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Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Hinduism's Contemporary Catechism

by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami
Kauai Aadheenam, Hawaii

The 1000 page book is online at Dancing with Siva, Hinduism's Contemporary Catechism - Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. The printed book may also be ordered online at the Himalayan Academy and also at *Amazon.com. Dancing with Siva is also available by daily email

From the Introduction by the Author :

The Beliefs of Hinduism  
World Religions at a Glance, and Hindu Population Map 
Hinduism Is an Eastern Religion  
The Hindu View of Life  
About This Edition of Dancing with Siva 
Ways to Study Dancing with Siva  
How to  Teach Dancing with Siva 
Awake! Arise!  

0upS.gif (883 bytes) Introduction

It is no accident that you have found this book and the treasures it contains. It's all part of the divine dance of destiny. The treasure you hold in the palm of your hand is divine knowledge, knowledge about you and God, knowledge about how to live a spiritual life, knowledge about what Hindus teach and believe. All of this and more awaits you in the chapters that follow. Follow it, and one day you will hold Truth in the palm of your hand--just as simply.

While other religions are precisely defined by explicit and often unyielding beliefs, Hinduism condones no such constraints. For the Hindu, intuition is far more important than intellect; experience supercedes dogma; and personal realization is held infinitely more precious than outer expressions or affiliations of faith. Philosopher S. Radhakrishnan said it well: "The mechanical faith which depends on authority and wishes to enjoy the consolations of religion without the labor of being religious is quite different from the religious faith which has its roots in experience."

Hindu religious philosophy is based on experience, on personal discovery and testing of things. It does not say, "Believe as others do or suffer." Rather, it says, "Know thy Self, inquire and be free." There are no heretics in Hinduism, for God is everywhere and in all things. In such an open laboratory, Hindu spirituality has grown over the millennia so diverse and rich that it defies definition.

Even knowledgeable Hindus, after a lifetime of study, will hesitate to say that Hinduism is one thing and not another. Indeed, the very idea of a Hindu catechism is, for many, unthinkable, a perilous and impertinent pursuit. Until now, no one has attempted such a complete overview, making this a rare, and perhaps remarkable, book. One might even say an inevitable one. If, therefore, in undertaking the impossible we have overlooked any lineage, neglected any tradition or vital issue, please call to mind that it is human to err and only God is perfect and find room in your heart to overlook any oversight.

A simple warning is due. This collection of customs and beliefs is not a detached, scholastic analysis of Hinduism, but a view from the inside, a view of the religion as Hindus themselves would wish their tradition honored and explained to others. Nor is this yet another dogma added to the mountains of doctrines and decrees which have crushed the human spirit throughout history. Every instinct in Hinduism rebels against the doctrine which is oppressive or narrow-minded. Every instinct in Hinduism rejoices in tolerance and in acknowledgement of the many paths, even those that seem to contradict its own. When you believe that God is everywhere, in all there is wherever it is, it becomes impossible to hate or injure or seek to aggressively convert others. That is the spirit of this book. It is a transcript of the life lived by hundreds of millions of people, one out of six of the human family. Like Hinduism itself, this contemporary catechism is an ongoing revelation--a dance more than a doctrine.

Dancing with Siva! What an extraordinary expression of our closeness to God, our creative interplay with God. The Cosmic Dance describes the Hindu view of existence, from the first thunder of the drum in His right hand announcing the Beginning, to the final all-consuming flames in His left hand pronouncing the End, which but heralds a new Beginning. Thus, dancing with Siva is everything we do, everything we think and say and feel, from our seeming birth to our so-called death. It is man and God forever engaged in sacred movement.

The ancient sages chose the dance to depict God for good reason. Esoterically, movement is the most primal act of existence. Without this simple thing, there would be no universe, no us, no experience, nothing. Light is movement. Thought is movement. Atoms are movement. Life is movement. And, the Hindu holds, God is movement. Also, dance is the only creative act in which there is perfect oneness of the creator and his creation. Unlike a painting, a poem, an invention or any other artistic impulse, when the dance is over there is no product, no thing to save and enjoy. As with life, we may perceive the dance, never possess it. One cannot separate the dancer from dancing, just as one cannot separate God from the world or from ourselves. Of special meaning is the place where Siva dances: in the chitsabha, the hall of consciousness. In other words, it happens within each of us.

