The word “Hindu” is derived from Sindhu, the name for the Indus River. In its long and complex history, the Hindu tradition has developed a multitude of holy texts, as well as diverse philosophies and religious practices. Today, Hinduism has more than one billion followers, most of whom live in India.
In general, Hinduism values correct behavior more highly than correct belief. This emphasis on righteous action instead of rigid beliefs has led to tolerance and understanding within the Hindu community, and to peaceful relations with other religious communities. Most Hindus, however, do share common beliefs, including the concept of Brahman and the law of karma. Brahman, a Supreme Reality, underlies all existence. Originally without form, Brahman came to be represented by numerous entities, among them Hindu gods and goddesses. Brahman is also believed to be inherent in all living beings, as atman, or the soul. Thus, Hindus are encouraged to treat life with reverence, since all creatures are partial manifestations of the divine.
Karma is the principle that all actions have inevitable consequences. Good actions will lead to a superior rebirth, while bad actions will lead to an inferior rebirth. As long as people are tied to the results of their actions, they cannot escape the cycle of rebirth and attain union with the divine. To achieve release, a Hindu must follow one of three selfless paths: knowledge of one’s spiritual self, devotion to the divine, or action infused with a deep sense of religious duty and detachment. These paths emphasize giving up destructive, selfish behavior for a transcendent awareness of the sacred.