Quick Guide

Quick Guide to Hinduism

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Core Concepts

  • Hinduism is a major world religion originating in India
  • It is a collection of several and varied systems of philosophy, belief, and ritual developed over thousands of years
  • Like Buddhism, a core belief in Hinduism is that we are all stuck in samsara (endless cycle of existence) and reincarnation (rebirth) is determined by karma (“actions” – good and bad deeds in life)
  • The goal in Hinduism is to reach moksha (liberation from the endless cycle of existence) by seeing past the illusion and distraction of worldly existence
  • The religion is organic with no founder, prophets, or a single teacher
  • It is referred to as the oldest religion in the world, and according to the Hindu belief of cyclical existence, it is an eternal religion that has always been around
  • Often referred to the religion of 330 million gods, Hinduism is actually considered poly-monotheistic, meaning there is one Supreme Being (Brahman) that manifests as numerous major and minor gods
  • There is a saying in Hinduism, “Every path you take is a path to God.” Meaning that no matter what individual god you worship (even within another religion), all worship leads you to unite with the one Supreme Being
Nandi the bull sits before a shrine to Shiva. Photo taken in Varanasi, India in 2019. Photo courtesy of Angela May.

Hindu Vocabulary

  • Samsara – cyclical existence. Specifically, life is eternal; there is no ultimate death, only infinite existence.
  • Reincarnation – part of the concept of samsara, reincarnation is the act of birth, death, and rebirth
  • Karma – literally, “action.”  The actions that determine the condition of one’s future lives/existence
  • Dharma –  literally, “duty.” The moral order of the universe
  • Moksha – final liberation from cyclical existence and attainment of oneness with the Universal
  • Darshan – the act of seeing and being seen by the Divine
  • Puja – worship; performance of rituals and offerings of flowers, food, water, and incense; a means for darshan
  • Yoga – a form of physical exercise where one’s goal is to “yoke” themself to the Universal. Practitioners of yoga are referred to as yogis
Painting of the goddess Sarasvati that flanks a temple wall on the banks of the Ganges river in India. Photo taken in January, 2019. Photo courtesy of Angela May.

Hindu Practices

Art, Images,and Darshan

  • India is a visual culture. Images of gods are located in temples, in shrines that populate a family home, city streets, or in rural fields
  • Images are a key element in Hindu worship. Why? Because images of gods can serve as a conduit between gods and devotees
  • A main objective in Hindu worship is darshan (seeing). Specifically, to see God and for God to see you
  • When a sculpture of a god is created, it is then consecrated, and therefore a god is welcome to use that image for darshan with devotees
  • The eyes on a Hindu image are often quite large and are the last to be added to a sculpture or painting
  • Images are supposed to be beautiful, as it is meant for an abode of a god
Krishna altar. Photo taken in Orchha, India in December, 2018. Photo courtesy of Angela May.


  • Puja
    • Hindu worship is referred to as puja and involves images of gods (murtis), prayers (mantras), and offerings
  • The majority of Hindu worship is not in the temple, but in the home
    • Private worship
      • Worship is private, between you and God
      • Every Hindu home has a shrine with the favorite gods of the family
      • A shrine may have a sculpture of a deity of even a printed image
      • The idea is that you treat God like a guest in your home, you offer water, flowers, food, and the things you would a valued guest
    • Temples
      • Hindus go to temples for festivals, when a image of a deity is being consecrated, or if you have a specific request from a deity
      • There are not sermons or spiritual education at the temples – that is for home or an ashram (place to get away from it all and meditate for spiritual growth)
      • Hindu temples are quite tall and are meant to represent mountains (the home of the gods)
Kandariya Mahadeva Temple in Khajuraho, India. Photo taken in December, 2018. Photo courtesy of Angela May.


  • Because gods can come to earth, or manifest in the landscapes of earth, the very land of India is considered sacred
  • This makes pilgrimage very important, as one wants darshan from multiple sacred places
  • For instance, a pilgrimage to the Ganges River is important, as it is the living goddess Ganga
  • One may make a pilgrimage to a famous Hindu temple, to see an ancient sculpture of Shiva
  • Or one may visit the Himalayas, the abode of the gods
  • Making a pilgrimage not only provides darshan, but also provides good karma 
Image of the Trimurti: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.

Who are the gods?

  • Often referred to the religion of 330 million gods…
  • However, Hinduism is actually considered poly-monotheistic, meaning there is one Supreme Being (Brahman) that manifests as numerous major and minor gods to aid people in their path towards moksha
  • Three of the Hindu gods form the Trimurti “God in three forms”
    • Brahma: the Creator
    • Vishnu: the Protector
    • Shiva: The Destroyer and/or the Liberator
  • Individual goddesses are manifestations of The Goddess, “Devi”, the Divine Female
    • Durga, Parvati, and Sarasvati are three popular forms of Devi

Meet the gods

Check out the Quick Guide to Hindu Deities to learn more about Hindu deities.

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