ॐ Hindu Of Universe ॐ

“God’s light is within you, It never leaves you.”

Our Mission

ॐ Hindu Of Universe ॐ

“God’s light is within you, It never leaves you.”

The four permissible goals of Hindu life are a fundamental concept necessary to understand Hinduism. Learn about Kama, Artha, Dharma, Moksha, and the importance of the Bhagavad Gita.

Hindu Goals
In today’s lesson, we’re going to tackle the four permissible goals of Hindu life. They are kama, artha, dharma and moksha. To do this in such a short amount of time will require some serious oversimplification of a very deep topic. Add to this the fact that most of the terms we’re going to use are completely foreign to the Western tongue, and it’s not hard to see how this lesson could get a bit hairy.

In order to make this lesson easier to navigate, there are three things I’d like you to grasp:

Hinduism teaches that the pursuit of these four goals is permissible. In other words, it’s okay to want and seek them.
Each goal is considered more important, or noble, than the previous goal.
These goals traditionally apply to men only.
With this in mind, let’s get on with our goals.

The first permissible goal is kama. To put it simply, kama is pleasure, and it refers to the desires of the mind and the physical body. It is the human desire for passion and emotion. In other words, it’s ok to love; it’s ok to experience attraction and desire. In fact, the Hindus’ god of love is actually named Kama. From this name comes the famous and very ancient Hindu guide to the physical expression of love known as the Kamasutra.

Although kama, or pleasure, is a permissible goal, a spiritually maturing Hindu will realize it is not the end all to life. There is more to strive for. This brings us to our next goal, Artha.

Simply put, artha can be loosely translated as wealth and power, and according to the goals of Hinduism, it’s ok to want these two things. In fact, the pursuit of them is considered noble since a person needs them in order to raise a family and keep a household.

Since the goal of dharma is probably the most alien to our Western paradigm, we’ll spend a bit more time on it. To simplify, dharma means duty. It’s sort of a set of standards by which a person should live. However, dharma can be very circumstantial and very personal. In other words, each person’s dharma is different. Since this is rather confusing, let’s use a tangible example.

Moksha is freedom from the cycle of birth and reincarnation. It’s the prize at the end of the very long Hindu road.

Lesson Summary
The four permissible goals in Hinduism are kama, artha, dharma and moksha, with each goal being more important than those before it.

In Western terms, kama can be remembered as the pursuit of pleasure. It encompasses the human desires for passion and emotion. Although the pursuit of kama is permissible, it sort of takes a back seat to artha.

Learning Outcomes
Upon completing this lesson, you will be able to:

These 4 are called as the four Puruṣārthas ( Purusha – Human, Artha – Goal / Purpose ) in Hinduism.

Artha deals with mundane social prosperities an individual needs to possess like Money, Land, Power / Position etc.

Kāma deals with desires on every plane food, clothing, people, shelter.

Dharma deals with the value systems in life such as love, compassion, loyalty, righteousness, unselfishness.

Moksha deals with realisation of the eternal self beyond the realms of existence in this social setup.

Our Mission
Providing opportunities to learn about Hindu heritage and culture while raising awareness of issues affecting Hindus
Empowering youth and fostering a diverse community
Providing Seva (service) locally, nationally, and globally

Hindu beliefs
The teachings of Hinduism include an understanding of the aims of human life and the personal virtues of a practising Hindu. Understanding the nature of human life also involves an awareness of the cycle of birth and death.

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 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
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.
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 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.

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:

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’.

What is reincarnation?

The purpose of life
The purpose of life for Hindus is to achieve four aims, called Purusharthas. These are dharma, kama, artha and moksha. These provide Hindus with opportunities to act morally and ethically and lead a good life. Throughout their lives, Hindus attempt to end the cycle of samsara and behave in a way that provides good karma in this life and the next.

Kama and karma are not the same thing – kama refers to sensual pleasure or desire and karma refers to the law that every action has an equal reaction either immediately or at some point in the future.
This is related to a person’s true purpose and is concerned with a person’s duty and the actions the person takes. Each Hindu believes that they have their own personal dharma. Ultimately, this is about leading a righteous life. Hindus want to end the cycle of samsara, and therefore they aim to make morally right decisions in order to achieve good karma.

