The individual

A Hindu’s beliefs can be directly linked to his or her actions. A Hindu’s life is influenced by the following beliefs.

Atman

Atman means ‘eternal self’ and is a very important concept in Hinduism. When a Hindu refers to the atman, they are referring to the immortal part of their self. This part of an individual is the part of them that will exist for eternity. This relates to the idea of reincarnation, which is also a key belief in Hinduism.

Infographic showing the soul in the body

Samsara

Hindus believe in reincarnation, and they call this process samsara. This is the belief that there is a cycle of rebirth of the soul. This occurs repeatedly. However, the actions of a person in their mortal life determine their incarnation (ie how they will be reborn) in the next.

Infographic to show the cycle of life, birth and death leading to Moksha.

Moksha

A Hindu’s ultimate goal in life is to reach moksha. Moksha means freedom from the cycle of samsara. Hinduism teaches that a Hindu's actions in this life has a direct impact on what happens when they die. If they manage to overcome ignorance and desire, they may achieve moksha when they die and therefore reach the end of the cycle of samsara.

It is important to note that Hindus must not desire moksha itself. In order to overcome desire and achieve moksha, Hindus must also overcome the desire for moksha.

Karma

Karma is the belief that all actions have a reaction. This is directly linked to the belief in samsara. Good actions have positive karma and negative actions have negative karma. Hindus’ belief in karma means they believe that their good actions will allow them to have a good mortal life. Leading a good mortal life is another way Hindus can increase their chance of achieving moksha.

Brahman

When a Hindu is attempting to achieve moksha, they are attempting to achieve becoming one with Brahman. Hinduism teaches that Brahman is part of all living things. Brahman is all creation and an unchanging ultimate reality:

quote
Thus does the man who desires [stays in the cycle of samsara]. But as to the man who does not desire – who is without desire, who is freed from desire, whose desire is satisfied, whose only object of desire is the Self – his organs do not depart. Being Brahman, he merges in Brahman.Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.3–6

Hindus understand the Birhadaranayaka Upanishad as the source of wisdom concerned with the nature of God and the self. Once a person has achieved moksha, the cycle of samsara ends and many Hindus believe that they become Brahman. It is believed that, at this point, the person ‘merges in Brahman’.

Question

What is reincarnation?

Reincarnation is the belief that the soul of a person is reborn into another body after they die.