Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include (but are not restricted to) Dharma (ethics/duties), Samsāra (the continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth), Karma (action, intent and consequences), Moksha (liberation from samsara or liberation in this life), and the various Yogas (paths or practices).
Dharma (righteousness, ethics)
Dharma is considered the foremost goal of a human being in Hinduism. It is the order that makes life and universe possible, and includes duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and "right way of living". Hindu Dharma includes the religious duties, moral rights and duties of each individual, as well as behaviors that enable social order, right conduct, and those that are virtuous.
The word Sanātana means eternal, perennial, or forever; thus, Sanātana Dharma signifies that it is the dharma that has neither beginning nor end.
Artha (livelihood, wealth)
Artha is objective and virtuous pursuit of wealth for livelihood, obligations and economic prosperity. It is inclusive of political life, diplomacy and material well-being. The Artha concept includes all "means of life", activities and resources that enables one to be in a state one wants to be in, wealth, career and financial security.The proper pursuit of artha is considered an important aim of human life in Hinduism.
Kāma (sensual pleasure)
Kārma means desire, wish, passion, longing, pleasure of the senses, the aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, or love, with or without sexual connotations. In Hinduism, Kama is considered an essential and healthy goal of human life when pursued without sacrificing Dharma, Artha and Moksha.
Mokṣa (liberation, freedom from samsara)
Moksha or mukti is the ultimate, most important goal in Hinduism. In one sense, Moksha is a concept associated with liberation from sorrow, suffering and sansāra (birth-rebirth cycle). Moksha is a goal achievable in current life, as a state of bliss through self-realization, of comprehending the nature of one's soul, of freedom and of "realizing the whole universe as the Self".
Karma and samsara
Karma translates literally as action, work, or deed, and also refers to a Vedic theory of "moral law of cause and effect". Karma theory is interpreted as explaining the present circumstances of an individual with reference to his or her actions in past. These actions may be those in a person's current life, or, in some schools of Hinduism, possibly actions in their past lives; furthermore, the consequences may result in current life, or a person's future lives. This cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth is called samsara. Liberation from samsara through moksha is believed to ensure lasting happiness and peace. Hindu scriptures teach that the future is both a function of current human effort derived from free will and past human actions that set the circumstances.
The ultimate goal of life, referred to as moksha, nirvana or samadhi, is understood in several different ways:
- as the realization of one's union with God;
- as the realization of one's eternal relationship with God;
- realization of the unity of all existence;
- perfect unselfishness and knowledge of the Self;
- as the attainment of perfect mental peace;
- as detachment from worldly desires.
Such realization liberates one from samsara, thereby ending the cycle of rebirth, sorrow and suffering. Due to belief in the indestructibility of the soul, death is deemed insignificant with respect to the cosmic self
Concept of God
The divine exists in all beings, that all human beings can achieve union with this "innate divinity", and that seeing this divine as the essence of others will further love and social harmony
Hindus believe that all living creatures have a soul. This soul – the spirit or true "self" of every person, is called the ātman. The soul is believed to be eternal. The goal of life, according to the Advaita school, is to realise that one's soul is identical to supreme soul, that the supreme soul is present in everything and everyone, all life is interconnected and there is oneness in all life. Dualistic schools understand Brahman as a Supreme Being separate from individual souls. They worship the Supreme Being variously as Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, or Shakti, depending upon the sect. God is called Ishvara, Bhagavan, Parameshwara, Deva or Devi, and these terms have different meanings in different schools of Hinduism.
The Hindu scriptures refer to celestial entities called Devas (or devī in feminine form; devatā used synonymously for Deva in Hindi), which may be translated into English as gods or heavenly beings. The devas are an integral part of Hindu culture and are depicted in art, architecture and through icons, and stories about them are related in the scriptures, particularly in Indian epic poetry and the Puranas. They are, however, often distinguished from Ishvara, a personal god, with many Hindus worshipping Ishvara in one of its particular manifestations as their ishta devatā, or chosen ideal. The choice is a matter of individual preference, and of regional and family traditions. The multitude of Devas are considered as manifestations of Brahman.
While ancient Vedic literature including Upanishads make no mention of reincarnation of God, the Puranas and the Epics relate several episodes of the descent of God to Earth in corporeal form to restore dharma to society. Such an incarnation is called an avatar. The most prominent avatars are of Vishnu and include Rama (the protagonist of the Ramayana) and Krishna (a central figure in the epic Mahabharata).
Both theistic and atheistic ideas, for epistemological and metaphysical reasons, are profuse in different schools of Hinduism.
In whatever way a Hindu defines the goal of life, there are several methods (yogas) that sages have taught for reaching that goal. Yoga is a Hindu discipline which trains the body, mind and consciousness for health, tranquility and spiritual insight. This is done through a system of postures and exercises to practise control of the body and mind. Texts dedicated to Yoga include the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Bhagavad Gita and, as their philosophical and historical basis, the Upanishads.
Yoga is means, and the four major marga (paths) discussed in Hinduism are:
- Bhakti Yoga (the path of love and devotion),
- Karma Yoga (the path of right action),
- Rāja Yoga (the path of meditation),
- Jñāna Yoga (the path of wisdom)
An individual may prefer one or some yogas over others, according to his or her inclination and understanding. Practice of one yoga does not exclude others.