Hinduism can be described as the 'museum' of religions. No other religious tradition is so eclectic, so diversified in its theoretical premises as well as its practical expression. Hinduism can be called as Sanatana Dharma or the religion Perenis. As the name implies ananta (without a beginning), it is eternal and ever-lasting (Shashvata). It is the only major religion which has not been traced to a specific founder and the only one which does not have a holy book as the one and only scriptural authority. Sacred texts of Hindu religion consists of Vedas, Upanishads Bhagavad Gita etc. Hinduism always absorbs anything that is good and valuable and at the same time, it shares its wisdom with whomever earnestly seeks it. Its doors are open to all.
Hinduism does not attempt at conversion. It is against any forceful conversion or inflictions on the non-believers. Its faith is that all men are born, children of Sanatana Dharma. Once people become aware of this inheritance and follow its universal principles, there is no need for any further conversion. Even the most uncompromising atheist finds a place in Sanatana Dharma and his philosophy and way of life are duly noticed and his arguments heard with all patience. This arises from the belief that even such a person may one day realise his fundamental values of life and become a follower of Dharma.
Hinduism has not only recognised the different aptitudes and temperaments of people but devised ways of life, catering to such needs. It has also divided individual life into different stages or ashramas. Thus a child is treated as an Anupanita or uninitiated, lives a life of discipline and study and acquires knowledge and virtue (Brahmacharya ashrama). He leads a life of voluntary poverty, subjects himself to strict disciplining of his senses and mind and becomes a well groomed and highly cultured person. Then he marries and leads a family life (Grihastha ashrama) and brings up his children in the right traditions. By learning the Vedas, offering sacrifices to gods and begetting a son, he pays off the three debts --debt to sages, to gods and the manes. As he grows older, he becomes a forest dweller (Vanaprastha Ashrama) with all passions and prejudices removed. There perhaps is no better scheme of life, that harmonises the needs and the development of the individual and society in such a well knit fashion. Thus the Sanatana Dharma emphasises a comprehensive view of life which aims at the realization of both Abhyudaya and Nishreyas - worldly prosperity and spiritual good.
Hinduism is not pessimistic. It has always exhorted men to realize the four Purusharthas or values of Life, namely Dharma (righteousness) Artha (wealth) Kama (desire) and Moksha( liberation). Only it has insisted that wealth and enjoyment should be based on Dharma and aim at Moksha.
One of the aspects of Hinduism that is considered to be not in keeping with the modern democratic tendencies is its "caste-system". The Brahmins (priests, teachers), Kshatriyas (warriors, rulers), Vaisyas (traders, merchants) and Sudras (unskilled workers) were four castes in the society. Originally in the Vedas it was conceived as a system for the proper division of functions in society and it was not rigid and birth -oriented. Later the system deteriorated and the original intention was totally lost. With the passage of time the caste system became over ridden with dust and filth. Birth became the determinative factor for establishing one's caste and the caste system led to social exploitation in Hindu society. Brahmins and Kshatriyas who were the high castes had certain privileges as compared to other low castes. The impregnable edifice of the caste barrier is crumbling. But caste system has never been a bar against God-realisation. Some of India's greatest saints, who were and are still being venerated even by the highest of Brahmans, have sprung from among the so called untouchables. Sanyasis who are in the height of spiritual evolution, have no caste at all. Even when a Brahman takes Sanyas, he has to give up his caste.
Another important aspect of Hinduism is its free scope for philosophic thought. The six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy, namely, the Nyaya, the Vaiseshika, the Sankhya, the Yoga, the Mimamsa and the Vedanta, as also the heterodox systems like the Charvaka, the Buddha and the Jaina and many a religious movement started by synthesisers have allowed for a wide diversity of thought.
Everything that the Hindu does is God-centered. Hinduism believes in avataras or incarnations of God on earth in human or other form. The doctrine of 'avatara' is a perpetual reminder for a Hindu that he should not stick to outward forms but regard everything as manifestation of divinity and revitalise his life by the new energy from the surroundings.
In Hinduism, the ultimate goal is 'Moksha'; the liberation from the cycle of existence. There are many paths leading to this goal. Until moksha is attained, all human beings are subject to rebirth. The conditions of life in each birth are determined by the cumulative results of the karma (deeds) performed in previous life.
A whole scheme of rituals is detailed for all and they are known as Samskaras, with them the man becomes a rounded, integrated personality, a 'Purna Purusha'. The rituals are so designed as to bring a harmony in the economic, educational, cultural and spiritual aspects of human life. In one sense what unites the wide and varying philosophic learnings and devotional practices of Hindus are the common ideals which they all stand for...