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Hinduism - Lesson 1

Hinduism as a World Religion

Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world and one of the oldest. It is about 12% of the world population and about 95% are in India. Hinduism is difficult to define. There is evidence of civilization in the Indus valley as early as 2800 BC. The sacred literature that is the basis for Hinduism was created and developed over hundreds of years. It was originally transmitted orally and was eventually written down.

Lesson 1
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Hinduism as a World Religion

I. Hinduism as a world religion

A. Numerical growth

B. Growth rate by percentage of the world population

C. Most unreached people groups

II. Hinduism Defined

A. Cultural definitions

B. Common source of authority

C. Shared belief system

D. Social practices

III. Historical Windows on Hinduism

A. Indus Valley civilization  (2800-1700 B.C.E)

B. Aryan Presence in India (1500 B.C. -1200 B.C.)

C. Vedic and Upanishadic Period (1200 B. C. - 400 B.C.)

D. Structure of sacred literature


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  • Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world and one of the oldest. It is about 12% of the world population and about 95% are in India. Hinduism is difficult to define. There is evidence of civilization in the Indus valley as early as 2800 BC. The sacred literature that is the basis for Hinduism was created and developed over hundreds of years. It was originally transmitted orally and was eventually written down.

  • Introduction to fundamental ideas and literature that are basic to the Hindu religion. The first lecture given for this class is not available at this time. This lecture begins on the class outline at II, C.

  • Discussion of the influence that the Vedic tradition has on Hinduism. 

  • Mahavakyas is made up of two words meaning, “great utterances.” The creation stories are a collection of different stories with various themes. The world is created by a divine figure dismembering themself and their body becomes the world. The caste system has a racial element to it based on some of the creation narratives in the RgVeda.

  • The Upanishads are one strand of the Vedas. Brahman refers to the all-pervading reality in the Upanishads, not the Brahmin caste. The question throughout the Upanishads is, “Who or what is Brahman?”

  • Brahman is the ultimate reality of the universe. Our atman is encrusted with karma and stuck on the wheel of Samsara. A Hindu's goal, in the process of being reincarnated through thousands of lifetimes, is to rid themselves of karma so they can achieve moksa, oneness with Brahman.

  • Maya is the ability of the gods to create the world and give it the appearance they choose, thereby concealing the true nature of Brahman. Karma is the principle that what you sow, you alone reap.

  • A Hindu must work off their karma to be released from the wheel of Samsara and achieve moksa when their atman becomes one with Brahman. Yoga was developed as a way to achieve the goals of the Samkhya philosophy. Hindus see God as a material cause of the universe, not an efficient cause.

  • The Mahavakyas are “great sayings” that give you insights into core teachings of Hinduism. The Brehed Aranyaka Upanishad shows that Hindus believe that diversity can come through oneness and not be an “other.”

  • Sankara says that Brahman is unknowable and we can't perceive any of his qualities. The rope-snake metaphor is often used by Hindus to discuss the difference between perception and reality.

  • Hindu writers often use metaphors to illustrate and teach the essentials of the Hindu philosophy. In their writings, they refer to these metaphors in a way that assumes that you know and understand them.

  • The purpose of this lecture is to see the structure of Hinduism at a glance. Hinduism operates and a philosophical level and a popular level. Hinduism attempts to resolve the relationship between knowledge, works and devotion. The four stages of life and the caste system determine much of cultural structure of Hinduism. Hindus worship many Gods.

  • The three major dissent movements that area a challenge Hinduism are Buddhism, Janism and materialism. Hinduism is adept at absorbing other movements. Buddhism claims that there is a teaching that makes it possible for you to reach the state of Nirvana which is liberation from all suffering. The founder of Buddhism is Siddhartha Gautama. The content of his teaching is the four noble truths and the eight-fold path.

  • The key insight of the Upanishads is the identification of atman with Brahman. Buddhists deny both atman and Brahman.

  • The Bhakti marga is branch of Hinduism that emphasizes a spiritual journey undertaken by a devotee that will culminate in a state of union with God or mutual indwelling of the deity and the bhakta.

  • The Hindu gods have identifying characteristics that make them easy to recognize when you see them in temples or other settings. The Trimrti are the three major gods of India which are Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. Brahma is not often visually represented, so Vishnu and Shiva are seen the most. Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, Shiva the destroyer. Vishnu has 10 incarnations or avatars. These are partial incarnations and don’t represent the fullness of Vishnu.

  • The Siva icon always has the presence of the Trishal, which is a sacred weapon of destruction. There is also the nag (cobra), damaru (drum), third eye, Ganges river flowing out of his head. The dancing Siva has a damaru in one hand and a flame of fire in the other that represents creation and destruction of the world. He also has dreadlocks and the trunk of an elephant.  The third eye of siva is what Hindu women have on their forehead. The Siva Lingum is the most dominant icon in north India.

