Why Do Hindu Beliefs Vary Widely? [Google Questions Answered]

Curious to know what people were wondering about Hindus and Hinduism, I went to Google and entered some prompts. For example, I typed “Why do Hindus” and then paused to see what questions would come up. Today’s Question is…

Why Do Hindu Beliefs Vary Widely?

Many religions have a clear history that’s easy to trace. Many are founded by one person or inspired by one person. Hinduism is not like that.

In ancient times there were simply beliefs and practices. The people in what is now India lived in a certain way and the name for their way of life was simply The Eternal Truth. At that time they had no need to codify or distinguish their beliefs from others. Everyone believed what he believed and there were some common threads and common ideas and worship practices, but people mostly believed and worshiped the way others around them did in their little area.

At some point people of vastly different beliefs, people who had a name for their religion and rules about what made it separate, came along and defined Hinduism as anything that was not what they were.

It covered a lot of different beliefs and understandings. For Muslim invaders, anyone who didn’t believe that Mohammad was the greatest prophet of the world and that the world was separate from God were “other” and those “other” were all called Hindu eventually. For Christians, anyone who didn’t believe that the only option was to worship Jesus in exclusion of any other God was “other.”

And so you will find that there are Hindus who are monotheistic, who believe that all the Gods are representations of One God, and there are Hindus who are polytheistic, who think that trying to put all the Gods into One ultimate God is pandering to invading monotheistic religions.

This has made it rather difficult to define what Hinduism is and what makes someone a Hindu.

Hinduism has become a bit more codified over the centuries of having to define itself against other religions. It’s broken down into broad sects that could each be called a different religion in a way. I suppose it’s more like very different interpretations of the same texts, stories, and practices.

A lot of people look to the Vedas as the definition of a Hindu. Vedas are primary text spiritual scriptures, so those who believe in the Vedas are Hindus. Of course there are also many people who grew up Hindu and perhaps illiterate or uninterested in study who are perhaps following the Vedas through the ritual of what has been passed down through their families.

The Himalayan Academy, which is very invested in defining ourselves in a way that distinguishes us from other spiritual paths, has a list of core Hindu beliefs:

  1. Hindus believe in a one, all-pervasive Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.
  2. Hindus believe in the divinity of the four Vedas, the world’s most ancient scripture, and venerate the Agamas as equally revealed. These primordial hymns are God’s word and the bedrock of Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion.
  3. Hindus believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.
  4. Hindus believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.
  5. Hindus believe that the soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha, liberation from the cycle of rebirth, is attained. Not a single soul will be deprived of this destiny.
  6. Hindus believe that divine beings exist in unseen worlds and that temple worship, rituals, sacraments and personal devotionals create a communion with these devas and Gods.
  7. Hindus believe that an enlightened master, or satguru, is essential to know the Transcendent Absolute, as are personal discipline, good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry, meditation and surrender in God.
  8. Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, noninjury, in thought, word and deed.
  9. Hindus believe that no religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine paths are facets of God’s Light, deserving tolerance and understanding.
  10. Hinduism, the world’s oldest religion, has no beginning–it precedes recorded history. It has no human founder. It is a mystical religion, leading the devotee to personally experience the Truth within, finally reaching the pinnacle of consciousness where man and God are one.

But I’m not really sure that all Hindus believe all these things!

In the end, I think the why of the variety of Hindu beliefs is that it is a path characterized by individual growth and learning. It focuses on our inner guide and our inner knowledge, trusting that we have the Truth within us already.

And so every Hindu will express, understand, and grow towards that Truth in slightly different ways. Each understands it in the way that he is ready for in that moment.

EDIT: I am removing the section where I define Hinduism by contrasting it against other religions. As you will see in the comments, several people have complained that I have not represented their religion fairly. I claim no expertise in religions that are not my own. I studied other religions as one does when trying to determine if the religion one is following is the best one there is. 

Other Google Questions Answered

Why Do Hindus Pierce Their Nose?

What Does Hinduism Say About Homosexuality?

Why Do Hindus Wear Turbans?

Why Do Hindus Not Eat Beef?

How Does Hinduism Differ From Buddhism?