This Sanskrit word means love, desire and pleasure. It is a very practical part of Hindus’ aims in life. Hindus aim to achieve pleasure in many ways, including sporting activities and cultural interests, but it is important to note that kama is also derived from sexual pleasure. Therefore, Hindus consider kama to be important in their personal lives. As Hinduism is a very practical religion, it is widely accepted that many Hindus attempt to achieve kama in their lives with their partners. This sexual aspect of kama is considered to be a natural part of human instinct and also produces children.

Artha means prosperity. To Hindus this means the pursuit of wealth. Many Hindus believe that there are only a few people who do not require material wealth. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that Hindus attain material wealth as part of attempting to achieve moksha. However, they must not become attached to this wealth.

Moksha is the ultimate aim in life for Hindus. It means to be saved (salvation). When a Hindu achieves moksha, they break free from the cycle of samsara. Hindus aim to end the cycle of samsara through gaining good karma, which means doing good actions and deeds. Therefore, the actions of their previous lives and the actions of their mortal life today are all part of their effort to break the cycle of samsara, which each individual Hindu works towards.

Types of dharma
Sanatana dharma
For Hindus, there is another key form of dharma. This is Sanatana dharma, which is the eternal dharma that governs all Hindus regardless of their status or caste. It is sometimes referred to as the eternal duty towards God. Therefore, Hindus in their daily lives attempt to be aware of their actions and show virtues such as patience, kindness and loyalty. Many Hindus view Sanatana dharma as a code of conduct. It is focused on God and how the community of Hindus act and conduct themselves.

Sanatana dharma is different from personal dharma as it is a community-wide set of duties and virtues. It is important to note that many Hindus view Sanatana dharma and personal dharma as interchangeable. This is because by paying attention to their personal dharma, they will be living a virtuous life that demonstrates a positive code of conduct for other Hindus.

The Bhagavad Gita outlines that Hindus are expected to perform their duties:

It is far better to discharge one’s prescribed duties, even though faultily, than another’s duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, for to follow another’s path is dangerous.
Bhagavad Gita 3.35
This essentially means that Hindus are duty bound to follow their own path. They place an emphasis on Sanatana dharma as this helps them to focus on their own spiritual journey and their own aims in life while also undertaking the duties towards God.

Varnashrama dharma
Varnashrama dharma is considered by many Hindus to be an outdated form of dharma as it focuses on social class (or caste) and it is not widely practised among Hindus today. However, for some Hindus it still has a place in their beliefs. It is focused on materialistic duties in life. The four main classes are Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras.

Infographic showing the caste system categories of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras and Dalits.
This social class system appears in an ancient Hindu book of law called the Manusmriti. Some Hindus consider it to be important as it places an emphasis on a person’s position due to their actions in previous births. They believe that a person’s actions in their previous birth (combined karma from past life and their current life) results in the varna (social class) they will undertake when their Atman is reborn.

Ultimately, all Hindus aim to be Brahmans. However, in order to achieve this status, they have to move through the other three castes in their mortal lives (with each successive reincarnation).

Hindus accept suffering as a part of their lives. They know that it is part of the world we live in and therefore acceptance allows them to move forward. Hindus believe that suffering can be both physical and mental. They accept that suffering can also be caused by being attached to material things. In order to achieve moksha and break the cycle of samsara, Hindus must therefore attempt to overcome their attachment to material possessions. Doing this is also part of their personal dharma.

Ahimsa is an important ideal within Hinduism. This is a virtue all Hindus should follow. It is important that Hindus ensure that they do not inflict pain upon others. They should try to live their lives in a compassionate and caring way. For example, they might give charity to others or help those in need. Not only will this follow the concept of ahimsa but it will also help Hindus to achieve their ultimate goal of moksha by gaining good karma. For many Hindus, ahimsa is the best virtue and should be followed to ensure freedom from samsara.

Hindu scriptures on suffering
Hindus use scripture to guide their understanding of suffering. For example, the Mahabharata says:

Do not do to another what you do not like to be done to yourself; that is the gist of the law – all other laws are variable.
Mahabharata 5.39
This passage tells Hindus that they should treat others with the same level of respect that they would expect others to show to them. This idea is a common feature among many world religions. However, Hindus may specifically use this source of wisdom and authority in relation to the caste system and how they interact with people of a different social class than themselves. This allows them to demonstrate humility and work towards understanding why people suffer.

