(A handbook of religion was published by the Foundation for Pluralism in August 2004. All the groups were given the same set of questions, and some are really silly like denominations in Atheism.  Here is the production of such writings from Atheism to Zoroastrianism and every one in between; it is in two parts, essence of the faith and general information about it. We invite you to send your suggestions to  for updates and new information.- Please send us the preferred websites to be linked at the bottom - THE INFORMATION IS IN TWO PARTS)


By: Swami Nityananda Prabhu

Origins: Hinduism, or Vaishnava Dharma emanates from a long succession of spiritual teachers and disciples (parampara). There are four major disciplic successions (sampradayas), The Brahma Sampradaya, founded by Lord Krishna Himself, who last appeared in person more than 5,000 years ago.

There are many branches to this sampradaya. A principal branch was inspired by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the 15th century.

 Originator: the lineage of  Vaishnavas (Vaishnava means “one who loves Vishnu”) began with the appearance of Lord Brahma, the creator, and was significantly inspired by Sri Caityanya Mahaprabhu, an incarnation of Krishna who appeared more than 500 years ago.

People who shaped the religion: The principle is that Vaisnava teachings should be passed on, unchanged, from guru to disciple, the Supreme Lord being the first guru. The most prominent devotees in this lineage are accepted as acaryas: those who teach by example, who carry the line forward. Listed below are the principle acaryas since creation:

Krishna, Brahma, Narada, Vyasa, Madhva, Padmanabha, Nrhari, Madhava, Akshobhya, Jaya Tirtha, Jnanasindhu, Dayanidhi, Vidyanidhi, Rajendra, Jayadharma, Purushottama, Brahmanya Tirtha, Vyasa Tirtha, Laxmipati, Madhavendra Puri, Isvara Puri (Nityananda Advaita), Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Rupa Goswami (Svarupa Damodara, Sanatana Goswami), Jiva Goswami, Gopal Bhatta Goswami, Ragunatha dasa Goswami, Ragunatha Batta Goswami, Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, Narottama Dasa Thakura, Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, Srila Balaldeva Vidyabhusana, Jagannatha Dasa Babaji, Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Gaurakisora Dasa Babaji, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

People who wrote the books:  Our books are commentaries, on the Vedas (composite of all ancient scriptures), written by various teachers mentioned above.  Of special note is the work of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (Srila Prabhupada), who translated the largest amount of our scriptures from the original Sanskrit into the English language, which has then been translated into dozens of other languages.

Who is worshiped? Krishna, a name for God meaning "all attractive", His many incarnations, collectively known as Vishnu-tattva, other specially empowered personalities who are demi-gods and demi-godesses, and a very powerful personality in between Vishnu-tattva and the other specially empowered personalities, Lord Shiva (whose followers are known as Shaivites).

Holy Books (Original Language):
main scriptures include the Bhagavad Gita and the    Srimad Bhagavatam. Originally these were written in the ancient Sanskrit language.

Holy Places of Worship: Vrindavana, (birthplace of Lord Krishna), Mayapura, (birthplace of Lord Caitanya), Dwaraka, Ayodhya ( Lord Ramachandra’s birthplace) and many other places, too numerous to list.

Key Tenets: The Vedic scriptures state that spiritual life begins when one inquires into the nature of the absolute truth, the Supreme Godhead. Vaishnavas are monotheists and know the personality of Godhead as Krishna, the All-attractive. It is also recognized that the Supreme Lord has unlimited names such as Christ, Krishna, Allah, Rama, Buddha, Vishnu, Jehovah, etc. The ultimate goal of Vaishnavas is to develop a personal loving relationship with the Supreme Godhead.

The Vedas also tell us that the understanding of the self, as being non-material or spiritual by nature, is the preliminary stage of realization of the absolute truth. To understand knowledge of self-realization one must approach a genuine spiritual master, just as one learns the essence of any subject from a perfected practitioner.

The congregational chanting of the maha-mantra, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, as promoted by Sri Caitanya, is accepted by the Vedas as the most effective means of self-purification in this age. The Vedas describe the mantra as a prayer to the Lord, "O, All Attractive Lord, O Reservoir of Happiness, please engage me in Your service".

Prayer Rituals: Daily chanting of the maha mantra (Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare) privately on beads (called japa) and in congregational style (called sankirtan).

Current Leadership: In 1970 Srila Prabhupada formed a Governing Body Commission (GBC) to help manage ecclesiastically an expanding ISKCON (the International Society for Krishna Consciouness) the largest organized group of Vaishnavas. Before Srila Prabhupada passed away in 1977, he requested that international ecclesiastical authority for ISKCON be passed to this Commission. The GBC decides ISKCON's major international ecclesiastical strategies and guidelines by democratic voting and in consultation with Temple Presidents and other leaders.

