From Theosophy Wiki
Revision as of 18:48, 24 November 2023 by SysopJ (talk | contribs) (→‎Articles)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Expand article image 5.png

Hinduism is a religion, or a way of life, found most notably in India and Nepal, Mauritius and Bali (Indonesia). While many Hindus feel that this belief system is ageless and eternal, most scholars believe that it began in the Indus Valley somewhere between 2300 and 1500 BCE.[1] It is regarded as a fusion or synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions, with very diverse roots and no founder. This "Hindu synthesis" started to develop between 500 BCE and 300 CE, after the Vedic times. It has no ecclesiastical order, no unquestionable religious authorities, no governing body, no prophet(s) nor any binding holy book; Hindus can choose to be polytheistic, pantheistic, monotheistic, monistic, agnostic, atheistic or humanist.

Ravi Ravindra, professor emeritus of physics, philosophy, and comparative religion, and a well-known theosophical teacher, was born in India. He tells us that it is an odd fact that neither the term Hindu nor the name India are of Indian origin.[2] The Sindhu River (also known as the Indus River) at one time divided the Persian from the Indian territories. Most Persians began this word with an H rather than an S sound, so it became Hindu, and the opposite side of the river was known as Hindustan, the land of the Hindus. Thus the word was originally a geographic term; at some point the H became silent and the land became known as India. The way of life now called the Hindu religion was known to its native practitioners as Sanaten Dharma or Eternal Law.[3]


The Vedas form the earliest record of the Hindu scriptures, and are regarded as eternal truths revealed to the ancient sages (rishis). The original language of the Vedas was Sanskrit, and they were originally transmitted orally, being written down during the period from about 1500 to 500 BCE (the “Vedic times”).[4] There are four Vedas -- Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda, containing verses and hymns, rituals, and commentaries. The Upanishads, found at the end of each Veda, are texts discussing meditation, philosophy and spiritual knowledge. They are the foundation of Hindu philosophical thought, and have profoundly influenced diverse traditions. There are 108 Muktikā Upanishads in Hinduism, of which between 10 and 13 are variously counted by scholars as Principal Upanishads. Unlike Western religions, the knowledge imparted to ancient saints and sages was not delivered via visions of a personal God, but were received during deep meditative states. The dates of such transmissions are uncertain, although it was earlier than 1500 BCE.[5]

The Mahabharata and the Ramayana are important epics. The Bhagavad Gita is an integral part of the Mahabharata and one of the most popular sacred texts of Hinduism.

The Puranas, which started to be composed from c. 300 CE onward, contain extensive mythologies, and are central in the distribution of common themes of Hinduism through vivid narratives.

The Yoga Sutras is a classical text for the Hindu Yoga tradition, which gained a renewed popularity in the 20th century, to a large extent due to the emphasis they received in Theosophical writings.

Basic Tenets

What other religions might call God, Hinduism calls Brahman: a universal, Supreme Being “who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality”[6] — in other words, who is both personal and impersonal at the same time.

While Brahman is the Supreme Being, he seems to be infinitely divisible. The Hindu pantheon is incredibly diverse and densely populated, a world of millions upon millions of divine beings, all considered to be part of Brahman. As in other traditions, there are three primary aspects of the Absolute Divinity: Brahma, the creator of everything; Shiva, the destroyer; and Vishnu, who preserves order in the universe.[7] All of these immortal beings have other aspects as well. Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu who appeared to be a humble cowherd, is one of the most venerated deities, the subject of countless texts, sculptures and other art forms.[8]. In the Western world, the Bhagavad Gita is probably the most well-known of these.

The practice of ahimsa, doing no harm, is central to Hinduism, since all life is sacred and worthy of respect. The religion itself is not dogmatic, although people (of all faiths) are sometimes dogmatic. Hinduism recognizes that any true spiritual path is valid. As such, it teaches self-discipline, right conduct, meditation, and self-inventory. [9]

The Hindu soul reincarnates through many, many lifetimes. The personality varies from life to life, the soul’s purpose on earth being to learn, to grow, to evolve. The law of Karma, or the law of cause and effect, is our primary source of learning. Each of us creates our own future destiny by our thoughts, words, and deeds in each life. We evolve through birth after birth, until we have resolved all karma and we attain moksha or liberation from rebirth.[10]