The Hymn of Creation
The nature of Hindu cosmology is demonstrated in the Rig Veda. The Rig Veda is a source of wisdom and authority that helps Hindus to understand the nature of creation. It is known to some Hindus as the Hymn of Creation. Each verse demonstrates different aspects of creation, showing that it is infinite:

“In the beginning there was neither existence nor non-existence; there was no atmosphere, no sky, and no realm beyond the sky. What power was there? Where was that power? Who was that power? Was it finite or infinite?

There was neither death nor immortality. There was nothing to distinguish night from day. There was no wind or breath. God alone breathed by his own energy. Other than God there was nothing.

In the beginning darkness was swathed in darkness. All was liquid and formless. God was clothed in emptiness.

Then fire arose within God; and in the fire arose love. This was the seed of the soul. Sages have found this seed within their hearts; they have discovered that it is the bond between existence and non-existence.

Who really knows what happened? Who can describe it? How were things produced? Where was creation born? When the universe was created, the one became many. Who knows how this occurred?

Did creation happen at God’s command, or did it happen without his command? He looks down upon creation from the highest heaven. Only he knows the answer – or perhaps he does not know.” (Rig Veda 10:129.1–7)

Hinduism teaches that there are four stages that creation must pass through. These are known as yugas.

There are four yugas in one cycle:

Satya Yuga
Treta Yuga
Dwapara Yuga
Kali Yuga
Currently, it is accepted by many Hindus that we are living the Kali Yuga.

Each of these yugas represents a stage of evolution. This is not just physical evolution – it is also mental and spiritual evolution. Humankind becomes better or worse physically, mentally and spiritually, depending on the actions of each generation.

And in consequence of the shortness of their lives they will not be able to acquire much knowledge. And in consequence of the littleness of their knowledge, they will have no wisdom. And for this, covetousness and avarice will overwhelm them all. And wedded to avarice and wrath and ignorance and lust men will entertain animosities towards one another, desiring to take one another’s lives.
Mahabharata: Vana Parva 189
The idea of many worlds
Many Hindus believe that there are 14 lokas, or worlds that make up a multiverse. They believe that there are inhabitants in each of these planetary systems.

In their most simple form, the lokas are divided into the seven upper worlds, known as vyarthis, and the seven lower worlds, known as patalas:

The seven vyarthis
Satya-loka – This is the place of Brahma, where each person’s atman is released from the inevitability of rebirth.
Tapa-loka – Ayohnija devadasis live here.
Jana-loka – The sons of the god Brahma live here.
Mahar-loka – Enlightened beings such as Markandeya live here.
Svar-loka – This is the area between the Sun and the Polar Star, the Heaven of the god Indra. It is a Heaven and Paradise, where all the 330 million Hindu gods live.
Bhuvar-loka (or Pitri-loka) – It is the space between Earth and the Sun. Semi-divine beings live here.
Bhur-loka – This is the Earth. Hindus teach that it is one of billions of inhabited worlds in the universe. This shows the Hindu belief in the multiverse.
The seven patalas
Atala-loka – Atala is ruled by Bala, who is a son of Maya. Maya possesses mystical powers.
Vitala-loka – Vitala is ruled by the god Hara-Bhava, who is a form of Shiva.
Sutala-loka – Sutala is the kingdom of the demon king Bali.
Talatala-loka – Talatala is the realm of Maya. Shiva is also here under the protection of Maya.
Mahatala-loka – Mahatala is where many nagas (serpents) live.
Rasatala-loka – Rasatala is the home of the demons Danavas and Daityas.
Patala-loka (or Naga-loka) – This is the lowest realm. It is the region of the nagas, ruled by Vasuki a King serpent.
Prakriti and the Triguna
Hindus believe that prakriti (a creative or natural force) is made up of three gunas. These are:

sattva – a state of harmony (also known as goodness)
rajas – a state of energy, action, change and movement (also known as passion)
tamas – darkness (also known as ignorance)
Infographic depicting the tri-guna – the three stages matter goes through.
Together, these are known as the Triguna. Hindus believe that each guna is controlled by one of the three main deities: Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva.

Prakriti is important as many Hindus believe that the soul’s preference for goodness, passion or ignorance will affect how that person is reincarnated.

