Hinduism is a collective term applied to the many philosophical and religious traditions native to India. Hinduism has neither a specific moment of origin nor a specific founder. Rather, the tradition understands itself to be timeless, having always existed. Indeed, its collection of sacred texts is known, as a whole, as Sanatana Dharma, "The Eternal Teaching." It is thus a complex tradition that encompasses numerous interrelated religious doctrines and practices that have some common characteristics but which lack any unified system of beliefs and practices. Hinduism encompasses a number of major sects, as well as countless subsects with local or regional variations. On one level, it is possible to view these sects as distinct religious traditions, with often very specific theologies and ritual traditions; on another level, however, they often understand themselves to be different means to reach a common end. The Hindu worldview is grounded in the doctrines of samsara (the cycle of rebirth) and karma (the universal law of cause and effect), and fundamentally holds that one's actions (including one's thoughts) directly determine one's life, both one's current life and one's future lives. Many, but not all, Hindus hold that the cosmos is populated by numerous deities and spiritual beings — gods and goddesses, or devas — who actively influence the world and who interact with humans. The tradition is typically divided into four major sects: Shaiva (devotees of the god Shiva), Vaishnava (devotees of the god Vishnu), Shakta (devotees of the goddess), and Smarta (those who understand the ultimate form of the divine to be abstract and all encompassing, Brahman).
Quick Fact Details:
Formed: The exact beginnings of Hinduism are impossible to determine, since they evolved as time and culture impacted the religious ideas of early India.
Deity: Many Hindus recognize a vast diversity of gods and goddesses; others believe in a Hindu "trinity" (trimurti): Brahman, Vishnu, Shiva; yet others claim an essential monotheism, believing that all the gods are manifestations of one.