Hinduism is a modern term, but it represents the ancient most living thought and culture of the world. The concept of ‘Hindu-ism’ (categorically termed ‘Hinduism’ in the narrow sense ‘religion’) being a single monolithic religion is recent, dating back only to the 19th century. Many scholars liken Hinduism to a family of religions, with all affiliated members bearing a family resemblance. The Hindu tradition consists of several schools of thought. Thus any definition of Hinduism is somewhat arbitrary and requires qualification. One such definition is “the followers of Vaidika Dharma,” or those who follow the religious teachings outlined in the Vedas and their corollaries.
This difficulty arises from its universal world-view as it has concerned itself largely with the human situation rather than the Hindu situation. Instead of basing its identity on separating Hindu from non-Hindu or believer from non-believer, Hinduism has sought to recognize principles and practices that would lead any individual to become a better human being and understand and live in harmony with dharma.
Thus Hinduism is rightly called a dharma that was evolved by the great rishi (sages and seers) of ancient India. It emphasizes the dharma (right way of living) rather than a set of doctrines, and thus embraces diverse thoughts and practices. Hinduism has been called the “cradle of spirituality” and “the mother of all religions,” partly because it has influenced virtually every major religion.
Hinduism is much more than an esoteric practice. For the millions of people who practice this religion, it is a way of life that encompasses all aspects of life including family, social life, sciences, politics, business, art, and health behaviors. The sacred scriptures contain instructions on these aspects of life and have a strong influence on art and drama. While the ascetic practices of yoga are a well-known aspect of Hinduism, family life is also considered a sacred duty.