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Essentials of Hinduism: Some Basic Concepts


Concept of Brahman

Brahman of the Vedas
This is a Unique Concept of the Absolute. Let us look at what Hinduism holds to be the Absolute. The ultimate goal and Absolute of Hinduism is termed "Brahman" in Sanskrit. The word comes from the Sanskrit verb root "brh", meaning "to grow". Etymologically, the term means "that which grows" (brhati) and "which causes to grow" (brhmayati). Brahman is not "God"

Brahman, as understood by the scriptures of Hinduism, as well as by the 'acharyas' of the Vedanta school, is a very specific conception of the Absolute. This unique conception has not been replicated by any other religion on earth, and is exclusive to Hinduism. Thus to even call this conception of Brahman "God" is, in a sense, somewhat imprecise. This is the case because Brahman does not refer to the anthropomorphic concept of God of the Abrahamic religions. It transcends all empirically discernable categories, limitations and dualities.

What is Brahman?
In the 'Taittiriya Upanishad' II.1, Brahman is described in the following manner: "satyam jnanam anantam brahma", "Brahman is of the nature of truth, knowledge and infinity." Infinite positive qualities and states have their existence secured solely by virtue of Brahman's very reality. Brahman is a necessary reality, eternal (i.e., beyond the purview of temporality), fully independent, non-contingent, and the source and ground of all things. Brahman is both immanently present in the realm of materiality, interpenetrating the whole of reality as the sustaining essence that gives it structure, meaning and existential being, yet Brahman is simultaneously the transcendent origin of all things (thus, panetheistic).

The Nature of Brahman
As the primary causal substance of material reality (jagatkarana), Brahman does not arbitrarily will the coming into being of the non-Brahman metaphysical principles of matter and jivas (individuated consciousness), but rather they are manifest into being as a natural result of the overflowing of Brahman's grandeur, beauty, bliss and love. Brahman cannot but create abundant good in a similar manner to how Brahman cannot but exist. Both existence and overflowing abundance are as much necessary properties of Brahman as love and nurturing are necessary qualities of any virtuous and loving mother.

Brahman is the Source
One can say that Brahman Itself (Him/Herself) constitutes the essential building material of all reality, being the antecedent primeval ontological substance from whence all things proceed. There is no ex nihilo creation in Hinduism. Brahman does not create from nothing, but from the reality of Its own being. Thus Brahman is, in Aristotelian terms, both the Material Cause as well as the Efficient Cause of creation.

The Final Goal & the Final Cause
As the source of Dharma, the metaphysical ordering principles inherent in the design of the cosmos, Brahman can be viewed as the Formal Cause. And as the final goal of all reality, Brahman is also the Final Cause. Being the ontological source of all reality, Brahman is the only substantial real that truly exists, all other metaphysical categories being either a) contingent transformations of Brahman, having their very being subsisting in attributive dependence upon Brahman, or else b) illusory in nature. These views about the nature of Brahman are in general keeping with the theological teachings of both the Advaita and the Vishishta-Advaita schools of Hinduism.

Brahman is the Ultimate Reality
All reality has its source in Brahman. All reality has its grounding sustenance in Brahman. It is in Brahman that all reality has its ultimate repose. Hinduism, specifically, is consciously and exclusively aiming toward this reality termed Brahman.

Concept of Time

Most of us are accustomed to living life according to linear beliefs and patterns of existence. We believe everything has a beginning, middle and an end. But Hinduism has little to do with the linear nature of history, the linear concept of time or the linear pattern of life. The passage of 'linear' time has brought us where we are today - at the dawn of a new century and a new millennium.

Cyclical Time
Hinduism views the concept of time in a much different manner, and there is a cosmic perspective to it. Hindus believe the process of creation moves in cycles and that each cycle has four great epochs of time, namely Satya Yugaa, Treta Yugaa, Dwapara Yugaa and Kali Yugaa. And because the process of creation is cyclical and never ending, it "begins to end and ends to begin".

Time is God
According to the Hindu theory of creation, time (Sanskrit 'kal') is a manifestation of God. Creation begins when God makes his energies active and ends when he withdraws all his energies into a state of inactivity. God is timeless, for time is relative and ceases to exist in the Absolute. The past, the present and the future coexist in him simultaneously.

God creates the cycle of time, called Kalchakra, in order to create divisions and movements of life and sustain the worlds in periodic timeframes. God also uses time to create the 'illusions' of life and death. It is time, which is accountable for old age, death and dying of his creations. When we overcome time, we become immortal. Death is not the end of the line, but a gateway to the next cycle, to birth. This is also true of the universe itself and akin to the cyclic patterns in the rhythms of nature.

Four Yugaas
According to Hindu scriptures, all mortal beings are destined to pass through four great epochs in every cycle of creation and destruction. This divine cycle turns full-circle at the end of what is known as kalpa. A kalpa is a period of 10,000 divine years or 10 million years, and is divided into four ages or yugas (Sanskrit Yuga = age/epoch).

The four great epochs in Hinduism are: Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. Satya Yuga or the Age of Truth is said to last for four thousand divine years, Treta Yuga for three thousand, Dwapara Yuga for two thousand and Kali Yuga will last for one thousand divine years. It is also believed that three of these great ages have already passed away, and we are now living in the fourth one. What these ages exactly mean, and why this division, it is hard to explain, because they appear too unrealistic to be true for the rational mind.

These epochs of time are classified on the basis of the degree of loss of righteousness in the world. It says, during Satya Yuga only truth prevailed (Sanskrit Satya = truth), Treta lost ¼ truth, Dwapara lost ½ truth and Kali is left with only ¼ truth. Evil and dishonesty has replaced truth in the last three ages or yugas.


Two types of sacred writings constitute the Hindu scriptures: heard (Sruti) and memorized (Smriti).

Gods & Deities

Hinduism believes that there is only one supreme Absolute called Brahman. It also believes that there are several deities each one identified for a particular function, but it does not advocate the worship of any one particular deity.