Chapter 5: Principal Hindu Doctrines
Although there are numerous doctrines in Hindu scriptures, the
major doctrines of the Hindu religious tradition can be represented by the
letters of the words HINDU DHARMA as explained below:
|Harmony of Religions
||Doctrine of Karma
||Human Life, the Goal of
||Ătman, the Divinity of
|Unity of Existence
||Avatăra, the Doctrine of
Harmony of Religions
Hindu sages declare that there is no one religion that teaches an exclusive
road to salvation. All genuine spiritual paths are valid and all great religions
are like the branches of a tree - the tree of religion. The Bhagavad Gîtă
declares, "In whatever way they [human beings] love Me (God), in the same
way they find My love. Various are the ways for them, but in the end they all
come to Me." (BG 4.11)
Practical significance: This doctrine lays foundation for the Hindu
ideal of universal harmony. The Hindu attitude of religious acceptance is Hindu
Dharma's greatest gift to mankind.
There is but one Supreme Being, Who is absolute existence, absolute
knowledge, and absolute bliss (sat-chid-ănanda). He is both immanent and
transcendent, and both Creator and Unmanifest Reality. There is no duality of
God and the world, but only unity. God can be worshipped and prayed in the form
of a chosen deity (Ishta Devată) in the temples and in home shrines.
Practical Significance: Being a God-loving religion and not a
God-fearing one, Hindu Dharma relies upon self-knowledge through yoga and
meditation rather than on dogma or blind faith.
Ahimsă means non-violence (in thought, word and deed), non-injury, or
non-killing. Hindu Dharma teaches that all forms of life are different
manifestations of Brahman. We must therefore not be indifferent to the
sufferings of any of God's creatures.
Practical Significance: This doctrine creates love for humans
between themselves as well as with other forms of life, and encourages the
protection of our environment. "That mode of living which is founded upon a
total harmlessness towards all creatures or (in case of actual necessity) upon a
minimum of such harm, is the highest morality." (Mahăbhărata Shăntiparva
The Doctrine of Dharma
The thought of dharma generates deep confidence in the Hindu mind in
cosmic justice. This is reflected in the often-quoted maxims: "The
righteous side will have the victory." "Truth only prevails, not
falsehood." "Dharma kills if it is killed; dharma protects if it is
protected." "The entire world rests on dharma."
Dharma is the law that maintains the cosmic order as well as the individual
and social order. Dharma sustains human life in harmony with nature. When we
follow dharma, we are in conformity with the law that sustains the universe.
Dharma is of four kinds: universal dharma (rita), human dharma (ashram
dharma), social dharma (varana dharma), and individual dharma (svadharma).
All four dharmas together are called sanătana dharma, the orginal name
of Hindu religion (see page 7).
Universal dharma includes the natural laws associated with the physical
phenomenon of the universe, such as the laws of matter, science, and planetary
motions. Human dharma means the human actions which maintain the individual,
social, and environmental order. Social dharma is exemplified in human actions
associated with professional, social, community and national duties and
responsibilities. Individual dharma consists of individual actions associated
with one's individual duties and responsibilities.
The Hindu doctrine of dharma states that right action must be performed for
the sake of righteousness, and good must be done for the sake of goodness,
without any expectation of receiving something in return. The question arises as
to what is right? Hindu scriptures include the following guidance that should be
used to determine what is right under given circumstances:
- Individual actions (svadharma) which are based upon truth, ahimsă,
and moral values are considered righteous actions.
- Political, social, and community-related activities, which are based upon
unselfishness, truth, ahimsă, and moral and ethical values are defined as
- Actions that arise as a consequence of one's stage of life (ash-ram
dharma) are considered good. The dharma of a student is to acquire
knowledge and skills, whereas the dharma of a householder is to raise the
family, and that of a retiree is to advise and guide the younger
- Actions that are associated with one's profession (varna dhar-ma)
are considered right actions. The duty of a soldier may be to take the life
of an enemy, whereas the duty of a doctor is to save the life, including
that of an enemy.
- Actions which ensure adherence to the laws of the land are righteous
actions. If the laws are unjust, they must be changed through democratic
means and non-violence.
- In the event of a conflict between individual and social dharma, the
social dharma takes precedence. "He who understands his duty to society
truly lives. All others shall be counted among the dead," declares
Tirukural, a Hindu scripture.
- "What you desire for yourself, you should desire for others. What you
do not like others to do to you, you should not do to others." (Mahăbhărata,
Practical Significance: Dharma provides a rational approach to
distinguish right from wrong and good from evil. Duties and responsibilities are
emphasized more than rights and privileges.
Unity of Existence
Science has revealed that what we call matter is essentially energy. Hindu
sages have declared that the cosmic energy is a manifestation of the Universal
Spirit (Brahman). The entire universe is a play between Brahman, or the
cosmic consciousness, and the cosmic energy. Brahman has become all things and
beings of the world. Thus we are all interconnected in subtle ways.
