The 5 Principles and 10 Disciplines of Hinduism

The Basics of Hinduism

Hindu worshippers
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The specific principles and disciplines of Hinduism vary with different sects: but there are commonalities which represent the bedrock of the religion, expressed and reflected in the ancient writings of the Vedas. Below are brief descriptions of these common principles and disciplines.

5 Principles

The principles of Sanatana Dharma were made to create and maintain the proper working of a society and its members and governors. Regardless of the circumstances, the principles and philosophy of Hinduism remain the same: the ultimate aim of human life is to realize its true form. 

  1. God Exists. According to the Hindu religion, there is only one Absolute Divine, a singular force that joins all facets of existence together known as the Absolute OM (sometimes spelled AUM). This divine is the Lord of All Creation and a universal sound that is heard within every living human being. There are several divine manifestations of the OM, including Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara (Shiva). 
  2. All Human Beings Are Divine. Ethical and moral behavior is considered the most prized pursuit of human life. The soul of an individual (jivatma) is already part of the divine soul (the Paramatma) although it remains in a dormant and deluded condition. It is the sacred mission of all humans to awaken their soul and make it realize its true divine nature. 
  3. Unity of Existence. The seekers aim to be at-oneness with God, not as separate individuals (oneness of self), but rather a closer connection (at-one-ness) with God.
  4. Religious Harmony. The most basic natural law is to remain in harmony with its fellow creatures and the universal. 
  5. Knowledge of 3 Gs. The three Gs are the Ganges (the sacred river in India where the cleansing of sins occurs), the Gita (the sacred script of the Bhagavad-Gita), and the Gayatri (a revered, sacred mantra found in the Rig Veda, and also a poem/intonement in the same specific meter).

10 Disciplines

The 10 disciplines in Hinduism include five political goals called Yamas or Great Vows, and five personal goals called Niyamas. 

The 5 Great Vows (Yamas) are shared by many Indian philosophies. The Yamas are political goals, in that they are broad-based social and universal virtues in the form of moral restraints or social obligations.  

  1. Satya (Truth) is the principle that equates God with soul. It is the mainstay of the basic moral law of Hinduism: people are rooted in Satya, the greatest truth, unity of all life. One should be truthful; not act fraudulently, be dishonest or a liar in life. Further, a true person does not regret or brood over losses caused by speaking truth. 
  2. Ahimsa (Non-violence) is a positive and dynamic force, that means benevolence or love or goodwill or tolerance (or all of the above) of all living creatures, including the objects of knowledge and various perspectives. 
  3. Brahmacharya (Celibacy, non-adultery) is one of the four great ashrams of Hinduism. The beginning student is to spend the first 25 years of one's life practicing abstinence from the sensual pleasures of life, and instead concentrate on selfless work and study to prepare for life beyond. Brahmacharya means stringent respect of personal boundaries, and the preservation of vital life force; abstinence from wine, sexual congress, meat-eating, consumption of tobacco, drugs, and narcotics. The student instead applies the mind to studies, avoids things that ignite passions, practice silence, 
  4. Asteya (No desire to steal) refers not just to the theft of objects but to refrain from exploitation. Do not deprive others of what is theirs, whether it is things, rights, or perspectives. An upright person earns his or her own way, by dint of hard work, honesty, and fair means.  
  5. Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness) warns the student to live simply, keep only those material things that are required to sustain the demands of daily life. 

The five Niyamas provide the Hindu practitioner with rules to develop the personal discipline essential to follow the spiritual path

  • Shaucha or Shuddhata (Cleanliness) refers to the internal and external purification of both body and mind. 
  • Santosh (Contentment) is the conscious reduction of desires, the limiting of attainments and possessions, narrowing down the area and scope of one's desire.
  • Swadhyaya (Reading of scriptures) refers not just to the reading of the scriptures but the use them to create a neutral, unbiased and pure mind ready to conduct the self-introspection required to create a balance sheet of one's omissions and commissions, overt and covert deeds, successes and failures. 
  • Tapas/Tapah (Austerity, perseverance, penance) is the performance of physical and mental discipline throughout a life of asceticism. Ascetic practices include observing silence for long periods of time, begging for food, remaining awake at night, sleeping on the ground, being isolated in the forest, standing for a prolonged time, practicing chastity. The practice generates heat, a natural power built into the structure of reality, the essential link between the structure of reality, and the force behind creation. 
  • Ishwar pradihan (Regular prayers) requires the student to surrender to the will of God, perform every act in a selfless, dispassionate and natural way, accept the good or bad results, and leave the result of one's deeds (one's karma) to God. 

Sources and Further Reading

  • Acharya, Dharma Pravartaka. "The Sanatana Dharma Study Guide." Amazon Digital Services, 2016.
  • Komerath, Narayan and Padma Komerath. "Sanatana Dharma: Introduction to Hinduism." SCV Incorporated, 2015.
  • Olson, Carl. "The Many Colors of Hinduism: A Thematic-Historical Introduction." Rutgers University Press, 2007. 
  • Sharma, Shiv. "Brilliance of Hinduism." Diamond Pocket Books, 2016.
  • Shukla, Nilesh M. "Bhagavad Gita and Hinduism: What Everyone Should Know." Readworthy Publications, 2010.
  • Verma, Madan Mohan. "Gandhi’s Technique of Mass Mobilization." Partridge Publishing, 2016.