a. Mental and spiritual development leading to superconsciousness

b. Eight Steps of Raja Yoga practice

Eight Steps of Raja Yoga





1 Ethics or Restraint Yama Non-violence (ahimsa); truth-telling; no stealing; celibacy; not being greedy
2 Discipline Niyama Cleanliness; serenity; asceticism; study; devotion to the Lord
3 Posture Asana Clear connection between consciousness, body, breath
4 Breath Control Pranayama Yogi stills breath to control body
*5 Sense Withdrawal Pratyahara Like a turtle in its shell, a yogi withdraws from matter and sensory input
6 Concentration Dharana Yogi stills the mind and fixates intellect on one topic
7 Meditation Dhyana Yogi moves closer to absorption as his fixation is one-pointed
8 Absorbed Concentration Samadhi (1) Concentration with support of objects of consciousness, sustained on (a) initial thought; (b) sustained thought; (c) joy; (d) sense of “I”

(2) Concentration without support of objects of consciousness


*Overall Goal of Yoga: (1) Consciousness can be transformed through focusing attention on single point; (2) Transformation of consciousness gets rid of mental constraints, such as greed and hate; (3) Yoga is a discipline to facilitate transformation of consciousness

*Goal of Raja-Yoga: Samadhi: transcendent isolation, not the self’s identity with the absolute; object itself appears devoid of form

*But ultimate goal is Kaivalya = liberation from wheel of transmigration, which adopts Sankhya (see text) system of spirit-matter;

*Thus, the self becomes detached from matter and absorbed within itself without an object or is itself an object

B. Vedanta System

1. Vedanta = “End or Pinnacle/Acme of Vedas”

a. It is peak, culmination of Vedic teachings

b. Based largely on Upanishads

2. A guy named Badarayana composed Vedanta Sutra in First Century BCE

3. Monistic system

a. Only Brahman exists

4. Humanity’s problem:

a. Ignorance (avidya), false “knowledge” or illusion (maya) of:

(1) Brahman

(2) Illusory nature of world

5. A guy named Shankara (lived 788-820 CE)

a. Devotee of Shiva (best manifestation of Brahman)

b. Magnum opus: commentary on Vedanta Sutra

c. Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism)

(1) Brahman is all there is

(2) All else is illusion

Muslim Influence in India

I. Historical Survey

A. Conquests

1. NW India conquered by 712 CE

2. Turkish general Mahmud of Ghazni invaded India 17 times in 1000s CE

B. Rulership

1. Sultanate of Delhi formed in 1200s CE

2. Moghul Turk Dynasty: 1500s CE

C. Population today

1. More Muslims in India than anywhere else (Indonesia is the right answer)

II. Sources of Conflict

Sources of Hindu-Muslim Conflict

Hinduism Islam
Polytheism Strict Monotheism
Sacred Images Iconoclasm
Veneration of Cattle Sacrifice of Cattle
Caste System Egalitarianism (?)
Variety of Sacred Texts without Clear Authorship Single Revealed Sacred Text with Clear Authorship
*Hindu theology is not altered radically by contact with Islam

*Sikhism tries to reconcile Islam and Hinduism

Modern Hinduism

I. Christianity

A. Influence

1. William Carey (1761-1834)

2. Only in early Nineteenth Century

II. British Rule for Three Centuries

A. Suttee and child marriage outlawed

B. Plants seeds of democracy

III. Modern Hindu Reformers

A. Ram Mohan Roy (1774-1833)

1. Father of Modern India

2. Monotheist who opposes polytheism

3. Reform Movement: Brahmo Samaj

B. Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886)

1. Advaita Vedanta

C. Disciples

1. Vivekanada (a k a Narendranath Dutt; 1863-1902)

a. Hinduism is Vedanta

b. Parliament of Religions in Chicago (1893)

2. Paramahansa Ananda (1893-1952)

a. Self-Realization Fellowship

b. Syncretism with gospel

D. Mohandas K. Ghandi (1869-1948)

1. Syncretism: Traditional Hinduism with Chrsitianity, Jainism, Islam, Parsi

2. Trained as lawyer in England

3. Thoreau and civil disobedience to resist British rule

4. Opposes caste system

a. Untouchables (harijan) are Children of God

IV. Unifying Objective of Reform

A. Development of modern caste system

1. Eight century CE

B. Subdivisions

1. Four basics develop into thousands

C. Control

1. Diet

2. Vocation

3. Religion

4. Residence

5. Marriage

6. Social interactions

D. Purity

1. More contact with pollutants lowers one’s caste

2. Brahmins are top

E. Constitution of Republic of India (1948)

1. Discrimination outlawed (officially)

2. Caste still entrenched

Hindu Holy Days


Holi February / March; welcomes spring; fertility and worship of Kali
Divali New Year in November; worship of Kali and Lakshmi
Dasehra November festival to honor Durga, consort of Shiva, for her victory over buffalo demon

Christian Reaction and Reply

First, we have to distinguish between Christendom or Christian civilization on the one hand from a personal relationship with God in Christ, on the other.

The British Empire may have promoted Christendom, while believers in Christ may live in (degraded) Christendom, but they are different.

Let’s use bullet points to keep things simple and clear.

  • Hinduism does have a moral component to it, and moral law benefits society.
  • Moral law through the Law of Manu keeps things peaceful and orderly.
  • The gradual decline of civilization is also taught in Christianity.

Now let’s look at the differences between Hinduism and biblical Christianity.

  • Karma is impersonal and seems to rise above even the Hindu gods. Even they are subject to it. Bound by karma, no one knows if he is successfully piling up barely 50.001% of good works so that he does not have to experience bad karma.
  • In contrast, God is personal and loving, and all moral law flows out of his heart. We can know the Lawgiver personally. God is Love.
  • God extends grace, which rises above karma.
  • The written Gospels teach that evil spirits exist and harass people. Following and worshipping deities other than Christ opens the door to evil spirits.
  • Biblical Christianity does not mix worshipping other deities. Christ and Krishna, for example, don’t mix.
  • Meditating on Christ brings peace of mind.
  • Jesus teaches (John 3:1-16) that a man is born twice only: (1) He is conceived and born through his mother’s womb. He did not live a prior life. (2) He is born again when the Spirit of the loving and living Father comes into his heart. After that he lives forever in heaven after he dies.
  • In Christ, no one has to live in an endless cycle of births, life and rebirths. The cycle is broken through accepting him into one’s heart.
  • No one has to depend on numerous rituals or incantations to be acceptable to God. He loves people and is reaching out to them and desires to lift them up. The only “ritual” one has to perform is to believe or have faith in Christ.
  • In Christ, the caste system is broken and everyone is acceptable to God. This dignity and equality and justice is not based on (degraded) Christendom or Indian culture that is destined to perish, but on the Kingdom of God that will never perish.
  • In Christ, no one is socially polluted by virtue of one’s birth or class. He is clean in Christ.
  • Biblical Christianity does not promote a priestly system. In Christ, we are all priests and can confidently approach God by his grace. Once again, the only “ritual” is to call on the name of the Lord and pray in Christ’s name.

It is always the right time for a Hindu to receive Christ into his heart–even a Brahmin should do this. They need to repent of their sins and confess that Jesus is the sole Lord of heaven and earth. They need to pray that the Holy Spirit comes into their hearts and washes away all the influences of the gods.


Ten Big Differences between Christianity and Other Religions












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