1. The Atman. Who are we? What is the real self?
Atman is one’s real self that does not change and cannot be defined by material parameters and is separate from one’s physical body or mind. Consciousness is considered to be a “symptom” of the soul and without it the body cannot be aware and also cannot function. The soul is like the driver of a car, and the body cannot function without the soul just like a car cannot function without a driver.
2. Reincarnation and Samsara: What happens after death and before birth?
After death, the soul is carried to its next destination which is determined by one’s desires and karma and although the physical body changes, the soul does not. Samsara is the process of passing from one body to another in all species of life, which are ordered based on the awareness of the soul in that species. Samsara is considered to be a painful cycle because life brings suffering.
3. The Law of Karma: Why is there suffering?
Karma is the reactions to one’s actions that are stored throughout life and determine each soul’s destiny and what one’s new physical form will be after death. Only humans accumulate Karma because animals act only on instinct while humans make conscious decisions. There are three types of Karma:
1. Karma: Karma that elevates the soul.
2. Vikarma: Karma that lowers the soul.
3. Akarma: Karma that is neutral and leads to unification with Brahman.
4. Prakriti and Guna: How does the world work?
All matter is temporary undergoes three stages that correspond to the three gunas. The first is Rajas, which means passion and is the stage where matter is created. The second guna is Sattva, which means goodness and is the stage in which matter is sustained. The third guna is Tamas, which means ignorance and is the stage in which matter is destroyed. The physical form that an Atman takes corresponds to the guna , or mixture of gunas of that Atman, which creates physical diversity among all species.
5. Maya (Illusion): Why do we run into difficulty in this world?
The Atman is deceived by earthly matter and is therefore confused, giving one’s Atman a false sense of self-identity because one identifies with his or her physical condition. The three Guna’s affect the Atman’s connection to the body and to escape Maya, one must work towards Sattva, in which one can identify their atman as separate from the physical body.
6. Moksha (Liberation): What is the goal of life?
In Hinduism, Moksha is usually the main goal of life because it means release from Samsara and unification with Brahman. There are different interpretations of what unification with Brahman means, it can either mean unification of one’s identity with Brahman or unification of one’s purpose and realizing one’s spiritual nature.
7. Is there a God? If so, what is he/she like?
-God Part 1: There are three main features of God. The first is Brahman, which exists in everything, meaning that since everything comes from God, it is not separate from Him. The second is Antaryami, which exists in one’s soul and is sometimes called the “supersoul”. The third aspect is Bhagavan, which is the aspect of God that lives in the spiritual world and is personal so each soul can interact with it.
-God Part 2: In Hinduism, there are two main doctrines about the nature of God. The first is called Monism and says that the soul is part of one God, and all of the deities in Hinduism were made up to help humans have a better understanding of God, but there is only one god. The other is called Inclusive Monotheism and says that God and Atman are distinct entities, and accepts deities as God, which has a specific form that human were modeled after.
8. Dharma (Religious Duties): Which is the right way to act?
-Sanatana Dharma: Dharma means religious duties, especially one’s that sustain you according to your nature. Sanatana Dharma consists of duties that pertain to one’s Atman and are the same for everyone. These are the universal laws that are beyond religion. This concept is similar to how something can be called by different names but it is still the same thing, meaning that these universal laws can be called different names, but are the same things.
-Varnashrama Dharma: The natural classifications that appear in society which are catageorized into the four Varnas (social divisions) and the four Ashrams (stages in life). Each Varna and Ashram has its own Dharma that coincides with the responsibilities of the members of that classifications. The four Varnas are Brahmanas (intellectuals/priests), Kshatriyas (armed forces/administration), Vaishyas (merchants/farmers), and Shudras (artisans/workers). The Four Ashrams are student life, household life, retirement, and renunciation.
9. One Goal, Different Paths: Explaining Hindu Diversity
Hinduism states that there are four main goals in life: Dharma (righteousness), Artha (economic growth), Kama (pleasure) and Moksha (liberation). While Moksha is the main goal, Hindus believe that each of the other three goals are part of the process towards reaching Moksha. This process is called Yoga and there are many different practices of Yoga because everyone has a specific path towards Moksha.
10. Scripture and Guru: How are the teachings preserved?
Hindu Scripture is called Shastra and was written down after it could not be continued through oral tradition anymore. This information is considered to be the most reliable information for spiritual and religious matters. Scripture is like a mother, because as a child only your mother can educate you or reveal the nature of your father (God) to you.
11. Kala (Time): When did it start and when will it finish?
Hindus consider Atman and the real-self to be eternal, with no end and no beginning. Hindus also believe that the physical world undergoes cycles of creation and destruction and therefore the physical world also has no final end or beginning.
12. Creation: How and why was the world made?
The physical world is not created only once, but goes through a cycle of creation and destruction. Hindus also believe that there are many different universe’s with three main regions, the heavenly planets, the earthly area, and the lower worlds. Hindus also believe that the purpose of the physical world is to fulfill the souls desires and Samsara allowing the soul to be reunited with God.