The vast complexity of Siva's Cosmic Dance is traditionally represented in 108 poses. Over twenty centuries ago, Rishi Tirumular of the Nandinatha Sampradaya's Kailasa Parampara praised God Siva's never-ending dance with loving eloquence: "In all worlds He is, the Holy Lord. In darkness He is, light He is. In sun He is, in moon He is. Everywhere He is. The Lord is in all creation. None knows His coming and going. He is distant. He is near. Multiple He is. One He is. Water, earth, sky, fire and wind, the spark within the body--all these He is. He is the walking jiva here below. Deathless He is."

It is imperative at this time in our history--when the world, our Earth, is on the brink of an inner and outer space age--that we continue to value and learn from ancient Hindu wisdom. Long, long ago, great sages of India unfolded these eternal truths from within themselves and recorded them as written scripture to be sung out through the voices of their representatives today. So great was their insight. Truly, this eternal wisdom lives now and will live on into the next generation, the next and the next. Hear the famed prayer offered by rishis of yore: "Lead me from unreality to reality. Lead me from darkness to light. Lead me from death to immortality."

0upS.gif (883 bytes) The Beliefs of Hinduism

Hinduism, more than any other religion, has encompassed the full spectrum of philosophic positions, and to this day venerates living exponents of each. Thus it is that one teacher will praise devotion as the ultimate path, while another, spurning devotion, says liberation comes only upon the shattering of this universe's illusory appearance. How then to understand Hinduism? From the Himalayan vaults, ten thousand streams of thought descend, their cool waters giving life to all below. These flow together, their convergences becoming broad tributaries. From these, two mighty rivers are born which have through history watered and made green the growth of Indian spirituality--one is Vedanta and the other Siddhanta. This contemporary catechism is the confluence of these two potent traditions into a single torrent, the inundation of the Sanatana Dharma in full, fierce flood and force.

What Do Most Hindus Believe?

There are nine beliefs, or shraddha, which though not exhaustive, offer a simple summary of Hindu spirituality:

  • Hindus believe in the divinity of the Vedas, the world's most ancient scripture, and venerate the Agamas as equally revealed. These primordial hymns are God's word and the bedrock of Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion which has neither beginning nor end.
  • Hindus believe in a one, all-pervasive Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.
  • Hindus believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.
  • Hindus believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.
  • Hindus believe that the soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha, spiritual knowledge and liberation from the cycle of rebirth, is attained. Not a single soul will be eternally deprived of this destiny.
  • Hindus believe that divine beings exist in unseen worlds and that temple worship, rituals, sacraments as well as personal devotionals create a communion with these devas and Gods.
  • Hindus believe that a spiritually awakened master, or satguru, is essential to know the Transcendent Absolute, as are personal discipline, good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry and meditation.
  • Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, "noninjury."
  • Hindus believe that no particular religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine religious paths are facets of God's Pure Love and Light, deserving tolerance and understanding.

0upS.gif (883 bytes) World Religions at a Glance, and Hindu Population Map

We list here how the number of Hindus compares with other religions and provide a map indicating where Hindus reside in the world (not online yet). Main statistical sources: World Christian Encyclopedia and the Worldwatch Institute.

1993 World Population: 5.2 billion

  • Hindus: 1 billion
  • Taoists: 50 million
  • Muslims: 1 billion
  • Catholics: 1.5 billion
  • Shintoists: 30 million
  • Protestants: 600 million
  • Jews: 12 million
  • Nonbelievers: 600 million
  • Sikhs: 9 million
  • Confucian: 400 million
  • Jains: 6 million
  • Buddhists: 350 million
  • Zoroastrians: 125,000
  • Other Faiths: 50 million
  • Tribals: 100 million
  • Total: 5.2 Billion

0upS.gif (883 bytes) Hinduism Is an Eastern Religion

To place Hinduism in the context of world thought, it is first important to note that it is a religion of the East. This is a vital fact, for there is a vast difference between the way seekers in the East and the West have traditionally viewed the ultimate questions: "Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going?" The East has tended to be unitive, idealistic and introspective. The West has tended to be dualistic, materialistic and extroverted. Looking at it simply, the major Eastern religions are Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. The Western religions are Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This comparison does not include the Oriental faiths: Confucianism, Shinto and Taoism.

The Eastern mind tends to see God everywhere, in all things and, therefore, to see everything as sacred. The Western mind considers it heresy to believe that God pervades all things, and makes a strong difference between what is sacred and what is profane. While the Eastern mind holds to karma, reincarnation and liberation, the Westerner postulates a single life for the soul, followed by reward or punishment. Whereas personal inner experience is the crux of religion from the Eastern view, belief and faith are valued most highly in the West. While Eastern religions are accommodating of other views, believing that all paths lead ultimately to God, Western religions tend to be dogmatic, stressing theirs as the one true God and the one true religion.