About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • Maya Resnikoff

    I’m afraid that I have to disagree with your position on Judaism. Jews believe that God is the one and only God of the whole world (versus “the most powerful God”), and that God cares about all people. However, as God’s chosen people, God has asked more of us, the Jews. The result of choseness is a more demanding path. Non-Jews are considered to have fulfilled all their requirements if they follow 7 commandments: (e.g. no murder, adultery, theft, eating the limbs of living animals). Jews have 613 commandments to follow, which we believe (following a major theme in Jewish mysticism) are part of mending the brokenness of the world.

    • Ambaa

      You are definitely more the expert on that than I!

    • ThinkBig

      As a Hindu, I don’t know any commandments at all. At the core, I understand its all about ‘Dharma’ vs ‘Adharma’ and one supposed to follow Dharma, irrespective of above mentioned few commandments like (e.g. no murder, adultery, theft, eating the limbs of living animals)

  • ThinkBig

    Why are there so many Gods in Hinduism? Excellent answer of your life time of any Human: Here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg8L4-wv4Vg

    • Ambaa

      I really like this guru. He is the founder of Chinmaya, which is a great group really welcoming to non-Indian Hindus!

      • ThinkBig

        Yep, I love his arguments, speeches. I just came to know him 6mts back, when I joined my kids to one of the balvihar. But that just I first saw his pic etc and thats all.
        I really fall in love with his Australian interview and explanations of Varnas and wanted to meet him but unfortunately HE(atman) changed his dress(body). Well may be next janma if i’m lucky

  • Agni Ashwin

    The category “Hindu” is comparable to the category “Abrahamic”. There are many different beliefs within each category. Some Hindus believe that Krishna is an avatar; other Hindus believe Krishna was maybe a good man, even a realized yogi, or perhaps deluded. Likewise, some Abrahamics believe Christ is God; other Abrahamics believe Christ was maybe a good man, even a prophet, or perhaps deluded. There are also commonalities that members within each category share. All Hindus views the Vedas as sacred; all Abrahamics view the revelations of Moses (as originally received) as sacred. The subdivisions within “Hindu” (Shaiva, Shakta, Vaishnava, etc.) would be comparable to the subdivisions within “Abrahamic” (Jew, Christian, Muslim, Baha’i, Mormon, etc.).

    • Ambaa

      You’re right! It is like that and you’ve explained it really well.

  • esha

    You should really learn about the cast system! Thats why many hindus are different! Its terrible how lower casts gets treated and are not allowed in temples. Please watch the untouchable of india and hinduism. I am from a low cast but not the lowest! But still how people treat us will still remain hindu :p
    Im not sure how the caste system affects american hindus though

    • Guest

      In olden days.,, sudras are normally who eats meat,, and their values are different from rest of Brahmins, Kshatriya, vaisya,, tahts case sudras are not allowed in temples, rather they have build their own temples in name of forms of shakti,, now a days, all over country,,, sudras enjoys lot, almost 70% govt jobs, universities, in elections,, etc etc,, they have grown up good status in society too, if you still feel being called as low cast, then better convert to Christianity or Islam, or else,,

      • esha

        Why would I convert to another religion? You make no sense at all. Im just saying what happens. And to me I will always be hindu no matter what.
        And the cast systems is in islam and sikhism too! Even in india christianity has a sick cast system

    • 5w_haul

      there is no such thing as Portuguese word “caste” it simply mean lineage not anything else.
      the two stratification are varna and jati and both can’t be translated in caste.
      varna no longer exist only jati, exist which ignorant westerners (most of them are) and macaulay’s children call caste system.
      the untouchables were the people out side of varna system not sudras as commonly believed. the were tribal,crude, malechas outside of civilisation.
      varna which is division of society and jati means community in which you born.you can change varna but not jati. lakhs of jatis exist in subcontinent even in other religions. gotras (clan) also exist in jatis.
      rest of story you know how whole system is got corrupted simply because its kalyug etc.
      the everyone’s punching bag so called “caste” system developed in medieval time. it has nothing to do with hinduism. and should be eradicated as soon as possible because of it we have seen 1000 yr of slavery and its currently harming us.

      i laugh out laudably when some stupid white bloke lecture me about how evil hinduism is and how caste is worse than slavery and india’s 90% population live worse than slaves.

      • Guest

        We cant say it as slavery of nation in past centuries,, we can say it as testimony, Church n Islam are two faces of single coin, which is political conquest. Church is Build on personality of Jesus Christ. If church didnt start crusades , Muhammad wouldn’t have joined in army n start new theory of Islam, Muhammad was guide at Kaaba temple. Which ever country This Islam/ Church invades it destroys local cultures first of all, then establish their falsehood. Greek, Rome, all Europe, South/North america ,, etc half of world cultures were destroyed by these 2 cults. Only country that is standing still even after 1000 years of wars with Islam n Church is Bharat alone.

