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Introductory Topics

Hinduism, Sanatana Dharma, and Vedanta
Hinduism holds different meanings to different people. Hinduism can be understood as a religion, a way of life, a philosophy, a culture, a belief system, or a combination thereof. Hinduism is difficult to define, party because the word itself has origins that are ambiguous. "Hindu" is a word given by the West to describe all the populations that civilized the Indus Valley in ancient India. These groups demonstrated significant diversity and incorporated a great number of customs, rituals, beliefs, and cultures. More than one of the modern world's major religions were represented in this fertile region. Sanatana Dharma is a more genuine Sanskrit phrase that encompasses what is generally referred to as Hinduism. Sanatana Dharma can be translated as eternal truth. Vedanta is the philosophy that underlies Sanatana Dharma. Vedanta can be translated as the culmination of knowledge, and Vedanta represents the most recent and refined of the classical Indian philosophies. Philosophically, Vedanta and Buddhism are nearly identical, though the practice of each varies significantly.

The Goal in Vedanta
Vedanta asserts that perfection is attainable. The ultimate goal of Vedanta is enlightenment, which can be described as eternal bliss, beyond space, time, and causation. Enlightenment can also be described as becoming one with the Divine, or simply becoming Divine. Enlightenment is often considered to be synonymous with moksha, mukti, samadhi, nirvana, and salvation. All of these terms are at least related and ultimately point to the same concept. Unenlightened people experience existence as a continuum of shifting happiness and sadness, dependent upon environment, context, surrounding, and situation. Enlightened souls experience eternal, perfect bliss, beyond happiness and sadness.

Karma and Non-Attachment
Aspiring to perfect karma, or action, is one approach to enlightenment. Essential in perfecting action is the concept of non-attachment, central in Vedanta. Non-attachment is one of the cornerstones of the Bhagavad Gita, a Vedantic scripture of Sanatana Dharma. Non-attachment is action without attachment to the results of the action, i.e. action without the results of the action affecting one's being. Through non-attachment, one can experience blissfulness in all actions of life, independent of the results. In an ideal sense, non-attachment is difficult to achieve, but one can approach greater and greater levels of non-attachment in one's actions. As one becomes more and more non-attached, one becomes closer and closer to enlightenment, and one experiences greater and greater bliss in every moment.

Vedanta Philosophy
The underlying philosophy of Hinduism, or Sanatana Dharma, is Vedanta. Vedanta can be broken up into veda and anta. Veda can be translated as knowledge or wisdom, and anta can be translated as final or culmination. Therefore, Vedanta is often translated as the culmination of knowledge. Vedanta is classically given by three scriptures: the Upanishads, the Brahmasutra, and the Bhagavad Gita. The Upanishads are the philosophical portions of the Vedas, often in the context of a discourse between student and teacher. The Brahmasutra is a text by Vyasa, describing the intricate details of Vedanta philosophy. The Bhagavad Gita offers the quintessential beauty of Vedanta and is the most practical of the three scriptures. The Gita is comprised of 700 verses in 18 chapters, and it describes how the essence of Vedanta is applicable to daily life.

The Paths to Enlightenment
Vedanta asserts that actions are affected by vasanas, samskaras, and gunas, which are not mutually exclusive. Vasana literally means smell, and it can be translated as tendency. Samskara can be translated as impression from past action, and guna can be translated as attribute. Depending on impressions from past actions, attributes, and tendencies, one's ideal path to enlightenment may differ accordingly. Vedanta describes three major paths to enlightenment, which are bhakti, karma, and jnana. Bhakti is the path of love and devotion. Karma is the path of righteous action, and jnana is the path of knowledge. Different paths are appropriate for different people, and different amounts of each path can be combined to create even more paths. For example, one person might use 50% bhakti, 25% karma, and 25% jnana whereas another person might use 10% bhakti, 40% karma, and 50% jnana. In this manner, numerous paths can be created simply from these three major paths. In actuality, more than three paths exist, which can be combined in different ratios leading to infinitely many valid paths to enlightenment.

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