This soul is called Atman, and it is both universal and personal. In one sense, Atman is Brahman — it is the essence of being human, the divine spark inhabiting every one of us. In the individual sense, it is the part of us that is immortal.[11]


There are six orthodox (āstika) schools of thought called darśanas. Each darśana accepts the Vedas as authoritative and the premise that ātman (soul, eternal self) exists. The six darshanas are:

  • Sāṃkhya, an atheistic and strongly dualist theoretical exposition of consciousness and matter.
  • Yoga, a school emphasising meditation, contemplation and liberation.
  • Vedānta, based on the metaphysical and spiritual knowledge found in the last segment of the Vedas, or jñānakāṇḍa.
  • Nyāya or logic, which explores sources of knowledge.
  • Vaiśeṣika, an empiricist school of atomism.
  • Mīmāṃsā, an anti-ascetic and anti-mysticism school of orthopraxy (correct practices).

Of these six darśana, two schools, Vedanta and Yoga, are currently the most prominent.


Yoga is perhaps the true essence of Hinduism. The Western scholar Georg Feuerstein called it “… an esoteric tradition within Hinduism. It is one of the world’s oldest and most continuous branches of spiritual inquiry and, second only to shamanism, the longest and most intense experiment of the human spirit. [Its] purpose has been to explore … the properties and very limits of consciousness.”[12] Swami Rama of the Himalayas tells us that “yoga” is a Sanskrit word meaning “union,” that the mystics of all religions practice yoga “in one way or the other,” and that yoga is described in aphorisms in the Christian Bible (in Genesis and in Revelation). This is not surprising, since “Yoga means union with the universal Spirit.”[13] An Indian colleague noted that the swami described yoga as the science which elevates our mind’s ability to “perceive and assimilate infinite conscious movements” occurring around us in the universe.[14] He noted further that, while religion teaches us what to do, “yoga teaches us how to be.”[15]

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a collection of 196 verses (sutras) describing the practice of yoga, are considered a fundamental text. Believed to have been composed sometime between 250 BCE and 250 CE, the sutras explain that concentration or “total attention” is the first objective. “Levels of attention are intimately correlated with levels of consciousness and levels of being.”[16] The sutras have also been noted to be “the essence of practical transcendental psychology.” [17] There are many translations and commentaries on Patanjali’s sutras, which constitute a classic among students of meditative yoga.

Annie Besant, the second International President of the Theosophical Society, noted that “Discussion has no place in true Yoga. Discussion belongs to the intellect, not to the Spirit; and Yoga is a matter of the Spirit and not of the intellect. … the inner heart of Yoga is for those who, having realized that spiritual truth is attainable, have set their whole heart on the discovery ….”[18]

The Esoteric Side and Theosophy

Helena Blavatsky co-founded the Theosophical Society to bring knowledge of the ageless wisdom of the East to the Western world. Many Theosophical teachings reflect Hindu philosophy, including the idea that the manifested universe might more properly be understood as having been ‘’emanated’’ rather than ‘’created.’’ It is cyclic; it comes into being slowly, evolves over eons into the various forms of life and intelligence, and then just as slowly dissolves back into Oneness. It is often described as “The Great Breath.” That is, when Brahman awakens and breathes out, a universe is formed; when He inhales, the universe is just as slowly dissolved — all beings and things return to the One for a period of rest. This also lasts eons, and then the cycle repeats itself. Brahman both contains everything and is within everything: He is “concealed as the Self in every creature”[19] and indeed in everything else as well, from stones to plants to the air we breathe.

The human mind is more powerful than many of us realize. “By our thoughts we evolve,” and the more varied our thoughts are, “the more openings do they make through which the sun of truth can shine.”[20] Hinduism (and Theosophy) finds diverse opinions about God, about the Divine, to be a very good thing, since by itself any one opinion “expresses so small a fragment of the mighty truth,” and taking all opinions into account gives us a more complete picture.[21]

Our actions, of course, are also fundamental. Karma, which with reincarnation is part of a “twin doctrine,” is central to both Hinduism and Theosophy. This is the cosmic Law of Cause and Effect, which returns to each of us “exactly the results” of what we have sown,[22] whether in this lifetime or a future one. It is not a question of reward or punishment; it simply bestows on us the consequences of our motives and actions. Motive is key; a good deed performed in the hope of reward is essentially selfish, while inadvertently causing pain to another despite our good intentions is still altruistic. We will reap the consequences, but our wish to be of service and our remorse at causing pain will ameliorate those results.