        • 5w_haul

          its very disheartening to see how great civilizations of Greece and Persia are destroyed and turned into ashes with no respect and identity left of their own native intellectual system. its form of intellectual terrorism and mental imperialism where you are robbed from your own thinking pattern.

          • Guest

            Max Muller had also observed that the mythology of Egyptians (and also that of the Greeks and Assyrians) is wholly founded on Vedic traditions. Eusebius, a Greek writer, has also recorded that the early Ethiopians emigrated from the river Indus and first settled in the vicinity of Egypt.

            In an essay entitled On Egypt from the Ancient Book of the Hindus (Asiatic Researchers Vol. III, 1792), British Lt. Colonel Wilford gave abundant evidence proving that ancient Indians colonized and settled in Egypt. The British explorer John Hanning Speke, who in 1862 discovered the source of the Nile in Lake Victoria, acknowledged that the Egyptians themselves didn’t have the slightest knowledge of where the Nile’s source was. However, Lt. Colonel Wilford’s description of the Hindus’ intimate acquaintance with ancient Egypt led Speke to Ripon Falls, at the edge of Lake Victoria.

            In India I found a race of mortals living upon the Earth, but not adhering to it. Inhabiting cities, but not being fixed to them, possessing everything but possessed by nothing— By Apollonius Tyanaeus, Greek thinker and traveller, 1st century AD)

            From 180-165 BCE, the Greek ruler Agathocles issued coins with images of Vasudeva holding a chakra.

            Image- attached below …………

  • Grotoff

    There are a lot of parallels between the old Greco-Roman religion and Hinduism. In fact, they may be distant cousins. Both are descended from the Proto-Indo-European deities that spread along with their language.

    Similarly the Greco-Romans were syncretic and didn’t feel inclined to mandate any kind of personal belief, though most had some. It was a procedural religion, more about tradition and ritual and philosophy.

    • Guest

      Seems like you have known history which is manipulated by Europeans, particularly, germans, n british, they faked many false theories regarding aryan race, or invasion of aryans in bharat, etc. these false theories were tough by almost all countries in world, when it comes to world History.

      Christianity was originally known by either the names Chrisn-nity or Krishna-neeti. Vatican was allegedly originally called Vatika and that the Papacy was originally a “Vedic Priesthood” until Constantine the Great around 312 A.D killed the “Vedic pointiff” and installed in his place a representative of the tiny Christian sect. https://plus.google.com/108611485379127574735/posts/1n8t2FkMMcY This is the Vedic deity Shiva. This piece is at present on view in the Etruscan Museum at the Vatican in Rome. Encyclopedia Britannica mentions under the headings “Etruria” and “Etruscan” that between the 2nd and 7th centuries BC, northern Italy was known as Etruria. During excavations many such “meteoric stones mounted on carved pedestals” are discovered in Italy. Obviously, therefore, this one was dug up from the Vatican itself. Many more must be lying buried in the Vatican’s massive walls and numerous cellars. Vatican is itself the Sanskrit word “Vatica” applied to Hindu cultural-cum-religious centers as in “Ashrama-Vatica” or “Dharma-Vatica” or “Ananda-Vatica.

      Finally there is no theory that is known as Proto-Indo-European,,, it was false theory created by Max Muller,, for sake of british, who invaded Bharat , and aimed to destroy its local culture, by creating false theory of history.

      • Grotoff

        Nonsense. Absolute horseshit. Proto-indo-european is exceptionally well attested both linguistically and anthropologically.

        Conspiracy theory nutjobs like you disgust me.

        • Guest

          lol, At least have some moral values when you speak with others, otherwise you are nothing but nu sense of nonsense. i cant believe how this type people born.,, Conspiracy theory ? i can stop laughing….

          • Ambaa

            I’m deleting a couple of these comments for personal attacks. I apologize that I didn’t catch them sooner.

  • echarles1

    “get in touch with God in order to grovel at His feet” If you think this is Christianity then you do not know of which you write.

    • Ambaa

      I have a Christian friend who has said she will write a guest post to help me understand it better. However, that is most of what I have seen of Christianity thus far.

      Then again, what I write about is Hinduism. I couldn’t care less about Christianity and I claim no expertise!

