An Introduction to Key Concepts

Key Points

Three basic concepts This simple diagram shows the three basic concepts that form the basis for Hindu thought. Different schools present various opinions on the nature of each "concept" and the relationships between them.


Two Main Schools of Vedanta

Within Vedanta there are several doctrines. The main contention is about the nature of the Supreme, and in defining the relationship between God and the soul.

  1. The advaita (monist) schools entirely equate the soul with God.
  2. The dvaita (monotheistic) schools tend to emphasise the distinction.
Many theologies synthesise these two elements. In this section, where relevant, we present the opinions of both these schools.

Overview of Hindu Theology

Almost all Hindus believe that the real self (atman) is distinct from the temporary body made of matter (prakriti).

The eternal soul identifies with matter and is entrapped by maya (illusion). Impelled by lust, greed, anger, etc., he undergoes samsara (the cycle of repeated birth and death).

Each soul creates its unique destiny according to the law of karma (the universal law of action and reaction). Under the influence of eternal time and the three gunas (material qualities) he moves throughout the creation, sometimes going to higher planets, sometimes moving in human society, and at other times entering the lower species.

The goal of most Hindus is moksha, liberation from this perpetual cycle, through re-identification with the eternal brahman (Supreme). Hinduism accepts different paths towards this common goal (union with God). Nonetheless, it stresses strict adherence to universal principles through the practice of one's dharma (ordained duty) as revealed through authorised holy books and usually received through the guru (spiritual mentor).

Key Concept

Key Questions

1. The Atman (the Soul)

Who are we? What is the real self?

2. Reincarnation and Samsara

What happens after death, before birth?

3.The Law of Karma

Why is there suffering?

4. Prakriti (Matter) and Guna

How does the world work?

5. Maya (Illusion)

Why do we get into difficulty in this world?

6. moksha (Liberation)

What is the goal of life?

7. God (Brahman/Ishvara)

Is there a God? If so, what is He/She like?

8. Dharma (religious duties)

Which is the right way to act?

9. One Goal, Different Paths

How can we explain Hindu diversity?

10. Scripture and Guru (Authority)

How are the teachings preserved?

11 .Time

When did it all start and when will it finish?

12. Creation

How and why was this world made?