Practical Significance: This doctrine encourages universal
brotherhood, reverence for all forms of life, and respect for our environment.
There is no racial, cultural or religious superiority. There are differences on
the surface, but deep down there is perfect unity, as All is in One and One is
Doctrine of Karma (see Chapter 6)
The Four Ends of Human Life
The four ends of human life are dharma, artha, kăma,
and moksha. Dharma is the first human goal and forms the foundation for
the pursuit of the other three goals. Dharmic actions are those individual,
social, political, and professional actions which are based upon the four
virtues - truth, ahimsă, morality and ethics. Artha means to earn wealth in
accordance with dharma. Kăma is to satisfy one's mental and intellectual
desires in accordance with dharma. Moksha denotes spiritual perfection, which is
attained automatically when one leads a life that is dedicated to dharma.
Every child born on this earth is required to repay three debts in his (or
her) lifetime. These three debts are akin to the three mortgages on one's life.
The first debt is to God and the repayment requires regular prayers and worship,
and selfless service to all of God's creatures.
The second debt is to the sages and saints, who have revealed truths in
scriptures. The repayment of this debt arises from service to the needy,
handicapped, sick and poor, and less fortunate. The third debt is to one's
ancestors, parents and teachers. The repayment of this debt means raising one's
family in accordance with the moral and ethical principles of dharma. To help an
individual repay the above three debts, Hindu sages have organized life into
four stages: studentship (Brahmachărya Ăshrama), householder stage (Grhastha
Ăshrama), retirement (Vănaprastha Ăshrama), and renunciation (Sannyăsa
During studentship one must acquire knowledge and skills necessary to perform
duties and responsibilities in adult life, i.e. the householder stage.
Retirement means a life of spirituality and gradual withdrawal from active life,
to pass on skills to the next generation and begin devoting time to meditation
and contemplation. Renunciation is the last stage of life in which one devotes
full-time to meditation and contemplation on one's own self.
Practical Significance: The concept of the four ends and three
debts generates awareness of one's duties and responsibilities, provides moral
and ethical direction to life, encourages family values, and helps one to
organize life for individual accomplishments. The Hindu concept of the four
stages (ăshramas) of life provides a road map for life's journey from
the first stage of learning to the final stage where the Divinity alone is the
focus and support.
The Divinity of Ătman (soul)
Each human being, regardless of religion, geographic region, color, or creed
is in reality Ătman clothed in a physical body. An individual is not born a
sinner, but becomes a victim of măyă (cosmic ignorance). Just as
darkness quickly disappears upon the appearance of light, an individual's
delusion vanishes when he gains self-knowledge.
Practical Significance: This doctrine eliminates fear of God,
encourages divine love, promotes freedom of thought, and removes fear and guilt
which are psychological barriers to human growth.
Hindus believe that wisdom is not an exclusive possession of any particular
race or religion. Since a laborer requires a different kind of religion than a
scholar, Hindu Dharma allows an individual to select a religious discipline in
accordance with one's own religious yearning and spiritual competence. Hindu
Dharma recommends the guidance of a spiritually awakened master (guru)
for attaining perfection in life. If a devotee on the spiritual path is likened
to a traveler, then the guru is the traveler's guide who provides the road map
and other helpful information needed to reach the destination successfully.
Practical Significance: This doctrine minimizes religious
manipulation and control and provides everyone with absolute freedom of thought
in religious matters. One is free to question any belief and practice until one
is convinced of the truth behind it.
The ultimate goal of Hindu religious life is to attain spiritual freedom (moksha,
i.e. freedom from the cycle of birth and death in the phenomenal world), or
union with God. Moksha is the birth right of every individual and is
automatically attained when one leads a life dedicated to dharma, artha,
and kăma. Moksha is akin to the top of a three-step ladder, and after
taking the three steps of dharma, artha, and kăma, one will automatically reach
Practical Significance: This doctrine encourages individual
effort and understanding for attaining perfection in life. Each soul evolves
toward union with God by his own effort. No savior can achieve this for him.
There is no supernatural power that randomly determines our destinies. We are
the makers of our own destinies. Self-effort and Divine grace together lead to
The Doctrine of Avatăra (Incarnation)
Hindus believe that God incarnates Himself on earth (avatăra) to
uphold righteousness, whenever there is a loss of virtue. The Bhagavad Gîtă
thus declares, "Whenever there is a decline of righteousness and
predominance of unrighteousness, I (God) embody Myself. For the protection of
the good and for the destruction of the evil-doers and for the re-establishment
of righteousness, I am born from age to age." (Bhagavad Gîtă 4.6-4.7)
Practical Significance: This doctrine encourages righteousness and
fosters hope for mankind, since divine intervention eventually destroys evil and
restores balance in the world.