      • Paul Julian Gould

        Where I’ve found the best definition of Sanatana Dharma, and its relation to other paths:

        “Truth is One, the Sages call It by many Names.”

        I’ve found that deeply imbedded in Sanatana Dharma is the truth of One Supreme Absolute, appearing in mercy and for various emphases about Truth, in many guises and forms, with many Names. (and genders, btw)

        I’m not so open minded that the wind whistles through, and at the depth of Sanatana Dharma, the ultimate certainty resides, as well.

        (You’ll notice, I refuse to use the word “Hindu,” as it really is a description of geographical location (“the people on the Sindhu River), but prefer the label applied by the Sages, surprisingly including Aldous Huxley, Manly Palmer Hall, my own affiliation with Scottish Rite Freemasonry: “Sanatana Dharma,” or in English, “The Perennial Philosophy/Truth”

        (please forgive the multiple edits… have a laptop that’s dying by nanometers, has multiple keys missing on the keyboard, crashes for no apparent reason at the worst possible moment…. and will be replaced within 2 weeks as a late holiday gift to myself… /*gentle smile*/)

        • Guest

          (and genders, btw)

        • Ambaa

          I do love that quote.

          I use “Hindu” because people know what that means to some extent.

          When I was in college I identified as an Advaitan Vedantan. It got really old having people not even able to repeat back what I said let alone having the slightest clue what that was. My life got a whole lot simpler when I just started saying Hindu.

          • Paul Julian Gould

            /*big smile*/

            I don’t tend to claim labels, in general, applied to myself, for less that people won’t know what it means than society’s expectations of what one so labeled is supposed to be. Obviously, the representation of the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine aspects of The One are my Disqus avatar, and I feed from the Gita daily… but I’m not what a Vaisnava is supposed to be. My lovely wife is an ordained Wiccan priestess, and I find wisdom in her faith, I honor the teachings purported to be from the Holy Carpenter of Nazareth, but I’m not what any Christian would consider such – My beloved late father was Jewish, and I honor his culture and faith and the wisdom of the prophets and rabbis. Islamic mysticism (“Sufi”) contains much wisdom, truth and insight, but the Shahada is not a profession I would make, as it brings with it much additional stuff to which I really can’t commit…

            And so it goes, with apologies to any faiths I’ve left out…

            To me, any positive faith has within it, in varying degrees, hints of the Truth, and I believe I deprive myself of that light were I to reject any path.

            I’m not so open-minded that my brain falls out, but my list of core convictions, while firmly held and not changeable, is rather short. What really matters is the same, whatever clothing it wears, whatever documents attempt to describe it. We finite creatures are incapable of truly defining and explaining the Infinite.

            As an Advaitin, you have a different take on the idea of a personalization of the Absolute than perhaps I would, but since the Absolute is, well… absolute, by definition It transcends any idea we have of what any attributes are, so you and I would agree on the central Truth contained, but would use perhaps different descriptives.

            I’m a 3rd-generation Freemason, and, although it’s certainly not a religion, at its best, it is a gathering of deeply spiritual people… that I’m a Mason in Texas at the moment, presents a whole list of challenges, as they’re not like Masons elsewhere in the world, so I’m inactive at present.

            Truth is Truth, and the literal translation of Sanatana Dharma seems to do it for me… /*chuckle*/

            I subscribed to your blog, but seldom post, as I was first amused by your self-designation of “White Hindu,” and stuck around because your sharing of your faith, and experiences is encouraging and uplifting. And I’m always fascinated by Westerners practicing an “Eastern” faith, and folks raised in the West bring fascinating perspectives for the primordial faith.

            Well done, Ambaa, and brightest blessings to you and yours!

          • Ambaa

            Thank you for reading and engaging with my content! :D

          • Paul Julian Gould

            I also tend to use a lot of words… certain aspects of my internal wiring cause me to try to make absolutely certain I’m understood, and with deep matters of spirit, that’s kinda difficult sometimes… that it take the garden path to get there is just me being me… /*grin*/

  • Guest

    There was comments which i posted here as replay to Grotoff ,, is deleted,,and fact is this Grotoff uses most unusual manner of words to discuss,, but non of his comments are deleted yet,, seems like this blog is kinda discussing racism..

    • Ambaa

      I’m sorry. That may have been an error. I’ll go back through the comments and try to moderate consistently as best I can.