  • The Brahminical branch teaches that works and devotion lead to true knowledge (Upanishadic vision, tat twam asi). Bhaktis say that knowledge and works should lead to devotion.

  • The Ramayana is an epic account of India. It is the story or epic of Rama and Sita, and is the origin of the tradition of Suti. Mahabharata is the epic of India. It’s the longest collection of poems in the world. The Bhagavad-Gita  is the most important part of the Mahabharata. It talks about both the dharma of caste and the dharma of denial and renunciation.

  • Gurus integrate different parts of the marga system. Paramahamsa Ramakrishna declared the unity of all religions. He claimed to have visions of Hindu gods and Jesus Christ and Mohammed and that all religions lead to the same ultimate reality, sat chit ananda. Swami Vivekananda was the most well-known follower of Ramadrishna and brought his message to the western world. He accepts tat twam asi, the great insight of the Upanishads, but thinks that everyone, not just Brahmans can perceive that unity. (The last point of the lecture was cut short due to a technical limitation.)

    You may download the text of Vivekananda's speech by clicking on the Handouts link in the upper left corner.

  • These are nine of the major holidays celebrated in India. Sankara has been called India’s greatest philosopher. Sankara emphasized universals and Ramanuja emphasized the particulars, similar to Plato and Aristotle in Western thought. Sankara has greater status as a philosopher, but Ramanuja has had a great influence on how the masses practice Hinduism.

    The chart Dr. Tennent refers to near the end of the lecture is the “Three Vehicle Structure of Hinduism,” which is labeled Lecture 6 in the complete class outline pdf document on the class page.

  • According to Sankara, the distinction between enjoyers and objects of enjoyment doesn’t exist. Brahman is everything. The world is illusion and only the atman is Brahman. The nirguna saguna (Brahman) distinction is critical to the Advedic position. Ramanuja accepts the basic idea of monism but modifies it to reconcile plurality by embracing differentiation and particularity. He argues that Brahman is a personality which comprehends within himself all plurality (one essence with internal differentiation). Sankara says Brahman is exclusive of particularities and Ramanuja says Brahman is inclusive. Sanakara views Brahman as subject only but Ramanuja views him as object. For Sankara, there is only subject, but for Ramanuja there is subject and object. Ramanuja insisted that Brahman can have contact with the world and even become embodied without compromising any of his defining attributes. Sankara has two levels of Brahman, nirguna, saguna. Ramanuja has two modes of Brahman, hidden, revealed.

  • According to Sankara, the distinction between enjoyers and objects of enjoyment doesn’t exist. Brahman is everything. The world is illusion and only the atman is Brahman. The nirguna saguna (Brahman) distinction is critical to the Advedic position. Ramanuja accepts the basic idea of monism but modifies it to reconcile plurality by embracing differentiation and particularity. He argues that Brahman is a personality which comprehends within himself all plurality (one essence with internal differentiation). Sankara says Brahman is exclusive of particularities and Ramanuja says Brahman is inclusive. Sanakara views Brahman as subject only but Ramanuja views him as object. For Sankara, there is only subject, but for Ramanuja there is subject and object. Ramanuja insisted that Brahman can have contact with the world and even become embodied without compromising any of his defining attributes. Sankara has two levels of Brahman, nirguna, saguna. Ramanuja has two modes of Brahman, hidden, revealed.

  • Brahmabandhav Upadhyay was an upper jati Brahman teacher who converted to Catholicism. He attempts to explain Christianity by using Advadic motifs. Brahmabandhav is an example of how a Brahman can address the Brahminical community using a Brahminical line of reasoning.

  • A. J. Appasamy became the bishop of south India. He developed a Christian interpretation of the Pramanas.  He shows how the relational themes in John’s gospel are consistent with the Bhakti tradition. He doesn’t believe Bhakti is sufficient, but uses it to prepare people for the gospel.

  • A. J. Appasamy became the bishop of south India. He developed a Christian interpretation of the Pramanas.  He shows how the relational themes in John’s gospel are consistent with the Bhakti tradition. He doesn’t believe Bhakti is sufficient, but uses it to prepare people for the gospel.

  • There are opportunities for preaching the gospel and planting churches, but there are significant challenges. There is a difference between being unreached and being unevangelized. Homogenus unit principle is one factor that makes it difficult for the gospel to spread in India. It’s important to send people to unreached groups and use a strategy that is effective for those groups.

In-depth survey of philosophical and popular Hinduism’s historical and theological themes. Exposure to current strategies being used to bring the gospel to Hindus and how Christian theology is being formulated in the Indian context.

Dr. Tennent occasionally uses pictures of Hindu gods or other visual resources in his lectures. You can download a document with these pictures by clicking on the Hindu Deity Pictures link. Due to technical difficulties, some of the lectures are not available, including the first lecture in the class. We are planning to re-record these the next time Dr. Tennent teaches the class.

For a summary version of the material in Lecture 1 that is missing, please listen to the first lecture in Essentials of Hinduism in the Seminars section.