Major Religions & Spiritual Beliefs
Perhaps the Hindu spirit, inspired by no one man or woman in particular, is best captured in a line from the ancient Rig Veda, the "oldest religious scripture in the world." (1):
"Truth is One, though the Sages know it as Many."
Essentially, any kind of spiritual practice followed with faith, love and persistence will lead to the same ultimate state of self-realization. Thus, Hindu thought distinguishes itself by strongly encouraging tolerance for different beliefs since temporal systems cannot claim sole understanding of the one transcendental Truth.
To the Hindu, this idea has been an active force in defining the 'Eternal Dharma.' It has been for Hinduism what the infinite Divine Self of Advaita is to existence, remaining forever unchanged and self-luminous, central and pervasive, in spite of all the chaos and flux around it. In general, Hindu views are broad and range from monism, dualism, pantheism, panentheism, alternatively called monistic theism by some scholars, and strict monotheism, but are not polytheistic as outsiders perceive the religion to be. Hinduism has often been confused to be polytheistic as many of Hinduism's adherents are monists, and view multiple manifestations of the one God or source of being. Hindu monists see one unity, with the personal Gods, different aspects of only One Supreme Being, like a single beam of light separated into colours by a prism, and are valid to worship. Some of the Hindu aspects of God include Devi, Vishnu, Ganesh, and Siva. One of the most prominent Hindu monists is the great saint, Ramakrishna whose preferred form of God is Devi and reiterated traditional Hindu beliefs, that aver devotees can invoke God, in whatever form a devotee prefers, (or as monists prefer to call, Ishta Devata, i.e., the preferred form of God) and ask for God's grace in order to attain Moksha, end of the cycle of rebirth.
However, like Judaeo-Christian religions which believe in angels, Hindus also believe in less powerful entities, such as devas.
Just as Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe in the same one God but differ in their conceptions of Him, Hindus all believe in one God but differ in their conceptions. The two primary form of differences are between the two monotheistic religions of Vaishnavism which conceives God as Vishnu and Shaivism, which conceives God as Shiva. Other minor forms are aspects of Vishnu or Shiva; see Smartism for more information.
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