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material success and social prestige, one of the four goals of life.


one who renounces physical pleasures and worldly attachments for the sake of spiritual advancement; common in Hinduism and many other religious traditions, most notably Jainism.


The eternal self, which the Upanishads identify with Brahman; often lowercase: the eternal Self or soul on an individual that is reincarnated from one body to the next and is ultimately identified with Atman.


an incarnation, or living embodiment, or a deity, usually Vishnu, who is sent to earth to accomplish a divine purpose; Krishna and Rama are the most popular avatars.


A short section of the epic poem Mahabharata in which the god Krishna teaches the great warrior Arjuna about bhakti marga and other ways to God; Hinduism's most popular text.

bhakti marga

- the most popular of the three Hindu paths to salvation, emphasizing loving devotion to one's chosen god or goddess.


the eternal essence of reality and the source of the universe, beyond the reach of human perception and thought.


the highest of the four classes of the caste system, traditionally made up of priests.

caste system

traditional division of Hindu society into various categories; there are four main varnas; or classes:Brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra; each class contains certain subgroups, resulting in more than three thousand categories.


Ethical duty based on the divine order of reality; one of the four goals of life.

jnana marga

"the path of knowledge" - one of the three Hindu paths to salvation, emphasizing knowing the true nature of reality through learning and meditation.


pleasure, especially sensual love; one of the four goals of life.


the moral law of cause and effect of actions; determines the nature of one's reincarnation.

karma marga

"the path of works" - One of the three Hindu paths to salvation, emphasizing performing right actions according to dharma.


the second of four classes of the caste system, traditionally made up of warrior and administrators.


cosmic illusion brought about by divine creative power.


liberation or release of the individual self, atman, from the bondage of samsara, salvation; one of the four goals of life.


the doctrine that reality is ultimately made up of only one essence.

Rig Veda

a collections of 1, 017 Sanskrit hymns composed about 1500BC earlier; Hinduism's oldest text.


a trancelike state in which self-consciousness is lost and the mind is absorbed into the ultimate reality; the culmination of the eight steps of Yoga.


a wandering ascetic who has advanced to the fourth and highest stage of life.


the traditional practice of burning a widow on her husband's funeral pyre; outlawed in 1829, though it still occurs rarely.


the lowest of the four classes of the caste system, traditionally made up of servants and laborers.


a collection of over two hundred texts composed of between 900 and 200 BC that provide philosophical commentary to the Vedas


the third of the four classes of the caste system, traditionally made up of producers, such as farmers, merchants, and artisans.

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