Though native to India, Hinduism quickly spread across the Indian subcontinent and eventually the world. The relative flexibility of Hinduism aided the spread of this transmission, since it lacks a single authoritative text or religious authority. However, this does not mean that Hinduism lacks cohesion, as dharma, karma and the Hindu deities are amongst the beliefs that unite all followers of the faith.
Hindus believe in one supreme force called Brahman. This is sometimes translated as God, but Brahman is a more abstract force that pervades all of existence. Rather than worship this cosmic force, Hindus worship the various manifestations of its power in deities like Vishnu, Shiva and Lakshmi. Different sects of Hinduism devote themselves to one of these gods or goddesses through daily prayer and acts of worship like puja -- the ritual veneration of a deity.
Dharma & Karma
Hindu morality comes from the notion of dharma -- the natural harmony and order that maintains society. Virtue entails following societal roles and performing selfless acts, but immoral acts are ones of greed and hatred. Hindus also believe in a natural built-in form of justice called karma. Individuals that violate dharma gather bad karma, but conforming to dharma results in good karma. Karma is a causal force that results in good outcomes for the virtuous and negative events befalling those who accrue bad karma.
Another important belief in Hinduism relates to the notion of reincarnation also known as samsara, a constant cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. During this cycle, a soul reincarnates in several forms and can become human, animal or even a divine being. The ultimate goal for Hindus is to gather enough positive karma to liberate themselves from the cycle of samsara and free their souls.
The four yogas of the Hindu faith are four paths that help individuals understand the divine nature of reality and practice their faith. The first yoga (Janana) is one of knowledge, where a Hindu secludes himself to study Hindu holy texts and meditate on their meaning. The second yoga (Bhakti) is a path of devotion observed through ritual and prayer. The next yoga is called Karma Yoga and requires a Hindu to help other people through charitable and selfless acts. Finally, the fourth yoga (Raja) is a physical practice that emphasizes control over one's body through actions like controlled breathing.
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