Hinduism An Overview

Hinduism, also known as the Sanatana Dharma, or “Eternal Way,” is our planet’s original and oldest living religion, with over one billion adherents.

Today it has four main denominations: Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Smartism, each with hundreds of lineages. They represent a broad range of beliefs, practices and mystic goals, but virtually all concur on certain bedrock concepts

In Hinduism, what is the relationship between spirituality and health?

It is a natural religion, meaning its philosophies and practices are considered universally accessible through sincere study, reason, and experience apart from special revelation. Hinduism is also an indigenous religion made up of a diverse family of philosophies and traditions that have been practiced primarily throughout Asia for thousands of years. Today, Hinduism is a global religion with adherents representing virtually every racial, ethnic, and national background and living on every continent, and comprising majorities in three countries: India, Nepal, and Mauritius.

Most traditions, sects, or schools within Hinduism share certain distinctive, foundational concepts despite the absence of an identifiable beginning in history, single founder, central religious establishment, or sole authoritative scripture. Two of these foundational concepts are that of the oneness of existence and pluralism.

All beings, from the smallest organism to man, are considered manifestations of the Divine (existence, pure being, light of consciousness) or reflections of the Divine’s qualities, depending upon the school of thought. Because of this shared divinity, Hinduism views the universe as a family or, in Sanskrit, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.

Mankind, because it is believed to be the most spiritually evolved, thus carries a special responsibility to honor the equal worth of all people and the underlying unity of existence through one’s relationship with oneself and others. Ensuring that  one’s thoughts, words, and actions uphold and promote values such as truth, kindness, equanimity, empathy, generosity, and equal regard is how this responsibility is met.

Hinduism, at its core, is a holistic tradition.  Its teachings and practices not only inform a Hindu’s beliefs and worldview, but touch every aspect of daily life — from how a Hindu may eat, pray, and act, to how she may take care of herself and others, treat illnesses, and deal with death and dying.  Teachings also describe quite elaborately, the constant interplay between the natural world, the Universe, and the individual.  

Hindus have long enjoyed a dynamic tradition of scientific inquiry and application, many of the results of which form the basis of well-known spiritual-scientific disciplines, including ayurveda, siddha and other systems of traditional medicine, yoga, vāstu shāstra (spatial and architectural science), and jyotish shāstra (astrology), to name a few.  The earliest surgical techniques too originated in ancient India, many of which continue to be the foundation for modern surgery.  They were developed by Sushrata (~800 B.C.E.), who is considered the Father of Surgery.  In the Sanskrit text, Sushrata Samhita, he meticulously described eight categories of surgery, over 300 surgical techniques, and 120 surgical instruments as extensions of the wellness and therapeutic regimens of ayurveda.  

Despite the ostensibly secular and physical nature of these disciplines, each is premised on specific spiritual or metaphysical principles (discussed below) and ultimately aimed towards spiritual growth and evolution.  Hinduism is thus considered more a way of life or way of being rather than a religion. Spirituality, science, medicine, and in turn, health, not only comfortably coexist in the Hindu world, but are intricately interwoven.

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