Hindus hold specific beliefs that are clear but hard to define. It is even harder to pinpoint who is or isn’t a Hindu. In my view, any person who identifies as a Hindu, who subscribes to the general beliefs Hindus hold, and who does not belong to another religion is a de facto Hindu. Others may use other criteria if they seek to pinpoint who is or is not a true Hindu.
It is hard for those who have not experienced Hinduism to understand its powerful tenets because they are subject to interpretation and evolution. For example, Hinduism is premised on a belief in God, but it does not mandate this belief. Thus, an atheist can be a Hindu. Moreover, the idea of God is somewhat fluid, given varying notions of what the supreme spirit is or is not, the Lord’s avatars or incarnations, and the presence of a pantheon of lesser gods.
The essence of Hindu belief derives from its goal, to attain oneness with God and liberation from the cycle of birth and death. This attainment is viewed as nirvana, the state of ultimate bliss. Ways to reach such oneness are described in scripture. Mythology also contains tips on becoming good enough to achieve nirvana. Goodness attaches to the soul which is a spark of God’s divinity and power.
Like the existence of God, the reality of karma and reincarnation is taken for granted by Hindus. These beliefs comprise a fundamental world view which is considered the truest and most sensible explanation for how life, death, and the universe work. The Hindu worldview is not a subject of debate but rather is a starting point for debates on derivative themes such as how best to accrue good karma or how God and karma interact.
Hindus tend to disengage both from defending the validity of their faith and from trying to persuade others of its merit. Their understanding negates arguments like reincarnation cannot exist because the earth cannot accommodate so many people and their remains. They do not feel a need to explain that Hinduism acknowledges the many planes of our universe which transcend the limits of time and space.
Hindu belief encourages philosophy, mythology, and rituals to flourish. It accepts science. It embraces differences in individual perspectives. It produces a rich medley of customs and traditions. It provides harmony in the face of the unknowns that confine human understanding. It gives balance throughout the trials and tribulations that we all endure and it gives enhanced meaning to our journey through life.
Please see Chapter 1 of On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar for further discussion of this topic. We welcome your views and thoughts.