Hinduism is the world’s oldest and third largest religion, with a billion followers. It is a conglomeration of religious, philosophical and cultural ideas and practices originating in India and characterized by a belief in one absolute being having multiple manifestations, the laws of cause and effect and karma, promoting a life of right choices and ultimately, freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth. Its main tenets are:
- Dharma (ethics and duties)
- Samsara (rebirth)
- Karma (right action)
- Moksha (liberation from the cycle of Samsara)
While Hinduism has its own beliefs, rich traditions, rituals, philosophy, theology and an advanced system of ethics, it is not homogenous and is expressed differently in different regions. It is responsible for the creation of concepts and practices now commonly-known in western countries, such as Yoga, Ayurveda, Vastu, Jyotish, Yajna, Puja, Tantra, Vedanta and Karma.
Hindu esoteric and philosophical principles are described in the Hindu scriptural texts, the Vedas, the Upanishads, post-Vedic scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita, Puranas and others. The Vedas are the oldest of the Hindu scriptures and were transmitted orally from around 4,000 BCE and not written down until between 1,200 – 900 BCE. The Upanishads are philosophical commentaries on the Vedas discussing the nature of cosmic reality and were a rebellion against the ritualism of the practitioners of the Vedas, although they are still considered to be part of the Vedic texts. The Upanishads were written at the time of the commentaries, approximately 200 BCE. (Some scholars place the writing much later, in 100 CE because of certain Sanskrit linguistic features.)
The Upanishads are considered to be the mystical or esoteric backbone of Hinduism and resulted in the Bhagavad Gita (“Song of God”) or “Gita”, a beautiful combination of an epic poem and philosophical commentary that reports a conversation between Krishna, the teacher, and Arjuna, the student, the night before the battle of Kurukshetra. In it, Krishna counsels Arjuna about the mysteries of life and reveals himself to be the physical manifestation of God. Together, the Gita and the Upanishads form Vedanta, the basis for most classical Hindu thought.
The Gita addresses the lack of accord between the human senses and cosmic order by describing methods to achieve a communion between the two, through yoga. The term “yoga” means “yoke” and describes a unified outlook, serenity of mind, skill in action and the ability to stay attuned to the true Self (Atman) and the Supreme Being (Bhagavan).
”When he perceives the various states of being as resting in the One, and from that alone spreading out, then he attains Brahman. They, who know, through the eye of knowledge, the distinction between the field and the knower of the field, as well as the liberation of beings from material nature, go to the Supreme.”
According to Krishna, the root of all suffering and discord is the agitation of the mind caused by selfish desire and the only way to douse that desire is by simultaneously stilling the mind through self-discipline and engaging oneself in a higher form of activity.
However, abstinence from action is regarded as being just as detrimental as extreme indulgence. According to the Gita, the goal of life is to free the mind and intellect from their complexities and to focus them on the glory of the (higher, or true) Self by dedicating one’s actions to the Divine. This goal can be achieved through the yogas of meditation (raja), action (karma), devotion (bhakti) and knowledge (jhana). In the sixth chapter of the Gita, Krishna describes the best yogi as one who constantly meditates upon him, which is understood to mean thinking of either Krishna personally, or the supreme Brahmin, God, with different schools of Hindu thought giving varying points of view.
 “Bhagavad Gita”, Chapter 15, Verse 31-35.