Terms in Hinduism

Written by schooltiger on Friday, December 14, 2007 at 11:18 PM

Theistic devotion in Hinduism. Bhakti cults seem to have existed from the earliest times, but they gained strength in the first millennium A.D. The first full statement of liberation and spiritual fulfillment through devotion to a personal god is found in the Bhagavad-Gita. The Puranas (from the 1st cent. A.D.) further elaborated theistic ideas. Devotion to Shiva and Vishnu and to the latter's avatara (incarnations), Rama and Krishna, continues to be practiced throughout India. Intense love for God and surrender to Him, reliance on His grace rather than on rituals, learning, or austerities, and the continuous repetition of His name are the means to the goal of His constant presence. The devotee may worship the chosen deity as child, parent, friend, master, or beloved. The bhakti tradition has tended to stress authentic inner feelings as opposed to institutional forms of religion and to disregard caste distinctions.

OM (ôm)
A mystic word or mantra for Hindus. Om is regarded as the syllable of the supreme Reality and is sometimes called "the mother of mantras." It is often found at the beginning of prayers, mantras, and scriptures as a word of invocation and adoration. In Hinduism its three Sanskrit phonemes (transliterated a, u, and m) symbolize the triad of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer, or the three levels of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and deep sleep.

Guru (spiritual teacher)

The guru gives initiation into spiritual practice and instructs disciples, often maintaining a close relationship with them. A study without a teacher is incomplete forever.

General term for spiritual disciplines in Hinduism, and throughout S Asia that are directed toward attaining higher consciousness and liberation from ignorance, suffering, and rebirth. More specifically it is also the name of one of the six orthodox systems of Hindu philosophy. In Vedic literature discuss the doctrines of wandering ascetics in ancient India who practiced various kinds of austerities and meditation. The basic text of the Yoga philosophical school, the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali (2d cent. B.C.), is a systematization of one of these older traditions. Yoga is usually practiced under the guidance of a guru, or spiritual guide.

Patañjali divides the practice of yoga into eight stages. Yama, or restraint from vice, and niyama, or observance of purity and virtue, lay the moral foundation for practice and remove the disturbance of uncontrolled desires. Asana, or posture, and pranayama, or breath control, calm the physical body, while pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses, detaches the mind from the external world. Internal control of consciousness is accomplished in the final three stages: dharana, or concentration, dhyana, or meditation, and samadhi. Through such practices yogis acquire miraculous powers, which must ultimately be renounced to attain the highest state. In samadhi the subject-object distinction and one's sense of an individual self disappear in a state usually described as one of supreme peace, bliss, and illumination. A common feature of different traditions of yoga is one-pointed concentration on a chosen object, whether a part of the body, the breath, a mantra, a diagram, a deity, or an idea.

Hindu tradition in general recognizes three main kinds of yoga: gnana yoga, the path of realization and wisdom, bhakti yoga, the path of love and devotion to a personal God, and karma yoga, the path of selfless action. Other classifications exist. Patañjali's yoga is known as raja, or "royal", yoga. Hatha yoga, which stresses physical control and postures, is widely practiced in the West. Kundalini yoga, especially associated with Tantra, is based on the physiology of the "subtle body", according to which seven major centers of psychic energy, called chakras, are located along the spinal column, with the kundalini, or "coiled" energy in latent form, located at the base of the spine. When the kundalini is activated by yogic methods, it ascends the spine through the main subtle artery of the sushumna, "opening" each chakra in turn. When the kundalini reaches the topmost chakra in the brain, samadhi is attained.

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