In the religion of Hinduism, there are many facets of beliefs which vary from group to group. However most Hindus seem to agree upon the basic points described below.
Hindus agree that truth, the only Reality, exists eternally in a limitless and indescribable form known as Brahman. They believe the world functions in cycles of creation, preservation, and destruction, and lives in a continual reincarnation. The Vedas, an ancient collection of texts, are the sacred and enduring writings which were revealed to the wisest of authors. The Hindus believe in seeking dharma, the moral code and order of how one ought to live life, and karma the cause and consequence of all actions. Individuals can be guided by a spiritual master known as a guru, who can help a person grow and obtain purity, good conduct, and self-awareness. This involves respecting life, and seeking to live in good conduct without hurting other living beings. They believe that souls are immortal and can receive Moksha (release) after the cycles of death and reincarnation, once the soul understands its actual nature and communes with Brahman. Hindus also are tolerant of other religions, accepting that each belief system is a journey into understanding God's love.
Hindus believe that everyone was born in set Varnas, or societal classifications. These are the Brahmins (the priests, lecturers, and instructers), the Kshatriyas (rulers, governors, soldiers), the Vaishyas (farmers, merchants, artists, scientists, and herders), and the Shudras (the servicemen and laborers). Though the caste system is not as rigidly adhered to in this modern era, understanding Varnas is an important aspect to Hinduism.
There are specific branches of the Hinduism religion itself; the main divisions are Shaivism (revering Shiva as the Supreme God who encompasses all godly qualities in one), Vaishnavism (emphasizing the supremacy of Vishnu as the main God, along with his avatars and incarnations), Shaktism (worships Shakti or Devi the Divine Mother as the supreme goddess over all).
Though each branch of Hinduism is distinct, most devout followers share the same beliefs listed below:
Supreme God: Hindus believe that the ultimate Reality and Truth exists in the universe, and is known as Brahman. The Supreme God is a trinity of 3 linked gods, Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma. However in different forms of Hinduism, the supreme God might be Vishnu, Krishna or Shiva depending on if the person is a Vaishnavite or a Shaiva Hindu.
Karma: This is the belief that actions have consequences. Whatever choice someone made in this or in past lives, will determine their fate. It is an adaptation of the concepts "what goes around, comes around" and "you reap what you sow". Because of this, Hindu individuals are very concerned with making good moral decisions and gaining in understanding and depth to reach high level of virtuous living and dharma.
Samsara: This concept is based on the continuous cycle of birth, life, death, and reincarnation. The cycle had no beginning, but is possible for souls to come to the end if the person receives moksha, or liberation. Based on karma, and the good or evil actions, decisions and thoughts of someone in their past life can result in what form they take in the next life. Actions severely impact the status of what form the soul will take when it returns in the following reincarnation.
Atman: This is the Hindu term for the self, or the human soul. Each individual is seeking to achieve better understanding of the atman by eventually realizing that the true self, then the atman is connected to Brahman.
Objective of the human life: The Hindus believe in 4 stages of life: The Student (a growing child), the Householder (developing the provision for family life), the Hermit (eastern-concept of retirement, spiritual cleansing when one is no longer obligated to work to support the home), and Sannyasin (when the person removes all ties to earth.) During their lifetime, there are 4 goals which humans are to strive for in the process of Samsara.
- Dharma - Dharma is the method of pursuing a life of righteousness and moral behavior. It occurs when one lives in accordance with lawful conduct, and moral order within the universe based on the teachings of the Vedas. It is largely mentioned in the writings of Vedas and expounded upon in the Upanishads, as well as other Hindu scriptures. Dharma is based on compassion, and the harmony of law, order, and truth; it is necessary for the world to function. If a person lives by good dharma, they will have good karma in the life to come and possible moksha or enlightenment. The goal of living a life with dharma is to eventually to have the soul unite with Brahman, the ultimate truth.
- Artha - The artha is the focus that motivates humans to seek prosperity, success and stability. It is reflected in financial success and worldly wealth and provision, which establishes order in society. Wealth is never to be the entire pursuit of life, but merely an aspect creating balance.
- Kama - The word in Sanskrit means "enjoyment" where the individual is permitted to pursue pleasure for the mind, spirit and body. This deals with wishes, dreams, desires and longing of the senses. Individuals are naturally drawn to feelings of contentment, pleasantness and physical, emotional and physical stimuli. The inclusion of kama in the 4 goals that a human can experience, affirms that a humans desire for love and pleasure is permissible and natural. While an important aspect of life, this element of the Hindu faith is meant to live in harmonious coexistence with the other four goals.
- Moksha -This is goal of every Hindu's life, to be set free from the cycle of rebirth, life, death and reincarnation, and finally commune with Brahman. This is achieved when a person has gone through the process of Samsara (reincarnation) to receive an enlightened state of mind, understanding the true-self. When this occurs, the soul is received into Brahman, and communes thereafter with the ultimate united spirit of reality and truth.
Vedas: Hindus are able to come to a deeper knowledge of the 4 objectives Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha through two ways: through the instruction of a master or guru, and through the Vedas.
The Vedas are a collection of ancient texts from the Vedic period that provide the literary basis for the religion of Hinduism. Hindus bring fundamental understanding of how the universe functions, and how all living things coexist in it. The Vedas are identified in two categories the Scruti/Shruti (meaning "revealed") and the Smriti (meaning "remembered"). The Four Vedas are the primary "canon" of literature recognized by Hindus as the the foundational writings of the faith consisting of: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, Atharvaveda.
Beyond the Vedas, there are also other post-Vedic tests, such as the Upanishads (which inspired the Vedanta and Samkhya philosophies, and is also where the concept of Karma came from) and the Sutra writings are a part of what is known as the Shruti texts.