In addition, each person has a gunic ‘makeup’, and Hindus believe that the dissolution of the universe at the end of each yugas has an impact on the balance of the gunas. Therefore, people who are in the cycle of samsara need to be mindful of the gunas in order to attain moksha and end the cycle of reincarnation.

The concept of Maya is focused on the ideas of illusion and mysticism. For Hindus it is directly linked to our human understanding of the world around us – specifically, the idea that reality is an illusion. When Hindus refer to the world as Maya, they are talking about the idea that the world is an illusion but that God allows people to believe it is real through magic.

Human Values in Hinduism

Hinduism is based on inculcating and practicing certain basic human values which refer to behaviour of individuals in daily life. These are the essential morals which every Hindu must have which are as follows;

Truthfulness – Everyone should speak the truth with kindness and compassion. It is possible that in short run untruth may appear to win but in long run truth will always win. But if truth causes harm, it is better to be silent rather than speaking it. For example, if a person is ill and there is risk to his life then telling truth may cause harm to patient. So, in this case it is better to be silent.
Non-violence – According To Hinduism ‘Ahimsa Paramo Dharma ’- Best Dharma is not to harm others for personal benefits. One should not opt for non-violence at least not beyond bare minimum without which one could not survive. It also means that one should prefer to be vegetarian and should refrain from overeating and consuming meat.
Non Stealing – Hinduism teaches not to steal or enter into debt. One should not be greedy and selfish which may result in stealing. The person should not take the things which do not belong to him rather one should use hard earned assets and money.
Compassion – Every Hindu must have callous, compassionate and intensive feelings. He must have sympathy, kindness, love, mercy for all. One should do his deed selflessly and for the benefit of society. One should always be ready to provide services to needy ones even at one’s own sacrifice, if needed.
Forgiveness – One should restrain oneself from intolerance and ill will. The individuals can forgive only if they have combined characteristics of patience, tolerance and bear sufferings. Forgiveness will ultimately result in peacefulness. It creates the basis of non-violence.
Sweet speech – Hinduism teaches us sweetness of speech and personality. One should not be rude, harsh and impolite. The individual should be pious and should always use sweet words.
Tithing – Hindus should be generous. It is believed in Hinduism that more you give more you get. One should give or donate to others without any intention of reward.
Free of Sin – Hinduism teaches us not to perform any action that is sinful. According to law of Karmas, everyone is rewarded according to his karmas, sooner or later, in absolute and correct measure.
Acceptance – Everyone should do selfless deeds (Nishkama Karma) without concern of outcome. Whatever the outcome of any action should be accepted as the gift of God. Whether the Result is desirable or undesirable, one should accept the result without anxiety.
Oneness of Human being – In Hinduism, it is believed that everyone is alike. Soul is a part of God and exists in every one. One should follow inner consciousness and see everyone else in oneself.
Listen to self-conscience – Whenever a person is in dilemma whether the carrying out action is right or wrong then he should listen to his self-conscience. In Mahabharata, when Arjuna was in dilemma whether it is appropriate to kill his own cousins then Lord Krishna enlightened him to choose and perform the action that is moral and righteous.
Enlightenment – Hinduism believes that one can evolve himself through continuous up-gradation of knowledge through this one can realize his ‘self’ and be fully enlightened.

The Four Denominations of Hinduism
For over 200 years, Western scholars have struggled to understand Hinduism, a faith whose followers seemed (to outsiders) to arbitrarily worship any one of a dozen Gods as the Supreme, a religion vastly diverse in its beliefs, practices and ways of worship. Some Indologists labeled the Hinduism they encountered polytheistic; others even coined new terms, like henotheism, to describe this baffling array of spiritual traditions. Few, however, have realized, and fewer still have written, that India’s Sanatana Dharma, or “eternal faith, ” known today as Hinduism and comprising nearly a billion followers, is a family of religions with four principal denominations Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Smartism. This single perception is essential for understanding Hinduisim and explaining it accurately to others. Contrary to prevailing misconceptions, Hindus all worship a one Supreme Being, though by different names. For Vaishnavites, Lord Vishnu is God. For Saivites, God is Siva. For Shaktas, Goddess Shakti is supreme. For Smartas, liberal Hindus, the choice of Deity is left to the devotee. Each has a multitude of guru lineages, religious leaders, priesthoods, sacred literature, monastic communities, schools, pilgrimage centers and tens of thousands of temples. They possess a wealth of art and architecture, philosophy and scholarship. These four sects hold such divergent beliefs that each is a complete and independent religion. Yet, they share a vast heritage of culture and belief karma, dharma, reincarnation, all-pervasive Divinity, temple worship, sacraments, manifold Deities, the guru-shishya tradition and the Vedas as scriptural authority. In this eight-page Insight, drawn from Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami’s Dancing with Siva, we offer a synopsis of these four denominations, followed by a point-by-point comparison.

