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Founder: Unknown

Hinduism differs from Christianity and other Western religions in that it does not have a single founder, a specific theological system, a single system of morality, or a central religious organization. It consists of "thousands of different religious groups that have evolved in India since 1500 B.C.." Hindus have a saying: "Ekam Sataha Vipraha Bahudha Vadanti," which may be translated: "The truth is One, but different Sages call it by Different Names". Hinduism is a henotheistic religion -- a religion which recognizes a single deity, but which doesn't deny the existence of other gods and goddesses as facets or manifestations or aspects of that supreme God.

Although the caste system was abolished by law in 1949, it remains a significant force throughout India. Each follower of Hinduism belonged to one of the thousands of Jats (communities) that existed in India. The Jats were grouped into four Varna (social castes), plus a fifth group called the "untouchables." A person's Jat determined the range of jobs or professions from which they could choose. Marriages normally took place within the same Jat. There were rules that prohibited persons of different groups from eating, drinking or even smoking with each other. People were once able to move from one Varna to another. However, at some time in the past (estimates range from about 500 B.C. to 500 A.D.), the system became rigid, so that a person was generally born into the Jat and Varna of their parents, and died in the same group. "The caste system splits up society into a multitude of little communities, for every caste, and almost every local unit of a caste, has its own peculiar customs and internal regulations." The Rigveda defined four castes. In decreasing status, they are normally:

  • Brahmins (the priests and academics)

  • Kshatriyas (rulers, military)

  • Vaishyas (farmers, landlords, and merchants)

  • Sudras (peasants, servants, and workers in non-polluting jobs). 

The Dalit were outcasts who did not belong to one of the castes. Until the late 1980's they were called Harijan (children of God). They worked in what are considered polluting jobs. They were untouchable by the four castes; in some areas of the country, even a contact with their shadow by a member of the Varnas was considered polluting. Practicing untouchability or discriminating against a person because of their caste is now illegal. The caste system has lost much of its power in urban areas; however it is essentially unchanged in some rural districts. Many Dalit have left Hinduism in recent years. This has sometimes been motivated by a desire to escape the caste system.

The colored dot is variously referred to as a "tilaka," "bottu," "bindiya," "kumkum," or "bindi." It is a sign of piety, and a reveals to other people that the wearer is a Hindu. It symbolizes the third eye -- the one focused inwards toward God. Both men and women wear it, although the practice among men is gradually going out of style. In the past, many unmarried women wore black marks, whereas many married women wore red. But in recent times, women often wear dots that match the color of their saris.

Hindus organize their lives around certain activities or "purusharthas." These are called the "four aims of Hinduism," or "the doctrine of the fourfold end of life." They are:

  • The three goals of the "pravritti," those who are in the world, are: 

    • dharma: righteousness in their religious life. This is the most important of the three.

    • artha: success in their economic life; material prosperity.

    • kama: gratification of the senses; pleasure; sensual, sexual, and mental  enjoyment.

  • The main goal for the "nivritti," those who renounce the world. is:

    • moksa: Liberation from "samsara," the  This is considered the supreme end of mankind.

Cult Beliefs:

  • They believe in the divinity of the Vedas, to be the world's most ancient scripture, and venerate the Agamas as equally revealed. They believe these hymns are god's word and the bedrock of Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion which has neither beginning nor end.

  • Hindus believe in the repetitious Transmigration of the Soul. This is the transfer of one's soul after death into another body. This produces a continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth through their many lifetimes. It is called samsara.

  • They believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.

  • They believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts words and deeds. Through pure acts, thoughts and devotion, one can be reborn at a higher level. Eventually, one can escape samsara and achieve enlightenment. Bad deeds can cause a person to be reborn as a lower level, or even as an animal. The unequal distribution of wealth, prestige, suffering are thus seen as natural consequences for one's previous acts, both in this life and in previous lives.

  • The believe in meditation and it is often practiced, with Yoga being the most common. Other activities include daily devotions, public rituals, and puja, a ceremonial dinner for a god.

  • They believe that a spiritually awakened master is essential to know the transcendent absolute, as are personal discipline, good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry and meditation.

  • They believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered.

  • They believe that no particular religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine religious paths are facets of god's pure love and light, deserving tolerance and understanding.


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