0upS.gif (883 bytes) The Hindu View of Life

The soul, in its intelligence, searches for its Self, slowly ascending the path that leads to enlightenment and liberation. It is an arduous, delightful journey through the cycles of birth, death and rebirth culminating in Self Realization, the direct and personal spiritual experience of God, of the Self, of Truth. This alone among all things in the cosmos can bring freedom from the bondages of ignorance and desire. This is the highest realization. There is none greater. Hindus believe that all women and men are on this path and that all will ultimately reach its summit. It is a glorious and encouraging concept--that every single soul will reach Truth, moksha, none left to suffer forever for human frailties and faults.

Hinduism is our planet's original and oldest living religion, with no single founder. For as long as man has lived and roamed across Earth's land and water masses, breathed its air and worshiped in awe its fire, the Sanatana Dharma has been a guide of righteous life for evolving souls. Shortly into the twenty-first century, Hindu adherents will number over a billion. All of them are Hindus, yes, but they represent a broad range of beliefs, sadhanas and mystic goals.

While Hindus believe many diverse and exotic things, there are several bedrock concepts on which virtually all concur. All Hindus worship one Supreme Reality, though they call it by many names, and teach that all souls will ultimately realize the truth of the Vedas and Agamas. Hindus believe that there is no eternal hell, no damnation. They concur that there is no intrinsic evil. All is good. All is God. In contrast, Western faiths postulate a living evil force, embodied in Satan that directly opposes the will of God.

Hindus believe that the universe was created out of God and is permeated by Him--a Supreme Being who both is form and pervades form, who creates, sustains and destroys the universe only to recreate it again in unending cycles. Hindus accept all genuine spiritual paths--from pure monism, which concludes that "God alone exists," to theistic dualism, which asks, "When shall I know His Grace?" Each soul is free to find his own way, whether by devotion, austerity, meditation, yoga or selfless service (seva). Hinduism's three pillars are temple worship, scripture and the guru-disciple tradition. Hinduism strongly declares the validity of the three worlds of existence and the myriad Gods and devas residing within them. Festivals, pilgrimage, chanting of holy hymns and home worship are dynamic practices. Love, nonviolence, good conduct and the law of dharma define the Hindu path. Hinduism explains that the soul reincarnates until all karmas are resolved and God Realization is attained.

Hindus wear the sectarian marks, called tilaka, on their foreheads as sacred symbols, distinctive insignia of their heritage. Hinduism is a mystical religion, leading devotees to personally experience its eternal truths within themselves, finally reaching the pinnacle of consciousness where man and God are forever one. They prefer cremation of the body upon death, rather than burial, believing that the soul lives on and will inhabit a new body on earth.

While Hinduism has many sacred scriptures, all sects ascribe the highest authority to the Vedas and Agamas, though their Agamas differ somewhat. Hinduism's nearly one billion adherents have tens of thousands of sacred temples and shrines, mostly in India, but now located in every community of the global village where Hindus have settled. Its spiritual core is its holy men and women--millions of sadhus, yogis, swamis, vairagis, saints and satgurus who have dedicated their lives to full-time service, devotion and God Realization, and to proclaiming the eternal truths of the Sanatana Dharma.

0upS.gif (883 bytes)About this Edition of Dancing with Siva

In this fourth edition of Dancing with Siva: Hinduism's Contemporary Catechism, Sanatana Dharma Prashnottaram, the questions and answers have been brought into the ancient form of terse shlokas, also known as sutras, followed by longer explanations called bhashya. In the Puranas we find a description of this style: "Those who know, say that a sutra is brief, with no uncertainty, rich in substance, general, without useless words, and irrefutable." A mystical meaning is spoken in the Mrigendra Agama: "In it, as in a seed, grows the tree which is the subject of the treatise as a whole, such is the original sutra which scintillates, adorned with words such as atha."

In olden days in India, before paper was invented, shlokas were written on palm leaves (olai) in the South, scribed into the tough surface, or written on specially-prepared birch bark (bhurja pattra) in the North. The unbound pages were small, about two inches high and six or eight inches wide. Verses written on them were usually uniform in length, two, three or four lines. To carry forward the refined finesse of those Vedic times, the shlokas and bhashyas of this modern catechism have been composed to precise lengths--each shloka exactly four lines long and each bhashya exactly twenty-one lines, not a millimeter more or less.