Each of Hinduism’s philosophies, schools and lineages shares a common purpose: to further the soul’s unfoldment to its divine destiny. Nowhere is this process better represented than in the growth of the renowned lotus, which, seeking the sun, arises from the mud to become a magnificent flower. Its blossom is a promise of purity and perfection.

Saivite Hindus worship the Supreme God as Siva, the Compassionate One. Saivites esteem self discipline and philosophy and follow a satguru. They worship in the temple and practice yoga, striving to be one with Siva within.

Shaktas worship the Supreme as the Divine Mother, Shakti or Devi. She has many forms. Some are gentle, some are fierce. Shaktas use chants, real magic, holy diagrams, yoga and rituals to call forth cosmic forces and awaken the great kundalini power within the spine.

Vaishnavites worship the Supreme as Lord Vishnu and His incarnations, especially Krishna and Rama. Vaishnavites are mainly dualistic. They are deeply devotional. Their religion is rich in saints, temples and scriptures.

Smartas worship the Supreme in one of six forms: Ganesha, Siva, Sakti, Vishnu, Surya and Skanda. Because they accept all the major Hindu Gods, they are known as liberal or nonsectarian. They follow a philosophical, meditative path, emphasizing man’s oneness with God through understanding.

As just seen, the spectrum of Hindu religiousness is found within four major sects or denominations: Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Smartism. Among these four streams, there are certainly more similarities than differences. All four believe in karma and reincarnation and in a Supreme Being who is both form and pervades form, who creates, sustains and destroys the universe only to create it again in unending cycles. They strongly declare the validity and importance of temple worship, in the three worlds of existence and the myriad Gods and devas residing in them. They concur that there is no intrinsic evil, that the cosmos is created out of God and is permeated by Him. They each believe in maya (though their definitions differ somewhat), and in the liberation of the soul from rebirth, called moksha, as the goal of human existence. They believe in dharma and in ahimsa, noninjury, and in the need for a satguru to lead the soul toward Self Realization. They wear the sacred marks, tilaka, on their foreheads as sacred symbols, though each wears a distinct mark. Finally, they prefer cremation of the body upon death, believing that the soul will inhabit another body in the next life. While Hinduism has many sacred scriptures, all sects ascribe the highest authority to the Vedas and Agamas, though their Agamas differ somewhat. Here, now, is a brief comparison of these four denominations.

On the Personal God/Goddess

Saivism: Personal God and temple Deity is Siva, neither male nor female. Lords Ganesha and Karttikeya are also worshiped.

Shaktism: Personal Goddess and temple Deity is Shri Devi or Shakti, female, worshiped as Rajarajeshvari, Parvati, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Kali, Amman, etc. the Divine Mother.

Vaishnavism: Personal God and temple Deity is Vishnu, male. His incarnations as Rama and Krishna are also worshiped, as well as His divine consort, Radharani.

Smartism: Personal God and temple Deity is Ishvara, male or female, worshiped as Vishnu, Siva, Shakti, Ganesha and Surya or any Deity of devotee’s choice, e.g., Kumara or Krishna.

On the Nature of Shakti

Saivism: Shakti is God Siva’s inseparable power and manifest will, energy or mind.

Shaktism: Shakti is an active, immanent Being, separate from a quiescent and remote Siva.

Vaishnavism: No special importance is given to Shakti. However, there are parallels wherein the divine consorts are conceived as the inseparable powers of Vishnu and His incarnations: e.g., Krishna’s Radharani and Rama’s Sita.

Smartism: Shakti is a divine form of Ishvara. It is God’s manifesting power.

On the Nature of Personal God

Saivism: God Siva is pure love and compassion, immanent and transcendent, pleased by our purity and sadhana.

Shaktism: The Goddess Shakti is both compassionate and terrifying, pleasing and wrathful, assuaged by sacrifice and submission.

Vaishnavism: God Vishnu is loving and beautiful, the object of man’s devotion, pleased by our service and surrender.

