01/28/2015 10:46 am ET Updated Mar 30, 2015

Why I Find the Hindu Way of Life Remarkable

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With close to a billion adherents around the world, Hinduism is a major religion concentrated predominantly in the Indian subcontinent, and among individuals of Indian origin. Hinduism is quite remarkable for several reasons. Let's take a look at a few of these.

Hindu isn't really a religion, persay.
The word "Hindu" is derived from the word "Sindhu" the moniker for the river we call the Indus today, which flows in modern-day India and Pakistan. When the Persians, in the area of modern-day Iran, interacted with those who lived in the subcontinent, they referred to these people as Hindus, meaning those who lived beyond the Sindhu. This was picked up by others later on, and was applied to the spiritual practices followed by those who lived in the subcontinent. In fact, the subcontinent was originally called Bharat, which is India's traditional name.

So, in this sense, Hinduism wasn't a religion per-se, but rather a cultural and geographical identity. It is only recently, in the past few centuries (that is quite recent by the standards of Indian history's timeline!) that Hinduism has come to be seen as a religious identity.

Gods, gods and more gods!
Perhaps one of the most striking features of Hinduism for the Western mindset is its vast pantheon of gods. Even the ancient Greeks and Egyptians cannot match the variety of deities found among Hindu divinities. In fact, Hinduism is said to have 33 million gods by some estimates, though other estimates put the figure at 330,000. Either way, the number is quite mind-boggling and vast.

The Hindu world-view is quite inclusive, and therefore a Hindu has no qualms about worshipping Hanuman, a deity in the form of a monkey, or even a tree, or a cow, or a rock for that matter. Though there are hundreds of thousands of Hindu deities, the fundamental divine that underlies all these is the one Brahman, and thus, for a Hindu, he or she is an extension of the Universe, and the Universe is an extension of him or her.

Cycles of time
The Hindu view of time is that the creation is cyclic in nature. This is perfectly in keeping with other aspects of the Hindu way of life, such as karma and the cycle of rebirths, which are also cyclical. According to the Hindu system of time, there are four epochs or cycles, known as yugas. Over the course of these four, human consciousness slips downwards, starting from the Satya Yuga, when it is highest, through the Treta Yuga, the Dwapara Yuga, and finally the Kali Yuga when it is lowest. As it happens, we are currently in the Kali Yuga! But fortunately, as with everything else cyclic in Hinduism, a human being can transcend these "circular" traps of karma, rebirth, and the very constraints of time as well.

This is the beauty of the Hindu way of life. It celebrates the human beings potential to transcend all external influences. For one who strives, there is the possibility that he or she can determine every aspect of their destiny.