"The way to be is to do." Confucius
Hinduism is one of the more interesting religions I have encountered in my limited experience with such topics. My opinion is not particularly biased by my Indian heritage: in fact, although I regularly attended pujas in my youth, I never attached any religious or spiritual significance to them. On the contrary, I was more preoccupied with the social and cultural aspects of such gatherings. So why is Hinduism so intriguing and appealing?
Firstly, although Hinduism has many gods and deities, it is a paramount form of monism. The main entity in Hinduism is Brahman, an all-pervading, unbounded continuum that is unbounded in both space and time1. Next, according to conventional Hinduism, three circular processes known as the trimurti describe Brahman’s existence: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the sustainer, and Shiva the destroyer. Of course, the existence of Brahman is necessary for the function of the three above-mentioned gods; thus, Hinduism does not propone nihilism. Similarly, the other Hindu deities are either reincarnations2 of the trimurti, such as Ram and Krishna as avatars of Vishnu, or figures that exemplify a particular virtue or value, such as the goddess Saraswati as the embodiment of knowledge. However, if these gods are manifestations of the trimurti, who in turn represent Brahman, then it is clear that any description of and worship to these numerous figures is equivalently directed towards Brahman. Thus, although Hinduism may be perceived to tend towards polytheism, it remains a monistic construct.
Furthermore, Hinduism is not monotheism because Brahman is not a god with a higher power. Rather, he exists among us and maintains cohesiveness within this realm3. Each individual’s existence is innately connected to and indeed, integral to, Brahman’s existence. Furthermore, certain passages in the Rig Veda and other texts question and contemplate the existence of God, and there even exist atheist sects (such as Nastika) of Hinduism. This is a separate set of philosophical entrées than those which are offered in other religions: for instance, Christianity and Islam explicitly require belief in God in order for forgiveness and other posited benefits.
In addition, Hinduism is not monotheism because one can be a Hindu via multiple paths, not all of which require a god. The first path follows conventional theism and worships the Hindu pantheon. This path is the most visibly polytheistic as well as the most commonly perceived form of Hinduism. However, one can separately consider only the nature of Brahman as an omnipresent, boundless continuum and the existence of the self as a small figment of such a grand structure. This is an alternative which deals not with the actual existence of God and chooses to focus more on the spirituality of an individual. The third path and the hallmark of Hinduism as a unique amalgamation of ideas is that Hinduism can be stripped of all religious or spiritual implications, leaving behind only a value system that one can use for self-evaluation and improvement. Thus, we see the emergence of Hinduism not necessarily as a creed, but rather as a philosophy, a method of approaching life.
With respect to time, Brahman has no beginning and no end; that is, Brahman simply was, is, and will be. ↩
The notion of reincarnation is strongly tied into the description of Brahman. When a person dies on Earth, it is only his material body whose life is removed; his soul, however, is immortal and persists in a formless existence until it is reborn in another earthly vessel. ↩
Taoism exercises a similar abstract belief system based on simplicity surrounding the Tao, a permeating entity similar to Brahman. ↩