Smartism: Ishvara appears as a human-like Deity according to devotees’ loving worship, which is sometimes considered a rudimentary self-purifying practice.

On the Doctrine of Avatara

Saivism: There are no divine earthly incarnations of the Supreme Being.

Shaktism: The Divine Mother does incarnate in this world.

Vaishnavism: Vishnu has ten or more incarnations.

Smartism: All Deities may assume earthly incarnations.

On the Soul and God

Saivism: God Siva is one with the soul. The soul must realize this advaitic (monistic) Truth by God Siva’s grace.

Shaktism: The Divine Mother, Shakti, is mediatrix, bestowing advaitic moksha on those who worship Her.

Vaishnavism: God and soul are eternally distinct. Through Lord Vishnu’s grace, the soul’s destiny is to worship and enjoy God.

Smartism: Ishvara and man are in reality Absolute Brahman. Within maya, the soul and Ishvara appear as two. Jnana (wisdom) dispels the illusion.

Spiritual Practice

Saivism: With bhakti as a base, emphasis is placed on sadhana, tapas (austerity) and yoga. Ascetic.

Shaktism: Emphasis is on bhakti and tantra, sometimes occult, practices. Ascetic-occult.

Vaishnavism: Emphasis is on supreme bhakti or surrender, called prapatti. Generally devotional and nonascetic.

Smartism: Preparatory sadhanas are bhakti, karma, raja yoga. The highest path is through knowledge, leading to jnana.

Major Scriptures

Saivism: Vedas, Saiva Agamas and Saiva Puranas.

Shaktism: Vedas, Shakta Agamas (Tantras) and Puranas.

Vaishnavism: Vedas, Vaishnava Agamas, Puranas and the Itihasas (Ramayana and Mahabharata, especially the Bhagavad Gita).

Smartism: Vedas, Agamas and classical smriti Puranas, Itihasas, especially the Bhagavad Gita, etc.

Regions of Influence

Saivism: Geographically widespread, strongest in South and North India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Shaktism: Geographically widespread, most prominent in Northeast India, especially Bengal and Assam.

Vaishnavism: Geographically widespread, especially strong throughout India, North and South.

Smartism: Geographically widespread, most prominent in North and South India.

Paths of Attainment

Saivism: The path for Saivites is divided into four progressive stages of belief and practice called charya, kriya, yoga and jnana. The soul evolves through karma and reincarnation from the instinctive-intellectual sphere into virtuous and moral living, then into temple worship and devotion, followed by internalized worship, or yoga, and its meditative disciplines. Union with God Siva comes through the grace of the satguru and culminates in the soul’s maturity in the state of jnana, or wisdom. Saivism values both bhakti and yoga, devotional and contemplative sadhanas, or disciplines.

Shaktism: The spiritual practices in Shaktism are similar to those in Saivism, though there is more emphasis in Saktism on God’s Power as opposed to Being, on mantras and yantras, and on embracing apparent opposites: male-female, absolute-relative, pleasure-pain, cause-effect, mind-body. Certain sects within Shaktism undertake “left-hand ” tantric rites, consciously using the world of form to transmute and eventually transcend that world. The “left-hand ” approach is somewhat occult in nature; it is considered a path for the few, not the many. The “right-hand ” path is more conservative in nature.

Vaishnavism: Most Vaishnavites believe that religion is the performance of bhakti sadhanas, devotional disciplines, and that man can communicate with and receive the grace of the Gods and Goddesses through the darshan (sight) of their icons. The paths of karma yoga and jnana yoga lead to bhakti yoga. Among the foremost practices of Vaishnavites is chanting the holy names of the Avataras, Vishnu’s incarnations, especially Rama and Krishna. Through total self-surrender, prapatti, to Vishnu, to Krishna or to His beloved consort Radharani, liberation from samsara (the cycle of reincarnation) is attained.

Smartism: Smartas, the most eclectic of Hindus, believe that moksha is achieved through jnana yoga alone defined as an intellectual and meditative but non-kundalini-yoga path. Jnana yoga’s progressive stages are scriptural study (shravana), reflection (manana) and sustained meditation (dhyana). Guided by a realized guru and avowed to the unreality of the world, the initiate meditates on himself as Brahman, Absolute Reality, to break through the illusion of maya. Devotees may also choose from three other non-successive paths to cultivate devotion, accrue good karma and purify the mind. These are bhakti yoga, karma yoga and raja yoga, which certain Smartas teach can also bring enlightenment.

