Likewise, in the ideal Hindu view, there are four stages in life, during each of which a specific responsibility is assigned. These stages are known as ashramas.
In the first one, known as brahmacharya, one acquires knowledge and skills. In the second, called grihastya, the person is in the householder's stage during which one serves society by honest work, is loyal to one's spouse, and raises a family. The third stage is called vanaprasthya. A person enters this stage upon completing societal responsibilities, when children are established in life, and one's own retirement from work comes. The last ideal stage, known as sannyasa, is when one is expected to renounce all worldly possessions and spend the remaining years of one's life in seeking ultimate liberation from life. This traditional model serves as a guide for life. It is not taken today as a rigid set of rules by which all Hindus live. This is an inevitable consequence of the transformations of culture and civilization resulting from technology, modernity, and urban lifestyles.
Commonalties Among Hindus
Some of the religious values, practices, and beliefs that all Hindus share are
Worship of god in tangible forms to concretize unfathomable divinity.
Sensitivity to the epics of the tradition: the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which provide the ethical framework of right and wrong, duty and responsibility.
Reverence for the personified divinities of the sacred literatures, to give expression to devotion and love of god. Hindu centers of worship (temples) are described as the Home of the Gods, for here are housed the colorful murtis (icons) of the Hindu world, each associated with episodes and histories and endowed with particular powers.
Celebration of certain universal festivals, such as dipavali or Festival of Light, which marks the epic victory of good over evil, as told in the tradition.
Performance of rituals in the presence of the sacred fire. Fire symbolizes the primordial and the eternal, that which was in the first moment of creation, which subsists in the cosmic void as stars, and which will arise as the all-consuming conflagration at the end of each cosmic cycle.
Recitation of Sanskrit or Tamil hymns in prayers and in sacraments, to reflect the esoteric dimension of the religion and to affirm the tradition's cultural continuity. Sanskrit in the Hindu world is the sacred language of the Gods.
Respect for the doctrines of reincarnation and the law of karma.
Invocation of the Cosmic Principle for universal peace through the sacred syllables, om shanti, shanti, shantihi!
Hinduism is one of the major world religions. Some of the more salient aspects of Hinduism are described in this entry. Hinduism has inspired magnificent music and grand poetry, sophisticated art and complex architecture, colorful dances, and profound philosophy.
Aside from philosophical insights, spiritual visions, and literary works, Hinduism's great message to the world is in the form of a simple prayer which says:
akasad patitantoyam yeda gacchati sagaram sarva deva namaskarah sri kesavam pradigacchadi. As waters falling from the skies Go back to the self-same sea, Prostrations to all the gods that be Reach the same Divinity.
HINDUISM BEYOND INDIA
Hinduism is generally associated with the vast majority of the inhabitants of India, but its influence on the thinking and practices of many other peoples has not been insignificant. China, Japan, Laos, Kampuchea, Tibet, and Sri Lanka have all felt the impact of Hindu thought directly or via its offshoot, Buddhism. Ever since Europeans began their contacts with India, travelers, thinkers, and writers have imbibed many elements of the Hindu spirit and spread these among their own people in many ways.
The current interest in the West in yoga and meditation, in Krishna consciousness and other elements of Hinduism are not of recent origin. Interest in such matters has always been there among many Western thinkers. Even some ancient Greek philosophers, such as Pythagoras and Plato, are believed to have been influenced by Hindu thought.