Decision Makers:  On a local level, decisions are made by the Temple President, with larger decisions in consultation with other leaders, including the GBC representative (see above) for the region.  An international division of the GBC also exists for ecclesiastical matters concerning the society worldwide.

  All scriptural interpretations are strictly according to the Nirukti (the most authoritative and respected dictionary of Vedic Sanskrit language).

Myths:  Vaishnavas do not accept myths as part of religion.  Religion is based on scientific spiritual knowledge as revealed by the Supreme Lord.

Denominations:  Vaishnavas are non sectarian and hence do not admit distinctions based on worldly identities.

Major Festivals: Janmastami (appearance of Lord Krishna), Vyasa Puja (appearance of the spiritual master), Gaura Purnima (appearance of Lord Caitanya), Ratha Yatra (festival of the chariots), Rama Navami (appearance of Lord Ramachandra), Nrsingha Caturdasi (appearance of Lord Nrsinghadeva), Radhastami (appearance of Srimati Radharani), Diwali (festival of lights), Govardhana Puja (celebrating the eternal pastime of Lord Krishna protecting His devotees), Balarama Jayanti (appearance of Lord Balarama), and many others.

Dietary Laws: vegetarian - no eating of meat, fish, or eggs, all preparations are offered to Krishna before partaking.

Sensitivities:  Devotees are non-violent (violence is defined as anything which hampers the progress of any living entity towards God).

What is not polite?   It is not polite to be disrespectful and inconsiderate of others.

Customs from birth to death:  Garbhadhana (conception rites), Pumsavana (rites for obtaining a good child), Simantonnayana (parting of hair rites), Sosyani-homa (pre-child birth rites), Jata-karma (rites for the child’s good intelligence), Niskramana (rites for child’s first outing), Paustika-karma (ceremony for the child’s health), Nama-karana (name giving ceremony and child protection), Mundana (cutting the first hairs), Anna-prasana (first food grains ceremony), Karna-vedha (piercing the ears), Cuda-karanama (hair shaving ceremony), Vidyarambha (learning the alphabet), Upanayana Harinama Mantra-diksa (acceptance of a spiritual master), Vivaha-samskara (marriage rites) Antyesti-kriya (funeral rites).

Textual support for Pluralism: The Supreme Lord is the Father of all living entities, their best friend, well-wisher and benefactor. 

World Population:  There are more than 800 million Vaishnavas all over the world.

US population:  More than 1 million.

North Texas Population:  More than 100,000.


Compiled by RK Panditi

Hinduism is one of the oldest and one of the most popular religions in the world. There are more than 800 million Hindus in India alone and several millions more reside in countries all over the world. In spite of the large number of followers, Hinduism is not well understood by the non-Hindu population of the world. One reason for this is that the existing literature on Hinduism presents a complicated and sometimes apparently inconsistent picture of the religion.

The original name for the country was Bharata Varsha - the land of Bharata, the king who ruled the country in ancient times. The true name of the religion is Sanatana Dharma. Sanatana means ancient and eternal. Dharma means moral duty. The word Sanatana Dharma connotes a Universal Way of Life for all living entities.

Hinduism is unique because it is not founded by a messiah or a guru. Hindus believe that the Creator created both the Universe and the Knowledge about it simultaneously. The seers, called Rishis, obtained this Knowledge of Divine Law directly from God. Another characteristic of Hinduism is that it is not formally organized under any human authority. The religious authority has to be earned by one’s own piety and spiritual dedication.

The Scriptures

Perhaps no other religion has as much ancient original literature as Hinduism does. To start with, the most fundamental and ancient scripture is the Veda. Veda means knowledge. God himself taught this knowledge to Brahma, the creator, who imparted it to the Rishis. Vedic knowledge is divine knowledge and is very vast and comprehensive. The Vedas discuss God, religion, science, mathematics, logic, grammar and many other subjects. The great sage Vyasa organized this knowledge in to four Vedas - Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharvana Veda. Disciples from a Guru through oral tradition learned this knowledge. Hence the Vedas are also called Shruti. The word Shruti is derived from the root shrun which means to hear.

The Hindus believe that the Vedas contain ALL the knowledge of the God’s Creation. The last chapters of the Vedas are called Vedanta (end of the Vedas) and are collected in the Upanishads. Here is the discussion of the nature of Brahman, the God, extracted from the vast literature of the Vedas. There are one hundred and eight significant Upanishads.

