Overview of Hinduism


Hinduism is like an ocean. It’s vast and complex. It has been constantly evolving, and there is no easy way to grasp all its nuances, depth, and variations fully. However, there is a key to simplifying by understanding the basic essence as reflected in Bhagavad Gita or the ancient Vedic prayer. This can provide a lens to help understand the essence.

Just like a computer can display 1,680,000,000 colors, but each variation is a unique combination of the 3 primary colors; there are three main paths; Bakthi (Devotion to gods), Gnyana or Jnana (Self-knowledge), Karma (Duty as devotion), and a given person’s faith is a unique combination of the three aspects. The best way to know about a person’s faith is to ask them what they believe and then listen. This will be the most respectful way to have a conversation about faith.

Below are some of the commonly used terms, but they have different nuances as it applies to the path a particular individual follows. It is best to check with the individual to see how they understand these terms, as opposed to stereotyping. In this segment, we are just providing you basic starting points to carry out the discussions.

Term: Margas (Ways)

Bakti Marga(Devotion)The devotee in this patch is seeking for god’s mercy to escape the unending cycle of karma and reincarnation (Samsara)Surrender to deities (gods and goddesses) is achieved by worship of idols and gurus. Worship, either at temples or homes entails the chanting of Slokas (praise in Sanskrit). In temples, offering coconuts, fruits, and food to the idols is considered a form of worship.
The key motto: ‘Surrender’ to god
Jnana Marga(Enlightenment)Jnana is Knowledge. In this approach, a person is seeking self-knowledge (the realization that ‘i am’ part of ‘I AM’). When a person is able to live this out, they are considered enlightened. Yoga or/and various forms of meditation are prescribed. Besides the practice of yoga or meditation, the study of philosophy is encouraged
The key motto: ‘Realize’ your divinityNew Age, Meditation, Yoga
Karma Marga(Duty)The karma yogi is generally conscious of all their activities. They attempt to detach themselves so that they are not impacted adversely by the result of their action. Misery comes through attachment, not through work. Work is worship, Duty is Devotion
The key motto: ‘Do’ your duty Buddhism, Jainism
Modern Hindu ViewAll paths lead to God, like all rivers, in the end, reach the ocean, so choose any path that works for you. Various paths are like the spokes of the wheel, they end up in the hub “All Religions are True but Imperfect”– Gandhi’s Message of Jesus Christ (p 16)”Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of THE RELIGION, which is Oneness, so that each may choose the path that suits him best.”- Swami Vivekananda The key motto: Any path is Ok

Term: GOD

Bakti Marga(Devotion)The gods, goddesses, and gurus are considered to be superior to normal humans and are worshipped. Their stories can be typically found in Puranas (ancient stories)These gods and goddesses are typically worshiped in the form of idols that are placed in various temples and in homes.
Jnana Marga(Enlightenment)We are part of God. We are the (small) ‘i am’ and God is the ‘I AM’. When illusion (Maya) is dispelled we will realize that we are part of the ‘I AM’Many modern day Gurus from this path claim that they are god and suggest that all of us can be gods too. Rationale: We are divine, but have not realized that because we are trapped in illusion (Maya).
Karma Marga(Duty)God’s significance is played down. There is a lot more focus on detachment (removing cravings). You are responsible for your destiny.” All power is within you, you can do anything and everything. Believe in that, do not believe that you are weak… You can do anything and everything, without even the guidance of anyone. All power is there. Stand up and express the divinity with you… Arise, awake, sleep no more. With each of you, there is the power to remove all wants and all miseries. Believe in this, that power will be manifested.”- Swami Vivekananda
Modern Hindu ViewAll gods and goddesses are various manifestations of the one supernatural being.

Term: Salvation

Bakti Marga(Devotion)The word used to describe salvation here is Mukti or Moksha (liberation). Achieving liberation from the endless cycle of Samsara (birth, death, rebirth)
Jnana Marga(Enlightenment)The word used to describe salvation here is Samadhi (Oneness with the ultimate reality – I AM). This is to be achieved by liberation from Maya (Illusion).
Karma Marga(Duty)The word used to describe salvation here is Nirvana (Annihilation). Since people following this path don’t give much importance to the afterlife, they generally believe that this is their only life.
Modern Hindu ViewSalvation is the crowning moment that is believed to occur at the point of death in this life or several lifetimes later (reincarnation)Many Hindu friends might not have any assurance that they will receive salvation after death (in the current lifetime)

Term: Peace

Bakti Marga(Devotion)Absence of problems, restfulness
Jnana Marga(Enlightenment)The feeling of being in harmony with the universe
Karma Marga(Duty)Not being perturbed by the response of others or any result at all. Rather, just content in performing one’s duties.
Modern Hindu ViewAbsence of internal conflicts or absence of stress

Term: Prayer

Bakti Marga(Devotion)Time spent in performing rituals, reciting Slokas (praise in Sanskrit)
Jnana Marga(Enlightenment)The term is not generally used. However, some may use the term prayer to describe meditation, especially when they are chanting the same Mantra repeatedly.
Karma Marga(Duty)The term is not used. However, some consider work as prayer
Modern Hindu ViewTime spent in performing rituals

Term: Morality (Dharma)

Bakti Marga(Devotion)There is a general fear of god; as a result, devotees try their best to lead an upright life.
Jnana Marga(Enlightenment)Generally interested in tolerance (harmony) and less focus on morality
Karma Marga(Duty)Performing one’s duty is considered sacred and the moral responsibility of the individual
Modern Hindu ViewExtremely sensitive to the moral implications of actions. However, it is relative morality (their uprightness compared to the general population’s uprightness)