The book has more than tripled in size since the 309-page 1990 edition. First, I instructed a few of my sannyasins to redo the artwork. You will see that they have combined traditional images with computerized technology to produce a unique art form that is the best of the East and the best of the West. More sacred symbols were added, and over 150 reproductions of Rajput paintings were selected from sources all over the world, chosen for their aptness to the many subjects covered.

Then I brought in hundreds of verses from Hindu scripture, mostly from the Vedas. There is a scriptural quote for each bhashya, and at the end of every chapter, or mandala, there are two full pages of scripture elaborating the subject under discussion. We are hopeful that this anthology of hymns will inspire readers to dive deeper into the beauties of the Vedas and Agamas on their own.

We then expanded by several hundred the number of Sanskrit terms in the book, and incorporated the diacritical marks into the special Minion family of fonts. We typeset the main lexicon entries in Devanagari, with the able editing assistance of several Sanskrit scholars. In the lexicon, we worked ardently to more fully amplify the essential concepts so briefly presented in the terse shlokas and bhashyas. Thus, over the months, what began as a simple glossary of terms steadily grew. The result is really an encyclopedic dictionary. Many terms can be defined in various ways, according to one's philosophical perspective. By understanding the terms as defined in this lexicon, one can better understand their meaning in the body of the text.

Next, we assembled a timeline, a detailed chronology of ancient Bharat and modern India, a record of Hindu events placed in the context of world historic landmarks. I believe this chronology is the only one of its kind and encourage teachers to teach it and students to study it to understand the way Hindu history flows alongside the other great human civilizations.

Last but not least, in the final weeks of production, we added a new section called "Truth Is One, Paths Are Many," drawn from the international newspaper, Hinduism Today. This 60-page resource offers a brief summary of the beliefs and paths of attainment of the world's major religions, faiths and philosophies and several point-counterpoints, including a comparison of Eastern and Western thought. For the past ten years it has been widely used as an educational tool in universities and various interfaith gatherings, and I felt it should definitely be part of this book. The timeline, lexicon and Truth Is One are each complete studies unto themselves.

One of the limitations we encountered was how to speak of the genderless God without implying that the Divine is either man or woman. Working through the constraints of the English language, we just didn't know what to do with the words he, she, him, her, hers and his in reference to God and the Gods. To speak of God in the neuter form, It, seemed a worse solution, for that indicates a cold and indifferent Deity. Another possibility was to speak of God as She and He alternately. But this would require also using God and Goddess alternately, since God itself is a masculine term. English seems to offer no reasonable way around the use of masculine pronouns, so, reluctantly, we have referred to God and Gods in mostly masculine terms. One consolation is that this problem also exists in the original Sanskrit, so we emerged from the dilemma by accepting the precedent set by the Vedas and Agamas to describe the Supreme Lord.

In producing this modern catechism, or prashnottaram (literally, "questions and answers"), we kept in mind the need to provide resources so that Hindu institutions and communities around the globe could have, at their fingertips, authentic teachings from which they could locally develop classes and courses and various kinds of study. We encourage scholars, panditas, swamis and elders everywhere to work with us in translating Dancing with Siva into many of the world's more than 3,000 languages.

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Ways to Study Dancing with Siva

It is our belief that a full study of this catechism will provide a basic understanding of the Hindu religion as it is lived today. We have taught its earlier editions for over forty years in many countries, and we know that it is competent to change the lives of people, to bring them closer to their inner Divinity, to strengthen husband and wife relationships, cement family unity and establish strong, unbreakable connections with God and the Gods. The key is study, by which we do not mean mere recitation, but living the life described in our venerable traditions. There are seven ways this book can be routinely studied, whether individually or in groups, small or large.

  1. The twelve parts, called upanishads, in this catechism, one for each month of the year, may be used as lecture notes or personal study for the month. Each of the twelve is a completely different subject. An upanishad is a collection of one, two or three mandalas.
  2. The thirty-one chapters, called mandalas, each containing five shlokas, may be studied one each day for a month and then repeated time and time again.
  3. There are 155 shlokas. An ideal way to study the catechism by yourself is to take one shloka and its accompanying bhashya each day. Study it, meditate on it. Apply it to your own life. Then move on to the next. This will give a daily study of over five months.
  4. Another way to study the book is the "subject study," choosing concepts which interest you and following their threads throughout the book. For example, using the index, one could take the word soul and explore its various references--the soul's creation, its evolution, old souls and young souls. This can be even more interesting if you explore the lexicon references as well. Tracing the meaning of terms in this way through the index and lexicon is a wonderful tool for lectures, classes, teaching of children and your own personal enjoyment.
  5. The fifth way is to read and meditate on the profound Vedic verses, which are found, more than any other scripture, in this prashnottaram. They are as alive today as the day they were spoken thousands of years ago. Is it really what they say that stirs the higher consciousness, or is it what they do to the inner currents of the body as they stimulate spirituality?
  6. Another way is to simply read the book, cover to cover.
  7. A final way, since this book has been magically impressed into the akasha, is to hold it in your hands and absorb its knowledge or put it under your pillow at night.