Mme Blavatsky stated that every religion “started originally as a clear and unadulterated stream from the Mother-Source. The fact that each became in time polluted with purely human speculations and even inventions … does not prevent any from having been pure in its early beginnings.”[23] Hinduism is only one of many ways to view and experience the Divine.

Hindu Members

The international headquarters of the Theosophical Society have been located in India since 1882. Needless to say, there are many Hindus who have been and are members of the Society. The Mahatma Gandhi, while not a long-time member (although he found common ground with the majority of theosophical teachings, he objected to the Esoteric Section as too elitist), was very familiar with the Society and several of its members. Earlier theosophists who are still well known include T. Subba Row (1856–1890), a young Indian vakil (attorney), a Brahmin, whose devout Hinduism sometimes caused him to argue with other theosophists against bringing little-known Hindu principles into greater public awareness. I.K. Taimni (1898–1978), a professor of chemistry at Allahabad University, was a lifetime member of the Theosophical Society, as was his wife. Both these men wrote many theosophical articles and books.

Professor emeritus Ravi Ravindra (b. 1939) has also written numerous books and articles, for both theosophical and non-theosophical publications and publishers. He is a highly popular theosophical speaker.

Some early theosophists who were Brahmins gave up their high caste status to join the Society; for some of them this resulted in being estranged from or even disowned by their families. Djual Khool, a young man who joined the Society very early on (in the 1880s), was known as “the Disinherited” and actually signed letters that way on occasion. N. Sri Ram served as International President from 1953 to 1973. His reputation in theosophical circles is that of a quiet, humble scholar and beloved teacher. Equally well-known is Rukmini Devi, who married theosophist George Arundale in 1920, with her family’s blessing. She is known for revitalizing classical Indian dance, bringing it to the public as a spiritual practice. In 1936, she and her husband founded an arts academy, which is now known as Kalakshetra (“holy place of arts”) and is still a thriving institution.[24]

Additional resources






  1. https://www.history.com/topics/religion/hinduism
  2. Ravi Ravindra: "Eternal Law & Transcending Religion." Lecture at the 137th Summer National Convention of the Theosophical Society in America, July 16, 2023.
  3. ibid.
  4. https://www.worldhistory.org/The_Vedas/
  5. https://www.worldhistory.org/The_Vedas/
  6. https://www.hinduismtoday.com/hindu-basics/nine-beliefs-of-hinduism/
  7. https://www.lotussculpture.com/hindu-gods-indian-gods-brahman-how-many.html
  8. https://www.lotussculpture.com/krishna-hindu-god-radha-gopis-avatar-meaning.html
  9. https://www.hinduismtoday.com/hindu-basics/nine-beliefs-of-hinduism/
  10. https://www.hinduismtoday.com/hindu-basics/nine-beliefs-of-hinduism/
  11. https://www.hinduwebsite.com/atman.asp
  12. Georg Feuerstein, PhD: The Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1997, p. xiii
  13. Swami Rama: Lectures on Yoga. Kanpur, India: Bhargava Press (no copyright date, although it appears to have been published in the early 1970s), p. 1
  14. ibid., p. i, (Introduction)
  15. ibid., p. ii
  16. Ravi Ravindra: The Wisdom of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. A New Translation and Guide. Sandpoint, Idaho: Morning Light Press, 2009, p. xi
  17. Charles Johnston: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: The Book of the Spiritual Man (3rd ed). New York: Jon W. Fergus, 2014, p. vi. (Originally serialized in the Theosophical Quarterly, 1909-1911.)
  18. Annie Besant: Yoga. The Hatha Yoga and the Raja Yoga of India. Adyar, Madras, India: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1954, p.5
  19. Besant, Annie: Seven Great Religions. Adyar, Madras, India: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1966, p. 12 (First Edition 1897)
  20. ibid., p. 8
  21. ibid.
  22. ibid., p. 14
  23. H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings, vol 10, p. 167. From “Is Theosophy a Religion?” originally published in Lucifer, November 1888. See http://www.katinkahesselink.net/blavatsky/articles/v10/y1888_085.htm
  24. See https://www.kalakshetra.in/