The next tier of the scriptures is called the Puranas. Purana literally means the ancient. Some believe that the Puranas are even more ancient than the Vedas but this is doubtful. There are eighteen Puranas in all each describing the life story of God in a particular incarnation at a particular time and space. The Puranas are works of great literary beauty and present the intricate philosophies of Veda in a format that is easy to understand and remember. These are extremely popular literature of India. There is not a single Hindu who does not know at least a few stories from one of these eighteen Puranas. The Bhagavata Purana is the most popular of the eighteen and is a monumental works containing twelve books, called Skandas. This Purana narrates all the ten significant incarnations of God although the main emphasis is on the life-story of Krishna and His miracles.

Next come the Itihasas - histories. The Ramayana and the Maha Bharata are the two principal epics of India. The Ramayana is the biography of the Lord in His incarnation as Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, an ancient dynasty in Northern India. The Maha Bharata contains eighteen chapters and more than 200,000 lines of poetry (100,000 couplets). It is about seven times the size of Iliad and Odyssey combined. Although this is mostly a historical narration, it is interspersed with discussions of God, dharma, ethics, duty, good, evil and almost everything under the Sun. Therefore it is sometimes called the Fifth Veda. It is in this work that the greatest of Hindu religious texts, The Bhagavad Gita, is embedded. The Bhagavad Gita is narrated by the Lord Krishna Himself to His friend and disciple Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

The Bhagavad Gita contains eighteen chapters and discusses the nature of God, Creation, destiny of man, man’s relation to God and means of realizing God in one’s lifetime. This work presents in a distilled form the very essence of a universal religion.

The Fundamental Beliefs

The fundamental beliefs shared by all Hindus are the existence of one God, the Law of Karma and the Cycle of Reincarnation. The most misunderstood concept of Hinduism is its belief in one God. It has been erroneously labeled as pantheistic because of the numerous gods and goddesses one finds in it. But one has to go deeper in to the philosophy of Hinduism to understand the underlying principle of unity. Hindus believe that even though God is One, He manifests differently at different times to different people according to their need and faith. Further, they believe that He bestows His Grace on humans in whatever form they worship Him.

The Law of Karma can be simply explained by referring to the fact that whatever one sows, that one reaps. Karma is misunderstood as encouraging fatalism. On the contrary, it puts the full burden of one’s salvation on one’s own shoulders. Good living bestows good karma and bad living brings bad karma. One takes birth according to one’s karma to reap its fruits and work it out. Thus the human birth presents a rare chance to nullify one's past karma while making it possible to move closer to God. Human birth is not easily obtained and it is unwise to waste it in ignorance of God.

The concept of rebirth is related to the Law of Karma. All Hindus believe that there exists an entity that survives eternally. That entity is named atman or soul. The soul is indestructible, eternal and deathless. It is only the body that decays and drops off. The soul simply takes on a new body according to its karma. The ultimate goal of all created beings is to reach God and escape this endless cycle of birth and death. This reaching of God is called Moksha (Freedom).


Hinduism contains the most comprehensive theosophy one can hope for. Basically, there are five elements to the philosophy: God, the individual souls called the jivas, the prakriti or the material nature, karma and Time. God is the Cause and Destiny of the Universe. He is Unborn, Eternal and without a beginning or end. The individual souls (jivas) are eternal and are of the same nature as that of God but not the same. The analogy given is that of sparks (jivas) and the fire (the God). The material nature is made of three qualities: the goodness, the passion and the ignorance. Every living being contains a combination of these three qualities even though one quality may predominate over the others. The material nature, Prakriti, is under God’s authority. Karma is the result of activity of the jivas. Time is also considered eternal. Of the five concepts, only karma is non-eternal. Although, we may be suffering or enjoying the fruits of very ancient karma, it can be neutralized by God’s grace and the perfection of our lives.

Are the jivas the same or different from God? Basically there are two different views on this subject. The monists stress that there is nothing else but God. They believe that the jivatma (the human soul) and Paramatma (the God Soul) are one and the same. Because of perceptual error under the influence of Maya, one sees plurality in Unity. The dualists believe that the jivas, although of the same quality as that of God, are nevertheless separate entities. In this view, each successive birth is meant for improving one’s behavior and personality. Then of course there are attempts at a compromise such as Vishistadwita etc.

The Aim of Life

According to Hinduism, the goal of life in this world is to realize God and reach Him to escape the cycle of birth and death forever. To this end, the human life is divided in to four stages. The first stage of celibacy and learning lasts until about 25 years of age. The second stage is that of a married householder. The householder is held in great esteem because he is the one who makes the other stages of life possible by earning money and supporting the society. The householder and his family are considered to be very essential for the well being of the society. The third stage is that of retirement commencing after one’s children are grown up. The last stage is of complete renunciation of the world in which one seeks God full-time in a forest and living on whatever one obtains from day to day.



















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