Quick Guide

Quick Guide to Hinduism

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

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

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


  • 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)


  • 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 

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

Below are deep dives on two of the most popular Hindu gods, Vishnu and Shiva.


  • His name means “All-Pervading”
  • Known as the Protector because he maintains the law and order of the universe
  • Vishnu takes his role as Protector and from time to time he comes down to earth to set the world straight and restore moral order (dharma)
  • When he comes to earth, he comes to earth in human form, this is known as an Avatar.
  • Two very popular avatars of Vishnu are Krishna from the epic Mahabharata and Rama from the epic Ramayana
  • Some believe the Buddha to be an avatar of Vishnu

How to Identify Vishnu

  • He is often depicted as a king, to show that he is a ruler and in charge
  • His skin is depicted as blue, to symbolize that he is an infinite as the sky
  • In his four arms he holds:
    • Lotus – symbol of purity
    • Conch – large seashell used as a trumpet. The sound the shell makes is Om
    • Chakra – circling one of his fingers is a discus, spinning like the universe. It also is a martial weapon to symbolize protection
    • Baton – this golden weapon flattens our egos
  • In this image of Vishnu, he is reclining on the serpent Shesha as he “dreams the universe into reality”


  • His name means “Auspicious One”
  • Known as the Destroyer and the Liberator because he destroys illusion and liberates devotees so they may attain moksha
  • He is a yogi, which means that he practices yoga and meditation
  • He focuses on the philosophical aspects of existence
  • Like Vishnu, Shiva also saves the world when it is in peril
  • He saved the world from the Ganga (the Ganges River) when she fell from the heavens to earth; it was Shiva who broke her fall
  • He also came to earth as Hanuman, the great monkey warrior in the epic Ramayana

How to Identify Shiva

  • He is often depicted with gray skin to symbolize he is covered in ashes
  • He is often depicted sitting in meditation, but sometimes he is depicted while dancing (Nataraja)
  • On his body are depicted:
    • Naga (snake) – symbolizes overcoming poisonous creatures
    • Skull – Shiva often has a skull intertwined in his dreadlocks, which is a result of him meditating in the cremation grounds
    • Crescent moon – symbolizes soma (drink used in rituals and thought to bring immortality)
    • Third eye -Shiva is depicted with a third eye positioned between his eyebrows. His third eye demonstrates that he can see past the illusions of this world. His third eye is more than a physical organ, but a way to see a different dimension.
    • Damaru (drum) – the drum of creation
    • Trishul (trident) – Shiva’s primary weapon. The three points represent multiple trinities, such as the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva or the trinity of Creation, Preservation, and Destruction

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