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How to Teach Dancing with Siva

For those who are serious about conducting regular lectures or classes on Dancing with Siva, Hinduism's Contemporary Catechism, we have created the following simple guide. This system has several objectives:

  • It gives you a systematic way of presenting the material, without repeating yourself
  • It relieves you from having to decide what you are going to talk about when lecture or class time comes around and
  • It creates a powerful harmony of minds around the globe among all who are teaching and learning the subject matter at the same time.

The cardinal principle is that there is one mandala (containing five shlokas and bhashyas, and two pages of scriptural verses) for each day of the month. So, for example, if you are giving a lecture on the 12th day of the month, your subject matter should be one or more of the five shlokas of Mandala 12, "The Four Dharmas." These five shlokas and their bhashyas create a complete concept and are more than ample for a well-rounded lecture or seminar.

  • January 12: Mandala 12 (five shlokas and bhashyas)
  • January 13: Mandala 13 (five shlokas and bhashyas)
  • January 14: Mandala 14 (five shlokas and bhashyas)
  • January 15: Mandala 15 (five shlokas and bhashyas)
  • etc.

In addition, the art and sacred symbols can be used when explaining concepts to children, adding a visual dimension to their young understanding. greyNataraja.GIF (7111 bytes)The entire book can be used as a coloring book as it is, or by making enlarged copies of the black and white photos on a photocopy machine. Children enjoy animation, and more adventuresome parents may wish to turn portions into an educational video series for their community or nation. Children love toys and games, and interesting charades and memorization games can be developed by inventive parents and teachers. After all, it is in giving our tradition to the children that we assure its perpetuation into the future.

Only days before this catechism was sent off to the printer, the night before Mahashivaratri, we saw the final results in color of the March, 1993, edition of Hinduism Today, in which we had reprinted the very popular primer for children covering Hinduism from A to Z in an illustrated and fun way. For older youth, there appeared a more mature summary, a traditional explanation of the five main precepts and practices. We were inspired to incorporate both of these in this book for parents to teach their children. The 1992 Bali Conference of the World Hindu Federation of Nepal decreed that such a simple presentation of the minimal duties for parents to pass on Sanatana Dharma to their children be outlined and spread worldwide. With that in mind, we added to Dancing with Siva a new resource section called "A Children's Primer," which includes Hinduism A to Z, the Five Precepts and Five Practices, and an illustrated summary of the essential Hindu samskaras, or rites of passage.

0upS.gif (883 bytes) Awake! Arise!

As you proceed through Dancing with Siva, Hinduism's Contemporary Catechism, Sanatana Dharma Prashnottaram, you will come to see that it contains a new presentation of very ancient knowledge. You will soon realize that, somewhere within you, you already know these truths. You will find yourself traveling back in your memory, perhaps for several lives, and remembering that you have studied them before in the same way that you are studying them now.

This textbook gives an organized approach as to what to say to the youth and the adults of our religion. It also gives truth-seekers who have discovered the mystical realities a coherent and complete philosophical context through which they can understand and continue to pursue the often unbidden experiences they encounter. It validates their inner realizations and gives them the confidence to persevere.

A new breed of souls is even now coming up in the world. They are fearless because they are strong. They do not fear death, ill-health or lack of knowledge. Their only qualification is that they love and worship God and the Gods. They have no magic formula. They are selling nothing. They need nothing. They are who they are. You may be one of them.

So, proceed with confidence. Success is assured. You cannot fail if bhakti is integrated with jnana, Siddhanta with Vedanta, Agamas with Vedas, and Hindu Dharma with everyday life. Yea, this is the secure path, the safe path, leading to knowledge, experience and recognition, then realization, of your true, divine, eternal Self. Awake, arise and stop not until the goal is reached! It is no accident that you have found this book and the treasures it contains.

Love and blessings to you from this and inner worlds,

Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami
Jagadacharya of the Nandinatha
Sampradaya's Kailasa Parampara,
Guru Mahasannidhanam,
Kauai Aadheenam, Hawaii,
Mahasivaratri, February 18, 1993,
Hindu year 5094



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