Glossary of Terms: Hinduism

Adharma "Not dharma". Injustice, evil, going against moral and ritual obligations.

Advaita "Not two-ness". The unity of all things; the supreme reality.

Agni The god of fire. The central act of most Vedic rituals is the offering(s) to the sacred fire.

Ashramas Life stages: student, householder, hermit, renouncer.

Atman Self. The innermost soul or core of each individual, which is identical with the divine essence (Brahman) and does not die.

Avatar "Descent". The earthly incarnation of a deity.

Bhakti Devotion, love (for a god or goddess). Bhakti yoga: The way of love and devotion.

Brahma God as Creator of worlds. One of the "Hindu Trinity" along with Vishnu and Shiva.

Brahman Spirit supreme. Divine reality; the Godhead. Identified with the atman.

Dharma "That which upholds". That which maintains the structure of the cosmos; ritual or caste obligations; sacred duty; law. Dharma is different for each caste and stage of life.

Dvaita "Two-ness". The potential for the supernatural to become manifest in the natural realm.

Gunas Three qualities that comprise the natural world: sattva, harmony and purity, symbolized by white; rajas, energy and passions, symbolized by red; tamas, inertia and ignorance, symbolized by black.

Indra God of storms and battles; in the Vedas, the chief of the gods (devas).

Jnana yoga The way of wisdom.

Karma "Action". The series of actions that have moral and cosmic consequences over the cycles of birth and death.

Karma yoga The way of action: selfless service.

Krishna "One who draws" (to himself). An avatar of Vishnu. Vishnu becomes manifest as Krishna to re-establish dharma. The personified inner Lord who lives in the hearts of all beings.

Maya Illusion or fiction. Appearance, as contrasted with Reality (which does not change).

Moksha Liberation. Freedom from the cycles of birth and death.

Om (Aum) Cosmic sound which signifies Brahman, the ground of existence.

Purusha Divine primal being whose dismembered body parts formed the universe; each body part is the source of the varnas also (mouth/brahmins; warriors/arms; commoners/thighs; serfs/feet). Also used as a term for the soul and often interchangable with atman.

Puja The act of showing reverence to a god, a spirit, or another aspect of the divine through invocations, prayers, songs, and rituals. An essential part of puja is making a spiritual connection with the divine. Most often that contact is facilitated through an object: an element of nature, a sculpture, a vessel, a painting, or a print.

Samsara Cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

Sanatana dharma "the eternal religion/law/duty". Indian term for what we call "Hinduism".

Sannyasa Renunciation. One who has given up all possessions, rejected caste, and does not light the sacred fire.

Shiva The Destroyer, but also one who conquers death. One of the three most important Hindu gods after Brahma and Vishnu.

Upanishads "to sit". Sacred scriptures found at the end of each of the Vedas.

Varnas Literally "colors".Class. There are four eternal occupational classes defined by the Vedas: Brahmin, Warrior, Merchant/Agriculturalist, and Servant. Each class has its appropriate dharma. From these four classes arise the Hindu castes (jati). Ghandi called for the abolition of castes but not of class, which he regarded as eternal. The term "colors" refers to the symbolic color (associated with a guna or quality) associated with each class.

Vedas Sacred scriptures; the foundation of most Hindu religion. The Upanishads form part of the Vedas. The Vedas establish and teach correct ritual and interpret the cosmic meaning of the ritual.

Vishnu The Preserver. One of the three chief gods along with Brahma and Shiva. Vishnu incarnates himself on earth periodically whenever dharma declines.

Yoga "unite". Union with God; realization of the unity of all life; the path(s) which lead to union.