Hinduism embraces a great diversity of beliefs, a fact that can be initially confusing to Westerners accustomed to creeds, confessions, and carefully-worded belief statements. One can believe a wide variety of things about God, the universe and the path to liberation and still be considered a Hindu. This attitude towards religious belief has made Hinduism one of the more open-minded religions when it comes to evaluating other faiths.
Probably the most well-known Hindu saying about religion is: "Truth is one; sages call it by different names." However, there are some beliefs common to nearly all forms of Hinduism that can be identified, and these basic beliefs are generally regarded as boundaries outside of which lies either heresy or non-Hindu religion.
The fundamental Hindu beliefs include:
- the authority of the Vedas (the oldest Indian sacred texts) and the Brahmans (priests)
- the existence of an enduring soul that transmigrates from one body to another at death (reincarnation)
- the law of karma that determines one's destiny both in this life and the next.
Note that a specific belief about God or gods is not considered one of the essentials, which is a major difference between Hinduism and strictly monotheistic religions like Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Sikhism. Most Hindus are devoted followers of one of the principal gods Shiva, Vishnu or Shakti, and often others besides, yet all these are regarded as manifestations of a single Reality. The ultimate goal of all Hindus is release (moksha) from the cycle of rebirth (samsara). For those of a devotional bent, this means being in God's presence, while those of a philosophical persuasion look forward to uniting with God as a drop of rain merges with the sea.
Virtually all Hindus believe in:
- The three-in-one god known as "Brahman," which is composed of: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the Preserver), and Shiva (the Destroyer).
- The Caste System.
- Karma. The law that good begets good, and bad begets bad. Every action, thought, or decision one makes has consequences - good or bad - that will return to each person in the present life, or in one yet to come.
- Reincarnation. Also known as "transmigration of souls," or "samsara." This is a journey on the "circle of life," where each person experiences as series of physical births, deaths, and rebirths. With good karma, a person can be reborn into a higher caste, or even to godhood. Bad karma can relegate one to a lower caste, or even to life as an animal in their next life.
- Nirvana. This is the goal of the Hindu. Nirvana is the release of the soul from the seemingly endless cycle of rebirths.
* An important aspect is the concept of 'dharma' - fulfillment of one's duties and engaging in righteous action. Without 'dharma', one gets nowhere.
* The basic ideas of Hinduism are that: All beings are created equal. A man is known by his actions not his deeds. Peace is one of the highest goals. Nonviolence is essential in resolving conflicts.