Quotes from the Ancient Scriptures of Hinduism
1.  Most humbly we bow to You, O Supreme Lord.
At Your command moves the mighty wheel of time.
You are eternal, and beyond eternity.
(Artharva Veda)

2. The one who loves all intensely
begins perceiving in all living beings
a part of himself.
He becomes a lover of all,
a part and parcel of the Universal Joy.
He flows with the stream of happiness,
and is enriched by each soul.
(Yajur Veda)

3. The human body is the temple of God.
One who kindles the light of awareness within
gets true light.
The sacred flame of your inner shrine
is constantly bright.
The experience of unity
is the fulfillment of human endeavors.
The mysteries of life are revealed.
(Rig Veda)

4. Sing the song of celestial love, O singer!
May the divine fountain of eternal grace and joy
enter your soul.
May Brahma, (the Divine One),
Pluck the strings of your inner soul
with His celestial fingers,
And feel His own presence within.
Bless us with a divine voice
That we may tune the harp-strings of our life
To sing songs of Love to you.
(Rig Veda)

5. Of everything he is the inmost Self.
He is the truth; he is the Self supreme.
(Chandogya Upanishad)

6. Meditating on the lotus of your heart,
in the center is the untainted;
the exquisitely pure, clear, and sorrowless;
the inconceivable;
the unmanifest,
of infinite form;
blissful, tranquil, immortal;
the womb of Brahma.

7. Those in whose hearts OM reverberates
Unceasingly are indeed blessed
And deeply loved as one who is the Self.
The all-knowing Self was never born,
Nor will it die. Beyond cause and effect,
This Self is eternal and immutable.
When the body dies, the Self does not die.
(Katha Upanishad)

8. The whole mantram AUM
Indivisible, interdependent,
Goes on reverberating in the mind.
Established in this cosmic vibration,
The sage goes beyond fear, decay, and death
To enter into infinite peace.
(Prashna Upanishad)

9. O Almighty!
You are the infinite; the universe is also infinite!
From infinite the infinite has come out!
Having taken infinite out of the infinite, the infinite remains!
O Almighty! May there be Peace! Peace! Everywhere!
(Ishawashya Upanishad)

10. O seeker, know the true nature of your soul,
and identify yourself with it completely.
O Lord, (may we attain) the everlasting consciousness
of Supreme Light and Joy.
May we resolve to dedicate our life
to the service of humankind,
and uplift them to Divinity.
(Yajur Veda)

11. O Brahma, lead us from the unreal to the real.
O Brahma, lead us from darkness to light.
O Brahma, lead us from death to immortality.
Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, Om.
(Brhadaranyaka Upanishad)

12. Look to this day,
for it is life, the very breath of life.
In its brief course lie
all the realities of your existence;
the bliss of growth,
the glory of action,
the splendor of beauty.
For yesterday is only a dream,
and tomorrow is but a vision.
But today, well lived,
makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
and every tomorrow
a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
(Ancient Sanskrit)

13. The highest Self, all endless bliss,
the unconditioned limitless consciousness,
being realized, whether through the great texts,
or through Yoga, in all experience whatever—
let one lose himself in the ecstasy of Realization,
for he has forever lost all touch
with bondage of every description.

14. A particle of Its bliss
supplies the bliss of the whole universe.
Everything becomes enlightened in Its light.
All else appears worthless after a sight of that essence.
I am indeed of this Supreme Eternal Self.

15. The knower catches in the ecstasy of his heart
the full light of that Brahman (that Divine Essence)
which is indescribable—all pure bliss, incomparable,
transcending time, ever free, beyond desire.

16. Bright but hidden, the Self dwells in the heart.
Everything that moves, breathes, opens, and closes
Lives in the Self. He is the source of love
And may be known through love but not through thought
He is the goal of life. Attain this goal!
(Mundaka Upanishad)

17. All is change in the world of the senses,
But changeless is the supreme Lord of Love.
Meditate on him, be absorbed by him,
Wake up from this dream of separateness.
(Shvetashvatara Upanishad)

18. O mysterious and incomprehensible Spirit!
In the depths of my heart, there is only You—You, for all time.
(source unknown)